John Morley.

The life of William Ewart Gladstone, Volume 2 online

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Mr. G. did not make any stand against this, and made the
curious admission that Dante was too optimist to be placed
on a level with Shakespeare, or even with Homer.

Then we turned to lighter themes. He had once said to
Henry Taylor, ' I should have thought he was the sort of
man to have a good strong grasp of a subject,' speaking of
Lord Grey, who had been one of Taylor's many chiefs at the
Colonial Office. 'I should have thought,' replied Taylor
slowly and with a dreamy look, ' he was the sort of man to
have a good strong nip of a subject' Witty, and very
applicable to many men.

Wordsworth once gave Mr. G. with much complacency,
as an example of his own readiness and resource, this story.
A man came up to him at Rydal and said, ' Do you happen

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to have seen my wife/ ' Why,' replied the Sage, ' I did not

know you had a wife ! ' This peculiarly modest attempt <

at pointed repartee much tickled Mr. G., as well it might. Mr ' m *

Tuesday, Jan. 12. — Mr. G. completely recovered from two
days of indisposition. We had about an hour's talk on things
in general, including policy in the approaching session. He
did not expect a dissolution, at the same time a dissolu-
tion would not surprise him.

At noon they started for P6rigord and Carcassonne, Nismes,
Aries, and so on to the Riviera full of kind things at our

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T£ 6* ijdrj 6uo fjUv ycvtal fitp6xuv AvOpwrw

ip IluXy -tjyadt-Q, fiera di Tpirirounw Avaffvcr.

Iliad, i. 260.

Two generations of mortal men had he already seen pass away,
who with him of old had been born and bred in sacred Pylos, and
among the third generation he held rule.

BOOK In 1892 the general election came, after a session that was
_^_^ not very long nor at all remarkable. Everybody knew that
1892. we should soon be dismissed, and everybody knew that the
liberals would have a majority, but the size of it was beyond
prognostication. Mr. Gladstone did not talk much about
it, but in fact he reckoned on winning by eighty or a hundred.
A leading liberal-unionist at whose table we met (May 24)
gave us forty. That afternoon by the way the House had
heard a speech of great power and splendour. An Irish tory
peer in the gallery said afterwards, ' That old hero of yours is
a miracle. When he set off in that high pitch, I said that
won't last. Yet he kept it up all through as grand as ever,
and came in fresher and stronger than when he began.' His
sight failed him in reading an extract, and he asked me to
read it for him, so he sat down amid sympathetic cheers
while it was read out from the box.

After listening to a strong and undaunted reply from Mr.
Balfour, he asked me to go with him into the tea-room;
he was fresh, unperturbed, and in high spirits. He tbld
me he had once sat at table with Lord Melbourne, but
regretted that he had never known him. Said that of the
sixty men or so who had been his colleagues in cabinet, the


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very easiest and most attractive was Clarendon. Constantly CHAP,
regretted that he had never met nor known Sir Walter v
Scott, as of course he might have done. Thought the effect ^ Et# ^
of diplomacy to be bad on the character ; to train yourself
to practise the airs of genial friendship towards men from
whom you are doing your best to hide yourself, and out of
whom you are striving to worm that which they wish to
conceaL Said that he was often asked for advice by young
men as to objects of study. He bade them study and
ponder, first, the history and working of freedom in
America; second, the history of absolutism in France
from Louis xiv. to the Revolution. It was suggested
that if the great thing with the young is to attract
them to fine types of character, the Huguenots had some
grave, free, heroic figures, and in the eighteenth century
Turgot was the one inspiring example : when Mill was
in low spirits, he restored himself by Condorcet's life of
Turgot. This reminded him that Canning had once praised
Turgot in the House of Commons, though most likely
nobody but himself knew anything at all about Turgot.
Talking of the great centuries, the thirteenth, and the six-
teenth, and the seventeenth, Mr. Gladstone let drop what
for him seems the remarkable judgment that 'Man as a
type has not improved since those great times; he is not
so big, so grand, so heroic as he has been.' This, the reader
will agree, demands a good deal of consideration.

Then he began to talk about offices, in view of what were
now pretty obvious possibilities. After discussing more im-
portant people, he asked whether, after a recent conversa-
tion, I had thought more of my own office, and I told him
that I fancied like Regulus I had better go back to the
Irish department. ' Yes/ he answered with a flash of his eye,
' I think so. The truth is that we 're both chained to the
oar; I am chained to the oar; you are chained/


The electoral period, when it arrived, he passed once more
at Dalmeny. In a conversation the morning after I was

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allowed to join him there, he seemed already to have a grand
majority of three figures, to have kissed hands, and to be
1892. installed in Downing Street. This confidence was indispen-
sable to him. At the end of his talk he went up to prepare
some notes for the speech that he was to make in the after-
noon at Glasgow. Just before the carriage came to take him
to the train, I heard him calling from the library. In I went,
and found him hurriedly thumbing the leaves of a Horace.
' Tell me/ he cried, ' can you put your finger on the passage
about Castor and Pollux ? I Ve just thought of something ;
Castor and Pollux will finish my speech at Glasgow/ ' Isn't
it in the Third Book/ said I. ' No, no ; I 'm pretty sure it is
in the First Book ' — busily turning over the pages. * Ah,
here it is/ and then he read out the noble lines with ani-
mated modulation, shut the book with a bang, and rushed
off exultant to the carriage. This became one of the finest
of his perorations. 1 His delivery of it that afternoon, they
said, was most majestic — the picture of the wreck, and then
the calm that gradually brought down the towering billows
to the surface of the deep, entrancing the audience like

Then came a depressing week. The polls flowed in,
all day long, day after day. The illusory hopes of many
months faded into night. The three-figure majority by the
end of the week had vanished so completely, that one won-
dered how it could ever have been thought of. On July 13
his own Midlothian poll was declared, and instead of his old
majority of 4000, or the 3000 on which he counted, he was
only in by 690. His chagrin was undoubtedly intense, for
he had put forth every atom of his strength in the campaign.
But with that splendid suppression of vexation which is one
of the good lessons that men learn in public life, he put a
brave face on it, was perfectly cheery all through the lun-
cheon, and afterwards took me to the music-room, where
instead of constructing a triumphant cabinet with a majority
of a hundred, he had to try to adjust an Irish policy to a
parliament with hardly a majority at alL These topics
exhausted, with a curiously quiet gravity of tone he told me

1 See Appendix, Hor. Carm. i. 12, 25.

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that cataract had formed over one eye, that its sight was
gone, and that in the other eye he was infested with a white «
speck. * One white speck/ he said, almost laughing, ' I can ^ Br - 83 -
do with, but if the one becomes many, it will be a bad
business. They tell me that perhaps the fresh air of Brae-
mar will do me good.' To Braemar the ever loyal Mr.
Armitstead piloted them, in company with Lord Acton, of
whose society Mr. Gladstone could never have too much.


It has sometimes been made a matter of Blame by friends
no less than foes, that he should have undertaken the task
of government, depending on a majority not large enough
to coerce the House of Lords. One or two short observations
on this would seem to be enough. How could he refuse to try
to work his Irish policy through parliament, after the bulk
of the Irish members had quitted their own leader two years
before in absolute reliance on the sincerity and good faith of
Mr. Gladstone and his party ? After all the confidence that
Ireland had shown in him at the end of 1890, how could he
in honour throw up the attempt that had been the only
object of his public life since 1886 ? To do this would have
been to justify indeed the embittered warnings of Mr. Parnell
in his most reckless hour. How could either refusal of
office or the postponement of an Irish bill after taking office,
be made intelligible in Ireland itself? Again, the path of
honour in Ireland was equally the path of honour and of
safety in Great Britain. Were British liberals, who had
given him a majority, partly from disgust at Irish coercion,
partly from faith that he could produce a working plan of
Irish government, and partly from hopes of reforms of their
own — were they to learn that their leaders could do nothing
for any of their special objects ?

Mr. Gladstone found some consolation in a precedent. In
1835, he argued, * the Melbourne government came in with a
British minority, swelled into a majority hardly touching
thirty by the O'Connell contingent of forty. And they stayed

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in for six years and a half, the longest lived government
since Lord Liverpool's. 1 But the Irish were under the com-
1892 - mand of a master; and Ireland scarcely beginning her
political life, had to be content with small mercies. Lastly,
that government was rather slack, and on this ground per-
haps could not well be taken as a pattern.' In the present
case, the attitude of the Parnellite group who continued
the schism that began in the events of the winter of 1890,
was not likely to prove a grave difficulty in parliament, and
in fact it did not. The mischief here was in the effect of
Irish feuds upon public opinion in the country. As Mr.
Gladstone put it in the course of a letter that he had
occasion to write to me (November 26, 1892) : —

Until the schism arose, we had every prospect of a majority
approaching those of 1868 and 1880. With the death of Mr.
Parnell it was supposed that it must perforce close. But this
expectation has been disappointed. The existence and working
of it have to no small extent puzzled and bewildered the English
people. They cannot comprehend how a quarrel, to them utterly
unintelligible (some even think it discreditable), should be allowed
to divide the host in the face of the enemy ; and their unity and
zeal have been deadened in proportion. Herein we see the main
cause why our majority is not more than double what it actually
numbers, and the difference between these two scales of majority
represents, as I apprehend, the difference between power to carry
the bill as the Church and Land bills were carried into law, and
the default of such power. The main mischief has already been
done; but it receives additional confirmation with the lapse of
every week or month.

In forming his fourth administration Mr. Gladstone found
one or two obstacles on which he had not reckoned, and
perhaps could not have been expected to reckon. By
that forbearance of which he was a master, they were
in good time surmounted. New men of a promise soon
amply fulfilled, were taken in, including, to Mr. Glad-
stone's own particular satisfaction, the son of the oldest

1 Lord Palmer8ton'8 government of 1859 was shorter by only a few days.

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of all the surviving friends of his youth, Sir Thomas
Acland. 1

Mr. Gladstone remained as head of the government for a
year and a few months (Aug. 1892 to March 3, 1894). In
that time several decisions of pith and moment were taken,
one measure of high importance became law, operations be-
gan against the Welsh establishment, but far the most con-
spicuous biographic element of this short period was his own
incomparable display of power of every kind in carrying the
new bill for the better government of Ireland through the
House of Commons.

In foreign affairs it was impossible that he should forget
the case of Egypt. Lord Salisbury in 1887 had pressed for-
ward an arrangement by which the British occupation was
under definite conditions and at a definite date to come to
an end. If this convention had been accepted by the Sultan,
the British troops would probably have been home by the
time of the change of government in this country. French
diplomacy, however, at Constantinople, working as it might
seem against its own professed aims, hindered the ratification
of the convention, and Lord Salisbury's policy was frustrated.
Negotiations did not entirely drop, and they had not passed
out of existence when Lord Salisbury resigned. In the
autumn of 1892 the French ambassador addressed a friendly
inquiry to the new government as to the reception likely to
be given to overtures for re-opening the negotiations. The

jet. sa

1 Here is the Fourth Cabinet : —

First lord of the treasury and privy seal,

Lord chancellor,

President of the council and Indian secretary,

Chancellor of the exchequer,

Home secretary, .

Foreign secretary, .

Colonial secretary,

Secretary for war,

First lord of the admiralty.

Chief secretary for Ireland,

Secretary for Scotland, .

President of the board of trade,

President of the local government board,

Chancellor of the duchy of Lancaster,


First commissioner of works, .

Vice-president of the council,

W. E. Gladstone.

Lord Herschell.

Earl of Kimberley.

Sir W. V. Harcourt.

H. H. Asquith.

Earl of Rosebery.

Marquis of Ripon.

H. Campbell-Bannerman.

Earl Spencer.

John Morley.

Sir G. O. Trevelyan.

A. J. Mundella.

H. H. Fowler.

James Bryce.

Arnold Morley.

G. J. Shaw Lefevre.

A. H. D. Acland.

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BOOK answer was that if France had suggestions to offer, they
Xm , would be received in the same friendly spirit in which they

1892. were tendered. When any communications were received,
Mr. Gladstone said in the House of Commons, there would
be no indisposition on our part to extend to them our
friendly consideration. Of all this nothing came. A rather
serious ministerial crisis in Egypt in January 1893, followed
by a ministerial crisis in Paris in April, arrested whatever
projects of negotiation France may have entertained. 1


In December (1892), at Hawarden, Mr. Gladstone said to
me one day after we had been working for five or six hours
at the heads of the new Home Rule bill, that his general
health was good and sound, but his sight and his hearing were
so rapidly declining, that he thought he might almost any
day have to retire from office. It was no moment for banal
deprecation. He sat silently pondering this vision in his
own mind, of coming fate. It seemed like Tennyson's famous
simile —

So dark a forethought rolled about his brain,

As on a dull day in an ocean cave

The blind wave feeling round his long sea-hall

In silence.

It would have been preternatural if he had shown the
same overwhelming interest that had animated him when
the Irish policy was fresh in 1886. Yet the instinct of a
strong mind and the lifelong habit of ardent industry
carried him through his Sisyphean toil. The routine
business of head of a government he attended to, with all
his usual assiduity, and in cabinet he was clear, careful,
methodical, as always.

The preparation of the bill was carefully and elaborately
worked by Mr. Gladstone through an excellent committee

1 See Mr. Gladstone's speeches and Book for 1893, for M. Waddington's

answers to questions in the House of despatches of Not. 1, 1892, May 5,

Commons, Jan. 1, Feb. .3, and May 1893, and Feb. 1, 1893.
1, 1893. See also the French Yellow

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of the cabinet. 1 Here he was acute, adroit, patient, full of chap.
device, expedient, and the art of construction ; now and then ' .

vehement and bearing down like a three-decker upon craft ^ Et * 83 -
of more modest tonnage. But the vehemence was rare,
and here as everywhere else he was eager to do justice to all
the points and arguments of other people. He sought
opportunities of deliberation in order to deliberate, and not
under that excellent name to cultivate the art of the
harangue, or to overwork secondary points, least of all to
treat the many as made for one. That is to say, he went
into counsel for the sake of counsel, and not to cajole, or
bully, or insist on his own way because it was his own way.
In the high article of finance, he would wrestle like a tiger.
It was an intricate and difficult business by the necessity
of the case, and among the aggravations of it was the
discovery at one point that a wrong figure had been
furnished to him by some department. He declared this
truly heinous crime to be without a precedent in his huge

The crucial difficulty was the Irish representation at
Westminster. In the first bill of 1886, the Irish members
were to come no more to the imperial parliament, except for
one or two special purposes. The two alternatives to the
policy of exclusion were either inclusion of the Irish
members for all purposes, or else their inclusion for imperial
purposes only. In his speech at Swansea in 1887, Mr. Glad-
stone ' favoured provisional inclusion, without prejudice to
a return to the earlier plan of exclusion if that should
be recommended by subsequent experience. 2 In the bill
now introduced (Feb. 13, 1893), eighty representatives from
Ireland were to have seats at Westminster, but they were
not to vote upon motions or bills expressly confined to Eng-
land or Scotland, and there were other limitations. This
plan was soon found to be wholly intolerable to the House
of Commons. Exclusion having failed, and inclusion of re-
duced numbers for limited purposes having failed, the only

l I hope I am not betraying a schell, Mr. Campbell-Bannerm%n,Mr.

cabinet secret if I mention that this Brfce, and myself,

committee was composed of Mr. * See above, p. 626.
Gladstone, Lord Spencer, Lord Her-

VOL. II. 3 A

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course left open was what was called omnes omnia, or rather
the inclusion of eighty Irish members, with power of voting
1893. on a n purposes.

Each of the three courses was open to at least one
single, but very direct, objection. Exclusion, along with
the exaction of revenue from Ireland by the parliament at
Westminster, was taxation without representation. Inclu-
sion for all purposes was to allow the Irish to meddle in our
affairs, while we were no longer to meddle in theirs. Inclu-
sion for limited purposes still left them invested with the
power of turning out a British government by a vote against
it on an imperial question. Each plan, therefore, ended in
a paradox. There was a fourth paradox, namely, that when-
ever the British supporters of a government did not suffice to
build up a decisive majority, then the Irish vote descending
into one or other scale of the parliamentary balance might
decide who should be our rulers. This paradox — the most
glaring of them all — habit and custom have made familiar,
and familiarity might almost seem to have actually endeared
it to us. In 1893 Mr. Gladstone and his colleagues thought
themselves compelled to change clause 9 of the new bill,
just as they had thought themselves forced to drop clause 24
of the old bilL

It was Mr. Gladstone's performances in the days of com-
mittee on the bill, that stirred the wonder and admiration
of the House. If he had been fifty they would have been
astonishing ; at eighty-four they were indeed a marvel. He
made speeches of powerful argument, of high constitutional
reasoning, of trenchant debating force. No emergency arose
for which he was not ready, no demand that his versa-
tility was not adequate to meet. His energy never flagged.
When the bill came on, he would put on his glasses, pick up
the paper of amendments, and running through them like
lightning, would say, 'Of course, that's absurd — that will
never do — we can never aacept that — is there any harm in
this?' Too many concessions made on the spur of the

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moment to the unionists stirred resentment in the nation- chap.
alists, and once or twice they exploded. These rapid '

splendours of his had their perils. I pointed out to him the Mn ' u -
pretty obvious drawbacks of settling delicate questions as
we went along with no chance of sounding the Irishmen,
and asked him to spare me quarter of an hour before
luncheon, when the draftsman and I,' having threshed out
the amendments of the day, could put the bare points for
his consideration. He was horrified at the very thought.
'Out of the question. Do you want to kill me? I must
have the whole of the morning for general government
business. Don't ask me.' l

Obstruction was freely practised and without remorse.
The chief fighting debater against the government made
a long second-reading speech, on the motion that the clause
stand part of the bill. A little before eight o'clock when
the fighting debater was winding up, Mr. Gladstone was
undecided about speaking. * What do you advise ? ' he asked
of a friend. ' I am afraid it will take too much out of you/
the friend replied; 'but still, speak for twenty minutes and
no more.' Up he rose, and for half an hour a delighted
House was treated to one of the most remarkable perfor-
mances that ever were known. ' I have never seen Mr.
Gladstone/ says one observer, ' so dramatic, so prolific of all
the resources of the actor's art. The courage, the audacity,
and the melodrama of it were irresistible' (May 11).

For ten minutes, writes another chronicler, Mr. Gladstone
spoke, holding his audience spell-bound by his force. Then came
a sudden change, and it seemed that he was about to collapse
from sheer physical exhaustion. His voice failed, huskiness and
indistinctness took the place of clearness and lucidity. Then
pulling himself together for a great effort, Mr. Gladstone pointing
the deprecatory finger at Mr. Chamberlain, warned the Irishmen
to beware of him; to watch the fowler who would inveigle
them in his snare. Loud and long rang the liberal cheers.

1 One poor biographic item perhaps J. Morley and made him envoy to

the tolerant reader will not grudge . He is on the whole . . . about

me leave to copy from Mr. Glad- the best stay I have. '
stone's diary :^- f October 6, 1892. Saw

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BOOK In plain words he told the unionists that Mr. Chamberlain's
t purpose was none other than obstruction, and he conveyed the

1893. intimation with a delicate expressiveness, a superabundant good
feeling, a dramatic action and a marvellous music of voice that
conspired in their various qualities to produce a tour de force.
By sheer strength of enthusiasm and an overflowing wealth of
eloquence, Mr. Gladstone literally conquered every physical weak-
ness, and secured an effect electric in its influence even on seasoned
'old hands.' Amidst high excitement and the sound of cheering
that promised never to die away the House gradually melted into
the lobbies. Mr. Gladstone, exhausted with his effort, chatted
to Mr. Morley on the treasury bench. Except for these two
the government side was deserted, and the conservatives had
already disappeared. The nationalists sat shoulder to shoulder,
a solid phalanx. They eyed the prime minister with eager intent,
and as soon as the venerable statesman rose to walk out of the
House, they sprang to their feet and rent the air with wild

No wonder if the talk downstairs at dinner among his
colleagues that night, all turned upon their chief, his art and
power, his union of the highest qualities of brain and heart
with extraordinary practical penetration, and close watchful-
ness of incident and trait and personality, disclosed in many
a racy aside and pungent sally. The orator was fatigued,
but full of keen enjoyment. This was one of the three or
four occasions when he was induced not to return to the

Online LibraryJohn MorleyThe life of William Ewart Gladstone, Volume 2 → online text (page 67 of 91)