John Morley.

The life of William Ewart Gladstone, Volume 2 online

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The story was told generally and partially in parliament, but
the reader who is curious about either the episode itself, or
Mr. Gladstone's modes of mind and action, will find it worth
a little trouble to follow details with some closeness.

March 11. — H. of C. Spoke 12-2, and voted in a division
of 284-287 — which was believed to cause more surprise to
the opposite side than it did to me. At 2.45 A.M. I apprised
the Queen of our defeat.

Thursday, March 12. — Saw the Queen at 12.15. Failed to find
Granville. Cabinet 1-2 J. We discussed the matter with a
general tendency to resignation rather than dissolving. Confab,
on my position with Granville and Glyn, then joined by Bright.
To the Queen again at six to keep her informed. Large dinner
party for the Duke of Edinburgh, and an evening party afterwards,
to hear Joachim.

Friday, March 13. — After seeing Mr. Glyn and Lord F.
Cavendish, I went at 10.40 to see Dr. Clark. He completed his
examination, and gave me his careful judgment. I went to Lord

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Granville, sketched oat to him and Glyn my views, and went to
the cabinet at 12.15. Stated the case between the two alter-
natives of resignation and dissolution as far as regarded myself.
On the side of resignation it would not be necessary to make any
final announcement [of his retirement from the leadership]. I
am strongly advised a temporary rest On the other hand, if we
now dissolve, I anticipate that afterwards before any long time
difficulties will arise, and my mission will be terminated. So that
the alternatives are not so unequally weighed. The cabinet with-
out any marked difference, or at least without any positive asser-
tion to the contrary, determined on tendering their resignations. 1
After cabinet saw Hartington and others respecting honours.
At 2.45 saw the Queen and resigned. The Queen informed me
that she would send for Mr. Disraeli ; suggested for consideration
whether I would include the mention of this fact in my announce-
ment to parliament, and added as I was leaving the room, without
looking (apparently) for an answer, that she would inform me of
what might take place. At 3.45 saw Granville respecting the
announcements. Made announcement in House of Commons at
4.30. More business at Downing Street, and home at six.

At a quarter to seven, or a little later, Colonel Ponsonby called
with a communication from her Majesty. ' Any news 1 ' I said.
'A great deal,' he replied; and informed me as follows. Mr.
Disraeli had been with the Queen; did not see the means of
carrying on the government by the agency of his party under
present circumstances ; did not ask for the dissolution of parlia-
ment (this was understood to mean did not offer to become
minister on condition of being permitted to dissolve) ; did not say
that his renunciation of the task was final ; recommended that the .
Queen should call for my advice. Upon this the Queen sent
Colonel Ponsonby, and he said, ' She considers this as sending for
you anew.' I replied that I did not regard the Queen's refer-
ence of this intelligence to me, as -her calling upon me anew to
undertake the work of government ; that none of my obligations

i March 13. — Cabinet again at gratitude' — and here he completely

twelve. Decided to resign . . . Glad- broke down, and he could say nothing,

stone made quite a touching little except that he- could not enter on the

speech. He began playfully. This details. . . . Tears came to my eyes,

was the last of some 150 cabinets or and we were ail touched. — Lift of

so, and he wished to say to his W. & Forster, i. pp. 550, 651.
colleagues with what * profound

jfir. 64.

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BOOK to the. sovereign were cancelled or impaired by the resignation
_ /tendered and accepted; that I was still the minister for the

'*• purpose of rendering any service she might be pleased to call for
in the matter on which she is engaged, exactly as before, until she
has a new minister, when my official obligations will come to an
end. That I felt there was great inconvenience and danger of
misapprehension out of doors in proceeding over rapidly with a
matter of such gravity, and that each step in it required to be
well measured and ascertained before proceeding to consider of
the next following step. That I had great difficulty in gathering
any precise idea of Mr. Disraeli's account of what he could not do,
and what he either could or did not say that he could not. That
as this account was to present to me the state of facts on which I
was commanded to advise, it was quite necessary for me to hav<e
an accurate idea of it, in order that I might do justice to her
Majesty's commands. I would therefore humbly suggest that Mr.
Disraeli might with great propriety be requested to put his reply
into writing. That I presumed I might receive this reply, if it
were her Majesty's pleasure to make it known to me, at some not late
hour to-morrow, when I would at once place myself in a condition
to tender my humble advice. This is an account of what Colonel
Ponsonby might fairly consider as my answer to her Majesty's
communication. I enlarged the conversation, however, by observ-
ing that the division which overthrew us was a party division. It
bore the express authentic symbol of its character in having party
tellers on the opposition as well as on the government side ; that
we were aware of the great, even more than ordinary, efforts of
Colonel Taylor, with Mr. Disraeli's countenance, to bring members
to London and to the House; that all this seemed to impose
great obligations on the opposition ; and if so, that it would be
the duty of the leader of the opposition to use every exertion of
consultation with his friends and otherwise before declining the
task, or in any manner advising the Queen to look elsewhere. To
Colonel Ponsonby indeed, I observed that I thought Mr. Disraeli
was endeavouring, by at once throwing back on me an offer which
it was impossible for me at the time and under the circumstances
to accept, to get up a case of absolute necessity founded upon
this refusal of mine, and thus, becoming the indispensable man and

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party, to have in his hands a lever wherewith to overcome the CHAP,
reluctance and resistance of his friends, who wonld not be able to v


deny that the Queen must have a government. *

Mr. Disraeli's reply to the Queen's inquiry whether he was
prepared to form a government, was put into writing, and
the two operative paragraphs of it were sent through Colonel
Ponsonby to Mr. Gladstone. They ran as follows : —

In answer, Mr. Disraeli said he was prepared to form an
administration which he believed would carry on her Majesty's
affairs with efficiency, and would possess her confidence ; but he
could not undertake to carry on her Majesty's government in the
present House of Commons. Subsequently, her Majesty having
remarked that Mr. Gladstone was not inclined to recommend a
dissolution of parliament, Mr. Disraeli stated that he himself
would not advise her Majesty to take that step.

Viewing these paragraphs as forming the answer offered
by Mr. Disraeli to the Queen, Mr. Gladstone reported to her
(March 14) that ' he did not find himself able to gather their
precise effect ' : —

The former of the two, if it stood alone, would seem to imply
that Mr. Disraeli was prepared to accept office with a view
to an immediate dissolution of parliament, but not otherwise;
since it states that he believes himself able to form a suitable
administration, but not ' to carry on your Majesty's government
in the present House of Commons/ In the latter of the two
paragraphs Mr. Disraeli has supposed your Majesty to have
remarked that 'Mr. Gladstone was not inclined to recommend
a dissolution of parliament/ and has stated that 'he himself
would not advise your Majesty to take that step/ Your Majesty
will without doubt remember that Mr. Gladstone tendered no
advice on the subject of dissolution generally, but limited himself
to comparing it with the alternative of resignation, which was the
only question at issue, and stated that on the part of the cabinet
he humbly submitted resignation of their offices, which they
deemed to be the step most comformable to their duty. Mr.
Gladstone does not clearly comprehend the bearing of Mr.
Disraeli's closing words ; as he could not tender advice to your

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BOOK Majesty either affirmatively or negatively on dissolution, without
./ first becoming your Majesty's adviser. Founding himself upon
the memorandum, Mr. Gladstone is unable to say to what extent
the apparent meaning of the one paragraph is modified or altered
by the other ; and he is obliged to trouble your Majesty, however
reluctantly, with this representation, inasmuch as a perfectly clear
idea of the tenour of the reply is a necessary preliminary to his
offering any remark or advice upon it; which, had it been a
simple negative, he would have felt it his duty to do.

Between six and seven in the evening Colonel Ponsonby
came with a letter from the Queen to the effect that Mr.
Disraeli had unconditionally declined to undertake the
formation of a government. In obedience to the Queen's
commands Mr. Gladstone proceeded to give his view of the
position in which her Majesty was placed : —

MarcJi 15. — Not being aware that there can be a question of
any intermediate party or combination of parties which would
be available at the present juncture, he presumes that your
Majesty, if denied the assistance of the conservative or opposition
party, might be disposed to recur to the services of a liberal
government He is of opinion, however, that either his late
colleagues, or any statesman or statesmen of the liberal party on
whom your Majesty might call, would with propriety at once
observe that it is still for the consideration of your Majesty
whether the proceeding which has taken place between your
Majesty and Mr. Disraeli can as yet be regarded as complete.
The vote of the House of Commons on Wednesday morning was
due to the deliberate and concerted action of the opposition, with
a limited amount of adventitious numerical aid. The division
was a party division, and carried the well-known symbol of such
divisions in the appointment of tellers of the opposition and
government respectively. The vote was given in the full know-
ledge, avowed in the speech of the leader of the opposition, that
the government had formally declared the measure on which the
vote was impending to be vital to its existence. Mr. Gladstone
humbly conceives that, according to the well-known principles of
our parliamentary government, an opposition which has in this

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mr. Gladstone's comments 59

manner and degree contributed to bring about what we term a CHAP,
crisis, is bound to use and to show that it has used its utmost <
efforts of counsel and inquiry to exhaust all practicable means of
bringing its resources to the aid of the country in its exigency.
He is aware that his opinion on such a subject can only be of
slight value, but the same observation will not hold good with
regard to the force of a well-established party usage. To show
what that usage has been, Mr. Gladstone is obliged to trouble
your Majesty with the following recital of facts from the history
of the last half century. . . . [This apt and cogent recital the reader
toill find at the end of the volume, see Appendix] . . . There is,
therefore, a very wide difference between the manner in which the
call of your Majesty has been met on this occasion by the leader
of the opposition, and the manner which has been observed at
every former juncture, including even those when the share taken
by the opposition in bringing about the exigency was compara-
tively slight or none at all. It is, in Mr. Gladstone's view, of the
utmost importance to the public welfare that the nation should
be constantly aware that the parliamentary action certain or
likely to take effect in the overthrow of a government ; the re-
ception and treatment of a summons from your Majesty to meet
the necessity which such action has powerfully aided in creating ;
and again the resumption of office by those who have deliberately
laid it down, — are uniformly viewed as matters of the utmost
gravity, requiring time, counsel, and deliberation among those who
are parties to them, and attended with serious responsibilities.
Mr. Gladstone will not and does not suppose that the efforts of
the opposition to defeat the government on Wednesday morning
were made with a previously formed intention on their part to
refuse any aid to your Majesty, if the need should arise, in pro-
viding for the government of the country; and the summary
refusal, which is the only fact before him, he takes to be not in
full correspondence either with the exigencies of the case, or as he
has shown, with the parliamentary usage. In humbly submitting
this representation to your Majesty, Mr. Gladstone's wish is to point
out the difficulty in which he would find himself placed were he
to ask your Majesty for authority to inquire from his late
colleagues whether they or any of them were prepared, if your

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Majesty should call on them, to resume their offices ; for they
would certainly, he is persuaded, call on him, for their own
honour, and in order to the usefulness of their further service if
it should be rendered, to prove to them that according to usage
every means had been exhausted on the part of the opposition
for providing for the government of the country, or at least that
nothing more was to be expected from that quarter.

This statement, prepared after dinner, Mr. Gladstone took
to Lord Granville that night (March 14). The next morning
he again saw Lord Granville and Colonel Ponsonby, and
despatched his statement to the Queen. ' At 2.45/ he writes
to Granville : —

I saw the Queen, not for any distinct object, but partly to fill
the blank before the public. H.M. was in perfect humour. She
will use the whole or part of my long letter by sending it to
Disraeli She seemed quite to understand our point of view, and
told me plainly what shows that the artful man did say, if it came
back to him again at this juncture, he would not be bound by his
present refusal. I said, 'But, ma'am, that is not before me.'
1 But he told it to me,' she said.

The Queen sent Mr. Gladstone's long letter to Mr. Disraeli,
and he replied in a tolerably long letter of his own. He
considered Mr. Gladstone's observations under two heads;
first, as an impeachment of the opposition for contributing to
the vote against the bill, when they were not prepared to
take office ; second, as a charge against Mr. Disraeli himself
that he summarily refused to take office without exhausting
all practicable means of aiding the country in the exigency.
On the first article of charge, he described the doctrine
advanced by Mr. Gladstone as being ' undoubtedly sound so
far as this : that for an opposition to use its strength for the
express purpose of throwing out a government which it is
at the time aware that it cannot replace — having that object
in view and no other — would be an act of recklessness and
faction that could not be too strongly condemned.' But this,
he contended, could not be imputed to the conservative
opposition of 1873. The Irish bill was from the first strongly

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objected to by a larg«? section of the liberal party, and on the CHAP,
same grounds that led the conservative opposition to reject .
it, namely, that it sacrificed Irish education to the Roman - Et - 64 *
catholic hierarchy. The party whom the bill was intended
to propitiate rejected it as inadequate. If the sense of the
House had been taken, irrespective of considerations of the
political result of the division, not one-fourth of the House
would have voted for it. Mr. Gladstone's doctrine, Disraeli
went on, amounted to this, that 'whenever a minister
is so situated that it is in his power to prevent any
other parliamentary leader from forming an administra-
tion likely to stand, he acquires thereby the right to call
on parliament to pass whatever measures he and his
colleagues think fit, and is entitled to denounce as factious
the resistance to such measures. Any such claim is one
not warranted by usage, or reconcilable with the free-
dom of the legislature. It comes to this : that he tells the
House of Commons, " Unless you are prepared to put some
one in my place, your duty is to do whatever I bid you." To
no House of Commons has language of this kind ever been
addressed ; by no House of Commons would it be tolerated.'
As for the charge of summary refusal to undertake
government, Mr. Disraeli contented himself with a brief
statement of facts. He had consulted his friends, and they
were all of opinion that it would be prejudicial to the public
interests for a conservative ministry to attempt to conduct
business in the present House of Commons. What other
taeans were at his disposal ? Was he to open negotiations
with a section of the late ministry, and waste days in barren
interviews, vain applications, and the device of impossible
combinations ? Was he to make overtures to the consider-
able section of the liberal party that had voted against
the government*? The Irish Roman catholic gentlemen?
Surely Mr. Gladstone was not serious in such a suggestion.
The charge of deliberate and concerted action against the
Irish bill was 'not entirely divested of some degree of
exaggeration.' His party was not even formally summoned
to vote against the government measure, but to support an
amendment which was seconded from the liberal benches,

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BOOK and which could only by a violent Abuse of terms be

^ described as a party move.

1873. On Saturday afternoon Mr. Gladstone had gone down to
Cliveden, and there at ten o'clock on the Sunday evening
(March 16) he received a message from the Queen, enclosing
Mr. Disraeli's letter, and requesting him to say whether he
would resume office. This letter was taken by Mr. Gladstone
to show that 'nothing more was to be expected in that
quarter/ and at eleven o'clock he sent off the messenger
with his answer in the affirmative : —

March 16, 1873, 10J P.M. — It is quite unnecessary for him
to comment upon any of the statements or arguments advanced
by Mr. Disraeli, as the point referred by your Majesty for him to
consider is not their accuracy, sufficiency or relevancy, but simply
whether any further effort is to be expected from the opposition
towards meeting the present necessity. Your Majesty has
evidently judged that nothing more of this kind can be looked
for. Your Majesty's judgment would have been conclusive with
Mr. Gladstone in the case, even had he failed to appreciate the
full cogency of the reason for it ; but he is bound to state that he
respectfully concurs with your Majesty upon that simple question,
as one not of right but of fact. He therefore does not hesitate at
once to answer your Majesty's gracious inquiry by saying that he
will now endeavour to prevail upon your Majesty's late advisers
generally to resume their offices, and he again places all such
service as it is in his power to offer, at your Majesty's disposal.
According to your Majesty's command, then, he will repair to*
London to-morrow morning, and will see some of the most
experienced members of the late government to review the
position which he regards as having been seriously unhinged by
the shock of last Wednesday morning ; to such an extent indeed,
that he doubts whether either the administration or parliament
can again be what they were. The relations between them, and
the course of business laid down in the royal speech, will require
to be reconsidered, or at least reviewed with care.

Tuesday, March 18. — [Te the Queen] The cabinet met informally
at this house [1 1 Carlton House Terrace] at 2 p.m., and sat till 5|.

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The whole of the cabinet were ready to resume their offices. It
was decided to carry on the government in the present parliament,
without contemplating any particular limit of time for existence
in connection with the recent vote.

Wednesday, March 19. — Went down to Windsor at midday;
f hour with the Queen on the resignation, the statement to-
morrow, the Duke of Edinburgh's marriage, royal precedence,
Tennyson's honour ; also she mentioned railway accidents and an
assault on a soldier, and luxury in food and dress. Dined
with the Duke of Cambridge. Speaker's levee, saw Mr. Fawcett
[who had been active in fomenting hostility] and other members.
Then Mrs. Glyn's party.

Thursday,March 20. — H. ofC. Made my explanation. Advisedly
let pass Mr. Disraeli's speech without notice.

Mr. Gladstone said among other things : —

I felt reluctance personally from a desire for rest, the title to

which had possibly been . . . earned by labour. Also politically,

because I do not think that as a general rule the experience we

have had in former years of what may be called returning or

resuming governments, has been very favourable in its character.

. • . The subsequent fortunes of such governments lead to the

belief that upon the whole, though such a return may be the lesser

of two evils, yet it is not a thing in itself to be desired. It

reminds me of tnat which was described by the Roman general

according to the noble ode of Horace : —

. . • Neque amissos colores
Lana ref ert medicata f uco,
Nee vera virtus cum semel excidit
Curat reponi deterioribus. *

Mr. Disraeli made a lengthy statement, covering a much
wider field. The substance of the whole case after all was
this. The minister could not dissolve for the reason that the

1 Carm. iii. 5, 27. In Mr. Gladstone's own translation, The Odes of
Horace (p. 84) :—

. . • Can wool repair
The colours that it lost when soaked with dye ?
Ah, no. True merit once resigned,
No trick nor feint will serve as well
A rendering less apt for this occasion finds favour with some scholars, that
true virtue can never be restored to those who have once fallen away from it.


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defeat had strengthened all the forces against the bill and
> against the government, and the constituencies who had never
1873 - looked on it with much favour after its rejection by the
Irish to satisfy whom it had been invented, now regarded it
with energetic disfavour. The leader of the opposition, on
the other hand, produced a long string of ingenious reasons
for not abiding by the result of what was his own act : as,
for example, that dissolution could not be instant ; to form a
government would take time; financial business must be
arranged; a policy could not be shaped without access to
official information ; in this interval motions would be made
and carried on plausible questions, and when the election
came, his friends would go to the country as discredited
ministers, instead of being a triumphant opposition. In
writing to his brother Robertson, Mr. Gladstone glances
at other reasons : —

March 21. — We have gone through our crisis ; and I fear that
nobody is much the better for it. For us it was absolutely neces-
sary to show that we did not consider return, as we had not con-
sidered resignation, a light matter. As to the opposition, the
speech of Disraeli last night leaves it to be asked why did he not
come in, wind up the business of the session, and dissolve ? There
is no reason to be given, except that a portion of his party was
determined not to be educated again, and was certain that if he
got in he would again commence this educating process. The
conservative party will never assume its natural position until
Disraeli retires; and I sometimes think he and I might with
advantage pair off together.

Speaker Brand says : ' Disraeli's tactics are to watch and
wait, not showing his hand nor declaring a policy ; he desires
to drive Gladstone to a dissolution, when he will make the
most of Gladstone's mistakes, while he will denounce a
policy of destruction and confiscation, and take care to
announce no policy of his own. His weakness consists in
the want of confidence of some of his party.'

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Online LibraryJohn MorleyThe life of William Ewart Gladstone, Volume 2 → online text (page 6 of 91)