John Morley.

The life of William Ewart Gladstone, Volume 2 online

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all was that the new Act was henceforth to be the per-
manent law of Ireland, and all its drastic provisions were
to be brought into force whenever the executive government
pleased. 1 This Act was not restricted as every former law of
the kind had been in point of time, to meet an emergency;
it was made a standing instrument of government Criminal
law and procedure is one of the most important of all the
branches of civil rule, and certainly is one of the most impor-
tant of all its elements. This was now in Ireland to shift up
and down, to be one thing to-day and another thing to-morrow
at executive discretion. Acts would be innocent or would be
crimes, just as it pleased the Irish minister. Parliament did
not enact that given things were criminal, but only that they
should be criminal when an Irish minister should choose to
say so. 2 Persons charged with them would have the benefit
of a jury or would be deprived of a jury, as the Irish minister
might think proper.

Mr. Parnell was in bad health and took little part, but he

1 This vital feature of the bill of 61.
was discussed in the report stage, a See Palles, C. B., in Walsh's

on a motion limiting the operation of case. Judgments of Superior Courts

the Act to three years. June 27, 1887, in cases under the Criminal Law and

Hans. 316, p. 1013. The clause was Procedure Amendment Act, 1887, p.

rejected by 180 to 119, or a majority 110.

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made more than one pulverising attack in that measured CHAP,
and frigid style which, in a man who knows his case at first t ' -
hand, may be so much more awkward for a minister than ^ T# 78%
more florid onslaughts. He discouraged obstruction, and
advised his followers to select vital points and to leave others
alone. This is said to have been the first Coercion bill that
a majority of Irish members voting opposed."

It was at this point that the government suddenly intro-
duced their historic proposal for closure by guillotine.
They carried (June 10) a resolution that at ten o'clock
on that day week the committee stage should be brought
compulsorily to an end, and that any clauses remaining
undisposed of should be put forthwith without amendment
or debate. The most remarkable innovation upon parlia-
mentary rule and practice since Cromwell and Colonel Pride,
was introduced by Mr. Smith in a.characteristic speech, well
larded with phrases about duty, right, responsibility, business
of the country, and efficiency of the House. These ( solemn-
ising complacencies ' did not hide the mortifying fact that if
it had really been one of the objects of Irish members for
ten years past to work a revolution in the parliament where
they were forced against their will to sit, they had at
least, be such a revolution good or bad, succeeded in their

Perhaps looking forward with prophetic eye to a day
that actually arrived six years later, Mr. Gladstone while
objecting to the proposal as unjustified, threw the responsi-
bility of it upon the government, and used none of
the flaming colours of defiance. The bulk of the liberals
abstained from the division. This practical accord between
the two sets of leading men made the parliamentary revo-
lution definite and finally clenched it. It was not without
something of a funereal pang that members with a sense of
the old traditions of the power, solemnity, and honour of the
House of Commons came down on the evening of the
seventeenth of June. Within a week they would be cele-
brating the fiftieth year of the reign of the Queen, and
that night's business was the strange and unforeseen goal at
which a journey of little more than the same period of time

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BOOK along the high democratic road had brought the commonalty
/of the realm since 1832. Among the provisions that went
into the bill without any discussion in committee were tho&
giving to the Irish executive the power of stamping an asso-
ciation as unlawful ; those dealing with special juries and
change of the place of trial; those specifying the various
important conditions attaching to proclamations, which lay at
the foundation of the Act ; those dealing with rules, procedure,
and the limits of penalty. The report next fell under what
Burke calls the accursed slider. That stage had taken three
sittings, when the government moved (June 30) that it must
close in four days. So much grace, however, was not needed;
for after the motion had been carried the liberals withdrew
from the House, and the Irishmen betook themselves to the
galleries, whence they looked down upon the mechanical
proceedings below.


In Ireland the battle now began in earnest. The Irish
minister went into it with intrepid logic. Though very
different men in the deeper parts of character, Macaulay's
account of Halifax would not be an ill-natured account of Mr.
Balfour. 'His understanding was keen, sceptical, inexhausti-
bly fertile in distinctions and objections, his taste refined, his
sense of the ludicrous exquisite ; his temper placid and for-
giving, but fastidious, and by no means prone either to male-
volence or to enthusiastic admiration.' His business was to
show disaffected Ireland that parliament was her master.
Parliament had put the weapon into his hands, and it was
for him to smite his antagonists to the ground. He made
no experiments in judicious mixture, hard blows and soft
speech, but held steadily to force and fear. His apologists
argued that after all substantial justice was done even in
what seemed hard cases, and even if the spirit of law were
sometimes a trifle strained. Unluckily the peasant with the
blunderbuss, as he waits behind the hedge for the tyrant or
the traitor, says just the same. The forces of disorder were
infinitely less formidable than they had been a hundred
times before. The contest was child's play compared with

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the violence and confusion with which Mr. Forster or Lord CHAP.
Spencer had to deal. On the other hand the alliances, IL

between liberals and Irish gave to the struggle a parlia- ^ T * 7 *
mentary complexion, by which no coercion struggle had ever
been marked hitherto. In the dialectic of senate and plat-
form, Mr. Bfedfour displayed a strength of wrist, a rapidity,
an instant readiness for combat, that took his foes by sur-
prise, and roused in his friends a delight hardly surpassed in
the politics of our day.

There was another important novelty this time. To
England hitherto Irish coercion had been little more than
a word of common form, used without any thought what the
thing itself was like to the people coerced. Now it was
different. Coercion had for once become a flaming party
issue, and when that happens all the world awakes. Mr.
Gladstone had proclaimed that the choice lay between con-
ciliation and coercion. The country would have liked
conciliation, but did not trust his plan. When coercion
came, the two British parties rushed to their swords, and
the deciding body of neutrals looked on with anxiety and
concern. There has never been a more strenuously sustained
contest in the history of political campaigns. No effort was
spared to bring the realities of repression vividly home to
the judgment and feelings of men and women of our own
island. English visitors trooped over to Ireland, and brought
back stories of rapacious landlords, violent police, and
famishing folk cast out homeless upon the wintry roadside.
Irishmen became the most welcome speakers on British
platforms, and for the first time in all our history they got
a hearing for their lamentable tale. To English audiences
it was as new and interesting as the narrative of an African *

explorer or a navigator in the Pacific. Our Irish instructors
even came to the curious conclusion that ordinary inter-
national estimates must be revised, and that Englishmen
are in truth far more emotional than Irishmen. Ministerial
speakers, on the other hand, diligently exposed inaccuracy
here or over-colouring there. They appealed to the English
distaste for disorder, and to the English taste for mastery,
and they did not overlook the slumbering jealousy of popery

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and priestcraft. But the course of affairs was too rapid for
*them, the strong harsh doses to the Irish patient were too
incessant. The Irish convictions in cases where the land was
concerned rose to 2805, and of these rather over one-half
were in cases where in England the rights of the prisoner
would have been guarded by a jury. The tide of common
popular feeling in this island about the right to combine, the
right of public meeting, the frequent barbarities of eviction,
the jarring indignities of prison treatment, flowed stronger
and stronger. The general impression spread more and
more widely that the Irish did not have fair play, that they
were not being treated about speeches and combination and
meetings as Englishmen or Scotchmen would be treated.
Even in breasts that had been most incensed by the sudden
reversal of policy in 1886, the feeling slowly grew that it
was perhaps a pity after all that Mr. Gladstone had not
been allowed to persevere on the fair-shining path of

The pioceedings under exceptional law would make an in-
structive chapter in the history of the union. Mr. Gladstone
followed them vigilantly, once or twice without his usual
exercise of critical faculty, but always bringing into effective
light the contrast between this squalid policy and his antici-
pations of his own. Here we are only concerned with what
affected British opinion on the new policy. One set of dis-
tressing incidents, not connected with the Crimes Act, created
disgust and even horror in the country and set Mr. Gladstone
on fire. A meeting of some six thousand persons assembled
in a large public square at Mitchelstown in the county of
Cork. 1 It was a good illustration of Mr. Gladstone's habitual
strategy in public movements, that he should have boldly
and promptly seized on the doings at Mitchelstown as an
incident well fitted to arrest the attention of the country.
' Remember Mitchelstown ' became a watchword. The
chairman, speaking from a carriage that did duty for a
platform, opened the proceedings. Then a file of police
endeavoured to force a way through the densest part of the

1 On September 9, 1887.

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crowd for a government note-taker. Why they did not
choose an easier mode of approach from the rear, or by the
side ; why they had not got their reporter on to the platform JErr ' 78 *
before the business began ; and why they had not beforehand
asked for accommodation as was the practice, were three
points never explained. The police unable to make a way
through the crowd retired to the outskirt. The meeting
went on. In a few minutes a larger body of police pressed
up through the thick of the throng to the platform. A
violent struggle began, the police fighting their way through
the crowd with batons and clubbed rifles. The crowd flung
stones and struck out with sticks, and after three or four
minutes the police fled to their barracks — some two hundred
and fifty yards away. So far there is no material discrepancy
in the various versions of this dismal story. What followed
is matter of conflicting testimony. One side alleged that a
furious throng rushed after the police, attacked the barrack,
and half murdered a constable outside, and that the con-
stables inside in order to save their comrade and to beat off
the assailing force, opened fire from an upper window. The
other side declare that no crowd followed the retreating
police at all, that the assault on the barrack was a myth,
and that the police fired without orders from any responsible
officer, in mere blind panic and confusion. One old man
was shot dead, two others were mortally wounded and died
within a week.

Three days later the affray was brought before the House
of Commons. Any one could see from the various reports
that the conduct of the police, the resistance of the crowd,
and the guilt or justification of the bloodshed, were all
matters in the utmost doubt and demanding rigorous
inquiry. Mr. Balfour pronounced instant and peremptory
judgment. The thing had happened on the previous Friday.
The official report, however rapidly prepared, could not have
reached him until the morning of Sunday. His officers at
the Castle had had no opportunity of testing their official
report by cross-examination of the constables concerned, nor
by inspection of the barrack, the line of fire, and other
material elements of the case. Yet on the strength of this

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BOOK hastily drawn and unsifted report received by him from
^ . Ireland on Sunday, and without even waiting for any in-

1887 - formation that eye-witnesses in the House might have to
lay before him in the course of the discussion, the Irish
minister actually told parliament once for all, on the after-
noon of Monday, that he was of opinion, 'looking at the
matter in the most impartial spirit, that the police were in
no way to blame, and that no responsibility rested upon any
one except upon those who convened the meeting under
circumstances which they knew would lead to excitement
and might lead to outrage/ l The country was astounded to
see the most critical mind in all the House swallow an
untested police report whole; to hear one of the best judges
in all the country of the fallibility of human testimony, give
offhand in what was really a charge of murder, a verdict of
Not Guilty, after he had read the untested evidence on one

The rest was all of a piece. The coroner's inquest was
hpid in due course. The proceedings were not more happily
conducted than was to be expected where each side followed
the counsels of ferocious exasperation. The jury after some
seventeen days of it, returned a verdict of wilful murder
against the chief police officer and five of his men. This
inquisition was afterwards quashed (February 10, 1888) in
the Queen's bench, on the ground that the coroner had
perpetrated certain irregularities of form. Nobody has
doubted that the Queen's bench was right ; it seemed as if
there had been a conspiracy of all the demons of human
stupidity in this tragic bungle, from the first forcing of the
reporter through the crowd, down to the inquest on the
three slain men and onwards. The coroner's inquest having
broken down, reasonable opinion demanded that some other
public inquiry should be held. Even supporters of the
government demanded it If three men had been killed by
the police in connection with a public meeting in England
or Scotland, no home secretary would have dreamed for five
minutes of resisting such a demand. Instead of a public
inquiry, what the chief secretary did was to appoint a
1 Sept 12, 1887. Hans. 321, p. 327.

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confidential departmental committee of policemen privately CHAP,
to examine, not whether the firing was justified by the*

circumstances, but how it came about that the police were ^ T - 78,
so handled by their officers that a large force was put to
flight by a disorderly mob. The three deaths were treated
as mere accident and irrelevance. The committee was ap-
pointed to correct the discipline of the force, said the Irish
minister, and in no sense to seek justification for actions
which, in his opinion, required no justification. 1 Endless
speeches were made in the House and out of it ; members
went over to Mitchelstown to measure distances, calculate
angles, and fire imaginary rifles out of the barrack window ;
all sorts of theories of ricochet shots were invented, photo-
graphs and diagrams were taken. Some held the police to
be justified, others held them to be wholly unjustified. But
without a judicial inquiry, such as had been set up in the
case of Belfast in 1886, all these doings were futile. The
government remained stubborn. The slaughter of the three
men was finally left just as if it had been the slaughter of
three dogs. No other incident of Irish administration stirred
deeper feelings of disgust in Ireland, or of misgiving and
indignation in England.

Here was, in a word, the key to the new policy. Every act
of Irish officials was to be defended. No constable could be
capable of excess. No magistrate could err. No prison rule
was over harsh. Every severity technically in order must be


Among other remarkable incidents, the Pojffe came to the
rescue, and sent an emissary to inquire into Irish affairs.
The government had lively hopes of the emissary, and while
they beat N the Orange drum in Ulster with one hand, with
the other they stealthily twitched the sleeve of Monsignor
Persico. It came to little. The Congregation at Rome were
directed by the Pope to examine whether it was lawful to
resort to the plan of campaign. They answered that it was
contrary both to natural justice and Christian charity. The
papal rescript, embodying this conclusion, was received in

1 Dec 3, 1888. Hans. 331, p. 916.

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Ireland with little docility. Unwisely thfc cardinals had given
reasons, and the reasons, instead of springing in the mystic
1887. region of faith and morals, turned upon issues of fact as to
fair rents. But then the Irish tenant thought himself a far
better judge of a fair rent, than all the cardinals that ever
wore red hats. If he had heard of such a thing as Jansenism,
he would hftve known that he was in his own rude way taking
up a position not unlike that of the famous teachers of Port
Royal two hundred and thirty years before, that the authority
of the Holy See is final as to doctrine, but may make a
mistake as to fact.

Mr. Parnell spoke tranquilly of c a document from a distant
country/ and publicly left the matter to his catholic country-
men. 1 Forty catholic members of parliament met at the
Mansion House in Dublin, and signed a document in which
they flatly denied every one of the allegations and implica-
tions about fair rents, free contract, the land commission
and all the rest, and roundly declared the Vatican circular to
be an instrument of the unscrupulous foes both of the Holy
See and of the people of Ireland. They told the Pope, that
while recognising unreservedly as catholics the spiritual
jurisdiction of the Holy See, they were bound solemnly to
affirm that Irish catholics recognise no rights in Rome to
interfere in their political affairs. A great meeting in the
Phoenix Park ratified the same position by acclamation. At
Cork, under the presidency of the mayor, and jealously
watched by forces of horse and foot, a great gathering in a
scene of indescribable excitement protested that they would
never allow thf rack-renters of Ireland to grind them down
at the instigation of intriguers at Rome. Even in many
cities in the United States the same voice was heard. The
bishops knew well that the voice was strongly marked by the
harsh accent of their Fenian adversaries. They issued a
declaration of their own, protesting to their flocks that the
rescript was confined within the spiritual sphere, and that
his holiness was far from wishing to prejudice the nationalist
movement. In the closing week of the year, the Pope him-
self judged that the time had come for him to make known

1 May 8, 1888.

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that the action which had been ' so sadly misunderstood/
had been prompted by the desire to keep the cause in which
Ireland was struggling from being weakened by .the intro- ^ T# 78,
duction of anything that could justly be brought in reproach
against it. 1 The upshot of the intervention was that the
action condemned by the rescript was not materially affected
within the area already disturbed; but the rescript may have
done something to prevent its extension elsewhere.


Among the entries for 1887 there occur : —
Sandringham, Jan. 29. — A large party. We were received
with the usual delicacy and kindness. Much conversation with

the Prince of Wales. . . . Walk with , who charmed

me much. Jan. 31. — Off by 11 A.M. to Cambridge. . . . Dined
with the master of Trinity in hall. Went over the Newnham
buildings : greatly pleased. Saw Mr. Sidgwick. Evening service
at King's. . . . Feb. 2. — Ha warden at 5.30. Set to work on
papers. Finished Greville's Journals. Feb. 3. — Wrote on Greville.
Feb. 5. — Felled a chestnut. Feb. 27. — Read Lord Shaftesbury's
Memoirs — an excellent discipline for me. March 5. — Dollis Hill
[a house near Willesden often lent to him in these times by
Lord and Lady Aberdeen] a refuge from my timidity, unwilling
at 77 to begin a new London house. March 9. — Windsor
[to dine and sleep]. The Queen courteous as always; some-
what embarrassed, as I thought. March 29. — Worked on
Homer, Apollo, etc. Then turned to the Irish business and
revolved much, with extreme difficulty in licking the question
into shape. Went to the House and spoke 1£ hours as care-
fully and with as much measure as I could. Conclave on
coming course of business. April 5. — Conversation with Mr.
Chamberlain — ambiguous result, but some ground made. April
18.— H. of C. 4J-8J and 10-2. Spoke 1£ h. My voice did its
duty but with great effort. April 25. — Spoke for an hour upon
the budget. R. Churchill excellent. Conclave on the forged
letters. May 4. — Read earlier speeches of yesterday with care,
and worked up the subject of Privilege. Spoke 1£ h.
1 Tablet, Jan. 5, 1889.
VOL. II. 2 R

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In June (1887) Mr. Gladstone started on a political cam-
paign in South Wales, where his reception was one of the
1887. most triumphant in all his career. Ninety-nine hundredths
of the vast crowds who gave up wages for the sake of seeing
him and doing him honour were strong protestants, yet he
said to a correspondent, ' they made this demonstration in
order to secure firstly and mainly justice to catholic Ireland.
It is not after all a bad country in which such things take

It was at Swansea that he said what he had to say about
the Irish members. He had never at any time, from the
hour when he formed his government, set up their exclusion
as a necessary condition of home rule. All that he ever
bargained for was that no proposal for inclusion should be
made a ground for impairing real and effective self-govern-
ment. Subject to this he was ready to adjourn the matter
and to leave things as they were, until experience should
show the extent of the difficulty and the best way of meeting
it. Provisional-exclusion had been suggested by a member
of great weight in the party in 1886. The new formula was
provisional inclusion. This announcement restored one very
distinguished adherent to Mr. Gladstone, and it appeased the
clamour of the busy knot who called themselves imperial
federationists. Of course it opened just as many new diffi-
culties as it closed old ones, but both old difficulties and new
fell into the background before the struggle in Ireland.

June 2, 1887. — Off at 11.40. A tumultuous but interesting
journey to Swansea and Singleton, where we were landed at 7.30.
Half a dozen speeches on the way. A small party to dinner. 3. — A
' quiet day.' Wrote draft to the associations on the road, as model.
Spent the forenoon in settling plans and discussing the lines
of my meditated statement to-morrow with Sir Hussey Vivian
Lord Aberdare, and Mr. Stuart Kendel. In the afternoon we went
to the cliffs and the Mumbles, and I gave some hours to writing
preliminary notes on a business where all depends on the manner
of handling. Small party to dinner. Read Cardiff and Swansea
guides. 4. — More study and notes. 12-4 £ the astonishing proces-
sion. Sixty thousand ! Then spoke for near an hour. Dinner at 8,

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near an hundred, arrangements perfect. ' Spoke for nearly another CHAP,
hour ; got through a most difficult business as well as I could >
expect. 5. — Church 1 1a.m., notable sermon and H. C. (service long),
again 6£ P.M., good sermon. Wrote to Sir W. Harcourt, Mr.
Morley, etc. Walked in the garden. Considered the question of
a non-political address ' in council ' ; we all decided against it. 6. —
Surveys in the house, then 12-4 to Swansea for the freedom and

Online LibraryJohn MorleyThe life of William Ewart Gladstone, Volume 2 → online text (page 57 of 91)