John Morley.

The life of William Ewart Gladstone, Volume 2 online

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the second day. Three or four marked utterances of this
critical autumn, following all that has been set forth already,
will enable the reader to understand the division of counsel
that prevailed immediately before the great change of
policy in 1886, and the various strategic evolutions, masked
movements, and play of mine, sap, and countermine, that
led to it As has just been described, and with good reason,

1 August 24, 1885.

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for he believed that he had the Irish viceroy on his side, CHAP.
Mr. Parnell stood inflexible. In his speech of August 24«

already mentioned, he had thrown down his gauntlet. JEls * **"

Much the most important answer to the challenge, if we
regard the effect upon subsequent events, was that of Lord
Salisbury two months later. To this I shall have to return.
The two liberal statesmen, Lord Hartington and Mr. Chamber-
lain, who were most active in this campaign, and whose
activity was well spiced and salted by a lively political
antagonism, agreed in a tolerably stiff negative to the
Irish demand. The whig leader with a slow mind, and
the radical leader with a quick mind, on this single
issue of the campaign spoke with one voice. The whig
leader 1 thought Mr. Parnell had made a mistake and
ensured his own defeat: he overestimated his power in
Ireland and his power in parliament ; the Irish would not
for the sake of this impossible and impracticable under-
taking, forego without duress all the other objects which
parliament was ready to grant them ; and it remained to be
seen whether he could enforce his iron discipline upon his
eighty or ninety adherents, even if Ireland gave him so

The radical leader was hardly less emphatic, and his
utterance was the more interesting of the two, because
until this time Mr. Chamberlain had been generally taken
throughout his parliamentary career as leaning strongly in
the nationalist direction. He had taken a bold and ener-
getic part in the proceedings that ended in the release of
Mr. Parnell from Kilmainham. He had with much difficulty
been persuaded to acquiesce in the renewal of any part of the
Coercion Act, and had absented himself from the banquet
in honour of Lord Spencer. Together with his most
intimate ally in the late government, he had projected a
political tour in Ireland with Mr. Parnell's approval and
under his auspices. Above all, he had actually opened his
electoral campaign with that famous declaration which was
so long remembered ; — ' The pacification of Ireland at this
moment depends, I believe, on the concession to Ireland of

1 Lord Hartington at Waterfoot, Aug. 29.

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BOOK the right to govern itself in the matter of its purely domes-
* , ~* - tic business. Is it not discreditable to us that even now it
18 ^ 6 - is only by unconstitutional means that we are able to secure
peace and order in one portion of her Majesty's dominions ?
It is a system as completely centralised and bureaucratic as
that with which Russia governs Poland, or as that which
prevailed in Venice under the Austrian rule. An Irishman
at this moment cannot move a step — he cannot lift a finger
in any parochial, municipal, or educational work, without
being confronted with, interfered with, controlled by an
English official, appointed by a foreign government, and
without a shade or shadow of representative authority. I
say the time has come to reform altogether the absurd and
irritating anachronism which is known as Dublin Castle.
That is the work to which the new parliament will be
called/ l Masters of incisive speech must pay the price of
their gifts, and the sentence about Poland and Venice was long
a favourite in many a debate. But when the Irish leader now
made his proposal for removing the Russian yoke and the
Austrian yoke from Ireland, the English leader drew back
' If these,' he said, ' are the terms on which Mr. Parnell's
support is to be obtained, I will not enter into the compact.'
This was Mr. Chamberlain's response. 2


The language used by Mr. Gladstone during this eventful
time was that of a statesman conscious of the magnitude of
the issue, impressed by the obscurity of the path along
which parties and leaders were travelling, and keenly alive
to the perils of a premature or unwary step. Nothing was
easier for the moment either for quick minds or slow minds,
than to face the Irish demand beforehand with a bare,
blank, wooden non posmmus. Mr. Gladstone had pondered
the matter more deeply. His gift of political imagination,
his wider experience, and his personal share in some chapters
of the modern history of Europe and its changes, planted
him on a height whence he commanded a view of possibili-

1 June 17, 1885. * Warrington, September 8.

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ties and necessities, of hopes and of risks, that were unseen
by politicians of the beaten track. Like a pilot amid<
wandering icebergs, or in waters where familiar buoys had ^ EfI - 76,
been taken up and immemorial beacons put out, he scanned
the scene with keen eyes and a glass sweeping the horizon
in every direction. No wonder that his words seemed
vague, and vague they undoubtedly were. Suppose that
Cavour had been obliged to issue an election address on the
eve of the interview at Plombi&res, or Bismarck while he
was on his visit to Biarritz. Their language would hardly
have been pellucid. This was no moment for ultimatums.
There were too many unascertained elements. Yet some of
those, for instance, who most ardently admired President
Lincoln for the caution with which he advanced step by step
to the abolition proclamation, have most freely cei^sured the
English statesman because he did not in the autumn of 1885
come out with either a downright Yes or a point-blank No.
The point-blank is not for all occasions, and only a simpleton
can think otherwise.

In September Mr. Childers — a most capable administrator,
a zealous colleague, wise in what the world regards as the
secondary sort of wisdom, and the last man to whom one
would have looked for a plunge — wrote to Mr. Gladstone to
seek his approval of a projected announcement to his con-
stituents at Pontefract, which amounted to a tolerably full-
fledged scheme of home rule. 1 In view of the charitable
allegation that Mr. Gladstone picked up home rule after the
elections had placed it in the power of the Irish either to put
him into office or to keep him out of office, his reply to
Mr. Childers deserves attention : —

To Mr. Childers.
Sept 28, 1885. — I have a decided sympathy with the general
scope and spirit of your proposed declaration about Ireland. If I
offer any observations, they are meant to be simply in furtherance
of your purpose.

1. I would disclaim giving any exhaustive list of Imperial
subjects, and would not * put my foot down ' as to revenue, but
1 Life of Childers, ii. p. 230.

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would keep plenty of elbow-room to keep all customs and
excise, which would probably be found necessary.
1885, 2. A general disclaimer of particulars as to the form of any

local legislature might suffice, without giving the Irish expressly
to know it might be decided mainly by their wish.

3. I think there is no doubt Ulster would be able to take care
of itself in respect to education, but a question arises and forms,
I think, the most difficult part of the whole subject, whether some
defensive provisions for the owners of land and property should
not be considered.

4. It is evident you have given the subject much thought, and
my sympathy goes largely to your details as well as your principle.
But considering the danger of placing confidence in the leaders
of the national party at the present moment, and the decided
disposition they have shown to raise their terms on any favourable
indication, I would beg you to consider further whether you should
bind yourself at present to any details, or go beyond general indica-
tions. If you say in terms (and this I do not dissuade) that you
are ready to consider the question whether they can have a legis-
lature for all questions not Imperial, this will be a great step
in advance ; and anything you may say beyond it, I should like to
see veiled in language not such as to commit you.

The reader who is now acquainted with Mr. Gladstone's
strong support of the Chamberlain plan in 1885, and with
the bias already disclosed, knows in what direction the main
current of his thought must have been setting. The position
taken in 1885 was in entire harmony with all these premoni-
tory notes. Subject, said Mr. Gladstone, to the supremacy
of the crown, the unity of the empire, and all the authority
of parliament necessary for the conservation of that unity,
every grant to portions of the country of enlarged powers
for the management of their own affairs, was not a source of
danger, but a means of averting it. As to the legislative
union, ' I believe history and posterity will consign to dis-
grace the name and memory of every man, be he who he
may, and on whichever side of the Channel he may dwell,
that having the power to aid in an equitable settlement
between Ireland and Great Britain, shall use that power not to

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aid, but to prevent or to retard it/ * These and all the other
large and profuse sentences of the Midlothian address -were <
undoubtedly open to more than one construction, and they Mr - 7 *
either admitted or excluded home rule, as might happen.
The fact that, though it was running so freely in his own
mind, he did not put Irish autonomy into the forefront of his
address, has been made a common article of charge against
him. As if the view of Irish autonomy now running in his
mind were not dependent on a string of hypotheses. And who
can imagine a party leader's election address that should have
run thus ? — ' If Mr. Parnell returns with a great majority of
members, and if the minority is not weighty enough, and if
the demand is constitutionally framed, and if the Parnellites
are unanimous, then we will try home rule. And this possi-
bility of a hypothetical experiment is to be the liberal
cry with which to go into battle against Lord Salisbury, who,
so far as I can see, is nursing the idea of the same experiment/
Some weeks later, in speaking to his electors in Mid-
lothian, Mr. Gladstone instead of minimising magnified the
Irish case, pushed it into the very forefront, not in one
speech, but in nearly all ; warned his hearers of the gravity
of the questions soon to be raised by it, and assured them
that it would probably throw into the shade the other measures
that he had described as ripe for action. He elaborated a
declaration, of which much was heard for many months and
years afterwards. What Ireland, he said, may deliberately
and constitutionally demand, unless it infringes the principles
connected with the honourable maintenance of the unity of
the empire, will be a demand that we are bound at any rate
to treat with careful attention. To stint Ireland in power
which might be necessary or desirable for the management
of matters purely Irish, would be a great error ; and if she was
so stinted, the end that any such measure might contemplate
could not be attained. Then came the memorable appeal : —
' Apart from the term of whig and tory, there is one thing I
will say and will endeavour to impress upon you, and it is this.
It will be a vital danger to the country and to the empire,
if at a time when a demand from Ireland for larger powers

1 Sept. 18, 1885.

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BOOK of self-government is to be dealt with, there is not in parlia-
• ment a party totally independent of the Irish vote.' * Loud

1885. an( j i on g sustained have been the reverberations of this clang-
ing sentence. It was no mere passing dictum. Mr. Gladstone
himself insisted upon the same position again and again, that
' for a government in a minority to deal with the Irish question
would not be safe/ This view, propounded in his first speech,
was expanded in his second. There he deliberately set out
that the urgent expediency of a liberal majority independent
of Ireland did not foreshadow the advent of a liberal govern-
ment to power. He referred to the settlement of household
suffrage in 1867. How was the tory government enabled to
effect that settlement ? Because there was in the House a
liberal majority which did not care to eject the existing
ministry. 2 He had already reminded his electors that tory
governments were sometimes able to carry important
measures, when once they had made up their minds to it,
with greater facility than liberal governments could. For
instance, if Peel had not been the person to propose the
repeal of the corn laws, Lord John would not have had fair
consideration from the tories; and no liberal government
could have carried the Maynooth Act. 8

The plain English of the abundant references to Ireland in
the Midlothian speeches of this election is, that Mr. Gladstone
foresaw beyond all shadow of doubt that the Irish question
in its largest extent would at once demand the instant
attention of the new parliament; that the best hope of
settling it would be that the liberals should have a majority
of their own ; that 'the second best hope lay in its settlement
by the tory government with the aid of the liberals ; but
that, in any case, the worst of all conditions under which
a settlement could be attempted — an attempt that could
not be avoided — would be a situation in which Mr. Parnell
should hold the balance between parliamentary parties.

The precise state of Mr. Gladstone's mind at this moment
is best shown in a very remarkable letter written by him to
Lord Eosebery, under whose roof at Dalmeny he was staying
at the time : —

1 Nov. 9, 1885. * Midlothian Speeches, p. 49. ' Ibid. p. 39.

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To Lord Rosebery.

Dalmeny Park, Uth Nov. 1885.— You have called my attention &*- 76.
to the recent speech of Mr. Parnell, in which he expresses the
desire that I should frame a plan for giving to Ireland, without
prejudice to imperial unity and interests, the management of her
own affairs. The subject is so important that, though we are
together, I will put on paper my view of this proposal. For the
moment I assume that such a plan can be framed. Indeed, if I
had considered this to be hopeless, I should have been guilty of
great rashness in speaking of it as a contingency that should be
kept in view at the present election. I will first give reasons,
which I deem to be of great weight, against my producing a
scheme, reserving to the close one reason, which would be con-
clusive in the absence of every other reason.

1. It is not the province of the person leading the party in
opposition, to frame and produce before the public detailed
schemes of such a class.

2. There are reasons of great weight, which make it desirable
that the party now in power should, if prepared to adopt the '
principle, and if supported by an adequate proportion of the
coming House of Commons, undertake the construction and pro-
posal of the measure.

3. The unfriendly relations between the party of nationalists
and the late government in the expiring parliament, have of
necessity left me and those with whom I act in great ignorance
of the interior mind of the party, which has in parliament
systematically confined itself to very general declarations.

4. That the principle and basis of an admissible measure have
been clearly declared by myself, if not by others, before the
country ; more clearly, I think, than was done in the ease of the
Irish disestablishment; and that the particulars of such plans
in all cases have been, and probably must be, left to the discretion
of the legislature acting under the usual checks.

But my final and paramount reason is, that the production at
this time of a plan by me would not only be injurious, but would
destroy all reasonable hope of its adoption. Such a plan, pro-
posed by the heads of the liberal party, is so certain to have the

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opposition of the tories en bloc, that every computation must bo
founded on this anticipation. This opposition, and the appeals
1885. w fth w hich it will be accompanied, will render the carrying of the
measure difficult even by a united liberal party ; hopeless or most
difficult, should there be serious defection.

Mr. Parnell is apprehensive of the opposition of the House of
Lords. That idea weighs little with me. I have to think of
something nearer, and more formidable. The idea of constituting
a legislature for Ireland, whenever seriously and responsibly pro-
posed, will cause a mighty heave in the body politic. It will be
as difficult to carry the liberal party and the two British nations
in favour of a legislature for Ireland, as it was easy to carry them
in the case of Irish disestablishment. I think that it may possibly
be done; but only by the full use of a great leverage. That
leverage can only be found in their equitable and mature con-
sideration of what is due to the fixed desire of a nation, clearly
and constitutionally expressed. Their prepossessions will not be
altogether favourable ; and they cannot in this matter be bullied.

I have therefore endeavoured to lay the ground by stating
largely the possibility and the gravity, even the solemnity, of that
demand. I am convinced that this is the only path which can lead
to success. With such a weapon, one might go hopefully into
action. But I well know, from a thousand indications past and
present, that a new project of mine launched into the air, would
have no momentum which could carry it to its aim. So, in my
mind, stands the case. . . .

Three days before this letter, Mr. Gladstone had replied to
one from Lord Harrington : —

To Lord Hartington.

Dalmeny> Nov. 10, 1885. — I made a beginning yesterday in one
of my conversation speeches, so to call them, on the way, by lay-
ing it down that I was particularly bound to prevent, if I could,
the domination of sectional opinion over the body and action of
the party.

I wish to say something about the modern radicalism. But I
must include this, that if it is rampant and ambitious, the two
most prominent causes of its forwardness have been: 1. Tory

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democracy. 2. The gradual disintegration of the liberal aristo- CHAP.

cracy. On both these subjects my opinions are strong. I think .

the conduct of the Duke of Bedford and others has been as iBl * 76,

unjustifiable as it was foolish, especially after what we did

to save the House of Lords from itself in the business of the


Nor can I deny that the question of the House of Lords, of the
church, or both, will probably split the liberal party. But let it
split decently, honourably, and for cause. That it should split
now would, so far as I see, be ludicrous.

So far I have been writing in great sympathy with you, but
now I touch a point where our lines have not been the same.
You have, I think, courted the hostility of Parnell. Salisbury
has carefully avoided doing this, and last night he simply con-
fined himself to two conditions, which you and I both think vital ;
namely, the unity of the empire and an honourable regard to the
position of the ' minority,' i.e. the landlords. You will see in the
newspapers what Parnell, making for himself an opportunity, is
reported to have said about the elections in Ulster now at hand.
You have opened a vista which appears to terminate in a possible
concession to Ireland of full power to manage her own local affairs.
But I own my leaning to the opinion that, if that consummation is
in any way to be contemplated, action at a stroke will be more
honourable, less unsafe, less uneasy, than the jolting process of a
series of partial measures. This is my opinion, but I have no
intention, as at present advised, of signifying it. I have all along
in public declarations avoided offering anything to the nationalists,
beyond describing the limiting rule which must govern the question.
It is for them to ask, and for us, as I think, to leave t^e space so
defined as open and unencumbered as possible. I am much struck
by the increased breadth of Salisbury's declaration last night ; he
dropped the ' I do not see how.'

We shall see how these great and difficult matters develop them-
selves. Meantime be assured that, with a good deal of misgiving
as to the future, I shall do what little I can towards enabling all
liberals at present to hold together with credit and good

VOL. II. 2 H

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1885. j| r Gladstone's cardinal deliverance in November had been
preceded by an important event. On October 7, 1885, Lord
Salisbury made that speech at Newport, which is one of the
tallest and most striking landmarks in the shifting sands
of this controversy. It must be taken in relation to
Lord Carnarvon's declaration of policy on taking office,
and to his exchange of views with Mr. Parnell at the
end of July. Their first principle, said Lord Salisbury,
was to extend to Ireland, so far as they could, all the institu-
tions of this country. But one must remember that in
Ireland the population is on several subjects deeply divided,
and a government is bound 'on all matters of essential
justice' to protect a minority against a majority. Then
came remarkable sentences: — 'Local authorities are more
exposed to the temptation of enabling the majority to be
unjust to the minority when they obtain jurisdiction over a
small area, than is the case when the authority derives its
sanction and extends its jurisdiction over a wider area. In
a large central authority, the wisdom of several parts of the
country will correct the folly and mistakes of one. In a
local authority, that correction is to a much greater extent
wanting, and it would be impossible to leave that out of sight,
in any extension of any such local authority in Ireland/
This principle was often used in the later controversy as a
recognition by Lord Salisbury, that the creation of a great
central body would be a safer policy than the mere extension
of self-government in Irish counties. In another part of the
speech, it; is true, the finger-post or weather-vane pointed in
the opposite direction. ' With respect to the larger organic
questions connected with Ireland,' said Lord Salisbury, 'I
cannot say much, though I can speak emphatically. I have
nothing to say but that the traditions of the party to which
we belong, are on this point clear and distinct, and you may
rely upon it our party will not depart from them.' Yet
this emphatic refusal to depart from the traditions of the
tory party did not prevent Lord Salisbury from retaining at
that moment in his cabinet an Irish viceroy, with whom he

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was in close personal relations, and whose active Irish policy

he must have known to be as wide a breach in tory tradition

as the mind of man can imagine. So hard is it in distracted iET - 76,

times, the reader may reflect, even for men of honourable

and lofty motive to be perfectly ingenuous.

The speaker next referred to the marked way in which
Mr. Parnell, a day or two before, had mentioned the position
of Austro-Hungary. ' I gathered that some notion of im-
perial federation was floating in his mind. With respect to
Ireland, I am bound to say that I have never seen any plan
or any suggestion which gives me at present the slightest
ground for anticipating that it is in that direction that we
shall find any substantial solution of the difficulties of the
problem.' In an electric state of the political atmosphere, a
statesman who said that at present he did not think federal
home rule possible, was taken to imply that he might think
it possible by-and-by. No door was closed.

It was, however, Lord Salisbury's language upon social
order that gave most scandal to simple consciences in his
own ranks. You ask us, he said, why we did not renew the
Crimes Act. There are two answers : we could not, and it
would have done no good if we could. To follow the ex-
tension of the franchise by coercion, would have been a
gross inconsistency. To show confidence by one act, and
the absence of confidence by a simultaneous act, would be to

Online LibraryJohn MorleyThe life of William Ewart Gladstone, Volume 2 → online text (page 44 of 91)