John Morley.

The life of William Ewart Gladstone, Volume 2 online

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thrice before they committed the future of this country to
the gravest dangers that ever awaited it.

The debate was not prolonged. The discussion opened
shortly before dinner, and by one o'clock the division was
taken. The government found itself in a minority of 79.
The majority numbered 331, composed of 257 liberals and
74 Irish nationalists. The ministerialist minority was 252,
made up of 234 tories and 18 liberals. Besides the fact that
Lord Hartington, Mr. Goschen, and Sir Henry James voted
with ministers, there was a still more ominous circumstance.
No fewer than 76 liberals were absent, including among
them the imposing personality of Mr. Bright In a memo-
randum written for submission to the Queen a few days
later, Mr. Gladstone said, ' I must express my personal con-

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viction that had the late ministers remained in office and
proceeded with their proposed plan of repression, and even <
had that plan received my support, it would have ended in
a disastrous parliamentary failure/ l

The next day (Jan. 28) ministers of course determined to
resign. A liberal member of parliament was overtaken by
Lord Randolph on the parade ground, walking away from the
cabinet ' You look a little pensive/ said the liberal ' Yes ;
I was thinking. I have plenty to think of. Well, we are
out, and you are in/ ' I suppose so/ the liberal replied, ' we
are in for six months ; we dissolve; you are in for six years/
' Not at all sure/ said Lord Randolph ; ' let me tell you one
thing most solemnly and most surely ; the conservative party
are not going to be made the instrument of the Irish for
turning out Mr. Gladstone, if he refuses repeal/ ' Nobody/
observed the sententious liberal, 'should so often as the
politician say the prayer not to be led into temptation.
Remember your doings last summer/

1 Mr. Gladstone was often taunted
with having got in upon the question
of allotments, and then throwing
the agricultural labourer overboard.
4 The proposition,' he said, 'is
not only untrue but ridiculous.
If true, it would prove that Lord
Grey in 1830 came in upon the

pension list, and Lord Derby in 1852
on the militia. . . . For myself, I
may say personally that I made my
public declaration on behalf of allot-
ments in 1832, when Mr. Jesse Coll-
ings was just born. , — To Mr. C. A.
Fife, May 6, 1890


Mr. 77.



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Is reason all government without the consent of the governed is
the very definition of slavery ; but in fact eleven men well armed
will certainly subdue one single man in his shirt. . . . Those who
have used to cramp liberty have gone so far as to resent even
the liberty of complaining; although a man upon the rack was
never known to be refused the liberty of roaring as loud as he
thought fit — Jonathan Swrrr.

BOOK The tory government was defeated in the sitting of Tues-
IX - , day (Jan. 26). On Friday, ' at a quarter after midnight, in
came Sir H. Ponsonby, with verbal commission from her
Majesty, which I at once accepted.' l The whole of Saturday
was spent in consultations with colleagues. On Sunday,
Mr. Gladstone records, ' except church, my day from one
to eight was given to business. I got only fragmentary read-
ing of the life of the admirable Mr. Suckling and other
books. At night came a painful and harassing succession of
letters, and my sleep for once gave way ; yet for the soul it was
profitable, driving me to the hope that the strength of God
might be made manifest in my weakness/ On Monday,
Feb. 1, he went to attend the Queen. ' Off at 9.10 to Osborne.
Two audiences : an hour and half in all Everything good
in the main points. Large discourse upon Ireland in par-
ticular. Returned at 7£. I kissed hands and am thereby
prime minister for the third time. But, as I trust, for
a brief time only. Slept well, D.G.'

The first question was, how many of his colleagues in the
liberal cabinet that went out of office six months before,
would now embark with him in the voyage into stormy and
unexplored seas. I should suppose that no such difficulties

1 Diary.

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had eyer confronted the attempt at making a cabinet since CHAP.
Canning's in 1827. * V>

Mr. Gladstone begins the fragment from which I have iET ' 77,
already quoted with a sentence or two of retrospect, and then
proceeds : —

In 1885 (I think) Chamberlain had proposed a plan accepted by
Parnell (and supported by me) which, without establishing in
Ireland a national parliament, made very considerable advances
towards self-government. It was rejected by a small majority of
the cabinet — Granville said at the time he would rather take
home rule. Spencer thought it would introduce confusion into
executive duties.

On the present occasion a full half of the former ministers
declined to march with me. Spencer and Granville were my main
supports. Chamberlain and Trevelyan went with me, their basis
being that we were to seek for some method of dealing with the
Irish case other than coercion. What Chamberlain's motive was I
do not clearly understand. It was stated that he coveted the Irish
secretaryship. ... To have given him the office would at that time
have been held to be a declaration of war against the Irish party.

Selborne nibbled at the offer, but I felt that it would not work,
and did not use great efforts to bring him in. 1 . . .

When I had accepted the commission, PonSonby brought me a
message from the Queen that she hoped there would not be any
Separation in the cabinet. The word had not at that time
acquired the offensive meaning in which it has since been stereo-
typed by the so-called unionists ; and it was easy to frame a reply
in general but strong words. I am bound to say that at Osborne
in the course of a long conversation, the Queen was frank and free,
and showed none of the ' armed neutrality,' which as far as I know
has been the best definition of her attitude in the more recent
years towards a liberal minister. Upon the whole, when I look
back upon 1886, and consider the inveterate sentiment of hosti-
lity, flavoured with contempt towards Ireland, which has from time

1 * When the matter was finally ad- Bright ; and for — Granville, Spencer,

justed by Chamberlain's retirement, Kimberley, Ripon, Rosebery, Har-

we had against us — Derby North- court, Childers, Lefevre, Dilke (un-

brook, Carungford, Selborne, Dodson, available).' Mr. Goschen was not in

Chamberlain, Hartington, Trevelyan, the cabinet of 1880.

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BOOK immemorial formed the basis of English tradition, I am much
more disposed to be thankful for what we then and afterwards

1886. accomplished, than to murmur or to wonder at what we did not.

What Mr. Gladstone called the basis of his new govern-
ment was set out in a short memorandum, which he read
to each of those whom he hoped to include in his cabinet : —
' I propose to examine whether it is or is not practicable
to comply with the desire widely prevalent in Ireland, and
testified by the return of eighty-five out of one hundred
and three representatives, for the establishment by statute
of a legislative body to sit in Dublin, and to deal with
Irish as distinguished from imperial affairs; in such a
manner as would be just to each of the three kingdoms,
equitable with reference to every class of the people of
Ireland, conducive to the social order and harmony of that
country, and calculated to support and consolidate the unity
of the empire on the continued basis of imperial authority
and mutual attachment.'

No definite plan was propounded or foreshadowed, but only
the proposition that it was a duty to seek a plan. The
cynical version was that a cabinet was got together on the
chance of being able to agree. To Lord Hartington, Mr.
Gladstone applied as soon as he received the Queen's com-
mission. The invitation was declined on reasoned grounds
(January 30). Examination and inquiry, said Lord Harting-
ton, must mean a proposal. If no proposal followed inquiry,
the reaction of Irish disappointment would be severe, as it
would be natural. His adherence, moreover, would be of
little value. He had already, he observed, in the govern-
ment of 1880 made concessions on other subjects that might
be thought to have shaken public confidence in him; he
could go no further without destroying that confidence
altogether. However that might be, he could not depart
from the traditions of British statesmen, and he was opposed
to a separate Irish legislature. At the same time he con-
cluded, in a sentence afterwards pressed by Mr. Gladstone on
the notice of the Queen : — 'I am fully convinced that the alter-
native policy of governing Ireland without large concessions

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to the national sentiment, presents difficulties of a tremen- CHAP,
dous character, which in my opinion could now only be*

faced by the support of a nation united by the conscious- ^ T - 77 *
ness that the fullest opportunity had been given for the pro-
duction and consideration of a conciliatory policy.'

A few days later (February 5) Lord Harrington wrote : —
<I have been told that I have been represented as having
been in general agreement with you on your Irish policy,
and having been prevented joining your government solely
by the declarations which I made to my constituents; and
as not intending to oppose the government even on home
rule. On looking over my letter I think that the general
intention is sufficiently clear, but there is part of one sentence
which, taken by itself, might be understood as committing me
beyond what I intended or wished. The words I refer to are
those in which I say that it may be possible for me as a
private member, to prevent obstacles being placed in the way
of a fair trial being given to the policy of the new govern-
ment But I think that the commencement of the sentence
in which these words occur sufficiently reserves my liberty,
and that the whole letter shows that what I desire is that the
somewhat undefined declarations which have hitherto been
made should now assume a practical shape.' 1

The decision was persistently regarded j>y Mr. Gladstone as
an important event in English political history. With a small
number of distinguished individual exceptions, it marked
the withdrawal from the liberal party of the aristocratic
elejnent. Up to a very recent date this had been its govern-
ing element. Until 1868, thp whig nobles and their con-
nections held the reins and shaped the policy. After the
accession of a leader from outside of the caste in 1868, when
Mr. Gladstone for the first time became prime minister, they
continued to hold more than their share of the offices, but

1 A few weeks later, Lord Harting- his address to the electors of Mid-
ton said on the point of Mr. Glad- loth ian and in his Midlothian speeches;
stone's consistency, — ' When I look when I consider aU these things, I
back to the declarations that Mr. feel that I have not, and that no one
Gladstone made in parliament, which has, any right to complain of the
have not been infrequent ; when I declaration that Mr. Glade too e has
look back to the increased definite- recently made.' — Speech atthe Eighty
ness given to these declarations in Club, March 6, 1886.

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in cabinet they sank to the position of what is called a
moderating force. After 1880 it became every day more
1886. clear that even this modest function was slipping away.
Lord Hartington found that the moderating force could
no longer moderate. If he went on, he must make up
his mind to go under the Caudine forks once a week.
The significant reference, among his reasons for not joining
the new ministry, to the concessions that he had made in
the last government for the sake of party unity, and to his
feeling that any further moves of the same kind for the same
purpose would destroy all public confidence in him, shows
just as the circumstances of the election had shown, and as
the recent debate on the Collings amendment had shown,
how small were the chances, quite apart from Irish policy,
of uniting whig and radical wings in any durable liberal

Mr. Goschen, who had been a valuable member of the
great ministry of 1868, was invited to call, but without
hopes that he would rally to a cause so startling ; the inter-
view, while courteous and pleasant, was over in a very few
minutes. Lord Derby, a man of still more cautious type,
and a rather recent addition to the officers of the liberal
staff, declined, not without good nature. Lord Northbrook
had no faith in a new Irish policy, and his confidence in his
late leader had been shaken by Egypt. Most lamented of
all the abstentions was the honoured and trusted name of
Mr. Bright.

Mr. Trevelyan agreed to join, in the entirely defensible
hope that they 'would knock the measure about in the
cabinet, as cabinets do/ and mould it into accord with what
had until now been the opinion of most of its members. 1
Mr. Chamberlain, who was destined to play so singular
and versatile a part in the eventful years to come, entered
the cabinet with reluctance and misgiving. The Admiralty
was first proposed to him and was declined, partly on the
ground that the chief of the fighting and spending depart-
ments was not the post for one who had just given to dom-
estic reforms the paramount place in his stirring addresses
1 Hans. 304, p. 1106.

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to the cotmtry. Mr. Chamberlain, we may be sure, was not
much concerned about the particular office. Whatever its <
place in the hierarchy, he knew that he could trust himself ^ T * 77,
to make it as important as he pleased, and that his weight
in the cabinet and the House would not depend upon the
accident of a department. Nobody's position was so difficult.
He was well aware how serious a thing it would be for his
prospects, if he were to join a confederacy of his arch
enemies, the whigs, against Mr. Gladstone, the commanding
idol of his friends, the radicals. If, on the other hand, by
refusing to enter the government he should either prevent
its formation or should cause its speedy overthrow, he would
be left planted with a comparatively ineffective group of his
own, and he would incur the deep resentment of the bulk of
those with whom he had hitherto been accustomed to act.

All these were legitimate considerations in the mind of a
man with the instinct of party management. In the end he
joined his former chie£ He made no concealment of his
position. He warned the prime minister that he did not
■ believe it to be possible to reconcile conditions as to the
security of the empire and the supremacy of parliament,
with the establishment of a legislative body in Dublin. He
declared his own preference for an attempt to come to terms
with the Irish members on the basis of a more limited scheme
of local government, coupled with proposals about land and
about education. At the same time, as the minister had
been good enough to leave him unlimited liberty of judg-
ment and rejection, he was ready to give unprejudiced
examination to more extensive proposals. 1 Such was Mr.
Chamberlain's excuse for joining. It is hardly so intelligible
as Lord Hartington's reasons for not joining. For the new
government could only subsist by Irish support. That
support notoriously depended on the concession of more
than a limited scheme of local government. The admini-
stration would have been overthrown in a week, and to form
a cabinet on such a basis as was here proposed would be the
idlest experiment that ever was tried.

The appointment of the writer of these pages to be Irish

1 January 30, 1886. Hans. 304, p. ] 185.

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book secretary was at once generally regarded as decisive of Mr.
_, Gladstone's ultimate intention, for during the election and

1886 - afterwards I had spoken strongly in favour of a colonial type
of government for Ireland. It was rightly pressed upon Mr.
Gladstone by at least one of his most experienced advisers,
that such an appointment to this particular office would
be construed as a declaration in favour of an Irish parlia-
ment, without any further examination at all. 1 And so, in
fact, it was generally construed.

Nobody was more active in aiding the formation of the
new ministry than Sir William Harcourt, in whose powerful
composition loyalty to party and conviction of the value of
party have ever been indestructible instincts. ' I must not
let the week absolutely close/ Mr. Gladstone wrote to him
from Mentmore (February 6), ' without emphatically thank-
ing you for the indefatigable and effective help which you
have rendered to me during its course, in the diffioult work
now nearly accomplished/

At the close of the operation, he writes from Downing
Street to his son Henry, then in India : —

February 12, 1886. You see the old date has reappeared at the
head of my letter. The work last week was extremely hard from
the mixture of political discussions on the Irish question, by way
of preliminary condition, with the ordinary distribution of offices
which while it lasts is of itself difficult enough.

Upon the whole I am well satisfied with its composition. It is

1 As for the story of my being con- vantage of any communication what-

oerned in Mr. Gladstone's conver- ever with Mr. Gladstone upon Irish

sion to home rule, it is, of course, subjects for some years before, I had

Euro moonshine. I only glance at it stiU pointed out to my constituents

ecause in politics people are ready at Newcastle in the previous Novem-

to believe anything. At the general ber, that there was nothing in Mr.

election of 1880, I had declined to Gladstone's electoral manifesto to

support home rule. In the press, prevent him from proposing a colonial

however, I had strenuously opposed plan for Ireland, and! had expressed

the Forster Coercion bill of the my own conviction that this was the

following winter, as involving a right direction in which to look. A

radical misapprehension of the nature few days before the fall of the tory

and magnitude of the case. In government, I had advocated the

the course of that controversy, argu- exclusion of • Irish members from

ments pressed themselves forward Westminster, and the production of

which led much further than mere measures dealing with the land. —

resistance to the policy of coer- Speech at Chelmsford, January 7,

cion. Without having had the ad- 18S6.

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not a bit more radical than the government of last year ; perhaps CHAP.

a little less. And we have got some good young hands, which v /

please me very much. Yet short as the Salisbury government has **'

been, it would not at all surprise me if this were to be shorter still,
such are the difficulties that bristle round the Irish question. But
the great thing is to be right; and as far as matters have yet
advanced, I see no reason to be apprehensive in this capital respect.
I have framed a plan for the land and for the finance of what must
be a very large transaction. It is necessary to see our way a little
on these at the outset, for, unless these portions of anything we
attempt are sound anjl well constructed, we cannot hope to succeed,
On the other hand, if we fail, as I believe the late ministers would
have failed even to pass their plan of repressive legislation, the
consequences will be deplorable in every way. There seems to be
no doubt that some, and notably Lord R. Churchill, fully reckoned
on my failing to form a government. 1


The work pressed, and time was terribly short. The new
ministers had barely gone through their re-elections before
the opposition began to harry them for their policy, and
went so far, before the government was five weeks old, as
to make the extreme motion for refusing supply. Even
if the opposition had been in more modest humour, no
considerable delay could be defended. Social order in
Ireland was in a profoundly unsatisfactory phase. Th^t

1 The cabinet was finally composed as follows

Mr. Gladstone,
Lord Herschell,
Lord Spencer, .
Sir W. Harcourt,
Mr. Childers, .
Lord Rosebery,
Lord Granville,
Lord Kimberley,
Mr. Campbell- Bannerman
Lord Ripon,
Mr. Chamberlain,
Mr. Morley,
Mr. Trevelyan,
Mr. Mundella,
The Lord chancellor, Mr. C.

Firtt lord of the treasury.
Lord chancellor.
President of council.
Chancellor of exchequer.
Home secretary.
Foreign ,,
Colonial „
Indian „

Local government.
Irish secretary.
Scotch secretary.
Board of trade.
Ban- of March, Mr. Stansfeld came in as

nerman, Mr. Mundella, and myself, head of the Local government board,
now sat in cabinet for the first time, and we sat with the ominous number
After the two resignations at the end of thirteen at table.

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fact was the starting-point of the reversal of policy which
the government had come into existence to carry out You
canmot announce a grand revolution, and then beg the
world to wait. The very reason that justified the policy
commanded expedition. Anxiety and excitement were too
intense out of doors for anything but a speedy date, and
it was quite certain that if the new plan were not at once
propounded, no other public business would have much

The new administration did not meet parliament until
after the middle of February, and the two Irish bills, in
which their policy was contained, were ready by the end of
the first week of April Considering the enormous breadth
and intricacy of the subjects, the pressure of parliamentary
business all the time, the exigencies of administrative work
in the case of at least one of the ministers principally con-
cerned, and the distracting atmosphere of party perturbation
and disquiet that daily and hourly harassed the work, the
despatch of such a task within such limits of time was at
least not discreditable to the industry and concentration of
those who achieved it. I leave it still open to the hostile
critic to say, as Moli&re's Alceste says of the sonnet composed
in a quarter of an hour, that time has nothing to do with the

All through March Mr. Gladstone laboured in what he
called 'stiff conclaves' about finance and land, attended
drawing rooms, and 'observed the variations of H.M/s
aceueils'; had an audience of the Queen, 'very gracious,
but avoided serious subjects'; was laid up with cold, and
the weather made Sir Andrew Clark strict; then rose up
to fresh grapples with finance and land and untoward
colleagues, and *U the ' inexorable demands of my political
vocation/ His patience and self-control were as marvellous
as his tireless industry. Sorely tried by something or
another at a cabinet, he enters, — 'Angry with myself for
not bearing it better. I ought to have been thankful for
it all the time/ On a similar occasion, a junior colleague
showed himself less thankful than he should have been for
purposeless antagonism. ' Think of it as discipline/ said Mr.

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Gladstone. ' But why,' said the unregenerate junior, ' should
we grudge the blessings of discipline to some other people ? '

Mr. Gladstone was often blamed even by Laodiceans
among his supporters, not wise but foolish after the event,
because he did not proceed by way of resolution, instead of by
bill. Resolutions, it was argued, would have smoothed tlie
way. General propositions would have found readier access
to men's minds. Having accepted the general proposition,
people would have found it harder to resist the particular
application. Devices that startled in the precision of a
clause, would in the vagueness of a broad and abstract
principle have soothed and persuaded. Mr. Gladstone was
perfectly alive to all this, but his answer to it was plain.
Those who eventually threw out the bill would insist on
unmasking the resolution. They would have exhausted all
the stereotyped vituperation of abstract motions. They
would have ridiculed any general proposition as mere plati-
tude, and pertinaciously clamoured for working details.
What would the resolution have affirmed ? The expediency
of setting up a legislative authority in Ireland to deal with
exclusively Irish affairs. But such a resolution would

Online LibraryJohn MorleyThe life of William Ewart Gladstone, Volume 2 → online text (page 49 of 91)