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John Morley.

The life of William Ewart Gladstone, Volume 2 online

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policy were specially furious with whigs who could. Great
ladies purified their lists of the names of old intimates.
Amiable magnates excluded from their dinner-tables and
their country houses once familiar friends who had fallen
into the guilty heresy, and even harmless portraits of the
VOL. II. 2 N



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562 POLITICAL ATMOSPHERE

BOOK heresiarch were sternly removed from the walls. At some
/ of the political clubs it rained blackballs. It was a painful
1886. demonstration how thin after all is our social veneer, even
when most highly polished.

When a royal birthday was drawing near, the prime
minister wrote to Lord Granville, his unfailing counsellor in
every difficulty political and social; — 'I am becoming seriously
perplexed about my birthday dinner. Hardly any peers of
the higher ranks will be available, and not many of the lower.
Will the seceding colleagues come if they are asked ? (Argyll,
to whom I applied privately on the score of old friendship,
has already refused me.) I am for asking them ; but 1 ex-
pect refusal. Lastly, it has become customary for the Prince
of Wales to dine with me on that day, and he brings his
eldest son now that the young Prince is of age. But his
position would be very awkward, if he comes and witnesses
a great nakedness of the land. What do you say to all this ?
If you cannot help me, who can ? ' Most of the seceding
colleagues accepted, and the dinner came off well enough,
though as the host wrote to a friend beforehand, ' If Harring-
ton were to get up and move a vote of want of confidence after
dinner, he would almost carry it' The Prince was unable
to be present, and so the great nakedness was by him unseen,
but Prince Albert Victor was there instead, and is described
by Mr. Gladstone as ' most kind/

The conversion of Peel to free trade forty years before had
led to the same species of explosion, though Peel had the
court strongly with him. Both then and now it was the
case of a feud within the bosom of a party, and such feuds
like civil wars have ever been the fiercest. In each case
there was a sense of betrayal — at least as unreasonable in
1886 as it was in 1846. The provinces somehow took
things more rationally than the metropolis. Those who were
stunned by the fierce moans of London over the assured de-
cline in national honour and credit, the imminence of civil
war, and the ultimate destruction of British power, found
their acquaintances in the country excited and interested,
but still clothed and in their right minds. The gravity of the
question was fully understood, but in taking sides ordinary



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SUBTERRANEAN ACTIVITY 563

men did not talk as if they were in for the battle of Arma- chap.

X» T T

geddon. The attempt to kindle the torch of religious fear *
or hate was in Great Britain happily a failure. The mass of ^* m 77,
liberal presbyterians in Scotland, and of nonconformists in
England and Wales, stood firm, though some of their most
eminent and able divines resisted the new project, less on
religious grounds than on what they took to be the balance
of political arguments. Mr. Gladstone was able to point to
the conclusive assurances he had received that the kindred
peoples in the colonies and America regarded with warm
and fraternal sympathy the present effort to settle the long- ^
vexed and troubled relations between Great Britain and
Ireland : —

We must not be discouraged if at home and particularly in the
upper ranks of society, we hear a variety of discordant notes,
notes alike discordant from our policy and from one another.
You have before you a cabinet determined in its purpose and an
intelligible plan. I own I see very little else in the political
arena that is determined or that is intelligible.

Inside the House subterranean activity was at its height
all through the month of May. This was the critical period.
The regular opposition spoke little and did little ; with com-
posed interest they watched others do their work. On the
ministerial side men wavered and changed and changed
again, from day to day and almost from hour to hour.
Never were the motions of the pendulum so agitated and so
irregular. So novel and complex a problem was a terrible
burden for a new parliament. About half its members had
not sat in any parliament before. The whips were new,
some of the leaders on the front benches were new, and those
of them who were most in earnest about the policy were too
heavily engrossed in the business of the measure, to have
much time for the exercises of explanation, argument, and
persuasion with their adherents. One circumstance told
powerfully for ministers. The great central organization of
the liberal party came decisively over to Mr. Gladstone
{May 5), and was followed by nearly all the local associa-
tions in the country. Neither whig secession nor radical



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564 POLITICAL ATMOSPHERE

BOOK dubitation shook the strength inherent in such machinery,
, in a community where the principle of government by party

1886. j ias so iidiy .established itself. This was almost the single
consolidating and steadying element in that hour of disper-
sion. A serious move in the opposite direction had taken
place three weeks earlier. A great meeting was held at the
Opera House, in the Haymarket, presided over by the accom-
plished whig nobleman who had the misfortune to be Irish
viceroy in the two dismal years from 1880, and it was
attended both by Lord Salisbury on one side and Lord
f Hartington on the other. This was the first broad public
mark of liberal secession, and of that practical fusion between
whig and tory which the new Irish policy had actually pre-
cipitated, but to which all the signs in the political heavens
had been for three or four years unmistakably pointing.

The strength of the friends of the bill was twofold : first,
it lay in the dislike of coercion as the only visible alternative;
and second, it lay in the hope of at last touching the firm
ground of a final settlement with Ireland. Their weakness
was also twofold : first, misgivings about the exclusion of the
Irish members ; and second, repugnance to the scheme for
land purchase. There were not a few, indeed, who pro-
nounced the exclusion of Irish members to be the most
sensible part of the plan. Mr. Gladstone retained his im-
partiality, but knew that if we proposed to keep the Irishmen,
we should be run in upon quite as fiercely from the other
side. Mr. Parnell stood to his original position. Any
regular and compulsory attendance at Westminster, he said,
would be highly objectionable to his friends. Further, the
right of Irish members to take part in purely English as
well as imperial business would be seized upon by English
politicians, whenever it phould answer their purpose, as a
pretext for interfering in Irish affairs. In short, he fore-
saw, as all did, the difficulties that would inevitably arise
from retention. But the tide ran more and more strongly
the other way. Scotland grew rather restive at a proposal
which, as she apprehended, would make a precedent for
herself when her turn for extension of local powers should
come, and Scotchmen had no intention of being shut out



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STRENGTH AND WEAKNESS 565

from a voice in imperial affairs. In England, the catholics CHAP,
professed alarm at the prospect of losing the only catholic v__J_,
force in the House of Commons. ' We cannot spare one of iET - 77 -
you/ cried Cardinal Manning. Some partisans of imperial
federation took it into their heads that the plan for Ireland
would be fatal to a plan for the whole empire, though others
more rationally conceived that if there was to be a scheme
for the empire, schemes for its several parts must come first.
Some sages, while pretending infinite friendship to home
rule, insisted that the parliament at Westminster should
retain a direct and active veto upon legislation at Dublin, .
and that Irish members should remain as they were in
London. That is to say, every precaution should be taken
to ensure a stiff fight at Westminster over every Irish
measure of any importance that had already been fought on
College Green. Speaking generally, the feeling against this
provision was due less to the anomaly of taxation without
representation, than to fears for the unity of the empire and
the supremacy of parliament.

The Purchase bill proved from the first to be an almost
intolerable dose. Vivid pictures were drawn of a train of
railway trucks two miles long, loaded with millions of bright
sovereigns, all travelling from the pocket of the British son of
toil to the pocket of the idle Irish landlord. The nationalists
from the first urged that the scheme for home rule should
not be weighted with a land scheme, though they were willing
to accept it so long as it was not used to prejudice the larger
demand. On the other side the Irish landlords themselves
peremptorily rejected the plan that had been devised for
their protection.

The air was thick with suggestions, devices, contrivances,
expedients, possible or madly impossible. Proposals or
embryonic notions' of proposals floated like motes in a sun-
beam. Those to whom lobby diplomacy is as the breath of
their nostrils, were in their element So were the worthy
persons who are always ready with ingenious schemes for
catching a vote or two here, at the cost of twenty votes else-
where. Intrigue may be too dark a word, but coaxing, bully-
ing, managing, and all the other arts of party emergency, went



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5G6 POLITICAL ATMOSPHERE

BOOK on at an unprecedented rate. Of these arts, the supervising
. angels will hardly record that any section had a monopoly.

1886. The legerdemain that makes words pass for things, and
liquefies things into words, achieved many flashes of success.
But they were only momentary, and the solid obstacles
remained. The foundations of human character are much
the same in all historic ages, and every public crisis brings
out the same types.

Much depended on Mr. Bright, the great citizen and noble
orator, who had in the last five-and-forty years fought and
helped to win more than one battle for wise and just govern-
ment; whose constancy had confronted storms of public
obloquy without yielding an inch of his ground ; whose eye
for the highest questions of state had proved itself singularly
sure; and whose simplicity, love of right, and unsophisti-
cated purity of public and private conduct, commanded the
trust and the reverence of nearly all the better part of his
countrymen. To Mr. Bright the eyes of many thousands
were turned in these weeks of anxiety and doubt He had
in public kept silence, though in private he made little
secret of his disapproval of the new policy. Before the bill
was produced he had a prolonged conversation (March 20)
with Mr. Gladstone at Downing Street. ' Long and weighty '
are the words in the diary. The minister sketched his
general design. Mr. Bright stated his objections much in
the form in which, as we shall see, he stated them later. Of
the exclusion of the Irish members he approved. The Land
bill he thought quite wrong, for why should so enormous an
effort be made for one interest only ? He expressed his
sympathy with Mr. Gladstone in his great difficulties, could
not but admire his ardour, and came away with the expecta-
tion that the obstacles would be found invincible, and that
the minister would retire and leave others to approach the
task on other lines. Other important persons, it may be
observed, derived at this time a similar impression from
Mr. Gladstone's language to them: that he might discern
the impossibility of his policy, that he would admit it, and
would then hand the responsibility over to Lord Hartington,
or whoever else might be willing to face it.



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COKRESPONDENCE WITH MR. BRIGHT 567

On the other hand, Mr. Bright left the minister himself CHAP,
not without hopes that as things went forward he might v_J_>
count on this potent auxiliary. So late as the middle of JEfI -^-
May, though he could not support, it was not certain that he
would actively oppose. The following letter to Mr. Glad-
stone best describes his attitude at this time : —

Mr. Bright to Mr, Gladstone.

Rochdale, May 13/fc, 1886.

My dear Gladstone, — Your note just received has put me in
a great difficulty. To-day is the anniversary of the greatest sorrow
of my life, and I feel pressed to spend it at home. I sent a
message to Mr. Arnold Morley last evening to say that I did not
intend to return to town before Monday next— but I shall now
arrange to go to-morrow — although I do not see how I can be of
service in the great trouble which has arisen.

. I feel outside all the contending sections of the liberal party—
for I am not in favour of home rule, or the creation of a Dublin
parliament — nor can I believe in any scheme of federation as
shadowed forth by Mr. Chamberlain.

I do not believe that with regard to the Irish question 'the
resources of civilisation are exhausted ' ; and I think the plan of
your bill is full of complexity, and gives no hope of successful
working in Ireland or of harmony between Westminster and
Dublin. I may say that my regard for you and my sympathy
with you has made me silent in the discussion on the bills before
the House. I cannot consent to a measure which is so offensive to
the whole protestant population of Ireland, and to the whole
sentiment of the province of Ulster so far as its loyal and pro-
testant people are concerned. I cannot agree to exclude them
from the protection of the imperial parliament. I would do much
to clear the rebel party from "Westminster, and I do not sympathise
with those who wish to retain them, but admit there is much
force in the arguments on this point which are opposed to my
views upon it.

Up to this time I have not been able to bring myself to the point
of giving a vote in favour of your bills. I am grieved to have to
say this. As to the Land bill, if it comes to a second reading, I
fear I must vote against it. It may be that my hostility to the rebel



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568 POLITICAL ATMOSPHERE

party, looking at their conduct since your government was formed
six years ago, disables me from taking an impartial view of this
1886. great question. If I could believe them loyal, if they were
honourable and truthful men, I could yield them much; but I
suspect that your policy of surrender to them will only place more
power in their hands, to war with greater effect against the unity
of the three kingdoms with no increase of good to the Irish
people.

How then can I be of service to you or to the real interests of
Ireland if I come up to town ? I cannot venture to advise you,
so superior to me in party tactics and in experienced statesman-
. ship, and I am not so much in accord with Mr. Chamberlain as to
make it likely that I can say anything that will affect his course.
One thing I may remark, that it appears to me that measures of
the gravity of those now before parliament cannot and ought not
to be thrust through the House by force of a small majority.
The various reform bills, the Irish church bill, the two great land
bills, were passed by very large majorities. In the present case,
not only the whole tory party oppose, but a very important sec-
tion of the liberal party; and although numerous meetings of
clubs and associations have passed resolutions of confidence in
you, yet generally they have accepted your Irish government
bill as a ' basis ' only, and have admitted the need of important
changes in the bill — changes which in reality would destroy the
bill. Under these circumstances it seems to me that more time
should be given for the consideration of the Irish question.
Parliament is not ready for it, and the intelligence of the country
is not ready for it. If it be possible, I should wish that no divi-
sion should be taken upon the bill. If the second reading should
be carried only by a small majority, it would not forward the bill ;
but it would strengthen the rebel party in their future agitation,
and make it more difficult for another session or another parlia-
ment to deal with the question with some sense of independence of
of that party. In any case of a division, it is I suppose certain
that a considerable majority of British members will oppose the
bill. Thus, whilst it will have the support of the rebel members,
it will be opposed by a majority from Great Britain and by a most
hostile vote from all that is loyal in Ireland. The result will



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CORRESPONDENCE WITH MR. BRIGHT 569

be, if a majority supports you it will be one composed in effect CHAP,
of the men who for six years past have insulted the Queen, have v ^^'
torn down the national flag, have declared your lord lieutenant ^ Et * 77 *
guilty of deliberate murder, and have made the imperial parlia-
ment an assembly totally unable to manage the legislative busi-
ness for which it annually assembles at Westminster.

Pray forgive me for writing this long letter. I need not assure
you of my sympathy with you, or my sorrow at being unable to
support your present policy in the House or the country. The
more I consider the question, the more I am forced in a direction
contrary to my wishes.

For thirty years I have preached justice to Ireland. I am as
much in her favour now as in past times, but I do not think it
justice or wisdom for Great Britain to consign her population,
including Ulster and all her protestant families, to what there is
of justice and wisdom in the Irish party now sitting in the parlia-
ment in Westminster.

Still, if you think I can be of service, a note to the Reform
Club will, I hope, find me there to-morrow evening. — Ever most
sincerely yours, John Bright.

An old parliamentary friend, of great weight and autho-
rity, went to Mr. Bright to urge him to support a pro-
posal to read the bill a second time, and then to hang it
up for six months. Bright suffered sore travail of spirit.
At the end of an hour the peacemaker rose to depart.
Bright pressed him to continue the wrestle. After three-
quarters of an hour more of it, the same performance
took place. It was not until a third hour of discussion
that Mr. Bright would let it come to an end, and at the
end he was still uncertain. The next day the friend met
him, looking worn and gloomy. ' You may guess,' Mr.
Bright said, 'what sort o&a night I have had.' He had
decided to vote against the second reading. The same per-
son went to Lord Hartington. He took time to deliberate,
and then finally said, ' No ; Mr. Gladstone and I do not
mean the same thing.'



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BOOK
IX.

1886.



570 POLITICAL ATMOSPHERE



II



The centre of interest lay in the course that might be
finally taken by those who declared that they accepted the
principle of the bill, but demurred upon detail It was
upon the group led from Birmingham that the issue hung.
' There are two principles in the bill/ said Mr. Chamberlain
at this time, 'which I regard as vital. The first is the
principle of autonomy, to which I am able to give a hearty
assent. The second is involved in the method of giving
effect to this autonomy. In the bill the government have
proceeded on the lines of separation or of colonial independ-
ence, whereas, in my humble judgment, they should have
adopted the principle of federation as the only one in accord-
ance with democratic aspirations and experience/ * He was
even so strong for autonomy, that he was ready to face all
the immense difficulties of federation, whether on the
Canadian or some other pattern, rather than lose autonomy.
Yet he was ready to slay the bill that made autonomy
possible. To kill the bill was to kill autonomy. To say that
they would go to the country on the plan, and not on the
principle, was idle. If the election were to go against the
government, that would destroy not only the plan which they
disliked, but the principle of which they declared that they
warmly approved. The new government that would in that
case come into existence, would certainly have nothing to
say either to plan or principle.

Two things, said Mr. Chamberlain on the ninth night of
the debate, had become clear during the controversy. One
was that the British democracy had a passionate devotion to
the prime minister. The other was the display of a senti-
ment out of doors, 'the universality and completeness
of which, I dare say, has taken*many of us by surprise, in
favour of some form of home rule to Ireland, which will
give to the Irish people some greater control over their own
affairs/ 2 It did not need so acute a strategist as Mr.

Chamberlain to perceive that the only hope of rallying any



1 Letter to Mr. T. H. Bolton, M.P. Times, May 8, 1886.
9 Hans. 306, p. 698.



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FEW SECOND AKY ARGUMENTS 571

considerable portion of the left wing of the party to the dis-
sentient flag, in face of this strong popular sentiment em-<
bodied in a supereminent minister, was to avoid as much as JEfT - 77 -
possible all irreconcilable language against either the
minister or the sentiment, even while taking energetic steps
to unhorse the one and to nullify the other.

The prime minister meanwhile fought the battle as a
battle for a high public design once begun should be fought.
He took few secondary arguments, but laboured only to hold
up to men's imagination, and to burn into their understand-
ing, the lines of central policy, the shame and dishonour
from which it would relieve us, the new life with which it
would inspire Ireland, the ease that it would bring to parlia-
ment in England. His tenacity, his force and resource were
inexhaustible. He was harassed on every side. The Irish
leader pressed him hard upon finance. Old adherents urged
concession about exclusion. The radicals disliked the two
orders. Minor points for consideration in committee rained
in upon him, as being good reasons for altering the bill
before it oame in sight of committee. Not a singlo construc-
tive proposal made any way in the course of the debate.
All was critical and negative. Mr. Gladstone's grasp was
unshaken, and though he saw remote bearings and interde-
pendent consequences where others supposed all to be plain
sailing, yet if the principle were only saved he professed
infinite pliancy. He protested that there ought to be no
stereotyping of our minds against modifications, and that
the widest possible variety of modes of action should be
kept open ; and he ' hammered hard at his head,' as he put
it, to see what could be worked out in the way of admitting
Irish members without danger, and without intolerable in-
convenience. If anybody considered, he continued to repeat
in endless forms, that there was another set of provisions by
which better and fuller effect could be given to the principle
of the bill, they were free to displace all the particulars that
hindered this better and fuller effect being given to the
principle. 1

1 Hans. 306, p. 1218.



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572 POLITICAL ATMOSPHERE

BOOK
IX. HI

At the beginning of May the unionist computation was
that 119 on the ministerial side of the House had, with
or without qualification, promised to vote against the second
reading. Of these, 70 had publicly committed themselves,
and 23 more were supposed to be absolutely certain. If the
whole House voted, this estimate of 93 would give a
majority of 17 against the bill. 1 The leader of the radical
wing, however, reckoned that 55 out of the 119 would vote
with him for the second reading, if he pronounced the
ministerial amendments of the bill satisfactory. The
amendments demanded were the retention of the Irish
members, a definite declaration of the supremacy of the
imperial parliament, a separate assembly for Ulster, and the
abolition of the restrictive devices for the representation of
minorities. Less than all this might have been taken in
committee, provided that the government would expressly
say before the second reading, that they would retain the
Irish representation on its existing footing. The repeated
offer by ministers to regard this as an open question was
derided, because it was contended that if the bill were once
safe through its second reading, Mr. Bright and the whigs
would probably vote with ministers against Irish inclusion.

Even if this ultimatum had been accepted, there would
still have remained the difficulty of the Land bill, of which



Online LibraryJohn MorleyThe life of William Ewart Gladstone, Volume 2 → online text (page 52 of 91)