Justin H. (Justin Huntly) McCarthy.

England under Gladstone, 1880-1885 online

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I. The Fall of Lord Beaconsfield

II. The New Men

III. Mb. Beadlaugh— The Foueth Party

IV. Afghanistan ....
V. The Boer "War

VI. The Irish Difficulty

VII. Coercion

VIII. Mr. Disraeli— Lord Beaconsfield.

IX. The Land Act. . . . ,

X. Paeliamentaey Kefoem .

XI. Ireland in 1882

XII. The Sixth op May ....

XIII. Egypt

XIV. Teouble at Home and Abroad

XV. The Soudan

XVI. The Eefoem Bill ....

XVn. The Fall of the Administeation






















England under Gladstone.



On March 8, 1880, Lord Beaconsfield addressed a letter to
the Duke of Marlborough; in which he announced his inten-
tion to dissolve Parliament and ' afford an opportunity to the
nation to decide upon a course which will materially influence
its future fortunes and shape its destiny.' Rarely in the century,
the letter Avent on to say, had there been an occasion more
critical. The peace of Europe and the ascendency of England
in the European councils depended upon the verdict she would
now be called upon to give. But it was not upon any question
of foreign policy that Lord Beaconsfield avowedly appealed to
the country. It was the condition of Ireland which prompted
him : the condition of Ireland was the first topic touched upon
in the last letter of political importance he was ever destined
to write. The Home Rule movement represented to Loi-d
Beaconsfield a danger ' scarcely less disastrous than pestilence
and famine.' It had been insidiously supported by the Liberal
party, who tried to destroy the ' imperial character ' of England
by a ' policy of decomposition ' which Lord Beaconsfield called
upon all ' men of light and leading ' to struggle against. The
letter professed to attack the opponents of the Government for
their desire to disintegrate the empire : it really called upon the
English people to set the seal of their approval on the whole
course of that policy which Lord Beaconsfield and Lord Salisbury
delighted to style ' imperial.'



That same INIonclay, before Lord Beaconsfleld's letter had yet
been published, Sir Stafford Northcote rose to make a minis-
terial statement in the House of Commons. He spoke of the
grave inconvenience that would be experienced by the members of
that House if they went into the country for Easter without
knowing the intentions of the Government with respect to the
dissolution of Parliament. The moment that the leader of the
House of Commons mentioned the woi'd dissolution there was
a literal flight of members from the chamber. Every man knew
that the stroke had fallen, and every man Avas eager to send at
once to his constituents the firtt news of the intended appeal
to the country. In a few minutes the tidings were borne by
a thousand wires to every electorate in the kingdom. It was
computed, for the benefit of those who love the small statis-
tics of great events, that some seven hundred and twenty
telegrams were wired from the House of Commons on that

Tlie dissolution, though sudden, was scarcely unexpected.
The Government had lived an unusually long life ; six years had
gone by since it came into power, and it could at the utmost
only have endured for another twelvemonth. Since the begin-
ning of the sixteenth century only eleven had lived so long, and
only four had endured for a longer period. Mr. Gladstone
and the Liberal party had been arguing vehemently for some
time before the dissolution that no Government ought to com-
pletely exhaust their mandate by holding office to the last
syllable of their recorded time. Whether they ought or ought
not to do so, it was clear that they had a perfect right to remain
in for the rest of their seventh session if so they pleased ; but it was
scarcely less clear that they would not act wisely in so doing.
Ever since Lord Beaconsfield and Lord Salisbury came back
from Berlin to delight shouting multitudes with their stately
phrases about peace and honour, the popularity of the Conserva-
tive Ministry had been slowly, steadily, dwindling away.

The Government could only live on success or the show of
success. The fatal bi'and Althaea burned did not bear closer pro-
portion to ' the prince's heart of Calydon ' than did noisy triumph


{incl gaudy surprise to the wellbeing and tlie popularity of the
Government. If Lord Beaconsfield had appealed to the country
immediately after the return from Berlin the Conservative party
might have come back to power with an undiminished majority,
Jbut in the year that lay between that more than Roman triumph
and the opening of the session of 1880 many things happened,
all of which told against the popularity of the Government. lu
Afghanistan the revival of the Afghan policy of 1840 brought
with it a hideous repetition of the massacre of 1841. Sir Alex-
ander Burnes had been killed in 1841 by an Afghan mob in-
dignant at England's eflbrts to force a British envoy upon them
against their will. For the same cause (Sir Louis Cavac;navi
was murdered in the same way in the autumn of 1879. Once
more England had a murdered envoy to avenge, once more Cabul
had to be occupied by an English army. In South Africa there
were even more serious troubles. We had gob into a war with
the Zulu king Cetewayo, and we had sustained one terrible
defeat at Isandlana, where an English force was surrounded
and literally cut to pieces by the Zulus. England was unac-
customed to such defeats, and the news of the disaster sent a
profound shock of horror and dismay throughout the country.
Of course victory could not be long doubtful or long delayed.
Cetewayo was entirely defeated, his lands divided, and he him-
self captured and imprisoned. But the ministerial policy in
Afghanistan and in South Africa did not increase the popularity
of the IMinistry. It was not perhaps so much the injustice of
the policy itself that was condemned as its ill-success, and the
bloodshed of English soldiers that accompanied it.

There were other influences of a more domestic nature work-
ing against the Government as well. Sir Ptichard Cross, the
Home Secretary, had identified his name and the name of the
Government with a Water Bill, in which an arrangement was
made with the City companies which was by no means popular
Their Water Bill helped to drive them to the country. Not
that a Water Bill of some kind or other was unneeded. The
London water-supply is very bad and very dear ; perhaps at
once the dearest and the impurest water supply in the country.



Sir Richard Cross — lie was then only Mr. Cross — proposed ia
the summer of 1879 to bring in a Bill which should enable the
Government to buy up the water companies and distribute pure
water to the metropolis. In answer to Mr. Fawcett, he an-
nounced that the Government, in treating with the water com-
panies, 'would take the stocks as they found them on such a day
- — the last day of the half-year — and that no speculative change
in the value of the stocks would have the smallest weight with
the Government.' Nothing could be more comforting than
these assurances ; nothing more disappointing than to find in
the autumn that, as a matter of fact, the Government were
prepared to pay the water companies a very much larger
price than the market value of the shai'es in August, from
Avhich they had very considerably risen in the ensuing months.
A sum of nine millions was sufficient to cover the original
cost of the waterworks ; their market value in the August
o;. Mr. Cross's reassuring speech was i;nder nineteen millions.
Yet Mr. Cross, on the basis of extraordinary calculations
which wholly failed to impress not merely the public mind
but the mind of the majority of his own party, proposed
to pay the water companies very nearly thirty millions. The
country railed and laughed at the new measure. Conserva-
tive adherents warned their leaders that they would not vote
for it. This was bad ; but it was not all. It was felt
for some time that the Budget would be unsatisfactory, and
unsatisfactory it proved to be. The preceding years had not
been years of signal prosperity ; the foreign policy of the Prime
INIinister had made many exceptional demands of the heaviest
kind upon the resovu"ces of the country. Wars in all directions,
and the ostentatious preparations for wars which never took the
field, had swelled the total of the deficit to an alarming degree,
while the revenue had not risen in anything like a proportion-
ate measure. The receipts were only some eighty millions odd ;
the expenditure exceeded that sum by over three millions. An
accumulated deficit of some eight millions of outstanding bonds
and bills Sir Stafford Northcote proj)osed to meet by renewing
bills for two millions, and creating terminable annuities to be


paid off at the end of 1885 to cover the remaining six millions.
In order to liquidate these six millions during the five years,
Sir Stafford Northcote required an annual payment of
1,400,000^. to cover principal and interest. To meet this annual
payment the Chancellor of the Exchequer added 800,000^.
to the National Debt, and seized upon the sinking fund which "
he had himself established for the purpose of slowly but surely
reducing the National Debt. The Budget depressed the Conser-
vatives and delighted the Liberals. It afforded Mr. Gladstone
some of the best weapons with which to assail the Government.
Sir Stafford Northcote's proposal to increase the succession
duties on personal property, and to leave the smaller duties on
landed property untouched, was especially attacked by Mr.
Gladstone. The exemption of land from succession duties had
long been looked upon with fierce disfavour by the majority,
who were not landholders. Mr. Gladstone pointed out that
while under the old arrangement the tradesman and the farmer
paid three times as much succession duty as the landlord, by the
new arrangement they would have to pay four times as much.

Under such conditions, with shattered prestige and faded
laurels, the Tory Government decided to make that appeal to
the country which, one year earlier, might not have been made
in vain. The more hopeful among the Liberals rejoiced in the
prospect of the struggle. Mr. Grissell, imprisoned in Newgate
for offence against the majesty of Parliament, rejoiced too, for
the dissolution to him meant liberty. But it may be doubted
whether there was much sense of rejoicing in many Tory bosoms.
The more prudent among them must have regarded the election
with doubt and dread. It is now certain that the Tory whips
were much misled as to the prospects of the party, and that
Lord Beaconsfield himself was unwittingly misled in consequence.
However, the plunge was made. The Government huiTiedly
passed the Corrupt Practices at Elections Bill, which heightened
the expenses of elections by repealing the provision which made
it illegal for candidates to pay the cost of carriages employed
to bring voters to the poll. Then they went into the field and
faced their enemies.


The elections soon showed that the Conservative Ministry
had indeed outlived its popularity : election after election went
in the Liberal interest, constituency after constituency declared
in favour of a new Government and against the old, seat after
seat changed from blue to buff. Never before in the history of
the reign had a Ministry remained in power so long to fall from
power so disastrously. When the elections were fairly over,
the Liberals were found to have the lai-gest majority on record
in our time — a majority of one hundred and twenty. The
reasons for this gi-eat victory were plain enough. There was
the inevitable law of political reaction, which always makes
a large number of persons vote one way because on the pre-
vious occasion they had voted another. There were the mis-
fortunes of the Conservative Government : they had taxed the
temper of the country very severely ; their ' imperial ' bubble,
when swollen to its biggest, had been pricked and shattered by
some humiliating blunders and some bloody defeats; most of
all, there was the eloquence of Mr. Gladstone. Months before
the ap2Jeal to the country he had made his famous Midlothian
campaign, pouring out speech after speech of scorn and con-
tempt and invective against the Ministry ; and every word he
uttered was carried to every corner of English land, and carried
conviction along with it to some minds unconvinced before.
The Midlothian speeches were brilliant — almost, it may be
said, too brilliant. Mr. Gladstone can hardly have counted
upon cari'ying the country before him in the way he did when he
poured forth speech after speech of glowing phrase and passionate
denunciation. The speeches literally swept the Conservatives
away ; but it must be admitted that the occasional extravagance
Avhich lent them their value as artistic efforts, and perhaps even
as political weapons, was often made the cause of considerable
uneasiness to Mr. Gladstone when he was once again in office.
The Midlothian speeches were a little like the famous memo-
i-ial which Gil Bias drew up for that Count d'Olivarez whose
melancholy face frowns from the canvas of Velasquez in the
gallei-y of Madrid. It was the duty of Gil Bias to present the
Spanish people with a very unpleasant account of the manage-


ment of affairs under the previous Prime Minister, the Duke
de Lerma, ' It is necessary now/ said the Count d'Olivarez,
' to bring before the eyes of court and town the wretched state
to which the monarchy is reduced. A picture must be painted
Avhich shall impress the people, and prevent them from regret-
ting my predecessor.' Gil Bias, it will be remembered, acting
upon these instructions, did paint a most alarming picture of
the. condition of the kingdom, with its finances dissipated, its
revenues squandered, its marine ruined, the very monarchy
imperilled by the faults of the previous ruler. After having
drawn a sufficiently fearful i^epresentation of the evils which
threatened the kingdom, Gil Bias proceeded to raise the hopes
of the people by describing the Count d'Olivarez as a refoi-mer
sent by Heaven for the safety of the nation, and promised
marvels in his name. It may be admitted by Mr. Gladstone's
warmest admirers that something of the spirit of Gil Bias
lingered along the lines of the Midlothian speeches. But for
the time they were com])letely successful : they stirred the
country from end to end, and shook Lord Beaconsfield's govern-
ment to its very centre. When the elections came on, Mr.
Gladstone went down into Midlothian again, of course, and
made more speeches, no less vigorous, no less impassioned, no
less eloquent than their predecessors ; and once more they
triumphed, not alone in Midlothian, but it might almost be
said in every constituency which i-eturned a Liberal candidate,
certainly in every constituency wl)ich overturned a Tory
representative and put a Liberal in his place. It would indeed
be difficult to overestimate the eifect of those Midlothian
speeches upon the English people and, in consequence, upon
the Tory administration. It must be admitted, however, that
their influence afterwards was in more than one case injuiious
to the Government they had called into power, and embarras •
sing to the statesman Avho uttered them.

Some share of the victory was undoubtedly in many cases
due to the influence and the assistance of the Irish vote. Lord
Beaconsfield's letter to the Duke of Marlborough began
with a direct attack upon the Irish Nationalists, and the Ii'ish


Nationalists in the House of Commons retorted by calling upon
the Irish voters everywhere to rally to the Liberal standards, and
lend a hand to hurl the Conservatives from office. The appeal
was eagerly responded to : in almost every case the Irish vote
was all but unanimously given to a Liberal candidate, and in
not a few constituencies the Irish vote was big enough to turn
the balance one way or the other. Undoubtedly the sympathies
of the bulk of the Irish electors in Enorland was on the whole
with the Liberal leaders ; but they were now for the first time
obeying a call to vote for the Liberal party, not so much because
it was Liberal, as because it was not Tory.

The Liberals once in power, the question then came up who
was to be their leader. In the popular mind there was no
doubt at all. Through all the struggle that had resulted in the
Liberal triumph, one man was as conspicuous on the Liberal
side as Lord Beaconsfield was on the Tory side — the man who
had been the peer and antagonist of Lord Beaconsfield for
twenty years. Practically eveiy one, friend or foe, felt that
Mr. Gladstone was the chosen leader of the Eoglish Liberal
party. But for a moment it seemed as if the great Liberal
victory was to be followed by an absurd anticlimax. The
great battle had been fought and won, and, lo ! the wreath of
laux-el was to be placed upon the head, not of the conquering
general, but of some respectable lieutenant, who bad done his
little share of the business very creditably along with half a
score of others. It was hinted that Mr. Gladstone was un-
popular at Court. Lord Hartington was sent for and invited
to form a Ministry. The eyes of all England were metaphoric-
ally upon Lord Hartington, as he walked in the drizzling rain
from Vrindior Station to Windsor Castle in obedience to the
royal summons, and walked back again, still in the rain,
having declined to accept the responsibility of forming a
Ministry. Lord Hartington may not unreasonably be accused
of political ambition, for he has devoted himself with a patient
persistence to a political life that must, it may be well ima-
gined, have been exceedingly uncongenial, has conquered many
difficulties and many defects, and has succeeded in earning


distinction, and in mai-king out for himself a career. It sj)oke
well for his ability to play the part of a statesman that he was
able to refuse the temptation to become Prime Minister, to see
that a Hartington administration was not what the country
was just then calling for-. Lord Hartington being out of the
question, the Queen sent for Lord Granville. Lord Granville,
in all his long political career, had never been Prime Minister.
In 1855 he had tried, and failed, to form a Ministry, Lord
Granville was an able man who might in other times, and
under other conditions, have made an excellent Premier. His
sweet intellectual nature; his long political experience; his
exquisite facility for understanding men and questions — all com-
bined to make him an admirable candidate for the first office of
the State. Sir Henry Taylor, in his essay on ' The Statesman,'
urges the importance of general knowledge, ' if it were only to
enaljle the statesman to escape the charge of general ignorance
which men, perhaps more generally ignorant themselves, but
armed with a specific knowledge, may otherwise be led to
advance.' Lord Granville's statesmanship was of a kind which
would deserve the approval of Sir Henry Taylor. He is one
of the most cultured of statesmen; he is what the Prince
Consort was, and what the late Lord Brougham wished to be,
a man who excels in many branches of knowledge. Sharp, the
Abolitionist, thought he had discovered in the great Napoleon
the verification of the prophecy of the Little Horn in Daniel,
and he tried to communicate his theory to Fox. ' Would you
believe it % ' exclaimed the indignant Abolitionist to a friend
after the interview. ' He did not so much as know what the
Little Horn was.'

• It would probably not be easy to find a subject — even the
Little Horn — about which Lord Granville did not know
something. Indeed, at one time Lord Granville was thouo-ht
to be almost too cultured to find himself at home in the rough
field of practical politics. The impression was a mistaken one.
In one of Eugene Sue's stories there is a slender delicate young
man, so slender and delicate that he can easily pass in feminine
garb for a woman, and yet, in moments of danger, he displays


tremendous strength, and fells pi'actised bullies and bruisers to
the ground with the ease of Ajax. Like Sue's hero, Lord
Granville seemed too delicate, too gracious, for the rough and
ready business of parliamentai-y life, but he soon showed that
at the right time he had as strong a grip, and could hit as hard,
as the best. Just now we seem to have passed away from
that order of things in which exceedingly young men played
the parts of Prime IMinistcrs and leaders of Opposition. Our
statesmen now are for the most part elderly. Lord Beacons-
field's brilliant saying about the world being made by young
men would not hold good at all were it not for Lord Ran-
dolph Churchill, But among elderly statesmen Lord Gran-
ville is conspicuous for his youth. Some years ago, speaking
of his youthful days, he prettily said, ' No one ever was so
young as I was once.' Something of this air of unparalleled
youth still clings about Lord Granville, and makes people feel
that, if he has not yet been Prime Minister, there is still plenty
of time. Lord Granville is cerbxinly of the stuff from which
Prime Ministers are made, and well made. But, in the early
spring of 1880, it was obvious that there was only one possible
Prime Minister, and that he was not Lord Granville, The
inevitable had to be accepted; the inexorable was not to be
argued with.

The task which lay before the new Premier was not over-
easy. Had it been in his power to form a Ministry three times
the size of that which custom and precedent permitted, he
would have found it difficult to satisfy the crowd of politicians
who thought themselves entitled to take office. There were, to
begin with, a certain number of men who must obviously be in-
cluded in any luijiisterial scheme that could possibly be formu-
laled ; men whose commanding position in the party, or whose
signal services in former days, gave them the right to belong to
the new Government. The names of Lord Hartington, Lord
Granville, Sir William Harcourt, Mr, Bright, and others
leaped at once to the lips of every man in England -who
planned out — as who did not? — the 2^^^'sonnel of the embryo
Ministry, Then there were men who had been in office before,
and who seemed to think that they had a sort of prescriptive


right to some position in the new Ministiy. These were often
respectable fourth and fifth-class men of average vestry ability,
but who had given their full parochial measure on former occa-
sions, and were not worth trying again. Then there were the
novi homines, the new men, who had come prominently to the
front during the long years of opposition, the free-lances from
below the gangway who had marked themselves out as candidates
for office whenever the Liberals should sit on the right hand of
Mr. Speaker again. Sir Charles Dilke, Mr. Chamberlain, Mr.
Leonard Courtney, Mr. Fawcett, Lord Edmond Fitzmaurice —
these were among the most conspicuous of these free companions.
From all these various elements a Ministry had to be combined
and a Cabinet evolved. The task was neither light nor pleasant.
A satiric poet, a Juvenal or a Churchill, might have found
excellent material for pungent and pitiless railleiy in the
struggles, the intrigues, the heart-burnings, the hatreds, the
jealousies, and the despairs, the hopes, and fears that animated
the breasts of all the mob of candidates for each and every place
that it was in Mr. Gladstone's power to bestow. Some poli-
ticians who were well known to have little love for Mr. Glad-

Online LibraryJustin H. (Justin Huntly) McCarthyEngland under Gladstone, 1880-1885 → online text (page 1 of 38)