John Morley.

The life of William Ewart Gladstone, Volume 2 online

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hothead and moderate, so in the cabinet they could count
upon a whig section, and probably upon the prime minister
as well They noted his words spoken in July, ' It is not
our desire to see the bill carried by storm and tempest It
is our desire to see it win its way by persuasion and calm
discussion to the rational minds of men/ *

Meanwhile Sir Michael Hicks Beach had already, with the
knowledge and without the disapproval of other leading
men on the tory side, suggested an exchange of views to
Lord Hartington, who was warmly encouraged by the
cabinet to carry on communications, as being a person
peculiarly fitted for the task, * enjoying full confidence on
one side/ as Mr. Gladstone said to the Queen, ' and pro-
bably more on the other side than any other minister could
enjoy/ These two cool and able men took the extension of
county franchise for granted, and their conferences turned
pretty exclusively on redistribution. Sir Michael pressed
the separation of urban from rural areas, and what was more
specifically important was his advocacy of single-member
or one-horse constituencies. His own long experience of a
scattered agricultural division had convinced him that such
areas with household suffrage would be unworkable. Lord
Hartington knew the advantage of two-member constituencies

1 Dinner of the Eighty Club, July 11, 1884.

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Ml. 75.

THE queen's SUGGESTION 375

for his party, because they made an opening for one whig C *LAP.
candidate and one radical. But he did not make this a
question of life or death, and the ground was thoroughly well
hoed and raked. Lord Salisbury, to whom the nature of these
communications had been made known by the colleague
concerned, told him of the suggestion from the Queen, and
said that he and Sir Stafford Northcote had unreservedly
accepted it So far the cabinet had found the several views
in favour with their opponents as to electoral areas, rather
more sweeping and radical than their own had been, and
they hoped that on the basis thus informally laid, they
might proceed to the more developed conversation with the
two official leaders. Then the tory ultras interposed.


On the last day of October the Queen wrote to Mr.
Gladstone from Balmoral : —

The Queen thinks that it would be a means of arriving at some
understanding if the leaders of the parties in both Houses could
exchange their views personally. The Duke of Argyll or any other
person unconnected for the present with the government or the
opposition might be employed in bringing about a meeting, and in
assisting to solve difficulties. The Queen thinks the government
should in any project forming the basis of resolutions on redis-
tribution to be proposed to the House, distinctly define their plans
at such a personal conference. The Queen believes that were
assurance given that the redistribution would not be wholly
inimical to the prospects of the conservative party, their con-
currence might be obtained. The Queen feels most strongly that
it is of the utmost importance that in this serious crisis such
means, even if unusual, should be tried, and knowing how fully
Mr. Gladstone recognises the great danger that might arise by
prolonging the conflict, the Queen earnestly trusts that he will
avail himself of such means to obviate it.

The Queen then wrote to Lord Salisbury in the same
sense in which she had written to the prime minister. Lord
Salisbury replied that it would give him great pleasure to
consult with anybody the Queen might desire, and that in

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BOOK obedience to her commands he would do all that lay in him
' **n bring the controversy finally to a just and honourable
1884. i ssua n e W ent on however to say, in the caustic vein
that was one of his ruling traits, that while cheerfully com-
plying with the Queen's wishes, he thought it right to add
that, so far as his information went, no danger attached
to the prolongation of the controversy for a consider-
able time, nor did he believe that there was any real
excitement in the country about it. The Queen in replying
(Nov. 5), said that she would at once acquaint Mr. Gladstone
with what he had said.

The autumn session began, and the Franchise bill was
introduced again. Three days later, in consequence of
a communication from the other camp, the debate on
the second reading was conciliatory, but the tories
won a bye-election, and the proceedings in committee
became menacing and clouded. Discrepancies abounded in
the views of the opposition upon redistribution. When the
third reading came (Nov. 11), important men on the tory
side insisted on the production of a Scats bill, and declared
there must be no communication with the enemy. Mr.
Gladstone was elaborately pacific. If he could not get
peace, he said, at least let it be recorded that he desired peace.
The parleys of Lord Hartington and Sir Michael Hicks Beach
came to an end.

Mr. Gladstone late one night soon after this (Nov. 14),
had a long conversation with Sir Stafford Northcote at the
house of a friend. He had the authority of the cabinet (not
given for this special interview) to promise the introduction
of a Seats bill before the committee stage of the Franchise
bill in the Lords, provided he was assured that it could be
done without endangering or retarding franchise. North-
cote and Mr. Gladstone made good progress on the principles
of redistribution. Then came an awkward message from
Lord Salisbury that the Lords could not let the Franchise
bill through, until they got the Seats bill from the Commons.
So negotiations were again broken off.

The only hope now was that a sufficient number of Lord
Salisbury's adherents would leave him in the lurch, if he

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did not close with what was understood to be Mr. Gladstone's CHAP,
engagement, to procure and press a seats bill as soon as ever '

franchise was out of danger. So it happened, and the door iET - 75,
that had thus been shut, speedily opened. Indirect com-
munication reached the treasury bench that seemed to show
the leaders of opposition to be again alive. There were
many surmises, everybody was excited, and two great tory
leaders in the Lords called on Lord Granville one day, anxious
for a modus vivendi. Mr. Gladstone in the Commons, in
conformity with a previous decision of the cabinet, declared
the willingness of the government to produce a bill or
explain its provisions, on receiving a reasonable guarantee
that the Franchise bill would be passed before the end of
the sittings. The ultras of the opposition still insisted on
making bets all round that the Franchise bill would not
become law ; besides betting, they declared they would die
on the floor of the House in resisting an accommodation.
A meeting of the party was summoned at the Carlton club
for the purpose of declaring war to the knife, and Lord
Salisbury was reported to hold to his determination. This
resolve, however, proved to have been shaken by Mr. Glad-
stone's language on a previous day. The general principles
of redistribution had been sufficiently sifted, tested, and
compared to show that there was no insuperable discrepancy
of view. It was made clear to Lord Salisbury circuitously,
that though the government required adequate assurances
of the safety of franchise before presenting their scheme
upon seats, this did not preclude private and confidential
illumination. So the bill was read a second time. '

All went prosperously forward. On November 19, Lord
Salisbury and Sir S. Northcote came to Downing Street in
the afternoon, took tea with the prime minister, and had a
friendly conversation for an hour in which much ground
was covered. The heads of the government scheme were
discussed and handed to the opposition leaders. Mr. Glad-
stone was well satisfied. He was much struck, he said after,
with the quickness of the tory leader, and found it a pleasure
to deal with so acute a man. Lord Salisbury, for his part,
was interested in the novelty of the proceeding, for no


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BOOK precedent could be found in our political or party history
for the discussion of a measure before its introduction
between the leaders of the two sides. This novelty stirred
his curiosity, while he also kept a sharp eye on the main
party chance. He proved to be entirely devoid of respect for
tradition, and Mr. Gladstone declared himself to be a strong
conservative in comparison. The meetings went on for
several days through the various parts of the questions, Lord
Hartington, Lord Granville, and Sir Charles Dilke being also
taken into council — the last of the three being unrivalled
master of the intricate details.

The operation was watched with jealous eyes by the
radicals, though they had their guardians in the cabinet
To Mr. Bright who, having been all his life denounced as a
violent republican, was now in the view of the new school
hardly even so much as a sound radical, Mr. Gladstone
thought it well to write (Nov. 25) words of comfort, if
comfort were needed : —

I wish to give you the assurance that in the private communi-
cations which are now going on, liberal principles such as we
should conceive and term them, are in no danger. Those with
whom we confer are thinking without doubt of party interests, as
affected by this or that arrangement, but these aro a distinct
matter, and I am not so good at them as some others ; but the
general proposition which I have stated is I think one which I can
pronounce with some confidence. . . . The whole operation is
essentially delicate and slippery, and I can hardly conceive any
other circumstance in which it would be justified, but in the
present very peculiar case I think it is not only warranted, but
called for.

On November 27 all was well over; and Mr. Gladstone
was able to inform the Queen that ' the delicate and novel
communications ' between the two sets of leaders had been
brought to a happy termination. ' His first duty/ he said,
' was to tender his grateful thanks to your Majesty for the
wise, gracious, and steady influence on your Majesty's part,
which has so powerfully contributed to bring about this
accommodation, and to avert a serious crisis of affairs/ He

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adds that 'his cordial acknowledgments are due to Lord CHAP.
Salisbury and Sir Stafford Northcote for the manner in '

which they have conducted their difficult communications/ ^ Bt# 75#
The Queen promptly replied: — 'I gladly and thankfully
return your telegrams. To be able to be of use is all I care
to live for now.' By way of winding up negotiations so
remarkable, Mr. Gladstone wrote to Lord Salisbury to thank
him for his kindness, and to say that he could have desired
nothing better in candour and equity. Their conversation
on the Seats bill would leave him none but the most agree-
able recollections.

The Queen was in high good humour, as she had a right
to be. She gave Mr. Gladstone ample credit for his con-
ciliatory spirit. The last two months had been very trying
to her, she said, but she confessed herself repaid by the
thought that she had assisted in a settlement. Mr. Glad-
stone's severest critics on the tory side confessed that * they
did not think he had it in him/ Some friends of his
in high places even suggested that this would be a good
moment for giving him the garter. He wrote to Sir Arthur
Gordon (Dec. 5) : — ' The time of this government has been on
the whole the most stormy and difficult that I have known in
office, and the last six weeks have been perhaps the most
anxious and difficult of the government/

One further episode deserves a section, if the reader will
turn back for a moment or two. The question whether
the extension of the parliamentary franchise to rural
householders should be limited to Great Britain or should
apply to the whole kingdom, had been finally discussed in
a couple of morning sittings in the month of May. Nobody
who heard it can forget the speech made against Irish
inclusion by Mr. Plunket, tho eloquent grandson of the most
eloquent of all the orators whom Ireland has sent to the
imperial senate. He warned the House that to talk of
assimilating the franchise in Ireland to the franchise in
England, was to use language without meaning ; that out of
seven hundred and sixty thousand inhabited houses in

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BOOK Ireland, no fewer than four hundred and thirty- five thousand
VIII. were ra ^ e( j a t one pound and under ; that those whom the

1884. bin would enfranchise would be taken from a class of whom
more than forty per cent, could neither read nor write; that
the measure would strengthen the hands of that disloyal
party who boasted of their entire indifference to English
opinion, and their undivided obligation to influences which
Englishmen were wholly unable to realise. Then in a lofty
strain Mr. Plunket foretold that the measure which they
were asked to pass would lead up to, and would precipitate,
the establishment of a separate Irish nationality. He re-
minded his hearers that the empire had been reared not
more by the endurance of its soldiers and sailors than by
the sagacity and firmness, the common sense and patriotism
of that ancient parliament; and he ended with a fervid
prayer that the historian of the future might not have to
tell that the union of these three kingdoms on which rested
all its honour and all its power— a union that could never
be broken by the force of domestic traitor or foreign foe —
yielded at last under the pressure of the political ambitions
and party exigencies of British statesmen.

The orator's stately diction, his solemn tone, the depth of
his conviction, made a profound impression. Newer parlia-
mentary hands below the government gangway, as he went
on, asked one another by what arts of parliamentary defence
the veteran minister could possibly deal with this searching
appeal. Only a quarter of an hour remained. In two or three
minutes Mr. Gladstone had swept the solemn impression
entirely away. Contrary to his wont, he began at once upon the
top note. With high passion in his voice, and mastering ges-
ture in his uplifted arm, he dashed impetuously upon the foe.
What weighs upon my mind is this, he said, that when the
future historian speaks of the greatness of this empire, and
traces the manner in which it has grown through successive
generations, he will say that in that history there was one
chapter of disgrace, and that chapter of disgrace was the
treatment of Ireland. It is the scale of justice that will
determine the issue of the conflict with Ireland, if conflict
there is to be. There is nothing we can do, cried the orator,

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MR. plunket's speech 381

turning to the Irish members, except the imprudence of CHAP,
placing in your hands evidence that will show that we are *
not acting on principles of justice towards you, that can
render you for a moment formidable in our eyes, should the
day unfortunately arise when you endeavour to lay hands
on this great structure of the British empire. Let us be as
strong in right as we are in population, in wealth, and in
historic traditions, and then we shall not fear to do justice
to Ireland. There is but one mode of making England weak
in the face of Ireland — that is by applying to her principles
of inequality and principles of injustice.

As members sallied forth from the House to dine, they felt
that this vehement improvisation had put the true answer.
Mr. Plunket's fine appeal to those who had been comrades of
the Irish loyalists in guarding the union was well enough, yet
who but the Irish loyalists had held Ireland in the hollow
of their hands for generation upon generation, and who but
they were answerable for the odious and dishonouring failure,
so patent before all the world, to effect a true incorporation
of their country in a united realm? And if it should
happen that Irish loyalists should suffer from extension of
equal civil rights to Irishmen, what sort of reason was that
why the principle of exclusion and ascendency which had
worked such mischief in the past, should be persisted in
for a long and indefinite future? These views, it is im-
portant to observe, were shared, not only by the minister's
own party, but by a powerful body among his opponents.
Some of the gentlemen who had been most furious against the
government for not stopping Irish meetings in the autumn of
1883, were now most indignant at the bare idea of refusing or
delaying a proposal for strengthening the hands of the very
people who promoted and attended such meetings. It is true
also that only two or three months before, Lord Hartington
had declared that it would be most unwise to deal with the
Irish franchise. Still more recently, Mr. W. H. Smith had
declared that any extension of the suffrage in Ireland would
draw after it 'confiscation of property, ruin of industry,
withdrawal of capital, — misery, wretchedness, and war.'
The valour of the platform, however, often expires in the

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BOOK keener air of cabinet and parliament It became Lord
/ Hartington's duty now to move the second reading of pro-
1884. visions which he had just described as most unwise pro-
visions, and Mr. Smith found himself the object of brilliant
mockery from the daring leader below the gangway on his
own side.

Lord Randolph produced a more serious, though events
soon showed it to be not any more solid an argument, when
he said that the man who lives in a mud cabin very often
has a decent holding, and has money in the savings' bank
besides, and more than that, he is often more fit to take an
interest in politics, and to form a sound view about them,
than the English agricultural labourer. The same speaker
proceeded to argue that the Fenian proclivities of the towns
would be more than counterbalanced by the increased power
given to the peasantry. The incidents of agricultural life,
he observed, are unfavourable to revolutionary movements,
and the peasant is much more under the proper and legiti-
mate influence of the Roman catholic priesthood than the
lower classes of the towns. On the whole, the extension of
the franchise to the peasantry of Ireland would not be un-
favourable to the landlord interest. Yet Lord Randolph,
who regaled the House with these chimerical speculations,
had had far better opportunities than almost any other Eng-
lishman then in parliament of knowing something about

What is certain is that English and Scotch members acted
with their eyes open. Irish tories and Irish nationalists
agreed in menacing predictions. The vast masses of Irish
people, said the former, had no sense of loyalty and no love
of order to which a government could appeal In many
districts the only person who was unsafe was the peace
officer or the relatives of a murdered man. The effect of
the change would be the utter annihilation of the political
power of the most orderly, the most loyal, the most educated
classes of Ireland, and the swamping of one-fourth of the
community, representing two-thirds of its property. A
representative of the great house of Hamilton in the
Commons, amid a little cloud of the dishevelled prophecies

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too common in his class, assured the House that everybody CHAP,
knew that if the franchise in Ireland were extended, the days * .

of home rule could not be far distant. The representative Mt - 75 *
of the great house of Beresford in the Lords, the resident
possessor of a noble domain, an able and determined man,
with large knowledge of his country, so far as large know-
ledge can be acquired from a single point of view, expressed
his strong conviction that after the passage of this bill
the Irish outlook would be blacker than it had ever been
before. 1

Another person, far more powerful than any Hamilton or
Beresford, was equally explicit. With characteristic frigidity,
precision, and confidence, the Irish leader had defined his
policy and his expectations. ' Beyond a shadow of doubt/
he had said to a meeting in the Kotunda at Dublin, ' it will
be for the Irish people in England— separated, isolated as
they are — and for your independent Irish members, to deter-
mine at the next general election whether a tory or a liberal
English ministry shall rule England. This is a great force
and a great power. If we cannot rule ourselves, we can at
least cause them to be ruled as we choose. This force has
already gained for Ireland inclusion in the coming Franchise
bilL We have reason to be proud, hopeful, and energetic.' 2
In any case, he informed the House of Commons, even if
Ireland were not included in the bill, the national party
would come back seventy- five strong. If household suffrage
were conceded to Ireland, they would come back ninety
strong. 3 That was the only difference. Therefore, though
he naturally supported inclusion, 4 it was not at all indis-
pensable to the success of his policy, and he watched the
proceedings in the committee as calmly as he might have
watched a battle of frogs and mice.

1 Lord Waterford, July 7, 1884. means of this bill.'

3 December 11, 1883. 4 This was only the second occasion

8 ' I am not at all sure,' Mr. Forster on which his party in cardinal divi-

rashly said (March 31, 1884), 'that Mr. sions voted with the government.

Parnell will increase his followers by

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You can only govern men by imagination : without imagination
they are brutes . . . "Tis by speaking to the soul that you electrify
men. — Napoleon.

BOOK In the late summer of 1881 a certain native of Dongola,
IL , proclaiming himself a heaven-inspired Mahdi, began to

1884. r ally to his banner the wild tribes of the southern Soudan.
His mission was to confound the wicked, the hypocrite, the
unbeliever, and to convert the world to the true faith in the one
God and his prophet. The fame of the Mahdi's eloquence,
his piety, his zeal, rapidly spread. At his ear he found a coun-
sellor, so well known to us after as the khalifa, and this man
soon taught the prophet politics. The misrule of the Soudan
by Egypt had been atrocious, and the combination of a
religious revival with the destruction of that hated yoke
swelled a cry that was irresistible. The rising rapidly
extended, for fanaticism in such regions soon takes fire, and
the Egyptian pashas had been sore oppressors, even judged
by the rude standards of oriental states. Never was insur-
rection more amply justified. From the first, Mr. Gladstone's
curious instinct for liberty disclosed to him that here was a
case of ' a people rightly struggling to be free/ The phrase
was mocked and derided then and down to the end of the
chapter. Yet it was the simple truth. ' During all my
political life/ he said at a later stage of Soudanese affairs,
' I am thankful to say that I have never opened my lips in
favour of a domination such as that which has been exer-
cised upon certain countries by certain other countries, and

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I am not going now to begin.' ' I look upon the possession CHAP,
of the Soudan/ he proceeded, ' as the calamity of Egypt. It « m '

has been a drain on her treasury, it has been a drain on her -^ 76 -
men. It is estimated that 100,000 Egyptians have laid
down their lives in endeavouring to maintain that barren
conquest' Still stronger was the Soudanese side of the
case. The rule of the Mahdi was itself a tyranny, and
tribe fought with tribe, but that was deemed an easier
yoke than the sway of the pashas from Cairo. Every
vice of eastern rule flourished freely under Egyptian
hands. At Khartoum whole families of Coptic clerks kept
the accounts of plundering raids supported by Egyptian
soldiers, and 'this was a government collecting its taxes.'
The function of the Egyptian soldiers c was that of honest
countrymen sharing in the villainy of the brigands from the
Levant and Asia Minor, who wrung money, women, and
drink from a miserable population.' 1 Yet the railing against
Mr. Gladstone for sayirig that the 'rebels' were rightly
struggling to be free could not have been more furious if
the Mahdi had been for dethroning Marcus Aurelius or
Saint Louis of Franca

The ministers at Cairo, however, naturally could not
find in their hearts to withdraw from territory that had

Online LibraryJohn MorleyThe life of William Ewart Gladstone, Volume 2 → online text (page 35 of 91)