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down in the mill of routine; lest even he, too, should be
subdued by over-much familiarity with the subjects he has 'to manipulate, and should thereby lose the power of dis'cerning in what way the current treatment of matters, in ' his Department, requires to be entirely altered or amended.' (P. 122.)
Nothing is more opposed to that principle of individual energy and personal responsibility which characterises the administrative government of India than the system of boards, commissions, councils, and committees which forms the basis of English administration from the Cabinet down to the parish vestry. Mr. Helps, whose official duties connect him with one of the most important of these deliberative bodies, the Privy Council and its Committees, is naturally prone to defend them; but we are not sure that we entirely agree with him.
There is hardly a inore difficult thing connected with government, than to make good use of these aids to administration. There are certain matters which are best treated by the clear decisiveness of one man, while there are others which are decidedly best treated by conjoint counsel, or after having been submitted to a council. In affairs of much perplexity and variety of circumstances, it very rarely happens that any one man is master of all the facts, and all the circumstances, which are needful to be known in order to arrive at an exhaustive result. Moreover, in matters wherein there is danger of much odium, whatever determination may be arrived at, it certainly elicits boldness of decision to act by means of a council or commission. The well-known passage in the Bible, “In a multitude of counsellors " there is safety,” has frequently been misconstrued. It does not allude to the safety of the counsel, but of the counsellors. In a council, a timid man will be bold, or, at any rate, so far bold that he will be willing to take his full share of responsibility as one of a number; whereas, if he were the sole person to decide, he might be oppressed by the sense of responsibility, and endeavour to evade coming to any decision at all.' (Pp. 96, 97.)
It is an old saying that a council of war never fights; and the result of our own observation is, not only that a timid man is quite as timid in council as he would be if he had to decide alone, but that his timidity is apt to infect his colleagues. Upon the whole, the result of deliberative action is rather negative than positive. It is easier to state the objections to any given course of action than to demonstrate its beneficial results. The advantage of such deliberative bodies is, no doubt, that they are more prudent and cautious than independent agents of government; but, on the other hand, they are much less resolute and bold, though in government the bolder course is often the wiser one. The real mark of a statesman of the highest order is when he
masters the negative and obstructive tendencies of his own colleagues by the force of genius and will. Pitt, Peel, and Palmerston had that power. Such men may sometimes be dangerous, but they are great, and there will not be much greatness in statesmanship without them. The secondary order of statesmen have an invincible tendency to put their power, as it were, in commission, and consequently to descend to the common level. The following observations of Mr. Helps on the formation and conduct of business by such bodies are highly discriminative and judicious:
“Great attention should be paid to the special nature of the council, by those who have to call it together, and to profit by its counsels. For example, in a purely consultative council, it will be found that the counsellors will be prone to ignore difficulties in action, and will recommend courses of conduct, which they might hesitate to recommend if they were the persons who would have to carry into effect their own recommendations. Again, a representative council will naturally have (whether consciously or unconsciously) an inclination to accommodate its proceedings to the state of knowledge and opinion of the outer world; and each counsellor will be prone to give advice, of such a nature as those whom he represents would wish him to give. Doubtless this leaning towards the outer world will be greater or smaller, according to the more or less publicity given to the proceedings of the council.
In any council, you will have a great chance of hearing, not only what is best to be done, but what can be done with reference to the state of public feeling and opinion. You will have the opportunity of hearing what unwise persons may think, or have to say about the matter in question ; and therein even a foolish, obstinate, argumentative, or perverse person may be very useful, and his presence in the council
may be of much worth and significance. * Altogether, there are immense advantages to be derived from councils; but these advantages will only be derived by those persons who know how to make the proper use of them. It is a sign of great weakness in a government, when it submits too much of its current business to councils, commissions, or bodies of a like nature; and it should be carefully noted what kind of business is fit to be submitted to the arbitrament of a council. The business should rather be of that nature which involves principles to be considered or rules to be determined. A council is a very unfit body to determine questions of language or expression ; and will waste any amount of time in vain attempts to insure great nicety and accuracy of expression. That kind of work is seldom well done except by one man; and even the great masters of language require, while they are working, to be undisturbed and unfettered by criticism, and to be able to deal with the matter as a whole. No man expresses anything exactly like another man; and if you wish a document to have a certain clearness and completeness in its expression, it should, if possible, he drawn up by one person, or at least be finally submitted to one person, as far as the language is concerned.
• In the conduct of councils there are several things to be observed
by those who would make judicious use of such bodies, and especially by those who are placed at the head of them. In this world so many things are decided by fatigue. The council, if not guided by a skilful person in its discussions, will waste its time upon minor points, and in combating the unreason or the argumentativeness, of some one or more of its members; and then, at the last, a hasty decision has to be formed, which may be anything but the wisest which could be formed. Lord Bacon has given the world an essay on councils, full, as might be expected, of valuable thought, and not disdaining to discuss points apparently somewhat insignificant, such as the shape and size of the council table; but he does not notice the effect of weariness. This omission may be accounted for by the greater powers of endurance of our ancestors, who, moreover, were trained to listen to long discourses patiently, and were not so much oppressed by a variety of business as we, the men of the present generation, are. With us I doubt not that the effect of weariness is one of the main elements of decision in any assemblage of men.
" Then, there is always the difficulty of eliciting the opinions of those members of the council, who are very reserved and modest in the expression of their opinions. I have known instances in which the man, most fitted to direct the council, has not once had an opportunity of fairly bringing forward what he has thought and felt upon the matter in question. And that, too, in a council, commission, or board, which has sat for many days to consider the particular question. A man of the kind I mean, has strong and clear opinions; but is of a modest and retiring nature. In the course of the discussions he ascertains, or rather thinks that he ascertains, that his views will not meet with any response from his colleagues; and, accordingly, he is entirely silent about them. It is especially the business of the chairman, or leading person in the council, to take care that the views and opinions of these reserved persons should not fail to be brought forward. It often happens that the best choice of a chairman is to be made by selecting one who, perhaps, is not particularly cognisant of the matter in hand; but who is skilful in discerning character, and has the tact and judgment necessary for eliciting fully the opinions of all those over whom he presides. This is especially neces
cessary when the councils or such like bodies are of a temporary character; but it is also requisite in permanent Boards. A man may have had a place in such a Board for many years, and yet never have given an entirely unreserved opinion upon the matters that have come before him in that conjoint capacity. ...
'In fine, the utility of councils may be divined from this one factthat no man is as wise as all other men, or even as any four or five other men.. He may be swifter, he may be more decisive, but he is never so comprehensive and so various. From the earliest ages to the present time there have always been councils and similar aids to government; and there never will be any form of government, to the aid and enlightenment of which such bodies will not be summoned. He who knows how to make good use of them, and how, as much as possible, to avoid a certain weakness and dilatoriness inherent in them, will show forth one of the greatest merits which a statesman can pos
He cannot see and listen to the whole world ; but, by making use of councils, he may attain to something of a cosmopolitan view, or, at any rate, may learn the views, wishes, and opinions of large bodies of his fellow-men. If he is very skilful, he may combine the advantages of varied thought and conjoint action, with somewhat of the singleness of purpose, and the directness of executive action, which are the property of an individual ruler.' (Pp. 98-106.)
The real object of all political construction ought to be to obtain men—to obtain men, the ablest, the wisest, and the best, and to place the conduct of public business in their hands. The higher ranks of office in this country are filled, as we know, by the currents and contests of Parliamentary life; but the ranks of permanent office are filled by the influence of the successful politicians of the day; and, as we have already said, the importance of these permanent officers to the good working of the whole administrative machinery can hardly be termed secondary. If, therefore, we were to name one quality more essential than another in a Minister, it would be the wise and discriminating selection of his subordinates. A Minister who gives an office to an unworthy person, for an unworthy motive, does a very foolish as well as a very wrong thing ; for the time will certainly come when he or his successor will have cause to suffer for his mistake. Every Minister and every person in office has a vast interest in obtaining the best assistance he can from his subordinates, since if they make blunders he is the man to bear the blame, and if they do well it redounds to his own honour. We regard, therefore, this duty of the selection of the fittest candidates for official life as a duty of paramount importance, and one on which the future welfare of the public services in this country much depends. It is, therefore, with extreme surprise and regret that we have seen this duty repudiated by some of the leading statesmen of the day, who, in order to escape from the trouble of a just exercise of patronage, or to court popular favour by a show of liberality, have thrown open the public offices to competition. Nay, in some of them this principle has been carried so far, that they have actually deprived the head of an office of the power of filling up an appointment with a competent person, even where his qualifications were well known. Competitive examination, based on a certain number of marks awarded for proficiency in Euclid, Greek, and Latin, or some other scholastic attainments, is a totally false and imperfect criterion of the qualities required for a good administrative servant of the State; and we believe that the all but unanimous opinion of the permanent heads of the Civil Service is extremely unfavourable to the experiment, which is beginning to be known by its results. We quite agree that every person who enters the service of Government may fitly be required to pass a certain examination as a test of education and capacity. But would anyone in his private relations of life consent to accept servants, clerks, or agents by a system of competitive examination which would compel him to take a butler or a cashier, because he has been crammed up to a certain level of literary acquirements ? As applied to the lower offices under Government such tests are ludicrous; as applied to the higher offices they are totally fallacious. Mr. Helps has had the courage to bring the weight of his experience and good sense to bear against this fashion of the day, which threatens hereafter to lower the character and efficiency of the public offices, if it has not already done so; and as we cordially concur with him, we have great pleasure in recommending the following remarks to the consideration of our readers :
In Great Britain we have, of late, adopted the system of competitive examination, as a means of discerning men's qualifications for office. In my judgment, although the system has long been adopted in China, it is a most inadequate one for its purpose. It detects qualifications which are little needed, while it fails, inevitably, to discover those which are most needed. It is a bringing back of the world to the schools. The main reasons given for its adoption are, that it prevents jobbery, relieves men in power from importunity, and encourages education. These may be very good objects; but, unfortunately, they are foreign to the main object, which is to choose fit men, and, if possible, the fittest men, for certain employments. Competitive examination is mainly a mode of relieving those persons, who ought to have the burden of making a choice, from the responsibility of so doing.
*How ineffective this mode of procedure is likely to be, may be inferred from the following statement. You wish to ascertain that a man will be zealous, faithful, true, reticent, cautious, and capable of dealing rapidly with current business; and, also, as he advances in office, of taking a certain amount of responsibility upon himself. You think that you have accomplished this end by ascertaining that he can construe Latin, and has been crammed with a certain knowledge of the facts of history, which facts, having been devoured rather than digested, stand very little chance of being well used by him for the future, and will probably be entirely forgotten.
• As a humorous person, I know, is wont to say, “ If you were to try the candidates in whist, there might be a chance of discerning whether they would be capable of dealing with the real business of the world."
• There is one very important point to be considered in reference to this question ; and that is, not only is the talent for acquiring knowledge not a talent of imperative necessity, as regards the conduct of the