Justin H. (Justin Huntly) McCarthy.

England under Gladstone, 1880-1885 online

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what has become an English institution its English name — was
of course conceded in the rule which allowed the Speakei-, when
presiding over a debate governed hy the urgency rules, to

K 2


appeal to the general sense of the House, and, if supported by
a three-fourths majority, to put the question at once from the
chair without any further debate.

The debate on the Coercion Bill was not concluded very
rapidly. On Wednesday, February 23, 1881, the Bill was
still in committee, and Mr. Gladstone, in order to accelerate its
progress, moved that on the next day at seven the debate
should come to an end, and the third reading be moved
without discussion on any amendments that might be left
unconsidered at that time. There was no debat3 permissible
upon this motion, which was moved by Lord Hartington in
the absence of Mr. Gladstone, who was confined to his room
for a few days by an accident — he had slipped on the ice near
his house, and hurt his head — and was carried by 371 to 53 :
majority, 318. At seven o'clock, accordingly, the debate was
cut short by the Speaker: the remaining amendments were
divided upon without debate, and the third reading moved for
by jNIr. Forster. The third reading was carried in the Com-
mons the next day, Friday, February 25, by 281 to 36 : majority,
245. The Bill was then sent up to the House of Lords, where
it passed rapidly through all its stages ; Avas read a third time
on Wednesday, March 2, and received the royal assent by com-
mission on the same day.

The Arms Bill was introduced in the Commons on Tuesday,
March 1, by Sir William Harcourt, in the absence of IVlr.
Forster ; and its third reading was carried on Friday, March 11,
Dy 236 to 26 — majority 210 — and was passed in the Lords on
the following Friday. During its passage through the Com-
mons there were some heated debates on the relationship of
the American Fenians with the Irish Land Leaguers, in one of
which, on Thursday, March 3, Mr. Healy sufiered suspension for
charging the Home Secretary with breaches of truth and usual
disingenuousness. Mr. O'Donnell was suspended on Tuesday,
IMarch 8, after a dispute with Mr. Playfair on a point of order.

In the meantime the excitement in Ii'eland was increasing.
While the coercion debates were going on, Mr. Parnell had
gone across to Paris, accompanied by Mr. O'Kelly, and obtained


an interview with M. Victor Hugo, who was expected to issue
some manifesto in Ireland. M. Victor Hugo compared Ireland
to Poland struggling against Russia, but he wrote nothing on
the subject, either in prose or verse. The interview, however,
provoked a remonstrance from the great Catholic organ, the
Univers, which warned Mr. Parnell that it was not well for the
leaders of a Catholic cause and country to seek for the alliance
of men like Victor Hugo and his friends. Mr. Parnell had an
interview with M. Kochefort on the one hand, and with the
Archbishop of Paris on the other. Just at that moment, when
jDeople were saying that there would be a split between the
Nationalists and the Catholic clergy on account of the friend-
ship of M, Eochefort, an event occurred which served to show
how much the Irish priests and the Irish people were in agi'ee-
ment as to the Land League and the national cause genei-ally.
In Ireland a Ladies' Land I^eague had been formed, with Miss
Anna Parnell — a sister of Mr. Parnell — for its president.
Its object was to assist the existing Land League in every
possible wa)', by raising funds, by inquiring into the cases of
eviction, and by affording relief to evicted tenants. As soon as
this new organisation came into existence it was assailed by
Archbishop M'Cabe of Dublin. In an angi-y pastoral he
denounced the paiticipation of women in the strife of politics
as at once immodest and wicked. Mr. A, M. Sullivan, one of
the most Catholic of Irish Catholic members of Parliament,
immediately wrote a reply defending the Ladies' Land League,
and justifying and approving of the manner in which the women
of Ireland j^roposed to come to the assistance of their husbands,
fathers, and brothers. Mr. A. M. Sullivan's letter had not
long been written when the Ladies' Land League found a still
stronger ally, and Archbishop M'Cabe a still more formidable
opponent, in Archbishop Croke, of Cashel. From the rock
which has reminded so many travellers of the Athenian Acro-
polis, Archbishop Croke launched an epistle which Jerome
might have envied for its vigorous directness. The Arch-
bishop of Cashel had nothing but praise for the Ladies' Land
League, and for theii' eloquent champion. In a moment Arch-


bishop Croke was the hero of the National party in Ireland.
They greeted him with joy as a proof that the Church was on
their side ; and when he went shortly after on a sort of tour of
inspection through a great part of Ireland, he was received
everywhere with a display of the most enthusiastic homage and
devotion. Long before Archbishop Croke had come so pro-
minently to the front, many of the priests had shown their
svmpathy with, and approval of. the Laud League doctruies,
but after the action of the Archbishop of Cashel their sympathy
and approval became more openly and more markedly dis-
played. Day by day the ranks of the League were swelled by
Irish ecclesiastics of all orders. It might be fiui-ly said that,
rou'Thly speaking, all the younger priests throughout the coun-
try were in cordial sympathy with the Land League, and a
very large number of the elder priests as well. It was this
sympathy between the priests and' the people which gave the
Land League a great part of its strength ; it was the eagerness
of the people to be in accord with their priests which made
them receive Archbishop Croke's pronouncement with so much
delight, and listen to his counsels with as much readiness as if
they had come from the lips of Parnell or Davitt.

When the Coercion Acts were carried, Mr. John Dillon
went over to Ireland and began a series of speeches in different
parts of the country, supporting the League and assailing the
Government. Ou the one side the League was being upheld
from pulpit and platform ; on the other, the executive was
choking its prisons with its arrests of ' suspected ' Land
Leaguers. Evictions had not decreased, and there were fre-
quent collisions between the police and the people, and blood
was spilt on both sides. At first the Government arrests were
confined to members of the League, who, although prominent
enough in their own localities, were little known outside of
Ireland. But IVIr. John Dillon's action soon attracted the
notice of the Government, and after a speech which he de-
livered at Grangemaller, near Clonmel, in May, which coun-
selled an extreme form of boycotting, he was arrested and put
into prison. A short while befox'e, the Government had I'oused


great indignation among the Irish ecclesiastics by arresting and
imprisoning Father Eugene Sheehy, of Kilmallock. These
were the most important arrests made at' first under the new
Coercion Acts. The Land League was still flourishing. Mr.
Sexton, M.P., hurried to Dublin from London to take Mr
Dillon's place at the head of the League in Ireland.

Wlien the Coercive Acts had passed into law, every one's
thoughts turned at once to the promised Land Act. But there
were some other matters to be disposed of before the new Land
Bill could be introduced. There was a debate on Candahar.
The Army Discipline Bill, definitely abolishing flogging for
soldiers, had to pass through its various stages. Then there
was the Budget. On Monday, April 4, Mr. Gladstone made
his financial statement in a speech of over two hours. It was
not a very startling or original Budget. The estimated ex-
penditure for the ensuing year was figured at 84,705,000/.,
and the revenue at 85,990,000/. This showed a surplus of
1,285,000/., which was, however, reduced to l,185,000by a vote
for the extinguishment of the loan for barracks. The Prime
Minister proposed to reduce the income tax to fivepence. This
reduction created a deficiency which he jiroposed to meet by an
adjustment of the surtax on foreign spirits. The process of dis-
tillation, as practised on Avines, would be applied to them, and
a uniform surtax of fourpence per gallon would be charged on
the standard of strength. By this tax, and some changes in
the probate, legacy, and administration duties, Mr. Gladstone
hoped to have a total gain of 570,000/., which would convert the
deficit of 275,000/. into a surplus of 295,000/. The Budget
being disposed of, the ground was now clear for the Land Bill,
which was introduced accordingly by the Prime Minister on
Thursday, April 7, 1881.




* The bi'&aking of so great a thing should make a greater
crack,' bays the triumphant Octavius, in magnanimous tribute
to his dead rival ; ' the round world should have shook lions
into civil streets, and citizens to their dens.' Some such
thought must have come into the minds of many men when
they heard, on that chill April morning of 1881, that Lord
Beaconsfield was dead. ' The death of Anthony is not a single
doom : in the name lay a moiety of the world.' The English
world, the world of politics, and the romantic world of fiction,
had lost a moiety of itself by the death of Lord Beaconsfield.
Seldom, indeed, had a rarer spirit steered humanity; and as
for the faults he had, even his enemies were not likely to
think too deeply upon them just then. The gods will give us
some faults to make us men ; and whatever the errors of Lord
Beaconsfield's career, they had no need to be remembered in his

His had not been a long and protracted illness. Towards
the end of March 1881 it became known that Lord Beacons-
field was slightly ailing. Then it was announced that he was
suffering from a severe attack of bronchial asthma, but was
progressing favourably. As the days went by the reports
announced no diminution of the illness, but the bulletins were
still hopeful. Indred, no alarm was felt generally until close to
the end, though crowds of visitors of all kinds came every day
to the house in Curzon Street to read the bulletins and testify
their sympathy. But the third week of April began with
bitter winds — the fatal east winds that had killed Cobden, and
that were now to kill Lord Beaconsfield. On the night of
Monday, April 18, he sank into a deeji stupor, from which he
never awoke. At half-past four on the morning of Tuesday,
the 19th, he died, very quietly, without a sign of pain, without


a -u-ord. We liave all heard and read much of the death-! )eds
and the death- words of great men : we like to think of Goethe's
dying lips murmuring something about a beautiful woman's face
and hair, of Napoleon thinking of the head of his army. Lord
Beaconsfield j^assed away in silence, but we learn from those
who stood about him that some quarter of an hour before
his death he raised himself a little in his bed, stretched himself
out in the old familiar way that was his wont when rising to
reply in debate, and that his lips moved in silence. Perhaps
the dying statesman's brain was dimly conscious of his former
struggles and triumphs, of those speeches Avhich the House of
Commons at first refused to hear, and which afterwards the House
of Commons was so often willing to hear, and to admire, and to
obey. It was fitting that his last thoughts should have been given
to the great arena in which he had fought so long and so well.

' How will it be with him when all is retrospect % ' Cobden
had once asked a friend, speaking of Mr. Disraeli and his bril-
liant career. It is a grim question to ask about the life of any
man, and very hard to answer. To the pure, simple soul of
Cobden there was much in the career of Lord Beaconsfield, as
there must have been much in the career of every great states-
man the world has seen, that was repellent. Cobden may be
said to have been almost devoid of personal ambition. His
whole soul was absorbed in carrying out his task, in executing
the mission for the good of his fellow-men which he believed
himself called upon, and indeed was called upon, to fulfil. But
it would be indeed unfair and unjust to test the characters and
careers of great statesmen by the life of so exceptional a man as
Cobden — unfair and unjust to assume that ambitious men had
no sense of duty to the world and to humanity. Tested by the
standard of the Sermon on the Mount, where is the statesman,
where is the leader of men, that can be praised ] Pericles is
no purer than Bolingbroke, "Washington scarce nobler than
Richelieu, when tried before that court. If we judge Lord
Beaconsfield severely, we must judge others severely as well,
and we shall find that he will not want companions in con-
demnation. If it is sinful to be ambitious, to make wars, to


extend empii-e, other statesmen have been ambitious, and war-
like, and aggressive. Let us believe, even those of ns who
are least in sympathy with the policy and the politics of Lord
Beaconsfield, that he no less than others was animated by the
consciousness of his own righteousness of purpose ; that he
sought the welfare of his countrymen and the honour of his
country ; and that if his way was not our wny, we need not, in
the serenity of our own infallibility, be too severe upon him.

Lord Beaconsfield may fairly be culled a great man, on his
own definition of a great man as ' one who afiects the mind of
his generation ; whether he be a monk in his cloister agitating
Chi'istendom, or a monarch crossing the Gianicus, and giving
a new character to the Pagan world.' Lord Beaconsfield
certainly afllected the mind of his generation, and the part he
chose to play in doing so was more akin to that of Alexander
than that of a Jerome or a IMartin Luther. Indeed, the diffi-
culties that the young Disraeli had to encounter in his career
were scarcely less imposing than those which opposed, but did
not retard, the progress of the Macedonian king ; nor were the
victories of the one less splendid than the triumphs of the
other. The young Disraeli began life as a Jew, when to be a
Jew meant to be deprived of every social and civil advantage
that makes a public career Avorth striving for. The position of
a conquered Samnite in a world of Roman citizens was scarcely
more galling than the position of a Jew in England in the early
part of the present century. He was not, it is true, any longer
tortured at the pleasure of prince or noble ; he was no longer
condemned to dwell in a ghetto, or wear garm.ents of peculiar
cut or colovu' ; but all or almost all chances of political promotion
were closed against him in his adopted country. He might amass
fortune, he might win distinction in letters and the arts, but
he could not place his foot on the lowest i-ound of the ladder
that led to political distinction. These difficulties did not long
restrain and impede the young Disraeli. He had been brought
up a Christian. Asa Christian he could enter the Parliament
which it was then impossible for a Jew to enter; and once in
Parliament, he felt that his career was clear before him, and his


success certain. But though he never professed the religion of
his race, Disraeli never forgot his reverence for that race, nor his
love for the people from whom he sprang. In his writings, in
his speeches, in all the actions of his life, he was the champion,
and a most powerful and effective champion, of the Jewish
people. Into the mouth of his favourite character, Sidonia, he
puts an eloquent tribute to the genius and the glory of the
Jewish race, which represents his own convictions, and the
principles which governed him during the whole of a career
that was in itself the most eloquent tribute to the genius of his

Here and there throughout the history of the world a few
poets, and politicians who might have been poets, have recognised
with just pride their own genius and certain immortality.
Horace, writing lyrics more enduring than brass; Shakespeare,
serenely confident that neither marble nor the gilded monu-
ments of princes could outlast the powerful rhyme in which he
praised his nameless hero — these are examples that leap to the
lips at once. The young Disraeli, shouting to a mocking and
hostile House that the time would come when they should hear
him, is a no less remarkable example of justifiable self-glorifica-
tion. He had entered the House in 1837, the year of the Queen's
accession. He had already made a name, or at least a notoriety
for himself outside the House. He had made the grand tour ;
he had been in the East, at a time Avhen Eastern travel was
very much less common than it now is. He had wi'itten
* Vivian Grey,' one of the most brilliant novels of its time, and
one of the most remarkable examples of precocious genius on
record. He had written ' The Young Duke,' which, in spite of
the scorn of Thackeray, may well be considered clever ; and
' Contarini Fleming,' which has at least in its earliest chapters
something of the romantic charm and adventurous attraction
of ' Gil Bias.' He had made use of his acquaintance with the
East in the wondrous ' Tale of Alroy.' His ' Ixion in Heaven '
was one of the most humorous bits of burlesque writing of the
age. He had essayed to stand with Dante and with Milton in his
'Revolutionary Epic,' and had certainly not succeeded. As a


political pamphleteer he had vindicated the British Constitution,
and penned the ' Letters of Runny mede.' He was thus a
sufficiently conspicuous character when in 1837, after three
unsuccessful efforts, he found himself at last in the House of

It is not quite easy to understand why that famous first
speech was so hopeless a failure. The recorded costume of the
orator was odd enough to us, but in 1837 a bottle-green frock
coat, a white waistcoat laced with chains, and large fancy
pantaloons, would not of themselves have been enough to move
the House of Commons to mirth. The speech itself, as we read
it now after the lapse of nearly half a century, appears an ex-
ceedingly clever speecli ; and the House of Commons is usually
disposed to listen to clever speeches, whatever may be the view
they express. His skill in political phi-ase-making was well
foreshadowed in his description of the Irish Liberal Fund as a
' project of majestic mendicancy,' We smile and feel that the
speaker is making good strokes when he speaks of ' the new
loves and the old loves, in which so much of passion and
recrimination was mixed up between the noble Tityrus of the
Treasury bench and the learned Daphne of Liskeard,' and
alludes to the * amantium irce, which had resulted in the amoris
integratio, notwithstanding a political duel had been fought, in
which more than one shot was exchanged, but in which recourse
was had to the secure ai'bitrament of blank cartridges.' All
this is youthful, but it is bright enough ; it certainly is not dull,
and it does not seem ridiculous. But the House of Commons
would have none of it, and laughed and jeered and hooted the
speaker into a sudden blaze of anger. ' I have begun many
things, and I have succeeded often at last ; ay, sir, and thovigh
I sit down now, yet the time will come when you will hear me.'

It is not here necessary to tell again the story of Loi-d
Beaconsfield's life. It has been told many times — on two
occasions very bitterly and brilliantly by his enemies ; and, un-
fortunately, generally very badly and drearily by his friends.
Few books would be more welcome to the world than Lord
Beaconsfield's fiutobiogi-aphy. It would, no doubt, deserve a


place on the slielf where stand ' Dichtung nncl Wahrhcit ' and
' Les Confessions.' The life of Lord Beaconsfield has yet to be
written. To be done fittingly, its writer should be, if possible,
committed to neither of the great political parties ; but if ab-
solute impartiality v/ere impossible, then the chronicler should
have a bias of affection and of sympathy towards the subject
of his record. Those biographies are cold reading which find
their inspiration in hatred or contempt of the life they are re-
cording. The biography of the admirer is like the votive
wreath placed about the monumental pillar ; the biography of
the adversaiy reminds us only of the actions of those Egyptian
kings who eilaced the hieroglyphics of their rivals from shrine
and temple, and hoped to attain immortality by substituting
their own.

In the Upper House Lord Beaconsfield delivered some
telling speeches, even after the fall of his Government and the
triumph of his rival. The last speech he ever delivered, that on
the Central Asian question and the abandonment of Candahar,
had something in it of the youthful fire and the youthful audacity
of Mr. Disraeli. He was speaking of the key of India, ' The
key of India,' he declared, ' was not at Merv. It was not at

Candahar. It was not at -' here for a moment the speaker

paused ; he could not recollect the name of Herat. Another
man might have been discomposed, but Lord Beaconsfield
coolly went on, ' the key of India is not the place of which I
have forgotten the name ; the key of India is in London.' It
was characteristic of Lord Beaconsfield that his career should
close with such a speech, remarkable alike for the cool indif-
ference with which he was always ready to treat the details of
the most important subjects, and for the brilliantly paradoxical
saying which concealed a profound political truth. Not many
weeks later Lord Beaconsfield was dead. The world had lost
one of its most interesting figures, and England one of the
most remarkable in the long roll of remarkable statesmen who
have given their allegiance and their genius to the service of the
House of Brunswick.




The history of the new Land Bill was curious. The measure
which Mr. Gladstone laid before the House on April 7
was not the measure which the Government had originally in-
tended to offer to Parliament. Another Bill had been prepared,
of a less comprehensive nature. The draft had been submitted
by a member of the Ministry to a Liberal member, who was
very properly regarded as an authority on the land question in
Ireland, with the request that he would make any suggestions
he thought fit as to its possible improvement. The member
consulted returned the draft Bill promptly, saying that the only
improvemexit he could suggest would be to put the proposed
measm-e behind the fire. The Government apparently acted
upon this summary advice ; at least, they speedily prepared a
new and more advanced measure. Even the new Bill was
mild enough, and bore very little resemblance to the form it
came to assume later on. Mr. Glad.stone introduced the Bill
on April 7, 1881, in a long, elaborate, and exceedingly eloquent
speech, on what he not inappropriately called ' the most difficult
and the most complex question ' which he ever had to deal with
in the course of his public life. Roughly speaking, the Bill
proposed to deal with the Irish land question on the basis of
what was known as the three F's — fau' rent, fixity of tenure, and
free sale. Mr. Gladstone denied that either the iniquity of the
existing land laws, or any sympathy with the extreme views of
some of the Irish land reformers, or the bad conduct of Irish
landlordism in general, called for the new attempt at legislation.
It was the ' land hunger,' or rather the land scarcity ; it was
certain defects in the Land Act of 1870, and it was the rack-
renting and evictions of a limited number of landlords which
had inspired the action of the Government.

The Government was not in want of guidance in the step it


was taking. A commission — the Richmond Commission — had
been appointed by the previous Government to inquire into the
land question. Another commission — the Bessborough Com-
mission — had been appointed by the existing Government for
the same j)urpose. These two commissions had begot, not two
reports, but a perfect ' litter ' of reports. There was naturally
an agreeable diversity of opinion among these various reports.
One member of the Richmond Commission, Mr. Bonamy Price,
was for applying, ' in all their unmitigated authority,' the prin-

Online LibraryJustin H. (Justin Huntly) McCarthyEngland under Gladstone, 1880-1885 → online text (page 13 of 38)