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The life of William Ewart Gladstone, Volume 2 online

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whom in their several places and measures I am similarly obliged.

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As to yotir services to me they have been simply indescribable. CHAP,
No one I think could dream, until by experience he knew, to * ^^ ^
what an extent in these close personal relations devolution can be ^ T# ?&
carried, and how it strengthens the feeble knees and thus also
sustains the fainting heart.


The declaration of the Irish policy of the new government
was made to parliament by no less a personage than the lord
lieutenant. 1 The prime minister had discoursed on frontiers
in Asia and frontiers in Africa, but on Ireland he was silent.
Lord Carnarvon, on the contrary, came forward voluntarily
with a statement of policy, and he opened it on the broadest
general lines. His speech deserves as close attention as any
deliverance of this memorable period. It laid down the prin-
ciples of that alternative system of government, with which
the new ministers formally challenged their predecessors.
Ought the Crimes Act to be re-enacted as it stood ; or in
part; or ought it to be allowed to lapse? These were the
three courses. Nobody, he thought, would be for the first,
because some provisions had never been put in force ; others
had been put in force but found useless ; and others again
did nothing that might not be done just as well under the
ordinary law. The re-enactment of the whole statute, there-
fore, was dismissed. But the powers for changing venue at
the discretion of the executive ; for securing special juries at
the same discretion ; for holding secret inquiry without an
accused person; for dealing summarily with charges of
intimidation — might they not be continued? They were
not unconstitutional, and they were not opposed to legal
instincts. No, all quite true; but then the Lords should
not conceal from themselves that their re-enactment would
be in the nature of special or exceptional legislation.
He had been looking through coercion Acts, he continued,
and had been astonished to find that ever since 1847, with
some very short intervals hardly worth mentioning, Ireland

1 This proceeding was so unusual these occasions the viceroy's admin-
> almo

House of Lords in 1837, and Lord viceroy himself was capable of making

as to be almost without a precedent, istration had been the object of

du *

Lord Mulgrave had addressed the vigorous attack, and no one bat the
House of Lords in 1837, and Lord viceroy himself was capable of makin
Clarendon in 1850. But on each of an effective parliamentary defence.

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BOOK had lived under exceptional and coercive legislation.
- What sane man could admit this to be a satisfactory or a
wholesome state of things ? Why should not they try to
extricate themselves from this miserable habit, and aim at
some better solution. * Just as I have seen in English colonies
across the sea a combination of English, Irish, and Scotch
settlers bound together in loyal obedience to the law and the
crown, and contributing to the general prosperity of the
country, so I cannot conceive that there is any irreconcilable
bar here in their native home and in England to the unity
and the amity of the two nations/ He went to his task
individually with a perfectly free, open, and unprejudiced
mind, to hear, to question, and, as far as might be, to under-
stand. ' My Lords, I do not believe that with honesty and
single-mindedness of purpose on the one side, and with the
willingness of the Irish people on the other, it is hopeless to
look for some satisfactory solution of this terrible question.
My Lords, these I believe to be the opinions and the views
of my colleagues/ 1

This remarkable announcement, made in the presence of
the prime minister, in the name of the cabinet as a whole,
and by a man of known purity and sincerity of character,
was taken to be an express renunciation, not merely of the
policy of which notice had been given by the outgoing
administration, but of coercion as a final instrument of
imperial rule. It was an elaborate repudiation in advance
of that panacea of firm and resolute government, which
became so famous before twelve months were over. It was
the suggestion, almost in terms, that a solution should be
sought in that policy which had brought union both within
our colonies, and between the colonies and the mother
country, and men did not forget that this suggestion was being
made by a statesman who had carried federation in Canada,
and tried to carry it in South Africa. We cannot wonder
that upon leading members of the late government, and
especially upon the statesman who had been vspecially
responsible for Ireland, the impression was startling and
profound. Important members of the tory party hurried

1 July 6, 1885. Hans. 298, p. 1659.

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from Ireland to Arlington Street, and earnestly -warned their GHAP.
leader that he would never be able to carry on with the « ^^

ordinary law. They were coldly informed that Lord Salisbury JEfS * 76 -
had received quite different counsel from persons well
acquainted with the country.

The new government were not content with renouncing
coercion for the present They cast off all responsibility for
its practice in the past. Ostentatiously they threw over-
board the viceroy with whom the only fault that they had
hitherto found, was that his sword was not sharp enough.
A motion was made by the Irish leader calling attention to
the maladministration of the criminal law by Lord Spencer.
Forty men had been condemned to death, and in twenty-one
of these cases the capital sentence had been carried out Of
the twenty-one executions six were savagely impugned, and
Mr. ParnelTs motion called for a strict inquiry into these
and some other convictions, with a view to the full
discovery of truth and the relief of innocent persons. The
debate soon became famous from the principal case adduced,
as the Maamtrasna debate. The topic had been so copiously
discussed as to occupy thres full sittings of the House in the
previous October. The lawyer who had just been made
Irish chancellor, at that time pronounced against the
demand. In substance the new government made no fresh
concession. They said that if memorials or statements were
laid before him, the viceroy would carefully attend to them.
No minister could say less. But incidental remarks fell from
the government that created lively alarm in tories and deep
disgust in liberals. Sir Michael Hicks Beach, then leader of
the House, told them that while believing Lord Spencer to be
a man of perfect honour and sense of duty, « he must say very
frankly that there was much in the Irish policy of the late
government which, though in the absence of complete
information he did not condemn, he should be very sorry to
make himself responsible for/ 1 An even more important
minister emphasised the severance of the new policy from
the old. ' I will tell you/ cried Lord Randolph ChurchilJ,
'how the present government is foredoomed to failure

* Sir M. H. Beach, July 17, 1885. Hana. 299, p. 1085.

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BOOK They will be foredoomed to failure if they go out of their

' > way unnecessarily to assume one jot or tittle of the responsi-

1886. bility for the acts of the late administration. It is only by

divesting ourselves of all responsibility for the acts of the

late government, that we can hope to arrive at a successful

issue/ 1

Tory members got up in angry fright, to denounce this
practical acquiescence by the heads of their party in what
was a violent Irish attack not only upon the late viceroy, but
upon Irish judges, juries, and law officers. They remon-
strated against 'the pusillanimous way' in which their two
leaders had thrown over Lord Spencer. 'During the last
three years/ said one of these protesting tories, 'Lord
Spencer has upheld respect for law at the risk of his life
from day to day, with the sanction, with the approval, and
with the acknowledgment inside and outside of this House,
of the country, and especially of the conservative party.
Therefore I for one will not consent to be dragged into any
implied, however slight, condemnation of Lord Spencer,
because it happens to suit the exigencies of party warfare/ *
This whole transaction disgusted plain men, tory and liberal
alike ; it puzzled calculating men ; and it had much to do
with the silent conversion of important and leading men.

The general sentiment about the outgoing viceroy took
the form of a banquet in his honour (July 24), and some
three hundred members of the two Houses attended, includ-
ing Lord Harrington, who presided, and Mr. Bright. The
two younger leaders of the radical wing who had been in
the late cabinet neither signed the invitation nor were
present. But on the same evening in another place, Mr.
Chamberlain recognised the high qualities and great services
of Lord Spencer, though they had not always agreed upon
details. He expressed, however, his approval both of the
policy and of the arguments which had led the new govern-
ment to drop the Crimes Act. At the same time he de-
nounced the 'astounding tergiversation' of ministers, and
energetically declared that 'a strategic movement of that
kind, executed in opposition to the notorious convictions of

1 Hans. 299, p. 1098. a Ibid. p. 1119.

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the men who effected it, carried out for party purposes and CHAP,
party purposes alone, is the most flagrant instance of political > . t
dishonesty this country has ever known.' Lord Hartington ^^ 7ft -
a few weeks later told his constituents that the conduct of
the government, in regard to Ireland, had dealt a heavy
blow * both at political morality, and at the cause of order in
Ireland.' The severity of such judgments from these two
weighty statesmen testifies to the grave importance of the
new departure.

The enormous change arising from the line adopted by
the government was visible enough even to men of less keen
vision than Mr. Gladstone, and it was promptly indicated by
him in a few sentences in a letter to Lord Derby on the Very
day of the Maamtrasna debate : —

Within the last two or three weeks, he wrote, the situation
has undergone important changes. I am not fully informed,
but what I know looks as if the Irish party so-called in
parliament, excited by the high biddings of Lord Randolph, had
changed what was undoubtedly Parnell's ground until within
a very short time back. It is now said that a central board
will not suffice, and that there must be a parliament. This I
suppose may mean the repeal of the Act of Union, or may
mean an Austro-Hungarian scheme, or may mean that Ireland
is to be like a great colony such as Canada. Of all or any
of these schemes I will now only say that, of course, they constitute
an entirely new point of departure and raise questions of an order
totally different to any that are involved in a central board
appointed for local purposes.

Lord Derby recording his first impressions in reply (July
19) took the rather conventional objection made to most
schemes on all subjects, that it either went too far or did not
go far enough. Local government he understood, and home
rule he understood, but a quasi-parliament in Dublin, not
calling itself such though invested with most of the authority
of a parliament, seemed to him to lead to the demand for
fuller recognition. If we were forced, he said, to move beyond
local government as commonly understood, he would rather
have Ireland treated like Canada. ' But the difficulties every

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BOOK way are enormous/ On this Mr. Gladstone wrote a little
7111 , later to Lord Granville (Aug. 6) :—

As far as I can learn, both you and Derby are on the same lines
as Parnell, in rejecting the smaller and repudiating the larger
scheme. It would not surprise me if he were to formulate some-
thing on the subject. For my own part I have seen my way
pretty well as to the particulars of the minor and rejected plan,
but the idea of the wider one puzzles me much. At the same
time, */ the election gives a return of a decisive character, the
sooner the subject is dealt with the better.

So little true is it to say that Mr. Gladstone only thought
of the possibility of Irish autonomy after the election.


Apart from public and party cares, the bodily machinery
gave trouble, and the fine organ that had served him so
nobly for so long showed serious signs of disorder.

To Lord Richard Grosvenor.

July 14. — After two partial examinations, a thorough examina-
tion of my throat (larynx versus pharynx) has been made to-day
by Dr. Semon in the presence of Sir A. Clark, and the result
is rather bigger than I had expected. It is, that I have a fair
chance of real recovery provided I keep silent almost like a
Trappist, but all treatment would be nugatory without this rest;
that the other alternative is nothing dangerous, but merely the
constant passage of the organ from bad to worse. He asked what
demands the H. of C. would make on me. I answered about
three speeches of about five minutes each, but he was not satisfied
and wished me to get rid of it altogether, which I must do*
perhaps saying instead a word by letter to some friend. Much
time has almost of necessity been lost, but I must be rigid for the
future, and even then I shall be well satisfied if I get back before
winter to a natural use of the voice in conversation. This imports
a considerable change in the course of my daily life. Here it k
difficult to organize it afresh. At Ha warden I can easily do it,
but there I am at a distance from the best aid. I am disposed to

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•top up/ with a tea voyage, but this i§ No. 3 — No*. 1 and 2 being CHAP.
rest and then treatment. *

The sea voyage that was to ' top up ' the rest and the treat-
ment began on August 8, when the Gladstones became the
guests of Sir Thomas and Lady Brassey on the Sunbeam*
They sailed from Greenhithe to Norway, and after a three
weeks' eruisefwere set ashore at Fort George on September 1.
Mr. Gladstone made an excellent tourist ; was full of interest
in all he saw; and, I dare say, drew some pleasure from the
demonstrations of curiosity and admiration that attended his
presence from the simple population wherever he moved.
Long expeditions with much climbing and scrambling were
his delight, and he let nothing beat him. One of these excur-
sions, the ascent to the Voringfos, seems to deserve a word
of commemoration, in the interest either of physiology, or of
philosophic musings after Cicero's manner upon old age. • I
am not sure,' says Lady Brassey in her most agreeable diary of
the cruise, 1 ' that the descent did not seem rougher and longer
than our journey up had been, although, as a matter of fact, we
got over the ground much more quickly. As we crossed the
green pastures on the level ground near the village of Seebo
we met several people taking their evening stroll, and also a
tourist apparently on his way up to spend the night near
the Voringfos. The wind had gone down since the morning,
and we crossed the little lake with fair rapidity, admiring as
we went the glorious effects of the setting sun upon the tops
of the precipitous mountains, and the wonderful echo which
was aroused for our benefit by the boatmen. An extremely
jolty drive, in springless country carts, soon brought us to
the little inn at Vik, and by half-past eight we were once
more on board the Svmbeam, exactly ten hours after setting
out upon our expedition, which had included a ride or walk,
as the case njight be, of eighteen miles, independently of the
journey by boat and cart — a hardish day's work for any one,
but really a wonderful undertaking for a man of seventy-five,
who disdained all proffered help, and insisted on walking the
whole distance. No one who saw Mr. Gladstone that evening

1 In The Contemporary Review, October 1885, p. 491.


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BOOK at dinner in the highest spirits, and discussing subjects both
, grave and gay with the greatest animation, could fail to

1886, admire his marvellous pluck and energy, or, knowing what
he had shown himself capable of doing in the way of physical
exertion, could feel much anxiety on the score of the failure
of his strength.'

He was touched by a visit from the son of an old
farmer, who brought him as an offering from*his father to
Mr. Gladstone a curiously carved Norwegian bowl three
hundred years old, with two horse-head handles. Strolling
about Aalesund, he was astonished to find in the bookshop of
the place a Norse translation of Mill's Logic. He was closely
observant of all religious services whenever he had the
chance, and noticed that at Laurvig all the tombstones had
prayers for the dead. He read perhaps a little less voraci-
ously than usual, and on one or two days, being unable to
read, he 'meditated and reviewed' — always, I think, from
the same point of view — the point of view of Bunyan's Ghuce
Abounding, or his own letters to his father half a century
before. Not seldom a vision of the coming elections flitted
before the mind's eye, and he made notes for what he calls
an abbozzo or sketch of his address to Midlothian.

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TBook IS




Our understanding of history is spoiled by our knowledge of the *

event. — Helps.

Mr. Gladstone came back from his cruise in the Sunbeam CHAP,
at the beginning of September; leaving the yacht at Fort v. *•

George and proceeding to Fasque to celebrate his elder ^ W-
brother's golden wedding. From Fasque he wrote to Lord
Hartington (Sept 3): — 'I have returned to terra firma ex-
tremely well in general health, and with a better throat; in
full expectation of having to consider anxious and doubtful
matters, and now finding them rather more anxious and
doubtful than I had anticipated. As yet I am free to take a
share or not in the coming political issues, and I must weigh
many things before finally surrendering this freedom/ His
first business, he wrote to Sir W. Harcourt (Sept 12), was to
throw his thoughts into order for an address to his con-
stituents, framed only for the dissolution, and ' written with
my best care to avoid treading on the toes of either the right or
the left wing/ He had communicated, he said, with Granville,
Hartington, and Chamberlain; by both of the two latter he
had been a good deal buffeted ; and having explained the
general idea with which he proposed to write, he asked each
of the pair whether upon the whole their wish was that he
should go on or cut out ' To this question I have not yet
got a clear affirmative answer from either of them/


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BOOK 'The subject of Ireland/ he told Lord Harrington, ' has
*f* - perplexed me much even on the North Sea,' and he expressed
188 k some regret that in a recent speech his correspondent had
felt it necessary at this early period to join, issue in so
pointed a manner with Mr. Parnell and his party. ParnelPs
speech was, no doubt, he said, ' as bad as bad could be, and
admitted of only one answer. But the whole question of
the position which Ireland will assume after the general
election is so new, so difficult, and as yet, I think, so little
understood, that it seems most important to reserve until
the proper time all possible liberty of examining it*

The address to his electors, of which he had begun to
think on board the Swnbeam, was given to the public on
September 17. It was, as he said, as long as a pamphlet,
and a considerable number of politicians doubtless passed
' judgment upon it without reading it through. The whigs,
we are told, found it vague, the radicals cautious, the
tories crafty; but everybody admitted that it tended to
heal feuds. Mr. Goschen praised it, and Mr. Chamberlain,
though raising his own flag, was respectful to his leader's
manifesto. 1

The surface was thus stilled for the moment, yet the
waters ran very deep. What were ' the anxious and doubtful
matters/ what 'the coming political issues/ of which Mr.
Gladstone had written to Lord Hartington ? They were, in
a word, twofold : to prevent the right wing from breaking
with the left ; and second, to make ready for an Irish crisis,
which as he knew could not be averted. These were the
two keys to all his thoughts, words, and deeds during the
important autumn of 1885 — an Irish crisis, a solid party.
He was not the first great parliamentary leader whose
course lay between two impossibilities.

All his letters during the interval between his return
from the cruise in the Swnbeam and the close of the general
election disclose with perfect clearness the channels in
which events and his judgment upon them were moving.
Whigs and radicals alike looked to him, and across him
fought their battle. The Duke of Argyll, for example*

1 S#e Spectator, Sept. 26, 188&

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taking advantage of a lifelong friendship to deal faithfully CHAP,
with him, warned him that the long fight with * Beacons- » ^ *
fieldism ' had thrown him into antagonism with many ^ T * 7e -
political conceptions and sympathies that once had a steady
hold upon him. Yet they had certainly no less value and
truth than they ever had, and perhaps were more needed
than ever in face Of the present chaos of opinion. To this
Mr. Gladstone replied at length : —

To the Duke of Argyll.

Sept. 30, 1885. — I am very sensible of your kind and sympathetic
tone, and of your indulgent verdict upon my address. It was
written with a view to the election, and as a practical document,
aiming at the union of all, it propounds for immediate action what
all are supposed to be agreed on. This is necessarily somewhat
favourable to the moderate section of the liberal party. You will
feel that it would not have been quite fair to the advanced men
to add some special reproof to them. And reproof, if I had pre-
sumed upon it, would have been two-sided. Now as to your sug-
gestion that I should say something in public to indicate that I am
not too sanguine as to the future. If I am unable to go in this
direction — and something I may do — it is not from want of sym-
pathy with much that you say. But my first and great cause of
anxiety is, believe me, the condition of the tory party. As at
present constituted, or at any rate moved, it is destitute of all the
effective qualities of a respectable conservatism. . . . For their
administrative spirit I point to the Beaconsfield finance. For their
foreign policy they have invented Jingoism, and at the same time
by their conduct re Lord Spencer and the Irish nationalists, they
have thrown over — and they formed their government only by
means of throwing over — those principles of executive order and
caution which have hitherto been common to all governments. • . .

There are other chapters which I have not time to open. I
deeply deplore the oblivion into which public economy has fallen ;
the prevailing disposition to make a luxury of panics, which multi-
tudes seem to enjoy as they would a sensational novel or a highly
seasoned cookery ; and the leaning of both parties to socialism,
which I radically disapprove. I must lastly mention among my
causes of dissatisfaction the conduct of the timid or reactionary

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wlilgs. They make it day by day more difficult to maintain that
most valuable characteristic of our history, which has always
* 885, exhibited a good proportion of our great houses at the head of the
liberal movement. If you have ever noted of late years a too
sanguine and high-coloured anticipation of our future, I should
like to be reminded of it. I remain, and I hope always to be,
your affectionate friend.

The correspondence with Lord Granville sets out more
clearly than anything else could do Mr. Gladstone's general
view of the situation of the party and his own relation to
it, and the operative words in this correspondence, in view
of the maelstrom to which they were all drawing nearer,
will be accurately noted by any reader who cares to under-
stand one of the most interesting situations in the history
of party. To Lord Granville he says (September 9, 1885),

Online LibraryJohn MorleyThe life of William Ewart Gladstone, Volume 2 → online text (page 42 of 91)