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The life of William Ewart Gladstone, Volume 2 online

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Mr. Bright to Mr. Gladstone.

Backdate, Dee. 12, 1879.— Perhaps I ought to have written to
you sooner to acknowledge the receipt of your letter of the 28th
ult, but I preferred to let you get home before I wrote, and I was
in truth, rather puzzled as to what I ought to say.

You, with sufficient accuracy, describe the purport of your
remarks during our conversation when I was with you a year ago.
I saw the difficulty, then in the future, now perhaps near upon us.
But it is one in which nothing can be done, and 'a masterly
inactivity' seems the only wise course. If a break-up of the
present concern comes, the Queen will be advised to send for
Granville or Hartington. The one sent for will accept and
attempt to form a government, or he may have grave doubts, and
say that you are the only man, etc. ; he will consult the other, and
will consult you. Meantime there may be a 'pronouncement' on
the part of the people, through the press and public meetings,
which will have a sudden effect on negotiations and on the views
of the Queen, and may decide the question. If such a time should
come, then you will have to say what is possible, and I hope you
will be able to decide rightly, and with reference solely to the
interests of the country and the service you owe to the crown as
representing the nation. You will act with a most strict honour
to Granville and Hartington, as I believe they will act to you.
If, as I hope for and believe, no selfish ambition will come in to
make mischief, the question will be determined in such a manner
as to content all honest men, and what is best for all will be done.
I am often asked as to the future. I reply only so as to say
nothing to add to the evident difficulty of the situation.

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Your Scotch expedition has been one of discovery and of con- CHAP,
quest. The tory press and partisans are evidently astonished at it. -
The government speakers have no new defence, and they want the i ® r * ^°'
past to be forgotten. Mr. Smith, first lord, I see, entirely rejoices
in what has been done in South Africa, though ( a few lives' have
been lost by it. This official life seems sorely to demoralise some
homely and decent people. I am fairly well so far during the
winter, but I seem feeble when I compare myself with your
activity and power. . . . We are to have meetings in Birmingham
during January. I should prefer the quiet of obscurity to these
meetings. I Jbope Mrs. Gladstone and your daughter have enjoyed
their Scotch trip and are well after it.

Five days later came Lord Wolverton's report of the state
of feeling on these delicate topics in high places in London.
He had seen Lord Granville on the evening of the 16th : —

To most affectionate inquiries as to your health and powers, 1
gave a most satisfactory account, and the conversation then went
to the question as to the effect which your recent triumphant pro-
gress in Midlothian and the North had produced upon your mind.
I frankly said that you had in my opinion not anticipated such
a marked expression of public feeling, and that it had doubtless
tended to lead your mind to the consideration of the position of
the party, and to the fact that public opinion might call upon you
to an extent which no one could have looked for. I then (with
anxiety to convey what I know to be your desire) most earnestly
impressed upon Lord Granville that you had upon every occasion
when the subject was alluded to, prefaced all you had to say
with the strongest expressions of loyalty to Harrington and him-
self. That I felt convinced that nothing would induce you to
encourage, or to even listen to, any attempt which others might
make to disturb the existing state of things as to the leadership,
unless the wish was very clearly expressed to you by Hartington
and himself, and you would demand full proof that their interests
and that of the party strongly pointed to the reconsideration of
your own position. I need hardly say that, though I felt it my
duty to take care that I did not understate your feelings, it was
not necessary to reassure Granville upon that point.

The conversation then went to the state of the party and its

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BOOK present position. I learnt that a private meeting had been held at
• 7^* * Devonshire House in the morning. I believe Hartington, Gran-
1879. v y] e> CJardwell, Adam, and Harcourt were present. My impression
is that the advice Adam gave as to the elections, was that * union
in the party at this moment would not be promoted by a change
of front/ I do not mean to say that the question of leadership
was actually discussed, but I suspect the conversation turned some-
what upon the point which you place 'third' in your letter to
Bright To sum it all up, I do not think you will at present be
troubled by any application to you from Granville and Hartington. 1

The third point in the letter to Mr. Bright wds the ques-
tion whether a liberal government under Mr. Gladstone
would not be exposed to a special degree of hostility, due to
the peculiar antagonism that his personality excited. In
a later letter (December 20), Wolverton tells Mr. Gladstone
that in the conversation of the 16th, * Lord Granville raised
the point you made your third in your note to Bright, and
that he did converse upon at some length, evidently having
real fears that many of our weak-kneed ones would feel some
alarm if Hartington went from the front now, and that the
tories would intensify this to the uttermost. I think this
was all/ Another sentence indicates Lord Wolverton's own
view : —

Lord Granville is not sanguine as to the future. As you know,
he is always inclined to * temporise ' ; this is his line now, and he
is perhaps right You know my fear was that without your name
in front, the battle at the election would be fought at a great
disadvantage. But I see the immense difficulty of a change of
front now, even if they desired it and you consented to it. This
you also feel, I know.

To all this Mr. Gladstone replied to Wolverton as
follows : —

Hawarden, December 18, 1879. — I thank you much for your

1 Lord Selborne ( Jfemorta/a, i. 471) all events, against any such step,

says that Lord Granville reported to Lord Granville's own view was that

him (Dec. 21 ), that Lord Hartington the question, like many other quea-

at this meeting wished to insist upon tions, would have to be solved ambu-

Mr. Gladstone resuming the lead, but lando.
that the rest were, for the present at

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letter. What you report yourself to have said is quite satisfactory CHAP.
to me. If Granville said more than you had mentioned, anything *
that fell from him would be acceptable to me. When I saw your ^ ft ' '"■
envelope, I felt a dread lest the contents should be more sub-
stantive ; a relief came on reading them. But these communica-
tions are useful, as they give distinctness to ideas, and through
ideas to intentions. I may state mine as follows : — 1. My ears are
shut against all the world, except it were Granville and Harring-
ton. 2. And even to them unless they spoke together, and in
clear and decisive language. 3. They are the judges whether to
speak, as well as when to speak. But as an individual, I am of
opinion that there is not a case for their speaking now. 4. Were
they to speak now, and as I have defined above, I should then say
let us have nothing more than a formula, and let the substance of
it be that by the nature of things no man in my position could
make beforehand an absolute renunciation, and that the leadership
in the next parliament must, like everything else, be considered in
connection with what may appear at the dissolution to be the
sense of the country, but that my action individually has been
and will continue to be that of a follower of Lord Granville and
Lord Hartington. One thing I would ask of you as a fast friend.
If you think that in anything I fall short by omission or com-
mission of perfect loyalty as a member of the party, I beg you
to tell me.


As usual with him, these grave political preoccupations
were not engrossing, but only a part of the day's task. He
carried on a pretty profuse correspondence, he worked hard
on his favourite diversion of arranging books and papers, he
gave much thought and time to estate matters with his eldest
son, with him too he felled now a chestnut, now a sycamore ;
he corrected the proofs of his speeches and wrote an article
for Mr. Knowles ; he read books and articles about Eleusis,
and th6 Hebrew migration from Egypt, and the Olympian
system, and Newman on the Eirenicon, and Westcott on
St. John, and somebody else upon St. Thomas Aquinas. For
two or three days he was partially disabled by ' a low face-
ache: the reaction after heavy pressure, under which

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I received from the mercy of God such remarkable support 9
> In the middle of January alarming accounts came from his
1880. sister Helen, who lay dying at Cologne. Thither he sped
with his eldest brother and his sister-in-law. They found
life fast ebbing, and four days after their arrival the end
came, in the midst of pious exercises and affectionate care.
They were satisfied that she had been * freely restored to the
unity of spirit and the bond of peace/ and had died not in
the actual Roman communion. A few days after his return
home he records: ' Wrote a long memorandum of the evidence
in regard to dear Helen's religious profession.' The remains
they bore to Fasque, and by the end of the month he was
again at Hawarden, once more at work with his eldest son
upon the ' accumulated disorder/ and the rest of the round of
his familiar employments. Among other things he read
Cowper's Task — 'the fifth book very noble in its moral
strain'; and another entry will interest many, — 'Feb. 15.
— Read the biography of noble Dora Pattison. How by
reflex action it stings. . . . Yet even to her (like Bishop
Butler), death was terrible/ 'He was haunted/ he writes,
'with recollections of Sister Dora.' Then after a Sunday
passed in church exercises, and ' skimming many theological
books/ on February 23 he 'left Hawarden with a heavy

He quickly found himself in the London whirlpool,
attending conclaves of his political friends, dining out, seeing
Irving in the Merchant of Venice ('his best, I think'),
speaking once or twice in the House, and twice at London
meetings in St Pancras and Marylebone, where the popular
enthusiasm made even his most hardened critics begin
to suspect that the tide had really turned since the days
when the Londoners mobbed him in the street and broke
his windows.

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In causa faoili ouivis licet esse disertum,

Et minima* vires frangere qnassa Talent ;
Subruere est arces et stantia moenia virtus.

— Ov. Triat. t iii. xi. 21.

In an easy case any man can plead, and against shattered walls the
puniest strength prevails ; 'tis the overthrow of standing towers
and frowning ramparts that tests manhood.

At last one day (March 8) when Mr. Gladstone was ' writing CHAP,
a little on Homer/ he heard the fated news that the . ^^
dissolution was announced. Lord Beaconsfield published *Et-71.
the famous letter to the lord lieutenant of Ireland, and in
deep accents and sonorous sentences endeavoured to make
home rule the issue of the election. Shrewd politicians,
with time to reflect, found it not easy to divine why the
government had chosen the particular moment. It might
be, as some supposed, that they thought the opposition had
lately got into bad odour with the country by coquetting
with home rulers, as shown by the elections at Liverpool
and Southwark. But, in fact, little importance was to be
attached to these two defeats of the opposition, for Liver-
pool had always been conservative* and Southwark was
thoroughly disorganized by liberal divisions. 'The general
opinion seems to be/ says Speaker Brand (Mar. 15), ' that
the opposition may gain slightly at the general election, but
not to an extent to break down altogether the conservative

In what was in effect his election address, Lord Beacons-
field warned the country that a danger, in its ultimate


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results scarcely less disastrous than pestilence and famine,
distracted Ireland A portion of its population was en-
188a deavouring to sever the constitutional tie that united it
to Great Britain in that bond which was favourable to the
power and prosperity of both. ' It is to be hoped/ he went
on, 'that all men of light and leading will resist this
destructive doctrine. The strength of this action depends
on the unity of feeling which should pervade the United
Kingdom and its widespread dependencies. The first duty
of an English minister should be to consolidate that co-
operation which renders irresistible the community educated,
as our own, in an equal love of liberty and law. And yet
there are some who challenge the expediency of the imperial
character of this realm. Having attempted and failed to
enfeeble our colonies by their policy of decomposition, they
may perhaps now recognise in the disintegration of the
United Kingdom, a mode which will not only accomplish,
but precipitate their purpose. . . . Rarely in this century
has there been an occasion more critical The power of
England and the peace of Europe will largely depend upon
the verdict of the country. . . . Peace rests on the presence,
not to say the ascendency of England in the councils of
Europe. Even at this moment the doubt supposed to be
inseparable from popular elections, if it does not diminish,
certainly arrests her influence, and is a main reason for not
delaying an appeal to the national voice.'

To this manifesto Mr. Gladstone, with his usual long pains
in the drafting of such pieces, prepared his counterblast
He went with direct force to what Lord Beaconsfield had
striven to make the centre of his appeal : —

In the electioneering address which the prime minister has
issued, an attempt is made to work upon your fears by dark
allusions to the repeal of the union and the abandonment of the
colonies. Gentlemen, those who endangered the union with
Ireland were the party that maintained there an alien church, an
unjust land law, and franchises inferior to our own ; and the true
supporters of the union are those who firmly uphold the supreme
authority of parliament, but exercise that authority to bind the

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three nations by the indissoluble tie of liberal and equal laws. As CHAP,
to the colonies, liberal administrations set free their trade with -
all the world, gave them popular and responsible government, JXjrs ' * *
undertook to defend Canada with the whole strength of the
empire, and organized the great scheme for uniting the several
settlements of British North America into one dominion, to which,
when we quitted office in 1866, it only remained for our successors
to ask the ready assent of parliament It is by these measures
that the colonies have been bound in affection to the empire, and
the authors of them can afford to smile at baseless insinuations.
Gentlemen, the true purpose of these terrifying insinuations is to
hide from view the acts of the ministry, and their effect upon the
character and condition of the country.

To those ministerial misdeeds he proceeded to draw the
attention of the electors, though he declared with threescore
years and ten upon his head, how irksome he felt the task
'At home/ he said, ' the ministers have neglected legislation,
aggravated the public distress by continual shocks to con-
fidence which is the life of enterprise, augmented the public
expenditure and taxation for purposes not merely unneces-
sary but mischievous, and plunged the finances, which were
handed over to them in a state of singular prosperity, into a
series of deficits unexampled in modern times.' After shoot-
ing this heavy bolt he looked abroad. ' Abroad they have
strained, if they have not endangered, the prerogative by
gross misuse, and have weakened the empire by needless
wars, unprofitable extensions, and unwise engagements, and
have dishonoured it in the eyes of Europe by filching the
island of Cyprus from the Porte under a treaty clause
distinctly concluded in violation of the treaty of Paris,
which formed part of the international law of Christendom/
As to the domestic legislation of the future, it was in the
election address of the prime minister a perfect blank. It
was true that in default of reform in this kingdom, the
nation was promised the advantages of ' presence, not to say
ascendency ' in the councils of Europe.

There is indeed, he said, an ascendency in European councils
to which Great Britain might reasonably aspire, by steadily

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BOOK sustaining the character of a Power no less just than strong;
^attached to liberty and law, jealous of peace, and therefore
opposed to intrigue and aggrandizement, from whatever quarter
they may come; jealous of honour, and therefore averse to the
clandestine engagements which have marked our two latest years.
To attain a moral and envied ascendency such as this, is indeed a
noble object for any minister or any empire.

Mr. Gladstone wrote to Lord Acton on March 14 : —
On Tuesday I am to set out for Midlothian and my last general
election. My general elections have been 1832, 1835, 1837, 1841,
1847, 1852, 1857, 1859, 1865, 1868, 1874, and now 1880— what a
list ! I believe that among the official men of this century I am
now beaten only by Lord Palmerston in the length of my career in
the House of Commons. A clear answer from the nation, a clear
answer in the right sense, and a decisive accession of the liberal
party to power without me, this is what I hope and pray. I think
that the experts and the party generally are pretty sanguine.
None doubt that the government are to lose ; a few doubt whether
they will be weaker than liberals and home rulers ; very many
whether weaker than liberals alone. All agree that Scotland will
do its duty.

On the morning of the 16th, Mr. Gladstone started
Hundreds of people grew to thousands long before his train
left King's Cross, and all the way to Edinburgh he found the
same vivid interest and acclamation on the east coast that
had greeted him in November on the west. At Grantham
the mayor and a crowd estimated by nimble statisticians at
two thousand, awaited him at the station ; at York the lord
mayor and six thousand; at Newcastle-on-Tyne too many
thousands to count. The little addresses made at these
stopping-places were described as a sort of table of contents
of the more elaborate speeches to be delivered in Midlothian
itself. As he crossed the Tweed the fervour did not cool,
and when at last he reached Edinburgh, he encountered a
scene almost as wonderful as that which had met him four
months before.

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Again he was the guest at Dalmeny, and again he renewed CHAP,
his prodigious exertions amid a vehemence of admiration .
and delight that became more intense as the days passed. JSa * 71 *
Here is an entry or two from the diary : —

Travelled forty miles and delivered three speeches of forty-five
or fifty minutes each, at Juniper Green, Colinton, and Mid Calder.
Enthusiasm unabated. . . . Corrected and despatched proofs of
Religion, Achaian and Semitic. Mar. 21, Palm Sunday. — Drove to
Edinburgh cathedral; service 11-1J. Free St. George's in the
afternoon. Walked out seven miles with Lord Rosebery. 22. — To
Edinburgh (after working as usual on my papers) at 1.15. Short
complimentary address at liberal club. Then to George Street
and on to the city election committee; short speech. Then by
train to Gilmerton; spoke forty-five or fifty minutes; next after
tea to Loanhead, and after more tea, spoke again for some time on
Russian aggrandizement Everywhere the greatest enthusiasm.
Mr. C[owan] gave me interesting details about Magyar and
Bohemian students. Back to Dalmeny at 7.20.

And so day after day did panting time toil after him in
vain. Many of us have known long spells of hard election-
eering — but not in one's seventy-first year, with every single
word as it fell into print on the morrow watched with the
lynx eyes of party scrutiny, and all loaded with the heaviest
personal responsibility.

On March 24 the parliament was dissolved. On March 30
the first elections took place, and the first pollings on the
day following. From the early returns it was pretty evident
that the liberals would have a majority. On the first day
they made a net gain of fifteen seats in sixty-nine con-
stituencies. By the end of the fourth day a total net
gain of fifty seats was recorded. The ministerial majority
was already gone. The county elections' brought new sur-
prises, and by the end of the second week the liberal gains
were reckoned at ninety-nine.

Mr. Gladstone's fortnight of discourse ended on the 2nd of
ApriL 'So/ he records, 'ends the second series of the
speeches in which I have hammered with all my poor might
at the fabric of the present tory power. ApriL 3. — Cut down

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BOOK a Spanish chestnut in Dalmeny Park by order. The day
, was quiet, but my papers and letters and the incoming news

188 °- made it busy. It seemed as if the arm of the Lord had bared
itself for work that He has made His own. 4. — A lull in
election news, but the reflections on what has passed are
overpowering.' Here are his closing words, and they are not
without historic import : —

The great trial, gentlemen, proceeds. You have great forces
arrayed against you. I say 'You'; if you will permit me to
identify myself with you, I will say, We have great forces arrayed
against us, and apparently we cannot make our appeal to the
aristocracy, excepting that which must never be forgotten, ihe
distinguished and enlightened minority of that body of able,
energetic, patriotic, liberal-minded men, whose feelings are with
those of the people, and who decorate and dignify their rank by
their strong sympathy with the entire community. With that
exception, in all the classes of which I speak, I am sorry to say we
cannot reckon upon what is called the landed interest, we cannot
reckon upon the clergy of the established church either in Eng-
land or in Scotland, subject again and always in each case to the
most noble exceptions — exceptions, I trust, likely to enlarge and
multiply from day to day. On none of these can we place our
trust. We cannot reckon on the wealth of the country, nor upon
the rank of the country, nor upon the influence which rank and
wealth usually bring. In the main these powers are against us,
for wherever there is a close corporation, wherever there is a spirit
of organized monopoly, wherever there is a narrow and sectional
interest apart from that of the country, and desiring to be set up
above the interest of the public, there, gentlemen, we, the liberal
party, have no friendship and no tolerance to expect Above all
these, and behind all these, there is something greater than these —
there is the nation itself. This great trial is now proceeding before
the nation. The nation is a power hard to rouse, but when roused,
harder still and more hopeless to resist. ... I figure to myself those
who have constituted the majority of the late House of Commons as
the persons arraigned, and the constituencies of the country as those
who are called together in the solemn order of the constitution to
hear the evidence, and to pronounce the verdict That evidence has

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been pretty largely given. That verdict we await. We have none CHAP.

of the forms of a judicial trial. There are no peers in Westminster »

Hall, there are no judges on the woolsack ; but if we concentrate ' ' '

our minds upon the truth of the case as apart from its mere

exterior, it is a grander and a more august spectacle than was ever

exhibited either in Westminster Hall or in the House of Lords.

For a nation, called to undertake a great and responsible duty, —

a duty which is to tell, as we are informed from high authority, on

the peace of Europe and on the destinies of England, — has found

Online LibraryJohn MorleyThe life of William Ewart Gladstone, Volume 2 → online text (page 20 of 91)