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CHAPTER VII.

POLITICAL CONSTITUTION.

FROM what I have already said about the mode of life of the Colymbians, it will readily be understood that the trades and manufactures of the country differ widely from those of terrestrial countries. The scanty clothing of both males and females does not admit of the great traffic in garments we are accustomed to. A few changes of the short drawers or trousers all wear, constitute the whole wardrobe of a Colymbian. A very few manufactories of the cloth used for these garments, and a small number of tailors to make them, suffice for the whole community. There are shops for the sale of beads, jewellery and other ornaments worn by the ladies, and booksellers' stores and libraries in abundance, for they are a very literary people. Newspapers and periodicals abound, and architects, builders and decorators are in great demand. Most of the manufactures are carried on on the land, where a stringent rule of eight hours' labour is enforced, as it is impossible to keep workmen for a longer time out of the water.

Much is done by machinery, which is all driven by the tidal engines I have described, or, in some cases, by electric or magnetic power, the supply of which from the earth is inexhaustible.

There are also great iron-smelting establishments and foundries, where the ironwork for the tidal engines is made. Iron ore exists in large quantities on some of the islands, and tin, copper and lead are found on the larger island. Gold and silver are also obtained among the mountains, and precious stones of all descriptions abound. Glass is extensively used in the submarine constructions, and there are several large manufactories for this very necessary commodity. Charcoal, which the extensive forests provide in abundance, is used for all the furnaces.

The principal traffic of the country is in food, and the great staple article of food is turtles, immense flocks of which are kept in enclosed spaces for the supply of the inhabitants.

The capture of these animals in the open sea employs a large number of people, and the tending and feeding them in their pens requires a considerable staff of keepers. In fact, turtles are to the Colymbians what sheep and cattle are to us. The butchers' shops are hung round with the prime joints of these most succulent reptiles. All kinds of excellent fish are caught and sold for food. Land-animals abound in the islands, and eggs, poultry, venison, and pork enter largely into the consumption of the people.

The great iguana, which formerly used to abound in the forests, is now but rarely met with in a wild state. But large numbers of them are reared for the market, as their flesh is esteemed a great delicacy, and very much resembles the breast of a chicken. The eggs, too, are much used for food, and differ from our hens' eggs in consisting almost entirely of yolk, which does not harden by boiling. Spaces in the forest are enclosed, and quantities of young iguanas are hatched from the eggs and reared until they are large enough to be killed for food. When full-grown, they are often six feet in length, but they are considered best for eating when about half that size.

Another lizard occasionally used as food is an ugly monster about three feet long, with a long flexible tail and a formidable row of spikes all along its back to the very tip of its tail. Its habits are aquatic, and it can stay for hours below the water without breathing. It is a very fast swimmer, and uses only its long powerful tail in the water, clapping its short legs close to its body when swimming. They used to be much more numerous than now, but have been nearly exterminated by the hunters, and are only now to be met with occasionally in the more unfrequented parts of the lagoon.

Eating is not looked upon, as with us, as a thing to be done in company. All meals are taken in private, and at no assemblies or festive reunions are any viands offered or thought of.

Some families cook their victuals at home, and for this purpose they have a peculiar apparatus or kitchen-range, heated by electricity. But most families, and all single people, procure their food ready cooked from the provision shops provided for the purpose.

In order to eat conveniently, the usual plan is to raise the head out of the water in the air-reservoirs, with which all rooms are furnished; though some prefer to eat under water, and the food is supplied in vessels of a peculiar construction, which enable it to to be eaten without coming in contact with the salt water.

The money current in Colymbia is of three sorts. The lower values, corresponding to our copper coinage, consist of the hard lenticular operculæ that close the openings of certain shell-fish of the genus turbo which abound in the open sea. These discs are engraved by the State with certain elaborate devices, indicating their conventional value. The higher values of money are represented by pearls, which are also procured from the open sea. Numbers of the people are constantly engaged in the pearl-fishery. The value, of each pearl, approximately reckoned by its size, is stamped upon it by the Government mint, and is exchangeable for a given amount of the less valuable money. Lastly, large sums are represented by circular plates of mother-o'-pearl, elaborately engraved by the Government bank, to imitate which is accounted felony and is severely punished.

Banishment to the land for longer or shorter periods is almost the sole method of punishment, besides pecuniary fines.

As the Colymbians have no foreign trade, and no commercial dealings beyond their own community, the coinage with a merely conventional value attached to it answers perfectly. Of course, it would not do for commerce with foreign countries, which would not accept the conventional value put upon their worthless shells by the Colymbians. The pearls, to be sure, possessing an intrinsic value of their own, might pass current abroad, were it not that they are quite disfigured by the Government marks stamped upon them.

The form of government under which the Colymbians live may be described as an aristocratic republic, with a monarchical name.

And here, I fear, I shall not be believed when I describe the kind of monarchy that exists in Colymbia. The monarchy is purely fictitious; the king is a roi fainéant being, in fact, neither more or less than a gigantic turtle, which is kept in a handsome house, has a train of highly-salaried officials to wait on him, and has his big carapace elaborately ornamented with engraving, polishing and gilding, so that he really looks a most royal reptile, and plays and looks his part to perfection in those rare ceremonies in which his presence is supposed to be required.

The government of Colymbia has always been monarchical, but its sovereigns have not always been turtles. On the contrary, they were originally powerful, in fact despotic kings, ruling often with a rod of iron, and acting according to their own will and pleasure, issuing edicts, making new laws, abrogating old ones, condemning to death or pardoning, just as they chose.

But as education and intelligence advanced, the educated and intelligent classes contrived to get the management of the government more and more into their own hands. Bit by bit the power of the king passed into the hands of the people, until at last it was completely absorbed by them. A parliament or diet, nominally elected by the whole male population of the state, became the sole depository of authority. This parliament is divided into two parties, and whichever party has the majority, chooses one of its own number to be the chief of the government. This chief chooses his own ministers always from among those of the party of the majority, and the chief rules with absolute power, until the other party contrives to secure a majority in the parliament, when it, in its turn, has its innings, chooses its own chief, who rules despotically until the scale is turned against him, and he is deposed to make room for the chosen chief of the opposition.

The method by which the party in opposition contrives to secure a parliamentary majority for itself is by disparaging the measures of the party in power, and promising greater reforms and better measures than those of their rivals.

The Colymbians have a great craze for always tinkering and altering their constitution, and the chief aim of the party in power is to be constantly increasing their own authority in the state. Thus politics are always in a very lively condition, for while the ruling party endeavour to maintain their prestige by sweeping reforms and radical changes, the party in opposition always make a point of promising still greater reforms and more important changes than those effected by the party in power.

The whole parliament is freshly elected every three years, and it generally happens that every new parliament reverses the condition of the parties and gives the opposition the majority they desire.

Elections are nominally the free choice of the people, but this freedom is nominal only, for the electors are cajoled, intimidated or bribed to such an extent that it is more by chicanery and money that members get into parliament than by the honest choice of the electors.

Thus it happened that the party which promised most and had the largest purse invariably secured the desired parliamentary majority; and as the party out of office could always trump their opponents' performances by boasting of the much greater things they would do when in power, and being hungry for office, would make greater pecuniary sacrifices to obtain it, they usually contrived to oust their opponents and secure their own turn of power.

In former times there had been an upper house of parliament, or "chamber of first-borns," as it was termed. It seems that the original authors of the constitution of Colymbia feared that if legislation were limited to one elective chamber it would be very apt to go on too fast, that the active spirits of the country, who would naturally be elected by the people, would be always altering the constitution, and introducing premature reforms; so they resolved to create a second chamber, which should consist of members of inferior mental activity, who would naturally be slow to move, and would act as a check on the exuberant activity of the more popular chamber. The sage framers of the constitution seem to have held, with the elder Shandy, and probably for the same physiological reasons, that first-borns must necessarily be of duller intellect than the cadets of a family; so they ordained that the upper house should consist of a number of members selected by lot exclusively from first-borns, to each of whom a handsome salary was paid for his services. To this chamber was assigned the duty of revising all the measures of the popular chamber, and vetoing them if they thought fit. The plan seemed to have worked pretty well at first, but in course of time, the members of the chamber of first-borns grew indifferent to the purely negative rôle they had to play, and could seldom be got to meet in sufficient numbers to perform their proper functions, preferring to spend their time in sports, amusements, or money-making occupations; the skill they displayed and the success they achieved in these pursuits proving that the physiological theory ascribing to them intellectual inferiority was not altogether well founded. Or, if they did exercise their power of veto, it was usually done with respect to some measure which the popular assembly and the country had set their hearts on. As intelligence advanced the people and their elected members grew impatient of the check imposed on their wishes by the chamber of first-borns. The members of the popular chamber chafed at the idea of the fruits of their sagacity and intelligence being liable to rejection by a council of hypothetical dullards, and repeatedly urged the Government to devise some means for putting a stop to this intolerable censorship.

In this state of feeling the minister of the period, who shared the popular feeling, had little difficulty in doing away entirely with the chamber of first-borns, which had come to be considered as altogether out of date and as a useless drag on the machinery of the state. Very little excitement was produced in the country by the abrogation of the upper house, and few even of its members regretted their political extinction, as they had long silently chafed at their imputed mental incapacity. The popular chamber was thus left free to effect those constant changes and reforms which were its chief occupation and pleasure, and which were constantly demanded by the change-loving people, or the demagogues who constituted themselves the exponents of popular wishes.

The kings, seeing all power in the state gradually slipping away from them, made no effort to retain any. At last the only functions that remained to them were to assist at state ceremonials and to sign state papers.

When it came to this pass, the last king requested to be spared the trouble of signing the state papers, and his request was immediately granted by the chief of the party then in power, and thereafter a commission was appointed to do the signing for him.

But the monarchical fiction was always kept up, and every act of government was said to be performed by the king. The chief of the state was said to be chosen by the king, every act was said to receive the sanction of the sovereign, and though the king had not the slightest power to enact a new law, to choose a minister or to pardon a criminal, no law was passed, no minister appointed, no criminal pardoned, no office in the state bestowed, except in the king's name.

This fiction of the king doing everything was sometimes' made use of by the minister to pass a law against the will of the parliament. When the chief found that he could not persuade the parliament to sanction some measure on which he had set his heart, he would boldly allege that the king had taken the matter into his own hands and passed the measure in spite of the parliament.

Of course, all knew the impossibility of the king doing anything of the sort, but it was considered contrary to etiquette to appear to doubt the king's power in the matter. So the chief would have his own way and the measure became law without a murmur of remonstrance, though all knew what a sham the whole transaction was.

The most striking illustration of this fiction of the king's unlimited power was given when the human king was done away with.

The chief of the state in those days had a great craze for economy, and he thought he could make a bold stroke for saving money by doing away with the human king, who cost a good deal, and substituting a dynasty of turtles, which would be cheap.

He made his proposal to parliament, and supported it for days by the most cogent arguments. He said the position of a king who had nothing to do was dangerous and demoralizing to both country and king. He might rebel against his lot and enter into a conspiracy against the constitution and even succeed in upsetting it; or, if he did not do so, he would certainly tend to degenerate into a mere idle, luxurious wretch. They had no right to expose the constitution to such danger, or the king to this demoralization. Since they had done away with the king's signature to state documents, the sovereign had now nothing earthly to do except to show himself on occasions of public ceremonials. In other countries the sovereign, however destitute of real power, had always to prove himself to be a person of intelligence by receiving and talking to illustrious persons who might visit the country, or ambassadors who might be accredited to him. But as there was no possibility of such services being demanded from him here, no intelligence whatever was required by him; consequently a turtle would be able to discharge the duties of the office with equal or greater efficiency than the human king. He adduced a hundred other reasons for doing away with the human sovereign, for he was a most fluent orator, but the feeling was so strong against the proposed change, that he saw there was no chance of carrying it by the votes of the members of parliament; so when the progress of the debate convinced him that he must certainly be defeated, he suddenly rose in his place, unfolded a paper, called a royal warrant, which had been entirely concocted by himself, without even the king's knowledge, and read to the astonished assembly a formal abrogation by the king of the dynasty of human kings and the substitution of a dynasty of turtles. Parliament was completely checkmated, but they did not resent this self-evident absurdity out of loyalty to the king who had just been superseded; and thus it was that the king of Colymbia formally deposed himself, though it was well known to all that he wished to do nothing of the sort, and had no cognizance of the matter until it was irrevocably accomplished.

The most curious part of the business is that the king accepted meekly his own deposition, and retired into private life without an effort to retain his throne; for, if it was a breach of loyalty in members to find fault with anything nominally done by the king, though he had actually nothing to do with it, so it was unconstitutional in the king to object to anything his ministers or parliament might do, however disagreeable to his feelings, however contrary to his inclinations it might be. Thus it was that parliament submitted to the dethronement of a king they wished to retain, and the king submitted to be dethroned, though he did not like it.

Under the turtle dynasty the same monarchical fiction is kept up, and all actions of the Government are still performed in the king's name—indeed, it made no difference whether the king was man or turtle, for the kingly power was but a name, and even the kingly will had long been nothing but a phrase.

I asked a gentleman who held an important office under Government why the fiction of a monarchical constitution was not done away with when the monarchical power was abrogated.

"Well," he said, "we Colymbians do things gradually. We were ripe for the abrogation of the monarchical power, but we are not yet ripe for the doing away with the monarchical name. We all see, of course, as well as you do, that monarchy is a pure fiction, but we are so attached to old names after the thing is gone, that it would probably create a rebellion if a chief of the state were to attempt to do away with the name. Our people are eager for substantial changes in the constitution of the country; but they are so attached to old names and formulas of government that it is only long after the substance is gone that the shadow takes its departure. No doubt when the time comes the name will be abolished, but at present we would feel it strange if our edicts and Government appointments were not made in the name of the king, even though that king is but a turtle."

The hereditary representative of the dethroned human dynasty was a young man of intelligence, passionately fond of sports, and he often made one of our hunting expeditions. He did not seem to regret his exclusion from the throne, in fact, he spoke rather contemptuously of his predecessors who had been contented to occupy the position of royal puppets so long, and said he infinitely preferred the liberty and independence of his own life to the gilded slavery of theirs. He always spoke of the reforming minister who had founded the turtle dynasty with the highest respect, and in a way that showed me he was grateful to him for what he had done. "For," he said, "had I been born in the purple, I should perhaps have wished to remain in it, and probably should have felt extremely mortified at being deprived of it"

I frequently attended the meetings of parliament, which are held in a vast hall, built on the most approved acoustic principles; for all the speaking here consists of the musical oratory I have before described, and it is contrary to precedent, and, in fact, quite unconstitutional to speak in any other way.

It would, therefore, seem that a chief qualification for membership of the parliament ought to be a proficiency in musical oratory; but this is by no means the case, for many of the members are mere dummy legislators, never addressing the house, but giving silent votes. The chief, however, and his colleagues in office are necessarily adepts in the musical oratory, and the finest illustrations of this wonderful art are sometimes given in the parliament hall. The notes are struck by machinery brought into play by means of a key-board similar to that of our pianos or organs. Each member sits in a comfortable arm-chair on the floor of the hall, with a desk before him on which is this key-board. The keys are connected by wires with the great instrument occupying the acoustic focus of the hall which is of elliptical shape. Electricity is the means by which the touch on the keys is conveyed to the instrument. A thin rope, composed of the wires that communicate between the key-board and instrument, stretches from each member's seat to the instrument, which is fixed at a considerable elevation. These ropes form a graceful canopy over the members' heads, that is highly ornamental owing to the ropes being variously coloured and harmoniously arranged.

The bursts of eloquent music, or musical eloquence I should rather say, that are elicited by some of the orators are often magnificent. Others, again, less gifted with oratorical powers, sometimes flounder away among the notes, producing nothing but discord. These speakers are not listened to; their attempts to speak are drowned in a clamour set up by the audience, produced by striking a small hammer on a metallic knob, which causes a loud, harsh noise, and indicates disapprobation.

Applause is expressed by striking a glass bell, with which each member is provided, and which brings forth an agreeable musical note.

It is remarkable how well adapted the musical oratory is for expressing, not only emotions and passions, but raillery, sarcasm, innuendo, refined wit and broad humour.

Some orators would excite the risible faculties of members to such a degree that neither the sanctity of the place, nor the inconveniences attending the art, would prevent them exploding into loud guffaws.

The effect of this laughter was often more comic to my mind than its exciting cause. Along with the cacchination, there issued from the laughers' mouths great bubbles of air, which quickly ascended through the whole height of the hall, threading their way among the ropes, until they attained the large glass dome or air-reservoir at the top. A hundred or more of these large bubbles proceeding out of the mouths of as many members had an exceedingly droll effect.