John Morley.

The life of William Ewart Gladstone, Volume 2 online

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British rule had been destroyed by the Carnarvon
surrender; a shopkeeper would not offend his customers
for the sake of a Union Jack that no longer waved trium-
phant in the breeze. They were like the Arab sheikhs at
Berber, who, when they found that the Egyptian pashas
were going to evacuate, went over to the Mahdi. The con-
ventions appointed to select the candidates were denounced
as the mere creatures of Mr. Farnell, the Grand Elector.
As if anything could have shown a more politic appreciation
of the circumstances, There are situations that require a
dictator, not to impose an opinion, to kindle an aspiration ;
not to shape a demand, but to be the effective organ of opinion
and demand. Now in the Irish view was one of those
situations. In the last parliament twenty-six seats were
held by persons designated nominal home rulers; in the
new parliament, not one. Every new nationalist member
pledged himself to resign whenever the parliamentary party
should call upon him! Such an instrument grasped in a
hand of iron was indispensable, first to compel the British
government to listen, and second, to satisfy any British
government disposed to listen, v that in dealing with Mr.
Parnell they were dealing with nationalist Ireland, and with
a statesman who had the power to make his engagements
good. Tou need greater qualities, said Cardinal De Retz,
to be a good party leader than to be emperor of the
universe. Ireland is not that portion of the universe in which
this is least true.

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(December 1886)

Whoever has held the poet of minister for any considerable time
can never absolutely, unalterably maintain and carry out his
original opinions. He finds himself in the presence of situations
that are not always the same — of life and growth — in connection
with which he must take one course one day, and then, perhaps,
another on the next day. I could not always run straight ahead
like a cannon balL — Bismarck.

The month of December was passed by Mr. Gladstone at
Hawarden, in such depth of meditation as it is easy for us to
1885. conjecture. The composition of his party, the new situa-
tion in parliament, the mutual relations of important indi-
viduals, the Irish case, his own share in respect of the Irish
case, the strange new departure in Irish policy announced
and acted upon by the subsisting cabinet — from all these
points of view it was now his business to survey the extra-
ordinary scene. The knot to be unravelled in 1886 was
hardly less entangled than that which engaged the powerful
genius of Pitt at the opening of the century. Stripped of
invidious innuendo, the words of Lord Salisbury a few weeks
later state with strength and truth the problem that now
confronted parliament and its chief men. ' Up to the time/
sfeid the tory prime minister, 'when Mr. Gladstone took
office, be it for good or evil, for many generations Ireland
had been governed through the influence and the action of
the landed gentry. I do not wish to defend that system.
There is a good deal to be said for it, and a good deal to be
said against it. What I wish to insist upon is, not that that
system was good, but that the statesman who undertook to
overthrow it, should have had something to put in its place.


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He utterly destroyed it. By the Land Act of 1870, by the CHAP.
Ballot Act of 1872, by the Land Act of 1881, and last of all ^J^—>
by the Reform bill of 1884, the power of the landed gentry - 3EfSm 76%
in Ireland is absolutely shattered ; and he now stands before
the formidable problem of a country deprived of a system of
government under which it had existed for many genera-
tions, and absolutely without even a sketch of a substitute
by which the ordinary functions of law and j&rder can be
maintained. Those changes which he introduced into the
government of Ireland were changes that were admirable
from a parliamentary point of view. They were suited to
the dominant humour of the moment But they were
barren of any institutions by which the country could be
governed and kept in prosperity for the future.' l This is a
statement of the case that biographer and historian alike
should ponder. Particularly should they remember that both
parties had renounced coercion.

Mr. Gladstone has publicly explained the working of his
mind, and both his private letters at the time, and many a
conversation later, attest the hold which the new aspect,
however chimerical it may now seem to those who do not
take long views, had gained upon him. He could not be
blind to the fact that the action and the language of the
tory ministers during the last six months had shown an
unquestionable readiness to face the new necessities of a com-
plex situation with new methods. Why should not a solution
of the present difficulties be sought in the same co-operation
of parties, that had been as advantageous as it was indis-
pensable in other critical occasions of the century? He
recalled other leading precedents of national crisis. There
was the repeal of the Test Act in 1828 ; catholic emancipa-
tion in 1829; the repeal of the corn law in 1846; the
extension of the franchise in 1867. In the history of these .
memorable transactions, Mr. Gladstone perceived it to be
extremely doubtful whether any one of these measures, all
carried as they were by tory governments, could have become
law except under the peculiar conditions which secured for

1 Lord Salisbury, at a dinner given members for Hertfordshire, February
in London to the four conservative 17, 1886.

VOL. n. 2 I

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BOOK each of them both the aid of the liberal vote in the House


t of Commons, and the authority possessed by all tory govern-
1885. men ts in the House of Lords. What was the situation?
The ministerial party just reached the figure of two hundred
and fifty-one. Mr. Gladstone had said in the course of
the election that for a government in a minority to deal
with the Irish question would not be safe, such an opera-
tion could not but be attended by danger; but the tender
of his support to Lord Salisbury was a demonstration that
he thought the operation might still properly be under-
taken. 1

To Herbert Gladstone.
December 10, 1885. — 1. The nationalists have run in political
alliance with the tories for years ; more especially for six months ;
most of all at the close during the elections, when they have made
us 335 (say) against 250 [conservatives] instead of 355 against 230.
This alliance is therefore at its zenith. 2. The question of Irish
government ought for the highest reasons to be settled at once, and
settled by the allied forces, (1) because they have the government,
(2) because their measure will have fair play from all, most, or many
of us, which a measure of ours would not have from the tories. 3. As
the allied forces are half the House, so that there is not a majority
against them, no constitutional principle is violated by allowing
the present cabinet to continue undisturbed for the purpose in
view. 4. The plan for Ireland ought to be produced by the
government of the day. Principles may be laid down by others,
but not the detailed interpretation of them in a measure. I have
publicly declared I produce no- plan until the government has
arrived at some issue with the Irish, as I hope they will. 5. If
the moment ever came when a plan had to be considered with a
view to production on behalf of the liberal party, I do not at
• present see how such a question could be dissociated from another
vital question, namely, who are to be the government. For a
government alone can carry a measure, though some outline of
essentials might be put out in a motion or resolution.

Happening in these days to meet in the neighbouring

1 Special Aspects of the Irish Question, p. 18.

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palace of a whig magnate, Mr. Balfour, ar young but even
then an important member of the government, with whom <
as a veteran with a junior of high promise he had long * Et# 76#
been on terms of friendly intimacy, Mr. Gladstone began
an informal conversation with him upon the condition of
Ireland, on the stir that it was making in men's minds,
and on the urgency of the problem. The conversation he
followed up by a letter (Dec. 20). Every post, he said, bore
him testimony to the growing ferment. In urging how
great a calamity it would be if so vast a question should
fall into the lines of party conflict, he expressed his desire
to see it taken up by the government, and to be able, with
reserve of necessary freedom, to co-operate in their design.
Mr. Balfour replied with courteous scepticism, but promised
to inform Lord Salisbury. The tactical computation was
presumably this, that Lord Salisbury would lose the Orange
group from Ireland and the extreme tories in England, but
would keep the bulk of his party. On the other hand, Mr.
Gladstone in supporting a moderate home rule would drop
some of the old whigs and some of the extreme radicals, but
he too would keep the bulk of the liberal party. Therefore,
even if Mr. Parnell and his followers should find the scheme
too moderate to be endurable, still Lord Salisbury with Mr.
Gladstone's help would settle the Irish question as Peel
with the help of the whigs settled the question of corn.

Both at the time and afterwards Mr. Gladstone was wont
to lay great stress upon the fact that he had opened this
suggestion and conveyed this proffer of support. For in-
stance, he writes to Lord Hartington (Dec. 20) : ' On Tuesday I
had a conversation with Balfour at Eaton, which in conform-
ity with my public statements, I think, conveyed informally a
hope that they would act, as the matter is so serious, and as
its becoming a party question would be a great national
calamity. I have written to him to say (without speaking
for others) that if they can make a proposal for the purpose
of settling definitely the question of Irish government, I
shall wish with proper reserves to treat it in the spirit in
which I have treated Afghanistan and the Balkan Peninsula.'

The language of Lord Carnarvon when he took office and

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BOOK of Lord Salisburj^at Newport, coupled with the more sub-
f ' ' s^antial fact of the alliance between tories and nationalists.

1885. before and during the election, no doubt warranted Mr.
Gladstone's assumption that the alliance might continue,
and that the talk of a new policy had been something more
than an electioneering manoeuvre. Yet the importance that
he always attached to his offer, of support for a definite
settlement, or in plainer English, some sort of home rule,
implies a certain simplicity. He forgot in his patriotic zeal
the party system. The tory leader, capable as his public

, utterances show of piercing the exigencies of Irish govern-

ment to the quick, might possibly, in the course of respon-
sible consultations with opponents for a patriotic purpose,
havQ been drawn by argument and circumstance on to the
ground of Irish autonomy, which he had hitherto considered,
and considered with apparent favour, only in the dim dis-
tance of abstract meditation or through the eyes of Lord
Carnarvon. The abstract and intellectual temperament is
sometimes apt to be dogged and stubborn; on the other
hand, it is often uncommonly elastic. Lord Salisbury's clear
and rationalising understanding might have been expected
to carry him to a thoroughgoing experiment to get rid of a
deep and inveterate disorder. If he thought it politic te
assent to communication with Mr. Parnell, why should he
not listen to overtures from Mr. Gladstone ? On the other
hand, Lord Salisbury's hesitation in facing the perils of

• an Irish settlement in reliance upon the co-operation of

political opponents is far from being unintelligible. His
inferior parliamentary strength would leave him at the
mercy of an extremely formidable ally. He may have
anticipated that, apart from the ordinary temptations of
every majority to overthrow a minority, all the strong
natural impulses of the liberal leader, his vehement sym-
pathy with the principle of nationality, the irresistible
attraction for him of all the grand and eternal common-
places of liberty and self-government, would inevitably
carry him much further on the Irish road than either Lord
Salisbury himself may have been disposed to travel, or than
he could be sure of persuading his party to follow. He may

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veil have seen grounds for pause before committing himself CHAP,
to so delicate and precarious an enterprise.


Early in December Lord Granville was at Hawarden, and
the two discussed the crucial perplexities of the hour, not
going further than agreement that responsibility lay with
the government, and that the best chance for settlement
lay in large concession. From Hawarden Lord Granville
went to Chatsworth, where he found Lord Spencer on his
way to visit Mr. Gladstone; but nothing important passed
Among the three leaders thus brought together under the
roof of Lord Hartington. Lord Granville imparted to Lord
Spencer and Lord Hartington that Mr. Gladstone was full
of Ireland in the direction of some large concession of self-
government. The host discussed the thing dispassionately
without much expression of opinion. Proceeding to Hawar-
den, Lord Spencer was there joined by Lord Rosebery. Their
chief repeated to them the propositions already stated
.(p. 258). Mr. Gladstone wrote to Lord Granville (Dec. 9) : —

You have, I think, acted very prudently in not returning here.
It would have been violently canvassed. Your report is as
favourable as could be expected. I think my conversations with
Bosebery and Spencer have also been satisfactory. What I expect
is a healthful, slow fermentation in many minds, working towards
the final product. It is a case of between the devil and the deep
sea. But our position is a bed of roses, compared with that of
the government. . . .

Lord Spencer was hardly second in weight to Mr. Gladstone
Iiimself. His unrivalled experience of Irish administration,
his powers of fixed decision in difficult circumstances, and
the impression of high public spirit, uprightness, and forti-
tude, which had stamped itself deep upon the public mind,
gave him a force of moral authority in an Irish crisis that
was unique. He knew the importance of a firm and con-
tinuous system in Ireland. Such a system he had inflexibly
-carried out. Extreme concessions had been extorted from
him by the radicals in the cabinet, and when the last moment

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of the eleventh hour had arrived, it looked as if he would
break up the government by insisting. Then the govern-
1885. ment was turned out, and the party of ' law and order ' came
in. He saw his firm and continuous system at the first
opportunity flouted and discarded. He was aware, as
officials and as the public were aware, that his successor
at Dublin Castle made little secret that he had come over
to reverse the policy. Lord Spencer, too, well knew in
the last months of his reign at Dublin that his own system,
in spite of outward success, had made no mark upon Irish
disaffection. It is no wonder that after his visit to Haw-
arden, he laboured hard at consideration of the problem
that the strange action of government on the one hand,
and the speculations of a trusted leader on the other, had
forced upon him. On Mr. Gladstone he pressed the question
whether a general support should be given to Irish autonomy
as a principle, before particulars were matured. In any case
he perceived that the difficulty of governing Ireland might
well be increased by knowledge of the mere fact that Mr.
Gladstone and himself, whether in office or in opposition,
were looking in the direction of autonomy. Somebody said
to Mr. Gladstone, people talked about his turning Spencer
round his thumb. ' It would be more true/ he repKed, c that
he had turned me round his/ That is, I suppose, by the
lessons of Lord Spencer's experience.

In the middle of the month Lord Hartington asked Mr.
Gladstone for information as to his views and intentions on
the Irish question as developed by the general election. The
rumours in the newspapers, he said, as well as in private
letters, were so persistent that it was hard to believe them
without foundation. Mr. Gladstone replied to Lord Harting-
ton in a letter of capital importance in its relation to the
prospects of party union (Dec. 17): —

To Lord Hartington.
The whole stream of public excitement is now turned upon me,
and I am pestered with incessant telegrams which I have no-
defence against, but either suicide or Parnell's method of self-con*
cealment. The truth is, I have more or less of opinions and ideas,

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but no intentions or negotiations. In these ideas and opinions CHAP.

there, is, I think, little that I hare not more or less conveyed in t ' »

public declarations ; in principle nothing. I will try to lay them iET * ^

before you. I consider that Ireland has now spoken ; and that an

effort ought to be made by the government without delay to meet

her demands for the management by an Irish legislative body of

Irish as distinct from imperial affairs. Only a government can

do it, and a tory government can do it more easily and safely than

any other. There is first a postulate that the state of Ireland

shall be such as to warrant it. The conditions of an admissible

plan are —

1. Union of the empire and due supremacy of parliament.

2. Protection for the minority — a difficult matter on which I
have talked much with Spencer, certain points, however, remain-
ing to be considered.

3. Fair allocation of imperial charges.

4. A statutory basis seems to me better and safer than the
revival of Grattan's parliament, but I wish to hear much more
upon this, as the minds of men are still in so crude a state on the
whole subject.

5. Neither as opinions nor as intentions have I to any one
alive promulgated these ideas as decided on by me.

6. As to intentions, I am determined to have none at present, to
leave space to the government — I should wish to encourage them
if I properly could — above all, on no account to say or do anything
which would enable the nationalists to establish rival biddings
between us. If this storm of rumours continues to rage, it may
be necessary for me to write some new letter to my constituents,
but I am desirous to do nothing, simply leaving the field open for
the government until time makes it necessary to decide. Of our
late colleagues I have had most communication with Granville,
Spencer, Rosebery. Would you kindly send this on to Granville.

I think you will find this in conformity with my public
declarations, though some blanks are filled up. I have in truth
thought it my duty without in the least committing myself or
any one else, to think through the subject as well as I could, being
equally convinced of its urgency and bigness. If H. and N. are
with you, pray show them this letter, which is a very hasty one,

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BOOK for I am so battered with telegrams that I hardly know whether
/ ^ I stand on my head or my heels. . . .

1885. With regard to the letter I sent you, my opinion is that there is

a Parnell party and a separation or civil war party, and the
question which is to have the upper hand will have to be decided
in a limited time. My earnest recommendation to everybody is
not to commit himself. Upon this rule, under whatever pressure,
I shall act as long as I can. There shall be no private negotiation
carried on by me, but the time may come when I shall be obliged
to speak publicly. Meanwhile I hope you will keep in free and
full communication with old colleagues. Pray put questions if
this letter seems ambiguous. . . .

Pray remember that I am at all times ready for personal com-
munication, should you think it desirable.


Before receiving this letter, Lord Hartington was startled,
as all the world was, to come on something in the news-
papers that instantly created a new situation. Certain prints
published on December 17 what was alleged to be Mr.
Gladstone's scheme for an Irish settlement. 1 It proposed in
terms the creation of an Irish parliament. Further particulars
were given in detail, but with these we need not concern
ourselves. The Irish parliament was enough. The public
mind, bewildered as it was by the situation that the
curious issue of the election had created, was thrown by
this announcement into extraordinary commotion. The
facts are these. Mr. Herbert Gladstone visited London at
this time (Dec. 14), partly in consequence of a speech made
a few days before by Sir C. Dilke, and of the club talk which
the speech had set going. It was taken to mean that he
and Mr. Chamberlain, the two radical leaders, thought that
such an Irish policy as might be concocted between Mr.
Gladstone and Mr. Parnell would receive no general support
from the liberal party, and that it would be much safer to

1 These statement* first appeared not published in the Time* and other

in the Leeds Mercury and the Standard London morning papers until Dec. 18.

on Dec. 17, and in a communication Mr. Gladstone's telegram was printed

from the National Press Agency issued in the evening papers on Dec. 17.
on the night of Dec 16. They were

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leave the tones in power, in the expectation that some
moderate measures of reform might be got from them, and .
that meanwhile they would become committed with the JErt - 76 *
Irishmen* Tactics of this kind were equivalent to the
exclusioir'of Mr. Gladstone, for in every letter that he wrote
he pronounced the Irish question urgent Mr. Herbert
Gladstone had not been long in London before the impres-
sion became strong upon him, that in the absence of a
guiding hint upon the Irish question, the party might be
drifting towards a split Under this impression he had a
conversation with the chief of an important press agency,
who had previously warned him that the party was all at
sea. To this gentleman, in an interview at which no notes
were taken and nothing read from papers — so little formal
was it — he told his own opinions on the assumed opinions
of Mr. Gladstone, all in general terms, and only with the
negative view of preventing friendly writers from falling
into traps. Unluckily it would seem to need at least the
genius of a Bismarck, to perform with precision and suc-
cess the delicate office of inspiring a modern oracle on
the journalistic tripod. Here, what was intended to be a
blameless negative soon swelled, as the oracular fumes are
wont to do, into a giant positive. In conversations with
■another journalist, who was also his private friend (Dec. 15),
he used language which the friend took to justify the pretty
unreserved announcement that Mr. Gladstone was about to
set to work in earnest on home rule.

* With all these matters/ Mr. Herbert Gladstone wrote to a
near relative at the time, ' my father had no more connection
than the man in the moon, and until each event occurred, he
knew no more of it than the man in the street' Mr. Glad-
stone on the same day (Dec. 17) told the world by telegraph
that the statement was not an accurate representation of
his views, but a speculation upon them; he added that it
had not been published with his knowledge or authority.
There can be no doubt, whatever else may be said, that
the publication was neither to his advantage, nor in con-
formity with his view of the crisis. No statesman in our
history has ever been more careful of the golden rule of

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BOOK political strategy — to neglect of which Frederick the Great
, traced the failure of Joseph n. — not to take the second

1885 - step before you have taken the first. Neither scheme nor
intention had yet crystallised in his mind. Never was there
a moment when every consideration of political prudence
more imperatively counselled silence. Mr. Gladstone's denial
of all responsibility was not found to be an explicit contra-
diction ; it was a repudiation of the two newspapers, but it
was not a repudiation of an Irish parliament. Therefore
people believed the story the more. Friends and foes be-
came more than ever alert, excited, alarmed, and in not a

Online LibraryJohn MorleyThe life of William Ewart Gladstone, Volume 2 → online text (page 46 of 91)