The House Of Parliament – Great Britain And Ireland

A little before twelve, we took a cab, and went to the two Houses of Parliament the most immense building, methinks, that ever was built; and not yet finished, tho it has now been occupied for years. Its exterior lies hugely along the ground, and its great unfinished tower is still climbing toward the sky; but the result (unless it be the river front, which I have not yet seen) seems not very impressive. The interior is much more successful. Nothing can be more magnificent and gravely gorgeous than the Chamber of Peers—a large oblong hall, paneled with oak, elaborately carved, to the height of perhaps twenty feet. Then the balustrade of the gallery runs around the hall, and above the gallery are six arched windows on each side, richly painted with historic subjects. The roof is ornamented and gilded, and everywhere throughout there is embellishment of color and carving on the broadest scale, and, at the same time, most minute and elaborate; statues of full size in niches aloft; small heads of kings, no bigger than a doll; and the oak is carved in all parts of the paneling as faithfully as they used to do it in Henry VII.’s time—as faithfully and with as good workmanship, but with nothing like the variety and invention which I saw in the dining-room of Smithell’s Hall. There the artist wrought with his heart and head; but much of this work, I suppose, was done by machinery.

It is a most noble and splendid apartment, and, tho so fine, there is not a touch of finery; it glistens and glows with even a somber magnificence, owing to the deep, rich hues and the dim light, bedimmed with rich colors by coming through the painted windows. In arched recesses, that serve as frames, at each end of the hall, there are three pictures by modern artists from English history; and tho it was not possible to see them well as pictures, they adorned and enriched the walls marvelously as architectural embellishments. The Peers’ seats are four rows of long sofas on each side, covered with red morocco; comfortable seats enough, but not adapted to any other than a decorously exact position. The woolsack is between these two divisions of sofas, in the middle passage of the floor—a great square seat, covered with scarlet, and with a scarlet cushion set up perpendicularly for the Chancellor to lean against. In front of the woolsack there is another still larger ottoman, on which he might lie at full length-for what purpose intended, I know not. I should take the woolsack to be not a very comfortable seat, tho I suppose it was originally designed to be the most comfortable one that could be contrived.

The throne is the first object you see on entering the hall, being close to the door; a chair of antique form, with a high, peaked back, and a square canopy above, the whole richly carved and quite covered with burnished gilding, besides being adorned with rows of rock crystals—which seemed to me of rather questionable taste.

We next, after long eontemplating this rich hall, proceeded through passages and corridors to a great central room, very beautiful, which seems to be used for purposes of refreshment, and for electric telegraphs; tho I should not suppose this could be its primitive and ultimate design. Thence we went into the House of Commons, which is larger than the Chamber of Peers, and much less richly ornamented, tho it would have appeared splendid had it come first in order. The Speaker’s chair, if I remember rightly, is loftier and statelier than the throne itself. Both in this hall and in that of the Lords we were at first surprised by the narrow limits within which the great ideas of the Lords and Commons of England are physically realized; they would seem to require a vaster space. When we hear of members rising on opposite sides of the House, we think of them but as dimly discernible to their opponents, and uplifting their voices, so as to be heard afar; whereas they sit closely enough to feel each other’s spheres, to note all expression of face, and to give the debate the character of a conversation. In this view a debate seems a much more earnest and real thing than as we read it in a newspaper. Think of the debaters meeting each other’s eyes, their faces flushing, their looks interpreting their words, their speech growing into eloquence, without losing the genuineness of talk! Yet, in fact, the Chamber of Peers is ninety feet long and half as broad and high, and the Chamber of Commons is still larger.