John Morley.

The life of William Ewart Gladstone, Volume 2 online

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maidens on the street, and all the other recesses of human
life depicted by the poetic prophet in his sombre hours. But
the triumphs of the past inspired confidence in victories for
the future, and meanwhile he thought it well to remind Eng-
lishmen that ' their country is still young as well as old, and
that in these latest days it has not been unworthy of itself l

On his birthday he enters in his diary : —

Dec. 29, 1886. — This # day in its outer experience recalls. the
Scotch usage which would say, ' terrible pleasant.' In spite of the
ruin of telegraph wires by snow, my letters and postal arrivals of
to-day have much exceeded those of last year. Even my share of

1 Nineteenth Century, January 18S7. reader will remember Mr. Glad-
See also speech at Hawarden, on the stone's contrast between poet and
Queen's Reign, August 90, 1887. The active statesman at Kirkwall in 1883.

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the reading was very heavy. The day was gone before it seemed

to have begun, all amidst stir and festivity. The estimate was <

nine hundred arrivals. for a birthday of recollection. It is iET# ^'

long since I have had one. There is so much to say on the soul's

history, but bracing is necessary to say it, as it is for reading

Dante. It has been a year of shock and strain. I think a year

of some progress; but of greater absorption in interests which,

though profoundly human, are quite off the line of an old man's

direct preparation for passing the River of Death. I have not

had a chance given me of creeping from this whirlpool, for I cannot

abandon a cause which is so evidently that of my fellow-men, and

in which a particular part seems to be assigned to me. Therefore

am I not disturbed * though the hills be carried into the middle

of the sea. 9


To Lord Acton.

Hawarden, Jan. 13, 1887. — It is with much pleasure that I read
your estimate of Chamberlain. His character is remarkable, as
are in a very high degree his' talents. It is one of my common
sayings that to me characters of the political class are the most
mysterious of all I meet, so that I am obliged to travel the road of
life surrounded by an immense number of judgments more or less
in suspense, and getting on for practical purposes as well as I can.

I have with a clear mind and conscience not only assented to
but promoted the present conferences, and I had laboured in that
sense long before Mr. Chamberlain made his speech at Birmingham.
It will surprise as well as grieve me if they do harm ; if indeed
they do not do some little good. Large and final arrangements,
it would be rash I think to expect.

The tide is flowing, though perhaps not rapidly, in our favour.
"Without our lifting a finger, a crumbling process has begun in both
the opposite parties. 'In quietness and in confidence shall be
your strength ' is a blessed maxim, often applicable to temporals
as well as spirituals. I have indeed one temptation to haste,
namely, that the hour may come for me to say farewell and claim
my retirement; but inasmuch as I remain in situ for the Irish
question only, I cannot be so foolish as to allow myself to ruin by
precipitancy my own purpose. Though I am writing a paper

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BOOK on the Irish question for Mr. Knowles, it is no trumpet-blast,
/ but is meant to fill and turn to account a season of comparative

1888. quietude.

The death of Iddesleigh has shocked and saddened us all.
He was full of excellent qualities, but had not the backbone
and strength of fibre necessary to restore the tone of a party
demoralised by his former leader. In gentleness, temper, sacrifice
of himself to the common purpose of his friends, knowledge, quick-
ness of perception, general integrity of intention, freedom from
personal aims, he was admirable. ... I have been constantly
struggling to vindicate a portion of my time for the pursuits I
want to follow, but with very little success indeed. Some rudi-
ments of Olympian religion have partially taken shape. I have a
paper ready for Knowles probably in his March number on the
Poseidon of Homer, a most curious and exotic personage. . . .
Williams and Norgate got me the books I wanted, but alack for
the time to read them ! In addition to want of time, I have to
deplore my slowness in reading, declining sight* and declining
memory; all very serious affairs for one who has such singular
reason to be thankful as to general health and strength.

I wish I could acknowledge duly or pay even in part your
unsparing, untiring kindness in the discharge of your engagements
as 'Cook/ Come early to England — and stay long. We will try
what we can to bind you.

A few months later, he added to his multifarious exercises
in criticism and controversy, a performance that attracted
especial attention. 1 ' Mamma and 1/ he wrote to Mrs. Drew,
' are each of us still separately engaged in a death-grapple
with Robert Elsmere. I complained of some of the novels
you gave me to read as too stiff, but they are nothing to
this. It is wholly out of the common order. At present
I regard with doubt and dread the idea of doing anything
on it, but cannot yet be sure whether your observations will
be verified or not. In any case it is a tremendous book.'
And on April 1 (1888), he wrote, 'By hard work I have
finished and am correcting my article on Robert Elsmere.

1 Robert Elsmere: the Battle of Nineteenth Century in Later QUan-
Beliefy (1888). Republished from the ings, 1898.

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It is rather stiff work. I have had two letters from her.
She is much to be liked personally, but is a fruit, I think,
of what must be called Arnoldism.' • " Et * 79,

To Lord Acton.

Aston Clinton, Tring, Easter Day, April 1, '88 — I do not like to
let too long a time elapse without some note of intercourse, even
though that season approaches which brings you back to the shores
of your country. "Were you here I should have much to say on
many things ; but I will now speak, or first speak, of what is
uppermost, and would, if a mind is like a portmanteau, be taken
or tumble out first

You perhaps have not heard of Robert Elsmere, for I find with-
out surprise, that it makes its way slowly into public notice. It is
not far from twice the length of an ordinary novel ; and the labour
and effort of reading it all, I should say, sixfold ; while one could
no more stop in it than in reading Thucydides. The idea of the
book, perhaps of the writer, appears to be a movement of retreat
from Christianity upon Theism : a Theism with a Christ glorified,
always in the human sense, but beyond the ordinary measure. It
is worked out through the medium of a being — one ought to say
a character, but I withhold the word, for there is no sufficient sub-
stratum of character to uphold the qualities — gifted with much
intellectual subtlety and readiness, and almost every conceivable
moral excellence. He finds vent in an energetic attempt to carry
his new gospel among the skilled artisans of London, whom the
writer apparently considers as supplying the norm for all right
human judgment. He has extraordinary success, establishes a new
church under the name of the new Christian brotherhood, kills
himself with overwork, but leaves his project flourishing in
a certain c Elgood Street.' It is in fact (like the Salvation Army)
a new Kirche der Zukunft.

I am always inclined to consider this Theism as among the least
defensible of the positions alternative to Christianity. Robert
Elsmere, who has been a parish clergyman, is upset entirely, as it
appears, by the difficulty of accepting miracles,. and by the sugges-
tion that the existing Christianity grew up in an age specially
predisposed to them.

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I want as usual to betray you into helping the lame dog over
, the stile ; and I should like to know whether you would think me
1888. violently wrong in holding that the period of the Advent was
a period when the appetite for, or disposition to, the supernatural
was declining and decaying ; that in the region of human thought,
speculation was strong and scepticism advancing ; that if our Lord
were a mere man, armed only with human means, His whereabouts
was in this and many other ways misplaced by Providence ; that
the gospels and the New Testament must have much else besides
miracle torn out of them, in order to get us down to the caput
moriuum of Elgood Street. This very remarkable work is in effect
identical with the poor, thin, ineffectual production published with
some arrogance by the Duke of Somerset, which found a quack
remedy for difficulties in what he considered the impregnable
citadel of belief in God.

Knowles has brought this book before me, and being as strong
as it is strange, it cannot perish still-born. I am tossed about
with doubt as to writing upon it.

To Lord Acton.

Oxford, April 8, '88. — I am grateful for your most interesting
letter which contains very valuable warnings. On the other side
is copied what I have written on two of the points raised by the
book. Have I said too much of the Academy ? I have spoken
only of the first century. You refer to (apparently) about 250
A.D. as a time of great progress ? But I was astonished on first
reading the census of Christian clergy in Rome temp. St. Cyprian,
it was so slender. I am not certain, but does not Beugnot estimate
the Christians before Constantine's conversion, in the west at
one-tenth of the population ? Mrs. T. Arnold died yesterday here.
Mrs. Ward had been summoned and she is coming to see me this
evening. It is a very singular phase of the controversy which she
has opened. When do you repatriate ?

I am afraid that my kindness to the Positivists amounts only to
a comparative approval of their not dropping the great human
tradition out of view; plus a very high appreciation of the
personal qualities of our friend .

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To Lord Acton. c ^-

Dollis Hill y May 13, '88. — Your last letter was one of extreme ^\ 79#
interest. It raised such a multitude of points, after your perusal
of my article on R Elsmere, as to stimulate in the highest degree •
my curiosity to know how far you would carry into propositions,
the ideas which you for the most part obliquely put forward.
I gave the letter to Mary, who paid us a flying visit in London,
that she might take it to Hawarden for full digestion. For myself I
feed upon the hope that when (when ?) you come back to England
we may go over the points, and I may reap further benefits from
your knowledge. I will not now attempt anything of the kind.
But I will say this generally, that I am not so much oppressed
as you appear to be, with the notion that great difficulties have
been imported by the researches of scientists into the religious
and theological argument. As respects cosmogony and geogony,
the Scripture has, I think, taken much benefit from them. What-
ever be the date of the early books, Pentateuch or Hexateuch in
their present edition, the Assyriological investigations seem to me
to have fortified and accredited their substance by producing
similar traditions in variant forms inferior to the Mosaic forms,
and tending to throw them back to a higher antiquity, a foun-
tainhead nearer the source. Then there is the great chapter
of the Dispersal : which Kenan (I think) treats as exhibiting the
marvellous genius (!) of the Jews. As to unbroken sequences in
the physical order, they do not trouble me, because we have to
do not with the natural but the moral order, and over this science,
or as I call it natural science, does not wave her sceptre. It is
no small matter, again (if so it be, as I suppose), that, after
warring for a century against miracle as unsustained by ex-
perience, the assailants should now have to abandon that ground,
stand only upon sequence, and controvert the great facts of the
New Testament only by raising to an extravagant and unnatural
height the demands made under the law of testimony in order
to [justify] a rational belief. One admission has to be made,
that death did not come into the world by sin, namely the
sin of Adam, and this sits inconvenientlv by the declaration of
Saint Paul.

Mrs. "Ward wrote to thank me for the tone of my article. Her

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BOOK first intention was to make some reply in the Nineteenth Century

. itself It appears that advised her not to do it But

1888. Knowles told me that he was labouring to bring her up to the

# scratch again. There, I said, you show the cloven foot; you
want to keep the Nineteenth Century pot boiling.

I own that your reasons for not being in England did not
appear to me cogent, but it would be impertinent to make myself
a judge of them. The worst of it was that you did not name
my date. But I must assume that you are coming ; and surely
the time cannot now be far. Among other things, I want to
speak with you about French novels, a subject on which there
has for me been quite recently cast a most lurid light.

Acton's letters in reply may have convinced Mr. Gladstone
that there were depths in this supreme controversy that he
had hardly sounded; and adversaria that he might have
mocked from a professor of the school or schools of unbelief,
he could not in his inner mind make light of, when coming
from the pen of a catholic believer. Before and after the

* article on Robert Elsmere appeared, Acton, the student with
his vast historic knowledge and his deep penetrating gaze,
warned the impassioned critic of some historic point over-
stated or understated, some dangerous breach left all un-
guarded, some lack of nicety in definition. Acton's letters
will one day see the light, and the reader may then know
how candidly Mr. Gladstone was admonished as to the excess
of his description of the moral action of Christianity ; as to
the risk of sending modern questions to ancient answers, for
the apologists of an age can only meet the difficulties of
their age ; that there are leaps and bounds in the history of
thought ; how well did Newman once say that in theology
you have to meet questions that the Fathers could hardly
have been made to understand ; how if you go to St. Thomas
or Leibnitz or Paley for rescue from Hegel or Haeckel your
apologetics will be a record of disaster. You insist broadly,
says Acton, on belief in the divine nature of Christ as the
soul, substance, and creative force of Christian religion ; you
assign to it very much of the good the church has done ; all
this with little or no qualification or drawback from the
other side : —

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Enter Martineau or Stephen or — — (unattached), and loq. : —
Is this the final judgment of the chief of liberals ? the pontiff of «
a church whose fathers are the later Milton and the later Penn, ^ Et * 79 '
Locke, Bayle, Toland, Franklin, Turgot, Adam Smith, Washington,
Jefferson, Bentham, Dugald Stewart, Romilly, Tocqueville,
Channing, Macaulay, Mill t These men and others like them
disbelieved that doctrine established freedom, and they undid the
work of orthodox Christianity, they swept away that appalling
edifice of intolerance, tyranny, cruelty, which believers in Christ
built up to perpetuate their belief.

The philosophy of liberal history, Acton proceeds, which
has to acknowledge the invaluable services of early
Christianity, feels the anti-liberal and anti-social action of
later Christianity, before the rise of the sects that rejected,
some of them the divinity of Christ; others, the institutions
of the church erected upon it. Liberalism if it admits these
things as indifferent, surrenders its own raison d'Stre, and
ceases to strive for an ethical cause. If the doctrine of
Torquemada make us condone his morality, there can be no
public right and no wrong, no political sin, no secular cause
to die for. So it might be said that —

You do not work really from the principle of liberalism, but
from the cognate, though distinct principles of democracy,
nationality, progress, etc. To some extent, I fear, you will
estrange valued friends, not assuredly by any expression of
theological belief, but by seeming to ignore the great central
problem of Christian politics. If I had to put my own doubts,
instead of the average liberal's, I should state the case in other
words, but not altogether differently. 1

1 May 2, 1888.

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Those who come over hither to us from England, and some weak
people among ourselves, whenever in discourse we make mention of
liberty and property, shake their heads, and tell us that * Ireland is
a depending kingdom,' as if they would seem by this phrase to
intend, that the people of Ireland are in some state of slavery or
dependence different from those of England. — Jonathan Swift.

BOOK In the ministry that succeeded Mr. Gladstone in 1886,
x * . Sir Michael Hicks Beach undertook for the second time the

1886. office of Irish secretary, while Lord Randolph Churchill
filled his place at the exchequer and as leader of the House.
The new Irish policy was to open* with the despatch of a
distinguished soldier to put down moonlighters in Kerry;
the creation of one royal commission under Lord Cowper,
to inquire into land rents and land purchase ; and another
to inquire into the country's material resources. The two
commissions were well-established ways of marking time.
As for Irish industries and Irish resources, a committee of
the House of Commons had made a report in a blue book of
a thousand pages only a year before. On Irish land there
had been a grand commission in 1880, and a committee of
the House of Lords in 1882-3. The latest Purchase Act was
hardly yet a year old. Then to commission a general to hunt
down little handfuls of peasants who with blackened faces
and rude fire-arms crept stealthily in the dead of night
round lonely cabins in the remote hillsides and glens of
Kerry, waa hardly more sensible than it would be to send
a squadron of life-guards to catch pickpockets in a
London slum.
A question that exercised Mr. Gladstone at least as

sharply as the proceedings of ministers, was the attitude


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to be taken by those who had quitted him, ejected him in CHAP,
the short parliament of 1886, and fought the election against >
him. We have seen how much controversy arose long years ^ T# 77#
before as to the question whereabouts in the House of
Commons the Peelites should take their seats. 1 The same
perplexity now confronted the liberals who did not agree
with Mr. Gladstone upon Irish government. Lord Hartington
wrote to him, and here is his reply : —

August 2, 1886. — I fully appreciate the feeling which has
prompted your letter, and I admit the reality of the difficulties
you describe. It is also clear, I think, that so far as title to
places on the front opposition bench is concerned, your right to
them is identical with ours. I am afraid, however, that I cannot
materially contribute to relieve you from embarrassment. Ihe
choice of a seat is more or less the choice of a symbol ; and I have
no such acquaintance with your political views and intentions, as
could alone enable me to judge what materials I have before me
for making an answer to your inquiry. For my own part, I
earnestly desire, subject to the paramount exigencies of the Irish
question, to promote in every way the reunion of the liberal
party; a desire in which I earnestly trust that you participate.
And I certainly could not directly or indirectly dissuade you
from any step which you may be inclined to take, and which
may appear to you to have a tendency in any measure to promote
that end.

A singular event occurred at the end of the year (1886),
that produced an important change in the relations of this
group of liberals to the government that they had placed and
maintained in power. Lord Randolph, the young minister
who with such extraordinary rapidity had risen to ascendency
in the councils of the government, suddenly in a fatal moment
of miscalculation or caprice resigned (Dec. 23). Political
suicide is not easy to a man with energy and resolution, but
this was one of the rare cases. In a situation so strangely
unstable and irregular, with an administration resting on
the support of a section sitting on benches opposite, and
still declaring every day that they adhered to old liberal

1 See vol. i. p. 423.

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BOOK principles and had no wish to sever old party ties, the
x " _, withdrawal of Lord Randolph Churchill created boundless

1886. perturbation. It was one of those exquisite moments in
which excited politicians enjoy the ineflable sensation that
the end of the world has come. Everything seemed pos-
sible. Lord Harrington was summoned from the shores of
the Mediterranean, but being by temperament incredulous of
all vast elemental convulsions, he took his time. On his
return he declined Lord Salisbury's offer to make way for
him as head of the government. The glitter of the prize
might have tempted a man of schoolboy ambition, but Lord
Harrington was too experienced in affairs not to know that
to be head of a group that held the balance was, under such
equivocal circumstances, far the more substantial and com-
manding position of the two. Mr. Goschen's case was
different, and by taking the vacant post at the exchequer
he saved the prime minister from the necessity of going back
under Lord Randolph's yoke. As it happened, all this gave
a shake to both of the unionist wings. The ominous clouds
of coercion were sailing slowly but discernibly along the
horizon, and this made men in the unionist camp still more
restless and uneasy. Mr. Chamberlain, on the very day of
the announcement of the Churchill resignation, had made a
speech that was taken to hold out an olive branch to his old
friends. Sir William Harcourt, ever holding stoutly in fair
weather and in foul to the party ship, thought the break-up
of a great political combination to be so immense an evil, as
to call for almost any sacrifices to prevent it. He instantly
wrote to Birmingham to express his desire to co-operate in
re-union, and in the course of a few days five members of the
original liberal cabinet of 1886 met at his house in what was
known as the Round Table Conference. 1

A letter of Mr. Gladstone's to me puts some of his
views on the situation created by the retirement of Lord
Randolph : —

Hawarden, Christmas Day, 1886. — Between Christmas services,
a flood of cards and congratulations for the season, and many

1 Sir W. Harcourt, Mr Chamberlain, Lord Herschell, Sir George Trevelyan,
and myself.

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interesting letters, I am drowned in work to-day, having just at CHAP.
1 J P.M. ascertained what my letters are. So forgive me if, first ,
thanking you very much for yours, I deal with some points
rather abruptly.

1. Churchill has committed an outrage as against the Queen, and
also the prime minister, in the method of resigning and making
known his resignation. This, of course, they will work against
him. 2. He is also entirely wrong in supposing that the finance
minister has any ruling authority on the great estimates of
defence. If he had, he would be the master of the country.
But although he has no right to demand the concurrence of his
colleagues in his view of the estimates, he has a rather special
right, because these do so much towards determining budget and
taxation, to indicate his own views by resignation. I have
repeatedly fought estimates to the extremity, with an intention
of resigning in case. But to send in a resignation makes it
• impossible for his colleagues as men of honour to recede. 3. I
think one of his best points is that he had made before taking
office recent and formal declarations on behalf of economy, of
which his colleagues must be taken to have been cognisant, and
Salisbury in particular. He may plead that he could not reduce
these all at once to zero. 4. Cannot something be done, without
reference to the holes that may be picked, to give him some
support as a champion of economy ? This talk about the con-
tinental war, I for one regard as pure nonsense when aimed at
magnifying our estimates. -

5. With regard to Hartington. What he will do I know not,

Online LibraryJohn MorleyThe life of William Ewart Gladstone, Volume 2 → online text (page 55 of 91)