John Morley.

The life of William Ewart Gladstone, Volume 2 online

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The Irish Church bill took 21 days and the Land bill of
1870 took 25. Of the 14,836 speeches delivered, 6315 were
made by Irish members. The Speaker and chairman of
committees interposed on points of order nearly 2000 times
during the session. Mr. Parnell, the Speaker notes, 'with
his minority of 24 dominates the House. When will the
House take courage and reform its procedure ? ' After all,
the suspension of habeas corpus is a thing that men may well
think it worth while to fight about, and a revolution in a
country's land-system might be expected to take up a good
deal of time.

It soon appeared that no miracle had been wrought by
either Coercion Act or Land Act. Mr. Parnell drew up test
cases for submission to the new land court. His advice to
the army of tenants would depend, he said, on the fate of
these cases. In September Mr. Forster visited Hawarden,
and gave a bad account of the real meaning of Mr. Parnell's
plausible propositions for sending test cases to the newly
established land commission, as well as of other ugly circum-
stances. ' It is quite clear as you said/ wrote Mr. Gladstone
to Forster in Ireland, ' that Parnell means to present cases
which the commission must refuse, and then to treat their
refusal as showing that they cannot be trusted, and that the
bill has failed.' As he interpreted it afterwards, there was
no doubt that in one sense the Land Act tended to accelerate
a crisis in Ireland, for it brought to a head "the affairs of the
party connected with the land league. It made it almost a
necessity for that party either to advance or to recede. They
chose the desperate course. At the same date, he wrote in a
letter to Lord Granville : —

With respect to Parnellism, I should not propose to do more
than a severe and strong denunciation of it by severing him
altogether from the Irish people and the mass of the Irish
members; and by saying that home rule has for one of its aims

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BOOK local government — an excellent thing to which I would affix no
t limits except the supremacy of the imperial parliament, and the
881 • right of all parts of the country to claim whatever might be
accorded to Ireland. This is only a repetition of what I have
often said before, and I have nothing to add or enlarge. But
I have the fear that when the occasion for action comes, which
will not be in my time, many liberals may perhaps hang back
and may cause further trouble.

In view of what was to come four years later, one of his
letters to Forster is interesting (April 12, 1882), among other
reasons as illustrating the depth to which the essence of
political liberalism had now penetrated Mr. Gladstone's
mind : —

1. About local government for Ireland, the ideas which more
and more establish themselves in my mind are such as these.

(1.) Until we have seriously responsible bodies to deal with us
in Ireland, every plan we frame comes to Irishmen, say what we
may, as an English plan. As such it is probably condemned. At
best it is a one-sided bargain, which binds us, not them.

(2.) If your excellent plans for obtaining local aid towards the
execution of the law break down, it will be on account of this
miserable and almost total want of the sense of responsibility for
the public good and public peace in Ireland ; and this responsibility
we cannot create except through local self-government.

(3.) If we say we must postpone the question till the state of the
country is more fit for it, I should answer that the least danger is
in going forward at once. It is liberty alone which fits men for
liberty. This proposition, like every other in politics, has its
bounds ; but it is far safer than the counter doctrine, wait till they
are fit.

(4.) In truth I should say (differing perhaps from many), that
for the Ireland of to-day, the first question is the rectification of
the relations between landlord and tenant^ which happily is going
on ; the next is to relieve Great Britain from the enormous weight
of the government of Ireland unaided by the people, and from the
hopeless contradiction in which we stand while we give a parlia-
mentary representation, hardly effective for anything but mischief

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Mr. 72.


without the local institutions of self-government which it pre- CHAP,
supposes, and on which alone it can have a sound and healthy <

We have before us in administration, he wrote to Forster
in September —

a problem not less delicate and arduous than the problem of
legislation with which we have lately had to deal in parliament.
Of the leaders, the officials, the skeleton of the land league I have
no hope whatever. The better the prospects of the Land Act
with their adherents outside the circle of wire-pullers, and with
the Irish people, the more bitter will be their hatred, and the
more sure they will be to go as far as fear of the people will allow
them in keeping up the agitation, which they cannot afford to part
with on account of their ulterior ends. All we can do is to turn
more and more the masses of their followers, to fine them down by
good laws and good government, and it is in this view that the
question of judicious releases from prison, should improving
statistics of crime encourage it, may become one of early


It was in the autumn of 1881 that Mr. Gladstone visited
Leeds, in payment of the debt of gratitude due for his
triumphant return in the general election of the year before.
This progress extended over four days, and almost surpassedin
magnitude and fervour any of his experiences in other parts
of the kingdom. We have an interesting glimpse of the
physical effort of such experiences in a couple of his letters
written to Mr. Kitson, who with immense labour and spirit
had organized this severe if glorious enterprise : —

Hawarden Castle, Sept. 28, 1881. — I thank you for the very clear
and careful account of the proposed proceedings at Leeds. It lacks
as yet that rough statement of numbers at each meeting, which is
requisite to enable me to understand what I shall have to do. This
will be fixed by the scale of the meeting. I see no difficulty but
one — a procession through the principal thoroughfares is one of
the most exhausting processes I know as a preliminary to address-
ing a mass meeting. A mass meeting requires the physical powers

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BOOK to be in their best and freshest state, as far as anything can be
' > fresh in a man near seventy-two ; and I have on one or more

1881. former occasions felt them wofully contracted. In Midlothian I
never had anything of the kind before a great physical effort in
speaking ; and the lapse even of a couple of years is something.
It would certainly be most desirable to have the mass meeting
first, and then I have not any fear at all of the procession through
whatever thoroughfares you think fit.

Oct. 2, 1881. — I should be very sorry to put aside any of the
opportunities of vision at Leeds which the public may care to use ;
but what I had hoped was that these might come after any speeches
of considerable effort and not before them. To understand what a
physical drain, and what a reaction from tension of the senses is
caused by a ' progress ' before addressing a great audience, a person
must probably have gone through it, and gone through it at my
time of life. When I went to Midlothian, I begged that this
might never happen ; and it was avoided throughout Since that
time I have myself been sensible for the first time of a diminished
power of voice in the House of Commons, and others also for the
first time have remarked it.

Vast torchlight processions, addresses from the corporation,
four score addresses from political bodies, a giant banquet in
the Cloth Hall Yard covered in for the purpose, on one day;
on another, more addresses, a public luncheon followed by a
mass meeting of over five-and-twenty thousand persons, then
a long journey through dense throngs vociferous with an ex-
ultation that knew no limits, a large dinner party, and at the
end of all a night train. The only concessions that the veteran
asked to weakness of the flesh, were that at the banquet he
should not appear until the eating and drinking were over,
and that at the mass meeting some preliminary speakers
should intervene to give him time to take breath after his
long and serious exercises of the morning. When the time
came his voice was heard like the note of a clear and deep-
toned belL So much had vital energy, hardly less rare than
his mental power, to do with the varied exploits of this
spacious career.

The topics of his Leeds speeches I need not travel over.

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What attracted most attention and perhaps drew most
applause was his warning to Mr. Parnell. ' He desires/ said
the minister, ' to arrest the operation of the Land Act ; to ^ T - 72,
stand as Moses stood between the living and the dead ; to
stand there not as Moses stood, to arrest, but to spread the
plague/ The menace that followed became a catchword of
the day : * If it shall appear that there is still to be fought
a final conflict in Ireland between law on the one side and
sheer lawlessness upon the other, if the law purged from
defect and from any taint of injustice is still to be repelled
and refused, and the first conditions of political society to
remain unfulfilled, then I say, gentlemen, without hesitation,
the resources of civilisation against its enemies are not yet
exhausted/ 1

Nor was the pageant all excitement. The long speech,
which by way of prelusion to the great mass meeting he
addressed to the chamber of commerce, was devoted to the
destruction of the economic sophisters who tried to persuade
us that c the vampire of free-trade was insidiously sucking
the life-blood of the country/ In large survey of broad social
facts, exposition of diligently assorted figures, power of
scientific analysis, sustained chain of reasoning, he was never
better. The consummate mastery of this argumentative
performance did not slay a heresy that has nine lives, but
it drove the thing out of sight in Yorkshire for some time
to come. 2


On Wednesday October 12, the cabinet met, and after five
hours of deliberation decided that Mr. Parnell should be
sent to prison under the Coercion Act. The Irish leader
was arrested at his hotel the next morning, and carried
off to Kilmainham, where he remained for some six
months. The same day Mr. Gladstone was presented with
an address from the Common Council of London, and in his
speech at the Guildhall gave them the news : —

Our determination has been that to the best of our power, our

words should be carried into acts [referring to what he had said

1 At the Cloth Hall banquet, Leeds, Oct. 8, 1881.

8 Speech to the Leeds Chamber of Commerce, Oct. 8, 1881.

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BOOK at Leeds], and even within these few moments I have been
' - informed that towards the vindication of law and order, of the

1881. rights of property, of the freedom of the land, of the first elements
of political life and civilisation, the first step has been taken in
the arrest of the man who unhappily from motives which I do
not challenge, which I cannot examine and with which I have
nothing to do, has made himself beyond all others prominent in
the attempt to destroy the authority of the law, and to substitute
what would end in being nothing more or less than anarchical
oppression exercised upon the people of Ireland.

The arrest of Mr. Parnell was no doubt a pretty consider-
able strain upon powers conferred by parliament to put
down village ruffians ; but times were revolutionary, and
though the Act of parliament was not a wise one, but
altogether the reverse of wise, it was no wonder that having
got the instrument, ministers thought they might as well
use it. Still executive violence did not seem to work, and
Mr. Gladstone looked in a natural direction for help in the
milder way of persuasion. He wrote (December 17th) to
Cardinal Newman : —

I will begin with defining strictly the limits of this appeal. I
ask you to read the inclosed papers ; and to consider whether you
will write anything to Borne upon them. I do not ask you to
write, nor to tell me whether you write, nor to make any reply
to this letter, beyond returning the inclosures in an envelope to
me in Downing Street. I will state briefly the grounds of my
request, thus limited. In 1844, when I was young as a cabinet
minister, and the government of Sir R. Peel was troubled with
the O'Connell manifestations, they made what I think was an
appeal to Pope Gregory xvi. for his intervention to discourage
agitation in Ireland. I should be very loath now to tender such a
request at Rome. But now a different case arises. Some members
of the Roman catholic priesthood in Ireland deliver certain sermons
and otherwise express themselves in the way which my inclosures
exhibit. I doubt whether if they were laymen we should not
have settled their cases by putting them into gaol. I need not
describe the sentiments uttered. Your eminence will feel them
and judge them as strongly as I do. But now as to the Supreme

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Pontiff. You will hardly be surprised when I say that I regard
him, if apprised of the facts, as responsible for the conduct of *
these priests. For I know perfectly well that he has the means iEx# ^
of silencing them ; and that, if any one of them were in public to
dispute the decrees of the council of 1870 as plainly as he has
denounced law and order, he would be silenced.

Mr. Errington, who is at Rome, will I believe have seen these
papers, and will I hope have brought the facts as far as he is able
to the knowledge of his holiness. But I do not know how far
he is able ; nor how he may use his discretion. He is not our
official servant, but an independent Roman catholic gentleman and
a volunteer.

My wish is as regards Ireland, in this hour of her peril and her
hope, to leave nothing undone by which to give heart and
strength to the hope and to abate the peril But my wish as
regards the Pope is that he should have the means of bringing
those for whom he is responsible to fulfil the elementary duties of
citizenship. I say of citizenship ; of Christianity, of priesthood, it
is not for me to speak.

The cardinal replied that he would gladly find himself
able to be of service, however slight it might be, in a
political crisis, which must be felt as of grave anxiety by all
who understand the blessing of national unity and peace.
He thought Mr. Gladstone overrated the pope's* power
in political and social matters. Absolute in questions of
theology, it was not so in political matters. If the contest
in Ireland were whether * rebellion/ or whether 'robbery'
was a sin, we might expect him to anathematize its denial
But his action in concrete matters, as whether a political
party is censurable or not, was not direct, and only in the
long run effective. Local power and influence was often
a match for Koman right. The pope's right keeps things
together, it checks extravagances, and at length prevails,
but not without a fight. Its exercise is a matter of great
prudence, and depends upon times and circumstances. As
for the intemperate dangerous words of priests and curates,
surely such persons belonged to their respective bishops,
and scarcely required the introduction of the Supreme

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1882. We have now arrived at April 1882. The reports
brought to the cabinet by Mr. Forster were of the
gloomiest. The Land Act had brought no improvement
In the south-west and many of the midland counties lawless-
ness and intimidation were worse than ever. Returns of
agrarian crime were presented in every shape, and com-
parisons framed by weeks, by months, by quarters ; do what
the statisticians would, and in spite of fluctuations, murders
and tfther serious outrages had increased. The policy of
arbitrary arrest had completely failed, and the officials and
crown lawyers at the Castle were at their wits' end.

While the cabinet was face to face with this ugly prospect,
Mr. Gladstone received a communication volunteered by an
Irish member, as to the new attitude of Mr. Parnell and the
possibility of turning it to good account. Mr. Gladstone sent
this letter on to Forster, replying meanwhile ' in the sense of
not shutting the door.' When the thing came before the
cabinet, Mr. Chamberlain — who had previously told Mr.
Gladstone that he thought the time opportune for something
like a reconciliation with the Irish party — with characteristic
courage took his life in his hands, as he put it, and set to
work to ascertain through the emissary what use for the
publicgood could be made of Mr. Parnell's changed frame of
mind. On April 25th, the cabinet heard what Mr. Chamber-
lain had to tell them, and it came to this, that Mr. Parnell
was desirous to use his influence on behalf of peace, but his
influence for good depended on the settlement of the ques-
tion of arrears. Ministers decided that they could enter
into no agreement and would give no pledge. They would
act on their own responsibility in the light of the knowledge
they had gained of Mr. Parneirs views. Mr. Gladstone was
always impatient of any reference to 'reciprocal assurances'
or ' tacit understanding ' in respect of the dealings with the
prisoner in Kilmainham. Still the nature of the proceedings
was plain enough. The object of the communications to
which the government were invited by Mr. Parnell through
his emissary, was, supposing him to be anxious to do what

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MR. forster's resignation 305

he could for law and order, to find out what action on the CHAP.

. • IV
part of the government would enable him to adopt this line. «■ »

Events then moved rapidly. Humours that something JErtm 73,
was going on got abroad, and questions began to be put in
parliament. A stout tory gave notice of a motion aiming at
the release of the suspects. As Mr. Gladstone informed the
Queen, there was no doubt that the general opinion of the
public was moving in a direction adverse to arbitrary
imprisonment, though the question was a nice one for
consideration whether the recent surrender by the no-rent
party of its extreme and most subversive contentions,
amounted to anything like a guarantee for their future
conduct in respect of peace and order. The rising excite-
ment was swelled by the retirement of Lord Cowper from
the viceroyalty, and the appointment as his successor of Lord
Spencer, who had filled that post in Mr. Gladstone's first
government. On May 2nd, Mr. Gladstone read a memo-
randum to the cabinet to which they agreed : —

The cabinet are of opinion that the time has now arrived when
with a view to the interests of law and order in Ireland, the three
members of parliament who have been imprisoned on suspicion
since last October, should be immediately released ; and that the
list of suspects should be examined with a view to the release of
all persons not believed to be associated with crimes. They
propose at once to announce to parliament their intention to
propose, as soon as necessary business will permit, a bill to
strengthen the ordinary law in Ireland for the security of life
and property, while reserving their discretion with regard to the
Life and Property Protection Act [of 1881], which however they
do not at present think it will be possible to renew, if a favourable
state of affairs shall prevail in Ireland.

From this proceeding Mr. Forster dissented, and he
resigned his office. His point seems to have been that no
suspect should be released until the new Coercion Act had
been fashioned, whereas the rest of the cabinet held that there
was no excuse for the continued detention under arbitrary
warrant of men as to whom the ground for the * reasonable
suspicion ' required by the law had now disappeared. He pro -

VOL. II. "0"

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BOOK bably felt that the appointment of a viceroy of cabinet rank
- T * ' and with successful Irish experience was in fact his own super-
1882. session. ' I have received your letter/ Mr. Gladstone wrote
to him (May 2), ' with much grief, but on this it would be
selfish to expatiate. I have no choice ; followed or not followed
I must go on. There are portions of the subject which touch
you personally, and which seem to me to deserve mvuch
attention. But I have such an interest in the main issue,
that I could not be deemed impartial ; so I had better not
enter on them. One thing, however, I wish to say. You
wish to minimise in any further statement the cause of your
retreat. In my opinion — and I speak from experience —
viewing the nature of that cause, you will find this hardly
possible. For a justification you, I fear, will have to found
upon the doctrine of " a new departure." We must protest
against it, and deny it with heart and soul.'

The way in which Mr. Gladstone chose to put things
was stated in a letter to the Queen (May 3): — 'In his
judgment there had been two, and only two, vital powers
of commanding efficacy in Ireland, the Land Act, and the
land league ; they had been locked in a combat of life and
death; and the cardinal question was which of the two
would win. From the serious effort to amend the Land Act
by the Arrears bill of the nationalists, 1 from the speeches
made in support of it, and from information voluntarily
tendered to the government as to the views of the leaders of
the league, the cabinet believed that those who governed
the land league were now conscious of having been
defeated by the Land Act on the main question, that of
paying rent/

For the office of Irish secretary Mr. Gladstone selected
Lord Frederick Cavendish, who was the husband of a niece of
Mrs. Gladstone's, and one of the most devoted of his friends
and adherents. The special reason for the choice of this
capable and high-minded man, was that Lord Frederick had
framed a plan of finance at the treasury for a new scheme
of land purchase. The two freshly appointed Irish ministers
at once crossed over to a country seething in disorder. The

1 Introduced by Mr. Redmond.

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afternoon of the fatal sixth of May was passed by the
new viceroy and Lord Frederick in that grim apartment in ,
Dublin Castle, where successive secretaries spend unshining ^ T - 73 *
hours in saying No to impossible demands, and hunting
for plausible answers to insoluble riddles. Never did so
dreadful a shadow overhang it as on that day. The task
on which the two ministers were engaged was the con-
sideration of the new provisions for coping with disorder,
which had been prepared in London. The under-secretary, Mr.
Burke, and one of the lawyers, were present. Lord Spencer
rode out to the park about five o'clock, and Lord Frederick
followed him an hour later. He was overtaken by the
under-secretary walking homewards, and as the two strolled
on together, they were both brutally murdered in front
of the vice-regal residence. The assassins did not know who
Lord Frederick was. Well has it been said that Ireland
seems the sport of a destiny that is aimless. 1

The official world of London was on that Saturday night
in the full round of its pleasures. The Gladstones were
dining at the Austrian embassy. So too, was Sir William
Harcourt, and to him as home secretary the black tidings
were sent from Dublin late in the evening. Mr. and Mrs.
Gladstone had already left, she for a party at the admiralty,
he walking home to Downing Street. At the admiralty
they told her of bad news from Ireland and hurried her
away. Mr. Gladstone arrived at home a few minutes after
her. When his secretary in the hall told him of the
horrible thing that had been done, it was as if he had
been felled to the ground. Then they hastened to bear
what solace they could, to the anguish-stricken home where
solace would be so sorely needed.

The effect of this blind and hideous crime was at once to
arrest the spirit and the policy of conciliation. While the
Irish leaders were locked up, a secret murder club had
taken matters in hand in their own way, and ripened plots

1 It had been Mr. Burke's practice the chief secretory had passed, and

Online LibraryJohn MorleyThe life of William Ewart Gladstone, Volume 2 → online text (page 28 of 91)