John Morley.

The life of William Ewart Gladstone, Volume 2 online

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Something that fell from him one morning at break-
fast in the common room led in due time to the election
of Lord Acton to be also an honorary member of this dis-
tinguished society. ' If my suggestion/ Mr. Gladstone wrote
to one of the fellows, ' really contributed to this election, then
I feel that in the dregs of my life I have at least rendered
one service to the college. My ambition is to visit it and
Oxford in company with him/


In 1890 both Newman and Dollinger died.

I have been asked from many quarters, Mr. Gladstone said to
Acton, to write about the Cardinal. But I dare not. First, I do
not know enough. Secondly, I should be puzzled to use the little
knowledge that I have. I was not a friend of his, but only an

1 These articles appeared in Good volume form under the title of The
Words (March -November 1900), and Impregnable Hock of Holy Scripture.
were subsequently published in

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BOOK acquaintance treated with extraordinary kindness whom it would
. ill become to note what he thinks defects, while the great powers
and qualities have been and will be described far better by others.
Ever since he published his University Sermons in 1843, I have
thought him unsafe in philosophy, and no Butlerian though a
warm admirer of Butler. No ; it was before 1843, in 1841 when
he published Tract XC. The general argument of that tract was
unquestionable; but he put in sophistical matter without the
smallest necessity. What I recollect is about General Councils :
where in treating the declaration that they may err he virtually
says, ' No doubt they may — unless the Holy Ghost prevents them/
But he was a wonderful man, a holy man, a very refined man, and
(to me) a most kindly man.

Of Dr. Dollinger he contributed a charming account to a
weekly print, 1 and to Acton he wrote : —

I have the fear that my Dollinger letters will disappoint you.
When I was with him, he spoke to me with the utmost freedom ;
and so I think he wrote, but our correspondence was only occa-
sional. I think nine-tenths of my intercourse with him was oral ;
with Cardinal Newman nothing like one-tenth. But with neither
was the mere corpus of my intercourse great, though in D.'s case it
was very precious, most of all the very first of it in 1845. . . .
With my inferior faculty and means of observation, I have long
adopted your main proposition. His attitude of mind was more
historical than theological. When I first knew him in 1845, and
he honoured me with very long and interesting conversations, they
turned very much upon theology, and I derived from him what
I thought very valuable and steadying knowledge. Again in 1874
during a long walk, when we spoke of the shocks and agitation of
our time, he told me how the Vatican decrees had required him to
reperuse and retry the whole circle of his thought. He did not
make known to me any general result ; but he had by that time
found himself wholly detached from the Council of Trent, which
was indeed a logical necessity from his preceding action. The
Bonn Conference appeared to show him nearly at the standing
point of anglican theology. I thought him more liberal as a

1 Speaker, Aug. 30, 1890.

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Mt. 81.


theologian than as a politician. On the point of church establish- CHAP,
ment he was as impenetrable as if he had been a Newdegate. He
would not see that there were two sides to the question. I long
earnestly to know what progress he had made at the last towards
redeeming the pledge given in one of his letters to me, that the
evening of his life was to be devoted to a great theological con-
struction. ... I should have called him an anti-Jesuit, but in
no other sense, that is in no sense, a Jansenist. I never s&w the
least sign of leaning in that direction.

Here the reader may care to have a note or two of talk
with him in these days : —

At Dollis Hill, Sunday, Feb. 22, 1891. . . . A few minutes after
eight Mr. and Mrs. Gladstone came in from church, and we
three sat down to dinner. A delightful talk, he was in full
force, plenty of energy without vehemence. The range of topics
was pretty wide, yet marvellous to say, we had not a single
word about Ireland. Certainly no harm in that.

/. M. — A friend set me on a hunt this morning through
Wordsworth for the words about France standing on the top
of golden hours. I did not find them, but I came across a good
line of Hartley Coleridge's about the Thames : —

' And the thronged river toiling to the main.'

Mr. 0. — Yes, a good line. Toiling to the main recalls
Dante : —

' Su la marina, dove '1 Po discende,
Per aver pace co' seguaci sui.' *

/. M. — Have you seen Symonds's re-issued volume on Dante ?
Tis very good. Shall I lend it you ? '

Mr. G. — Sure to be good, but not in the session. I never look
at Dante unless I can have a great continuous draught of him.
He 's too big, he seizes and masters you.

/. M, — Oh, I like the picturesque bits, if it 's only for half-an-
hour before dinner; the bird looking out of its nest for the

1 Inf. v. 98 : ' Where Po descends for rest with his tributary streams. '

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BOOK dawn, the afternoon bell, the trembling of the water in the
morning light, and the rest that everybody knows.

1891. flf r q — jj 0> J cannot do it. By the way, ladies nowadays keep

question books, and among other things ask their friends for the
finest line in poetry. I think I 'm divided between three, perhaps
the most glorious is Milton's — [Somehow this line slipped from
memory, but the reader might possibly do worse than turn over
Milton ' in search for his finest line.] Or else Wordsworth's —
'Or hear old Triton blow his wreathed horn.' Yet what so
splendid as Penelope's about not rejoicing the heart of anybody
less than Odysseus ?

prj&€ n xfi/x>vof dvdpos cv<j>pcuvoifu voijfxa. 1

He talked a great deal to-night about Homer ; very confident
that he had done something to drive away the idea that Homer
was an Asiatic Greek. Then we turned to Scott, whom he held to
be by far the greatest of his countrymen. I suggested John
Knox. c No, the line must be drawn firm between the writer and
the man of action ; no comparisons there/

/. M. — Well, then, though I love Scott so much that if any man
chooses to put him first, I won't put him second, yet is there not
a vein of pure gold in Burns that gives you pause ?

Mr. G. — Burns very fine and true, no doubt ; but to imagine a
whole group of characters, to marshal them, to set them to work,
to sustain the action — I must count that the test of highest and
most diversified quality.

We spoke of the new Shakespeare coming out. I said I had been
taking the opportunity of reading vol. i., and should go over it all
in successive volumes. Mr. G. — ' Falstaff is wonderful — one of the
most wonderful things in literature.'

Full of interest in Hamlet % and enthusiasm for it — comes closer
than any other play to some of the strangest secrets of human
nature — what is the key to the mysterious hold of this play on
the world's mind? I produced my favourite proposition that
Measure for Measure is one of the most modern of all the plays ;
the profound analysis of Angelo and his moral catastrophe, the
strange figure of the duke, the deep irony of our modern time in
it all. But I do not think he cared at all for this sort of criticism.

1 Od. xx. 82.

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He is too healthy, too objective, too simple, for all the com-
plexities of modern morbid analysis.

Talked of historians ; Lecky's two last volumes he had not yet - Et * 82#

read, but had told him that, save for one or two blots due

to contemporary passion, they were perfectly honourable to Lecky
in every way. Lecky, said Mr. G., 'has real insight into the
motives of statesmen. Now Carlyle, so mighty as he is in flash
and penetration, has no eye for motives. Macaulay, too, is so
caught by a picture, by colour, by surface, that he is seldom to be
counted on for just account of motive.'

He had been reading with immense interest and satisfaction
Sainte-Beuve's History of Port Royal, which for that matter de-
serves all his praise and more, though different parts of it are
written from antagonistic points of view. Vastly struck by Saint-
Cyran. When did the notion of the spiritual director make its
appearance in Europe 1 Had asked both Dollinger and Acton on
this curious point. For his own part, he doubted whether the
office existed before the Reformation.

/. M. — Whom do you reckon the greatest Pope ?

Mr. G. — I think on the whole, Innocent ill. But his greatness was
not for good. What did he do ? He imposed the dogma of tran-
substantiation ; he is responsible for the Albigensian persecutions ;
he is responsible for the crusade which ended in the conquest of
Byzantium. Have you ever realised what a deadly blow was the
ruin of Byzantium by the Latins, how wonderful a fabric the
Eastern Empire was ?

/. M. — Oh, yes, I used to know my Finlay better than most
books. Mill used to say a page of Finlay was worth a chapter of
Gibbon : he explains how decline and fall came about.

Mr. G. — Of course. Finlay has it all.

He tried then to make out that the eastern empire was more
wonderful than anything done by the Romans ; it stood out for
eleven centuries, while Rome fell in three. I pointed out to him
that the whole solid framework of the eastern empire was after
all built up by the Romans. But he is philhellene all through
past and present.

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Fortuna vitrea est, — turn quum splendet frangitur. —

Publil. Sykus.
Brittle like glass is fortune, — bright as' light, and then the crash.

BOOK It would have been a miracle if the sight of all the
x ' ^ methods of coercion, along with the ignominy of the forged

1890. letters, had not worked with strong effect upon the public
mind. Distrust began to creep at a very rapid pace even
into the ministerial ranks. The tory member for a large
northern borough rose to resent ' the inexpedient treatment
of the Irishmen from a party point of view/ to protest against
the 'straining and stretching of the law' by the resident
magistrates, to declare his opinion that these gentlemen were
not qualified to exercise the jurisdiction entrusted to them,
' and to denounce the folly of making English law unpopular
in Ireland, and provoking the leaders of the Irish people by
illegal and unconstitutional acts.' 1 These sentiments were
notoriously shared to the full by many who sat around him.
Nobody in those days, discredited as he was with his party,
had a keener scent for the drift of popular feeling than Lord
Randolph Churchill, and he publicly proclaimed that this
sending of Irish members of parliament to prison in such
numbers was a feature which he did not like. Further, he
said that the fact of the government not thinking it safe for
public meetings of any sort to be held, excited painful feel-
ings in English minds. 4 All this was after the system had
been in operation for two years. Even strong unionist organs
in the Irish press could not stand it. s They declared that if

1 Mr. Hanbury, August 1, 1889. * E.g. Northern Whig, February
Harus. 839, p. 98. 21, 1889.

8 At Birmingham, July 30, 1889.

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the Irish government wished to make the coercive system CHAP.

appear as odious as possible, they would act just as they were -

acting. They could only explain all these doings, not by ^ T - 8L
' wrong-headedness or imbecility/ but by a strange theory
that there must b6 deliberate treachery among the govern-
ment agents.

Before the end of the year 1889 the electoral signs
were unmistakable. Fifty-three bye-elections had been
contested since the beginning of the parliament. The net
result was the gain of one seat for ministers and of nine
to the opposition. The Irish secretary with ..characteristic
candour never denied the formidable extent of these
victories, though he mourned over the evils that such
temporary successes might entail, and was convinced that
they would prove to be dearly bought. 1 A year later the
tide still flowed on ; the net gain of the opposition rose to
eleven. In 1886 seventy-seven constituencies were re-
presented by forty-seven unionists and thirty liberals. By
the beginning of October in 1890 the unionist members
in the same constituencies had sunk to thirty-six, and
the liberals had risen to forty-one. Then came the most
significant election of all.

There had been for some months a lull in Ireland.
Government claimed the credit of it for coercion; their
adversaries set it down partly to the operation of the Land
Act, partly to the natural tendency in such agitations to
fluctuate or to wear themselves out, and most of all to the
strengthened reliance on the sincerity of the English liberals.
Suddenly the country was amazed towards the middle of
September by news that proceedings under the Coercion
Act had been instituted against two nationalist leaders, and
others. Even strong adherents of the government and their
policy were deeply dismayed, when they saw that after
three years of it, the dreary work was to begin over again.
The proceedings seemed to be stamped in every aspect as
impolitic. In a few days the two leaders would have been
on their way to America, leaving a half-empty war chest
behind them and the flame of agitation burning low. As

1 Mr. Balfour at Manchester. Times, October 21, 1S89.

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BOOK the offences charged had been going on for six months,
/ - there was clearly no pressing emergency.

1890. j^ cr itical bye-election was close at hand at the moment
in the Eccles division of Lancashire. The polling took place
four days after a vehement defence of his policy by Mr.
Balfour at Newcastle. The liberal candidate at Eccles
expressly declared from his election address onwards, that
the great issue on which he fought was the alternative
between conciliation and coercion. Each candidate increased
the party vote, the tory by rather more than one hundred,
the liberal by nearly six hundred. For the first time the
seat was wrested from s the tories, and the liberal triumphed
by a substantial majority. 1 This was the latest gauge of the
failure of the Irish policy to conquer public approval, the
last indication of the direction in which the currents of
public opinion were steadily moving. 2 Then all at once a
blinding sandstorm swept the ground.


One of those events now occurred that with their stern
irony so mock the statesman's foresight, and shatter political
designs in their most prosperous hour. As a mightier figure
than Mr. Parnell remorsefully said on a grander stage, a
hundred years before, cases sometimes befall in the history
of nations where private fault is public disaster.

At the end of 1889, the Irish leader had been made
a party in a suit for divorce. He betrayed no trace in
his demeanour, either to his friends or to the House,
of embarrassment at the position. His earliest appear-
ance after the evil news, was in the debate on the first
night of the session (February 11, '90), upon a motion
about the publication of the forged letter. Some twenty of

1 October 22, 1890. electors, admitted that this was the

2 See Mr. Roby's speech at the vital question really before the con-
Manchester Reform Club, Oct. 24, stituency, and says generally, 'The
and articles in Manchester Guardian^ election, like so many other bye-
Oct. 16 and 25, 1890. The Times elections, has been decided by the
(Oct. 23), while denying the infer- return to their party allegiance of
ence that the Irish question was the numbers of Qladstonians who in
question most prominent in the 1886 absented themselves from the
minds of large numbers of the polling booths.*

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his followers being absent, he wished the discussion to be
prolonged into another sitting. Closely as it might be,
supposed to concern him, he listened to none of the debate. ^ T - 81 -
He had a sincere contempt for speeches in themselves, and
was wont to set down most of them to vanity. A message
was sent that he should come upstairs and speak. After
some indolent remonstrance, he came. His speech was
admirable; firm without emphasis, penetrating, dignified,
freezing, and unanswerable. Neither now nor on any later
occasion save one did his composure in public or in private
give way.

Mr. Gladstone was at Hawarden, wide awake to the pos-
sibility of peril. To Mr. Arnold Morley he wrote on Novem-
ber 4: — '1 fear a thundercloud is about to burst over
ParnelTs head, and I suppose it will end the career of a
man in many respects invaluable.' On the 13th he was
told by the present writer that there were grounds for an
impression that Mr. Parnell would emerge as triumphantly
from the new charge, as he had emerged from the obloquy
of the forged letters. The case was opened two days later,
and enough came out upon the first day of the proceedings
to point to an adverse result. A Sunday intervened, and
Mr. Gladstone's self-command under storm-clouds may be
seen in a letter written on that day to me : —

Nov. 16, 1890. — 1. It is, after all, a thunder-clap about Parnell.
Will he ask for the Chiltern Hundreds ? He cannot continue to
lead ? What could he mean by his language to you ? The Pope
has now clearly got a commandment under which to pull him up.
It surely cannot have been always thus; for he represented his
diocese in the church synod. 2. I thank you for your kind
scruple, but in the country my Sundays are habitually and largely
invaded. 3. Query, whether if a bye-seat were open and chanced

to have a large Irish vote W might not be a good man there.

4. I do not think my Mem. is worth circulating but perhaps you
would send it to Spencer. I sent a copy to Harcourt. 5. [A
small parliamentary point, not related to the Parnell affair, nor
otherwise significant.] 6. Most warmly do I agree with you
about the Scott Journal. How one loves him. 7. Some day I

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BOOK "hope to inflict on you a talk about Homer and Homerology (as I
. X ,_, call it).

The court pronounced a condemnatory decree on Monday,
November 17th. Parliament* was appointed to meet on
Tuesday, the 25 th. There was only a week for Irish and
English to resolve what effect this condemnation should
have upon Mr. ParnelTs position as leader of one and ally
of the other. Mr. Parnell wrote the ordinary letter to his
parliamentary followers. The first impulses of Mr. Glad-
stone are indicated in a letter to me on the day after the
decree : —

Nov. 18, 1890. — Many thanks for your letter. I had noticed
the Parnell circular, not without misgiving. I read in the P.M.G.
this morning a noteworthy article in the Daily Telegraph, 1 or rather
from it, with which I very much agree. But I think it plain that
we have nothing to say and nothing to do in the matter. The
party is as distinct from us as that of Smith or Harrington. I
own to some surprise at the apparent facility with which the R. C.
bishops and clergy appear to take the continued leadership, but
they may have tried the ground and found it would not bear. It
is the Irish parliamentary party, and that alone to which we have
to look. . . .

Such were Mr. Gladstone's thoughts when the stroke first


In England and Scotland loud voices were speedily
lifted up. Some treated the offence itself as an inex-
piable disqualification. Others argued that, even if the
offence could be passed over as lying outside of politics, it

1 ' That the effect of this trial will our opponents will sustain by his

be to relegate Mr. Parnell for a time, resignation, we trust that they will

at any rate, to private life, must we believe us when we say that we are

think be assumed. . . . Special ex- in ,no mood to exult in it. ... It

emptions from penalties which should is no satisfaction to us to feel that a

apply to all public men alike cannot political adversary whose abilities

possibly be made in favour of excep- and prowess it was impossible not

tionally valuable politicians to suit to respect, has been overthrown by

the convenience of their parties. He irrelevant accident, wholly uncon-

must cease, for the present at any nected with the struggle in which

rate, to lead the nationalist party; we are engaged. ' — Dotty Telegraph,

and conscious as we are of the loss Nov. 17, 1890.

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had been surrounded by incidents of squalor and deceit CHAP,
that betrayed a character in which no trust could ever be v
placed again. In some English quarters all this was iET# 8L
expressed with a strident arrogance that set Irishmen on
fire. It is ridiculous, if we remember what space Mr. Parnell
filled in Irish imagination and feeling, how popular, how
mysterious, how invincible he had been, to blame them
because in the first moment of shock and bewilderment
they did not instantly plant themselves in the judgment
seat, always so easily ascended by Englishmen with little
at stake. The politicians in Dublin did not hesitate. A
great meeting was held at Leinster Hall in Dublin on the
Thursday (November 20th). The result was easy to foresee.
Not a whisper of revolt was heard. The chief nationalist
newspaper stood firm for Mr. ParnelTs continuance. At
least one ecclesiastic of commanding influence was supposed
to be among the journal's most ardent prompters. It has
since been stated that the bishops were in fact forging bolts
of commination. No lurid premonitory fork or sheet flashed
on the horizon, no rumble of the coming thunders reached
the public ear.

Three days after the decree in the court, the great English
liberal organization chanced to hold its annual meeting at
Sheffield (November 20-21). In reply to a request of mine
as to his views upon our position, Mr. Gladstone wrote to
me as follows : —

Nov. 19, 1890. — Your appeal as to your meeting of to-morrow
gives matter for thought. I feel (1) that the Irish have
abstractedly a right to decide the question ; (2) that on account
of ParnelTs enormous services — he has done for home rule
something like what Cobden did for free trade, set the argument
on its legs — they are in a position of immense difficulty ; (3) that
we, the liberal party as a whole, and especially we its leaders,
have for the moment nothing to say to it, that we must be passive,
must wait and watch. But I again and again say to myself,
I say I mean in the interior and silent forum, 'It'll na dee.'
I should not be surprised if there were to be rather painful mani-
festations in the House on Tuesday. It is yet to be seen what

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our Nonconformist friends, such a man as , for example, or

such a man as will say. ... If I recollect right, Southey'a

Life of ffelson was in my early days published and circulated by
the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge. It would be
curious to look back upon it and see how the biographer treats his
narrative at the tender points. What I have said under figure
3 applies to me beyond all others, and notwithstanding my prog-
nostications I shall maintain an extreme reserve in a position
where I can do no good (in the present tense), and might by
indiscretion do much harm. You will doubtless communicate
with Harcourt and confidential friends only as to anything in
this letter. The thing, one can see, is not a res judicata. It may
ripen fast. Thus far, there is a total want of moral support from
this side to the Irish judgment.

A fierce current was soon perceived to be running.
All the elements so powerful for high enthusiasm, but
hazardous where an occasion demands circumspection, were
in full blast. The deep instinct for domestic order was
awake. Many were even violently and irrationally im-
patient that Mr. Gladstone had not peremptorily renounced
the alliance on the very morrow of the decree. As if,
Mr. Gladstone himself used to say, it could be the duty
of any party leader to take into his hands the intoler-
able burden of exercising the rigours of inquisition and
private censorship over every man with whom what he
judged the highest public expediency might draw him to

Online LibraryJohn MorleyThe life of William Ewart Gladstone, Volume 2 → online text (page 61 of 91)