John Morley.

The life of William Ewart Gladstone, Volume 2 online

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1 Fortnightly Btview, July 1882.

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M*. 73.


or Anglo-French. It was decided at any rate to send power- CHAP,
fill Anglo-French fleets to Alexandria, and Mr. Gladstone *
only regretted that the other Powers (including Turkey)
had not been invited to have their flags represented. To
this the French objected, with the evil result that the other
Powers were displeased, and the good effect that the appear-
ance of the Sultan in the field might have had upon the
revolutionary parties in Egypt was lost. On May 21, 1882,
M. de Freycinet went so far as to say that, though he
was still opposed to Turkish intervention, he would not
regard as intervention a case in which Turkish forces were
summoned by England and France to operate under Anglo-
French control, upon conditions specified by the two
Powers. If it became advisable to land troops, recourse
should be had on these terms to Turkish troops and them
only. Lord Granville acceded. He proposed (May 24) to
address the Powers, to procure international sanction for the
possible despatch of Turkish troops to Egypt. De Freycinet
insisted that no such step was necessary. At the same
time (June 1), the minister told the Chamber that there
were various courses to which they might be led, but he
excluded one, and this was a French military intervention.
That declaration narrowed the case to a choice between
English intervention, or Turkish, or Anglo- Turkish, all of
them known to be profoundly unpalatable to French senti-
ment. Such was the end of Lord Granville's prudent and
loyal endeavour to move in step with France.

The next proposal from M. de Freycinet was a European
conference, as Prince Bismarck presumed, to cover the admis-
sibility of Turkish intervention. A conference was too much
in accord with the ideas of the British cabinet, not to be
welcomed by them. The Turk, however, who now might
have had the game in his own hands, after a curious ex-
hibition of duplicity and folly, declined to join, and the con-
ference at first met without him (June 23). Then, pursuing
tactics well known at all times at Constantinople, the Sultan
made one of his attempts to divide the Powers, by sending a
telegram to London (June 25), conferring upon England
rights of exclusive control in the administration of Egypt

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BOOK This Mr. Gladstone and Lord Granville declined without even
t ' • consulting the cabinet, as too violent an infraction, I suppose,

188 - of the cardinal principle of European concert. The Queen,
anxious for an undivided English control at any price, com-
plained that the question was settled without reference to the
cabinet, and here the Queen was clearly not wrong, on doc-
trines of cabinet authority and cabinet responsibility that
were usually held by nobody more strongly than by the
prime minister himself.

Mr. Gladstone and his cabinet fought as hard as they
could, and for good reasons, against sipgle-handed inter-
vention by Great Britain. When they saw that order could
not be re-established without the exercise of force from with-
out, they insisted that this force should be applied by the
Sultan as sovereign of Egypt They proposed this solution
to the conference, and Lord DufFerin urged it upon the Sultan.
With curious infatuation (repeated a few years later) the
Sultan stood aside. When it became necessary to make
immediate provision for the safety of the Suez Canal,
England proposed to undertake this duty conjointly with
France, and solicited the co-operation of any other Power.
Italy was specially invited to join. Then when the progress
of the rebellion had broken the Khedive's authority and
brought Egypt to anarchy, England invited France and Italy
to act with her in putting the rebellion down. France and
Italy declined. England still urged the Porte to send troops,
insisting only on such conditions as were indispensable to
secure united action. The Porte again held back, and
before it carried out an agreement to sign a military con-
vention, events had moved too fast. 1 Thus, by the Sultan's
perversities and the fluctuations of purpose and temper in
France, single-handed intervention was inexorably forced
upon the one Power that had most consistently striven to
avoid it. Bismarck, it is true, judged that Arabi was now
a power to be reckoned with ; the Austrian representatives
used language of like purport ; and Freycinet also inclined
to coming to terms with Arabi. Tho British cabinet had
persuaded themselves that the overthrow of the military

1 Lord GranvUle to Lord Dufferin. Oct. 5, 1882.

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party was an indispensable precedent to any return of
decently stable order.

The situation in Egypt can hardly be adequately under- iET * 78,
stood without a multiplicity of details for which this is no
place, and in such cases details are everything. Diplomacy
in which the Sultan of Turkey plays a part is always com-
plicated, and at the Conference of Constantinople the cob-
webs were spun and brushed away and spun again with
diligence unexampled. The proceedings were without any
effect upon the course of events. The Egyptian revolution
ran its course. The moral support of Turkish commissioners
sent by the Sultan to Cairo came to nothing, and the
moral influence of the Anglo-French squadron at Alexandria
came to nothing, and in truth it did more harm than good.
The Khedive's throne and life were alike in danger. The
Christians flocked down from the interior. The residents
in Alexandria were trembling for their lives. At the end
of May our agent at Cairo informed his government that a
collision between Moslems and Christians might occur at
any moment On June 11 some fifty Europeans were
massacred by a riotous mob at Alexandria. The British
consul was severely wounded, and some sailors of the
French fleet were among the killed. Greeks and Jews were
murdered in other places. At last a decisive blow was
struck. For several weeks the Egyptians had been at work
upon the fortifications of Alexandria, and upon batteries
commanding the British fleet The British admiral was
instructed (July 3) that if this operation were continued,
he should immediately destroy the earthworks and silence
the batteries. After due formalities he (July 11) opened
fire at seven in the morning, and by half-past five in the
evening the Alexandria guns were silenced. Incendiaries
set the town on fire, the mob pillaged it, and some
murders were committed. The French ships had sailed
away; their government having previously informed the
British ambassador in Paris that the proposed operation
would be an act of war against Egypt, and such an act
of war without the express consent of the Chamber would
violate the constitution.
vol. n. x

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BOOK The new situation in which England now found herself
v ^rc* * was quickly described by the prime minister to the House
1881 of Commons. On July 22, he said : — ' We should not fully
discharge our duty, if we did not endeavour to convert the
present interior state of Egypt from anarchy and conflict
to peace and order. We shall look during the time that
remains to us to the co-operation of the Powers of civilised
Europe, if it be in any case open to us. But if every chance
of obtaining co-operation is exhausted, the work will bo
undertaken by the single power of England.' As for the
position of the Powers it may be described in this way.
Germany and Austria were cordial and respectful; France
anxious to retain a completely friendly understanding, but
wanthig some equivalent for the inevitable decline of her
power in Egypt ; Italy jealous of our renewing close rela-
tions with France; Russia still sore, and on the lookout
for some plausible excuse for getting the Berlin arrange-
ment of 1878 revised in her favour, without getting into
difficulties with Berlin itself.

France was not unwilling to take joint action with
England for the defence of the canal, but would not join
England in intervention beyond that object At the same
time Freycinet wished it to be understood that France had
no objection to our advance, if we decided to make an
advance. This was more than once repeated. Gambetta
in vehement wrath declared, his dread lest the refusal to
co-operate with England should shake an alliance of price-
less value; and lest besides that immense catastrophe, it
should hand over to the possession of England for ever,
territories, rivers, and ports where the French right to
live and trade was as good as hers. The mighty orator
declaimed in vain. Suspicion of the craft of Bismarck was in
France more lively than suspicion of aggressive designs in
the cabinet of Mr. Gladstone, and the Chamber was reminded
how extremely well it would suit Germany that Franca
should lock up her military force in Tunis yesterday, in
Egypt to-day. Ingenious speakers, pointing to Europe
covered with camps of armed men ; pointing to the artful
statesmanship that had pushed Austria into Bosnia and

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Herzegovina, and encouraged France herself to occupy CHAP.
Tunis; pointing to the expectant nations reserving their ^

liberty for future occasions — all urgently exhorted France ^ T * 73#
now to reserve her own liberty of action too. Under the
influence of such ideas as these, and by the working of
rival personalities and parties, the Chamber by an immense
majority turned the Freycinet government out of office
(July 29) rather than sanction even such a degree of inter-
vention as concerned the protection of the Suez CanaL

Nine days after the bombardment of Alexandria, the
British cabinet decided on the despatch of what was mildly
called an expeditionary force to the Mediterranean, under
the command of Sir Garnet Wolseley. The general's alert-
ness, energy, and prescient calculation, brought him up to
Arabi at Tel-el-Kebir (Sept. 13), and there at one rapid and
decisive blow he crushed the military insurrection. 1


The bombardment of Alexandria cost Mr. Gladstone the
British colleague who in fundamentals stood closest to him
of them all. In the opening days of July, amid differences of
opinion that revealed themselves in frequent and protracted
meetings of the cabinet, it was thought probable that Mr.
Gladstone and Bright would resign rather than be parties
to despatching troops to the Mediterranean; and the two
representative radicals were expected to join them. Then
came the bombardment, but only Bright went — not until
after earnest protestations from the prime minister. As
Mr. Gladstone described things later to the Queen, Bright's
letters and conversation consisted very much more of refer-
ences to his past career and strong statements of feeling,
than of attempts to reason on the existing facts of the case,
with the obligations that they appeared to entail. Not
satisfied with his own efforts, Mr. Gladstone turned to Lord
Granville, who had been a stout friend in old days when
Bright's was a name of reproach and obloquy : —

July 12. — Here is the apprehended letter from dear old John

1 A share of the credit of success Sir Garnet's letter to him, Lift of
is due to the admirable efficiency of Childera, ii. p. 117.
Mr. Childera at the War Office. See

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BOOK Bright, which turns a white day into a black one. It would not
^* * be fair in me to beg an interview. His kindness would make him

1882. reluctant to decline ; but he would come laden with an apprehen-
sion, that I by impetuosity and tenacity should endeavour to over-
bear him. But pray consider whether you could do it He would
not have the same fear of your dealings with him. I do not think
you could get a reversal, but perhaps he would give you another
short delay, and at the end of this the sky might be further

Two days later Mr. Gladstone and Bright had a long, and
we may be sure that it was an earnest, conversation. The
former of them the same day put his remarks into the shape
of a letter, which the reader may care to have, as a state-
ment of the case for the first act of armed intervention,
which led up by a direct line to the English occupation^ of
Egypt, Soudan wars, and to some other events from which
the veil is not even yet lifted : —

The act of Tuesday [the bombardment of Alexandria] was a
solemn and painful one, for which I feel myself to be highly
responsible, and it is my earnest desire that we should all view
it now, as we shall wish at the last that we had viewed it
Subject to this testing rule, I address you as one whom I suppose
not to believe all use whatever of military force to be unlawful;
as one who detests war in general and believes most wars to have
been sad errors (in which I greatly agree with you), but who in
regard to any particular use of force would look upon it for a
justifying cause, and after it would endeavour to appreciate its
actual effect.

The general situation in Egypt had latterly become one in
which everything was governed by sheer military violence.
Every legitimate authority — the Khedive, the Sultan, the notables,
and the best men of the country, such as Cherif and Sultan
pashas — had been put down, and a situation of force had been
created, which could only be met by force. This being so, we had
laboured to the uttermost, almost alone but not without success,
to secure that if force were employed against the violence of
Arabi, it should be force armed with the highest sanction of law ;
that it should be the force of the sovereign, authorised and

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restrained by -the united Powers of Europe, who in suoh a case CHAP,
represent the civilised world. N / •

While this is going on, a by-question arises. The British fleet, - * jT * 73,
lawfully present in the waters of Alexandria, had the right and
duty of self-defence. It demanded the discontinuance of attempts
made to strengthen the armament of the fortifications . . . Met
by fraud and falsehood in its demand, it required surrender with
a view to immediate dismantling, and this being refused, it pro-
ceeded to destroy. . . . The conflagration which followed, the
pillage and any other outrages effected by the released convicts,
these are not due to us, but to the seemingly wanton wickedness
of Arabi

Such being the amount of our act, what has been its reception
and its effect ? As to its reception, we have not received nor heard
of a word of disapproval from any Power great or small, or from
any source having the slightest authority. As to its effect, it has
taught many lessons, struck a heavy, perhaps a deadly, blow at
the reign of violence, brought again into light the beginnings of
legitimate rule, shown the fanaticism of the East that massacre of
Europeans is not likely to be perpetrated with impunity, and
greatly advanced the Egyptian question towards a permanent and
peaceable solution. I feel that in being party to this work I have
been a labourer in the cause of peace. Your co-operation in that
cause, with reference to preceding and collateral points, has been
of the utmost value, and has enabled me to hold my ground,
when without you it might have been difficult.

The correspondence closed with a wish from Mr. Glad-
stone : ' Believe in the sore sense of practical loss, and the
(I trust) unalterable friendship and regard with which I
remain, etc/ When Bright came to explain his resignation in
parliament, he said something about the moral law, which
led to a sharp retort from the prime minister, but still their
friendship did appear to remain unalterable, as Mr. Gladstone
trusted that it would.

When the question by and by arose whether Arabi should
be put to death, Bright wrote to the prime minister on
behalf of clemency. Mr. Gladstone in replying took a severe
line: ' I am sorry to say the inquiry is too likely to show

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BOOK that Arabi is very much more than a rebel. Crimes of the
T gravest kind have been committed ; and with most of them

1882 * he stands, I fear, in presumptive (that is, unproved) connec-
tion. In truth I must say that, having begun with no
prejudice against him, and with the strong desire that he
should be saved, J am almost driven to the conclusion that
he is a bad man, and that it will not be an injustice if he
goes the road which thousands of his innocent countrymen
through him have trodden." It is a great. mistake to sup-
pose that Mr. Gladstone was all leniency, or that when he
thought ill of men, he stayed either at palliating words or at

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drfdjtfi^trai y&p Gxnrep d$\ifHjt kot6. rdr (Uov t Stop Si dtayuwUnp-ai, r&re
Tvyx**« t«3p xpo^i7ic6rr«r. — Plutaboh, MotxUia, c. 18.

He strives like an athlete all his life long, and then when he comes
to the end of his striving, he has what is meet.

twd/Hpoi' rl 94 Tit ; rl S* otiris ; <rjct&$ &»op
ArOpwros. dAX' lira? atyXa bfoBoros Ad# ,
\afixpbr i^yyos bctarur d*8pQv koX fieOux * odutw.

Pindab, Pyth. riiL 135.

Things of a day ! What is a man? What, when he is not? A
dream of shadow is mankind. Yet when there comes down glory im-
parted from God, radiant light shines among men and genial days.

Buret* S* dour drdyxa, rl k4 tis druttntjxor
yfyas h ffK&rtp Katyfurot tyoi fuirw\

01. i. 131.

Die since we must, wherefore shook! a man sit idle and nurse in
the gloom days of long life without aim, without name ?

The words from ' antique books ' that I have just translated CHAP,
and transcribed, were written out by Mr. Gladstone inside v.

the cover of the little diary for 1882-3. To what the old <**• n -
world had to say, he added Dante's majestic commonplace :
' Tou were not made to live like brutes, but to pursue virtue
and knowledge/ l These meditations on the human lot, on
the mingling of our great hopes with the implacable realities,
made the vital air in which all through his life he drew

1 Considerate la vostra semenza :

Fatti non foste a viver come bmti,
Ma per seguir virtute e conoscenza.

Itrferno, xxvi. 118.


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BOOK deep breath. Adjusted to his ever vivid religious creed,
t amid all the turbid business of the worldly elements, they

1882. were t j le sedative and the restorer. Yet here and always
the last word was Effort. The moods that in less strenuous
natures ended in melancholy, philosophic or poetic, to him
were fresh incentives to redeem the time.

The middle of December 1882 marked % his political
jubilee. It was now half a century since he had entered
public life, and the youthful graduate from Oxford had
grown to be the foremost man in his country. Yet these
fifty courses of the sun and all the pageant of the world
had in some ways made but little difference in him. In
some ways, it seemed as if time had rolled over him
in vain. He had learned many lessons. He had changed
his party, his horizons were far wider, new social truths had
made their way into his impressionable mind, he recognised
new social forces. His aims for the church, that he loved
as ardently as he gloried in a powerful and beneficent state,
had undergone a revolution. Since 1866 he had come into
contact with democracy at close quarters; the Bulgarian
campaign and Midlothian lighting up his early faith in
liberty, had inflamed him with new feeling for the voice of
the people. As much as in the early time when he had
prayed to be allowed to go into orders, he was moved by a
dominating sense of the common claims and interests of
mankind. 'The contagion of the world's slow stain' had
not infected him; the lustre and long continuity of his
public performances still left all his innermost ideals
constant and undimmed.

His fifty years of public life had wrought his early habits
of severe toil, method, exactness, concentration, into cast-
iron. Whether they had sharpened what is called know-
ledge of the world, or taught him insight into men and
skill in discrimination among men, it is hard to say. He
always talked as if he found the world pretty much what he
had expected. Man, he used often to say, is the least com-
prehensible of creatures, and of men the most incompre-
hensible are the politicians. Yet nobody was less of the
cynic. As for Weltschmerz, world-weariness, ennui, tedium

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vitffi — that enervating family were no acquaintances of his, CHAP,
now nor at any time. None of the vicissitudes of long

experience ever tempted him either into the shallow satire Mt - 73,
on life that is so often the solace of the little and the weak ;
or on the other hand into the saeva indignatio, the sombre
brooding reprobation, that has haunted some strong souls
from Tacitus and Dante to Pascal, Butler, Swift, Turgot We
may, indeed, be sure 'that neither of these two moods can
ever hold a place in the breast of a commanding orator.


I have spoken of his new feeling for democracy. At
the point of time at which we have arrived, it was heartily
reciprocated. The many difficulties in the course of public
affairs that confronted parliament and the nation for two
years or more after Mr. Gladstone's second accession to
power, did little to weaken either his personal popularity
or his hold upon the confidence of the constituencies. For
many years he and Mr. Disraeli had stood out above the
level of their adherents; they were the centre of every
political storm. Disraeli was gone (April 19, 1881), com-
memorated by Mr. Gladstone in a parliamentary tribute that
cost him much searching of heart beforehand, and was a
masterpiece of grace and good feeling. Mr. Gladstone
stood alone, concentrating upon himself by his personal
ascendency and public history the bitter antagonism of his
opponents, only matched by the enthusiasm and devotion
of his followers. The rage of faction had seldom been more
unbridled. The Irish and the young fourth party were
rivals in malicious vituperation ; of the two, the Irish on the
whole observed the better manners. Once Mr. Gladstone
was wounded to the quick, as letters show, when a member
of the fourth party denounced as c a government of infamy '
the ministry with whose head he had long been on terms
of more than friendship alike as host and guest He
could not fell his trees, he could not read the lessons in
Hawarden church, without finding these innocent habits
turned into material for platform mockery. 'In the eyes
of the opposition, as indeed of the country,' said a

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BOOK great print that was never much his friend, 'he is the
_^_^ government and he is the liberal party/ and the
1882. ^ter went on to scold Lord Salisbury for wasting his
time in the concoction of angry epigrams and pungent
phrases that were neither new nor instructive. 1 They
pierced no joint in the mail of the warrior at whom they
were levelled. The nation at large knew nothing of diffi-
culties at Windsor, nothing of awkward passages in the
cabinet, nothing of the trying egotisms of gentlemen out
of the cabinet who insisted that they ought to be in. Nor
would such things have made any difference except in his
favour, if the public had known all about them. The Duke of
Argyll and Lord Lansdowne had left him ; his Irish policy
had cost him his Irish secretary, and his Egyptian policy
had cost him Mr. Bright They had got into a war, they
had been baffled in legislation, they had to raise the most
unpopular of taxes, there had been the frightful tragedy in
Ireland. Yet all seemed to have been completely overcome
in the public mind by the power of Mr. Gladstone in uniting
his friends and frustrating his foes, and the more bitterly he
was hated by society, the more warmly attached were the
mass of the people. Anybody who had foreseen all this
would have concluded that the government must be in ex-
tremity, but he went to the Guildhall on the 9th of November
1882, and had the best possible reception on that famous
stage. One tory newspaper felt bound to admit that Mr.
Gladstone and his colleagues had rehabilitated themselves
in the public judgment with astounding rapidity, and were
now almost as strong in popular and parliamentary support
as when they first took office. 8 Another tory print declared
Mr. Gladstone to be stronger, more popular, more despotic,
than at any time since the policy to carry out which he

Online LibraryJohn MorleyThe life of William Ewart Gladstone, Volume 2 → online text (page 30 of 91)