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John Morley.

The life of William Ewart Gladstone, Volume 2 online

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co-operate. As if, moreover, it could be the duty of
Mr. Gladstone to hurry headlong into action, without giving
Mr. Parnell time or chance of taking such action of his
own as might make intervention unnecessary. Why was
it to be assumed that Mr. Parnell would not recognise the
facts of the situation ? ' I determined/ said Mr. Gladstone
' to watch the state of feeling in this country. I made no
public declaration, but the country made up its mind. I
was in some degree like the soothsayer Shakespeare intro-
duces into one of his plays. He says, " I do not make the
facts; I only foresee them." I did not foresee the facts
even ; they were present before me.' l

1 Speech At Retford, December 11, 1890. Antony and Cleopatra, Act I. So. 2.



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JUDGMENTS IN GREAT BRITAIN 673

The facts were plain, and Mr. Gladstone was keenly alive
to the full purport of every one of them. Men, in whose *
hearts religion and morals held the first place, were strongly ^ T - 8L
joined by men accustomed to settle political action by
political considerations. Platform-men united with pulpit-
men in swelling the whirlwind. Electoral calculation and
moral faithfulness were held for once to point the same way.
The report from every quarter, every letter to a member
from a constituent, all was in one sense. Some, as I have
said, pressed the point that the misconduct itself made co-
operation impossible; others urged the impossibility of
relying upon political understandings with one to whom
habitual duplicity was believed to have been brought home.
We may set what value we choose upon such arguments.
Undoubtedly they would have proscribed some of the most
important and admired figures in the supreme doings of
modern Europe. Undoubtedly some who have fallen into
shift and deceit in this particular relation, have yet been
true as steel in all else. For a man's character is a strangely
fitted mosaic, and it is unsafe to assume that all his traits
are of one piece, or inseparable in fact because they ought
to be inseparable by logic. But people were in no humour
for casuistry, and whether all this be sophistry or sense,
the volume of hostile judgment and obstinate intention
could neither be mistaken, nor be wisely breasted if home
rule was to be saved in Great Britain.

Mr. Gladstone remained at Hawarden during the week.
To Mr. Arnold Morley he wrote (Nov. 23):— 'I have a
bundle of letters every morning on the Parnell business, and
the bundles increase. My own opinion has been the same
from the first, and I conceive that the time for action has
now come. All my correspondents are in unison/ Every
post-bag was heavy with admonitions, of greater cogency
than such epistles sometimes possess; and a voluminous
bundle of letters still at Hawarden bears witness to the
emotions of the time. Sir William Harcourt and I, who
had taken part in the proceedings at Sheffield, made our
reports. The acute manager of the liberal party came to
announce that three of our candidates had bolted already,

vol. il 2 u



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674 BREACH WITH MR. PARNELL

BOOK that more were sure to follow, and that this indispensable
, p.r»mmoHit.y in elections would become scarcer than ever.

1890. of the general party opinion, there could be no shadow of
doubt. It was no application of special rigour because Mr.
Parnell was an Irishman. Any English politician of his
rank would have fared the same or worse, and retirement,
temporary or for ever, would have been inevitable. Tem-
porary withdrawal, said some; permanent withdrawal, said
others; but for withdrawal of some sort, almost all were
inexorable.

IV

Mr. Gladstone did not reach London until the afternoon
of Monday, November 24. Parliament was to assemble on
the next day. Three members of the cabinet of 1886, and
the chief whip of the party, 1 met him in the library of
Lord Rendel's house at Carlton Gardens. The issue before
the liberal leaders was a plain one. It was no question of
the right of the nationalists to choose their own chief. It
was no question of inflicting political ostracism on a
particular kind of moral delinquency. The question was
whether the present continuance of the Irish leadership
with the silent assent of the British leaders, did not involve
decisive abstention at the polls on the day when Irish
policy could once more be submitted to the electors of
Great Britain ? At the best the standing difficulties even
to sanguine eyes, and under circumstances that had seemed
so promising, were still formidable. What chance was
there if this new burden were superadded ? Only one
conclusion was possible upon the state of facts, and even
those among persons responsible for this decision who were
most earnestly concerned in the success of the Irish policy,
reviewing all the circumstances of the dilemma, deliberately
hold to this day that though a catastrophe followed, a worse
catastrophe was avoided. It is one of the commonest of all
secrets of cheap misjudgment in human affairs, to start by
assuming that there is always some good way out of a bad
case. Alas for us all, this is not so. Situations arise alike

1 Lord Granville, Sir W. Harcourt, Mr. Arnold Morley, and myself.



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THE LIBERAL LEADERS 675

for individuals, for parties, and for states, from which no CHAP
good way out exists, but only choice between bad way and *
worse. Here was one of those situations. The mischiefs ^ T - 8L
that followed the course actually taken, we see ; then, as is
the wont of human kind, we ignore the mischiefs that as
surely awaited any other.

Mr. Gladstone always steadfastly resisted every call to
-express an opinion of his own that the delinquency itself had
made Mr. Parnell unfit and impossible. It was vain to tell
him that the party would expect such a declaration, or that
his reputation required that he should found his action on
moral censure all his own. 'What!' he cried, 'because a
man is what is called leader of a party, does that constitute
him a censor and a judge of faith and morals ? I will not
Accept it. It would make life intolerable.' He adhered
tenaciously to political ground. ' I have been for four
years/ Mr. Gladstone iustly argued, 'endeavouring to per-
suade voters to support Irish autonomy. Now the voter
says to me, "If a certain thing happens — namely, the
retention of the Irish leadership in its present hands — I
will not support Irish autonomy." How can I go on
with the work ? We laboriously rolled the great stone up
to the top of the hill, and now it topples down to the
bottom again, unless Mr. Parnell sees fit to go.' From
the point of view of Irish policy this was absolutely
unanswerable. It would have been just as unanswerable,
even if all the dire confusion that afterwards came to pass
had then been actually in sight. Its force was wholly
independent, and necessarily so, of any intention that
might be formed by Mr. Parnell.

As for that intention, let us turn to him for a moment
Who could dream that a man so resolute in facing facts as
Mr. Parnell, would expect all to go on as before? Sub-
stantial people in Ireland who were preparing to come round
to home rule at the prospect of a liberal victory in Great .
Britain, would assuredly be frightened back. Belfast would
be more resolute than ever. A man might estimate as he
pleased either the nonconformist conscience in England, or
the catholic conscience in Ireland. But the most cynical



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676 BREACH WITH MR. PARNELL

of mere calculators, — and I should be slow to say that this
. was Mr. Parnell, — could not fall a prey to such a hallucina-
1890. tion as to suppose that a scandal so frightfully public, so
impossible for even the most mild-eyed charity to pretend
not to see, and which political passion was so interested
in keeping in full blaze, would instantly drop out of the
mind of two of the most religious communities in the world ;
or that either of these communities could tolerate without
effective protest so impenitent an affront as the unruffled
continuity of the stained leadership. All this was inde-
pendent of anything that Mr. Gladstone might do or might
not do. The liberal leaders had a right to assume that the
case must be as obvious to Mr. Parnell as it was to
everybody else, and unless loyalty and good faith have no
place in political alliances, the} had a right to look for his
spontaneous action. Was unlimited consideration due from
them to him and none from him to them ?

The result of the consultation was the decisive letter
addressed to me by Mr. Gladstone, its purport to be
by me communicated to Mr. Parnell. As any one may
see, its language was courteous and considerate. Not
an accent was left that could touch the pride of one
who was known to be as proud a man as ever lived. It did
no more than state an unquestionable fact, with an inevit-
able inference. It was not written in view of publication,
for that it was hoped would be unnecessary. It was written
with the expectation of finding the personage concerned in
his usual rational frame of mind, and with the intention of
informing him of what it was right that he should know.
The same evening Mr. McCarthy was placed in possession
of Mr. Gladstone's views, to be laid before Mr. Parnell at
the earliest moment.

* 1 Carlton Gardens, Nov. 24, 1890. — My dear Morley. — Having
arrived at a certain conclusion with regard to the continuance, at
the present moment, of Mr. ParnelPs leadership of the Irish party,
I have seen Mr. McCarthy on my arrival in town, and have inquired
from him whether I was likely to receive from Mr. Parnell himself
any communication on the subject. Mr. McCarthy replied that he
was unable to give me any information on the subject. I men-



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• mr. Gladstone's letter 677

tioned to him that in 1882, after the terrible murder in the Phoenix
Park, Mr. Pamell, although totally removed from any idea of .
responsibility, had spontaneously written to me, and offered to " Er - 8L
take the Chiltern Hundreds, an offer much to his honour but one
which I thought it my duty to decline.

While clinging to the hope of a communication from Mr.
Parnell, to whomsoever addressed, I thought it necessary, viewing
the arrangements for the commencement of the session to-morrow,-
to acquaint Mr. McCarthy with the conclusion at which, after using
all the means of observation and reflection in my power, I had my-
self arrived. It was that notwithstanding the splendid services
rendered by Mr. Parnell to his country, his continuance at the
present moment in the leadership would be productive of conse-
quences disastrous in the highest degree to the cause of Ireland.
I think I may be warranted in asking you so far to expand the
conclusion I have given above, as to add that the continuance I
speak of would not only place many hearty and effective friends of
the Irish cause in a position of great embarrassment, but would
render my retention of the leadership of the liberal party, based as
it has been mainly upon the prosecution of the Irish cause, almost
a nullity. This explanation of my views I begged Mr. McCarthy
to regard as confidential, and not intended for his colleagues
generally, if he found that Mr. Parnell contemplated spontaneous
action ; but I also begged that he would make known to the Irish
party, at their meeting to-morrow afternoon, that such was my
conclusion, if he should find that Mr. Parnell had not in contempla-
tion any step of the nature indicated. I now write to you, in case
Mr. McCarthy should be unable to communicate with Mr. Parnell,
as I understand you may possibly have an opening to-morrow
through another channel. Should you have such an opening, I beg
you to make known to Mr. Parnell the conclusion itself, which I
have stated in the earlier part of this letter. I have thought it
best to put it in terms simple and direct, much as I should have
desired had it lain within my power, to alleviate the painful nature
of the situation. As respects the manner of conveying what my
public duty has made it an obligation to say, I rely entirely on
your good feeling, tact, and judgment. — Believe me sincerely
yours, W. E. Gladstone.



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678 BREACH WITH MR. PARNELL-

No direct communication had been possible, though every
effort to open it was made. Indirect information had been
1890. received. Mr. ParnelTs purpose was reported to have shifted
during the week since the decree. On the Wednesday he
had been at his stiffest, proudest, and coldest, bent on holding
on at all cost He thought he saw a way of getting some-
thing done for Ireland; the Irish people had given him a
commission; he should stand to it, so long as ever they
asked him. On the Friday, however (Nov. 21), he appeared,
so I had been told, to be shaken in his resolution. He had
bethought him that tha government might possibly seize
the moment for a dissolution; that if there were an
immediate election, the government would under the circum-
stances be not unlikely to win ; if so, Mr. Gladstone might
be thrown for four or five years into opposition; in other
words, that powerful man's part in the great international
transaction would be at an end. In this mood he declared
himself alive to the peril and the grave responsibility of
taking any course that could lead to consequences so
formidable. That was the last authentic news that reached
us. His Irish colleagues had no news at all. After this
glimpse the curtain had fallen, and all oracles fell dumb.

If Mr. Gladstone's decision was to have the anticipated effect,
Mr. Parnell must be made aware of it before the meeting
of the Irish party (Nov. 25). This according to custom was
to be held at two o'clock in the afternoon, to choose their
chairman for the session. Before the choice was made,
both the leader and his political friends should know the
view and the purpose that prevailed in the camp of their
allies. Mr. Parnell kept himself invisible and inaccessible
alike to English and Irish friends until a few minutes
before the meeting. The Irish member who had seen Mr.
Gladstone the previous evening, at the last moment was
able to deliver the message that had been confided to him.
Mr. Parnell replied that he should stand to his guns. The
other members of the Irish party came together, and, wholly
ignorant of the attitude taken by Mr. Gladstone, promptly
and with hardly a word of discussion re-elected their leader
to his usual post. The gravity of the unfortunate error



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THE IRISH LEADER OBDURATE 679

committed in the failure to communicate the private message CHAP,
to the whole of the nationalist members, with or without *
Mr. Parnell's leave, lay in the fact that it magnified and ^ T - 81 -
distorted Mr. Gladstone's later intervention into a humili-
ating public ultimatum. The following note, made at the
time, describes the fortunes of Mr. Gladstone's letter : —

Nov. 25. — I had taken the usual means of sending a message to
Mr. Parnell, to the effect that Mr. Gladstone was coming to town
on the following day, and that I should almost certainly hare
a communication to make to Mr. Parnell on Tuesday morning.
It was agreed at my interview with his emissary on Sunday
night (November 23) that I should be informed by eleven on
Tuesday forenoon where I should see him. I laid special stress
on my seeing him before the party met. At half-past eleven,
or a little later, on that day I received a telegram from the
emissary that he could not reach his friend. 1 I had no difficulty
in interpreting this. It meant that Mr. Parnell had made up
his mind to fight it out, whatever line we might adopt; that
he guessed that my wish to see him must from his point of
view mean mischief ; and that he would secure his re-election as
chairman before the secret was out. Mr. McCarthy was at this
hour also entirely in the dark, and so were all the other mem-
bers of the Irish party supposed to be much in Mr. ParnelPs
confidence. When I reached the House a little after three, the
lobby was alive with the bustle and animation usual at the
opening of a session, and Mr. Parnell was in the thick of it,
talking to a group of his friends. He came forward with much
cordiality. 'I am very sorry/ he said, 'that I could not make
an appointment, but the truth is I did not get your message
until I came down to the House, and then it was too late.' I
asked him to come round with me to Mr. Gladstone's room. As
we went along the corridor he informed me in a casual way that
the party had again elected him chairman. When we reached
the sunless little room, I told him I was sorry to hear that the
election was over, for I had a communication to make to him
which might, as I hoped, still make a difference. I then read out

1 If anybody cares to follow all a full reply of mine sent to the press,
this up. he may read a speech of Mr. Aug. 17.
Parnell's at Kells, Aug. 16, 1891, and



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680 BREACH WITH MR. PARNELL

BOOK to him Mr. Gladstone's letter. As he listened, I knew the look
^' * on his face quite well enough to see that he was obdurate. The

1890. conversation did not last long. He said the feeling against him
was a storm in a teacup, and would soon pass. I replied that
he might know Ireland, but he did not half know England ; that
it was much more than a storm in a teacup ; that if he set British
feeling at defiance and brazened it out, it would be ruin to home
rule at the election ; that if he did not withdraw for a time, the
storm would not pass ; that if he withdrew from the actual leader-
ship now as a concession due to public feeling in this country,
this need not prevent him from again taking the helm when
new circumstances might demand his presence; that he could
very well treat his re-election as a public vote of confidence by
his party ; that, having secured this, he would suffer no loss of
dignity or authority by a longer or shorter period of retirement.
I reminded him that for two years he had been practically absent
from active leadership. He answered, in his slow dry way, that
he must look to the future; that he had made up his mind to
stick to the House of Commons and to his present position in his
party, until he was convinced, and he would not soon be con-
vinced, that it was impossible to obtain home rule from a British
parliament ; that if he gave up the leadership for a time, he should
never return to it ; that if he once let go, it was all over. There
was the usual iteration on both sides in a conversation of the
kind, but this is the substance of what passed. His manner
throughout was perfectly cool and quiet, and his unresonant voice
was unshaken. He was paler than usual, and now and then a
wintry smile passed over his face. I saw that nothing would be
gained by further parley, so I rose and he somewhat slowly did
the same. ' Of course,' he said, as I held the door open for him
to leave, * Mr. Gladstone will have to attack me. I shall expect
that. He will have a right to do that.' So we parted.

I waited for Mr. Gladstone, who arrived in a few minutes.
It was now four o'clock. * Well ? ' he asked eagerly the moment
the door was closed, and without taking off cape or hat. ' Have
you seen him V 'He is obdurate,' said I. I told him shortly
what had passed. He stood at the table, dumb for some instants,
looking at me as if he could not believe what I had said. Then



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IRISH DISTRACTIONS 681

he burst out that we must at once publish his letter to me ; at
once, that very afternoon. I said, ' 'Tis too late now.' ' Oh, no/ *
said he, ' the Pall Mall will bring it out in a special edition.' Mt - 8L
' Well, but,' I persisted, ' we ought really to consider it a little.'
Reluctantly he yielded, and we went into the House. Harcourt
presently joined us on the bench, and we told him the news. It
was by and by decided that the letter should be immediately pub-
lished. Mr. Gladstone thought that I should at once inform Mr.
Parnell of this. There he was at that moment, pleasant and
smiling, in his usual place on the Irish bench. I went into our
lobby, and sent somebody to bring him out. Out he came, and
we took three or four turns in the lobby. I told him that it was
thought right, under the new circumstances, to send the letter to
the press. 'Yes,' he said amicably, as if it were no particular
concern of his, ' I think Mr. Gladstone will be quite right to do
that ; it will put him straight with his party.'

The debate on the address had meanwhile been running
its course. Mr. Gladstone had made his speech. One of
the newspapers afterwards described the liberals as wearing
pre-occupied countenances. 'We were pre-occupied with a
vengeance/ said Mr. Gladstone, 'and even while I was
speaking I could not help thinking to myself, Here am I
talking about Portugal and about Armenia, while every
single creature in the House is absorbed in one thing only,
and that is an uncommonly long distance from either
Armenia or Portugal' News of the letter, which had been
sent to the reporters about eight o'clock, swiftly spread.
Members hurried to ex-ministers in the dining-room to ask
if the story of the letter was true. The lobbies were seized
by one of those strange and violent fevers to which on such
occasions the House of Commons is liable. Unlike the
clamour of the Stock Exchange or a continental Chamber,
there is little noise, but the perturbation is profound. Men
pace the corridors in couples and trios, or flit from one knot
to another, listening to an oracle of the moment modestly
retailing a rumour false on the face of it, or evolving
monstrous hypotheses to explain incredible occurrences.
This, however, was no common crisis of lobby or gallery.



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G82 BREACH WITH MR. PARNELL

One party quickly felt that, for them at least, it was an
- affair of life or death. It was no wonder that the Irish
1890. members were stirred to the very depths. For five years
they had worked on English platforms, made active friend-
ships with English and Scottish liberals in parliament and
out of it, been taught to expect from their aid and alliance
that deliverance which without allies must remain out of
reach and out of sight ; above all, for nearly five years they
had been taught to count on the puissant voice and strong
right arm of the leader of all the forces of British liberalism.
They suddenly learned that if they took a certain step in
respect of the leadership of their own party, the alliance
was broken off, the most powerful of Englishmen could
help them no more, and that all the dreary and desperate
inarches since 1880 were to be faced onc^ again in a blind
and endless campaign, against the very party to whose
friendship they had been taught to look for strength,
encouragement, and victory. Well might they recoil. More
astounded still, they learned at the same time that they
had already taken the momentous step in the dark, and
that the knowledge of what they were doing, the pregnant
meanings and the tremendous consequences of it, had been
carefully concealed from them. Never were consternation,
panic, distraction, and resentment better justified.

The Irishmen were anxious to meet at once. Their leader
sat moodily in the smoking-room downstairs. His faculty
of concentrated vision had by this time revealed to him
the certainty of a struggle, and its intensity. He knew in
minute detail every element of peril both at Westminster
and in Ireland. A few days before, he mentioned to the
present writer his suspicion of designs on foot in ecclesias-
tical quarters, though he declared that he had no fear of
them. He may have surmised that the demonstration at
the Leinster Hall was superficial and impulsive. On the
other hand, his confidence in the foundations of his
dictatorship was unshaken. This being so, if deliberate
calculation were the universal mainspring of every states-
man's action — as it assuredly is not nor can ever be — he
would have spontaneously withdrawn for a season, in the



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MR. PARNELl/S DECISION 683

assurance that if signs of disorganization were to appear CHAP,
among his followers, his prompt return from Elba would «
be instantly demanded in Ireland, whether or no it were
acquiesced in by the leaders and main army of liberals
in England. That would have been both politic and decent,
even if we conceive his mind to have been working in
another direction. He may, for instance, have believed that
the scandal had destroyed the chances of a liberal victory



Online LibraryJohn MorleyThe life of William Ewart Gladstone, Volume 2 → online text (page 62 of 91)