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TOWN TOPICS. I I

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TOWN TOPICS. (From Our London Correspondent.) If the House of Commons could in some wonderful fashion be shaped like a concertina, and made expansible so as to meet the full demands of unusual occasions, it would have to be stretched to its utmost limit to provide seats for all who wish them, whether members or visitors, on the coming Budget Night; though, in these times, it should rather be de- scribed as Budget Afternoon. As is well known, the Legislative Chamber is not large enough to accommodate with seats even all its members when they desire to attend, while the provision that is made for visitors is ludicrously inadequate whenever any question of real popular interest is to be discussed. How far short, therefore, the accommodation will be when there is laid before the House a financial statement that in some way is bound to affect every taxpayer can well be guessed. There have been Chancellors of the Exchequer who have either condoled with or congratulated themselves upon having had to deliver a "Humdrum" Budget; but Mr. Austen Cham- berlain is scarcely likely to be in a position to do that. It is a striking opportunity for a Chancellor of the Exchequer new to the work, and it is little wonder that the anticipatory in- terest is so great, while the preparations that have been made for telegraphing his financial proposals, not only throughout the United Kingdom, but to all parts of the civilised world, are already both striking and complete. Members of Parliament, when they re- assembled this week, had many remarks to exchange concerning the manner in which they had spent the Easter recess, for with some of them much of the amusement they have in common with their fellow-legislators shaped the course of the holiday. This was especially the case in regard to the devotees of golf, for these have already arranged to take part in the annual Parliamentary golf handicap, which is to be played this year on the Sandwich links. That is the one outdoor amusement in which our legislators at present join, for the Lords' and Commons' rifle match which many a year ago used to be one of the most striking features of the Wimbledon meeting, has long disap- peared, while the Parliamentary point-to-point steeplechase has vanished, and even a House of Commons' cricket team is seldom heard of now. Of indoor games, chess is the only one specially favoured at Westminster, when a com- petition for a challenge cup will soon be in progress; but it is always to be remembered that chess and draughts are the only such games allowed, for, although the House has often been described as the best club in Europe, it is exceptional among clubs in allow- ing neither cards nor billiards within its walls, The warmjsympathy with which every detail of the visit of the King and Queen Alexandra to the Court of Denmark to tender congratulations to the venerable King Christian IX. upon enter- ing his eighty-seventh year, has been followed in London, has led to the circulation of a rumour that that monarch may pay us a return visit in the course of the summer. This, how- ever, is regarded in circles well acquainted with the Court as highly improbable, despite the certainty that King Christian would receive the most hearty of greetings from the people of this country; and that very consideration, indeed, rmakes against the realisation of the idea, for his age is too great to permit of his being exposed to any undue excitement, even without a visit from his revered father in law however, our King will find his engagement list very full during the spring and summer. The promised visit of the head of a foreign estate is likely to prove as far-reaching in its importance as was that of President Loubet last July; but the Royal visit to England next month is awaited with keen interest, and other later engagements with scarcely less. Extensive arrangements are already being made for that great series of religious and philanthropic gathering annually held in London in the spring which have come to be known as the May meetings," though, in point of fact, several of them take place in April. It is to be noted that twelvemonth by twelve- month the number of these increases, and this year more than four hundred have been con- vened, the number being almost quadrupled within the last four decades. Five or six meetings a day are usually held in Exeter Hall during their course, while on some days seven, eight, and even nine take place there; and the Strand is thronged with those who are unmistakably devoted to religious work. Some of the meetings are distinctly sectarian, while others comprise christian workers of all de- nominations, and there are some which are markedly philanthropic, rather than theological in their character. But, of the whole institution, it can be said that it is distinctly British, and has no precise parallel in any other country in the world. No great public improvement is ever brought about without causing a deal of inconvenience to a number of folk and this truth is being very plainly experienced by a great many in London just now. The making of the new great thoroughfare, for instance, from the Strand to Holborn has had incidentally the effect of closing Great Queen-street to through vehicular traffic, with the consequence that Freemasons from all parts of England wishing to visit the Masonic Mecca, Free- masons' Hall, have been very seriously put about. Similarly the removal of the whole of the tramway service from Brixton-road, one of the greatest traffic arteries in South London, in order to allow an electric conduit to be laid for future traction, is bemoaned by thousands daily; and now a protest is being publicly raised against the manner in which Trafalgar- square ha continued for months to be obstructed by the hoarding necessitated by the construction underneath it of the Y/aterloo and Baker-street Electric Railway, which will have one of its stations there. But those who grumble at the present must think of the future, and reflect that there will be full compensation then for all inconvenience now. Just as newspaper readers have been seeing accounts of the theft of some most interesting and ancient brass cannon at Woolwich, and mourning what it is now evident is an irretriev- able loss, it ;is almost "ominously interesting to witness this week the sale by auction at Chatham of some of our old "wooden walls," which almost seem, as it has been said to deserve, because of the brave part they have played in their day, a better part than to supply logs for next; winters firt's. Among them was the Duke of Wellington, of 131 guns, which carried the flag of Admiral Sir Charles Napier in the days of the Crimean War, while others were the Beliisle a.nd the Forte. The last- named was the oldest, having been built even before the battle of Waterloo, so that it is a WP''lder that she had not been previously dis- posed of; but the Bellisle had been put of late years to a sad kind or use, in that she has been employed as a target for shells in mimic war- fare at Spithead, and has even been made the mark for a torpedo. Perhaps even the auc- tioneer's hammer and the sniporeaker will nob have seemed such dreadful things to this old wooden vessel after all she has been called upon to undergo. The flesh of our automobilists is being attempted to be made to creep just now by the rumour of a possible-and even a probable— famine in petrol, which, it need scarcely be explained, is the fuel used for the production of the motive power of a very large proportion of motor-cars. This is a foreign product, not easily attainable at any time, and always relatively dear; and it is being suggested that its place could be taken by a fuel which could be provided cheaply at home, which would give employment for depressed agriculturists, and even be a means for attracting labourers back to the land. This fuel would be composed of alcohol, the restrictions upon the manufacture and sale of which are at present, and for obvious reasons, very high. It has more than once been suggested, however, that these would be advan- tageousJy modified in the case of alcohol employed simply for purposes of scientific manufacture and, if proper precautions against its being used as a drink could be devised, theso i might be extended to it when employed as a I fuel. w R.

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