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The life of William Ewart Gladstone, Volume 2 online

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its interests mismanaged, its honour tarnished, and its strength

burdened and weakened by needless, mischievous, unauthorised,

and unprofitable engagements, and it has resolved that this state

of things shall cease, and that right and justice shall be done. 1

Mr. Gladstone was already member for Leeds. So far back *

as the March of 1878 Sir James Kitson had written to ask
him to become a candidate for the great city of the West
Riding, but Mr. Gladstone declined the proposal. Then a
deputation came to him in Harley Street, and he made them
a speech on the Eastern question, but avoided any reference
to the subject which they had come to handle. The stout
Yorkshiremen were not to be baffled, and Mr. Gladstone,
nominated without action of his own, was now returned by
the unprecedented vote of 24,622. 2 He was right in calling
the Leeds election ' one of the most conspicuous and im-
posing victories ever won for the liberal cause/ 8 Still public
interest was concentrated upon Midlothian, and the might
with which he prevailed over men's minds there, was ad-
mitted by his foes to be the most impressive tribute ever paid
to political man and his vast powers as orator and popular
leader. In Midlothian the crusade had been opened, and
in Midlothian its triumph was sealed.

The poll was declared in Edinburgh soon after seven on
the evening of April 5, and a few minutes later the result,
amid every demonstration of extravagant delight from the
triumphant multitude as they rushed away from the court-

1 Speech at West Calder, April 1, the constituency was three-cornered,

1880. Gladstone, Barran, and Jackson were

* The other candidates stood : — elected.

Barran (L.) , 23,674; Jackson (G.)> * Letter to electors of Leeds,

13,331 ; Wheelhouse(C), 11,965. As April 7, 1880.

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BOOK house, was made known to Mr. Gladstone at a house in
f ' » George Street taken by Lord Bosebery for the occasion.

1880 A couple of candles were brought from the dining-table
and held on each side of him, so that his face might be
seen, as from the balcony he spoke a few words of thanks. 1
' Drove int* Edinburgh about four,' Mr. Gladstone records.
' At 7.20 Mr. Reid brought the figures of the poll — Glad-
stone, 1579 ; Dalkeith, 1368 ; quite satisfactory. Soon after,
15,000 people being gathered in George Street, I spoke
very shortly from the windows, and Rosebery followed,
excellently welL Home about 10. Wonderful and nothing
less has been the disposing guiding hand of God in all this
matter/ The majority was not of great dimensions, but it
was adequate and sufficient, and the victory was celebrated
half through the night with bonfires, illuminations, fireworks,
and all the other fashions of signifying public joy, through-
out Scotland and the north of England. The astrologers,
meteorologists, and prognosticators of Pall Mall and Fleet
Street felt that for once at least they had not rightly
plumbed the depths of the democratic seas.

Lord Beaconsfield was staying alone at that time in the
historic halls of Hatfield, their master being then abroad.
There, hour by hour and day after day, news of the long
train of disasters reached him. From one in confidential
relations with him, and who saw much of him at this
moment, I have heard that the fallen minister, who had
counted on a very different result, now faced the ruin of his
government, the end of his career, and the overwhelming
triumph of his antagonist, with an unclouded serenity and
a greatness of mind, worthy of a man who had known high
fortunes and filled to the full the measure of his gifts and
his ambitions.


Some writers complained that the language of Midlothian

was as solemn as if the verdict of the country were about

to settle the issues of the battle of Armageddon. It was

not exactly the battle of Armageddon, but the election of

1 The iron railing of this balcony is now a sacred relic in the hands of
a faithful follower.

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1880 was, at any rate, one of the most remarkable in party CHAP,
history. For one thing, activity was unprecedented, and *

Mr. Gladstone's fiery spirit seemed to have spread over the iET * 71 -
country. A list prepared by the liberal whips, and preserved
by Mr. Gladstone, describes the new parliament as com-
posed of 347 liberals, 240 conservatives, and 65 nationalists.
Looking at the divisions of the three kingdoms, we find
England and Wales contributing 282 liberals against 207
tories; Scotland, 52 liberals against 8 tories; and Ireland,
13 liberals against 25 tories. The Irish nationalists were
of two shades : 35 followers of Mr. Parnell, 26 moderate
home rulers who followed Mr. Shaw, and 4 dubious. In
England and Wales therefore the liberal majority was 75,
and in Scotland it was 44. Turning to electoral aspects
with special social significance, we note that of the county
constituencies 63 sent liberal members as against 124 tories.
In tne metropolis, as a whole, the government gained one
seat and lost four, with the result that London was repre-
sented in the new parliament by 8 tories and 14 liberals.
One victory of real importance was won by the government,
for they beat the liberal by two to one in the City of London,
the heart and centre of many of those powerful influences
that Mr. Gladstone had described in his last speech in the
Midlothian election as determined foes from whom the
liberal party had no tolerance to expect • The tory party/
Mr. Gladstone noted, ' has never had a majority on any one
of its own four dissolutions— 1852, 1859, 1868, 1880/

Mr. Gladstone to Lord Rosebery.

Eawarden, April 10, 1880. — . . . I should like to write about
these marvellous events, but how can I ? The romance of politics
which befel my old age in Scotland, has spread over the whole
land. You remember perhaps my series of fractions, comparing
daily the net gains with the gross returns. The first day began
with 1/13 or thereabouts. It had got to 1/10 or 1/9 when we left
you. It is now 1/6. How idle to talk about the caprice of house-
hold suffrage ; the counties have given quite as remarkable results
. as the boroughs. I was stunned at the end of the first night; and

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BOOK I am still out of breath from the endeavour to keep up with the
* * rapidity of events. I suppose the conservative Scotch will fill the

1880. fiygj. c | ag8 compartment, or nearly so, but no more. Wales, I beg
you to observe, has not (as I think) been behind Scotland in her
achievements. Most of the wretched percentage of compensation
on ' tory gains ' on the general list is wretched in quality as well
as quantity, and consists of the district places. To scarcely one of
these gains can they point with any keen satisfaction. As to
Midlothian the moral effect, before and after, has I think surpassed
all our hopes. The feeling until it was over (since which there
has justly been a centring of thought on E. Lancashire) was so
fastened on it, that it was almost like one of the occasions of old
when the issue of battle was referred to single combat The great
merit of it I apprehend lay in the original conception, which I
take to have been yours, and to overshadow even your operations
towards the direct production of the result. But one thing it
cannot overshadow in my mind ; the sense of the inexpressible aid
and comfort derived day by day from your considerate ever-
watchful care and tact. [Latin not to be identified]. Let me apply
these same words (calling on you for a translation if needful) to
Lady Tiosebery. I should feel profoundly ashamed of the burdens
we brought you, had I not seen how truly they were borne in the
spirit, which alone makes all burdens light. It is a very pleasant
subject of reflection to me that the riveting effect of companionship
in a struggle like this, does not pass away with the struggle itself
but abides.

Our stratagem for a quiet exit was on the whole successful
At Carlisle there was perfect quiet. At most of the few places
where the train stopped there were a score or two of people and
no more. At Ha warden, arriving between 9 and 10 a.m., we
cheated the triumphal preparations ; but made amends by carry-
ing them over to Herbert the following day. We now become
eager for the East Worcestershire election and are sanguine about
my son's return. At Warrington we got over the three hours
wonderfully, and succeeded in sleeping, though not exactly fAakOatcw
KaraKtlfuvo^ through a succession of the most violent and un-
earthly noises, banging, crashing, roaring, squealing, that a railway
station traversed by innumerable goods' trains can supply. . . .

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jBt. 71.


I will not trouble you with more words of thanks. I feel them CHAP,
so poor and idle.

Two days later Mr. Gladstone wrote to the Duke of

April 12, 1880. — All our heads are still in a whirl from the
great events of the last fortnight, which have given joy, I am
convinced, to the large majority of the civilized world. The
downfall of Beaconsfieldism is like the vanishing of some vast
magnificent castle in an Italian romance. It is too big, however,
to be all taken in at once. Meantime, while I inwardly rejoice,
I. am against all outward signs, beyond such as are purely local,
of exultation, for they are not chivalrous, and they would tend
to barbarise political warfare. We may be well content to thank
God in silence. But the outlook is tremendous! The gradual
unravelling of the tangled knots of the foreign and Indian policy
will indeed be a task for skilled and strong hands, if they can be
found ; and these can hardly be found such as the case requires.

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There is indeed one great and critical act, the responsibility for
which falls momentarily or provisionally on the Sovereign ; it is
the dismissal of an existing Ministry, and the appointment of a new
one. This act is usually performed with the aid drawn from
authentic manifestations of public opinion, mostly such as are
obtained through the votes or conduct of the House of Commons. —
BOOR Gladstone.

vn - , The day after the declaration of the poll in Midlothian, Mr.
1880. , Gladstone and his wife and daughter quitted Dalmeny, and
made their way homewards, as we have just seen.

April 6. — A heavy day with post, incessant telegrams, and pre-
parations for departure. We drove, however, to Linlithgow, saw
the beautiful church and fine old castle, and I made a short non-
polemical speech to the people. . . • Careful concealment of the
plans of departure until well on in the evening. Left this most
hospitable of all houses at 8.30, and got into the 9.25, escaping by
secrecy all demonstration except from some 200 who seemed to
gather on the instant. Travelled all night, and had time to
ruminate on the great hand of God, so evidently displayed.

April 7, Wed. — After three hours of successful sleep amid fright-
ful unearthly noises at Warrington, we went off to Chester and
Hawarden, saluted enthusiastically, but escaping all crowds. . . .
Set to work at once on a mass of letters and papers. . . . The day
occupied with papers, letters, and telegrams, and reading my Vatican
tracts. . . . The triumph grows and grows ; to God be the praise.

April 9.— Letters passed 100. April 10, Sat.— Church, 8£ A.M.
Wrote to . . . Postal arrivals, 140; terrible! Wolverton
arrived to dinner, and I spent the evening in full conversation
with him. He threatens a request from Granville and Hartington.
Again, I am stunned, but God will provide.


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April 11, Sun. — Church, 8 J am., Holy Communion; 11 AM.
Wrote etc Bead Gospel for the 19th Century. Examined liturgical ,
books. Further conversation with Wolverton on the London jEt> ^l.
reception, on Leeds, and on the great matter of all. April 12. —
Wolverton went off in the morning, and is to see Granville and
Hartington to-day. Read Brugsch's Hist. Egypt. Guy Mannering.
Wrote some memoranda of names applicable to this occasion. Hard
day. But all are pretty hard in this my 'retirement.' April 13. —
Began tentatively an anonymous letter on the Conservative Collapse, 1
really drawn forth by the letter of Lord Bath. . . . Read Guy
Mannering and that most heavenly man, George Herbert. . . . April
16. — Mr. Bright came over from Llandudno, and we spent nearly
all the time in conversing on the situation. He is most kind and
satisfactory. April 17. — Finished my letter and revision of it.
Cut down a sycamore with W. H. G. April 18, Sun. — Holy
Communion, 8 A.M. ; morning service and evening. Wrote to
[17 letters]. Read Divine Veracity or Divine Justice, Caird on the
Philosophy of Religion. April 19. — A reluctant good-bye before 1.
London at 6.30. A secret journey, but people gathered at Chester
station and Euston. I vaguely feel that this journey is a plunge
out of an atmosphere of peace into an element of disturbance.
May He who has of late so wonderfully guided, guide me still
In the critical days about to come. April 20. — This blank day
is, I think, probably due to the Queen's hesitation or reluctance,
which the ministers have to find means of [covering].

One joyous element in these days at Hawarden was the
arrival first of the youngest son of the house, then of the
eldest, the latter of them having won a seat in Worcester-
shire, and the former having failed in Middlesex, after a
display of qualities that delighted his family and friends
much more than mere victory could have done. 'About
one/ Mr. Gladstone marks on the 8th, ' Herbert entered in
triumph. • We were there, and could not but be much
moved.' And on the 14th, 'Willy made his triumphal
entry at four, and delivered a very good speech. Neville
Lyttelton, too, spoke well from the carriage.' As Lord Acton
wrote to Miss Gladstone about Middlesex, 'The picture of

1 Published anonymously in the Fortnightly Review, May 1880.
VOL. II. *

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BOOK the young, untried son bursting into sudden popularity, and
- • ? turning men's thoughts from the absorbing exploits of his
1880, father, adds an affecting domestic feature to that great
biography. That meeting at Hawarden, after such a revolu-
tion and such a growth, is a thing I cannot think of without
emotion.' A little later, when Mr. Gladstone's option of
Midlothian left the Leeds seat vacant, his son was elected
without opposition to fill it. Mr, Gladstone's letters on this
operation, which had its delicacies, are an excellent example
of his habits of careful and attentive judgment in handling
even secondary affairs.


From the moment when it became clear that Lord Beacons-
field would be swept out of office, it was just as clear to sen-
sible men that only one successor was possible. It was Mr.
Gladstone, as everybody knew and said, who had led and
inspired the assault. A cabinet without him would hold its
councils without the most important of the influences on
which it depended. If the majorities that carried the
election could have been consulted on the choice of a
minister, nobody doubted upon whom with unanimity
their choice would fall. Even those who most detested
the result, even those who held that a load of anxiety
would be lifted from the bosoms of many liberals of official
rank if they were to hear of Mr Gladstone's definite retire-
ment from public life, still pronounced that it w'as Mr.
Gladstone's majority, and that what the contributors to
that majority intended to vote for was, above all else, his
return to office and his supremacy in national affairs. If
he would not lay down his power, such persons said, it
was best for everybody that he should exercise it openly,
regularly, and responsibly as head of the government 1
The very fact that he had ceased to be the leader of the
opposition five years before, was turned into an argument
for his responsibility now ; for it was his individual freedom
that had enabled him to put forth all his strength, without

1 See, for instance, Pall Mall Oaz- ous and relentless of Mr. Gladstone's
ette, April 2 and 22, then conducted critics,
by Mr. Greenwood, the most vigor-

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any of that management and reserve that would have been CHAP,
needed in one who was titular leader of a party, as well as » ^*
real leader of the nation. The victory would have been ■**• 7L
shorn of half its glory if any other chief had been given
to the party. In short, no minister, not Pitt in 1784, nor
Grey in 1831, nor Peel ten years later, nor Palmerston in
1855, was ever summoned by more direct and personal
acclaim. Whatever liberty of choice the theory of our
constitution assigned to the Queen, in practice this choice
did not now exist It was true that in the first of his
Midlothian speeches Mr Gladstone had used these words,
'I hope the verdict of the country will give to Lord
Granville and Lord Hartington the responsible charge of
its affairs/ 1 But events had wrought a surprise, and
transformed the situation.

Some, indeed, there were whom a vision of another kind
possessed ; a vision of the moral grandeur that would attend
his retirement after putting Apollyon and his legions to
flight, and planting his own hosts in triumph in the full
measure of their predominance. Some who loved him, might
still regretfully cherish for him this heroic dream. Retire-
ment might indeed have silenced evil tongues ; it would .
have spared him the toils of many turbid and tempestuous
years. But public life is no idylL Mr. Gladstone had put
himself, by exertions designed for public objects, into a
position from which retreat to private ease would have been
neither unselfish nor honourable. Is it not an obvious
test of true greatness in a statesman, that he shall hold
popularity, credit, ascendency and power such as Mr.
Gladstone now commanded, as a treasure to be employed
with regal profusion for the common good, not guarded
in a miser's strong-box? For this outlay of popularity
the coming years were to provide Mr. Gladstone with
occasions only too ample.

If retreat was impossible, then all the rest was inevitable.
And it is easy to guess the course of his ruminations
between his return from Midlothian and his arrival in
Harley Street. Mr. Gladstone himself, looking back seven-

1 November 26, 1879.

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BOOK teen years after, upon his refusal in 1880 to serve in a
* . place below the first, wrote : — ' I conceive that I was plainly

1880. r ight i n declining it, for had I acted otherwise, I should
have placed the facts of the case in conflict with its rights,
and with the just expectations of the country. Besides, as
the head of a five years' ministry, and as still in full activity,
I should have been strangely placed as the subordinate of
one twenty years my junior, and comparatively little tested
in public life/

As the diary records, on Monday, April 12, Lord Wolverton
left Hawarden, and was to see the two liberal leaders the same
day. He did so, and reported briefly to his chief at night : —

I hope the Plimsoll matter 1 is at an end. The clubs to-
night think that Lord Beaconsfield will meet parliament, and that
when the time comes, if asked, he will advise that Hartington
should be sent for. I do not believe either. I have seen Lord
Granville and Hartington ; both camo here upon my arrival, and
Adam with them. Lord Granville hopes you may bo in London
on Friday. I told him I thought you would be. He has gone to
Walmer, and will come up on Friday. He has a good deal to
think of in the meantime as to * the position of the party/ I need
not say more than this, as it embraces the whole question, which
he now quite appreciates. . . . Nothing could be more cordial and
kind than Granville and Hartington, but I hardly think till to-day
they quite realised the position, which I confess seems to me as clear
as the sun at noon. They will neither of them speak to any one
till Friday, when Lord Granville hopes to see you. Adam is much
pleased with your kind note to him. He has gone home till Friday.
It is well to be away just now, for the gossip and questioning is

Acknowledging this on the following day (April 13), Mr.
Gladstone says to Lord Wolverton : —

The claim, so to speak, of Granville and Hartington, or

1 The Plimsoll matter was a move- made for the first time to establish

ment to give Mr Gladstone a public a practice of public rejoicing iu the

reception on his arrival in London, metropolis over the catastrophe of

Mr. Gladstone declined the reception an administration and a political

as inconsistent with his intention, party, and would wound feelings

expressed at Edinburgh, to avoid all which ought to be respected as well

demonstration, and also because it as spared,
would be regarded as an attempt

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rather, I should say, of Granville with Harrington as against CHAP,
me, or rather as compared with me, is complete. My Isthnnm . ,

as an individual cannot set me up as a Pretender. More- iET * 71,
over, if they should on surveying their position see fit to
apply to me, there is only one form and ground of application,
so far as I see, which could be seriously entertained by me,
namely, their conviction that on the ground of public policy, all
things considered, it was best in the actual position of affairs that
I should come out. It cannot be made a matter of ceremonial, as
by gentlemen waiving a precedence, or a matter of feeling, as by
men of high and delicate honour determined to throw their bias
against themselves. They have no right to throw their bias against
themselves — they have no right to look at anything but public
policy ; and this I am sure will be their conviction. Nothing else
can possibly absolve them from their presumptive obligation as
standing at the head of the party which for the time represents
the country.

As a matter of fact, I find no evidence that the two leaders
ever did express a conviction that public policy required
that he should stand forth as a pretender for the post of
prime minister. On the contrary, when Lord Wolverton
says that they 'did not quite realise the position' on the
12th, this can only mean that they hardly felt that convic-
tion about the requirements of public policy, which Mr.
Gladstone demanded as the foundation of his own decision.


The last meeting of the outgoing cabinet was held on
April 21. What next took place has been described by
Mr. Gladstone himself in memoranda written during the
days on which the events occurred.

Interview with Lord Hartington.

April 22 1880. At 7 P.M. Hartington came to see me at
Wolverton's house and reported on his journey to Windsor.

The Queen stood with her back to the window — which used not
to be her custom. On the whole I gathered that her manner was
more or less embarrassed, but towards him not otherwise than

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BOOK gracious and confiding. She told him that she desired him to form
- an administration, and pressed upon him strongly his duty to
1880. assist her as a responsible leader of the party now in a large
majority. I could not find that she expressed clearly her reason
for appealing to him as a responsible leader of the party, and yet
going past the leader of the party, namely Granville, whom no one
except himself has a title to displace. She however indicated to
him her confidence in his moderation, the phrase under which he is
daily commended in the Daily Telegraph, at this moment I think,
Beaconsfield's personal organ and the recipient of his inspirations.
By this moderation, the Queen intimated that Hartington was
distinguished from Granville as well as from me.

Hartington, in reply to her Majesty, made becoming acknow-
ledgments, and proceeded to say that he did not think a gov-
ernment could be satisfactorily formed without me; he had not
had any direct communication with me; but he had reason to
believe that I would not take any office or post in the government
except that of first minister. Under those circumstances he
advised her Majesty to place the matter in my hands. The Queen
continued to urge upon him the obligations arising out of his
position, and desired him to ascertain whether he was right in his

Online LibraryJohn MorleyThe life of William Ewart Gladstone, Volume 2 → online text (page 21 of 91)