CHAPTER II. CONGRESS.
In the interior of the Capitol much space is at present wasted, but this arises from the fact of great additions to the original plan having been made. The two chambers - that of the Senate and the Representatives - are in the two new wings, on the middle or what we call the first floor. The entrance is made under a dome to a large circular hall, which is hung around with surely the worst pictures by which a nation ever sought to glorify its own deeds. There are yards of paintings at Versailles which are bad enough; but there is nothing at Versailles comparable in villany to the huge daubs which are preserved in this hall at the Capitol. It is strange that even self-laudatory patriotism should desire the perpetuation of such rubbish. When I was there the new dome was still in progress; and an ugly column of wood-work, required for internal support and affording a staircase to the top, stood in this hall. This of course was a temporary and necessary evil; but even this was hung around with the vilest of portraits.
From the hall, turning to the left, if the entrance be made at the front door, one goes to the new Chamber of Representatives, passing through that which was the old chamber. This is now dedicated to the exposition of various new figures by Crawford, and to the sale of tarts and gingerbread - of very bad tarts and gingerbread. Let that old woman look to it, or let the house dismiss her. In fact, this chamber is now but a vestibule to a passage - a second hall, as it were, and thus thrown away. Changes probably will be made which will bring it into some use or some scheme of ornamentation. From this a passage runs to the Representative Chamber, passing between those tell-tale windows, which, looking to the right and left, proclaim the tenuity of the building. The windows on one side - that looking to the east or front - should, I think, be closed. The appearance, both from the inside and from the outside, would be thus improved.
The Representative Chamber itself - which of course answers to our House of Commons - is a handsome, commodious room, admirably fitted for the purposes required. It strikes one as rather low; but I doubt, if it were higher, whether it would be better adapted for hearing. Even at present it is not perfect in this respect as regards the listeners in the gallery. It is a handsome, long chamber, lighted by skylights from the roof, and is amply large enough for the number to be accommodated. The Speaker sits opposite to the chief entrance, his desk being fixed against the opposite wall. He is thus brought nearer to the body of the men before him than is the case with our Speaker. He sits at a marble table, and the clerks below him are also accommodated with marble. Every representative has his own arm-chair, and his own desk before it. This may be done for a house consisting of about two hundred and forty members, but could hardly be contrived with us. These desks are arranged in a semicircular form, or in a broad horseshoe, and every member as he sits faces the Speaker. A score or so of little boys are always running about the floor ministering to the members' wishes - carrying up petitions to the chair, bringing water to long- winded legislators, delivering and carrying out letters, and running with general messages. They do not seem to interrupt the course of business, and yet they are the liveliest little boys I ever saw. When a member claps his hands, indicating a desire for attendance, three or four will jockey for the honor. On the whole, I thought the little boys had a good time of it.
But not so the Speaker. It seemed to me that the amount of work falling upon the Speaker's shoulders was cruelly heavy. His voice was always ringing in my ears exactly as does the voice of the croupier at a gambling-table, who goes on declaring and explaining the results of the game, and who generally does so in sharp, loud, ringing tones, from which all interest in the proceeding itself seems to be excluded. It was just so with the Speaker in the House of Representatives. The debate was always full of interruptions; but on every interruption the Speaker asked the gentleman interrupted whether he would consent to be so treated. "The gentleman from Indiana has the floor." "The gentleman from Ohio wishes to ask the gentleman from Indiana a question." "The gentleman from Indiana gives permission." "The gentleman from Ohio!" - these last words being a summons to him of Ohio to get up and ask his question. "The gentleman from Pennsylvania rises to order." "The gentleman from Pennsylvania is in order." And then the House seems always to be voting, and the Speaker is always putting the question. "The gentlemen who agree to the amendment will say Aye." Not a sound is heard. "The gentlemen who oppose the amendment will say No." Again not a sound. "The Ayes have it," says the Speaker, and then he goes on again. All this he does with amazing rapidity, and is always at it with the same hard, quick, ringing, uninterested voice. The gentleman whom I saw in the chair was very clever, and quite up to the task. But as for dignity - ! Perhaps it might be found that any great accession of dignity would impede the celerity of the work to be done, and that a closer copy of the British model might not on the whole increase the efficiency of the American machine.