John Morley.

The life of William Ewart Gladstone, Volume 2 online

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bill. The speech is open to exception from three points of view,
as I think — first in relation to Bright, secondly in relation to the
cabinet, thirdly and most especially in relation to the crown, to
which the speech did not indicate the consciousness of his holding
any special relation.

June 26. — It appeared to me in considering the case of Mr. Cham-
berlain's speech that by far the best correction would be found, if a
natural opportunity should offer, in a speech differently coloured
from himself. I found also that he was engaged to preside on
Saturday next at the dinner of the Cobden Club. I addressed my-

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self therefore to this point, and Mr. Chamberlain will revert, on CHAP.
that occasion, to the same line of thought. . . . But, like Granville, * ? *
I consider that the offence does not consist in holding certain ^ T# * 4,
opinions, of which in my judgment the political force and effect are
greatly exaggerated, but in the attitude assumed, and the tone and
colour given to the speech.

To Lord Granville.

July 1, 1883. — I have read with care Chamberlain's speech
of last night [at the Cobden Club dinner]. . . , Am I right
or wrong in understanding the speech as follows. He admits
without stint that in a cabinet concessions may be made as to
action, but he seems to claim an unlimited liberty of speech. Now
I should be as far as possible from asserting that under all circum-
stances speech must be confined within the exact limits to which
action is tied down. But I think the dignity and authority, not to
say the honour and integrity, of government require that the
liberty of speaking beyond those limits should be exercised
sparingly, reluctantly, and with much modesty and reserve.
Whereas Chamberlain's Birmingham speech exceeded it largely,
gratuitously, and with a total absence of recognition of the fact
that he was not an individual but a member of a body. And the
claim made last night to liberty of speech must be read with the
practical illustration afforded by the Birmingham discourse, which
evidently now stands as an instance, a sort of moral instance, of
the mode in which liberty of speech is to be reconciled with limita-
tion of action. 1

In order to test the question, must we not bear in mind that the

liberty claimed in one wing of a cabinet may also be claimed in

another, and that while one minister says I support this measure,

though it does not go far enough, another may just as lawfully say

I support this measure, though it goes too far 1 For example,

Argyll agreed to the Disturbance Compensation bill in 1880

1 By an odd coincidence, on the the direction given to policy, and

day after my selection of this letter, I each minister individually has

read that the French prime minister, authority only for the administra-

M. Combes, laid down the doctrine tion of his department (September

that the government is never com- 25, 1902). Of course this is wholly

mitted by a minister's individual incompatible with Mr. Gladstone s

declarations, but only by those of ideas of parliamentary responsibility

the head of the government. He and the oabinet system,
alone has the power of making known


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BOOK mainly out of regard to his colleagues and their authority. What
' ; if he had used in the House of Lords language like that I have

1883. j ust guppoged ? Every extravagance of this kind puts weapons
into the hands of opponents, and weakens the authority of govern-
ment, which is hardly ever too strong, and is often too weak

In a letter written some years before when he was leader
of the House, Mr. Gladstone on the subject of the internal
discipline of a ministerial corps told one, who was at that
time and now his colleague, a little story : —

As the subject is one of interest, perhaps you will let me
mention the incident which first* obliged me to reflect upon it.
Nearly thirty years ago, my leader, Sir R. Peel, agreed in the
Irish Tithes bills to give 25 per cent, of the tithe to the landlord
in return for that * Commutation. ' Thinking this too much (you
see that twist was then already in me), I happened to say so in a
private letter to an Irish clergyman. Very shortly after I had a
note from Peel, which inclosed one from Shaw, his head man in
Ireland, complaining of my letter as making his work impossible
if such things were allowed to go on. Sir E. Peel indorsed the
remonstrance, and I had to sing small. The discipline was very
tight in those days (and we were in opposition, not in government).
But it worked well on the whole, and I must say it was accom-
panied on Sir R. Peel's part with a most rigid regard to rights of
all kinds within the official or quasi-official corps, which has some-
what declined in more recent times.

A minister had made some reference in a public speech to
what happened in the cabinet of which he was a member.
' I am sure it cannot have occurred to you/ Mr. Gladstone
wrote, ' that the cabinet is the operative part of the privy
council, that the privy councillor's oath is applicable to its
proceedings, that this is a very high obligation, and that no
one can dispense with it except the Queen. I may add that
I believe no one is entitled even to make a note of the pro-
ceedings except the prime minister, who has to report its
proceedings on every occasion of its meeting to the Queen,
and who must by a few scraps assist his memory.'

By the end of the session, although its labours had not

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been on the level of either 1881 or 1882, Mr. Gladstone was CHAP,
somewhat strained. On Aug. 22 he writes to Mrs. Gladstone *
at Hawarden : — ' Yesterday at 4£ I entered the House hoping -^ 74,
to get out soon and write you a letter, when the Speaker
told me Northcote was going to raise a debate on the
Appropriation bill, and I had to wait, listen, and then to
speak for more than an hour, which tired me a good deal,
finding me weak after sitting till 2.30 the night before, and
a long cabinet in the interval. Rough work for 73 ! '

In September he took a holiday in a shape that, though
he was no hearty sailor, was always a pleasure and a relief
to him. Three letters to the Queen tell the story, and give
a glimpse of court punctilio : —

On the North Sea, Sept. 15. Posted at Copenhagen, Sept. 16, 1883.
— Mr. Gladstone presents his humble duty to your Majesty, and
has to offer his humble apology for not having sought from your
Majesty the usual gracious permission before setting foot on
a foreign shore. He embarked on the 8th in a steamer of the
Castles Company under the auspices of Sir Donald Currie, with
no more ambitious expectation than that of a cruise among the
Western Isles. But the extraordinary solidity, so to call it, of a
very fine ship (the Pembroke Castle, 4000 tons, 410 feet long) on
the water, rendering her in no small degree independent of
weather, encouraged his fellow-voyagers, and even himself, though
a most indifferent sailor, to extend their views, and the vessel is
now on the North Sea running over to Christiansand in Norway,
from whence it is proposed to go to Copenhagen, with the expecta-
tion, however, of again touching British soil in the middle of next
week. Mr. Gladstone humbly trusts that, under these circum-
stances, his omission may be excused.

Mr. Tennyson, who is one of the party, is an excellent sailor, and
seems to enjoy himself much in the floating castle, as it may be
termed in a wider sense than that of its appellation on the register.
The weather has been variable with a heavy roll from the Atlantic
at the points not sheltered; but the stormy North Sea has on
the whole behaved extremely well as regards its two besetting
liabilities to storm and fog.

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BOOK Ship ' Pembroke Castle,' Mouth of the Thames. Sept. 20, 1883.—
_ VJ ^ 1 ' , Mr. Gladstone with his humble duty reports to your Majesty his

1883. return this evening from Copenhagen to London. The passage
was very rapid, and the weather favourable. He had the
honour, with his wife and daughter and other companions of his
voyage, to receive an invitation to dine at Fredensborg on Monday.
He found there the entire circle of illustrious personages who have
been gathered for some time in a family party, with a very few
exceptions. The singularly domestic character of, this remarkable
assemblage, and the affectionate intimacy which appeared to
pervade it, made an impression upon him not less deep than
the demeanour of all its members, which was so kindly and so
simple, that even the word condescending could hardly be applied
to it. Nor must Mr. Gladstone allow himself to omit another strik-
ing feature of the remarkable picture, in the unrestrained and un-
bounded happiness of the royal children, nineteen in number, who
appeared like a single family reared under a single roof.

[The royal party, forty in nwnber, visit the ship.]

The Emperor of Russia proposed the health of your Majesty.
Mr. Gladstone by arrangement with your Majesty's minister at
this court, Mr. Vivian, proposed the health of the King and
Queen of Denmark, and the Emperor and Empress of Russia,
and the King and Queen of the Hellenes. The King of Denmark
did Mr. Gladstone the honour to propose his health; and Mr.
Gladstone in acknowledging this toast, thought he could not do
otherwise, though no speeches had been made, than express the
friendly feeling of Great Britain towards Denmark, and the
satisfaction with which the British people recognised the tie
of race which unites them with the inhabitants of the Scandi-
navian countries. Perhaps the most vigorous and remarkable
portion of the British nation had, Mr. Gladstone said, been drawn
from these countries. After luncheon, the senior imperial and
royal personages crowded together into a small cabin on the deck
to hear Mr. Tennyson read two of his poems, several of the
younger branches clustering round the doors. Between 2 and 3,
the illustrious party left the Pembroke Castle, and in the midst of
an animated scene, went on board the King of Denmark's yacht,
which steamed towards Elsinore.

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Mr. Gladstone was much pleased to observe that the Emperor CHAP,
of Russia appeared to be entirely released from the immediate ^

pressure of his anxieties supposed to weigh much upon his mind. ^ fr ' 74#
The Empress of Russia has the genial and gracious manners which on
this, and on every occasion, mark H.R.H. the Princess of Wales.

Sept 22,1883. — Mr. Gladstone presents his humble duty to your
Majesty, and has to acknowledge your Majesty's letter of the
20th 'giving him full credit for not having reflected at the time'
when he decided, as your Majesty believes, to extend his recent
cruise to Norway and Denmark.

He may humbly state that he had no desire or idea beyond a
glance, if only for a few hours, at a little of the fine and peculiar
scenery of Norway. But he is also responsible for having
acquiesced in the proposal (which originated with Mr. Tennyson)
to spend a day at Copenhagen, where he happens to have some
associations of literary interest; for having accepted an unex-
pected invitation to dine with the king some thirty miles off ; and
for having promoted the execution of a wish, again unexpectedly
communicated to him, that a visit of the illustrious party to the
Pembroke Castle should be arranged. Mr. Gladstone ought probably
to have foreseen all these things. With respect to the construc-
tion put upon his act abroad, Mr. Gladstone ought again, perhaps,
to have foreseen that, in countries habituated to more important
personal meetings, which are uniformly declared to be held in the
interests of general peace, his momentary and unpremeditated con-
tact with the sovereigns at Fredensborg would be denounced, or
suspected of a mischievous design. He has, however, some con-
solation in finding that, in England at least, such a suspicion
appears to have been confined to two secondary journals, neither
of which has ever found (so far as he is aware) in any act of his
anything but guilt and folly.

Thus adopting, to a great extent, your Majesty's view, Mr.
Gladstone can confirm your Majesty's belief that (with the excep-
tion of a sentence addressed by him to the King of the Hellenes
singly respecting Bulgaria), there was on all hands an absolute
silence in regard to public affairs. . . .

In proposing at Kirkwall the health of the poet who was

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358 . EGYPT

BOOK his fellow guest on the cruise, Mr. Gladstone let fall a hint
t ' * — a significant and perhaps a just one — on the comparative

1884 - place of politics and letters, the difference between the
statesman and ofrator and the poet. ' Mr. Tennyson's life
and labour/ he said, ' correspond in point of time as nearly
as possible to my own ; but he has worked in a higher field,
and his work will be more durable. We public men play
a part which places us much in view of our countrymen,
but the words which we speak have wings and fly away and
disappear. . . . But the Poet Laureate has written his own
song on the hearts of his countryiaen that can never die/


It was said in 1884 that the organization of Egypt was a
subject, whether regarded from the English or the European
point of view, that was probably more complicated and more
fraught with possible dangers in the future, than any ques-
tion of foreign policy with which England had had to deal
for the last fifty years or more.

The arguments against prolonged English occupation were
tolerably clear. It would freeze all cordiality between our-
selves and the French. It would make us a Mediterranean
military power. In case of war, the necessity of holding
Egypt would weaken us. In diplomacy it would expose
fresh surface to new and hostile combinations. Yet, giving
their full weight to every one of these considerations, a
British statesman was confronted by one of those intractable
dilemmas that make up the material of a good half of
human history. The Khedive could not stand by himself.
The Turk would not, and ought not to be endured for his
protector. Some other European power would step in and
block the English road. Would common prudence in such
a case suffer England to acquiesce and stand aside ? Did
not subsisting obligations also confirm the precepts of policy
and self-interest ? In many minds this reasoning was
clenched and clamped by the sacrifices that England had
made when she took, and took alone, the initial military

Egyptian affairs were one of the heaviest loads that

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weighed upon Mr. Gladstone during the whole of 1884. CHAP.
One day in the autumn of this year, towards the end of the *
business before the cabinet, a minister asked if there was iETt 75 *
anything else. ' No/ said Mr. Gladstone with sombre irony
as he gathered up his papers, ' we have done our Egyptian
business, and we are an Egyptian government/ His general
position was sketched in a letter to Lord Granville (Mar. 22,
1884) : — * In regard to the Egyptian question proper, I am
conscious of being moved by three powerful considerations.
(1) Respect for European law, and for the peace of eastern
Europe, essentially connected with its observance. (2) The
just claims of the Khedive, who has given us no case against
him, and his people as connected with him. (3) Indisposi-
tion to extend the responsibilities of this country. On the
first two I feel very stiff. On the third I should have due
regard to my personal condition as a vanishing quantity/

The question of the continuance of the old dual control by
England and France was raised almost immediately after
the English occupation began, but English opinion sup-
ported or stimulated the cabinet in refusing to restore a
form of co-operation that had worked well originally in the
hands of Baring and de Bligni&res, but had subsequently
betrayed its inherent weakness. France resumed what is
diplomatically styled liberty of action in Egypt ; and many
months were passed in negotiations, the most entangled in
which a British government was ever engaged. Why did
not England, impatient critics of Mr. Gladstone and his
cabinet inquire, at once formally proclaim a protectorate ?
Because it would have been a direct breach of her moral
obligations of good faith to Europe. These were undisputed
and indisputable. It would have brought her within instant
reach of a possible war with France, for which the sinister
and interested approval of Germany would have been small

The issue lay between annexation and withdrawal, —
annexation to be veiled and indirect, withdrawal to be
cautious and conditional. No member of the cabinet at
this time seems to have listened with any favour what-
ever to the mention of annexation. Apart from other

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BOOK objections, it would undeniably have been a flagrant breach
^ of solemn international engagements. The cabinet was

1884. pledged up to the lips to withdrawal, and when Lord
Hartington talked to the House of Commons of the last
British soldier quitting Egypt in a few months, nobody ever
doubted then or since that he was declaring the sincere
intention of the cabinet. Nor was any doubt possible that
the intention of the cabinet entirely coincided at that time
with the opinion and wishes of the general public. The
operations in Egypt had not been popular, 1 and the national
temper was still as hostile to all expansion as when it cast
out Lord Beaconsfield. Withdrawal, however, was beset with
inextricable difficulties. Either withdrawal or annexation
would have simplified the position and brought its own
advantages. Neither was possible. The British govern-
ment after Tel-el-Kebir vainly strove to steer a course that
would combine the advantages of both. Say what they
would, military occupation was taken to make them re-
sponsible for everything that happened in Egypt This
encouraged the view that they should give orders to Egypt,
and make Egypt obey. But then direct and continuous
interference with the Egyptian administration was advance
in a path that could only end in annexation. To govern
Egypt from London through a native ministry, was in fact
nothing but annexation, and annexation in its clumsiest
and most troublesome shape. Such a policy was least of
all to be reconciled with the avowed policy of withdrawal.
To treat native ministers as mere ciphers and puppets,
and then to hope to leave them at the end with authority
enough to govern the country by themselves, was pure

So much for our relations with Egypt internally. Then
came Europe and the Powers, and the regulation of a
financial situation of indescribable complexity. 'I some-
times fear/ Mr. Gladstone wrote to Lord Granville (Dec. 8,

1 Many indications of this could went to make speeches at Liverpool,

be cited, if there were room. A and had to report on returning to

parade of the victors of Tel-el-Kebir town that references to Egypt fell

through the streets of London stirred altogether flat,
little excitement. Two ministers

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1884) ' that some of the foreign governments have the same CHAP,
notion of me that Nicholas was supposed to have of Lord v_

Aberdeen. But there is no one in the cabinet less disposed JEfr - 76 -
than I am to knuckle down to them in this Egyptian matter,
about which they, except Italy, behave so ill, some of them
without excuse.' 'As to Bismarck/ he said, 'it is a case
of sheer audacity, of which he has an unbounded stock.'
Two months before he had complained to Lord Granville of
the same powerful personage : — ' Ought not some notice to
be taken of Bismarck's impudent reference to the English
exchequer? Ought you to have such a remark in your
possession without protest? He coolly assumes in effect
that we are responsible for all the financial wants and
occasions of Egypt.'

The sensible reader would resist any attempt to drag him
into the Serbonian bog of Egyptian finance. Nor need I
describe either the protracted conference of the European
Powers, or the mission of Lord Northbrook. To this able
colleague, Mr. Gladstone wrote on the eve of his departure
(Aug. 29, 1884):—

I cannot let you quit our shores without a word of valediction.
Your colleagues are too deeply interested to be impartial judges
of your mission. But they certainly cannot be mistaken in their
appreciation of the generosity and courage which could alone have
induced you to undertake it. Our task in Egypt generally may
not unfairly be called an impossible task, and with the impossible
no man can successfully contend. But we are well satisfied that
whatever is possible, you will achieve; whatever judgment, ex-
perience, firmness, gentleness can do, will be done. Our expecta-
tions from the nature of the case must be moderate; but be
assured, they will not be the measure of our gratitude. All good
go with you.

Lord Northbrook's report when in due time it came,
engaged the prime minister's anxious consideration, but it
could not be carried further. What the Powers might agree
to, parliament would not look at. The situation was one of
the utmost delicacy and danger, as anybody who is aware
of the diplomatic embarrassments of it knows. An agree-

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BOOK ment with France about the Suez Canal came to nothing.
' * A conference upon finance came to nothing. Bismarck was
1884. out Q f h umour w Jth England, partly from his dislike of
certain exalted English personages and influences at his own
court, partly because it suited him that France and England
should be bad friends, partly because, as he complained,
whenever he tried to found a colony, we closed in upon him.
He preached a sermon on do ut des, and while scouting the
idea of any real differences with this country, he hinted
that if we could not accommodate him in colonial questions,
he might not find it in his power to accommodate us in
European questions. Mr. Gladstone declared for treating
every German claim in an equitable spirit, but said we had
our own colonial communities to consider.

In March 1885, after negotiations that threatened to be
endless the London Convention was signed and the riddle
of the financial sphinx was solved. This made possible the
coming years of beneficent reform. The wonder is, says a
competent observer, how in view of the indifference of most
of the jPowers to the welfare of Egypt and the bitter annoy-
ance of France at our position in that country, the English
government ever succeeded in inducing all the parties con-
cerned to agree to so reasonable an arrangement. 1

Meanwhile, as we shall see all too soon, the question of
Egypt proper as it was then called, had brought up the
question of the Soudan, and with it an incident that made
what Mr. Gladstone called 'the blackest day since the
Phoenix Park' In 1884 the government still seemed pros-
perous. The ordinary human tendency to croak never dies,
especially in the politics of party. Men talked of humilia-
tion abroad, ruin at home, agricultural interests doomed,
trade at a standstill — calamities all obviously due to a
government without spirit, and a majority with no independ-
ence. But then humiliation, to be sure, only meant jealousy
in other countries because we declined to put ourselves in
the wrong, and to be hoodwinked into unwise alliances.
Ruin only meant reform without revolution. Doom meant
an inappreciable falling off in the vast volume of our trade.
1 Milner'a England in Egypt, p. 185.

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Decision by majorities is as much an expedient as lighting by gas.
In adopting it as a rale, we are not realising perfection, bnt bowing
to an imperfection. It has the great merit of avoiding, and that by
a test perfectly definite, the last resort to violence ; and of making
force itself the servant instead of the master of authority. But our
country rejoices in the belief that she does not decide all things by
majorities. — Gladstone (1858).

' The word procedure/ said Mr. Gladstone to a club of young CHAP,
political missionaries in 1884, ' has in it something homely, <
and it is difficult for any one, except those who pass their
lives within the walls of parliament, to understand how vital
and urgent a truth it is, that there is no more urgent demand,

Online LibraryJohn MorleyThe life of William Ewart Gladstone, Volume 2 → online text (page 33 of 91)