John Morley.

The life of William Ewart Gladstone, Volume 2 online

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few cases vehemently angry. This unauthorised publication
with the qualified denial, placed Mr. Gladstone in the very
position which he declared that he would not take up; it
made fcim a trespasser on ground that belonged to the
government. Any action on his part would in his own
view not only be unnecessary; it would be unwarrantable;
it would be in the highest degree injurious and mischievous. 1
Yet whatever it amounted to, some of this very injury and
mischief followed.

Lord Hartington no sooner saw what was then called the
Hawarden kite flying in the sky, than he felt its full signi-
ficance. He at once wrote to Mr. Gladstone, partly in reply
to the letter of the 17 th already given, and pointed with
frankness to what would follow. No other subject would be
discussed until the meeting of parliament, and it would be
discussed with the knowledge, or what would pass for
knowledge, that in Mr. Gladstone's opinion the time for
concession to Ireland had arrived, and that concession was
practicable. In replying to his former letter Mr. Gladstone
had invited personal communication, and Lord Hartington
thought that he might in a few days avail himself of it,
though (December 18) he feared that little advantage would
follow. In spite of urgent arguments from wary friends,
Lord Hartington at once proceeded to write to his chairman
in Lancashire (December 20), informing the public that no
proposals of liberal policy on the Irish demand had been
communicated to him ; for his own part he stood to what

1 Speech on the Address, January 21, 1886.

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lie said at the election. This letter was the first bugle note

of an inevitable conflict between Mr. Gladstone and those <

who by and by became the whig dissentients. ^ Jt - 76#

To Lord Hartington resistance to any new Irish policy
came easily, alike by temperament and conviction, Mr.
Chamberlain was in a more embarrassing position ; and his
first speech after the election showed it. ' We are face to
face,' he said, 'with a very remarkable demonstration by
the Irish people. They have shown that as far as regards
the great majority of them, they are earnestly in favour of
a change in the administration of their government, and of
some system which would give them a larger control of
their domestic affairs. Well, we ourselves by our public
declarations and by our liberal principles are pledged to
acknowledge the justice of this claim/ What was the
important point at the moment, Mr. Chamberlain declared
that in his judgment the time had hardly arrived when the
liberal party could interfere safely or with advantage to
settle this great question. ' Mr. Parnell has appealed to the
tories. Let him settle accounts with his new friends. Let
him test their sincerity and goodwill; and if he finds that
he has been deceived, he will approach the liberal party in
a spirit of reason and conciliation.' x

Translated into the language of parliamentary action, this
meant that the liberals, with a majority of eighty-two over
the tories, were to leave the tory minority undisturbed in
office, on the chance of their bringing in general measures
of which liberals could approve, and making Irish proposals
to which Mr. Parnell, in the absence of competition for his
support, might give at least provisional assent. In principle,
these tactics implied, whether right or wrong, the old-
fashioned union of the two British parties against the
Irish. Were the two hundred and fifty tories to be left
in power, to carry out all the promises of the general
election, and fulfil all the hopes of a new parliament chosen
on a new system? The Hawarden letter-bag was heavy
with remonstrances from newly elected liberals against any
such course.

1 At the Birmingham Reform Club, Dee. 17, 1885.

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Second only to Mr. Gladstone in experience of stirring
and perilous positions, Lord Granville described the situa-
1885 - tion to one of his colleagues as nothing less than ' thoroughly
appalling/ A great catastrophe, he said, might easily result
from any of the courses open : from the adoption of coercion
by either government or opposition; from the adoption by
either of concession ; from the attempt to leave the state of
Ireland as it was. If, as some think, a great catastrophe
did in the end result from the course that Mr. Gladstone
was now revolving in his own mind at Hawarden, and that
he had commended to the meditations of his most important
colleagues, what alternative was feasible ?


The following letters set out the various movements in a
drama that was now day by day, through much confusion
and bewilderment, approaching its climax.

To Lord Granville.

December 18, '85. — . . . Thinking incessantly about the matter,
speaking freely and not with finality to you, and to Rosebery and
Spencer — the only colleagues I have seen — I have trusted to
writing to Hartington (who had had Harcourt and Northbrook
with him) and to you for Derby.

If I have made any step in advance at all, which I am not sure
of, it has most certainly been in the direction of leaving the field
open for the government, encouraging them to act, and steadily
refusing to say or do anything like negotiation on my own behalf.
So I think Derby will see that in the main I am certainly with
him. . . . What will Parnell do ? What will the government
dot How can we decide without knowing or trying to know,
both if we can, but at any rate the second ? This letter is at your
discretion to use in proper quarters.

December 22. — In the midst of these troubles, I look to you as
the great feud-composer, and your note just received is just what I
should have hoped and expected. Hartington wrote to me on
Saturday that he was going up to see Goschen, but as I thought
inviting a letter from me, which I wrote [December 17, above],
and it was with no small surprise that I read him yesterday in

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the Times. However, I repeated yesterday to R. Grosvenor all that CHAP.
I have said to you about what seems to me the plain duty of the •
party, in the event of a severance between nationalists and tories.
Meantime I care not who knows my anxiety to prevent that sever-
ance, and for that reason among others to avoid all communications
of ideas and intentions which could tend to bring it about

On December 27, Lord Granville wrote to Mr. Gladstone
at Hawarden : —

I have been asked to request you to call a cabinet of your late
colleagues to discuss the present state of affairs. I have declined,
giving my reasons, which appear to me to be good. At the same
time, I think it would calm some fussiness that exists, if you let
it be known to a few that you will be in town and ready for con-
sultation, before the actual meeting.

Mr. Gladstone answered, as those acquainted with his
modes of mind might have been sure that he would : —

December 28. — Thank you for stopping the request to which your
letter of yesterday refers. A cabinet does not exist out of office,
and no one in his senses could covenant to call the late cabinet
together, I think, even if there were something on which it was
ready to take counsel, which at this moment there is not. On the
other hand, you will have seen from my letter that the idea before
me has been that of going unusual lengths in the way of consult-
ing beforehand, not cjily leading men but the party, or undertaking
some special obligation to be assured of their concurrence generally,
before undertaking new responsibilities.

The one great difficulty in proceeding to consult now, I think, is
that we cannot define the situation for ourselves, as an essential
element of it is the relation between nationalists and tories, which
they — not we— have to settle. If we meet on Tuesday 12th to
choose a Speaker, so far as I can learn, regular business will not
begin before the 19th. By the 12th we shall have given ourselves a
much better chance of knowing how the two parties stand together ;
and there will be plenty of time for our consultations. Thus at
least I map out the time ; pray give me any comments you think

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BOOK I begged you to keep Derby informed ; would you kindly do
t the same with Harcourt. Rosebery goes to London to-morrow.


Two days before this resistance to the request for a
meeting, he had .written to Lord Granville with an important
enclosure : —

December 26, 1885. — I have put down on paper in a memo-
randum as well as I can, the possible forms of the question which
may have to be decided at the opening of the session. I went
over the ground in conversation with you, and afterwards with
R. Grosvenor, and I requested £. Grosvenor, who was going to
London, to speak to Hartington in that sense. After his recent
act of publication, I should not like to challenge him by sending
him the written paper. Please, however, to send it on to Spencer,
who will send it back to me.

The memorandum itself must here be quoted, for it sets
out in form, succinct, definite, and exhaustive, the situation
as Mr. Gladstone at that time regarded it : —

Secret. Hawarden Castle, Chester, Dec. 26, 1885.

1. Government should act.

2. Nationalists should support them in acting.

3. I have done what I can to bring about (1). I am confident
the nationalists know my desire. They also publicly know there
can be no plan from me in the present circumstances.

4. If (1) and (2) come about, we, who are half the House of
Commons, may under the circumstances be justified in waiting for
the production of a plan.

5. This would be in every sense the best situation.

6. But if ministers refuse to take up the question— or if from
their not actually taking it up, or on any grounds, the nationalists
publicly dissolve their alliance with them, the government then
have a party of 250 in the face of 420, and in the face of 335
who were elected to oppose them.

7. The basis of our system is that the ministry shall have the
confidence of the House of Commons. The exception is, when it
is about to appeal to the people. The rule applies most strongly
when an election has just taken place. Witness 1835, 1841, 1859,

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and the three last elections, after each of which the rule has been
acted upon, silent inference standing instead of a vote.

8. The present circumstances warrant, I think, an understanding
as above, between ministers and the nationalists; but not one
between us and the nationalists.

9. If from any cause the alliance of the tories and nationalists
which did exist, and presumably does exist, should be known to
be dissolved, I do not see how it is possible for what would then
be the liberal majority to shrink from the duty appertaining to it
as such, and to leave the business of government to the 250 men
whom it was elected to oppose.

10. This looks towards an amendment to the Address, praying
her Majesty to choose ministers possessed of the confidence of the
House of Commons.

11. Which under the circumstances should, I think, have the
sanction of a previous meeting of the party.

12. An attempt would probably be made to traverse the pro-
ceeding by drawing me on the Irish question.

13. It is impossible to justify the contention that as a condition
previous to asserting the right and duty of a parliamentary majority,
the party or the leaders should commit themselves on a measure
about which they can form no final judgment, until by becoming
the government they can hold all the necessary communications.

14. But in all likelihood jealousy will be stronger than logic;
and to obviate such jealousy, it might be right for me [to go] to
the very farthest allowable point.

15. The case supposed is, the motion made — carried — ministers
resign — Queen sends for me.

Might I go so far as to say at the first meeting that in the case
supposed, I should only accept the trust if assured of the adequate,
that is of the general support of the party to a plan of duly
guarded home rule )

16. If that support were withheld, it would be my duty to
stand aside.

17. In that event it would, I consider, become the duty of that
portion of the party, which was not prepared to support me in
an effort to frame a plan of duly guarded home rule, to form a
government itself if invited by the Queen to do so.

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18. With me the Irish question would of course remain para-
- mount ; but preferring a liberal government without an adequate
1885. j^sh measure to a tory government similarly lacking, such a
liberal government would be entitled to the best general support
I could give it.

The reference of this memorandum to Lords Granville
and Spencer was regarded as one of the first informal
steps towards a consultation of leaders. On receiving Lord
Spencer's reply on the point of procedure Mr. Gladstone
wrote to him, (December 30) : —

To Lord Spencer.
I understand your idea to be that inasmuch as leaders of the
party are likely to be divided on the subject of a bold Irish
measure, and a divergence might be exhibited in a vote on the
Address, it may be better to allow the tory government, with
250 supporters in a house of 670, to assume the direction of the
session and continue the administration of imperial affairs. I do
not undervalue the dangers of the other course. But let us look
at this one —

1. It is an absolute novelty.

2. Is it not a novelty which strikes at the root of our parlia-
mentary government? under which the first duty of a majority
freshly elected, according to a uniform course of precedent and
a very clear principle, is to establish a government which has its

3. Will this abdication of primary duty avert or materially
postpone the (apprehended) disruption of the party? Who can
guarantee us against an Irish or independent amendment to the
Address? The government must in any case produce at once
their Irish plan. What will have been gained by waiting for it ?
The Irish will know three things — (1) That I am conditionally in
favour of at least examining their demand. (2) That from the
nature of the case, I must hold this question paramount to every
interest of party. (3) That a part, to speak within bounds, of the
liberal party will follow me in this respect. Can it be supposed
that in these circumstances they will long refrain, or possibly
refrain at all 1 With their knowledge of possibilities behind them.

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dare they long refrain ? An immense loss of dignity in a great CHAP,
crisis of the empire would attend the forcing of our hands by -
the Irish or otherwise. There is no necessity for an instant ^ T ' ^ 6 "
decision. My desire is thoroughly to shake up all the materials
of the question. The present leaning of my mind is to consider
the faults and dangers of abstention, greater than those of a more
decided course. Hence, in part, my great anxiety that the present
government should move. Please send this on to Granville.

Finding Mr. Gladstone immovable at Hawarden, four of
the members of the last liberal cabinet of both wings met at
Devonshire House on new year's day. All, save one, found
themselves hopeless, especially after the Hawarden revela-
tions, as to the possibility of governing Ireland by mere
repression. Lord Hartington at once communicated the
desires of the conclave for information of his views and
designs. Mr. Gladstone replied (January 2, 1886) : —

On the 17th December I communicated to you aU the opinions
I had formed on the Irish question. But on the 21st you
published in the Times a re-affirmation of opposite opinions.

On the Irish question, I have not a word to add to that letter.
I am indeed doing what little the pressure of correspondence
permits, to prepare myself by study and reflection. My object
was to facilitate study by you and others — I cannot say it was
^wholly gained. But I have done nothing, and shall do nothing,
to convert those opinions into intentions, for I have not the
material before me. I do not know whether my * postulate ' is
satisfied. ... I have taken care by my letter of the 17th that
you should know my opinions en bloc. You are quite welcome to
show it, if you think fit, to those whom you met. But Harcourt
has, I believe, seen it, and the others, if I mistake not, know the
substance. . . . There is no doubt that a very grave situation is
upon us, a little sooner or a little later. All my desire and
thought was how to render it less grave, for next to the demands
of a question far higher than all or any party interests, is my duty
to labour for the consolidation of the party. . . . Pray show this
letter, if you think fit, to those on whose behalf you write. I
propose to be available in London about 4 P.M., for any who wish
to see me.


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1885, Signals and intimations were not wholly wanting from

the Irish camp. It was known among the subalterns in that
rather impenetrable region, partly by the light of nature,
partly by the indiscretions of dubiously accredited ambas-
sadors, that Mr. Gladstone was not disposed on any terms to
meet the Irish demand by more coercion. For the liberal
party as a whole the Irish had a considerable aversion. The
violent scenes that attended the Coercion bill of 1881, the
interchange of hard words, the suspensions, the imprison-
ments — all mechanically acquiesced in by the ministerial
majority — had engendered both bitterness and contempt.
The Irishmen did not conceal the satisfaction with which
they saw the defeat of some of those liberals who had
openly gloated over their arrests and all the rest of their
humiliations. Mr. Gladstone, it is true, had laid a heavy
and chastening hand upon them. Yet, even when the
struggle had been fiercest, with the quick intuition of a
people long oppressed, they detected a note of half-sym-
pathetic passion which convinced them that he would be
their friend if he could, and would help them when he might
Mr. Parnell was not open to impressions of this order. He
had a long memory for injuries, and he had by no means
satisfied himself that the same injuries might not recur.
As soon as the general election was over, he had at once
set to work upon the result. Whatever might be right for
others, his line of tactics was plain — to ascertain from which
of the two English parties he was most likely to obtain the
response that he desired to the Irish demand, and then to
concert the procedure best fitted to place that party in
power. He was at first not sure whether Lord Salisbury
would renounce the Irish alliance after it had served the
double purpose of ousting the liberals from office, and then
reducing their numbers at the election. He seems also to
have counted upon further communications with Lord
Carnarvon, and this expectation . was made known to Mr.
Gladstone, who expressed his satisfaction at the news, though
it was also made known to him that Mr. Parnell doubted


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Lord Carnarvon's power to carry out his unquestionably CHAP,
favourable dispositions. He at the same time very naturally ' -

did his best to get some light as to Mr. Gladstone's own ^ T - 7 ^
frame of mind. If neither party would offer a solution of the
problem of Irish government, Mr. Parnell would prefer to
keep the tories in office, as they would at least work out
gradually a solution of the problems of Irish land. To all
these indirect communications Mr. Gladstone's consistent
reply was that Mr. ParnelTs immediate business was with
the government of the day* first, because only the govern-
ment could handle the matter; second, because a tory
government with the aid that it would receive from liberals,
might most certainly, safely, and quickly settle it. He
declined to go beyond the ground already publicly taken by
him, unless by way of a further public declaration. On to
this new ground he would not go, until assured that the
government had had a fair opportunity given them.

By the end of December Mr. Parnell decided that there
was not the slightest possibility of any settlement being
offered by the conservatives under the existing circum-
stances. ' Whatever chance there was/ he said, ' disappeared
when the seemingly authoritative statements of Mr. Glad-
stone's intention to deal with the question were published.'
He regarded it as quite probable that in spite of a direct
refusal from the tories, the Irish members might prefer to
pull along with them, rather than run the risk of fresh
coercion from the liberals, should the latter return to power.
'Supposing/ he argued, 'that the liberals came into office,
and that they offered a settlement of so incomplete a char-
acter that we could not accept it, or that owing to defections
they could not carry it, should we not, if any long interval
occurred before the proposal of a fresh settlement, incur con-
siderable risk of further coercion ? ' At any rate, they had
better keep the government in, rather than oust them in
order to admit Lord Hartington or Mr. Chamberlain with a
new coercion biirin their pockets.

Foreseeing these embarrassments, Mr. Gladstone wrote in
a final memorandum (December 24) of this eventful year,
'I used every effort to obtain a clear majority at the election,

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BOOK and failed. I am therefore at present a man in chains. Will
IX * / ministers bring in a measure ? If ' Aye/ I see my way. If
1885. < No ' : that I presume puts an end to all relations of con-
fidence between nationalists and tories. If that is done, I
have then upon me, as is evident, the responsibilities of
the leader of a majority. But what if neither Aye nor No can
be had — will the nationalists then continue their support
and thus relieve me from responsibility, or withdraw their
support [from the government,] and thus change essentially
my position ? Nothing but a public or published dissolution
of a relation of amity publicly sealed could be of any avail.'
So the year ended.

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{January 1886)

Historians ooolly dissect a man's thoughts as they please ; and
label them like specimens in a naturalist's cabinet. Snch a thing,
they argue, was done for mere personal aggrandizement ; such a
thing for national objects; such a thing from high religious
motives. In real life we may be sure it was not bo. — Gardiner.

Ministers meanwhile hesitated, balanced, doubted, and
wavered. Their party was in a minority, and so they had a »
fair plea for resigning and not meeting the new parliament. JErr ' 77 *
On the other hand, they had a fair plea for continuing in
office, for though they were in a minority, no other party had
a majority. Nobody knew what the Hartington whigs would
do, or what the Irish would do. There seemed to be many
chances for expert angling. Then with what policy were
they to meet the House of Commons ? They might adhere
to the conciliatory policy of the summer and autumn, keep
clear of repressive legislation, and make a bold attempt in
the direction of self-government Taking the same cour-
ageous plunge as was taken by Wellington and Peel in
1829, by Peel in the winter of 1845, by Disraeli in 1867,
they might carry the declarations made by Lord Carnarvon
on behalf of the government in July to their only practical
conclusion. But then they would have broken up their
party, as Wellington and Peel broke it up ; and Lord Salis-
bury may have asked himself whether the national emer-
gency warranted the party risk.

Kesistance then to the Irish demand being assumed,
various tactics came under review. They might begin by
asking for a vote of confidence, saying plainly that if they


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BOOK were turned out and Mr. Gladstone were put in, he would
t propose home rule. In that case a majority was not wholly
1886. impossible, for the whig wing might come over, nor was it
quite certain that the Irish would help to put the govern-
ment out. At any rate the debate would force Mr. Gladstone
into the open, and even if they did not have a majority, they
would be in a position to advise immediate dissolution on the
issue of home rule.

The only other course open to the cabinet was to turn

Online LibraryJohn MorleyThe life of William Ewart Gladstone, Volume 2 → online text (page 47 of 91)