The New Mrs. Caudle
The Right Honourable the Member for Battersea still pursues the tenor of his strenuous way and may with some degree of confidence be expected to attain to the ideal which he seems to have set before him, of going down to posterity as the possessor of lecturing talents, not less efficient than those which the notorious Mrs. Caudle exercised with such effect upon her unfortunate spouse. And, indeed, the resemblance between the celebrated lady mentioned and our “Honest John” rests upon more than that idiosyncratic volubility which has impelled both characters to erupt into torrential verbosity with little or no provocation.
The substance of their disquisitions is almost identical — the same relentless logic, the same elegance of diction, the same charm of style, the same irrepressible argumentativeness, the same measure of applicability of their observations to the subject addressed. If Mrs. Caudle were alive to-day, she would be jealous indeed of her reputation now challenged so persistently by her great nude prototype. It is true she might argue with justice that Mr. Burns is afforded facilities she never had. She lived in the ante-women’s suffrage days and probably was never able to get even so close to the sounding-board of the Empire as the ladies’ gallery of the House of Commons, whereas John has his feet on the floor of the House right beneath the sounding board itself.
But, then, John could retort that he started heavily handicapped, in as much as he could not commence in the nature of things as an old woman. But, however that may be, John is making palpable progress which his elevation to the proud dignity of heavily fee’d jackal to the Liberal Capitalist Party has only served to fillip. He is simply insatiable, rushing to every point of the him instruction, and who certainly have little or nothing to learn from him. Overweening, bumptious and arrogant he always was. as those who knew him intimately in the days that are past, were aware.
To these undesirable qualities are added to-day a cringing servility before his paymasters and a passion for giving unsolicited advice to all and sundry, often absurdly inapplicable to the moment; when that is not so, coming with little decency from an individual of Burns’ record. A sense of humour, which he seems to entirely lack, would save him from many a ludicrous situation; a little less superficial knowledge would enable him to pose with a little more reason and a little more success in that character of Tribune of the People which he so loves to affect. And if to both were added a little more courtesy, a little more discrimination, and it were possible to subtract something of the pimp and the bully, he might conceivably become a fairly tolerable person.
As it is, we fear that he is altogether intolerable, that his advice is an impertinence and his lectures an infliction, and we take solace from the knowledge that, unlike the unfortunate Mr. Caudle, who was apparently quite unable to rid himself of the incubus of his bedmate and her lectures, he will surely awake one day to find himself discovered as the vainglorious pedagogue he is, and cast off by those upon whose ignorance he relies for his success as champion curtain-lecturer. The day that witnesses the consummation of that desirable act will witness also his fall from his present high estate; for the one thing that is quite certain is that it is only by virtue of his ability to gull and hector the working class that the capitalist Liberal Party consent to fee him so liberally and invest him with a little brief authority compass in order, cuckoo-like, to find another nest in which to deposit his curtain-lecture egg.
He makes surprise visits to workhouses and turns off upon the pauper inmates his famous exhortation to abstemious living and thrift. He attends temperance meetings to emphasise the folly of working men wasting their substance (which they have not got) upon four-ale and other delectable draughts. He sternly lectures the “Labour” members of the House of Commons, whose one concern is to conform to the rules of that august assembly, upon the enormity of any departure from orthodox Parliamentary procedure, and lays it down with crushing vocal inflection to the same men obsessed by the necessity for the establishment of an unquestioned reputation for respectability, that proper deportment is a personal condition to he striven for single-mindedly. He lectures tariff reformers upon the stupidity of quoting, without examination, figures relating to pauperism, and corrects their information with more figures which he has had supplied to him and which he has never examined. He lectures women demonstrators upon their lack of self-control, and is seized with an uncontrollable desire to slap them but dare not. He attends the distribution of prizes at a girls’ gymnastic school, and lectures the unfortunate pupils about the urgency of a knowledge of washing and ironing. And so on. And so on.
Always careering about fully caparisoned with bundles of lectures and packets of gratuitous advice for persons who, generally speaking, are better qualified to give
We trust John Burns may find sufficient grace to peruse in chastened mood these few plain words. We trust too, they may have the effect of causing him to reconsider himself.
However that may be, it will surely not be hurtful to him if he will desist for a few moments from trying to force his opinions upon others as though they were things of value and hearken with what respect he may to the opinion that some of the others desire for his own good to offer him.