John Morley.

The life of William Ewart Gladstone, Volume 2 online

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belief that I would not act in a ministry unless as first minister.
This, he said, is a question which I should not have put to you,
except when desired by the Queen.

I said her Majesty was quite justified, I thought* in requiring
positive information, and he, therefore, in putting the question to
me. Of my action he was already in substantial possession, as it
had been read to him (he had told me) by Wolverton. I am not
asked, I said, for reasons, but only for Aye or No, and consequently
I have only to say that I adhere to my reply as you have already
conveyed it to the Queen.

In making such a reply, it was my duty to add that in case a
government should be formed by him, or by Granville with him,
whom the Queen seemed to me wrongly to have passed by — it was
to Granville that I had resigned my trust, and he, Hartington, was
subsequently elected by the party to the leadership in the House
of Commons — my duty would be plain. It would be to give them
all the support in my power, both negatively, as by absence or

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non-interference, and positively. Promises of this kind, I said, CHAP,
stood on slippery ground, and must always be understood with the *
limits which might be prescribed by conviction. I referred to the * EnBm ' 1#
extreme caution, almost costiveness, of Peel's replies to Lord
Russell, when he was endeavouring to form a government in
December 1845 for the purpose of carrying the repeal of the Corn
Law. In this case, however, I felt a tolerable degree of confidence,
because I was not aware of any substantive divergence of ideas
between us, and I had observed with great satisfaction, when his
address to North-East Lancashire came into my hands, after the
writing but before the publication of mine to Midlothian, that they
were in marked accordance as to opinions, if not as to form and
tone, and I did not alter a word. In the case of the first Palmer-
ston government I had certainly been thrown into rather sharp
opposition after I quitted it, but this was mainly due to finance.
I had not approved of the finance of Sir George Lewis, highly as I
estimated his judgment in general politics; and it was in some
ways a relief to me, when we had become colleagues in the second
Palmerston government, to find that he did not approve of mine.
However, I could only make such a declaration as the nature of
the case allowed.

He received all this without comment, and said his conversation
with her Majesty had ended as it began, each party adhering to
the ground originally taken up. He had not altered his advice,
but had come under her Majesty's command to learn my in-
tentions, which he was to make known to her Majesty returning to
Windsor this day at one.

He asked me what I thought of the doctrine of obligation so
much pressed upon him by the Queen. I said that in my opinion
the case was clear enough. Her Majesty had not always acted on
the rule of sending for the leader of the opposition. Palmerston
was the known and recognised leader of the opposition in 1859,
but the Queen sent for Granville. The leader, if sent for, was
in my opinion bound either to serve himself, or to point out
some other course to her Majesty which he might deem to be
more for the public advantage. And if that course should
fail in consequence of the refusal of the person pointed out, the
leader of the party could not leave her Majesty unprovided

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BOOK with a government, but would be bound in loyalty to undertake
VH ' , the task.
1880. j ju not i n( ji ca t ej nor d^ ne ag]^ wna t I should do if sent for.

He did not indicate, nor did I ask, what he should do if the Queen
continued to press him to go on, in spite of his advice to her to
move in another direction. — April 23, 1880.

A barren controversy was afterwards raised on the
question whether at this exciting moment Lord Hartington
tried to form a government. What he did, according to
the memorandum, was to advise the Queen to send for
Mr. Gladstone, on the ground of his belief that Mr. Gladstone
would join no government of which he was not the head.
The Queen then urged him to make sure of this, before she
would acquiesce in his refusal to undertake the commission.
The Queen, as Mr. Gladstone says, had a right to require
positive information, and Lord Hartington had a right, and
it was even his duty, to procure this information for her,
and to put the direct question to Mr. Gladstone, whether he
would or would not act in an administration of which he
was not the head. He went back to Windsor, not in the
position of a statesman who has tried to form a government
and failed, but in the position of one who had refused a
task because he knew all along that failure was certain, and
now brought proof positive that his refusal was right. 1

W^at happened next was easy to foresee : —

Interview with Lord Granville and Lord Hartington.

April 23, 1880. — Soon after half-past three to-day, Lord Gran-
ville and Lord Hartington arrived from Windsor at my house, and
signified to me the Queen's command that I should repair to
Windsor, where she would see me at half-past six.

The purport of Lord Harrington's conversation with me yester-
day had been signified. They had jointly advised thereupon that
I should be sent for with a view to the formation of a government,
and her Majesty desired Lord Granville would convey to me the
message. I did not understand that there had been any lengthened
audience, or any reference to details.

1 See an interesting letter from Viscount Esher, Times, Feb. 22, 1892.

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Receiving this intimation, I read to them an extract from an CHAP,
article in the Daily News of yesterday, 1 descriptive of their position *
relatively to me, and of mine to them, and said that, letting drop ***• '*•
the epithets, so I understood the matter. I presumed, therefore,
that under the circumstances as they were established before their
audience, they had unitedly advised the sovereign that it was most
for the public advantage to send for me. To this they assented.
I expressed, a little later, my sense of the high honour and
patriotism with which they had acted ; said that I had endeavoured
to fulfil my own duty, but was aware I might be subject to severe
criticism for my resignation of the leadership five years ago, which
I had forced upon them ; but I did it believing in good faith that
we were to have quiet times, and for the first years, 1875 and
1876, and to the end of the session I had acted in a manner con-
formable to that resignation, and had only been driven from my
corner by compulsion. They made no reply, but Granville had
previously told me he was perfectly satisfied as to my communica-
tions with him.

I at once asked whether I might reckon, as I hoped, on their
co-operation in the government. Both assented. Granville
agreed to take the foreign office, but modestly and not as of right.
I proposed the India office as next, and as very near in weight,
and perhaps the most difficult of all at this time, to Hartington,
which he desired time to consider. I named Childers as the most
proper person for the war office. As I had to prepare for
Windsor, our interview was not very long; and they agreed to
come again after dinner.

We spoke of the governor-generalship, at least I spoke to

Granville who stayed a little after Hartington, and I said Goschen's

position as to the franchise would prevent bis being in the cabinet

now, but he should be in great employ. Granville had had the

lead in the conversation; and said the Queen requested him to

carry the message to me.

1 'Without their full acquiescence — over a liberal administration, it will

and indeed their earnest pressure— be because Lord Granville and Lord

he could not even now take a step Hartington, with characteristic patri-

which would seem to slight claims otism, have themselves been among

which he has amply and generously the first to feel and the most eager

acknowledged. ... If either now or to urge Mr. Gladstone's return to the

a few days later he accepts the task post to which he has been summoned.'

of forming and the duty of presiding — Daily News, April 22.

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BOOK Audience at Windsor.


>* Windsor Castle, April 23, 1880.— At 6.50 I went to the Queen,

who received me with perfect courtesy, from which she never
deviates. Her Majesty presumed I was in possession of the
purport of her communications with Lord Granville and with Lord
Hartington, and wished to know, as the administration of Lord
Beaconsfield had been 'turned out/ whether I was prepared to
form a government. She thought she had acted constitutionally
in sending for the recognised leaders of the party, and referring
the matter to them in the first instance. I said that if I might
presume to speak, nothing could in my views be more correct than
her Majesty's view that the application should be so made (I did
not refer to the case as bettoeen Lord Granville and Lord Harting-
ton), and that it would have been an error to pass them by and
refer to me. They had stood, I said, between me and the position
of a candidate for office, and it was only their advising her Majesty
to lay her commands upon me, which could warrant my thinking
of it after all that had occurred. But since they had given this
advice, it was not consistent with my duty to shrink from any
responsibility which I had incurred, and I was aware that I had
incurred a very great responsibility. I therefore humbly accepted
her Majesty's commission.

Her Majesty wished to know, in order that she might acquaint
Lord Beaconsfield, whether I could undertake to form a govern-
ment, or whether I only meant that I would make the attempt.
. I said I had obtained the co-operation of Lord Granville and Lord
Hartington, and that my knowledge and belief as to prevailing
dispositions would, I think, warrant me in undertaking to form
a government, it being her Majesty's pleasure. I had ascertained
that Lord Granville would be willing to accept the foreign office ;
and I had also to say that the same considerations which made it
my duty to accept office, seemed also to make it my duty to
submit myself to her Majesty's pleasure for the office of chancellor
of the exchequer together with that of first lord of the treasury.

She asked if I had thought of any one for the war office, which
was very important. The report of the Commission would show
that Lord CardwelTs system of short service had entirely broken
down, and that a change must be made at any rate as regarded the

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noncommissioned officers. Lord Hartington had assured her that CHAP,
no one was committed to the system except Lord Cardwell, and he «
was very unwell and hardly able to act. Lord Hartington knew
the war office, and she thought would make a good war
minister. I said that it seemed to me in the present state of the
country the first object was to provide for the difficulties of states-
manship, and then to deal with those of administration. The
greatest of all these difficulties, I thought, centred in the India
office, and I was very much inclined to think Lord Hartington
would be eminently qualified to deal with them, and would thereby
take a place in the government suitable to his position and his
probable future.

She asked, to whom, then, did I think of entrusting the war office 1
[Resumed this afternoon, April 24.] x I said Mr. Childers occurred
to me as an administrator of eminent capacity and conciliatory in
his modes of action ; his mind would be open on the grave subjects
treated by the Commission, which did not appear to me to be even
for Lord Cardwell matters of committal, but simply of public
policy to be determined by public advantage. She thought that
Mr. Childera had not been popular at the admiralty, and that it
was desirable the secretary for war should be liked by the army.
I said that there was an occurrence towards the close of his term
which placed him in a difficult position, but relied on his care and
discretion. (She did not press the point, but is evidently under
strong professional bias.)

She spoke of the chancellorship, and I named Lord Selborne.

She referred to general action and hoped it would be concilia-
tory. I said that every one who had served the crown for even a
much smaller term of years than I had the good or ill-fortune to
reckon, would know well that an incoming government must recog-
nise existing engagements, and must take up, irrespective of its
preferences, whatever was required by the character and honour of
the country. I referred to the case of Scinde and Sir R. Peel's
cabinet in 1843; which she recognised as if it had been recently
before her.

She said, ' I must be frank with you, Mr. Gladstone, and must

1 Up to this point the memoran- end of the audience and the time for
dum is on Windsor notepaper, and the train — a very characteristic in-
must have been written between the stance of his alacrity.

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BOOK fairly say that there have been some expressions ' — I think she said
f some little things, which had caused her concern or pain. I said

1880, that her Majesty's frankness, so well known, was a main ground
of the entire reliance of her ministers upon her. That I was con-
scious of having incurred a great responsibility, and felt the
difficulty which arises when great issues are raised, and a man can
only act and speak upon the best lights he possesses, aware all the
time that he may be in error. That I had undoubtedly used a
mode of speech and language different in some degree from what I
should have employed, had I been the leader of a party or a
candidate for office. Then as regarded conciliation, in my opinion
the occasion for what I had described had wholly passed away, and
that so far as I was concerned, it was my hope that her Majesty
would not find anything to disapprove in my general tone ; that
my desire and effort would be to diminish her cares, in any case
not to aggravate them; that, however, considering my years, I
could only look to a short term of active exertion and a personal
retirement comparatively early. With regard to the freedom of
language I had admitted, she said with some good-natured archness,
* But you will have to bear the consequences,' to which I entirely
assented. She seemed to me, if I may so say, * natural under
effort.' All things considered, I was much pleased. I ended by
kissing her Majesty's hand.


The usual embarrassments in building a government
filled many days with unintermittent labour of a kind that
like Peel Mr. Gladstone found intensely harassing, though
interesting. The duty of leaving out old colleagues can
hardly have been other than painful, but Mr. Gladstone was
a man of business, and he reckoned on a proper stoicism in
the victims of public necessity. To one of them he wrote,
'While I am the oldest man of my political generation, I
have been brought by the seeming force of exceptional
circumstances to undertake a task requiring less of years
and more of vigour than my accumulating store of the one
and waning residue of the other, and I shall be a solecism
in the government which I have undertaken to form. I do
not feel able to ask you to resume the toils of ofKce/ etc., but

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would like to name him the recipient for a signal mark of CHAP,
honour. 'I have not the least right to be disappointed v_I^L_
when you select younger men for your colleagues/ the iEr - 71 -
cheerful man replied. Not all were so easily satisfied. * It
is cruel to make a disqualification for others out of an in-
firmity of my own/ Mr. Gladstone wrote to the oldest of his
comrades in the Peelite days, but — et cetera, et cetera, and he
would be glad to offer his old ally the red riband of the Bath
when one should be vacant. The peer to whom this letter
with its dubious solatium was addressed, showed his chagrin
by a reply of a single sentence: that he did not wish to
leave the letter unanswered, lest it should seem to admit
that he w*s in a state of health which he did not feel to
be the case; the red riband was not even declined One
admirable man with intrepid nalvetd proposed himself for
the cabinet, but was not admitted ; another no less admirable
was pressed to enter, but felt that he could be more useful
as an independent member, and declined — an honourable
transaction repeated by the same person on more than one
occasion later. To one excellent member of his former
cabinet, the prime minister proposed the chairmanship of
committee, and it was with some tartness refused. Another
equally excellent member of the old administration he
endeavoured to plant out in the viceregal lodge at Dublin,
without the cabinet, but in vain. To a third he proposed
the Indian vice-royalty, and received an answer that left him
'stunned and out of breath.' As the hours passed and
office after office was filled up, curiosity grew vivacious as to
the fate appointed for the younger generation of radicals.
The great posts had gone to patrician whigs, just as if
Mr. Gladstone had been a Grey or a Russell. As we have
seen, he had secured Lord Granville and Lord Hartington
before he went to Windsor, and on the evening of his return,
the first person to whom he applied was Lord Derby, one
of the most sagacious men of his day, but a great terri-
torial noble and a very recent convert. He declined office
on the ground that if a man changes his party connection,
he is bound to give proof that he wishes the change from no
merely personal motive, and that he is not a gainer by it.

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BOOK Mr. Bright had joined, it was true, and Mr. Forster, but Bright
* the new radicals honoured and revered without any longer

1880. following, and with Forster they had quarrelled violently
upon education, nor was the quarrel ever healed. One astute
adviser, well acquainted with the feeling and expectations of
the left wing, now discovered to his horror that Mr. Gladstone
was not in the least alive to the importance of the leaders of
the radical section, and had never dreamed of them for his
cabinet. His view seems to have been something of this
kind, 'You have been saved from whig triumph in the
person of Lord Hartington ; now that you have got me to keep
the balance, I must have a whig cabinet/ He was, more-
over, still addicted to what he called Peel's rule against
admitting anybody straight into the cabinet without having
held previous office. At last he sent for Sir Charles Dilka
To his extreme amazement Sir Charles refused to serve, un-
less either himself or Mr. Chamberlain were in the cabinet ;
the prime minister might make his choice between them ;
then the other would accept a subordinate post. Mr. Glad-
stone discoursed severely on this unprecedented enormity,
and the case was adjourned. Mr. Bright was desired to in-
terfere, but the pair remained inexorable. In the end the
lot fell on Mr. Chamberlain. ' Your political opinions/ Mr.
Gladstone wrote to him (April 27), ' may on some points go
rather beyond what I may call the general measure of the
government, but I hope and believe that there can be no
practical impediment on this score to your acceptance of my
proposal* So Mr. Chamberlain took office at the board of
trade, where Mr. Gladstone himself had begun his effective
career in administration nearly forty years before ; and his
confederate went as under-secretary to the foreign office.
At that time the general feeling was that Sir Charles Dilke,
long in parliament and a man of conspicuous mark within
its walls, was rather badly used, and that Mr. Gladstone
ought to have included both. All this was the ominous
prelude of a voyage that was to be made through many
storms. 1

1 The reader will find the list of the later periods of its existence, in the
members of the cabinet, now and at Appendix.

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One incident of these labours of construction may illus-
trate Mr. Gladstone's curious susceptibility in certain kinds <
of personal contest He proposed that Mr. Lowe should be *^ T ' 71 '
made a viscount, while the Queen thought that a barony
would meet the claim. For once it broke the prime
minister's sleep ; he got up in the middle of the night and
dashed off a letter to Windsor. The letter written, the minister
went to bed again, and was in an instant sound asleep.

' The new parliament/ he told his old friend at school and
college, Sir Francis Doyle (May 10), ' will be tested by its
acts. It will not draw its inspiration from me. No doubt
it will make changes that will be denounced as revolu-
tionary, and then recognised as innocent and even good.
But I expect it to act in the main on well-tried and
established lines, and do much for the people and little to
disquiet my growing years, or even yours.' All fell
out strangely otherwise, and disquiet marked his second
administration from its beginning to its end. To lay all
the blame on a prime minister or his cabinet for this, is
like blaming the navigator for wild weather. In spite of
storm and flood, great things were done ; deep, notable, and
abiding results ensued. The procedure of parliament under-
went a profound revolution. So too did our electoral system
in all its aspects. New lines of cleavage showed themselves
in the divisions of political party. A not unimportant
episode occurred in the chapter of religious toleration. The
Irish peasant, after suffering centuries of oppression and
tyrannic wrong, at last got the charter of his liberation. In
a more distant region, as if to illustrate the power of events
against the will of a statesman and the contemporary opinion
of a nation, England for good or evil found herself planted
in the valley of the Nile, and became a land-power on the

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II y a bien du factice dans le classement politique des hommes.

There is plenty of what is purely artificial in the political classifica-
tion of men.

BOOK On May 20 after eight-and-forty years of strenuous public
V1IL , life, Mr. Gladstone met his twelfth parliament, and the
1880. second in which he had been chief minister of the crown.
'At 4.15/ he records, 'I went down to the House with
Herbert. There was a great and fervent crowd in Palace
Yard, and much feeling in the Housa It almost over-
powered me, as I thought by what deep and hidden agencies
I have been brought back into the . midst of the vortex
of political action and contention. It has not been in my
power during these last six months to have made notes,
as I would have wished, of my own thoughts and observa-
tions from time to time; of the new access of strength
which in some important respects has been administered
to me in my old age; and of the remarkable manner in
which Holy Scripture has been applied to me for admoni-
tion and for comfort. Looking calmly on this course of
experience, I do believe that the Almighty has employed
me for His purposes in a manner larger or more special
than before, and has strengthened me and led me on

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accordingly, though I must not forget the admirable saying
of Hooker, that even ministers of good things are like,
torches, a light to others, waste and destruction to them-

One who approached his task in such a spirit as this was
at least impregnable to ordinary mortifications, and it was
well ; for before many days were over it became perceptible
that the new parliament and the new majority would be no
docile instrument of ministerial will. An acute chill followed
the discovery that there was to be no recall of Frere or
Layard. Very early in its history Speaker Brand, surveying
his flock from the august altitude of the Chair with an acute,
experienced, and friendly eye, made up his mind that the
liberal party were ' not only strong, but determined to have
their own way in spite of Mr. Gladstone. He has a difficult
team to drive.' Two men of striking character on the
benches opposite quickly became formidable. Lord Randolph
Churchill headed a little group of four tories, and Mr.
Parnell a resolute band of five-and-thirty Irishmen, with

Online LibraryJohn MorleyThe life of William Ewart Gladstone, Volume 2 → online text (page 22 of 91)