John Morley.

The life of William Ewart Gladstone, Volume 2 online

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stultify parliament. Your inconsistency would have pro-
voked such intense exasperation, that it would have led to
ten times more evil, ten times more resistance to the law,
than your Crimes Act could possibly have availed to check.
Then the audience was favoured with a philosophic view of
boycotting. This, said the minister, is an offence which
legislation has very great difficulty in reaching. The pro-
visions of the Crimes Act against it had a very small effect.
It grew up under that Act. And, after all, look at boy-
cotting. An unpopular man or his family go to mass. The
congregation with one accord get up and walk out Are you
going to indict people for leaving church ? The plain fact
is that boycotting ' is more like the excommunication or
interdict of the middle ages, than anything that we know

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BOOK now/ ' The truth about boycotting is that it depends on the
passing humour of the population.'

It is important to remember that in the month im-
mediately preceding this polished apologetic, there were
delivered some of the most violent boycotting speeches ever
made in Ireland. 1 These speeches must have been known
to the Irish government, and their occurrence and the pur-
port of them must presumably have been known therefore
to the prime minister. Here was indeed a removal of
the ancient buoys and beacons that had hitherto guided
English navigation in Irish waters. There was even less of
a solid ultimatum at Newport, than in those utterances in
Midlothian which were at that time and long afterwards
found so culpably vague, blind, and elusive. Some of the
more astute of the minister's own colleagues were delighted
with his speech, as keeping the Irishmen steady to the tory
party. They began to hope that they might even come
within five-and-twenty of the liberals when the polling

The question on which side the Irish vote in Great
Britain should be thrown seems not to have been decided
until after Mr. Gladstone's speech. It was then speedily
settled. On Nov. 21a manifesto was issued, handing over the
Irish vote in Great Britain solid to the orator of the New-
port speech. The tactics were obvious. It was Mr. Parnell's
interest to bring the two contending British parties as near
as might be to a level, and this he could only hope to do by
throwing his strength upon the weaker side. It was from
the weaker side, if they could be retained in office, that he
would get the best terms. 2 The document was composed with
vigour and astuteness. But the phrases of the manifesto were
the least important part of it It was enough that the hard
word was passed. Some estimated the loss to the liberal
party in this island at twenty seats, others at forty. Whether
twenty or forty, these lost seats made a fatal difference in
the division on the Irish bill a few months later, and when

1 Some of them are set out in Special tactics in his fifth Midlothian speech,
Commission Report, pp. 99, 100. Nov. 24, 1385. Also in the seventh,

3 See Mr. Gladstone upon these Nov. 28, pp. 159-60.

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that day had come and gone, Mr. Parnell sometimes ruefully
asked himself whether the tactics of the electoral manifesto
were not on the whole a mistake. But this was not all and JErSa 76 *
was not the worst of it. The Irish manifesto became a fiery
element in a sharp electioneering war, and threw the liberals
in all constituencies where there was an Irish vote into a
direct and angry antagonism to the Irish cause and its
leaders; passions were roused, and things were said about
Irishmen that could not at once be forgotten ; and the great
task of conversion in 1886, difficult in any case, was made
a thousand times more difficult still by the arguments and
antipathies of the electoral battle of 1885. Meanwhile it
was for the moment, and for the purposes of the moment,
a striking success.

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I would say that civil liberty can have no security without political
power. — C. J. Fox.

The election ran a chequered course (Nov, 23 — Dec. 19).
, It was the first trial of the whole body of male householders,
1885. and it was the first trial of the system of single-member
districts. This is not the place for a discussion of the change
of electoral area. As a scheme for securing representation of
minorities it proved of little efficacy, and many believe that
the substitution of a smaller constituency for a larger one has
tended to slacken political interest, and to narrow political
judgment. Meanwhile some of those who were most deeply
concerned in establishing the new plan, were confident that
an overwhelming liberal triumph would be the result Many
of their opponents took the same view, and were in despair.
A liberal met a tory minister on the steps of a club in Pall
Mall,* as they were both going to the country for their
elections. ' I suppose/ said the tory, ' we are out for twenty
years to come.' pectora caeca ! He has been in office for
nearly fifteen of the eighteen years since. In September one
of the most authoritative liberal experts did not see how the
tories were to have more than 210 out of the 670 seats,
including the tory contingent from Ireland. Two months
later the expert admitted that the tory chances were improv-
ing, mainly owing to what in electioneering slang was called
the church scare. Fair trade, too, had made many converts
in Lancashire. On the very eve of the polls the estimate
at liberal headquarters was a majority of forty over tories
and Irishmen combined.

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As I should have told the reader on an earlier page, Mr. ^73,
Gladstone had proceeded to his own constituency on Novem-
ber 9. The previous month had found, as usual, endless other
interests to occupy him, quite apart from politics. These are
the ordinary entries. 'Worked, say, five hours on books. Three
more hours reduced my books and rooms to apparent order,
but much detail remains. Worked mildly on books/ In this
region he would have said of disorder and disarray what Carlyle
said to dirt, ' Thou shalt not abide with me.' As to the insides
of books, his reading was miscellaneous : Madame d'Arblay,
Bodley's Remains, Bachaumont's Anecdotes, Cuvier's Theory
of the Earth, Whewell on Astronomy, the Life of B. CHlpin,
Hennell's Inquiry, Schmidt's Social Effects of Christianity,
Miss Martineau's Autobiography, Anderson on Glory of the
Bible, Barrow's Towards the Truth, and so on — many of the
books now stone-dead. Besides such reading as this, he
' made a beginning of a paper on Hermes, and read for it/ and
worked hard at a controversial article, in reply to M. Reville,
upon the Dawn of Creation and Worship. When he corrected
the proof, he found it ill- written, and in truth we moy rather
marvel at, than admire the hardihood that handled such
themes amid such distractions. 1 Much company arrived.
' Count Mttnster came to luncheon ; long walk and talk with
him. The Derby-Bedford party came and went. I had an
hour's good conversation with Lord D. Tea in the open air.
Oct 7.— -Mr. Chamberlain came. Well, and much conversa-
tion. Oct. 8. — Mr. Chamberlain. Three hours of conversation.

Before the end of the month the doctors reported excellently
of the condition of his vocal cords, and when he started for
Dalmeny and the scene of the exploits of 1880 once more, he
was in spirits to enjoy 'an animated journey/ and the vast
enthusiasm with which Edinburgh again received him. His
speeches were marked by undiminished fire. He boldly
challenged a verdict on policy in the Soudan, while freely
admitting that in some points, not immaterial, his cabinet
had fallen into error, though in every case the error was
fostered by the party opposite ; and he pointed to the vital

1 Nineteenth Century, November 1885 ; reprinted in Later Gleanings.

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488 THE POLLS IN 1886

fact that though the party opposite were in good time, they
never dreamed of altering the policy. He asked triumphantly
1886. h ow they would have fared in the Afghan dispute, if the
policy anterior to 1880 had not been repudiated. In his
address he took the same valiant line about South Africa.
' In the Transvaal/ he said, ' we averted a war of European
and Christian races throughout South African states^ which
would have been alike menacing to our power, and scandalous
in the face of civilisation and of Christendom. As this has
been with our opponents a favourite subject of unmeasured
denunciation, so I for one hail and reciprocate their challenge,
and I hope the nation will give a clear judgment on our
refusal to put down liberty by force, and on the measures
that have brought about the present tranquillity of South
Africa.' His first speech was on Ireland, and Ireland figured,
as we have seen, largely and emphatically to the last Dis-
establishment was his thorniest topic, for the scare of the
church in danger was working considerable havoc in England,
and every word on Scottish establishment was sure to be
translated to establishment elsewhere. On the day on which
he was to handle it, his entry is: 'Much rumination, and
made notes which in speaking I could not manage to see. Off
to Edinburgh at 2.30. Back at 6. Spoke seventy minutes in
Free Kirk Hall : a difficult subject. The present agitation does
not strengthen in my mind the principle of establishment'
His leading text was a favourite and a salutary maxim of
his, that ' it is a very serious responsibility to take political
questions out of their proper time and their proper order/
and the summary of his speech was that the party was agreed
upon certain large and complicated questions, such as were
enough for one parliament to settle, and that it would be an.
error to attempt to thrust those questions aside, to cast them
into the shade and the darkness, ' for the sake of a subject of
which I will not undervalue the importance, but of which I
utterly deny the maturity at the present moment/ x

On Nov. 27 the poll was taken; 11,241 electors out of
12,924, or 87 per cent, recorded their votes, and of these
7879 voted for Mr. Gladstone, and 3248 for Mr. Dalrymple,
or a majority of 4631. So little impression had been made

1 Speech in the Free Assembly Hall, Nov. 11, 1885.

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in Midlothian by Kilmainham, Majuba, Khartoum, Penjdeh, CHAP,
and the other party cries of a later period. IIe



Let us turn to the general result, and the final com-
position of Mr. Gladstone's thirteenth parliament. The
polls of the first three or four days were startling. It
looked, in the phrases of the time, as if there were con-
servative reaction all round, as if the pendulum had swung
back to the point of tory triumph in 1874, and as if early
reverses would wind up in final rout Where the tories did
not capture the seat, their numbers rose and the liberal
majorities felL At the end of four days the liberals in
England and Wales had scored 86 against 109 for their
adversaries. When two-thirds of the House had been
elected, the liberals counted 196, the tories 179, and the
Irish nationalists 37. In spite of the early panic or exulta-
tion, it was found that in boroughs of over 100,000 the
liberals had after all carried seventeen, against eight for
their opponents. But the tories were victorious in a solid
Liverpool, save one Irish seat; they won all the seats in
Manchester save one; and in London, where liberals had
been told by those who were believed to know, that they
would make a clean sweep, there were thirty-six tories
against twenty-six liberals. Two members of the late liberal
cabinet and three subordinate ministers were thrown out.
'The verdict of the English borough constituencies/ cried
the Times, 'will be recorded more emphatically than was
even the case in 1874 in favour of the conservatives. The
opposition have to thank Mr. Chamberlain not only for
their defeat at the polls, but for the irremediable disruption
and hopeless disorganization of the liberal party with its high
historic past and its high claims to national gratitude. His
achievement may give him such immortality as was won by
the man who burneiidown the temple of Diana atEphesus.' 1
The same writers have ever since ascribed the irremedi-
able disruption to Mr. Gladstone and the Irish question.

Now came the counties with their newly enfranchised

1 November 26, 1885.

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490: THE POLLS IN 1885

hosts.* Here the tide flowed strong and steady. Squire and
parson were amazed to see the labourer, of whose stagnant
1885. indifference to politics they had been so confident, trudging
four or five miles to a political meeting, listening without
asking for a glass of beer to political speeches, following
point upon point, and then trudging back again dumbly
chewing the cud. Politicians with gifts of rhetoric began to
talk of the grand revolt of the peasants, and declared that it
was the most remarkable transformation since the conversion
of the Franks. Turned into prose, this meant that the
liberals had extended their area into large rural provinces
where hitherto tory supremacy had never been disputed
Whether or no Mr. Chamberlain had broken the party in
the boroughs, his agrarian policy together with the natural
uprising of the labourer against the party of squire and
farmer, had saved it in the counties. The nominees of
such territorial magnates as the Northumberlands, the
Pembrokes, the Baths, the Bradfords, the Watkin Wynns,
were all routed, and the shock to territorial influence was
felt to be profound. An ardent agrarian reformer, who later
became a conspicuous unionist, writing to Mr. Gladstone in
July a description of a number of great rural gatherings, told
him, ' One universal feature of these meetings is the joy,
affection, and unbounded applause with which your name is
received by these earnest men. Never in all your history had
you so strong a place in the hearts of the common people,
as you have to-day. It requires to be seen to be realised.'

All was at last over. It then appeared that so far from
there being a second version of the great tory reaction
of 1874, the liberals had now in the new parliament a
majority over tories of 82, or thirty under the corresponding
majority in the year of marvel, 1880. In Great Britain
they had a majority of 100, being 333 against 233. 1 But

1 Result of General Election qf 1885:— *

English and Welsh boroughs and universities,

English and Welsh counties,
Scottish boroughs,
„ counties,

















333 251

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they had no majority over tories and Irishmen combined.
That hopeful dream had glided away through the ivory gate. %
Shots between right wing and left of the liberal party
were exchanged to the very last moment. When the
borough elections were over, the Birmingham leader cried
that so far from the loss in the boroughs being all the
fault of the extreme liberals, it was just because the election
had not been fought on their programme, but was fought
instead on a manifesto that did not include one of the points
to which the extreme liberals attached the greatest im-
portance. For the sake of unity, they had put aside their
most cherished principles, disestablishment for instance, and
this, forsooth, was the result. 1 The retort came as quickly
as thunder after the flash. Lord Hartington promptly pro-
tested from Matlock, that the very crisis of the electoral
conflict was an ill-chosen moment for the public expression
of doubt by a prominent liberal as to the wisdom of a policy
accepted by the party, and announced by the acknowledged
leader of the whole party. When the party had found some
more tried, more trusted, more worthy leader, then might
perhaps be the time to impugn the policy. These reproach-
ful ironies of Lord Hartington boded ill for any prospect of
the heroes of this fratricidal war of the platform smoothing
their wrinkled fronts in a liberal cabinet.



Ms. 76.


In Ireland the result shed a strong light on the debating
prophecies that the extension of the County franchise would

The following figures may also be found interesting : —
Election of 18G&—

English and Welsh Liberals, .
„ ,, Tories,


English and Welsh Liberals,
„ „ Tories,



Jn 1885—

English and Welsh Liberals, .
„ ,, Tories,

1 Mr. Chamberlain at Leicester, December 3, 1885.







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492 THE POLLS IN 1885

BOOK not be unfavourable to the landlord interest ; that it would
* *' . enable the deep conservative interest of the peasantry to
1886. vindicate itself against the nationalism of the towns ; that it
would prove beyond all doubt that the Irish leader did not
really speak the mind of a decided majority of the people
of Ireland. Relying on the accuracy of these abstract
predictions, the Irish tories started candidates all over
the country. Even some of them who passed for shrewd
and candid actually persuaded themselves that they were
making an impression on the constituencies. The effect
of their ingenuous operations was to furnish such a measure
of nationalist strength, as would otherwise have seemed
incredible almost to the nationalists themselves. An in-
starve or two will suffice. In two divisions of Cork, the
tories polled 300 votes against nearly 10,000 for the
nationalists. In two divisions of Mayo, the tories polled
200 votes against nearly 10,000 for the nationalists. In
one division of Kilkenny there were 4000 nationalist votes
against 170 for the tory, and in another division 4000
against 220. In a division of Kerry the nationalist had
over 3000 votes against 30 for the tory, — a hundred to
one. In prosperous counties with resident landlords and
a good class of gentry such as Carlow and Kildare, in one
case the popular vote was 4800 against 750, and in the other
3169 against 467. In some fifty constituencies the popular
majorities ranged in round numbers from 6500 the highest,
to 2400 the lowest. Besides these constituencies where a
contest was so futile, were those others in which no contest
was even attempted.

In Ulster a remarkable thing happened. This favoured
province had in the last parliament returned nine liberals.
Lord Hartington attended a banquet at Belfast (Nov. 5) just
before the election. It was as unlucky an affair as the feast
of Belshazzar. His mission was compared by Orange wits
to that of the Greek hero who went forth to wrestle with
Death for the body of an old woman. 1 The whole of the
liberal candidates in Ulster fell down as dead men. Orange-
men and catholics, the men who cried damnation to King
William and 'the men who cried 'To hell with the Pope/
joined hands against them. In Belfast itself, nationalists were

1 Alceatis was not old. Eur. Ale, 289.

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seen walking to the booths with orange cards in their hats
to .vote for orangemen against liberals. 1 It is true that the
paradox did not last, and that the Pope and King William ^ T - 76 -
were speedily on their old terms again. Within six months,
the two parties atoned for this temporary backsliding into
brotherly love, by one of the most furious and protracted
conflagrations that ever raged even in the holy places of
Belfast Meanwhile nationalism had made its way in the
south of the province, partly by hopes of reduced rents,
partly by the energy of the catholic population, who had not
tasted political power for two centuries. The adhesion of
their bishops to the national movement in the Monaghan
election had given them the signal three years before.
Fermanagh, hitherto invariably Orange, now sent two
nationalists. Antrim was the single county out of the
thirty-two counties of Ireland that was solid against home
rule, and even in Antrim in one contest the nationalist was
only beaten by 35 votes.

Not a single liberal was returned in the whole of Ireland.
To the last parliament she had sent fourteen. They were
all out bag and baggage. Ulster now sent eighteen national-
ists and seventeen tories. Out of the eighty-nine contests
in Ireland, Mr. ParnelFs men won no fewer than eighty-five,
and in most of them they won by such overwhelming
majorities as I have described. It was noticed that twenty-
two of the persons elected, or more than one-fourth of the
triumphant party, had been put in prison under the Act of
1881. A species of purge, moreover, had been performed.
All half-hearted nationalists, the doubters and the faithless,
were dismissed, and their places taken by men pledged
either to obey or else go.

The British public now found out on what illusions they
had for the last four years been fed. Those of them who
had memories, could recollect how the Irish secretary of
the day, on the third reading of the first Coercion bill in
1881, had boldly appealed from the Irish members to the
people of Ireland. 'He was sure that he could appeal
with confidence from gentlemen sitting below the gangway
opposite to their constituents.' 2 They remembered all the

1 ftfacknight'i Ulster as it Is, ii. p. 108. ' Mr. Forater, March 11, 1881.

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494 THE POLLS IN 1886

BOOK talk about Mr. Parnell and his followers being a mere hand-
^ ful of men and not a political party at all, and the rest of it.

1886. They had now a revelation what a fool's paradise it had been.

As a supreme electoral demonstration, the Irish elections
of 1885 have never been surpassed in any country. They
showed that neither remedial measures nor repressive mea-
sures had made even the fleeting shadow of an impression
on the tenacious sentiment of Ireland, or on the powerful
organization that embodied and directed it. The Land Act
had made no impression. The two Coercion Acts had made
none. The imperial parliament had done its best for five,
years. Some of the ablest of its ministers had set zealous
and intrepid hands to the task, and this was the end.
Whether you counted seats or counted votes, the result
could not be twisted into anything but what it was — the
vehement protest of one of the three kingdoms against the
whole system of its government, and a strenuous demand for
its reconstruction on new foundations.

Endeavours were made to discredit so startling and un-
welcome a result It was called 'the carefully prepared
verdict of a shamefully packed jury.' Much was made of
the number of voters who declared themselves illiterate,
said to be compelled so to do in order that the priest or
other intimidatory person might see that they voted right
As a matter of fact the percentage of illiterate voters
answered closely to the percentage of males over twenty-one
in the census returns, who could neither read nor write.
Only two petitions followed the general election, one at
Belfast against a nationalist, and the other at Deny against
a tory, and in neither of the two was undue influence or
intimidation alleged. The routed candidates in Ireland, like
the same unlucky species elsewhere, raised the usual chorus
of dolorous explanation. The register, they cried, was in
a shameful condition ; the polling stations were too few or
too remote ; the loyalists were afraid, and the poll did not
represent their real numbers ; people did' not believe that
the ballot was really secret ; the percentage of illiterates was
monstrous; promises and pledges went for nothing. Such
are ever the too familiar voices of mortified electioneering.

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There was also the best known of all the conclusive topics CHAP,
from tory Ireland. It was all done,- vowed the tories, by >
the bishops and clergy ; they were indefatigable ; they iET# 76 -
canvassed at the houses and presided at meetings; they
exhorted their flocks from the altar, and they drilled them
at the polling-booths. The spiritual screw of the priest and
the temporal screw of the league — there was the whole
secret. Such was the story, and it was not wholly devoid
of truth ; but then what balm, what comfort, had even the
truth of it for British rulers ?

Some thousands of voters stayed away from the polls.
It was ingeniously explained that their confidence in

Online LibraryJohn MorleyThe life of William Ewart Gladstone, Volume 2 → online text (page 45 of 91)