John Morley.

The life of William Ewart Gladstone, Volume 2 online

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As if, when a shipmaster had done all he could for safety, and fitted
his vessel with everything to make her weathertight, then when he
meets a storm and all his tackle strains and labours until it is torn
to pieces, we should blame him for the wreck.

The shock of defeat, resignation, and restoration had no effect CHAP,
in lessening ministerial difficulties. The months that followed s xnL .
make an unedifying close to five glorious years of progress ^ •***■
and reform. With plenty of differences they recall the sun-
less days in which the second administration of the younger
Pitt ended that lofty career of genius and dominion. The
party was divided, and some among its leaders were centres
of petty disturbance. In a scrap dated at this period Mr.
Gladstone wrote : — ' Divisions in the liberal party are to be
seriously apprehended from a factious spirit on questions of
economy, on questions of education in relation to religion,
on further parliamentary change, on the land laws. On these
questions generally my sympathies are with what may be
termed the advanced party, whom on other and general
grounds I certainly will never head nor lead.'

The quarrel between the government and the nonconform-
ists was not mitigated by a speech of Mr. Gladstone's against
amotion for the disestablishment of the church. It was
described by Speaker Brand as 'firm and good,' but the
dissenters, with all their kindness for the prime minister,


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BOOK thought it firm and bad. 1 To Dr. Allon, one of the most
t ' * respected of their leaders, Mr. Gladstone wrote (July 5) : —

The spirit of frankness in which you write is ever acceptable to
me. I fear there may be much in your sombre anticipations. But
if there is to be a great schism in the liberal party, I hope I shall
never find it my duty to conduct the operations either of the one
or of the other section. The nonconformists have shown me great
kindness and indulgence ; they have hitherto interpreted my acts
and words in the most favourable sense ; and if the time has come
when my acts and words pass beyond the measure of their
patience, I contemplate with repugnance, at my time of life
especially, the idea of entering into conflict with them. A political
severance, somewhat resembling in this a change in religion, should
at most occur not more than once in life. At the same time I
must observe that no one has yet to my knowledge pointed out
the expressions or arguments in the speech, that can justly give

A few personal jottings will be found of interest: —

April 7, 1873. — H. of C. The budget and its reception mark
a real onward step in the session. 23. — Breakfast with Mr. C.
Field to meet Mr. Emerson. 30. — I went to see the remains of
my dear friend James Hope. Many sad memories but more joyful
hopes. May 15. — The King and Queen of the Belgians came to
breakfast at ten. A party of twenty. They were most kind, and
all went well.

To the Queen (May 19). — Mr. Gladstone had an interview
yesterday at Chiselhurst with the Empress. He thought her
Majesty much thinner and more worn than last year, but she
showed no want of energy in, conversation. Her Majesty felt
much interest, and a little anxiety, about the coming examination
of the prince her son at Woolwich.

June 8. — Chapel royal at noon. It was touching to see Dean

1 He said he had once made a com- the process of disestablishment to the

putationof what property the church ministers, members, and patrons of

would acquire if disestablished on the the church of England. That is a

Irish terms, and he made out that very staggering kind of arrangement

4 between life incomes, private endow- to make in supplying the young lady

ments, and the value of fabrics and with a fortune and turning her out

advowsons, something like ninety to begin the world.' — Hans. May 16,

millions would have to be given in 1873.

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Hook and hear him, now old in years and very old I fear in life ; CHAP,
but he kindled gallantly. 17. — Had a long conversation with Mr.
Holloway (of the pills) on his philanthropic plans ; which are of
great interest. 25. — Audience of the Shah with Lord Granville
and the Duke of Argyll. Came away after lj hours. He dis-
played abundant acuteness. His gesticulation particularly ex-
pressive. 26. — Sixteen to breakfast Mme. Norman Neruda
played for us. She is also most pleasing in manner and character.
Went to Windsor afterwards. Had an audience. July 1. — H. of
C. Received the Shah soon after six. A division on a trifling
matter of adjournment took place during his Majesty's presence,
in which he manifested an intelligent interest. The circumstance
of his presence at the time is singular in this view (and of this he
was informed, rather to his amusement) that until the division
was over he could not be released from the walls of the House.
It is probably, or possibly, the first time for more than five hun-
dred years that a foreign sovereign has been under personal
restraint of any kind in England. [Query, Mary Queen of Scots.]

Then we come upon an entry that records one of the deep-
est griefs of this stage of Mr. Gladstone's life — the sudden
death of Bishop Wilberforce : —

July 19. — Off at 4.25 to Holmbury. 1 We were enjoying that
beautiful spot and expecting Granville with the Bishop of Win-
chester, when the groom, arrived with the message that the Bishop
had had a bad fall. An hour and a half later Granville entered,
pale and sad : ' It 's all over/ In an instant the thread of that
very precious life was snapped. We were all in deep and silent
grief. 20. — Woke with a sad sense of a great void in the world.
21. — Drove in the morning with Lord Granville to Abinger Hall.
Saw him for the last time in the flesh, resting from his labours.
Attended the inquest ; inspected the spot ; all this cannot be for-
gotten. 23. — Gave way under great heat, hard work, and perhaps
depression of force. Kept my bed all day.

' Of the special opinions of this great prelate/ he wrote to
the Queen, ' Mr. Gladstone may not be an impartial judge,

1 The house of Mr. Frederick joyed a hospitality in which he de-
Leveson Gower where for many lighted,
years Mr. Gladstone constantly en-

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BOOK but he believes there can be no doubt that there does not
. live the man in any of the three kingdoms of your Majesty
1873. w h has, by his own indefatigable and unmeasured labours,
given such a powerful impulse as the Bishop of Winchester
gave to the religious life of the country/ When he mentioned
that the bishop's family declined the proposal of Westminster
Abbey for his last resting place, the Queen replied that she
was very glad, for ' to her nothing more gloomy and doleful

' Few men/ Mr. Gladstone wrote later in this very year,
' have had a more varied experience of personal friendships
than myself. Among the large numbers of estimable and
remarkable people whom I have known, and who have now
passed away, there is in my memory an inner circle, and within
it are the forms of those who were marked off from the com-
parative crowd even of the estimable and remarkable, by the
peculiarity and privilege of their type/ l In this inner circle
the bishop must have held a place, not merely by habit of
life, which accounts for so many friendships in the world,
but by fellowship in their deepest interests, by common ideals
in church and state, by common sympathy in their arduous
aim to reconcile greetings in the market-place and occupation
of high seats, with the spiritual glow of the soul within its
own sanctuary.

While still grieving over this painful loss, Mr. Gladstone
suddenly found himself in a cauldron of ministerial embar-
rassments. An inquiry into certain irregularities at the
general post office led to the discovery that a sum of eight
hundred thousand pounds had been detained on its way to
the exchequer, and applied to the service of the telegraphs.
The persons concerned in the gross and unexcused irregu-
larities were Mr. Monsell, Mr. Ayrton, and the chancellor of
the exchequer. 'There probably have been times/ Mr.
Gladstone wrote to the Queen (Aug. 7), 'when the three*
gentlemen who in their several positions have been chiefly
to blame would have been summarily dismissed from your
Majesty's service. But on none of them could any ill-intent
be charged ; two of them had, among whatever errors of judg-

1 Life of Hope-Scott, ii. p. 284.

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ment, done much and marked good service to the state. 1 CHAP.


Under the circumstances he could not resort to so severe a i
a course without injustice and harshness. 'The recent - Et « 64 -
exposures/ Mr. Gladstone wrote to Lord Russell, ' have been
gall and wormwood to me from day to day/ 'Ever since the
failure of the Irish University bill/ he said, ' the government
has been in a condition in which, to say the least, it has had
no strength to spare, and has stood in need of all the strength
it could derive from internal harmony and vigorous admin-
istration.' The post office scandal exposed to the broad light
of day that neither harmony nor vigour existed or could be
counted on. It was evident that neither the postmaster nor
the chancellor of the exchequer could remain where they
were. In submitting new arrangements to the Queen,
Mr. Gladstone said that he would gladly have spared her
the irksome duty of considering them, had it been ' in his
power either on the one side to leave unnoticed the scandals
that have occurred, or on the other to have tendered a
general resignation, or to have advised a dissolution of
parliament/ The hot weather and the lateness of the session
made the House of Commons disinclined for serious conflict ;
still at the end of July various proceedings upon the scandals
took place, which Mr. Gladstone described to the Queen as
of * a truly mortifying character/ Mr. Ayrton advanced
doctrines of ministerial responsibility that could not for a
moment be maintained, and Mr. Gladstone felt himself
bound on the instant to disavow them. 1

Sir Robert Phillimore gives a glimpse of him in these evil
days: —

July 24. — Gladstone dined here hastily; very unwell, and much
worn. He talked about Jitble else than Bishop Wilberforce's
funeral and the ecclesiastical appeals in the Judicature bill
29th. — Saw Gladstone, better but pale. Said the government
deserved a vote of censure on Monsell and Lowe's account.
Monsell ought to resign; but Lowe, he said, ought for past

1 Rising as soon as Mr. Ayrton sat under the circumstances, with the

down he said that his colleague had precision usual to him in such affairs,

not accurately stated the law of This was one of the latest perform-

mi material responsibility. He then ances of the great parliament of 1868.

himself laid down its true conditions — July 30, Hans. 217, p. 1265.

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BOOK services to be defended. 30th. — Dined at Gladstone's. Radical

^ — / M.P.'s . . . agreed that government was tottering, and that

1873. Gladstone did everything. Gladstone walks with a stick. Aug.

7. — An interview with Gladstone. He was communicative. A

great reform of his government has become necessary. The

treasury to be swept out. He looked much better.

Nothing at any time was so painful, almost intolerably
painful, to Mr. Gladstone as personal questions, and cabinet
reconstruction is made up of personal questions of the most
trying and invidious kind. * I have had a fearful week/ he
wrote to the Duke of Argyll (Aug. 8), ' but have come through.
A few behave oddly, most perfectly well, some incomparably
well; of these last I must name honoris causd, Bright,
Bruce, and F. Cavendish.' To Mr. Bright he had written
when the crisis first grew acute : —

Aug. 2. — You have seen the reports, without doubt, of what has
been going on. You can hardly conceive the reality. I appre-
hend that the House of Commons by its abstinence and forbear-
ance, must be understood to have given us breathing time and
space to consider what can be done to renovate the government in
something like harmony and something like dignity. This will
depend greatly upon men and partly upon measures. Changes
in men there must be, and some without delay. A lingering and
discreditable death, after the life we have lived, is not an ending
to which we ought to submit without effort ; and as an essential
part of the best effort that can be made, I am most desirous to
communicate with you here. I rely on your kindness to come
up. Here only can I show you the state of affairs, which is most
dangerous, and yet not unhopeful.

From the diary : —

Aug. 1. — Saw Lord F. Cavendish, also Lord Granville, Lord
Wolverton, Mr. Cardwell, repeatedly on the crisis. 2. — An
anxious day. The first step was taken, Cardwell broke to Lowe
the necessity of his changing his office. Also I spoke to Forster
and Fortescue. 4. — A very anxious day of constant conversation
and reflection, ending with an evening conclave. 5. — My day
began with Dr. Clark. Rose at eleven. . . . Wrote . . . Most of

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these carried much powder and shot. Some were Jack Ketch and CHAP.


Calcraft [the public executioner] letters. 6. — Incessant inter- -

views. . . . Much anxiety respecting the Queen's delay in replying. Mt ' w *

Saw Lord Wolverton late with her reply. 9. — To Osborne. A

long and satisfactory audience of H.M. Attended the council,

and received a third time the seals of my old office.

This resumption of the seals of the exchequer, which could
no longer be left with Mr. Lowe, was forced upon Mr. Glad-
stone by his colleagues. From a fragmentary note, he seems
to have thought of Mr. Goschen for the vacant post, 'but
deferring to the wishes of others/ he says, ' I reluctantly con-
sented to become chancellor of the exchequer/ The latest
instances of a combination of this office with that of first
lord of the treasury were Canning in 1827, and Peel in
1834-5. 1

The correspondence on this mass of distractions is formid-
able, but, luckily for us it is now mere burnt-out cinder.
The two protagonists of discord had been Mr. Lowe and
Mr. Ayrton, and we may as well leave them with a few
sentences of Mr. Gladstone upon the one, and to the other : —

Mr. Ayrton, he says, has caused Mr. Gladstone so much care
and labour on many occasions, that if he had the same task to
encounter in the case of a few other members of the cabinet, his
office would become intolerable. But before a public servant of
this class can properly be dismissed, there must be not only a

1 The following changes were made mentary secretaries to the treasury ;
in the cabinet: — Lord Kipon (pre- Lord F. Cavendish and Mr. A.
sidentofthe council ), and Mr. Childers Greville were appointed lords of the
(chancellor of the duchy of Lancaster) treasury. On Coleridge being ap-
retired. Mr. Bright succeeded Mr. pointed chief justice of common pleas,
Childers, Mr. Bruce (home secretary, and Sir George Jessel master of the
created Lord Aberdare) Lord Ripon. rolls, they were succeeded by Mr.
Mr. Lowe became home secretary, Henry James as attorney-general and
and Mr. Gladstone chancellor of the Mr. Vernon Harcourt as solicitor-
exchequer in union with the office of general. ' We have effectually ex-
first lord. The minor changes were tracted the brains from below the
numerous. Mr. Monsell was sue- gangway,' Lord Aberdare wrote, Nov.
ceeded at the post office by Dr. Lyon 19, 1873, 'Playfair, Harcourt, James,
Play fair ; Mr. Ayrton was made judge and Lord Edmond Fitzmaurice, who is
advocate-general, and Mr. Adam took Lowe's private secretary, being gone,
his place as commissioner of public will leave Fawcett all alone, for
works ; Mr. Baxter retired from Trevelyan does not share his ill-will
the treasury, Mr. Dodson becoming towards the government. 1
financial, and Mr. A. Peel parlia-

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BOOK sufficient case against him, but a case of which the sufficiency can
* be made intelligible and palpable to the world. Some of his faults
are very serious, yet he is as towards the nation an upright*
assiduous, and able functionary.

To Mr. Lowe, who had become home secretary, he writes
(Aug. 13):-

I do not know whether the word * timid ' was the right one for

L , but, at any rate, I will give you proof that I am not

' timid ' ; though a coward in many respects I may be. I always
hold that politicians are the men whom, as a rule, it is most diffi-
cult to comprehend* i.e. understand completely ; and for my own
part, I never have thus understood, or thought I understood, above
one or two, though here and there I may get hold of an isolated
idea about others. Such an idea comes to me about you. I think
the clearness, power, and promptitude of your intellect are in one
respect a difficulty and a danger to you. You see everything in a
burning, almost a scorching light. The case reminds me of an
incident some years back. Sir D. Brewster asked me to sit for
my photograph in a black frost and a half mist in Edinburgh.
I objected about the light. He said, This is the best light ; it
is all diffused, not concentrated. Is not your light too much
concentrated? Does not its intensity darken the surroundings?
By the surroundings, I mean the relations of the thing not only to
other things but to persons, as our profession obliges us constantly
to deal with persons. In every question flesh and blood are
strong and real even if extraneous elements, and we cannot safely
omit them from our thoughts.

Now, after all this impudence, let me try and do you a little
more justice. You have held for a long time the most important
office of the state. No man can do his duty in that office and be
popular while he holds it I could easily name the two worst
chancellors of the exchequer of the last forty years; against
neither of them did I ever hear a word while they were in (I might
almost add, nor for them after they were out). ' Blessed are ye,
when men shall revile you/ You have fought for the public, tooth
and nail. You have been under a storm of unpopularity ; but not
a fiercer one than I had to stand in 1860, when hardly any one

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dared to say a word for me ; but certainly it was one of my best CHAP,
years of service, even though bad be the best Of course, I do not ' >

say that this necessity of being unpopular should induce us to *
raise our unpopularity to the highest point. No doubt, both in
policy and in Christian charity, it should make us very studious
to mitigate and abate the causes as much as we can. This is
easier for you than it was for me, as your temper is good, and mine
not good.

While I am fault-finding, let me do a little more, and take
another scrap of paper for the purpose. (I took only a scrap
before, as I was determined, then, not to 'afflict you above
measure.') I note, then, two things about you. Outstripping
others in the race, you reach the goal or conclusion before them ;
and, being there, you assume that they are there also. This is
unpopular. You are unpopular this very day with a poor wretch ,
whom you have apprised that he has lost his seat, and you have
not told him how. Again, and lastly, I think you do not get up
all things, but allow yourself a choice, as if politics were a flower-
garden and we might choose among the beds ; as Lord Palmers ton
did, who read foreign office and war papers, and let the others
rust and rot This, I think, is partially true, I do not say of your
reading, but of your mental processes. You will, I am sure,
forgive the levity and officiousness of this letter for the sake of its
intention and will believe me always and sincerely yours.

Then at last he escaped from Downing Street to
Hawarden : —

Aug. 11. — Off at 8.50 with a more buoyant spirit and greater
sense of relief than I have experienced for many years on this,
the only pleasant act of moving to me in the circuit of the year.
This gush is in proportion to the measure of the late troubles and


The reader will perhaps not thank me for devoting even
a short page or two to a matter that made much clatter
of tongue and pen in its day. The points are technical,
minute, and to be forgotten as quickly as possible. But the
thing was an episode, though a trivial one enough, in Mr.

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Gladstone's public life, and paltry use was made of it in the
way of groundless innuendo. Being first lord of the treasury,
1873. j ie took besides the office of chancellor of the exchequer. Was
this a fresh acceptance of a place of profit under the crown ?
Did he thereby come within the famous statute of Anne and
vacate his seat? Or was he protected by a provision in the
Act of 1867, to the effect that if any member had been duly
re-elected since his acceptance of any office referred to in the
Act of Anne, he should be free to accept any other such office
without further re-election? Mr. Gladstone had been re-
elected after being first lord of the treasury ; was he free to
accept the office of chancellor of the exchequer in addition,
without again submitting himself to his constituents ? The
policy and object of the provision were obvious and they
were notorious. Unluckily, for good reasons not at all
affecting this object, Mr. Disraeli inserted certain words, the
right construction of which in our present case became the
subject of keen and copious contention. The section that
had been unmistakable before, now ran that a member hold-
ing an office of profit should not vacate his seat by his sub-
sequent acceptance of any other office ' in lieu of and in
immediate succession the one to the other/ * Not a word
was said in the debate on the clause as to the accumulation
of offices, and nobody doubted that the intention of parlia-
ment was simply to repeal the Act of Anne, in respect of
change of office by existing ministers. Was Mr. Gladstone's
a case protected by this section ? Was the Act of 1867,
which had been passed to limit the earlier statute, still to be
construed in these circumstances as extending it ?

Unsuspected hares were started in every direction. What
is a first lord of the treasury ? Is there such an office ? Had
it ever been named (up to that time) in a statute ? Is the
chancellor of the exchequer, besides being something more,
also a commissioner of the treasury ? If he is, and if the
first lord is only the same, and if there is no legal difference
between the lords of the treasury, does the assumption of
the two parts by one minister constitute a case of immediate
succession by one commissioner to another, or is the minister

1 30 and 31 Vict., cap. 102, sec. 52, and schedule H.

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in Mr. Gladstone's circumstances an indivisible personality as CHAP,
commissioner discharging two sets of duties ? Then the <
precedents. Perceval was chancellor of the exchequer in
1809, when he accepted in addition the office of first lord
with an increased salary, and yet he was held not to have
vacated his seat 1 Lord North in 1770, then chancellor of
the exchequer, was appointed first lord on the resignation of
the Duke of Grafton, and he at the same time retained his
post of chancellor; yet no writ was ordered, and no re-
election took place.

Into this discussion we need not travel. What concerns
us here is Mr. Gladstone's own share in the transaction. The
plain story of what proved a complex affair, Mr. Gladstone
recounted to the Speaker on August 16, in language that
shows how direct and concise he could be when handling
practical business : —

I had already sent you a preliminary intimation on the subject
of my seat for Greenwich, before I received your letter of the
14th. I will* now give you a more complete account of what has
taken place. Knowing only that the law had been altered with

Online LibraryJohn MorleyThe life of William Ewart Gladstone, Volume 2 → online text (page 7 of 91)