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The life of William Ewart Gladstone, Volume 2 online

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taneous declaration that on the principles of international
law the, indirect claims ought to be excluded from their
consideration. Adams saw his colleagues one by one, and

1 Charles Francis Adams. By his Son. Boston, 1900, pp. 394-7.


BOOK brought them round to his view. The English chief justice
t had made up his mind that the whole thing was dead, as

1872 - he had for many months been loudly telling all London that
it ought to be. But when asked by Mr. Adams whether the
spontaneous extra-judicial declaration would remove all
obstacles to progress, Cockburn answered that he thought
it would. ' I said/ Mr. Adams continued, ' that in that event
I was prepared to make a proposition. I should be assum-
ing a heavy responsibility; but I should do so, not as an
arbitrator representing my country, but as representing all
nations.' So the indirect claims were summarily ruled out,
and the arbitration proceeded. In some notes prepared for
the cabinet on all these proceedings (Feb. 4, 1873), Lord
Tenterden, the clever and experienced British agent at
Geneva, writes, ' I cannot conclude this part of the memor-
andum without saying that the dignity, tact, self-command
and moderation with which Mr. Adams discharged his
functions as arbitrator, did honour to his country/

In September (1872) the five arbitrators at Geneva gave
their award. They were unanimous in finding Great Britain
liable for the acts of the Alabama) all save the British
representative found her liable for the Florida ; the Italian,
the Swiss, and the American against the Englishman and
the Brazilian found her liable for the Shenandoah after
leaving Melbourne. They awarded in satisfaction and final
settlement of all claims, including interest, a gross sum of
about three and a quarter million pounds sterling. The
award, though hardly a surprise, still inflicted a lively twinge
of mortification on the masterful and confident people of this
island. Opinion was divided, but the decision was not one
of those that cut deep or raise the public temperature to
fever. The prints of the opposition insisted that the result
was profoundly vexatious, it was a bungled settlement, and
the arguments used in favour of it were * wild sentimental
rubbish/ On the other hand, the Times regarded it with
profound satisfaction, and ministerial writers with a lyric
turn hailed it as a magnificent victory, though we had to
pay a heavy bill. A little balm was extracted from the fact
that the Americans had preferred before the tribunal a

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demand of nine millions and a half, and thus got little more
than one-third of what they had asked. So ended what has <
been called the greatest of all arbitrations, extinguishing JE ^' 63 *
the embers that could not have been left to smoulder
without constant peril of a vast and fratricidal conflagra-
tion. The treaty of Washington and the Geneva arbitration
stand out as the most notable victory in the nineteenth
century of the noble art of preventive diplomacy, and the
most signal exhibition in their history of self-command
in two of the three chief democratic powers of the western
world. For the moment the result did something to impair
the popularity of Mr. Gladstone's government, but his associa-
tion with this high act of national policy is one of the
things that give its brightest lustre to his fame.

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Rational co-operation in politics would be at an end, if no two
men might act together, until they had satisfied themselves that
in no possible circumstances could they be divided. — Gladstone.

The just complacency with which Mr. Gladstone regarded
his cabinet on its first construction held good : —
'*• I look back with great satisfaction on the internal working of the
cabinet of 1868-74. It was a cabinet easily handled ; and yet it
was the only one of my four cabinets in which there were members
who were senior to myself (the lord chancellor Hatherley, Lord
Clarendon), with many other men of long ministerial experience.
When this cabinet was breaking up in 1874, I took the oppor-
tunity of thanking them for the manner in which they had
uniformly lightened my task in the direction of business. In
reply, Halifax, who might be considered as the senior in years
and experience taken jointly, very handsomely said the duty
of the cabinet had been made more easy by the considerate
manner in which I had always treated them. Some of them
were as colleagues absolutely delightful, from the manner in which
their natural qualities blended with their consummate experience.
I refer especially to Clarendon and Granville.

If we may trust some of those who were members of it, no
cabinet ever did its business with livelier industry or effect.
Under Mr. Gladstone's hand it was a really working cabinet,
not an assemblage of departmental ministers, each minding his
own affairs, available as casual members of this or the other
sub-committee, and without an eye for the general drift and
tendency of their proceedings. Of course ministers differed

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in importance. One was pleasant and popular, but not CHAP,
forcible. Another overflowed with knowledge and was really / ^
an able man, but somehow he carried no guns, and nobody ^ T - 59Uo -
cared what he said. One had aptitude without weight —
perhaps the true definition of our grossly overworked epithet
of clever. Another had weight and character, without
much aptitude. The cabinet as a whole was one of extra-
ordinary power, not merely because its chief had both
aptitude and momentum enough for a dozen, but because
it was actively homogeneous in reforming spirit and purpose.
This solidarity is the great element in such combinations,
and the mainspring of all vigorous cabinet work.

Of Mr. Gladstone as head of his first cabinet, we have
a glimpse from Mr. Stansfeld : —

Mr. Gladstone's conduct in the cabinet was very curious.
When I first joined in 1871, I naturally thought that his position
was so commanding, that he would be able to say, ' This is my
policy ; accept it or not as you like.' But he did not. He was
always profuse in his expressions of respect for the cabinet. There
was a wonderful combination in Mr. Gladstone of imperiousness
and of deference. In the cabinet he would assume that he was
nothing. I thought he should have said, 'This is my policy.
What do you think of it 1 } and then have fought it out until they
had come to an agreement. He always tried to lead them on by
unconscious steps to his own conclusions. 1

To this we may add some words of Lord Granville used in
1883, but doubtless just as true of 1868-74 :—

I have served under several prime ministers, men for whom I
had high respect and to whom I had the greatest attachment, but
I can say that I never knew one who showed a finer temper, a
greater patience, or more consideration for his colleagues than
Mr. Gladstone in all deliberations on any important subject. In
his official position, with his knowledge, with his ability, and
with the wonderful power of work that characterises him, he of
course has an immense influence on the deliberations of the
cabinet; but notwithstanding his tenacity of purpose and his
earnestness, it is quite extraordinary how he attends to the argu-
1 Sir James Stansfeld, Review of Reviews, xi. p. 519.

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BOOK ments of all, and, except on any question of real vital principle,
• he is ready to yield his own opinion to the general sense of the

1868-74. colleges over w hom he presides. 1

Imputing his own qualities to others, and always keen
to make the best of people and not the worst, if he had
once invited a man to office, he held on to him to the last
possible moment. ' The next most serious thing to admit-
ting a man into the cabinet/ he said, ' is to leave a man out
who has once been in.' Not seldom he carried his invincible
courtesy, deference, and toleration even beyond the domain
where those qualities ought to be supreme. This was part
of what men meant, when they said that life was to him in
all its aspects an application of Christian teaching and
example. To this we must add another consideration of
first importance, and one that vulgar criticism of great
statesmen too commonly ignores. In the words of Lord
Aberdeen (1856), who knew from sharp experience how
much his doctrine might cost a man : — ■ A prime minister is
not a free agent. To break up a government, to renounce all
the good you hoped to do and leave imperfect all the good
you have done, to hand over power to persons whose objects
or whose measures you disapprove, even merely to alienate
and politically to injure your friends, is no slight matter/ 2

A member of this first cabinet wrote to Mr. Gladstone
long after it had come to an end, — * I suppose there was no
one of your then colleagues less sympathetic with you, less
in tune with your opinions and enthusiasms than Lowe.
Nevertheless this happened to me with him — after you had
resigned. Lowe opened to me one day, on the subject of
your relations with your colleagues. He spoke in terms of
warm admiration, and to my great surprise, ended by saying
— "I have the same kind of feeling towards him that I
can suppose must be the feeling of a dog for his master."
Lowe is a perfectly sincere man. He would not have said
this if he had not felt it/ 'In everything personal/ Mr.
Gladstone replied, 'Lowe was an excellent colleague and
member of cabinet But I had never been in personal

1 Pall Mall Gazette, Dec. 14, 1883.

2 M. C. M. Simpson's Many Memories, pp. 232-3.

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relations with him before, and at the outset of the ministry CHAP,
of 1868 I knew very little of him. Moreover, he was the . ^* ,
occasion of much trouble to me by his incessant broils with ^t. 59-65.

, who was an awkward customer/ In sheer intellect

Mr. Gladstone held that Lowe had not many equals, but in
nobody else did he discover so many mixed and con-
tradictory qualities — ' splendid in attack, but most weak in
defence, at times exhibiting pluck beyond measure, but at
other times pusillanimity almost amounting to cowardice;
one day headstrong and independent, and the next day help-
less as a child to walk alone ; capable of tearing anything to
pieces, but of constructing nothing.' l

When Lord Clarendon died, — ' An irreparable colleague/
Mr. Gladstone notes in his diary, ' a statesman of many gifts,
a most lovable and genial man.' Elsewhere he com-
memorates his ' unswerving loyalty, his genial temper, his
kindness ever overflowing in acts yet more than in words,
his liberal and indulgent appreciation of others.' In the
short government of 1865-6, Lord Granville had described
Clarendon to Mr. Gladstone as 'excellent, communicating
more freely with the cabinet and carrying out their policy
more faithfully, than any foreign secretary I have known.'
Mr. Gladstone himself told me twenty years after, that of
the sixty men or so who had been his colleagues in cabinet,
Clarendon was the very easiest and most attractive. It is
curious to observe that, with the exception of Mr. Bright, he
found his most congenial adherents rather among the
patrician whigs than among the men labelled as advanced.

Mr. Bright, as we have seen, was forced by ill-liealth to
quit the government. Thirty years of unsparing toil, more
than ten of them devoted especially to the exhausting, but
in his casfe most fruitful, labours of the platform, had for the
time worn down his stock of that energy of mind, which in
the more sinewy frame of the prime minister seemed as
boundless as some great natural element. To Mrs. Bright
Mr. Gladstone wrote : —

It is not merely a selfish interest that all his colleagues feel in

1 Quoted in Sir E. W. Hamilton's Monograph, p. 124.

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BOOK Him on account of his great powers, just fame, and political import-
ance ; but it is one founded on the esteem and regard which, one
and all, they entertain towards him. God grant that any anxieties
you may entertain about him may soon be effectually relieved. I
wish I felt quite certain that he is as good a patient as he is
a colleague. But the chief object of my writing was to say that
the Queen has signified both by letter and telegraph her lively
interest in Mr. B.'s health ; and she will not forgive me unless I
am able to send her frequent reports.

He is quite capable of dealing faithfully with colleagues
breaking rules. To a member of the cabinet who had trans-
gressed by absence from a division of life and death : —

I should not act frankly by you if I did not state it, without
hesitation as a general and prospective proposition, that, without
reference to the likelihood or unlikelihood of defeat, upon motions
which must from their nature be votes of confidence, [there can]
be but one rule for the members of the government, and that is
to give the votes themselves which at the same time the government
with less strong title is asking from the members of their party.

He scolds a leading minister pretty directly for placing
him in a disagreeable and rather ludicrous position, by
failing to give the proper information about a government bill
containing an important change, so that nobody could explain
the reason for it to the House. His own personal example
of absolutely unremitting attendance on the scene of action,
entitled him to rebuke slackness. Nothing escaped him.
Here is the way in which he called defaulters to their duty : —

April 8, 1873. — The chancellor of the exchequer thinks he has
some reason to complain of your having quitted London on
Thursday, without any prior communication with him* or Glyn,
four days before the budget. I have heard with regret that the
state of your health has compelled you to spend your vacation
abroad ; but scarcely even a direct medical order, and certainly in
my opinion nothing less, could render such an example innocent
in its effects, as is set by a departure from London under such
circumstances. Although it has been a great pleasure to me to
admit and recognise your parliamentary services and distinctions,

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and though I have always thought your accession to the govern- CHAP,
ment an acquisition of great value, I must frankly avow my opinion v y
that it is hardly possible for the chancellor of exchequer to^*- 59 * 65,
discharge his duties without your constant and sedulous co-opera-
tion, or for the official corps in general to avoid suffering, if the
members of it make themselves the judges of the question when
and under what circumstances their absence may be permitted
during the sittings of the House.

June 25, 1870. — I am led to suppose by your absence from the
division yesterday, that there may not be a perfectly clear under-
standing between us as to the obligations of members of the
government on these occasions. Yesterday gave occasion of much
inconvenience on account of the entertainment at Windsor, but
all the members of the government who could be expected to
attend voted in the division, except yourself. I can say from my
own recollection that as far as regards political officers, the sovereign
always permits the claim of the House of Commons to prevail.

Changes among subordinate members of the government
came early. Of one of these ministers Mr. Gladstone writes
to Lord Granville (August 18, 1869) : ' He has great talent,
and is a most pertinacious worker, with a good deal of ex-
perience and widely dispersed knowledge of public affairs.
But he seems to be somewhat angular, and better adapted
for doing business within a defined province of his own, than
in common stock or partnership with others/ Unfortunately
the somewhat angular man shared his work with a chief
who had intellectual angularities of his own, not very
smoothly concealed. As it happened, there was another
minister of secondary rank who did not come up to the
expected mark. ' Though he has great talents, remarkable
power of speech, and some special qualifications for his
department, he has not succeeded in it with the House of
Commons, and does not seem very thoroughly to under-
stand pecuniary responsibility and the management of
estimates, and there is no doubt whatever that in his de-
partment the present House of Commons will be vigilant
and exacting, while the rapid growth of its expenditures
certainly shows that it should be filled by some one capable

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of exercising control/ Not thoroughly ' to understand pe-
cuniary responsibility ' was counted a deadly sin in those
halcyon days. So the transgressor accepted a diplomatic
mission, and this made room to plant his angular colleague in
what seemed a ' province of his own/ But few provinces
are definite enough to be independent of the treasury, and
the quarrels between this minister and the chancellor of the
exchequer became something of a scandal and a weakness to
the government. Qne of the fiercest battles of the time (1872)
broke out in respect of Kew Gardens between the minister
with a definite province of his own and a distinguished
member of ' a scientific fraternity, which, valuable as it is, has
been unduly pampered of late from a variety of causes into
a somewhat overweening idea of its own importance/ The
premier's pacifying resources were taxed by this tremendous
feud to the uttermost; he holds a stiffish tone to the
minister, and tries balm for the savant by propitiatory re-
minder of ' a most interesting fact made known to me when
I had the pleasure and advantage of seeing you at Kew,
namely the possibility of saving for purposes of food a
portion of the substance of the diseased potato. The rescue
of a sensible percentage of this valuable esculent will be a
noble service rendered by scientific knowledge and skill to
the general community/ But science is touchy, and wounds
are sometimes too deep to be healed by words.

A point worth noting is his strict limitation of his own
rights as head of a government. ' I hope you will not think/
he wrote to a colleague, ' I am evading my duties, but while
it is my duty to deal with all difficulties arising between
mombers of the government, it is wholly beyond ray power,
and in no way belongs to my province, to examine and settle
the controversies which may arise between them and civil
servants who are employed under them/ He is careful to
distinguish his own words from the words of the cabinet;
careful both to lean upon, and to defer to, the judgment of
that body ; and when the decision is taken, it is in their name
that he writes to the vexatious colleague (July 24, 1872): —
' The cabinet have come to their conclusion, and directed me
to make it known to you. ... If you think proper to make

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the announcement of these intentions of the government, CHAP,
they are quite willing that you should do so. If other- *
wise, Mr. Bruce will do it as home minister. Thus far as iET - 59 " 66 *
to making known what will be done. As to the doing of it,
the rules will have to be cancelled at once by you/

The reader of an authoritarian or arbitrary cast of mind
may ask why he did not throw a handful of dust upon the
angry combatants. ' It is easy/ he wrote to Cardwell (Nov.
20, 1871) ' to talk of uprooting X., but even if it were just, it
will, as Glyn [the party whip] would tell you, be very difficult
But Y. perhaps proceeds more like Moloch, and X. in the
maimer of Belial. Why cannot they follow the good example
of those worthies, who co-operated in pandemonium ? If
you thought you could manage Y., I would try to tackle X.
I commend this subject to your meditations/ Sulphureous
whiffs from this pandemonium were pretty copiously scented
both by parliament and the public, and did the ministry
some harm.

Of a peer of much renown in points of procedure, private
business, and the like, he says, 'he looks at everything out of
blinkers, and has no side lights.' Of one brilliant and able
colleague in the first administration he writes, that ' he has
some blank in his mental constitution, owing to which he
receives admonitions most kindly, and then straightway does
the same thing over again/ Of another colleague, ' though
much nearer the rights of the case than many who were
inclined to object, he is thin and poor in the cabinet'
Some one else is ' a sensitive man, given beyond most men
to speak out his innermost and perhaps unformed thoughts,
and thereby to put himself at a disadvantage/ Another
public servant is 'not unmanageable, but he needs to be
managed/ In the same letter he speaks of the Hibernian
presbyterian as 'that peculiar cross between a Scotchman
and an Irishman/

Of his incessant toil the reader has already a good idea.
Here are a few items. To one correspondent (Jan. 21, 1869)
he writes: — 'I hope you do not think my "holiday" at
Hawarden has proved my idleness, for I think ten hours
a day has been a moderate estimate of my work there on

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BOOK public business, to which some other matters have had to be

* added/ To the attorney general he says when he has had

1868-74. t k ree years more Q f i t (g ept 18j 1872):—' I cannot say with

you that my office never gives me a day without business,
for in the four " vacations " so far as they have gone, I think
I have had no less than five days. This vacation has thus
far been the best ; but heavy and critical work impends.'
In October, 1871, he writes to Mrs. Gladstone from Edin-
burgh : — ' I have for the first time since the government was
. formed, had a holiday of two whole days/ To Lord Clarendon
he writes from Lord Granville's at Walmer (Sept. 2, 1869) : —
' At the end of a holiday morning of work, since I breakfasted
at nine, which has lasted till near four, I have yet to say
a few words about. . . / To Archdeacon Harrison, May 25,
1873 : — 'As you may like to have the exact anatomy of my
holiday on the Queen's birthday, I will give it you : 2 J am.,
return home from the H. of C. 10 am., two hours' work in
my room. 2-7, the cabinet. Three quarters of an hour's
walk. 8-12, thirty-two to dinner and an evening party.
12, bed ! ' To Sir R Phillimore, July 23, 1873 :— ' Not once
this year (except a day in bed) have I been absent from
the hours of government business in the House, and the
rigour of attendance is far greater now than at earlier
periods of the session/

His colleagues grudged his absence for a day. On one
occasion, in accordance with a lifelong passion and rooted
habit, he desired to attend a funeral, this time in Scot-
land, and Lord Granville's letter of remonstrance to him is
interesting in more points than one ; it shows the exacting
position in which the peculiarities of some colleagues and of
a certain section of his supporters placed him : —

It is the unanimous desire of the cabinet that I should try to
dissuade you. ... It is a duty of a high order for you to do all
you can for your health. . . . You hardly ever are absent from
the House without some screw getting loose. I should write
much more strongly if I did not feel I had a personal interest in
the matter. In so strained a state as Europe is now in, the
slightest thing may lead to great consequences, and it is possible

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that it may be a disadvantage to me and to the chose publique CHAP,
if anything occurs during the thirty-six hours you are absent *

This letter of Lord Granville's was written on July 10,
1870, just five days before war was declared between France
and Prussia.

He wrote to the Spectator (May 1873) to correct a report
'that every day must begin for me with my old friend
Homer/ He says: — 'As to my beginning every day with
Homer, as such a phrase conveys to the world a very untrue
impression of the demands of my present office, I think it
right to mention that, so far as my memory serves me, I
have not read Homer for fifty lines nor for a quarter of an
hour consecutively for the last four years, and any dealings
of mine with Homeric subjects have been confined to a
number of days which could be readily counted on the
fingers/ Yet at the end of 1869, he winds up a letter of
business by saying, 'I must close; I am going to have a

Online LibraryJohn MorleyThe life of William Ewart Gladstone, Volume 2 → online text (page 3 of 91)