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The life of William Ewart Gladstone, Volume 2 online

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at the election, whether he stayed or withdrew. Why
should he surrender his position in Ireland and over con-
tending factions in America, in reliance upon an English
party to which, as he was well aware, he had just dealt a
smashing blow? These speculations, however, upon the
thoughts that may have been slowly moving through his
mind, are hardly worth pursuing. Unluckily, the stubborn
impulses of defiance that came naturally to his tempera-
ment were aroused to their most violent pitch and swept all
calculations of policy aside. He now proceeded passionately
to dash into the dust the whole fabric of policy which he
had with such infinite sagacity, patience, skill, and energy
devised and reared.

Two short private memoranda from his own hand on this
transaction, I find among Mr. Gladstone's papers. He read
them to me at the time, and they illustrate his habitual
practice of shaping and clearing his thought and recollection
by committal to black and white : —

Nov. 26, 1890. — Since the month of December 1885 my whole
political life has been governed by a supreme regard to the Irish
question. For every day, I may say, of these five years, we have been
engaged in laboriously rolling up hill the stone of Sisyphus. Mr.
Parneirs decision of yesterday means that the stone is to break
away from us and roll down again to the bottom of the hill. I
cannot recall the years which have elapsed. It was daring, per-
haps, to begin, at the age I had then attained, a process which it
was obvious must be a prolonged one.

Simply to recommence it now, when I am within a very few
weeks of the age at which Lord Palmerston, the marvel of parlia-
mentary longevity, succumbed, and to contemplate my accompany-

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BOOK ing the cause of home rule to its probable triumph a rather long


^ course of years hence, would be more than daring ; it would be
1890. presumptuous. My views must be guided by rational proba-
bilities, and they exclude any such anticipation. My statement,
therefore, that my leadership would, under the contemplated
decision of Mr. Parnell, be almost a nullity, is a moderate state-
ment of the case. I have been endeavouring during all these
years to reason with the voters of the kingdom, and when the
voter now tells me that he cannot give a vote for m*aking the
Mr. Parnell of to-day the ruler of Irish affairs under British
sanction, I do not know how to answer him, and I have yet to ask
myself formally the question what under those circumstances is to
be done. I must claim entire and absolute liberty to answer that
question as I may think right.

Nov. 28, 1890. — The few following words afford a key to my
proceedings in the painful business of the Irish leadership.

It was at first my expectation, and afterwards my desire, that
Mr. Parnell would retire by a perfectly spontaneous act As the
likelihood of such a course became less and less, while time ran on,
and the evidences of coming disaster were accumulated, I thought
it would be best that he should be impelled to withdraw, but by
an influence conveyed to him, at least, from within the limits of
his own party. I therefore begged Mr. Justin McCarthy to
acquaint Mr. Parnell of what I thought as to the consequences of
his continuance ; I also gave explanations of my meaning, includ-
ing a reference to myself ; and I begged that my message to Mr.
Parnell might be made known to the Irish party, in the absence of
a spontaneous retirement.

This was on Monday afternoon. But there was no certainty
either of finding Mr. Parnell, or of an impression on him through
one of his own followers. I therefore wrote the letter to Mr.
Morley, as a more delicate form of proceeding than a direct com-
munication from myself, but also as a stronger measure than that
taken through Mr. McCarthy, because it was more full, and be-
cause, as it was in writing, it admitted of the ulterior step of
immediate publication. Mr. Morley could not find Mr. Parnell
until after the first meeting of the Irish party on Monday.
When we found that Mr. McCarthy's representation had had no

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MR. parnell's action 685

effect, that the Irish party had not been informed, and that Mr.
Morley's making known the material parts of my letter was like-
wise without result, it at once was decided to publish the letter ; iEr * 81#
just too late for the Pall Mall Gazette, it was given for publication
to the morning papers, and during the evening it became known
in the lobbies of the House.

Mr. Parnell took up his new ground in a long manifesto
to the Irish people (November 29). It was free of rhetoric
and ornament, but the draught was skilfully brewed. He
charged Mr. Gladstone with having revealed to him during
his visit at Ha warden in the previous December, that in a
future scheme of home rule the Irish members would be
cut down from 103 to 32, land was to be withdrawn from
the competency of the Irish legislature, and the control
of the constabulary would be reserved to the Imperial
authority for an indefinite period, though Ireland would
have to find the money all the time. This perfidious trunca-
tion of self-government by Mr. Gladstone was matched by
an attempt on my part as his lieutenant only a few days
before, to seduce the Irish party into accepting places in a
liberal government, and this gross bribe of mine was accom-
panied by a despairing avowal that the hapless evicted
tenants must be flung overboard. In other words, the
English leaders intended to play Ireland false, and Mr.
Parnell stood between his country and betrayal Such a
story was unluckily no new one in Irish history since the
union. On that theme Mr. Parnell played many adroit
variations during the eventful days that followed. Throw
me to the English wolves if you like, he said, but at any
rate make sure that real home rule and not its shadow is
to be your price, and that they mean to pay it. This was
to awaken the spectre of old suspicions, and to bring to life
again those forces of violence and desperation which it had
been the very crown of his policy to exorcise.

The reply on the Hawarden episode was prompt. Mr.
Gladstone asserted that the whole discussion was one of
those informal exchanges of view which go to all political

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action, and in which men feel the ground and discover the
• leanings of one another's minds. No single proposal was
189 °- made, no proposition was mentioned to which a binding
assent was sought. Points of possible improvement in the
bill of 1886 were named as having arisen in Mr. Gladstone's
mind, or been suggested by others, but no positive con-
clusions were asked for or were expected or were possible.
Mr. Parnell quite agreed that the real difficulty lay in find-
ing the best form in which Irish representation should be
retained at Westminster, but both saw the wisdom and
necessity of leaving deliberation free until the time should
come for taking practical steps. He offered no serious
objection on any point; much less did he say that they
augured any disappointment of Irish aspirations. Apart
from this denial, men asked themselves how it was that
if Mr. Parnell knew that the cause was already betrayed,
he yet for a year kept the black secret to himself, and
blew Mr. Gladstone's praise with as loud a trumpet as
before? 1 As for my own guilty attempt at corruption in
proposing an absorption of the Irish party in English politics
by means of office and emolument, I denied it with reason-
able emphasis at the time, and it does not concern us here,
nor in fact anywhere else.


We now come to what was in its day the famous story
of Committee Room Fifteen, so called from the chamber
in which the next act of this dismal play went on. 2 The
proceedings between the leader and his party were watched
with an eagerness that has never been surpassed in this
kingdom or in America. They were protracted, intense,
dramatic, and the issue for a time hung in poignant doubt
The party interest of the scene was supreme, for if the
Irishmen should rally to their chief, then the English
alliance was at an end, Mr. Gladstone would virtually close

1 On the day after leaving Ha war- ber 19, 1889.

den Mr. Parnell spoke at Liverpool, 9 See Tlie Parnell Split, reprinted

caWing on Lancashire to rally to their from the Times in 1891. Especially

' grand old leader.' ' My countrymen also The Story of Room 15, by Donal

rejoice,' he said, 'for we are on the Sullivan, M.P., the accuracy of which

safe path to our legitimate freedom seems not to have been challenged,
and our future prosperity. ' Decern-

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his illustrious career, the rent in the liberal ranks might CHAP,
be repaired, and leading men and important sections would *
all group themselves afresh. ' Let us all keep quiet/ said aBt - 81 *
one important unionist, 'we may now have to revise our
positions.' Either way, the serpent of faction would raise
its head in Ireland, and the strong life of organized and
concentrated nationalism would perish in its coils. The
personal interest was as vivid as the political, — the spectacle
of a man of infinite boldness, determination, astuteness, and
resource, with the will and pride of Lucifer, at bay with
fortune and challenging a malignant star. Some talked of
the famous Ninth Thermidor, when Robespierre fought inch
by inch the fierce struggle that ended in his ruin. Others
talked of the old mad discord of Zealot and Herodian in
face of the Roman before the walls of Jerusalem. The
great veteran of English politics looked on, wrathful and
astounded at a preternatural perversity for which sixty years
of public life could furnish him no parallel. The sage public
looked on, some with the same interest that would in ancient
days have made them relish a combat of gladiators ; others
with glee at the mortification of political opponents ; others
again with honest disgust at what threatened to be the
ignoble rout of a beneficent policy.

It was the fashion for the moment in fastidious prejudiced
quarters to speak of the actors in this ordeal as ' a hustling
group of yelling rowdies/ Seldom have terms so censorious
been more misplaced. All depends upon the point of view.
Men on a raft in a boiling sea have something to think of
besides deportment and the graces of serenity. As a matter
of fact, even hostile judges then and since agreed that no
case was ever better opened within the walls of Westminster
than in the three speeches made on the first day by Mr.
Sexton and Mr. Healy on the one side, and Mr. Redmond
on the other. In gravity, dignity, acute perception, and
that good faith which is the soul of real as distinct from
spurious debate, the parliamentary critic recognises them
as all of the first order. So for the most part things con-
tinued. It was not until a protracted game had gone
beyond limits of reason and patience, that words sometimes

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flamed high. Experience of national assemblies gives no
- reason to suppose that a body of French, German, Spanish,
1890. Italian, or even of English, Scotch, Welsh, or American
politicians placed in circumstances of equal excitement
arising from an incident in itself at once so squalid and so
provocative, would have borne the strain with any more

Mr. Parnell presided, frigid, severe, and lofty, ' as if/ said
one present, ' it were we who had gone astray, and he were
sitting there to judge us/ Six members were absent in
America, including Mr. Dillon and Mr. O'Brien, two of the
most important of all after Mr. Parnell himself. The atti-
tude of this pair was felt to be a decisive element. At first,
under the same impulse as moved the Leinster Hall meet-
ing, they allowed their sense of past achievement to close
their eyes ; they took for granted the impossible, that reli-
gious Britain and religious Ireland would blot what had
happened out of their thoughts ; and so they stood for Mr.
ParnelTs leadership. The grim facts of the case were
rapidly borne in upon them. The defiant manifesto con-
vinced them that the leadership could not be continued.
Travelling from Cincinnati to Chicago, they read it, made
up their minds, and telegraphed to anxious colleagues in
London. They spoke with warmth of Mr. ParnelTs services,
but protested against his unreasonable charges of servility
to liberal wirepullers; they described the 'endeavours to
fasten the responsibility for what had happened upon Mr.
Gladstone and Mr. Morley' as reckless and unjust; and
they foresaw in the position of isolation, discredit, and inter-
national ill-feeling which Mr. Parnell had now created,
nothing but ruin for the cause. This deliverance from
such a quarter (November 30) showed that either abdication
or deposition was inevitable.

The day after Mr. ParnelTs manifesto, the bishops came
out of their shells. Cardinal Manning had more than once
written most urgently to the Irish prelates the moment the
decree was known, that Parnell could not be upheld in
London, and that no political expediency could outweigh
the moral sense. He knew well enough that the bishops in

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Ireland were in a very difficult strait, but insisted 'that CHAP,
plain and prompt speech was safest.' It was now a case, he «

said to Mr. Gladstone (November 29), of res ad triarios, and ^ T - 8L
it was time for the Irish clergy to speak out from the house-
tops. He had also written to Rome. ' Did I not tell you/
said Mr. Gladstone when he gave me this letter to read,
' that the Pope would now have one of the ten command-
ments on his side ? ' ' We have been slow to act/ Dr. Walsh
telegraphed to one of the Irish members (November 30),
' trusting that the party will act manfully. Our considerate
silence and reserve are being dishonestly misinterpreted/
'All sorry for Parnell/ telegraphed Dr. Croke, the Arch-
bishop of Cashel — a manly and patriotic Irishman if ever
one was — 'but still, in God's name, let him retire quietly
and with good grace from the leadership. If he does so,
the Irish party will be kept together, the honourable alliance
with Gladstonian liberals maintained, success at general
election secured, home rule certain. If he does not retire,
alliance will be dissolved, election lost, Irish party seriously
damaged if not wholly broken up, home rule indefinitely
postponed, coercion perpetuated, evicted tenants hopelessly
crushed, and the public conscience outraged. Manifesto flat
and otherwise discreditable.' This was emphatic enough,
but many of the flock had already committed themselves
before the pastors spoke. To Dr. Croke, Mr. Gladstone
wrote (Dec. 2) : — ' We in England seem to have done our part
within our lines, and what remains is for Ireland itself. I
am as unwilling as Mr. Parnell himself could be, to offer
an interference from without, for no one stands more stoutly
than I do for the independence of the Irish national party
as well as for its unity.'

A couple of days later (Dec. 2) a division was taken in
Boom Fifteen upon a motion made in Mr. ParnelTs interest,
to postpone the discussion until they could ascertain the
views of their constituents, and then meet in Dublin. It was
past midnight The large room, dimly lighted by a few
lamps and candles placed upon the horse-shoe tables, .was
more than half in shadow. Mr. Parnell, his features barely
discernible in the gloom, held a printed list of the party in

VOL. II. 2 X

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BOOK his hand, and he put the question in cold, unmoved tones.
^ The numbers were 29 for the motion — that is to say, for him,

1890. and 44 against him. Of the majority, many had been put
on their trial with him in 1880; had passed months in
prison with him under the first Coercion Act and suffered
many imprisonments besides ; they had faced storm, obloquy,
and hatred with him in the House of Commons, a place
where obloquy stings through tougher than Hibernian skins ;
they had undergone with him the long ordeal of the three
judges ; they had stood by his side with unswerving fidelity
from the moment when his band was first founded for its
mortal struggle down to to-day, when they saw the fruits of
the struggle flung recklessly away, and the policy that had
given to it all its reason and its only hope, wantonly brought
to utter foolishness by a suicidal demonstration that no
English party and no English leader could ever be trusted.
If we think of even the least imaginative of them as haunted
by such memories of the past, such distracting fears for the
future, it was little wonder that when they saw Mr. Parnell
slowly casting up the figures, and heard his voice through
the sombre room announcing the ominous result, they all
sat, both ayes and noes, in profound and painful stillness.
Not a sound was heard, until the chairman rose and said
without an accent of emotion that it would now be well for
them to adjourn until the next day.

This was only the beginning. Though the ultimate
decision of the party was quite certain, every device of
strategy and tactics was meanwhile resolutely employed to
avert it. His supple and trenchant blade was still in the
hands of a consummate swordsman. It is not necessary to
recapitulate all the moves in Mr. ParnelFs grand manoeuvre
for turning the eyes of Ireland away from the question of
leadership to the question of liberal good faith and the
details of home rule. Mr. Gladstone finally announced
that only after the question of leadership had been disposed
of — one belonging entirely to the competence of the Irish
party — could he renew former relations, and once more
enter into confidential communications with any of them.
There was only one guarantee, he said, that could be of any

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value to Ireland, namely the assured and unalterable fact CHAP,
that no English leader and no party could ever dream of^ ;'
either proposing or carrying any scheme of home rule JEn - 8L
which had not the full support of Irish representatives.
This was obvious to all the world. Mr. Parnell knew it well
enough, and the members knew it, but the members were
bound to convince their countrymen that they had exhausted
compliance with every hint from their fatting leader, while
Mr. ParnelTs only object was to gain time, to confuse issues,
and to carry the battle over from Westminster to the more
buoyant and dangerously charged atmosphere of Ireland.

The majority resisted as long as they could the evidence
that Mr. Parnell was audaciously trifling with them and
openly abusing his position as chairman. On the evening
of Friday (December 5) Mr. Sexton and Mr. Healy went to
Mr. Parnell after the last communication from Mr. Glad-
stone. They urged him to bend to the plain necessities of
the case. He replied that he would take the night to con-
sider. The nfext morning (December 6) they returned to
him. He informed them that his responsibility to Ireland
would not allow him to retire. They warned him that the
majority would not endure further obstruction beyond that
day, and would withdraw. As they left, Mr. Parnell wished
to shake hands, 'if it is to be the last time.' They all
shook hands, and then went once more to the field of

It was not until after some twelve days of this excitement
and stress that the scene approached such disorder as has
often before and since been known in the House of Com-
mons. The tension at last had begun to tell upon the
impassive bronze of Mr. Parnell himself. He no longer
made any pretence of the neutrality of the chair. He
broke in upon one speaker more than forty times. In a
flash of rage he snatched a paper from another speaker's
hand. The hours wore away, confusion only became worse
confounded, and the conclusion on both sides was foregone.
Mr. McCarthy at last rose, and in a few moderate sentences
expressed his opinion that there was no use in continuing
a discussion that must be barren of anything but reproach,

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BOOK bitterness, and indignity, and he would therefore suggest
^ * that those who were of the same mind should withdraw.

1890. Then he moved from the table, and his forty-four colleagues
stood up and silently followed him out of the room. In
silence they were watched by the minority who remained,
in number twenty-six. 1


A vacancy at Bassetlaw gave Mr. Gladstone an oppor-
tunity of describing the grounds on which he had acted.
His speech was measured and weighty, but the result
showed the effect of the disaster. The tide, that a few
weeks before had been running so steadily, now turned.
The unionist vote remained almost the same as in 1885;
the liberal vote showed a falling off of over 400 and the
unionist majority was increased from 295 to 728.

About this time having to go to Ireland, on my way
back I stopped at Hawarden, and the following note gives
a glimpse of Mr. Gladstone at this evil moment (Dec. 17) : —

I found him in his old corner in the c temple of peace/ He was
only half recovered from a bad cold, and looked in his worsted
jacket, and dark tippet over his shoulders, and with his white,
deep-furrowed face, like some strange Ancient of Days : so different
from the man whom I had seen off at King's Cross less than a week
before. He was cordial as always, but evidently in some per-
turbation. I sat down and told him what I had heard from
different quarters about the approaching Kilkenny election. I
mentioned X. as a Parnellite authority. 'What,' he flamed up
with passionate vehemence, c X. a Parnellite ! Are they mad, then f
Are they clean demented % ' etc. etc.

I gave him my general impression as to the future. The bare
idea that Parnell might find no inconsiderable following came upon
him as if it had been a thunderclap. He listened, "and catechised,
and knit his brow.

1 The case for the change of mind adduced by him nobody hat ever

which induced the majority who had made a serious political answer. The

elected Mr. Parnell to the chair less reader will find Mr. Sexton's argu-

than a fortnight before, now to depose ment in the reports of these proceed-

him, was clearly put by Mr. Sexton ings already referred to.
at a later date. To the considerations

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Mr. G. — What do you think we should do in case (1) of
divided Ireland, (2) of a Paraellite Ireland 1

/. M. — It is too soon to settle what to think. But, looking to ^ 0T " 8L
Irish interests, I think a Paraellite Ireland infinitely better than
a divided Ireland. Anything better than an Ireland divided, so
far as she is concerned.

Mr. G. — Bassetlaw looks as if we were going back to 1886.
For me that is notice to quit. Another five years' agitation at my
age would be impossible — ludicrous (with much emphasis).

/. M. — I cannot profess to be surprised that in face of these
precious dissensions men should have misgivings, or that even
those who were with us, should now make up their minds to wait
a little.

I said what there was to be said for ParnelTs point of view ;
that, in his words to me of Nov. 25, he ' must look to the future ' ;
that he was only five and forty; that he might well fear that
factions would spring up in Ireland if he were to go; that he
might have made up his mind, that whether he went or stayed,
we should lose the general election when it came. The last notion
seemed quite outrageous to Mr. 6., and he could not suppose that
it had ever entered ParnelTs head.

Mr. G. — You have no regrets at the course we took I

/. M. — None — none. It was inevitable. I have never doubted.
That does not prevent lamentation that it was inevitable. It is
the old story. English interference is always at the root of
mischief in Ireland. But how could we help what we did 1 We
had a right to count on ParnelTs sanity and his sincerity. . . .

Mr. 6. then got up and fished out of a drawer the memorandum
of his talk with Parnell at Hawarden on Dec. 18, 1889, and also a
memorandum written' for his own use on the general political
position at the time of the divorce trial. The former contained
not a word as to the constabulary, and in other matters only put
a number of points, alternative courses, etc., without a single final
or definite decision. While he was fishing in his drawer, he said,
as if speaking to himself, ' It looks as if I should get my release

Online LibraryJohn MorleyThe life of William Ewart Gladstone, Volume 2 → online text (page 63 of 91)