John Morley.

The life of William Ewart Gladstone, Volume 2 online

. (page 54 of 91)
Online LibraryJohn MorleyThe life of William Ewart Gladstone, Volume 2 → online text (page 54 of 91)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

he set to work upon it, but he did not linger. On June 25,
' off to Manchester ; great meeting in the Free Trade Hall.
Strain excessive. Five miles through the streets to Mr.
Agnew's ; a wonderful spectacle half the way/ From Man-
chester he wrote, ' I have found the display of enthusiasm
far beyond all former measure/ and the torrid heat of the
meeting almost broke him down, but friends around him
heard him murmur, ' I must do it/ and bracing himself with
tremendous effort he went on. Two days later (June 28) he
wound up the campaign in a speech at Liverpool, which
even old and practised political hands who were there, found
the most magnificent of them all. Staying at Courthey, the
residence of his nephews, in the morning he enters, ' Worked
up the Irish question once more for my last function. Seven
or eight hours of processional uproar, and a speech of an
hour and forty minutes to five or six thousand people in
Hengler's Circus. Few buildings give so noble a presenta-
tion of an audience. Once more my voice held out in a
marvellous manner. I went in bitterness, in the heat of my
spirit, but the hand of the Lord was strong upon me.'

He had no sooner returned to Hawarden, than he wrote to

Digitized by


\ , S mi, v,. ^-, • • \\ ,

i \n ,-. ,

1 ■ ,1 .> 1 . , . s . i\

1 ■ I .' . ' • S' •


zed by G00gk


Y\*h\, HMIil/l


*/,*<S/e/L f'.'J!s,»\. */.

«*•■■ f" ,♦'. * <t .; ' w '..*..,•* »• . -.•;. 4 .-. ♦» /

J> ii« I.*'. V»»«» »♦♦»«. 4* - *' »^4V>< . kfc ^ 4

' * 1 1 «,» 1 *••*!,• «. »/ .Kii" * v> ..J4. *.>• J.\

.tiffL »i> ' ' t»l*. "*!,»*• i.4». 4 *», V> 14*.'^...* J*

.VI! -i«Ti t Ilt*'«~tt«A 4«.' i *«.^' ^.

is*' IW SHIK'.'\ k, \'\.4** ''^* 4.

• 4.7 I l 4 ' *' *4^' U«',l,. *l4^i.4.-*> •• ^4V

4- ,> « «i 1/ '....* i, ../*.'. w»

1 1> .' 'I'. I" ' li'V . • 4 * . _ 4 ^

•:>*r • * • , « . v „ . .. . ...j


Digitized by





BOOK tell Mrs. Gladstone (July 2) of a stroke which was thought
to have a curiously daemonic air about it : —

The Leith business will show you I have not been inactive here.

former M.P. attended my meeting in the Music Hall, and was

greeted by me accordingly (he had voted against us after wobbling
about much). Hearing by late post yesterday that waiting to the
last he had then declared against us, I telegraphed down to Edin-
burgh in much indignation, that they might if they liked put me
up against him, and I would go down again and speak if they
wished it. They seem to have acted with admirable pluck and
promptitude. Soon after mid-day to-day I received telegrams to

say I am elected for Midlothian, 1 and also for Leith, having

retired rather than wait to be beaten. I told them instantly to
publish this, as it may do good.

The Queen, who had never relished these oratorical
crusades whether he was in opposition or in office, did
not approve of the first minister of the crown addressing
meetings outside of his own constituency. In reply to a
gracious and frank letter from Balmoral, Mr. Gladstone
wrote : —

He must state frankly what it is that has induced him thus to
yield [to importunity for speeches]. It is that since the death
of Lord Beaconsfield, in fact since 1880, the leaders of the opposi-
tion, Lord Salisbury and Lord Iddesleigh (he has not observed the
same practice in the case of Sir M. H. Beach) have established
a rule of what may be called popular agitation, by addressing public
meetings from time to time at places with which they were not
connected. This method was peculiarly marked in the case of
Lord Salisbury as a peer, and this change on the part of the
leaders of opposition has induced Mr. Gladstone to deviate on
this critical occasion from the rule which he had (he believes)
generally or uniformly observed in former years. He is,
as he has previously apprised your Majesty, aware of the im-
mense responsibility he has assumed, and of the severity of just
condemnation which will be pronounced upon him, if he should
eventually prove to have been wrong. But your Majesty will be
1 He was returned without opposition.

Digitized by



the first to perceive that, even if it had been possible for him to CHAP,
decline this great contest, it was not possible for him having . '

entered upon it, to conduct it in a half-hearted manner, or to omit uEt * ?•
the use of any means requisite in order to place (what he thinks)
the true issue before the country.

Nature, however, served the royal purpose. Before his
speech at Liverpool, he was pressed to speak in the
metropolis : —

As to my going to London, — he wrote in reply, — I have twice had
my chest rather seriously strained, and I have at this moment a sense
of internal fatigue within it which is quite new to me, from the
effects of a bad arrangement in the hall at Manchester. Should any-
thing like it be repeated at Liverpool to-morrow I shall not be fit
physically to speak for a week, if then.' Mentally I have never
undergone such an uninterrupted strain as since January 30 of
this year. The forming and reforming of the government, the
work of framing the bills, and studying the subject (which none of
the opponents would do), have left me almost stunned, and I have
the autumn in prospect with, perhaps, most of the work to do
over again if we succeed.

But this was not to be. The incomparable effort was in
vain. The sons of Zeruiah were too hard for him, and
England was unconvinced.

The final result was that the ministerialists or liberals of
the main body were reduced from 235 to 196, the tories rose
from 251 to 316, the dissentient liberals fell to 74, and Mr.
Parnell remained at his former strength. In other words,
the opponents of the Irish policy of the government were
390, as against 280 in its favour; or a unionist majority of
110. Once more no single party possessed an independent
or absolute majority. An important member of the tory
party said to a liberal of his acquaintance (July 7), that he
was almost sorry the tories had not played the bold game
and fought independently of the dissentient liberals. f But
then/ he added, ' we could not have beaten you on the bill,
without the compact to spare unionist seats/

England had returned opponents of the liberal policy in

Digitized by



the proportion of two and a half to one against its friends ;
but Scotland approved in the proportion of three to two,
1880. Wales approved by five to one, and Ireland by four and a
half to one. Another fact with a warning in it was that,
taking the total poll for Great Britain, the liberals had
1,344,000, the seceders 397,000, and the tories 1,041,000
Therefore in contested constituencies the liberals of the
main body were only 76,000 behind the forces of tories
and seceders combined. Considering the magnitude and
the surprise of the issue laid before the electors, and in
view of the confident prophecies of even some peculiar
friends of the policy, that both policy and its authors
would be swept out of existence by a universal explosion
of national anger and disgust, there was certainly no final
and irrevocable verdict in a hostile British majority of no
more than four per cent, of the votes polled. Apart from
electoral figures, coercion loomed large and near at hand,
and coercion tried under the new political circumstances
that would for the first time attend it, might well be trusted
to do much more than wipe out the margin at the polls.
• There is nothing in the recent defeat/ said Mr. Gladstone,
' to abate the hopes or to modify the anticipations of those
who desire to meet the wants and wishes of Ireland.'


The question now before Mr. Gladstone was whether to
meet the new parliament or at once to resign. For a short
time he wavered, along with an important colleague, and
then he and all the rest came round to resignation. The
considerations that guided him were these. It is best for
Ireland that the party strongest in the new parliament
should be at once confronted with its responsibilities. Again,
we were bound to consider what would most tend to reunite
the liberal party, and it was in opposition that the chances of
such reunion would be likely to stand highest, especially in
view of coercion which many of the dissidents had refused to
contemplate. If he could remodel the bill or frame a new
one, that might be a possible ground for endeavouring to
make up a majority, but he could not see his way to any

Digitized by



such process, though he was ready for certain amendments. CHAP.
Finally, if we remained, an amendment would be moved - t '
definitely committing the new House against home rule. ^ T# 77,

The conclusion was for immediate resignation, and his
colleagues were unanimous in assent. The Irish view was
different and impossible. Keturning from a visit to Ireland
I wrote to Mr. Gladstone (July 19) : —

You may perhaps care to see what [not a secular politician]

thinks, so I enclose you a conversation between him and . He

does not show much strength of political judgment, and one can
understand why Parnell never takes him into counsel. Parnell,
of course, is anxious for us to hold on to the last moment. Our
fall will force him without delay to take up a new and difficult line.
But his letters to me, especially the last, show a desperate
willingness to blink the new parliamentary situation.

Mr. Parnell, in fact, pressed with some importunity that
we should meet the new parliament, on the strange view
that the result of the election was favourable on general
questions, and indecisive only on Irish policy. We were to
obtain the balance of supply in an autumn sitting, in
January to attack registration reform, and then to dissolve
upon that, without making any Irish proposition whatever.
This curious suggestion left altogether out of sight the cer-
tainty that an amendment referring to Ireland would be at
once moved on the Address, such as must beyond all doubt
command the whole of the tories and a large part, if not all,
of the liberal dissentients. Only one course was possible
for the defeated ministers, and they resigned.

On July 30, Mr. Gladstone had his final audience of the
Queen, of which he wrote the memorandum following ; —

Conversation with the Queen, August 2, 1886.

The conversation at my closing audience on Friday was a
singular one, when regarded as the probable last word with the
sovereign after fifty-five years of political life, and a good quarter
of a century's service rendered to her in office.

The Queen was in good spirits; her manners altogether
pleasant. She made me sit at once. Asked after my wife as we

Digitized by



began, and sent a kind message to her as we ended. About me
> personally, I think, her single remark was that I should require
1886. 8ome re8t J remember that on a closing audience in 1874 she
said she felt sure I might be reckoned upon to support the
throne. She did not say anything of the sort to-day. Her mind
and opinions have since that day been seriously warped, and I
respect her for the scrupulous avoidance of anything which could
have seemed to indicate a desire on her part to claim anything in
common with me.

Only at three points did the conversation touch upon anything
even faintly related to public affairs . . . The second point
was the conclusion of some arrangement for appanages or
incomes on behalf of the third generation of the royal house.
I agreed that there ought at a suitable time to be a committee
on this subject, as had been settled some time back, she ob-
serving that the recent circumstances had made the time un-
suitable. I did not offer any suggestion as to the grounds
of the affair, but said it seemed to me possible to try some plan
under which intended marriages should be communicated without
forcing a reply from the Houses. Also I agreed that the amounts
were not excessive. I did not pretend to have a solution ready :
but said it would, of course, be the duty of the government to
submit a plan to the committee. The third matter was trivial : a
question or two from her on the dates and proceedings connected
with the meeting. The rest of the conversation, not^ a very long
one, was filled up with nothings. It is rather melancholy. But
on neither side, given the conditions, could it well be helped.

On the following day she wrote a letter, making it evident, that,,
so far as Ireland was concerned, she could not trust herself to say
what she wanted to say. . . .

Among the hundreds of letters that reached him every
week was one from an evangelical lady of known piety,
enclosing him a form of prayer that had been issued against
home rule. His acknowledgment (July 27) shows none of
the impatience of the baffled statesman : —

I thank you much for your note; and though I greatly
deplored the issue, and the ideas of the prayer in question, yet,
from the moment when I heard it was your composition, I knew

Digitized by



perfectly well that it was written in entire good faith, and had no CHAP,
relation to political controversy in the ordinary sense. I cannot v
but think that, in bringing the subject of Irish intolerance before ^ T# ^
the Almighty Father, we ought to have some regard to the fact
that down to the present day, as between the two religions, the
offence has been in the proportion of perhaps a hundred to one
on the protestant*side, and the suffering by it on the Roman side.
At the present hour, I am pained to express my belief that there
is far more of intolerance in action from so-called protestants
against Roman catholics, than from Roman catholics against
protestants. It is a great satisfaction to agree with you, as I feel
confident that I must do, in the conviction that of prayers we
cannot possibly have too much in this great matter, and for my
own part I heartily desire that, unless the policy I am proposing
be for the honour of God and the good of His creatures, it may
be trampled under foot and broken into dust. Of your most
charitable thoughts and feelings towards me I am deeply sensible,
and I remain with hearty regard.

As he wrote at this time to R. H. Hutton (July 2), one of
the choice spirits of our age, 'Rely upon it, I can never
quarrel with you or with Bright What vexes me is when
differences disclose baseness, which sometimes happens/

Digitized by





{1886-1887) *

Charity rendereth a man truly great, enlarging his mind into a
vast circumference, and to a capacity nearly infinite ; so that it by
a general care doth reach all things, by an universal affection doth
embrace and grace the world. . . . Even a spark of it in generosity
of dealing breedeth admiration ; a glimpse of it in formal courtesy
of behaviour procureth much esteem, being deemed to accomplish
and adorn a man. — Barrow.

After the rejection of his Irish policy in the summer of
1886, Mr. Gladstone had a period of six years before him,
1886. the life of the new parliament Strangely dramatic years
they were, in some respec^ unique in our later history. The
party schism among liberals grew deeper and wider. The
union between tories and seceders became consolidated and
final. The alternative policy of coercion was passed through
parliament in an extreme form and with violent strain on
the legislative machinery, and it was carried out in Ireland
in a fashion that pricked the consciences of many thousands
of voters who had resisted the proposals of 1886. A fierce
storm rent the Irish phalanx in two, and its leader vanished
from the field where for sixteen years he had fought so bold
and uncompromising a fight. During this period Mr. Glad-
stone stood in the most trying of all the varied positions of
his life, and without flinching he confronted it in the strong
faith that the national honour as well as the assuagement


Digitized by



of the inveterate Irish wound in the flank of his country,
were the issues at stake.

This intense pre-occupation in the political struggle did uEt - 77
not for a single week impair his other interests, nor stay his
ceaseless activity in controversies that were not touched by
politics. Not even now, when the great cause to which he
had so daringly committed himself was in decisive issue,
could he allow it to dull or sever what had been the
standing concerns of life and thought to him for so long a
span of years. As from his youth up, so now behind the
man of public action was the diligent, eager, watchful
student, churchman, apologist, divine. And what is curious
and delightful is that he never set a more admirable example
of the tone and temper in which literary and religious con-
troversy should be conducted, than in these years when in
politics exasperation was at its worst. It was about this
time that he wrote : — ' Certainly one of the lessons life ha3
taught me is that where there is known to be a common
object, the pursuit of truth, there should also be a studious
desire to interpret the adversary in the best sense his words
will fairly bear; to avoid whatever widens the breach; and
to make the most of whatever tends to narrow it. These I
hold to be part of the laws of knightly tournament' And to
these laws he sedulously conformed. Perhaps at some happy
time before the day of judgment they may be transferred
from the tournament to the battle-fields of philosophy,
criticism, and even politics.

After the defeat in which his tremendous labours had for
the moment ended, he made his way to what was to him the
most congenial atmosphere in the world, to the company of
Dollinger and Acton, at Tegernsee in Bavaria. ' Tegernsee/
Lord Acton wrote to me (Sept. 7) 'is an out-of-the-way
place, peaceful and silent, and as there is a good library in
the house, I have taken some care of his mind, leading in
the direction of little French comedies, and away from the
tragedy of existence. It has done him good, and he has
just started with Dollinger to climb a high mountain in the

Digitized by




To Mrs. Gladstone.
Tegernsee, Aug. 28, 1886. — We found Dollinger reading in the
garden. The course of his life is quite unchanged. His con-
stitution does not appear at all to have given way. He beats
me utterly in standing, but that is not saying much, as it
never was one of my gifts; and he is not conscious (eighty-
seven last February) of any difficulty with the heart in going
up hill. His deafness has increased materially, but not so that
he cannot carry on very well conversation with a single person.
We have talked much together even on disestablishment which
he detests, and Ireland as to which he is very apprehensive,
but he never seems to shut up his mind by prejudice. I
had a good excuse for giving him my pamphlet, 1 but I do jiot
know whether he will tell us what he thinks of it. He was
reading it this morning. He rises at six and breakfasts alone.
Makes a good dinner at two and has nothing more till the next
morning. He does not appear after dark. On the whole one sees
no reason why he should not last for several years yet.

'When Dr. Dollinger was eighty-seven/ Mr. Gladstone
wrote later, ' he walked with me seven miles across the hill
that separates the Tegernsee from the next valley to the
eastward. At that time he began to find his sleep subject to
occasional interruptions, and he had armed himself against
them by committing to memory the first three books of the
Odyssey for recital* 2 Of Mr Gladstone D&llinger had said in
1885, ' I have known Gladstone for thirty years, and would
stand security for him any day ; his character is a very fine
one, and he possesses a rare capability for work. I differ from
him in his political views on many points, and it is difficult
to convince him, for he is clad in triple steel/ 8

Another high personage in the Roman catholic world sent
him letters through Acton, affectionately written and with
signs of serious as well as sympathising study of his Irish
policy. A little later (Sept. 21) Mr. Gladstone writes to his
wife at Hawarden : —

Bishop Strossmayer may make a journey all the way to

1 On the Irish Question — ' The 2 Speaker, Jan. 1, 1890.

History of an Idea and the Lesson of * Conversations of D&Uinger. By

the Elections,' a fifty -page pamphlet L. von Kobell, pp. 100, 102.
prepared before leaving England.

Digitized by VjOOQlC


Ha warden, and it seems that Acton may even accompany him,
which would make it much more manageable. His coming would .
be a great compliment, and cannot be discouraged or refused. It iET * 77,
would, however, be a serious affair, for he speaks no language
with which as a spoken tongue we are familiar, his great cards
being Slavonic and Latin. Unfortunately I have a very great
increase of difficulty in hearing the words in foreign tongues,
a difficulty which I hope has hardly begun with you as yet.

Like a good host, Lord Acton kept politics out of his way
as well as he could, but some letter of mine ' set him on fire,
and he is full of 's blunder and of ParnelTs bill/ Parlia-
mentary duty was always a sting to him, and by September
20 he was back in the House of Commons, speaking on the
Tenants Belief (Ireland) bill Then to the temple of peace
at Hawarden for the rest of the year, to read the Iliad 'for
the twenty-fifth or thirtieth time, and every time richer and
more glorious than before ' ; to write elaborately on Homeric
topics ; to receive a good many visitors ; and to compose the
admirable article on Tennyson's second Locksley Hall. On
this last let us pause for an instant. The moment was hardly
one in which, from a man of nature less great and powerful
than Mr. Gladstone, we should have counted on a buoyant
vindication of the spirit of his time. He had just been
roughly repulsed in the boldest enterprise of his career ; his
name was a target for infinite obloquy; his motives were
largely denounced as of the basest ; the conflict into which he
had plunged and from which he could not withdraw was hard ;
friends had turned away from him ; he was old ; the issue was
dubious and dark. Yet the personal, or even what to him
were the national discomfitures of the hour, were not allowed
to blot the sun out of the heavens. His whole soul rose in
challenge against the tragic tones of Tennyson's poem, as
he recalled the solid tale of the vast improvements, the
enormous mitigation of the sorrows and burdens of mankind,
that had been effected in the land by public opinion and
public authority, operative in the exhilarating sphere of self-
government during the sixty years between the first and
second Locksley Hall.

VOL. ii. 2 P

Digitized by



The sum of the matter seems to be that upon the whole, and
. in a degree, we who lived fifty, sixty, seventy years back, and
1886. are Jiving now, have lived into a gentler time ; that the public con-
science has grown more tender, as indeed was very needful ; and
that in matters of practice, at sight of evils formerly regarded with
indifference or even connivance, it now not only winces but rebels ;
that upon the whole the race has been reaping, and not scattering ;
earning and not wasting ; and that without its being said that the
old Prophet is wrong, it may be said that the young Prophejt was
unquestionably right.

Here is the way in which a man of noble heart and high
vision as of a circling eagle, transcends his individual chagrins.
All this optimism was the natural vein of a statesman who
had lived a long life of effort in persuading opinion in so many
regions, in overcoming difficulty upon difficulty, in content
with a small reform where men would not let him achieve a
great one, in patching where he could not build anew, in un-
quenchable faith, hope, patience, endeavour. Mr. Gladstone
knew as well as Tennyson that ' every blessing has its draw-
backs, and every age its dangers'; he was as sensitive as
Tennyson or Buskin or any of them, to the implacable
tragedy of industrial civilisation — the city children ' blacken-
ing soul and sense in city slime/ progress halting on palsied
feet ' among the glooming alleys/ crime and hunger casting

Online LibraryJohn MorleyThe life of William Ewart Gladstone, Volume 2 → online text (page 54 of 91)