John Morley.

The life of William Ewart Gladstone, Volume 2 online

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their backs upon the professions of the summer ; to throw
overboard the Carnarvon policy as a Cargo for which there
was no longer a market; to abandon a great experiment
after a ludicrously short trial ; and to pick up again the old
instrument of coercion, which not six months before they had
with such elaborate ostentation condemned and discarded.
This grand manoeuvre was kept carefully in the background,
until there had been time for the whole chapter of accidents
to exhaust itself, and it had become certain that no trump
cards were falling to the ministerial hand. Not until this
was quite clear, did ministers reveal their poignant uneasi-
ness about the state of Ireland.

In the middle of October (1885) Lord Randolph Churchill
visited the viceroy in Dublin, and found him, as he afterwards
said, extremely anxious and alarmed at the growing power of
the National League. Yet the viceroy was not so anxious and
alarmed as to prevent Lord Randolph from saying at Bir-
mingham a month after, on November 20, that up to the
present time their decision to preserve order by the same
laws as in England had been abundantly justified, and that
on the whole crime and outrage had greatly diminished.
This was curious, and shows how tortuous was the crisis.
Only a fortnight later the cabinet met (December 2), and
heard of the extraordinary development and unlimited re-
sources of the league. All the rest of the month of Decem-
ber, — so the public were by and by informed, — the condition
of Ireland was the subject of the most anxious consideration.
With great deliberation, a decision was at length reached.
It was that ordinary law had broken down, and that excep-
tional means of repression were indispensable. Then a

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serious and embarrassing incident occurred. Lord Car-
narvon 'threw up the government of Ireland,' and was,
followed by Sir William Hart Dyke, the chief secretary. 1 A Mr - 77 -
measure of coercion was prepared, its provisions all drawn
in statutory form, but who was to warrant the necessity for
it to parliament ? 2

Though the viceroy's retirement was not publicly known
until the middle of January, yet so early as December 17 the
prime minister had applied to Mr. Smith, then secretary of
state for war, to undertake the duties of Irish government. 8
This was one of the sacrifices that no man of public spirit can
ever refuse, and Mr. Smith, who had plenty of public spirit,
became Irish secretary. Still when parliament assembled
more than a month after Lord Salisbury's letter to his new
chief secretary, no policy was announced. Even on the
second night of the session Mr. Smith answered questions
for the war office. The parliamentary mystification was
complete. Who, where, and what was the Irish government ?

The parliamentary session was rapidly approaching, and
Mr. Gladstone had good information of the various quarters
whence the wind was blowing. Rumours reached him
(January 9) from the purlieus of Parliament Street, that
general words of confidence in the government would be
found in the Queen's Speech. Next he was told of the
report that an amendment would be moved by the ultras of
law and order, — the same who had mutinied on the Maam-
trasna debate, — censuring ministers for having failed to
uphold the authority of the Queen. The same corre-
spondent (January 15), who was well able to make his words
'good, wrote to Mr. Gladstone that even though home
rule might perhaps not be in a parliamentary sense before
the House, it was in a most distinct manner before the
country, and no political party could avoid expressing an
opinion upon it. On the same day another colleague of
hardly less importance drew attention to an article in a

1 Correspondence between Lord Churchill at Padding ton, Feb. 13,

Salisbury and Lord Carnarvon, Times, 1886.

Jan. 16, 1886. 3 Maxwell's Life of W. H. Smith,

* Hans. 302, pp. 1929-1993. March ii. p. 163.
4, 1886. See also Lord Randolph

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BOOK journal supposed to be inspired by Lord Randolph, to the
IX - , ftffop.h that conciliation in Ireland had totally failed, that
1885. Jjox^ Carnarvon had retired because that policy was to be
reversed and he was not the man for the rival policy of
vigour, and finally, that the new policy would probably be
announced in the Queen's Speech; in no circumstances
would it be possible to avoid a general action on the


The current of domestic life at Hawarden, in the midst of all
these perplexities, flowed in its usual ordered channels. The
engagement of his second daughter stirred Mr. Gladstone's
deepest interest He practises occasional woodcraft with
his sons, though* ending his seventy-sixth year. He spends
a morning in reviewing his private money affairs, the first
time for three years. He never misses church. He corrects
the proofs of an article on Huxley ; carries on tolerably pro-
fuse correspondence, coming to very little ; he works among
his books, and arranges his papers; reads Beaconsfield's
Home Letters, Lord Stanhope's Pitt, Macaulay's Warren
Hastings, which he counts the most brilliant of all that
illustrious man's performances ; Maine on Popular Gfovem-
ment ; King Solomon's Mines ; something of Tolstoy; Dicey's
Law of the Constitution, where a chapter on semi-sovereign
assemblies made a deep impression on him in regard to the
business that now absorbed his mind. Above all, he nearly
every day reads Burke : — ' December 18. — Read Burke ; what
a magazine of wisdom on Ireland and America. January 9.
— Made many extracts from Burke — sometimes almost
divine. 9 l We may easily imagine how the heat from that
profound and glowing furnace still further inflamed strong
purposes and exalted resolution in Mr. Gladstone. The Duke
of Argyll wrote to say that he was sorry to hear of the study
of Burke: 'Your perfervidvm ingenium Scoti does not
need being touched with a live coal from that Irish altar.
Of course your reference to Burke indicates a tendency to

1 If this seems hyperbole, let the reading again moat of Borke'B works,
reader remember an entry in Mao- Admirable ! The greatest man since
aulay's diary : — * I have now finished Milton.' Trevelyan's Life, ii. p. 377*

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compare our position as regards Ireland to the position of CHAP.
George hi. towards the colonies. I deny that there is any <
parallelism or even analogy.' It was during these months
that he renewed his friendly intercourse with Cardinal
Manning ; which had been suspended since the controversy
upon the Vatican pamphlets. In November Mr. Gladstone
sent Manning his article on the ' Dawn of Creation.' The
cardinal thanked him for the paper — 'still more for your
words, which revive the memories of old days. Fifty-five
years are a long reach of life in which to remember each other.
We have twice been parted, but as the path declines, as you
say, it narrows, and I am glad that we are again nearing each
other as we near our end. ... If we cannot unite in the
realm where " the morning stars sang together " we should be
indeed afar oft' Much correspondence followed on the
articles against Huxley. Then his birthday came : —

Postal deliveries and other arrivals were seven hundred.
Immeasurable kindness almost overwhelmed us. There was also
the heavy and incessant weight of the Irish question, which
offers daily phases more or less new. It was a day for intense
thankfulness, but, alas, not for recollection and detachment.
When will that day come ? Until then, why string together the
commonplaces and generalities of great things, really unfelt ?
. I am certain' there is one keen and deep desire to be extri-
cated from the life of contention in which a chain of incidents has
for the last four years detained me against all my will. Then,
indeed, I should reach an eminence from which I could look
before and after. But I know truly that I am not worthy of this
liberty with which Christ makes free his elect In his own good
time, something, I trust, will for me too be mercifully devised.


At the end of this long travail, which anybody else would
have found all the sorer for the isolation and quietude that
it was ever Mr. Gladstone's fashion in moments of emergency
to seek, he reached London on January 11th; two days
later he took the oath in the new parliament, whose life was
destined to be so short ; and then he found himself on the

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BOOK edge of the whirlpool. Three days before formalities were
' _/ over, and the House assembled for the despatch of business,
he received a communication that much perturbed him, and
shed an ominous light on the prospect of liberal unity. This
communication he described to Lord Granville : —

21 Carlton House Terrace, Jan. 18, 1886. — Hartington writes to
me* a letter indicating the possibility that on Thursday, while I
announce with reasons a policy of silence and reserve, he may feel
it his duty to declare his determination * to maintain the legisla-
tive union/ that is to proclaim a policy (so I understand the
phrase) of absolute resistance without examination to the demand
made by Ireland through five-sixths of her members. This is to
play the tory game with a vengeance. They are now, most
rashly not to say more, working the Irish question to split the
liberal party.

It seems to me that if a gratuitous declaration of this kind is
made, it must produce an explosion ; and that in a week's time
Hartington will have to consider whether he will lead the liberal
party himself, or leave it to chaos. He will make my position
impossible. When, in conformity with the wishes expressed to
me, I changed my plans and became a candidate at the general
election, my motives were two. The first, a hope that I might be
able to contribute towards some pacific settlement of the Irish
question. The second, a desire to prevent ttie splitting of the
party, of which there appeared to be an immediate danger. The
second object has thus far been attained. But it may at any
moment be lost, and the most disastrous mode of losing it per-
haps would be that now brought into view. It would be cer-
tainly opposed to my convictions and determination, to attempt
to lead anything like a home rule opposition, and to make this
subject — the strife of nations — the dividing line between parties.
This being so, I do not see how I could as leader survive a gratui-
tous declaration of opposition to me such as Hartington appears
to meditate. If he still meditates it, ought not die party to be
previously informed ?

Pray, consider whether you can bring this subject before him,
less invidiously than I. I have explained to you and I believe to
him, and I believe you approve, my general idea, that we ought

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not to join issue with the government on what is called home
rule (which indeed the social state of Ireland may effectually <
thrust aside for the time) ; and that still less ought we to, join iET * 77,
issue among ourselves, if we have a choice, unless and until we
are called upon to consider whether or not to take the govern-
ment. I for one will have nothing to do with ruining the party
if I can avoid it.

This letter discloses with precision the critical state of
facts on the eve of action being taken. Issue was not
directly joined with ministers on home rule; no choice was
found to exist as to taking the government; and this
brought deep and long-standing diversities among the
liberal leaders to the issue that Mr. Gladstone had strenu-
ously laboured to avoid from the beginning of 1885 to
the end.


The Irish paragraphs in the speech from the throne
(January 21, 1886) were abstract, hypothetical, and vague.
The sovereign was made to say that during the past year
there had been no marked increase of serious crime, but there
was in many places a concerted resistance to the enforcement
of legal obligations, and the practice of intimidation continued
to exist. ' If/ the speech went on, ' as my information leads
me to apprehend, the existing provisions of the law should
prove to be inadequate to cope with these growing evils, I
look with confidence to your willingness to invest my govern-
ment with all necessary powers.' There was also an abstract
paragraph about the legislative union between the two

In a fragment composed in the autumn of 1897, Mr. Glad-
stone has described the anxiety with which he watched the
course of proceedings on the Address : —

I had no means of forming an estimate how far the bulk of the
liberal party could be relied on to support a measure of home
rule, which should constitute an Irish parliament subject to the
supremacy of the parliament at Westminster. I was not sanguine
on this head. Even in the month of December, when rumours of
my intentions were afloat, I found how little I could reckon on a

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general support. Under the circumstances I certainly took upon
myself a grave responsibility. I attached value to the acts and
1886. language of Lord Carnarvon, and the other favourable manifesta-
tions. Subsequently we had but too much evidence of a deliberate
intention to deceive the Irish, with a view to their support at the
election. But in the actual circumstances I thought it my duty
to encourage the government of Lord Salisbury to settle the
Irish question, so far as I could do this by promises of my personal
support. Hence my communication with Mr. Balfour, which has
long been in the hands of the public.

It has been unreasonably imputed to me, that the proposal of
home rule was a bid for the Irish vote. But my desire for the
adjustment of the question by the tories is surely a conclusive
answer. The fact is that I could not rely upon the collective sup-
port of the liberals ; but I could and did rely upon the support of
so many of them as would make the success of the measure cer-
tain, in the event of its being proposed by the tory administra-
tion. It would have resembled in substance the liberal support
given to Roman catholic emancipation in 1829, and the repeal
of the corn laws in 1846. Before the meeting of parliament, I
had to encounter uncomfortable symptoms among my principal
friends, of which I think was the organ.

I was, therefore, by no means eager for the dismissal of the tory
government, though it counted but 250 supporters out of 670, as
long as there were hopes of its taking up the question, or at all
events doing nothing to aggravate the situation. .

When we came to the debate on the Address I had to face a
night of extreme anxiety. The speech from the throne referred
in a menacing way to Irish disturbances, and contained a distinct
declaration in support of the legislative union. On referring to
the clerks at the table to learn in what terms the Address in reply
to the speech was couched, I found it was a ' thanking ' address,
which did not commit the. House to an opinion. What I dreaded
was lest some one should have gone back to the precedent of
1833, when the Address in reply to the speech was virtually made
the vehicle of a solemn declaration in favour of the Act of Union. 1

1 In 1833 the King's Speech re- sent time, and expressed confidence
presented the state of Ireland in that parliament would entrust the
words that might be used at the pre- King with * such additional powers

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Home role, rightly understood, altered indeed the terms of the
Act of Union, but adhered to its principle which was the supremacy
of the imperial parliament. Still [it] was pretty certain that any
declaration of a substantive character, at the epoch we had now •
reached, would in its moral effect shut the doors of the existing
parliament against home rule.

In a speech of pronounced clearness, Mr. Arthur Elliot endeav-
oured, to obtain a movement in this direction. I thought it would
be morally fatal if this tone were extensively adopted on the liberal
side ; so I determined on an effort to secure reserve for the time,
that our freedom might not be compromised. I, therefore, ven-
tured upon describing myself as an ' old parliamentary hand,' and
in that capacity strongly advised the party to keep its own
counsel, and await for a little the development of events. Happily
this counsel was taken ; had it been otherwise, the early formation
of a government favourable to home rule would in all likelihood
have become an impossibility. For although our Home Rule bill
was eventually supported by ; more than 300 members, I doubt
whether, if the question had been prematurely raised on the night
of the Address, as many as 200 would have been disposed to act in
that sense.

In the debate on the Address the draft Coercion bill
reposing in the secret box was not mentioned. Sir Michael
Hicks Beach, the leader of the House, described the mischiefs
then afoot, and went on to say that whether they could be
dealt with by ordinary law, or would require exceptional
powers, were questions that would receive the new chief
secretary's immediate attention. 1 Parliament was told that

as may be necessary for punishing the O'Connell denounced as a * bloody

disturbers of the publio peace and for and brutal address/ and he moved as

preserving and strengthening the an amendment that the House do

legislative union between the two resolve itself into a committee of the

countries, which with your support whole House to consider of an humble

and under the blessing of divine Pro- address to his Majesty. Feb. 8.

vidence I am determined to maintain Amendment negatived, Ayes being

by all the means in my power.' 428, Noes 40. — Memo, by Sir T. £.

The Address in answer assured his May for Mr. Gladstone, Jan. 18,

Majesty that his confidence should 1886. O'Connell, that is to say, did

not be disappointed, and that ' we not move an amendment in favour of

shall be ready to entrust to H.M. such repeal, but proposed the considers -

additional measures, etc., for preserv- tion of the Address in committee of

ing and strengthening the legislative the whole House,

union which we have determined, * 1 Hans. 302, p. 128.
etc This was the address that Mr.

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the minister had actually gone to Ireland to make anxious
inquiry into these questions. Mr. Smith arrived in Dublin
at six o'clock on the morning of January 24, and he quitted
it at six o'clock on the evening of the 26th. He was sworn
in at the Castle in the forenoon of that day. 1 His views
must have reached the cabinet in London not later than the
morning of the 26th. Not often can conclusions on such
a subject have been ripened with such electrifying precocity.
' I intend to reserve my own freedom of action/ Mr. Glad-
stone said ; ' there are many who have taken their seats for
the first time upon these benches, and I may avail myself
of the privilege of old age to offer a recommendation. I
would tell them of my own intention to keep my counsel
and reserve my own freedom, until I see the moment and
the occasion when there may be a prospect of public benefit
in endeavouring to make a movement forward, and I will
venture to recommend them, as an old parliamentary hand,
to do the same/ 2 Something in this turn of phrase kindled
lively irritation, and it drew bitter reproaches from more
than one of the younger whigs. The angriest of these
remonstrances was listened to from beginning to end with-
out a solitary cheer from the liberal benches. The great
bulk of the party took their leader's advice. Of course the
reserve of his speech was as significant of Irish concession,
as the most open declaration would have been. Yet there
was no rebellion. This was felt by ministers to be a decisive
omen of the general support likely to be given to Mr.
Gladstone's supposed policy by his own party. Mr. Parnell
offered some complimentary remarks on the language of
Mr. Gladstone, but he made no move in the direction of
an amendment. The public outside looked on with
stupefaction. For two or three days all seemed to be
in suspense. But the two ministerial leaders in the
Commons knew how to read the signs. What Sir Michael

1 Lord Carnarvon left Ireland on land), nntil Lord Aberdeen was sworn

Jan. 28, and Lord Justices were then in upon Feb. 10, 1886. He must,

appointed. But the lawyers seem to accordingly, have signed the minute

hold that there cannot be Lord Jus- appointing Mr. Smith chief secretary,

tices without a viceroy, and Lord though of course Mr. Smith had sons

Carnarvon was therefore technically over to reverse the Carnarvon policy,

viceroy out of the kingdom (of Ire- a Han$. 302, p. 112.

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Hicks Beach and Lord Randolph foresaw, for one thing was
an understanding between Mr. Gladstone and the Irishmen, <
and for another, they foresaw the acquiescence of the mass of * Et * 77 *
the liberals. This twofold discovery cleared the ground for
a decision. After the second night's debate ministers saw
that the only chance now was to propose coercion. Then it
was that the ephemeral chief secretary had started on his
voyage for the discovery of something that had already been


On the afternoon of the 26th, the leader of the House
gave notice that two days later the new Irish secretary
would ask leave to introduce a bill dealing with the National
League, with intimidation, and with the protection of life,
property, and public order. This would be followed by a bill
dealing with land, pursuing in a more extensive sense the
policy of the Ashbourne Act of the year before. The great
issue was thus at last brought suddenly and nakedly into
view. When the Irish secretary reached Euston Square
on the morning of the 27 th, he found that his government
was out.

The crucial announcement of the 26 th of January com-
pelled a prompt determination, and Mr. Gladstone did not
shrink. A protest against a return to coercion as the answer
of the British parliament to the extraordinary demonstration
from Ireland, carried with it the ^responsibility of office, and
this responsibility Mr. Gladstone had resolved to undertake.

The determining event of these transactions, — he says in the
fragment already cited, — was the declaration of the government
that they would propose coercion for Ireland. This declaration
put an end to all the hopes and expectations associated with the
mission of Lord Carnarvon. Not perhaps in mere logic, but
practically, it was now plain that Ireland had no hope from the
tones. This being so, my rule of action was changed at once, and
I determined on taking any and every legitimate opportunity to
remove the existing government from office Immediately on
making up my mind about the rejection of the government, I went
to call upon Sir William Harcourt and informed him as to my

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BOOK intentions and the grounds of them. He said ' What 1 Are you
t ' ' prepared to go forward without either Harrington or Chamberlain V

1886. j answered, ' Yes/ I believe it was in my mind to say, if I did
not actually say it, that I was prepared to go forward without
anybody. That is to say without any known and positive assur-
ance of support. This was one of the great imperial occasions
which call for such resolutions.

An amendment stood upon the notice-paper in the name
of Mr. Collings, regretting the omission from the speech of
measures for benefiting the rural labourer; and on this
motion an immediate engagement was fought. Time was
important. An exasperating debate on coercion with obstruc-
tion, disorder, suspensions, would have been a damning pro-
logue to any policy of accommodation. The true significance
of the motion was not concealed. On the agrarian aspect
of it, the only important feature was the adhesion of Mr.
Gladstone, now first formally declared, to the policy of
Mr. Chamberlain. The author of the agrarian policy
fought out once more on the floor of the House against
Lord Hartington and Mr. Goschen the battle of the plat-
form. It was left for Sir Michael Hicks Beach to remind the
House that, whatever the honest mover might mean, the
rural labourer had very little to do with the matter, and he
implored the gentlemen in front of him to think twice and

Online LibraryJohn MorleyThe life of William Ewart Gladstone, Volume 2 → online text (page 48 of 91)