Justin H. (Justin Huntly) McCarthy.

England under Gladstone, 1880-1885 online

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extortiug high rents. It ought to be borne in mind that the
failui'e of the Government to pass its Compensation for Dis-
turbance Bill, coupled with its announcement that it practically
intended to reopen the land question and introduce a new Land
Bill, had driven the bad landlords in Ireland to desperation.
They thought that the intei'val between the measure that had
failed and the measure that was to come was the only time left
to them, and they went to work vigorously to get all the
money they could out of the land before the crash came, and
the Government, in the formulas of the Opposition, ' interfered
with the rights of property.' It certainly did seem hard that
the tenants should have been left by the Government at the
mercy of landlords who were incited to make the most out of
their tenancies befoi'e the new Land Act fell upon them. But
as the Government had done nothing, the Land League advised
the people to stand out for themselves ; to pay no rent, and
passively resist eviction. The supporters of the Land League
had another enemy beside the landlord in the person of the
land-grabber, the man who took a farm from which his neigh-
bour had been dispossessed. The strike was supported by a
form of action, or rather inaction, which soon became his-
torical. Captain Boycott was an Englishman, an agent of
Lord Earne, and a farmer at Lough Mask, in the wild and
beautiful district of Connemara. In his capacity as agent he
had served notices upon Lord Earue's tenants, and the tenantry
suddenly retahated in a most unexpected way by, in the
language of schools and society, sending Captain Boycott to
Coventry in a veiy thorough manner. The population of the
region for miles round resolved not to have anything to do
with him, and as far as they could prevent it not to allow any
one else to have anything to do with him. His life appeared


to be in danger; he had to claim pohce protection. His
servants fled from him as servants fled from their masters in
some plague-stricken Italian city ; the awful sentence of excom-
munication could hardly have rendered him more helplessly
alone for a time. No one would work for him ; no one would
supply him with food. He and his wife had to work in their
own fields themselves in most unpleasant imitation of Theo-
critan shepherds and shepherdesses, and play out their grim
eclogue in their deserted fields with the shadows of the armed
constabulary ever at their heels. The Orangemen of the north
heard of Captain Boycott and his sufierings, and the way in
which he was holding his ground, and they organised assist-
ance and sent him down armed labourers from Ulster. To
prevent civil war the authorities had to send a force of soldiers
and police to Lough Mask, and Captain Boycott's harvests were
brought in, and his potatoes dug by the armed Ulster labourers,
guarded always by the little army. When the occupations of
Ulstermen and army were over, Captain Boycott came to
England for a time, but in the end he returned to Lough Mask,
where, curiously enough, he is once again at peace with his
neighbours, and is even popular, perhaps because he showed
that he was a brave man.

The events at Lough Mask, however, gave rise to two
things — to Boycotting on the part of the Land League, and
to the formation of a body known as Emergency men, chiefly
recruited from the Orange lodges. The business of the
Emergency men was to counteract, wherever it was possible,
the operations of the League, by helping Boycotted landlords
and land agents to gather in their harvests. Boycotting was
freely employed by the League. It meant the practical ex-
communication of rack-renting landlords, evicting agents, and
land-grabbers. No sympathiser with the League was supposed
to have any dealings with the Boycotted individuals : they
were not to be worked for, bought from, sold to. The principle
of Boycotting was not aggressive ; nothing was to be done to
the obnoxious person, but also, nothing was to be done for him.
This was strictly legal. The law cannot compel a man to buy


or sell with one of his fellows against his will. The responsible
leaders of the Land League never countenanced other than
legal agitation. Mr. Michael Davitt again and again put on
record in public speeches his uncompromising opposition to all
intimidation. * Our League does not desire to intimidate any
one who disagrees with us,' he said ; ' while we abuse coercion
we must not be guilty of coercion ; ' and he made frequent
appeals to his hearers in diffei-ent parts of Ireland to ' abstain
from all acts of violence, and to repel every incentive to outrage.'
' Glorious indeed,' he said, ' will be our victory, and high in the
estimation of mankind will our grand old fatherland stand, if
we can so curb our passions and control our actions in this
struggle for free land, as to march to success through privation
and danger without resorting to the wild justice of revenge, or
being guilty of anything which could sully the character of a
brave and Christian people.'

Unfortunately these good counsels were not always obeyed.
Famine and eviction had sowed evil seed ; men who had been
evicted, men who were starving, who had seen their fomilies
and friends evicted, to die often enough of starvation on the cold
roadside — these men were not in the temper which takes kindly
to wise counsel. Outrages have invariably followed in the track
of every Irish famine, and they followed now this latest famine.
There were murders in different parts of the country, there
were mutilations of cattle. These outrages were made the
veiy most of by the enemies of the Land League. Scattered
agrarian murders were spoken of as if each of them were a link
in the chain of a widely planned organisation of massacre.
People found their deepest sympathies stirred by the sufferings
of cattle and horses in Ireland, who never were known to feel
one throb of compunction over the fashionable sin of torturing
pigeons at Hurlingham. But while most of the persons who
acted thus knew little and cared less for the real condition of
Ireland, there was one man who was studying the country wath
all the sympathy of one of the noblest natures now living on
the earth. General Gordon — then known best to the world as
'Chinese' Goi'don, destined now, perhaps, to be remembered
chiefly as * Soudan ' Goi'don — was in Ireland examining the


Irish question for himself with kind, experienced eyes. He
wrote a letter to a friend, which was published in the Times on
December 3, 1 880. ' I have been lately over the south-west of
Ireland,' General Gordon wrote, ' in the hope of discovering how
some settlement could be made of the Irish question, which, like a
fretting cancer, eats away our vitals as a nation.' After speaking
of the ' complete lack of sympathy ' between the laiidlord and
tenant class, Genei'al Gordon went on, ' No half-measured Acts
which left the landlords with any say to the tenantry of these
portions of Ireland will be of any use. They would be rendered
— as past land Acts in Ireland have been — quite abortive, for
the landlords will insert clauses to do away with their force.
Any half-measures will only place the Government f;ice to face
with the people of Ireland as the champions of the landlord
interest.' General Gordon then proposed that the Government
should, at a cost of eighty millions, convert the greater part of
the south-west of Ireland into Crown lands, in which landlords
should have no power of control. ' For the rest of Ii'eland I
would pass an Act allowing free sale of leases, fair rents, and a
Government valuation. In conclusion, I must say from all
accounts, and my own observations, that the state of our fellow-
countrymen in the parts I have named is worse than that of
any people in the world, let alone Europe. I believe that these
people are made as we are, that they are patient beyond belief,
loyal, but at the same time broken-spirited and desperate, living
on the verge of starvation in places where we would not keep
our cattle. . . . Our comic prints do an infinity of harm by theii'
caricatures. Firstly, the caricatures are not true, for the crime
in Ireland is not gi-eater than that in England : and secondly,
they exasperate the people on both sides of the Channel, and
they do no good. It is ill to laugh and scoff at a question
which affects our existence.' It is impossible to avoid reflecting
with melancholy bitterness on the different aspect that the Ii'ish
question would now wear if a man like Chinese Gordon could
have been sent to administrate the country in the place of the
egotistical and ill-conditioned politician who succeeded to and
was more noxious than famine.


Still there were outrages, and Ireland was disturbed. The
Land League claimed that it did much to prevent outrage;
that the unavoidable violence consequent upon tlie famine and
the evictions would have been far greater but for them ; that
secret conspiracy and midnight outrage were notably diminished
by their open agitation. The Government, on the other hand,
declared that the Land League was guilty of inciting to out-
rage. A State prosecution was commenced against the officials
of the League— Mr. Parnell, M.P., Mr. Dillon, M.P., Mr. T. D.
Sullivan, M.P., Mr. Sexton, M.P., Mr. Biggar, M.P., Mr.
Patrick Egan, Treasurer of the Land League, Mr. Thomas
Brennan, Secretary of the Land League, and some eight others —
on the charge of seditious conspiracy. The jury were unable to
asrree, and the trial came to nothinij. In the meantime the
country was becoming daily more agitated, and Mr. Forster
daily more unpopular. His appointment had at first been
hailed with satisfaction by many of what may be called the
popular party, and with anger and alarm by the landlords, who
regarded him as the herald of startling land changes. But iMr.
Forster soon became as unpopular with the National party in
Ireland as ever Castlereagh had been. They alleged that he was
completely under Castle influence ; that he only saw through
the eyes and heard through the ears of Castle officials; that he
came out prepared to be popular and settle everything at once,
and that his vanity was keenly hurt by the disappointment ;
that, finding the forces he had to deal with were difficult and
complex, he could only propose to deal with them by crushing
them down. He was soon known to be in favour of a levival
of the policy of coercion. Lord Cowper, the Lord Lieutenant,
was an amiable but by no means a strong man; in the Cabinet
he feebly echoed Mr. Forster's opinions, and in the Cabinet Mr.
Forster was able to carry the day on Irish matters when he
proposed the revival of coercion. It Avas soon blown abroad
that the Government intended to bring in a Land Bill for
Ireland, and to balance it with a Coercion Bill ; furthei'more,
that they intended to bring in the Coei'cion Bill first and the
Land Bill afterwards.




Parliament met on Thursday, January 6, 1881. It found the
Hadicalism of the Ministry strengthened by the appointment
of Mr. Leonard Courtney as Under Secretary for the Home
Department. The Queen's Speech was able to announce the
conclusion of the Afghan war, and the intention not to occupy
Candahar, an intimation that sounded most unpleasantly in
the ears of the Imperial party. The Boer war was spoken of;
the Greek frontier was declared to be under the consideration
of the great Powers ; mention was made of certain measures of
domestic interest, chief among them being the Bills for the
abolition of flogging in the army and the navy. But undoubt-
edly the most important part of the royal speech referred to
Ireland. The riultiplication of agrarian crimes, and the inse-
curity of life and property, demanded the introduction of coercive
measures; while, on the other hand, the speech admitted that
the condition of Ireland called for an extension of the Land
Act principles of 1870. A measure for the establishment of
cou.nty government in Ireland was also mentioned.

The debate on the address in the House of Lords was
chiefly remarkable for a brilliant and bitter speech from Lord
Beaconsfield. In the eight months that had elapsed since the
new Ministry had come into power, much had happened to
embarrass them and dim their triumph. Lord Beaconsfield was
naturally not willing to spare his antagonists the recapitulation
of their difiiculties. In the lifelong duel between Mr. Gladstone
and Lord Beaconsfield there came in the end to be an amount
of accusation and recrimination of so personal a nature as to re-
call the worst traditions of the days of Bolingbroke and Walpole.
Mr. Gladstone's Midlothian speeches had struck hard at Lord
Beaconsfield, and Lord Beaconsfield was not now likely to let
slip the chance of retaliation upon his antagonist. He dwelt
with scornful emphasis upon the complete repudiation of Tory



policy which had been so loudly trumpeted when Mr. Gladstone
came into office. What had their principles of repudiation
brought the Government? he asked. Retreat from Afghanistan,
abandonment of Candahar, a Berlin conference which had re-
opened the closed Eastern question and nearly plunged Europe
into war. But Lord Beaconsfield was naturally most exulting
when he came to the relations of the Government with Ireland.
He had been mocked at for his prognostication of danger ; the
new Ministiy were satisfied with the condition of Ireland, and
were prepared to govern it without the worn-out Tory methods
of Peace Preservation Acts ; and now, after little more than half
a year of trial, the Government w'ere coming before the House,
confessing thcii- failure, and seeking to be strengthened once
again by those coercive measures which they had so lightly re-
jected with every other portion of the policy of their predecessors.
Lord Beaconsfield had a clever case, and he made the most of
it. With a brilliant maliciousness which recalled the days
when Mr. Disraeli was still a young man with the world before
him, Lord Beaconsfield appealed to the Lords not to do anything
in this juncture which might weaken the Administration in
their late eflbrt to deal with their Irish difficulty.

Almost at the same time that Lord Beaconsfield was
attacking the policy of the Government in the Lords, Mr.
Gladstone was defending it in the Commons. He dwelt upon
the happy conclusion of the Montenegrin difficulty; he was
hopeful of a fortunate settlement of the Greek difficulty ;
he passed lightly over the Afghan war, touched upon the
Boer war, and justified the Govex'nment in not making
the Basuto war — with which they had nothing to do, and
for which they were in no measure responsible — their own.
But the chief point of Mr. Gladstone's speech, as indeed of
every speech delivered then and for a long time to come, was
of course the Irish question. The Prime Minister denied that
the Ministry had any reason to feel humiliation at what had
taken place. He justified them in not calling Parliament to-
gether earlier, on the ground that they were determined to do
their best with the existing law before appealing for stronger
measures. In a few remarkable sentences he censured the late

CO EEC I ox. 117

Government for the manner in wbich they had chosen to act
upon the existing law : they put the law into effect against
four men, three of whom were utterly insignificant, ' one of
them, indeed,' Mr. Gladstone added, thinking of Mr. Davitt,

* has since proved himself to be a man of great ability, but was
not then of much note.' 'The late Government did not aim
their weapons at the chief offenders, but contented themselves
with charging comparatively insignificant men, and, having
charged them, did not bring them to trial.' ' The method of
thi-eatening without striking is in our opinion,' said Mr. Glad-
stone, amid the loud cheers of his party, ' the worst course of
action that could have been adopted ; ' and he pointed to the
State trials then going on as a proof of the more decided action
and stronger purposes of the new Ministry, He considered that
they had done their duty in watching the country for a while
under the operation of the ordinary law. He thought they had
now waited long enough, but could not admit that they had
waited too long, though he declined to allow that the coei-cion
which he thought necessary was any remedy for the grievances
of Ireland. Hence the announcement with i-egard to the new
Land Act. He claimed that the Land Act of 1870 had not
been a failure ; but he confessed that the provisions of the Act

* have not prevented undue and frequent augmentations of rent
which have not been justified by the real value of the holding,
but have been brought in in consequence of the superior strength
of the landlord.'

Mr. Forster had given notice before Mr. Gladstone spoke of
the introduction of bills for the better protection of persons and
property in Ireland, and to amend the law relating to a carry-
ing and possession of arms ; and Mr. Gladstone had announced
his intention of moving that these bills should have priority
over all other business. But these bills were not destined to
be introduced for some days to come. The address was still to
be disposed of, and there were many amendments to it to be
considered and discussed, several of these being moved by Irish
members and relating to Irish affairs. But as, according to
Thackeray, even the Eastern Counties' trains come in at last, so,
too, the debate on the address came to an end at last. On


Thursday, Janiiary 20, after eleven clays of debate, the report of
the address was agreed to amid general cheering. But already
the Irish members had roused the anger of the Government.
Most of the speeches on the address had been Irish speeches, the
speeches of Irish members on the various Irish questions. Be-
fore the debate had concluded. Lord Hartington had attacked
the obstructive policy of the Irish members, and warned them
that their action might compel the House to come to some un-
derstanding by which the process of business should be facili-
tated. If every day added to the debate on the address staved
off the introduction of coercion, so too. Lord Hartington ui'ged,
it delayed the introduction of the promised Land Act. Lord
Edmond Fitzmaurice and jNIr. Thorold Eogers formed themselves
into a sort of amateur committee on obstruction. They plunged
into records of old rulings, they became learned in antique prin-
ciples of procedure and venerable points of order, and they
addressed to the Times, three days before the debate on the
address concluded, a long letter in which they pointed out the
existence of certain seventeeth century orders of the House,
One of these ruled that ' if any man speak impertinently,
or beside the question in hand, it standeth with the order of the
House for Mr. Speaker to interrupt him, and to know the
pleasure of the House whether they will further hear him ; ' an
order which was sanctioned and strengthened by later rulings.

On Monday, January 24, 1881, Mr. Forster introduced his
first coercion measure. ]Mr. Forster made out a long and ela-
borate case in justification of the measure. He presented a
return of outrages to the House of Commons which looked alarm-
ing at first, but which j\Ir. Labouchere showed to be somewhat
cx;riously manufactured. In many cases outrages were of the
simplest description ; in many more the number was swelled
by an ingenious process of subdivision, so that one outrage was
made to stand for several, by the simple process of multiplying
any given offence by the number of men committing it. The
total number of agrarian outrages in Ireland in the year 1880
Avas 2,590. Eeturns of agrarian eiimes in Ireland had been
made since 1844, but not before, and the highest return since


that date was for tlie year 1845, the first yeai' of the great
famine, in which year the list of outrages numbered 1,920, or
thirty-five per cent. less than in 1880. Excluding threatening
letters, the number of outrages in 1880 was 1,253, as contrasted
with 950 in 1845, or thirty-two per cent, higher. Moreover, as
the population of Ireland was only 5,000,000 in 1880, to
8,000,000 in 1845, the proportion of outrages in 1880 was
really more than double the proportion of outrages in 1845.
There were, indeed, few cases of murder, or attempts at murder;
the outrages were chiefly intimidation by personal violence, by
injury to property and cattle, and by threatening istters. The
number of outrages of this kind had greatly increased dui-ing
the last three months of 1880, and the area of intimidation was
extending. One hundred and fifty-three persons were under
the personal protection of two policemen on the first day of the
new year, and 1,149 persons were watched over by the police.
Mr. Forster urged that the existing law was not strons:
enough to grapple with this system of intimidation. The
instruments of this intimidation were, however, well known
to the police ; they were generally old Fenians and Ribbon
men, the mauvais svjets of their neighbourhood, dissolute
ruffians, and village tyrants. The new Bill would give the
Lord Lieutenant power by warrant to arrest any person rea-
sonably suspected of treason, treasonable felony, or treasonable
practices, and the commission, whether before or after the Act, of
crimes of intimidation or incitement thereto. By this means
tlie Government would be able to lay their hands upon the
7)iauvais sujets, the village tyrants, and, by depriving the Land
League of its police, render it powerless. Naturally an ani-
mated debate followed. The Irish Nationalists, of course,
opposed the measure. Moderate Irishmen, like Dr. Lyons, Mr.
Givan, Mr. Richardson, and Mr. Litton, either opposed the
precedence of coercive to remedial measures, or urged the intro-
duction of a Bill to stay unfair eviction pending the introduc-
tion of the reniedial legislation. Mr. Bradlaugh did not con-
sider that a case had been made out for a Coercion Bill. The
Conservative party, of course, supported the Government. The


debate was adjourned on the Monday night, and its resumption
was interriipted for a couple of days by the first all-night sit-
ting of the year. On the day after Mr. Forster's introduction
of the Coercion Bill, Mr. Gladstone moved to declare urgency
for the Coercive Bills, and so give them precedence over
all other public business. The Irish Nationalists at once set
themselves to opposing this by every means in their power.
The new standing order prevented the taking of many divisions,
as it allowed individual members only two motions for adjourn-
ment ; so the Irish members confined themselves to making
speeches, which were incessantly interrupted by calls to order
from the chair. Mr. Biggar, at a comparatively early period
of the debate, got into a conflict with authority which led to his
being suspended from the sitting ; whereupon he immediately
withdrew, and, ascending the heights of the strangers' gallery,
watched the conflict with unwearying interest from that eleva-
tion, as Ivanhoe followed from his turret the fortunes of the
Black Knight and his fellows. The struggle, indeed, was suf-
ficiently intei-esting to be worth sitting out. It was fought — ■
this being but a first essay for the year — with sufiicient good-
humour on both sides. The hours waned ; but there came no
waning in the animation of the speakers on both sides. Mem-
bers came and went ; ingenious little plans of relays for reliev-
ing guard were arranged. Morning came, and brought with it
a fog scarcely less obscure than night. It was not bright
enough till eleven o'clock to extinguish the gas. Very dismal
the chamber showed when daylight did come, as imwashed,
unbrushed, with weary, sleepy faces and tumbled clothes, the
members faced each other. For three hours more the fight
went on, and then, at two o'clock, Mr. Gladstone's motion was
agreed to, and the House, not unnaturally, immediately ad-
journed to wash, eat, and sleej?.

This was but the prelude to a series of stormy scenes in the
House, each one surpassing its predecessors in bitterness and
unpleasantness. The debate on the Coercion Bill was resumed
on the Thursday, and was remarkable for a speech from Mr.
Bright. Mr. Bright had kept silence — with the exception of a


protest against obstruction — since the beginning of the session,

Online LibraryJustin H. (Justin Huntly) McCarthyEngland under Gladstone, 1880-1885 → online text (page 11 of 38)