John Morley.

The life of William Ewart Gladstone, Volume 2 online

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to drive from the Castle to the Park drove forward to overtake him. The

sate, then to descend and walk home, detectives did net follow him as usual

followed by two detectives. On this If they had followed, he would have

occasion he found at the gate that been saved.

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BOOK within a stone's throw of the Castle. No worse blow could

™* / have been struck at Mr. Parnell's policy. It has been said

1882. t h at t jj e nineteenth century had seeft the course of its history

twenty-five times diverted by actual or attempted crime.

In that sinister list the murders in the Phoenix Park have a

tragic place.

The voice of party was for the moment hushed. Sir
Stafford Northcote wrote a letter of admirable feeling, saying
that if there was any way in which Mr. Gladstone thought
they could serve the government, he would of course let
them know. The Prince of Wales wrote of his own horror
and indignation at the crime, and of his sympathy with
Mr. Gladstone in the loss of one who was not only a colleague
of many merits, but a near connection and devoted friend.
With one or two scandalous exceptions, the tone of the
English press was sober, sensible, and self-possessed. ' If a
nation,' said a leading journal in Paris, 'should be judged
by the way in which it acts on grave occasions, the spectacle
offered by England is calculated to produce a high opinion
of the political character and spirit of the British peopla'
Things of the baser sort were not quite absent, but they did not
matter. An appeal confronted the electors of the North- West
Riding as they went to the poll at a bye-election a few days

later, to ' Vote for , and avenge the death of Lord

Frederick Cavendish V They responded by placing 's

opponent at the head of the poll by a majority of two

The scene in the House had all the air of tragedy, and
Mr. Gladstone summoned courage enough to do his part
with impressive composure. A colleague was doing some
business with him in his room before the solemnity began.
When it was over, they resumed it, Mr. Gladstone making
no word of reference to the sombre interlude, before or after.
' Went reluctantly to the House/ he says in his diary, ' and
by the help of God forced out what was needful on the
question of the adjournment/ His words were not many,
when after commemorating the marked qualities of Mr.
Burke, he went on in laboured tones and slow speech and
hardly repressed emotion : —

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The band of the assassin has come nearer home ; and though I CHAP,
feel it difficult to say a word, yet I must say that one of the very »
noblest hearts in England has ceased to beat, and has ceased at the ^ T * 73,
very moment when it was just devoted to the service of Ireland,
full of love for that country, full of hope for her future, full of
capacity to render her service.

Writing to Lady Frederick on a later day, he mentions a
public reference to some pathetic words of hers (May 19) : —

Sexton just now returned to the subject, with much approval
from the House. You will find it near the middle of a long
speech. Nothing could be better either in feeling or in grace
(the man is little short of a master), and I think it will warm your
heart. You have made a mark deeper than any wound.

To Lord Ripon in India, he wrote (June 1) : —
The black act brought indeed a great personal grief to my wife
and me ; but we are bound to merge our own sorrow in the larger
and deeper affliction of the widow and the father, in the sense of
the public loss of a life so valuable to the nation, and in the con-
sideration of the great and varied effects it may have on immediate
and vital interests. Since the death of this dearly loved son, we
have heard much good of the Duke, whom indeed we saw at Chats-
worth after the funeral, and we have seen much of Lady Frederick,
who has been good even beyond what we could have hoped. I
have no doubt you have heard in India the echo of words spoken
by Spencer from a letter of hers, in which she said she could give up
even him if his death were to work good to his fellow men, which
indeed was the whole object of his life. These words have had a
tender effect, as remarkable as the horror excited by the slaughter.
Spencer wrote to me that a priest in Gonnemara read them from
the altar ; when the whole congregation spontaneously fell down
upon their knees. In England, the national attitude has been
admirable. The general strain of language has been, ' Do not let
this terrible and flagitious crime deter you from persevering with
the work of justice.'

Well did Dean Church say that no Koman or Florentine
lady ever uttered a more heroic thing than was said by this

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BOOK English lady when on first seeing Mr. Gladstone that terrible
VIIL ^ midnight she said, ' You did right to send him to Ireland.' 1

1882. <The loss of F. Cavendish/ Mr. Gladstone wrote to his
eldest son, ' will ever be to us all as an unhealed wound/

On the day after the murders Mr. Gladstone received a
note through the same channel by which Mr. Chamberlain
had carried on his communications : — ' I am authorised by
Mr. Parnell to state that if Mr. Gladstone considers it
necessary for the maintenance of his [Mr. G/s] position and
for carrying out his views, that Mr. Parnell should resign his
seat, Mr. Parnell is prepared to do so immediately/ To this
Mr. Gladstone replied (May 7) : —

My duty does not permit me for a moment to entertain Mr.
ParneH's proposal, just conveyed to me by you, that he should if I
think it needful resign his seat ; but I am deeply sensible of the
honourable motives by which it has been prompted.

'My opinion is/ said Mr. Gladstone to Lord Granville,
* that if Parnell goes, no restraining influence will remain ;
the scale of outrages will be again enlarged ; and no repres-
sive bill can avail to put it down.' Those of the cabinet who
had the best chance of knowing, were convinced that Mr.
Parnell was 'sincerely anxious for the pacification of Ireland.'

The reaction produced by the murders in the Park made
perseverance in a milder policy impossible in face of English
opinion, and parliament eagerly passed the Coercion Act of
1882. I once asked an Irishman of consummate experience
and equitable mind, with no leanings that I know of to
political nationalism, whether the task of any later ruler of
Ireland was comparable to Lord Spencer's. ' Assuredly not/
he replied ; ' in 1882 Ireland seemed to be literally a society
on the eve of dissolution. The Invincibles still roved with
knives about the streets of Dublin. Discontent had been
stirred in the ranks of the Royal Irish Constabulary, and a
dangerous mutiny broke out in the metropolitan force.
Over half of the country the demoralisation of every class,
the terror, the fierce hatred, the universal distrust, had grown
to an incredible pitch. The moral cowardice of what ought

1 L\fe qfDean Church, p. 299.

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Mt. 73.


to have been the governing class was astounding. The land- CHAP,
lords would hold meetings and agree not to go beyond a certain «
abatement, and then they would go individually and privately
offer to the tenant a greater abatement. Even the agents
of the law and the courts were shaken in their duty. The
power of random arrest and detention under the Coercion
Act of 1881 had not improved the moral of magistrates and
police. The sheriff would let the word get out that he was
coming to make a seizure, and profess surprise that the
cattle had vanished. The whole country-side turned out in
thousands in half the counties in Ireland to attend flaming
meetings, and if a man did not attend, angry neighbours
trooped up to know the reason why. The clergy hardly
stirred a finger to restrain the wildness of the storm ; some
did their best to raise it. All that was what Lord Spencer
had to deal with; the very foundations of the social fabric

The new viceroy attacked the formidable task before him
with resolution, minute assiduity, and an inexhaustible store
of that steady-eyed patience which is the sovereign requisite
of any man who, whether with coercion or without, takes in
hand the government of Ireland. He was seconded with high
ability and courage by Mr. Trevelyan, the new Irish secretary,
whose fortitude was subjected to a far severer trial than has
ever fallen to the lot of any Irish secretary before or since.
The coercion that Lord Spencer had to administer was at
least law. The coercion with which parliament entrusted
Mr. Forster the year before was the negation of the* spirit of
law, and the substitution for it of naked and arbitrary
control over the liberty of the subject by executive power —
a system as unconstitutional in theory as it was infatuated
in policy and calamitous in result. Ever, before the end
of the parliament, Mr. Bright frankly told the House of
Commons of this Coercion Act : — ' I think that the legisla-
tion of 1881 was unfortunately a great mistake, though I
was myself a member of the government concerned in it/

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I find many very ready to say what I ought to have done when
a battle ia over; but I wish some of these persons would come
and tell me what to do before the battle. — Wellington.

BOOK In 1877 Mr. Gladstone penned words to which later events
Vl ^ 1 - M gave an only too striking verification. ' Territorial questions, 1
1881. he said, 'are not to be disposed of by arbitrary limits; we
cannot enjoy the luxury of taking Egyptian soil by pinches.
We may seize an Aden and a Perim, where is no already
formed community of inhabitants, and circumscribe a tract
at will. But our first site in Egypt, be it by larceny or be it
by emption, will be the almost certain egg of a North African
empire, that will grow and grow until another Victoria and
another Albert, titles of the lake-sources of the White Nile,
come within our borders; and till we finally join hands
across the equator with Natal and Cape Town, to say nothing
of the Transvaal and the Orange River on the south, or of
Abyssinia or Zanzibar to be swallowed by way of viaticum on
our journey/ 1 It was one of the ironies in which every
active statesman's life abounds, that the author of that fore-
cast should have been fated to take his country over its first
marches towards this uncoveted destination.


For many months after Mr. Gladstone formed his second
ministry, there was no reason to suppose that the Egyptian
branch of the eastern question, which for ever casts its

1 Nineteenth Century, August, 1877 ; Gleanings, iv. p. 357.


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perplexing shadow over Europe, was likely to give trouble.
The new Khedive held a regularly defined position, alike «
towards his titular sovereign at Constantinople, towards JErtm 72,
reforming ministers at Cairo, towards the creditors of his
state, and towards the two strong European Powers that for
different reasons had the supervision of Egyptian affairs
in charge. The oppression common to oriental governments
seemed to be yielding before western standards. The load of
interest on a profligate debt was heavy, but it was not unskil-
fully adjusted. The rate of village usury was falling, and the
value of land was rising. Unluckily the Khedive and his
ministers neglected the grievances of the army, and in
January 1881 its leaders broke out in revolt. The Khedive,
without an armed force on whose fidelity he could rely, gave
way to the mutineers, and a situation was created, familiar
enough in all oriental states, and not unlike that in our own
country between Charles I., or in later days the parliament, and
the roundhead troopers : anger and revenge in the breast of
the affronted civil ruler, distrust and dread of punishment in
the mind of the soldiery. During the autumn (1881) the crisis
grew more alarming. The Khedive showed neither energy
nor tact ; he neither calmed the terror of the mutineers nor
crushed them. Insubordination in the army began to affect
the civil population, and a national party came into open
existence in the chamber of notables. The soldiers found a
head in Arabi, a native Egyptian, sprung of fellah origin.
Want either of stern resolution or of politic vision in the
Khedive and his minister, had transferred the reality of
power to the insurgents. The Sultan of Turkey here saw his
chance ; he made a series of diplomatic endeavours to re-
establish a shattered sovereignty over his nominal feudatory
on the Nile. This pretension, and the spreading tide of
disorder, brought England and France actively upon the
scene. We can see now, what expert observers on the spot
saw then, that the two Powers mistook the nature of the
Arabist movement They perceived in it no more than a
military rising. It was in truth national as well as military ;
it was anti-European, and above all, it was in its objects anti-

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BOOK In 1879 the two governments had insisted on imposing
' - over Egypt two controllers, with limited functions but irre-

1881. movable. This, as Mr. Gladstone argued later, was to bring
foreign intervention into the heart of the country, and to
establish in the strictest sense a political control 1 As a
matter of fact, not then well known, in September 1879
Lord Salisbury had come to a definite understanding with
the French ambassador in London, that the two govern-
ments would not tolerate the establishment in Egypt of
political influence by any competing European Power ; and
what was more important, that they were prepared to take
action to any extent that might be found necessary to give
effect to their views in this respect. The notable acquisition
by Lord Beaconsfield of an interest in the Suez Canal, always
regarded by Mr. Gladstone as a politically ill-advised and
hazardous transaction, had tied the English knot in Egypt
still tighter.

The policy of the Gladstone cabinet was defined in general
words in a despatch from the foreign minister to the British
agent at Cairo. Lord Granville (November 1881) disclaimed
any self-aggrandising designs on the part of either England
or France. He proclaimed the desire of the cabinet to
uphold in Egypt the administrative independence secured to
her by the decrees of the sovereign power on the Bosphorus.
Finally he set forth that the only circumstances likely to
force the government of the Queen to depart from this
course of conduct, would be the occurrence in Egypt of a
state of anarchy. 8

Justly averse to a joint occupation of Egypt by England
and France, as the most perilous of all possible courses, the
London cabinet looked to the Sultan as the best instrument
for restoring order. Here they were confronted by two
insurmountable obstacles : first, the steadfast hostility of
France to any form of Turkish intervention, and second, that
strong current of antipathy to the Sultan which had been set
flowing over British opinion in the days of Midlothian. 8

1 July 27, 1882. Gladstone had in 1877 drawn an im-

1 Granville and Malet, November 4, portant distinction: 'If I find the

1881 . Turk incapable of establishing a good,

8 Before Midlothian, however, Mr. just, and well-proportioned govern-

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In December (1881) the puissant genius of Gambetta chap.
acquired supremacy for a season, and he without delay * '
pressed upon the British cabinet the necessity of prepar- &*-*&-
ing for joint and immediate action. Gambetta prevailed.
The Turk was ruled out, and the two Powers of the west
determined on action of their own. The particular mode
of common action, however, in case action should become
necessary, was left entirely open.

Meanwhile the British cabinet was induced to agree to
Gambetta's proposal to send instructions to Cairo, assuring
the Khedive that England and France were closely associated
in the resolve to guard by their united efforts against
all causes of complaint, internal or external, which might
menace the existing order of things in Egypt. This was a
memorable starting-point in what proved an amazing journey.
This Joint Note (January 6, 1881) was the first link in a
chain of proceedings that brought each of the two govern-
ments who were its authors, into the very position that they
were most strenuously bent on averting; France eventu-
ally ousted herself from Egypt, and England was eventually
landed in plenary and permanent occupation. So extra-
ordinary a result only shows how impenetrable were the wind-
ings of the labyrinth. The foremost statesmen of England
and France were in their conning towers, and England at any
rate employed some of the ablest of her agents. Yet each
was driven out of an appointed course to an unforeseen
and an unwelcome termination. Circumstances like these
might teach moderation both to the French partisans who
curse the vacillations of M. de Freycinet, and to the English
partisans who, while rejoicing in the ultimate result, curse
the vacillations of the cabinet of Mr. Gladstone, in wisely
striving to unravel a knot instead of at all risks cutting it.

The present writer described the effect of the Joint Note
in the following words written at the time * : — ' At Cairo the

ment over civilised and Christian On this head I do not know that any

races, it does not follow that he is verdict of guilty has yet been found

under a similar incapacity when his by a competent tribunal.' — Gleanings,

task shall only be to hold empire iv. p. 364.

over populations wholly or princi- l Fortnightly Review, July 1882.
gaily Orientals and Mahomedans.

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BOOK Note fell like a bombshell. Nobody there had expected any
f - such declaration, and nobody was aware of any reason why

1881 - it should have been launched. What was felt was that so
serious a step on such delicate ground could not have been
adopted without deliberate calculation, nor without some
grave intention. The Note was, therefore, taken to mean
that the Sultan was to be thrust still further in the back-
ground ; that the Khedive was to become more plainly the
puppet of England and France ; and that Egypt would sooner
or later in some shape or other be made to share the fate
of Tunis. The general effect was, therefore, mischievous in
the highest degree. The Khedive was encouraged in his
opposition to the sentiments of his Chamber. The military,
national, or popular party was alarmed. The Sultan was
irritated. The other European Powers were made uneasy.
Every element of disturbance was roused into activity/

It is true that even if no Joint Note had ever been de-
spatched, the prospects of order were unpromising. The
most careful analysis of the various elements of society in
Egypt by those best acquainted at first hand with all those
elements, whether internal or external, whether Egyptian or
European, and with all the roots of antagonism thriving
among them, exhibited no promise of stability. If Egypt
had been a simple case of an oriental government in revolu-
tionary commotion, the ferment might have been left to
work itself out. Unfortunately Egypt, in spite of the maps,
lies in Europe. So far from being a simple case, it was
indescribably entangled, and even the desperate questions
that rise in our minds at the mention of the Balkan pen-
insula, of Armenia, of Constantinople, offer no such complex
of difficulties as the Egyptian riddle in 1881-2. The law of
liquidation 1 — whatever else we may think of it — at least
made the policy of Egypt for the Egyptians unworkable.
Yet the British cabinet were not wrong in thinking that
this was no reason for sliding into the competing policy of
Egypt for the English and the French, which would have
been more unworkable still.

England strove manfully to hold the ground that she

1 Defining the claims of the European bondholder on revenue.

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had taken in November. Lord Granville told the British
ambassador in Paris that his government disliked interven-
tion either by themselves or anybody else as much as ever ;
that they looked upon the experiment of the Chamber with
favourable eyes; that they wished to keep the connection
of the Porte with Egypt so far as it was compatible with
Egyptian liberties ; and that the object of the Joint Note was
to strengthen the existing government of Egypt. Gambetta,
on the other hand, was convinced that all explanations of this
sort would only serve further to inflate the enemies of France
and England in the Egyptian community, and would encour-
age their designs upon the law of liquidation. Lord Granville
was honourably and consistently anxious to confine himself
within the letter of international right, while Gambetta was
equally anxious to intervene in Egyptian administration,
within right or without it, and to force forward that Anglo-
French occupation in which Lord Granville so justly saw
nothing but danger and mischief Once more Lord
Granville, at the end of the month which had opened with
the Joint Note, in a despatch to the ambassador at Paris
(January 30), defined the position of the British cabinet.
What measures should be taken to meet Egyptian dis-
orders ? The Queen's government had ' a strong objection
to the occupation of Egypt by themselves.' Egypt and
Turkey would oppose; it would arouse the jealousy of other
Powers, who would, as there was even already good reason to
believe, make counter demonstrations ; and, finally, such an
occupation would be as distasteful to the French nation as
the sole occupation of Egypt by the French would be to our-
selves. Joint occupation by England and France, in short,
might lessen some difficulties, but it would seriously aggra-
vate others. Turkish occupation would be a great evil, but it
would not entail political dangers as great as those attending
the other two courses. As for the French objections to the
farther admission of the other European Powers to intervene
in Egyptian affairs, the cabinet agreed that England and
France had an exceptional position in Egypt, but might it
not be desirable to enter into some communication with the
other Powers, as to the best way of dealing with a state of


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BOOK things that appeared likely to interfere both with the Sultan's
— v * / firmans and with Egypt's international engagements ?

1882. . ^ fafo critical moment Gambetta fell from power. The
mark that he had set upon western policy in Egypt
remained. Good observers on the spot, trained in the great
school of India, thought that even if there was no more
than a chance of Working with the national party, the
chance was well worth trying. As the case was put at the
time, 'It is impossible to conceive a situation that more
imperatively called for caution, circumspection, and defer-
ence to the knowledge of observers on the scene, or one
that was actually handled with greater rashness and hurry.
Gambetta had made up his mind that the military
movement was leading to the abyss, and that it must be
peremptorily arrested. It may be that he was right in
supposing that the army, which had first found its power
in the time of Ismail, would go from bad to worse. But
everything turned upon the possibility of pulling up the
army, without arousing other elements more dangerous stilL
M. Gambetta's impatient policy was worked out in his own
head without reference to the conditions on the scene, and
the result was what might have been expected.' 1


The dual control, the system of carrying on the Egyptian
government under the advice of an English and a French
agent, came to an end. The rude administration in the pro-
vinces fell to pieces. The Khedive was helplessly involved
in struggle after struggle with the military insurgents.
The army became as undisputed masters of the govern-
ment, as the Cromwellian army at some moments in our
civil war. Meanwhile the British government, true to Mr.
Gladstone's constant principle, endeavoured to turn the ques-
tion from being purely Anglo-French, into an international
question. The Powers were not unfavourable, but nothing
came of it. Both from Paris and from London somewhat
bewildered suggestions proceeded by way of evading the
central enigma, whether the intervention should be Turkish

Online LibraryJohn MorleyThe life of William Ewart Gladstone, Volume 2 → online text (page 29 of 91)