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The life of William Ewart Gladstone, Volume 2 online

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income-tax, why, these ' were measures which the con-
servative party have always favoured and which the prime
minister and his friends have always opposed/

By critics of the peevish school who cry for better bread
than can be made of political wheat, Mr. Gladstone's proffer
to do away with the income-tax has been contumeliously
treated as dangling a shameful bait. Such talk is surely
pharisaic stuff. As if in 1852 Disraeli in his own address had
not declared that the government would have for its first
object to relieve the agricultural interest from certain taxes.
Was that a bribe? As if Peel in 1834-5 had not set forth in the
utmost detail all the measures that he intended to submit to
parliament if the constituencies would give him a majority.
Was this to drive an unprincipled bargain? As if every
minister does not always go to the country on promises, and
as if the material of any promise could be more legitimate
than a readjustment of taxation. The proceeding was styled a
sordid huckstering of a financial secret for a majority. Why
was it more sordid to seek a majority for abolition of the
income-tax, than it was sordid in Peel in 1841 to seek a
majority for corn laws, or in whigs and Manchester men to
seek to win upon free trade ? Why is it an ignoble bargain
to promise to remove the tax from income, and pure states-
manship to remove the tax from bread ? ' Give us a majority/
said Mr. Gladstone, ' and we will do away with income-tax,
lighten local burdens, and help to free the breakfast table/
If people believed him, what better reason could they have

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BOOK than such a prospect as this for retaining him in the place
of their chief ruler 1


Parliament was dissolved on January 26, and the contend-
ing forces instantly engaged. Mr. Gladstone did not spare
himself: —

Jan. 26, 74. — 8£-5f. To Osborne. Audience of H.M. who
quite comprehends the provisional character of the position.
. . . Boundless newspaper reading. 28. — 2-5. To Greenwich.
Spoke an hour to 5000. An enthusiastic meeting, but the
general prospects are far from clear. 1 31. — Woolwich meeting.
The meeting disturbed by design was strangely brought round
again. Feb. 2. — Third great meeting and speech of an hour at
New Cross for Deptford. Much enthusiasm and fair order.
3. — Many telegrams and much conversation with Granville and
Wolverton in the evening. The general purport was first in-
different, then bad. My own election for Greenwich after Boord
the distiller, is more like a defeat than a victory, though it places
me in parliament again. A wakeful night, but more I believe
from a little strong coffee drunk incautiously, than from the polls,
which I cannot help and have done all in my power to mend.

The Greenwich seat, the cause of such long perturbation,
was saved after all, but as Mr. Gladstone wrote to a defeated
colleague, * In some points of view it is better to be defeated
outright, than to be pitched in like me at Greenwich/ The
numbers were Boord (C.) 6193, Gladstone (L.) 5968, Liardet
(C.) 5561, Langley (L.) 5255.

The conservative reaction was general. Scotland and
Wales still returned a liberal majority, but even in these
strongholds a breach was made — a net loss of 3 in Wales,
of 9 in Scotland. From the English counties 145 tories
were returned, and no more than 27 liberals, a loss of 13.
In the greater boroughs, hitherto regarded as staunchly

1 It was an extraordinary feat for a had to be as far as possible brought

statesman of sixty-five who had quite within the range of his voice, and his

recently been confined to his bed with only platform was a cart with some

bronchitis. The day was damp and sort of covering, in the front of

drizzly ; numbers, which are variously which he had to stand bareheaded. —

estimated from six to Beven thousand, Spectator, Jan. 31, 1874.

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ministerial, some of the most populous returned tories. The CHAP
metropolitan elections went against the government, and 7 * -

seats were lost — three in the city, one in Westminster, in ^t- 65 ^
both cases by immense majorities. The net liberal loss in
the English boroughs was 32. In England and Wales the
tory majority was 105; in Great Britain it stood at 83.
When all was over, the new House contained a conservative
majority of 48, or on another estimate, of 50, but really, in
Mr. Gladstone's words, ' of much greater strength/

Numbers, as Mr. Gladstone said afterwards, did not ex-
hibit the whole measure of the calamity. An extraordinary
portent arose in that quarter from which so many portents
spring. 'The liberal majority reckoned to have been re-
turned from Ireland was at once found to be illusory. Out
of the 105 members the liberals were little more than a
dozen. The period immediately following the Church Act
and Land Act had. been chosen as one appropriate for a
formal severance of the Irish national party from the general
body of British liberals. Their number was no less than
fifty-eight, an actual majority of the Irish representation.
They assumed the name of home rulers, and established
a separate parliamentary organization. On some questions
of liberal opinion co-operation was still continued. But, as
regards the party, the weight of the home rulers clearly told
more in favour of the conservative ministry than of the
opposition ; and the liberal party would have been stronger
not weaker had the entire body been systematically absent.' 1
Before the election was over, Mr. Chichester Fortescue had
warned him that he expected defeat in the county of
Louth, for which he had sat ever since 1847; the defeat
came. Mr. Gladstone wrote to him (Feb. 11): —

I receive with great concern your dark prognostication of the
result of the Louth election. It would be so painful in a public
view with regard to the gratitude of Irishmen, that I will still
hope for a better result. But with reference to the latter part
of your letter, I at once write to say that in the double event of
your rejection and your wish, I consider your claim to a peerage

1 Mr. Gladstone on Electoral Facts, Nineteenth. Century , November 1878.

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BOOK indisputable. It would be hard to name the man who has done
> for Ireland all that you have done, or any man that knew the
1874 - greatest Irish questions as you know them.

Mr. Parnell, by the way, was not elected for Meath until
April 1875.


As the adverse verdict became more and more emphatic >
Mr. Gladstone stated to the Queen (Feb. 13) what was the
bias of his mind, on the question whether the expiring
government should await its sentence from parliament. He
had no doubt, he said, that this course was the one most agree-
able to usage, and to the rules of parliamentary government;
any departure from it could only be justified upon excep-
tional grounds. He was not, however, clear that this case,
like that of 1868, was to be treated as exceptional, partly by
reason of prevalent opinion, partly because it should be
considered what is fair to an incoming administration with
reference to the business, especially the financial business, of
the year. Lord Granville from the first seems to have been
against waiting for formal decapitation by the new House of
Commons. To him Mr. Gladstone wrote (Feb. 7) : —

I presume you will answer Bismarck's kind telegram. Please
to mention me in your reply or not as you think proper. As to
the impending crisis of our fate, one important element, I admit,,
will be the feeling of the party. I have asked Peel (whose first
feeling seems rather to be with you) to learn what he can. I
tend to harden in my own view, principle and precedent seeming
to me alike clear. There are four precedents of our own time —
1835, 1841, 1852, 1859, under three ministers. The only case
the other way is that of 1868 of which the circumstances were
altogether peculiar. But I admit it to be very doubtful whether
we should get beyond the address. On the other hand I admit
freely that I have no title to press my view beyond a certain

' It is parliament/ he argued, ' not the constituencies, that
ought to dismiss the government, and the proper function •
of the House of Commons cannot be taken from it without

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diminishing sofhewhat its dignity and authority/ There CHAP,
would be reproach either way, he said ; either it would be * J'
clinging to office, or it would be running away. To run ^ T - 66 -
away was in every circumstance of politics the thing to
Mr. Gladstone most unbearable. According to Sir Robert
Phillimore (Feb. 8) ' Gladstone would have met parliament
but his colleagues objected, though it seems they would
have stood by him if he had pressed them to do so ; but as
he did not mean, or was not going, to fight in the van of
opposition, he thought it unfair to press them/

Feb. 16, '74.— Cabinet dinner 8-12. It went well. I did
something towards snapping the ties and winding out of the coil.
Conversation afterwards with Granville, on the flags up and
down. Then with Wolverton. To bed at If, but lay three hours
awake (rare with me) with an overwrought brain. . . . 17. —
12J-6. Went to Windsor, and on behalf of the cabinet resigned.
Took with me Merchant of Venice and Thomas it Kempis, each how
admirable in its way! 1 20. — Went by 5.10 to Windsor, final
audience and kissed hands. Her Majesty very kind, the topics of
conversation were of course rather limited. 21. — I cleared my
room in Downing Street and bade it farewell, giving up my keys
except the cabinet key. 28. — Set aside about 300 vols, of
pamphlets for the shambles. March 3. — I have given up all my
keys; quitted Downing Street a week ago; not an official box
remains. But I have still the daily visit of a kind private
secretary ; when that drops all is over. 5. — Hamilton paid me
his last visit. To-morrow I encounter my own correspondence

The Queen repeated a former proposal of a peerage.
In returning some submissions for her approval, she
wished ' likewise to record her offer to Mr. Gladstone of a
mark of her recognition of his services which, however, he

1 February 17, 1874. — 4 I was with posed. There was therefore no im-
the Queen to-day at Windsor for pediment whatever to the immediate
three-quarters of an hour, and and plenary execution of my corn-
nothing could be more frank, natural, mission from the cabinet; and I at
and kind, than her manner through- once tendered our resignations, which
out. In conversation at the audience, I understand to have been graciously
I of course followed the line on which accepted. She left me, I have no
we agreed last night. She assented doubt, to set about making other
freely to all the honours I had pro- arrangements. '

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BOOK declines from motives which she fully appreciates.' Mr.
Gladstone writes to his brother Sir Thomas (Feb. 13) :—

Accept my best thanks for your kind note of yesterday. My
reply to the Queen was first made twelve months ago when we
proposed to resign simply from the failure of a great measure in
H. of C. I repeated it this year with similar expressions of
gratitude, but with the remark that even if my mind had been
open on the question, I did not think 1 could have accepted any-
thing while under that national condemnation which has been
emphatically enough pronounced at the elections. 1 may be
wrong in my view of the matter generally ; but I can only judge
for the best. I do not see that I am wanted or should be of use
in the House of Lords, and there would be more discrepancy
between rank and fortune, which is a thing on the whole rather to
be deprecated. On the other hand, 1 know that the line I have
marked out for myself in the H. of G. is one not altogether easy
to hold ; but I have every disposition to remain quiet there, and
shall be very glad if I can do so.


Letters from two of his colleagues explain the catastropha
The shrewd Lord Halifax says to him (Feb. 12) : —

As far as I can make out people are frightened — the masters
were afraid of their workmen, manufacturers afraid of strikes,
churchmen afraid of the nonconformists, many afraid of what is
going on in France and Spain — and in very unreasoning fear
have all taken refuge in conservatism. Ballot enabled them to do
this without apparently deserting their principles and party.
Things in this country as elsewhere are apt to run for a time in
opposite directions. The reaction from the quiet of Palmerston's
government gave you strength to remove four or five old-standing
abuses which nobody had ventured to touch for years. The feelings
of those who suffer from the removal of abuses are always
stronger than those of the general public who are benefited.
Gratitude for the Reform bill and its sequel of improvements
hardly gave a liberal majority in 1835, and gratitude for the
removal of the Irish church, purchase, etc., has not given us *
a majority in 1874.

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Mr. Bright wrote to him that as things had turned out, it CHAP,
would perhaps have been wiser first to secure the budget ; '

with that and better organization, the result might have been Mr - 65 -
better three or six months later. In Lancashire, said Bright,
publicans and Irishmen had joined together, one for delirium
tremens and the other for religious education. The 25th
clause and Mr. Forster's obstinacy, he added, had done
much to wreck the ship. Mr. Gladstone's own diagnosis
was not very different. To his brother Robertson he wrote
(Feb. 6):—

For many years in the House of Commons I have had more
fighting than any other man. For the last fire years I have had
it almost all, and of it a considerable part has been against those
' independent ' liberals whose characters and talents seem to be
much more appreciated by the press and general public, than the
characters and talents of quieter members of the party. I do not
speak of such men as , who leave office or otherwise find occa-
sion to vindicate their independence, and vote against us on the
questions immediately concerned. These men make very little
noise and get very little applause. But there is another and
more popular class of independent liberals who have been repre-
sented by the Daily News, and who have been one main cause of
the weakness of the government, though they (generally) and
their organ have rallied to us too late during the election. We
have never recovered from the blow which they helped to strike
on the Irish Education bill.

But more immediately operative causes have determined the
elections. I have no doubt what is the principal. We have
been borne down in a torrent of gin and beer. Next to this has
been the action of the Education Act of 1870, and the subsequent
controversies. Many of the Roman catholics have voted against
us because we are not denominational ; and many of the dissenters
have at least abstained from voting because we are. Doubtless
there have been other minor agencies; but these are the chief
ones. The effect must be our early removal from office. For
me that will be a very great change, for I do not intend to
assume the general functions of leader of the opposition, and my
great ambition or design will be to spend the remainder of my

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days, if it please God, in tranquillity, and at any rate in freedom
from political strife.

When a short idle attempt was made in the new parlia-
ment to raise a debate upon the date and circumstances
of the dissolution, Disraeli used language rightly called by
Mr. Gladstone 'generous.' 'The right honourable gentle-
man's friends/ he said, * were silent, and I must confess I
admire their taste and feeling. If I had been a follower of
a parliamentary chief as eminent, even if I thought he had
erred, I should have been disposed rather to exhibit sym-
pathy than to offer criticism. I should remember the great
victories which he had fought and won ; I should remember
his illustrious career ; its continuous success and splendour,
not its accidental or even disastrous mistakes.' 1

One word upon the place of this election in our financial
history. In 1874, the prosperity of the country and the move-
ment of the revenue gave an opportunity for repeal of the
income-tax. That opportunity never recurred. The election
of 1874 was the fall of the curtain ; the play that had begun in
1842 came to its last scene. It marked the decision of the
electorate that the income-tax — introduced in time of peace
by Peel and continued by Mr. Gladstone, for the purpose
of simplifying the tariff and expanding trade — should be
retained for general objects of government and should be a
permanent element of our finance. It marked at the same
time the prospect of a new era of indefinitely enlarged
expenditure, with the income-tax as a main engine for
raising ways and means. Whether this decision was wise
or unwise, we need not here discuss.

1 March 19, 1874.

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' £yo> iikv t wvaJ;, irp€ff(3frrep6s re 1}&q elp.1 iced fiapvt detpeeOcu' cb 94 rum

rwrde tQv veurrtpuv ic£\cve ravra roUew.' — HERODOTUS iv. 150.

' I am too old, O king, and slow to stir ; so bid thou one of the
younger men here do these things/

A member of the great government of 1868, in a letter to CHAP,
one of his family, gave an account of the final meeting of* *'
the cabinet:— Ate. (to.

Feb. 17, 1874. — I doubt — he says — whether I ever passed a
more eventful evening than yesterday. The whole cabinet was
assembled. We resolved after full discussion of pros and
cons, and some slight difference of opinion, to resign at once.
After which came the startling announcement that Gladstone
would no longer retain the leadership of the liberal party, nor
resume it, unless the party had settled its differences. He will
not expose himself to the insults and outrages of 1866-8, and he
has a keen sense of the disloyalty of the party during the last
three years. He will sit as a private member and occasionally
speak for himself, but he will not attend the House regularly,
nor assume any one of the functions of leader. He does this not
from anger, but because he says that it is absolutely necessary to
party action to learn that all the duties and responsibilities do not
rest on the leaders, but that followers have their obligations too.
As a consequence of this Gardwell retires to the House of Lords


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BOOK He will not take the leadership, nor will he consent to serve under
t * * any one but Gladstone. He is too old, he says. Lowe protests

1874 ' against the anarchical experiment, and talks of Hartington as
leader. As neither Lowe, nor Bright, nor Goschen, nor Forster
is in a position to act as leader, it may come to this, so that
the liberal front benches of the two Houses will be entirely
remodelled. 1

Here is Mr. Gladstone's own account, written twenty-three
years later, and confirmed by all other accessible papers of
the moment : —

I was most anxious to make the retirement of the ministry
the occasion of my own. I had served for more than forty
years. My age — 65 — was greater than that of Sir Robert
Peel at his retirement in 1846, or at his death in 1850,
and was much beyond that at which most of the leading
commoners of the century had terminated their political career,
together with their natural life. I felt myself to be in some
measure out of touch with some of the tendencies of the liberal
party, especially in religious matters. Sir A. Clark, whom I
consulted, would give me on medical grounds no encouragement
whatever. But I deeply desired an interval between parliament
and the grave. In spite of the solicitations of my friends I
persisted. For 1874 there was a sort of compromise 'without
prejudice.' As having a title to some rest I was not a very
regular attendant, but did not formally abdicate.

He found specific reasons for withdrawal in the state of
the party (Feb. 12) :—

1. The absence of any great positive aim (the late plan [budget]
having failed) for which to co-operate. 2. The difficulty of estab-
lishing united and vigorous action in the liberal party for the
purposes of economy. 3. The unlikelihood of arriving at any
present agreement respecting education.

In another fragment of the same date, he says : —

I do not forget that I am in debt to the party generally for
kindness, indulgence, and confidence, much beyond what I have
1 Aberdare Papers.

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deserved. Deeming myself unable to hold it together from my
present position in a manner worthy of it, I see how unlikely it is
that I should hereafter be able to give any material aid in the &*•&*.
adjustment of its difficulties. Yet if such aid should at any time
be generally desired with a view to arresting some great evil or
procuring for the nation some great good, my willingness to enter
into counsel for the occasion would follow from all I have said.
But always with the understanding that as between section and
section I could not become a partisan, and that such interference
even in the case of its proving useful would entail no obligation
whatever on those accepting it, and carry with it no disturbance
of any arrangement subsisting at the time.

The situation proved, as Lowe had foreseen, an anarchic
experiment. Mr. Gladstone went up to London for the
session, and followed his ordinary social course : —

March 9, 1874.— Off at 4.45 to Windsor for the f£te. We dined
at St. George's Hall. I was presented to the Duchess of E. by
the Queen, and had a few kind words from H.M. 11. — Arch-
bishop Manning, 9-11. It is kind in him to come, but most of
it is rather hollow work, limited as we are. 16. — Dined at
Marlborough House. A civil talk with Disraeli. 20. — Finished
Vivian Grey. The first quarter extremely clever, the rest trash.

May 15. — Emperor of Russia's reception at 3.15. He thanked
me for my conduct to Russia while I was minister. I assured
his Majesty I had watched with profound interest the trans-
actions of his reign, and the great benefits he had conferred upon
his people. He hoped the relations of the two countries would
always be good. . . . Dined at Marlborough House. Stafford
House ball afterwards. The emperor complained of the burden
and late hours of evening entertainments. Princess of Wales so
nice about her picture. D[israeli] complained of my absence, said
they could not get on without me. 20. — Dined at the F.O. to
meet the emperor. It was very kind of Derby. Much work
at Ha warden in arranging books and papers.

The House of Commons is hardly attractive to an irregular
and perfunctory attendant; and Mr. Gladstone's thoughts

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BOOK all turned to other fields. To Mrs. Gladstone he wrote early

vii. • A -i
• in April : —

The anti-parliamentary reaction has been stronger with me
even than I anticipated. I am as far as possible from feeling
the want of the House of Commons. I could cheerfully go there
to do a work ; but I hope and pray to be as little there as possible,
except for such an aim. In London I think we were too much
hustled to speak leisurely or effectually of the future. It will
open for us by degrees. I shall be glad when the matter of
money, after all a secondary one, is disentangled, but chiefly
because it seems to put pressure upon you. I spoke to Stephen
about these matters on Saturday ; he was kind, reasonable, and
in all ways as satisfactory as possible. There is one thing I
should like you to understand clearly as to my view of things,
for it is an essential part of that view. I am convinced that the
welfare of mankind does not now depend on the state or the
world of politics ; the real battle is being fought in the world of
thought, where a deadly attack is made with great tenacity. of
purpose and over a wide field, upon the greatest treasure of
mankind, the belief in God and the gospel of Christ.

In June Sir Stephen Glynne died, — 'a dark, dark day.'
* My brother-in-law/ wrote Mr. Gladstone at a later date, ' was
a man of singular refinement and as remarkable modesty.

Online LibraryJohn MorleyThe life of William Ewart Gladstone, Volume 2 → online text (page 10 of 91)