ADDRESSED TO RASSELAS, PRINCE OF ABBYSSINIA.
I.–THE FIRST PARISH MEETING.
5 December, 1894.
My Dear Prince,–I feel sure that you, as a sympathetic student of western politics and manners, must be impatient to hear about our first Parish Meeting in Troy; and so I am catching the earliest post to inform you that from a convivial point of view the whole proceedings were in the highest degree successful. And if Self-Government by the People can provide a success of the kind in that dull season when people as a rule are saving up for Christmas, I hardly think our Chairman stretched a point last night when he said, “This evening will leave its mark on the history of England.” Indeed, some inkling of this must have guided us when we met, a few days before, and agreed to postpone our usual Tuesday evening Carol-practice in order to give the New Era a fair start. And I am told this morning that the near approach of the sacred season had a sensibly pacific influence upon the counsels of our neighbours at Treneglos. The parishioners there are mostly dairy-farmers, and party feeling runs high. But while eggs fetch 2d. apiece (as they do, towards Christmas) there will always be a disposition to give even the most unmarketable specimens the benefit of any doubt.
We were at first a good deal annoyed on finding that the Act allowed Troy but eleven Parish Councillors. We have never had less than sixty-five on our Regatta Committee, and we had believed Local Self-Government to be at least as important as a Regatta. We argued this out at some length last night, and the Chairman–Lawyer Thoms– admitted that we had reason on our side. But his instructions were definite, and he could not (as he vivaciously put it) fly in the face of the Queen and two Houses of Parliament. We saw that his regret was sincere, and so contented ourselves with handing in seventy-two nomination papers for the eleven places, just to mark our sense of the iniquity of the thing.
In another matter we worked round the intention of the Act more successfully. We have never been able to understand why the Liberal party in the House of Commons should object to Local Self-Government taking place in public-houses. The objection implies a distrust of the people. And it so happens that down here we always take a glass of grog before inaugurating an era; we should as soon think of praetermitting this as of launching a ship without cracking a bottle on her stem. So we asked the Chairman, and finding there was no law to prevent us, we ordered in half a dozen trays from the “King of Prussia,” across the way. The Vicar, who is a particular man about his food and drink, pulled out a pocket Vesuvius and a bottle of methylated spirit, and boiled his kettle in the ante-room.
Well, there we were sitting in the Town Hall, as merry as grigs, each man with his pipe and glass, and ready for any amount of Self-Government. And the Chairman stood up and briefly explained the business of the meeting. He said the Parish Councils Act was the logical result of Magna Charta, and would have the effect of making us all citizens of our own parish; and that as the expense of this would come upon the rates, we should endeavour to use our hardly won enfranchisement with moderation. “We had met to choose eleven good men and true to administer the parish business for the coming year, or to nominate as many good men and true as we pleased. If more than eleven were nominated”–this was foolishness, for he could see there was hardly a man in the room that hadn’t a nomination paper in his hand–“he would ask for a show of hands, and any candidate defeated upon this might demand a poll. He hoped we would vote in no spirit of sectarian or partisan bitterness, but as impartial citizens jealous only for the common weal; at the same time he was not in favour of letting down the Squire, Sir Felix Felix-Williams, too easily.”