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and our wishes could have no weight with him. . . . The position
is one of such difficulty for H. that I am very sorry for him,
though it was never more true that he who makes his own bed
in a certain way must lie in it. Chamberlain's speech hits him
very hard in case of acceptance. I take it for granted that he
will not accept to sit among thirteen tories, but will have to
demand an entry by force, i.e. with three or four friends. To
accept upon that footing would, I think, be the logical conse-
quence of all he has said and done since April. In logic, he ought
to go forward, or, as Chamberlain has done, backward. The
Queen will, I have no doubt, be brought to bear upon him, and

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the nine-tenths of his order. If the Irish question rules all others,
all he has to consider is whether he (properly flanked) can serve
1887. y s yj ew f t b e j r i 8 h q Ue8 tion. But with this logic we have
nothing to do. The question for us also is (I think), what is
best for our view of the Irish question f I am tempted to wish
that he should accept ; it would clear the ground. But I do not
yet see my way with certainty.

6. With regard to Chamberlain. . From what has already passed
between us you know that, apart from the new situation and
from his declaration, I was very desirous that everything honour-
able should be done to conciliate and soothe. Unquestionably his
speech is a new fact of great weight. He is again a liberal, quand
m&me> and will not on all points (as good old Joe Hume used to
say) swear black is white for the sake of his views on Ireland.
We ought not to waste this new fact, but take careful account of
it On the other hand, I think he will see that the moment for
taking account of it has not come. Clearly the first thing is to
see who are the government. When we see this, we shall also
know something of its colour and intentions. I do not think
Randolph can go back. He would go back at a heavy discount.
If he wants to minimise, the only way I see is that he should
isolate his vote on the estimates, form no clique, and proclaim
strong support in Irish matters and general policy. Thus he
might pave a roundabout road of return. . . . In many things
GoBchen is more of a liberal than Hartington, and he would carry
with him next to nobody.

7. On the whole, I rejoice to think that, come what may, this
affair will really affect progress in the Irish question.

A happy Christmas to you. It will be happier than that of the

Mr. Gladstone gave the Round Table his blessing, his
' general idea being that he had better meddle as little as
possible with the conference, and retain a free hand.' Lord
Hartington would neither join the conference, nor deny that
he thought it premature. While negotiation was going on,
he said, somebody must stay at home, guard the position,
and keep a watch on the movements of the enemy, and this
duty was his. In truth, after encouraging or pressing Mr.

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Goschen to join the government, it was obviously impossible
to do anything that would look like desertion either of him
or of them. On the other side, both English liberals and aEt * 78#
Irish nationalists were equally uneasy lest the unity of the
party should be bought hy the sacrifice of fundamentals. The
conference was denounced from this quarter as an attempt to
find a compromise that would help a few men sitting on the
fence to salve ' their consciences at the expense of a nation's
rights.' Such remarks are worth quoting, to illustrate the
temper of the rank and file. Mr. Parnell, though alive to the
truth that when people go into a conference it usually means
that they are ready to give up something, was thoroughly
awake to the satisfactory significance of the Birmingham

Things at the round table for some time went smoothly
enough. Mr. Chamberlain gradually advanced the whole
length. He publicly committed himself to the expediency of
establishing some kind of legislative authority in Dublin in
accordance with Mr. Gladstone's principle, with a preference
in his own mind for a plan on the lines of Canada. This he
followed up, also in public, by the admission that of course the
Irish legislature must be allowed to organize their own form
of executive government, either by an imitation on a small
scale of all that goes on at Westminster and Whitehall, or in
whatever other shape they might think proper. 1 To assent
to an Irish legislature for such affairs as parliament might
determine to be distinctively Irish, with an executive respon-
sible to it, was to accept the party credo on the subject. Then
the surface became mysteriously ruffled. Language was used
by some of the plenipotentiaries in public, of which each side
in turn complained as inconsistent with conciliatory negotia-
tion in private. At last on the very day on which the pro-
visional result of the conference was laid before Mr. Gladstone,
there appeared in a print called the Baptist 2 an article from
Mr. Chamberlain, containing an ardent plea for the dis-
establishment of the Welsh church, but warning the Welsh-
men that they and the Scotch crofters and the English

1 See speeches at Hawick, Jan. 22, s Baptist article, in Times, Feb. 25,
and at Birmingham, Jan. 29, 1887. 1887.

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BOOK labourers, thirty-two millions of people, must all go without
/ much-needed legislation because three millions were disloyal,

1886 * while nearly six hundred members of parliament would be
reduced to forced inactivity, because some eighty delegates,
representing the policy and receiving the pay of the Chicago
convention, were determined to obstruct all business until
their demands had been conceded. Men naturally asked
what was the use of continuing a discussion, when one party
to it was attacking in this peremptory fashion the very
persons and the policy that in private he was supposed to
accept. Mr. Gladstone showed no implacability. Viewing
the actual character of the Baptist letter, he said to Sir W.
Harcourt, ' I am inclined to think we can hardly do more
now, than to say we fear it has interposed an unexpected
obstacle in the way of any attempt at this moment to sum
up the result of your communications, which we should
otherwise hopefully have done; but on the other hand we
are unwilling that so much ground apparently gained should
be lost, that a little time may soften or remove the present
ruffling of the surface, and that we are quite willing that the
subject should stand over for resumption at a convenient

The resumption never happened. Two or three weeks
later, Mr. Chamberlain announced that he did not intend to
return to the round table. 1 No other serious and formal
attempt was ever made on either side to prevent the liberal *
unionists from hardening into a separate species. When
they became accomplices in coercion, they cut off the chances
of re-union. Coercion was the key to the new situation.
Just as at the beginning of 1886, the announcement of it by
the tory government marked the parting of the ways, so was
it now.


We must now with reasonable cheerfulness turn our
faces back towards Ireland. On the day of his return from

1 If anybody should ever wish See also Sir G. O. Trevelyan, Times,

farther to disinter the history of this July 26, 1887, Mr. Chamberlain's

fruitless episode, he will find all the letter to Mr. Evelyn Ashley, Times,

details in a speech by Sir William July 29, 1887, and a speech of my own

Harcourt at Derby, Feb. 27, 1889. at Wolverhampton, April 19, 1887.

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Ireland (August 17, 1886) Mr. Parnell told me that he
was quite sure that rents could not be paid in the
coming winter, and if the country was to be kept quiet, ^ Et * 77 '
the government would have to do something. He hoped
that they would do something; otherwise there would be
disturbance, and that he did not want. He had made up
his mind that his interests would be best served by a quiet
winter. For one thing he knew that disturbance would be
followed by coercion, and he knew and often said that of
course strong coercion must always in the long run win the
day, little as the victory might be worth. For another thing
he apprehended that disturbance might frighten away his new
political allies in Great Britain, and destroy the combination
which he had so dexterously built up. This was now a
dominant element with him. He desired definitely that the
next stage of his movement should be in the largest sense
political and not agrarian. He brought two or three sets of
proposals in this sense before the House, and finally produced
a Tenants Relief bill. It was not brilliantly framed. For in
truth it is not in human nature, either Irish or any other, to
labour the framing of a bill which has no chance of being
seriously considered.

The golden secret of Irish government was always to begin
by trying to find all possible points for disagreement with
anything that Mr. Parnell said or proposed, instead of seeking
whether what he said or proposed might not furnish a basis
for agreement. The conciliatory tone was soon over, and the
Parnell bill was thrown out. The Irish secretary denounced
it as permanently upsetting the settlement of 1881, as giving
a death-blow to purchase, and as produced without the proof
of any real grounds for a general reduction in judicial rents.
Whatever else he did, said Sir Michael Hicks Beach, he would
never agree to govern Ireland by a policy of blackmail. 1

A serious movement followed the failure of the government
to grapple with arrears of rent. The policy known as the
plan of campaign was launched. TJie plan of campaign was
this. The tenants of a given estate agreed with one another
what abatement they thought just in the current half-year's

Hans. 309, Sept. 21, 1886.

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rent. This in a body they proffered to landlord or agent. If
it was refused as payment in full, they handed the money to
1886. a managing committee, and the committee deposited it with
some person in whom they had confidence, to be used for the
purpose of the struggle. 1 That such proceeding constituted
an unlawful conspiracy nobody doubts, any more than it can
be doubted that before the Act of 1875 every trade combina-
tion of a like kind in this island was a conspiracy.

At an early stage the Irish leader gave his opinion to the
present writer : —

Dec. 7, 1886. — Mr. Parnell called, looking very ill and worn.
He wished to know what I thought of the effect of the plan of
campaign upon public opinion. ' If you mean in Ireland,' I said,
' of course I have no view, and it would be worth nothing if I had.
In England, the effect is wholly bad ; it offends almost more even
than outrages.' He said he had been very ill and had taken no
part, so that he stands free and uncommitted. He was anxious
to have it fully understood that the fixed point in his tactics is
to maintain the alliance with the English liberals. He referred
with much bitterness, and very justifiable too, to the fact that
when Ireland seemed to be quiet some short time back, the
government had at once begun to draw away from all their
promises of remedial legislation. If now rents were paid, meetings
abandoned, and newspapers moderated, the same thing would
happen over again as usual. However, he would send for a certain
one of his lieuteuants, and would press for an immediate cessation
of the violent speeches.

December 12. — Mr. Parnell came, and we had a prolonged
conversation. The lieutenant had come over, and had defended
the plan of campaign. Mr. Parnell persevered in his dissent and
disapproval, and they parted with the understanding that the
meetings should be dropped, and the movement calmed as much
as could be. I told him that I had heard from Mr. Gladstone,
and that he could not possibly show any tolerance for illegalities.

That his opponents should call upon Mr. Gladstone to
denounce the plan of campaign and cut himself off from
its authors, was to be expected. They made the most of it.

1 See United Ireland, Oct. 23, 1886.

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But he was the last man to be turned aside from the pro-
secution of a policy that he deemed of overwhelming
moment, by any minor currents. Immediately after the
election, Mr. Parnell had been informed of his view that it
would be a mistake for English and Irish to aim at uniform
action in parliament. Motives could not be at all points the
same. Liberals were bound to keep in view (next to what
the Irish question might require) the reunion of the liberal
party. The Irish were bound to have special regard to the
opinion and circumstances of Ireland. Common action up
to a certain degree would arise from the necessities of the
position. Such was Mr. Gladstone's view. He was bent on
bringing a revolutionary movement to what he confidently
anticipated would be a good end ; to allow a passing phase
of that movement to divert him, would be to abandon his
own foundations. No reformer is fit for his task who suffers
himself to be frightened off by the excesses of an extreme

In reply to my account of the conversation with Mr.
Parnell, he wrote to me : —

Hawarden, December 8, 1886. — I have received your very clear
statement and reply in much haste for the post — making the same

request as yours for a return. I am glad to find the speech

is likely to be neutralised, I hope effectually. It was really very
bad. I am glad you write to . 2. As to the campaign in Ire-
land, I do not at present feel the force of Hartington's appeal to
me to speak out. I do not recollect that he ever spoke out about
Churchill, of whom he is for the time the enthusiastic follower. 1
3. But all I say and do must be kept apart from the slightest
countenance direct or indirect to illegality. We too suffer under
the power of the landlord, but we cannot adopt this as a method
of breaking it. 4. I am glad you opened the question of inter-
mediate measures. ... 5. Upon the whole I suppose he sees he
cannot have countenance from us in the plan of campaign. The
question rather is how much disavowal. I have contradicted
a tory figment in Glasgow that I had approved.

At a later date (September 16, 1887) he wrote to me as to

1 Lord Randolph had encouraged a plan of campaign in Ulster against
home rule.

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BOOK an intended speech at Newcastle: — 'You will, I have no

• .dnnht., press even more earnestly than before on the Irish

1887 - people the duty and policy of maintaining order, and in

these instances I shall be very glad if you will associate me

with yourself/

' The plan of campaign/ said Mr. Gladstone, ' was one of
those devices that cannot be reconciled with the principles
of law and order in a civilised country. Yet we all know
that such devices are the certain result of misgovernment.
With respect to this particular instance, if the plan be
blameable (I cannot deny that I feel it difficult to acquit any
such plan) I feel its authors are not one-tenth part so blame-
able as the government whose contemptuous refusal of what
they have now granted, was the parent and source of the
. mischief/ l This is worth looking at.

The Cowper Commission, in February 1887, reported that
refusal by some landlords explained much that had occurred
in the way of combination, and that the growth of these
combinations had been facilitated by the fall in prices,
restriction of credit by the banks, and other circumstances
making the payment of rent impossible. 2 Remarkable
evidence was given by Sir Redvers Buller. Ho thought
there should be some means of modifying and redressing the
grievance of rents being still higher than the people can pay.
'You have got a very ignorant poor people, and the law
should look after them, instead of which it has only looked
after the rich/ 8 This was exactly what Mr. Parnell had said.
In the House the government did not believe him ; in Ire-
land they admitted his case to be true. In one instance
General Buller wrote to the agents of the estate that he
believed it was impossible for the tenants to pay the rent
that was demanded; there might be five or six rogues
among them, but in his opinion the greater number of them
were nearer famine than paying rent. 4 In this very case
ruthless evictions followed. The same scenes were enacted
elsewhere. The landlords were within their rights, the courts
were bound by the law, the police had no choice but to back

1 Speech at the Memorial Hall, * Freeman, Jan. 1887.
July 29, 1887. * Questions 16, 473-5.

8 Report, p. 8, sect. 15.

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the courts. The legal case was complete. The moral case
remained, and it was through these barbarous scenes that in
a rough and non-logical way the realities of the Irish land
system for the first time gained access to the minds of the
electors of Great Britain. Such devices as the plan of cam-
paign came to be regarded in England and Scotland as what
they were, incidents in a great social struggle. In a vast
majority of cases the mutineers succeeded in extorting
a reduction of rent, not any more immoderate than the
reduction voluntarily made by good landlords, or decreed in
the land-courts. No agrarian movement in Ireland was ever
so unstained by crime.

Some who took part in these affairs made no secret of
political motives. Unlike Mr. Parnell, they deliberately
desired to make government difficult. Others feared that
complete inaction would give an opening to the Fenian
extremists. This section had already shown some signs both
of their temper and their influence in certain proceedings
of the Gaelic association at Thurles. But the main spring
was undoubtedly agrarian, and the force of the spring came
from mischiefs that ministers had refused to face in time.
' What they call a conspiracy now/ said one of the insurgent
leaders, * they will call an Act of parliament next year/ So
it turned out.

The Commission felt themselves 'constrained to re-
commend an earlier revision of judicial rents, on account
of the straitened circumstances of Irish farmers.' What
the commissioners thus told ministers in the spring was
exactly what the Irish leader had told them in the pre-
vious autumn. They found that there were ' real grounds '
for some legislation of the kind that the chief secretary,
unconscious of what his cabinet was so rapidly to come to,
had stigmatized as the policy of blackmail.

On the last day of March 1887, t\\e government felt the
necessity of introducing a measure based on facts that they
had disputed, and on principles that they had repudiated.
Leaseholders were admitted, some hundred thousand of
them. That is, the more solemn of the forms of agrarian
contract were set aside. Other provisions we may pass over.

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But this was not the bill to which the report of the Com-
mission pointed. The pith of that report was the revision
1887. an( j abatement of judicial rents, and from the new bill this
vital point was omitted. It could hardly have been other-
wise after a curt declaration made by the prime minister in
the previous August. ' We do not contemplate any revision
of judicial rents/ he said — immediately, by the way, after
appointing a commission to find out what it was that they
ought to contemplate. ' We do not think it would be honest
in the first place, and we think it would be exceedingly
inexpedient.' l He now repeated that to interfere with
judicial rents because prices had fallen, would be to 'lay your
axe to the root of the fabric of civilised society/ 2 Before the
bill was introduced, Mr. Balfour, who had gone to the Irish
office on the retirement of Sir M. H. Beach in the month
of March, proclaimed in language even more fervid, that it
would be folly and madness to break these solemn contracts.*
For that matter, the bill even as it first stood was in direct
contravention to all such high doctrine as this, inasmuch as
it clothed a court with power to vary solemn contracts by
fixing a composition for outstanding debt, and spreading the
payment of it over such a time as the judge might think fit
That, however, was the least part of what finally overtook
the haughty language of the month of April In May the
government accepted a proposal that the court should not
only settle the sum due by an applicant for relief for out-
standing debt, but should fix a reasonable rent for the rest
of the term. This was the very power of variation that
ministers had, as it were only the day before, so roundly
denounced. But then the tenants in Ulster were beginning
to growL In June ministers withdrew the power of varia-
tion, for now it was the landlords who were growling. Then
at last in July the prime minister called his party together,
and told them that if the bill were not altered, Ulster would
be lost to the unionist cause, and that after all he must put
into the bill a general revision of judicial rents for three
years. So finally, as it was put by a speaker of that time,

1 Hans., August 19, 1886. * Ibid. 312, April 22, 1887.

9 Ibid. 313, March 22, 1887.

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you have the prime minister rejecting in April the policy
which in May he accepts; rejecting in June the policy which -
he had accepted in May ; and then in July accepting the ^ Et - 7a
policy which he had rejected in June, and which had been
within a few weeks declared by himself and his colleagues to
be inexpedient and dishonest, to be madness and folly, and
to be a laying of the axe to the very root of the fabric of
civilised society. The simplest recapitulation made the
bitterest satire.

The law that finally emerged from these singular opera-
tions dealt, it will be observed in passing, with nothing less
than* the chief object of Irish industry and the chief form
of Irish property. No wonder that the landlords lifted up
angry voices. True, the minister the year before had laid it
down that if rectification of rents should be proved necessary,
the landlords ought to be compensated by the state. Of this
consolatory balm it is needless to say no more was ever
heard; it was only a graceful sentence in a speech, and
proved to have little relation to purpose or intention. At
the Kildare Street club in Dublin members moodily asked
one another whether they might not just as well have had
the policy of Mr. ParnelFs bill adopted on College Green, as
adopted at Westminster.

The moment had by this time once more come for
testing the proposition from which Mr. Gladstone's policy
had first started. Tl*e tory government had been turned
out at the beginning of 1886 upon coercion, and Mr.
Gladstone's government had in the summer of that year
been beaten upon conciliation. 'I ventured to state in
1886/ said Mr. Gladstone a year later, 1 f that we had arrived
at the point where two roads met, or rather where two roads
parted ; one of them the road that marked the endeavour to
govern Ireland according to its constitutionally expressed
wishes; the other the road principally marked by ultra-
constitutional measures, growing more and more pro-
nounced in character.' Others, he said, with whom we had

1 Speech on Criminal Law Amendment (Ireland) bill, March 29, 1887.

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been in close alliance down to that date, considered that a
third course was open, namely liberal concession, stopping
1887# short of autonomy, but upon a careful avoidance of coercion.
Now it became visible that this was a mistake, and that in
default of effective conciliation, coercion was the inevitable
alternative. So it happened.

The government again unlocked the ancient armoury, and
brought out the well-worn engines. The new Crimes bill in
most particulars followed the old Act, but it contained one or
two serious extensions, including a clause afterwards dropped,
that gave to the crown a choice in cases of murder or certain
other aggravated offences of carrying the prisoner out of his
own country over to England and trying him before a
Middlesex jury at the Old Bailey — a puny imitation of the
heroic expedient suggested in 1769, of bringing American
rebels over for trial in England under a slumbering statute
of King Henry vin. The most startling innovation of

Online LibraryJohn MorleyThe life of William Ewart Gladstone, Volume 2 → online text (page 56 of 91)