John Morley.

The life of William Ewart Gladstone, Volume 2 online

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'The problem for me is to make if possible a statement
which will hold through the election and not to go into con-
flict with either the right wing of the party for whom
Hartington has spoken, or the left wing for whom Chamber-
lain, I suppose, spoke last night. I do not say they are to
be treated as on a footing, but I must do no act disparaging
to Chamberlain's wing.' And again to Lord Granville a
month later (Oct. 5) : —

You hold a position of great impartiality in relation to any
divergent opinions among members of the late cabinet. No other
person occupies ground so thoroughly favourable. I turn to
myself for one moment. I remain at present in the leadership
of the party, first with a view to the election, and secondly with
a view to being, by a bare possibility, of use afterwards in the
Irish question if it should take a favourable turn; but as you
know, with the intention of taking no part in any schism of the
party should it arise, and of avoiding any and all official responsi-
bility, should the question be merely one of liberal v. conservative,
and not one of commanding imperial necessity, such as that of
Irish government may come to be after the dissolution.

He goes on to say that the ground had now been
sufficiently laid for going to the election with a united front,
that ground being the common profession of a limited creed

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or programme in the liberal sense, with an entire freedom CHAP,
for those so inclined, to travel beyond it, but not to impose '
their own sense upon all other people. No one, he thought, - iBr - 76 -
was bound to determine at that moment on what conditions
he would join a liberal government If the party and its
leaders were agreed as to immediate measures on local
government, land, and registration, were not these enough
to find a libera! administration plenty of work, especially
with procedure, for several years ? If so, did they not supply
a ground broad enough to start a government, that would
hold over, until the proper time should come, all the
questions on which its members might not be agreed, just
as the government of Lord Grey held over, from 1830 to
1834, the question whether Irish church property might
or might not be applied to secular uses ?

As for himself, in the event of such a government
being formed (of which I suppose Lord Granville was to
be the head), ' My desire would be/ he says, ' to place my-*
self in your hands for all purposes, except that of taking
office; to be present or absent fr6m the House, and to be
absent for a time or for good, as you might on consultation
and reflection think best/ In other words Mr. Gladstone
would take office to try to settle the Irish question, but for
nothing else. Lord Granville held to the view that this
was fatal to the chances of a liberal government No liberal
cabinet could be constructed unless Mr. Gladstone were
at its head. The indispensable chief, however, remained

An advance was made at this moment in the development
of a peculiar situation by important conversations with Mr.
Chamberlain. Two days later the redoubtable leader of the
left wing came to Hawarden for a couple of days, and
Mr. Gladstone wrote an extremely interesting account of
what passed to Lord Granville x : —

1 Mr. Chamberlain has been good scrupulous in intention, to insert in

enoughtoreadthesetwoletters,andhe places what were thoughts much in

assents to their substantial accuracy, his own mind, rather than words

with a demurrer on two or three actually spoken. In inserting these

points, justly observing that anybody two letters, it may tend to prevent

reporting a very long and varied con- controversy if we print such cor-

versation is almost certain, however rective hints as are desired.

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To Lord QranvMU.
jggg Hawarden, OcL 8, 1885. — Chamberlain came here yesterday

and I have had a great deal of conversation with him. He is a
good man to talk to, not only from his force and clearness, but
because he speaks with reflection, does not misapprehend or (I
think) suspect, or make unnecessary difficulties, or endeavour to
maintain pedantically the uniformity and consistency of his
argument throughout.

As to the three points of which he was understood to say that
they were indispensable to the starting of a liberal government, I
gather that they stand as follows :

1. As to the authority of local authorities for compulsory
expropriation. 1 To this he adheres ; though I have said I could
not see the justification for withholding countenance from the
formation of a government with considerable and intelligible
plans in view, because it would not at the first moment bind all
4t8 members to this doctrine. He intimates, however, that the
form would be simple, the application of the principle mild ; that
he does not expect wide results from it, and that Hartington, he
conceives, is not disposed wholly to object to everything of
the kind.

2. As regards readjustment of taxation, he is contented with
the terms of my address, and indisposed to make any new terms.

3. As regards free education, he does not ask that its principle
be adopted as part of the creed of a new cabinet. He said it
would be necessary to reserve his right individually to vote for
it. I urged that he and the new school of advanced liberals were
not sufficiently alive to the necessity of refraining when in govern-
ment from declaring by vote all their individual opinions ; that a
vote founded upon time, and the engagements of the House at the
moment with other indispensable business, would imply no dis-
paragement to the principle, which might even be expressly saved
(' without prejudice ') by an amending resolution ; that he could
hardly carry this point to the rank of a sine qvA rum. He said, —
That the sense of the country might bind the liberal majority
(presuming it to exist) to declare its opinion, even though unable

1 In connection with a local government bill for small holdings and allot-
ments, subsequently passed.

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to give effect to it at the moment; that he looked to a single CHAP.

declaration, not to the sustained support of a measure ; and he v r *

seemed to allow that if the liberal sense were so far divided as iET - ^
not to show a unanimous front, in that case it might be a
question whether some plan other than, and short of, a direct vote
might be pursued. 1

The question of the House of Lords and disestablishment he
regards as still lying in the remoter distance.

All these subjects I separated entirely from the question of
Ireland, on which I may add that he and I are pretty well agreed ;
unless upon a secondary point, namely, whether Parnell would be
satisfied to acquiesce in a County Government bill, good so far as
it went, maintaining on other matters his present general attitude. 2
We agreed, I think, that a prolongation of the present relations
of the Irish party would be a national disgrace, and the civilised
world would scoff at the political genius of countries which could
not contrive so far to understand one another as to bring their
differences to an accommodation.

All through Chamberlain spoke of reducing to an absolute
minimum his idea of necessary conditions, and this conversation
so far left untouched the question of men, he apparently assuming
(wrongly) that I was ready for another three or four years'

Hawarden, Oct. 8, 1885. — In another 'private/ but less private
letter, I have touched on measures, and I have now to say what
passed in relation to men.

He said the outline he had given depended on the supposition
of my being at the head of the government. He did not say he
could adhere to it on no other terms, but appeared to stipulate for
a new point of departure.

I told him the question of my time of life had become such, that
in any case prudence bound him, and all who have a future, to
think of what is to follow me. That if a big Irish question should
arise, and arise in such a form as to promise a possibility of settle-

1 He suggested, for instance, the Parnell might accept. Mr. Gladstone's

appointment of a committee. statement that he and his visitor

* Mr. Chamberlain puts it that he were ' pretty well agreed ' on Ireland,

proposed to exclude home rule as im- cannot mean therefore that the visitor

possible, and to offer a Local Govern- was in favour of home rule.

ment bill which he thought that

2 G

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ment, that would be a crisis with a beginning and an end, and
» perhaps one in which from age and circumstances I might be able
1885 - to supply aid and service such as could not be exactly had without
me. 1 Apart from an imperious demand of this kind the question
would be that of dealing with land laws, with local govern-
ment, and other matters, on which I could render no special
service, and which would require me to enter into a new contest
for several years, a demand that ought not to be made, and one
to which I could not accede. I did not think the adjustment of
personal relations, or the ordinary exigencies of party, constituted
a call upon me to continue my long life in a course of constant
pressure and constant contention with half my fellow-countrymen,
until nothing remained but to step into the grave.

He agreed that the House of Lords was not an available resort
He thought I might continue at the head of the government, and
leave the work of legislation to others. 3 I told him that all my
life long I had had an essential and considerable share in the
legislative work of government, and to abandon it would be an
essential change, which the situation would not bear.

He spoke of the constant conflicts of opinion with Hartington
in the late cabinet, but I reverted to the time when Hartington
used to summon and lead meetings of the leading commoners, in
which he was really the least antagonistic of men.

He said Hartington might lead a whig government aided by the
tories, or might lead a radical government. ... I recommended
his considering carefully the personal composition of the group of
leading men, apart from a single personality on which reliance
could hardly be placed, except in the single contingency to which
I have referred as one of a character probably brief.

He said it might be right for him to look as a friend on the
formation of a liberal government, having (as I understood)
moderate but intelligible plans, without forming part of it. I
think this was the substance of what passed.

Interesting as was this interview, it did not materially
alter Mr. Gladstone's disposition. After it had taken place
he wrote to Lord Granville (Nov. 10) : —

1 This is not remembered. 8 ' Some misunderstanding here.'

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To Lord Granville. CRaP.

I quite understand how natural it is that at the present v «.* '
juncture pressure, and even the whole pressure, should from both
quarters be brought to bear upon me. Well, if a special call of
imperial interest, such as I have described, should arise, I am ready
for the service it may entail, so far as my will is concerned. But
a very different question is raised. Let us see how matters stand.

A course of action for the liberals, moderate but substantial,
has been sketched. The party in general have accepted it. After
the late conversations, there is no reason to anticipate a breach
upon any of the conditions laid down anywhere for immediate
adoption, between the less advanced and the more advanced among
the leaders. It must occupy several years, and it may occupy
the whole parliament. According to your view they will, unless
on a single condition [i.e. Mr. Gladstone's leadership], refuse to
combine in a cabinet, and to act, with a majority at their back ;
and will make over the business voluntarily to the tories in a
minority, at the commencement of a parliament. Why ? They
agree on the subjects before them. Other subjects, unknown as
yet, may arise to split them. But this is what may happen to
any government, and it can form no reason.

But what is the condition demanded ? It is that a man of
seventy-five, 1 after fifty-three years' service, with no particular
qualification for the questions in view should enter into a fresh
contract of service in the House of Commons, reaching according
to all likelihood over three, four, or five years, and without the
smallest reasonable prospect of a break. And this is not to
solve a political difficulty, but to soothe and conjure down per-
sonal misgivings and apprehensions. I have not said jealousies,
because I do not believe them to be the operative cause ; perhaps
they do not exist at all.

I firmly say this is not a reasonable condition, or a tenable
demand, in the circumstances supposed. Indeed no one has
endeavoured to show that it is. Further, abated action in the
House of Commons is out of the question. We cannot have, in
these times, a figure-head prime minister. I have gone a very
long way in what I have said, and I really cannot go further.
1 That is, in his seventy-sixth year.

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Lord Aberdeen, taking office at barely seventy in the House of
Lords, apologised in his opening speech for doing this at a time
1885. wnen hi 8 mind ought rather to be given to 'other thoughts/
Lord Palmerston in 1859 did not speak thus. But he was bound
to no plan of any kind; and he was seventy-four, i.e. in his
seventy-fifth year.


It is high time to turn to the other deciding issue in
the case. Though thus stubborn against resuming the
burden of leadership merely to compose discords between
Chatsworth and Birmingham, Mr. Gladstone was ready to
be of use in the Irish question, ' if it should take a favour-
able turn.' As if the Irish question ever took a favourable
turn. We have seen in the opening of the present chapter,
how he spoke to Lord Hartington of a certain speech
of Mr. Parnell's in September, 'as bad as bad could be/
The secret of that speech was a certain fact that must be
counted a central hinge of these far-reaching transac-
tions. In July, a singular incident had occurred, nothing 1
less strange than an interview between the new lord-
lieutenant and the leader of the Irish party. To realise
its full significance, we have to recall the profound odium
that at this time enveloped Mr. Parnell's name in the
minds of nearly all Englishmen. For several years and at
that moment he figured in the public imagination for all
that is sinister, treasonable, dark, mysterious, and unholy.
He had stood his trial for a criminal conspiracy, and was
supposed only to have been acquitted by the corrupt con-
nivance of a Dublin jury. He had been flung into prison
and kept there for many months without trial, as a person
reasonably suspected of lawless practices. High treason was
the least dishonourable of the offences imputed to him and
commonly credited about him. He had been elaborately
accused before the House of Commons by one of the most
important men in it, of direct personal responsibility for
outrages and murders, and he left the accusation with scant
reply. He was constantly denounced as the apostle of
rapine and rebellion. That the viceroy of the Queen should

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without duress enter into friendly communication with such
a man, would have seemed to most people at that day<
incredible and abhorrent. Yet the incredible thing hap- -**• 76 -
pened, and it was in its purpose one of the most sensible
things that any viceroy ever did. 1

The interview took place in a London drawing-room.
Lord Carnarvon opened the conversation by informing Mr.
Parnell, first, that he was acting of himself and by himself,
on his own exclusive responsibility ; second, that he sought
information only, and that he had not come for the purpose
of arriving at any agreement or understanding however
shadowy; third, that he was there as the Queen's servant,
and would neither hear nor say one word that was incon-
sistent with the union of the two countries. Exactly what
Mr. Parnell said, and what was said in reply, the public were
never authentically told. Mr. Parnell afterwards spoke 2 as
if Lord Carnarvon had given him to understand that it was
the intention of the government to offer Ireland a statutory
legislature, with full control over taxation, and that a scheme
of land purchase was to be coupled with it. On this, the
viceroy denied that he had communicated any such
intention. Mr. ParnelTs story was this : —

Lord Carnarvon proceeded to say that he had sought the inter-
view for the purpose of ascertaining my views regarding — should
he call it 1 — a constitution for Ireland. But I soon found out that

1 This episode was first mentioned even mention that Lord Salisbury in
in the House of Commons, June 7, any way shared his responsibility for
1886. Lord Carnarvon explained in the interview, and in fact his Ian-
the Lords, June 10. Mr. Parnell guage pointed the other way. What
replied in a letter to the Times, June remains is his asseveration, supported
12. He revived the subject in the by Lord Salisbury, that he had made
House of Commons, Feb. 13, 1888, and no formal bargain with Mr. Parnell,
Lord Carnarvon explained a second and gave him no sort of promise,
time in the Lords on May 3. On assurance, or pledge. This is not
Lord Carnarvon's first explanation, only entirely credible, it is certain ;
the Duke of Argyll, while placing for the only body that could carry
the utmost reliance on his persona! out such a promise had not been con-
honour and accuracy, 'felt bound to suited. ' I may at least say this of what
observe that the statement did not went on outside the cabinet — that I
appear to be complete, for he had had no communication on the subject,
omitted to explain what the nature no atUTiorisation, and that I never
of the communication [with Mr. Par- communicated to them even that
BeU] absolutely was.' Neither then which I had done.'— Hansard, 306,
nor two years later was the omission p. 1258.

made good. Curiously enough on the 2 E.g. Hans. 306, pp. 1181, 1199.
first occasion Lord Carnarvon did not

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he had brought me there in order that he might communicate his
own views upon the matter, as well as ascertain mine. ... In
1886. reply to an inquiry as to a proposal which had been made to build
up a central legislative body upon the foundation of county boards,
I told him I thought this would be working in the wrong direction,
and would not be accepted by Ireland ; that the central legislative
body should be a parliament in name and in fact. . . . Lord Car-
narvon assured me that this was his own view also, and he strongly
appreciated the importance of giving due weight to the sentiment
of the Irish in this matter. ... He had certain suggestions to this
end, taking the colonial model as a basis, which struck me as being the
result of much thought and knowledge of the subject. ... At the
conclusion of the conversation, which lasted for more than an hour,
and to which Lord Carnarvon was very much the larger contributor,
I left him, believing that I was in complete accord with him re-
garding the main outlines of a settlement conferring a legislature
upon Ireland. 1

It is certainly not for me to contend that Mr. Parnell was
always an infallible reporter, but if closely scrutinised the dis-
crepancy in the two stories as then told was less material than
is commonly supposed. To the passage just quoted, Lord
Carnarvon never at any time in public offered any real con-
tradiction. What he contradicted was something different
He denied that he had ever stated to Mr. Parnell that it was
the intention of the government, if they were successful at
the polls, to establish the Irish legislature, with limited
powers and not independent of imperial control, which he
himself favoured. He did not deny, any more than he
admitted, that he had told Mr. Parnell that on opinion and
policy they were very much at one. How could he deny
it, after his speech when he first took office ? Though the
cabinet was not cognizant of the nature of these proceed-
ings, the prime minister was. To take so remarkable a
step without the knowledge and assent of the head of the
government, would have been against the whole practice
and principles of our ministerial system. Lord Carnarvon
informed Lord Salisbury of his intention of meeting Mr.

1 Letter to the Times, June 12, 1886.

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Parnell, and within twenty-four hours after the meeting, CHAP,
both in writing and orally, he gave Lord Salisbury as *
careful and accurate a statement as possible of what had ^ 7e>
passed. We can well imagine the close attention with
which the prime minister followed so profoundly interesting
a report, and at the end of it he told the viceroy that
' he had conducted the conversation with Mr. Parnell with
perfect discretion/ The knowledge that the minister re-
sponsible for the government of Ireland was looking in the
direction of home rule, and exchanging home rule views with
the great home rule leader, did not shake Lord Salisbury's
confidence in his fitness to be viceroy.

This is no mere case of barren wrangle and verbal re-
crimination. The transaction had consequences, and the
Carnarvon episode was a pivot The effect upon the mind
of Mr. Parnell was easy to foresee. Was I not justified, he
asked long afterwards, in supposing that Lord Carnarvon,
holding the views that he now indicated, would not have
been made viceroy unless there was a considerable feeling
in the cabinet that his views were right ? x Could he imagine
that the viceroy would be allowed to talk home rule to
him — however shadowy and vague the words — unless the
prime minister considered such a solution to be at any rate
well worth discussing? Why should he not believe that
the alliance formed in June to turn Mr. Gladstone out of
office and eject Lord Spencer from Ireland, had really
blossomed from being a mere lobby manoeuvre and election
expedient, into a serious policy adopted by serious statesmen?
Was it not certain that in such remarkable circumstances
Mr. Parnell would throughout the election confidently state
the national demand at its very highest ?

In 1882 and onwards up to the Reform Act of 1885,
Mr. Parnell had been ready to advocate the creation of a
central council at Dublin for administrative purposes merely.
This he thought would be a suitable achievement for a
party that only numbered thirty-five members. But the
assured increase of his strength at the coming election
made all the difference. When semi-official soundings were

1 Hans. 332, p. 336.

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BOOK taken from more than one liberal quarter after the fall of
the Gladstone government, it was found that Mr. Parnell no
longer countenanced provisional reforms. After the inter-
view with Lord Carnarvon, the mercury rose rapidly to the
top of the tube. Larger powers of administration were not
enough. The claim for legislative power must now be
brought boldly to the front. In unmistakable terms, the
Irish leader stated the Irish demand, and posed both
problem and solution. He now declared his conviction
that the great and sole work of himself and his friends in
the new parliament would be the restoration of a national
parliament of their own, to do the things which they had
been vainly asking the imperial parliament to do for
them. 1


When politicians ruminate upon the disastrous schism
that followed Mr. Gladstone's attempt to deal with the Irish
question in 1886, they ought closely to study the general
election of 1885. In that election, though leading men fore-
saw the approach of a marked Irish crisis, and awaited the
outcome of events with an overshadowing sense of pregnant
issues, there was nothing like general concentration on the
Irish prospect. The strife of programmes and the rivalries
of leaders were what engrossed the popular attention.
The main body of the British electors were thinking mainly
of promised agrarian boons, fair trade, the church in danger,
or some other of their own domestic affairs.

Few forms of literature or history are so dull as the narra-
tive of political debates. With a few exceptions, a political
speech like the manna in the wilderness loses its savour on

Online LibraryJohn MorleyThe life of William Ewart Gladstone, Volume 2 → online text (page 43 of 91)