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England under Gladstone, 1880-1885 online

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ciples of abstract political economy to the very exceptional land
question of Ireland, ' exactly as if he had been proposing to
legislate for the inhabitants of Saturn or Jupiter.' Of the four
commissioners who made up the Bessborough Commission, only
two agreed to sign what may be called the main report : Mr.
Shaw signed one collateral report. The O'Conor Don signed
another, and Mr. Kavanagh signed a third. Out of tliis multi-
plicity of counsel, however, Mr. Gladstone found that, with the
exception of Mr. Bonamy Price, the whole body of both com-
missions were agreed in supporting the constitution of a court
for the purpose of dealing with the difierences between landlords
and tenants in Ireland with regard to rent.

The establishment of such a court was to be then one of
the principal features of the new measure. Appeal to this
court was to be optional, and not compulsory. Every tenant
from year to year coming under the description of ' present
tenant ' could go before the court and have a judicial rent fixed
for his holdiiig. This judicial rent was to last, in the first
instance, for fifteen years, during which no eviction would be
possible, except for non-payment of rent or distinct breach of
specific covenants. When the fifteen years expired, landlord
or tenant might apply to the court for a revision of the
rent. If the tenancy were renewed, the same conditions as to
eviction were to hold good. In the case, however, of th„
tenant wishing to sell his tenant-right, the privilege of pre-
emption, at the price fixed by the court as the value of tlae
tenant-right, was reserved to the landlord. The Bill acted
retrospectively with regard to tenants against whom process



Ui ENGLAND UNDER GLADSTONE.

of ejectment had been begun but not concluded. The Ulster
tenant, while remaining under the privilege of his custom,
■\*^as to be allowed the protection of the general provisions of
the Bill for controlling augmentation of rents. The new
court, which was also to perform the functions of a land com-
mission, was to consist of three members, one of whom was
always to be a judge or ex-judge of the supreme court. It
was empowered to appoint sub-commissions as courts of first
instance, to hear applications and fix fair rents.

The second part of the Bill passed entirely from the region
of the three F's into the difficult question of peasant proprie-
tary. The court as a land commission was empowered to assist
tenants to puichase their holdings, and furthermore to pur-
chase itself estates from willing landlords, for the purpose of
reselling them when three-fourths of the tenants were ready
to buy. The court might advance three-fourths of the purchase-
money to tenants, and was not to be prohibited from advancing
the whole sum when it saw fit. Tenants availing themselves
of these purchase clauses would obtain a guaranteed title, and
would only have to pay a very small sum for legal costs.
Emigration was to be included among the purposes for which
advances miglit be made. Such were the more striking features
of the new measure.

The Bill was read a first time withov;t opposition, and
immediately after, on the following day, the House adjourned
for the Easter recess. When it reassembled on April 25 the
second reidina; of the Lind Bill was moved at once. The
debates were long and bitter. The Conservative party as a
body opposed the Bill with unwearying vigilance and vehe-
mence. They characterised it again and again as a measure
of communism, of socialism, of brigandage ; and they exhausted
their ingenuity in efforts, if not to defeat the Bill altogether, at
least to delay it as long as possible, and to minimise as much
as might be its ' revolutionary ' nature. The Irish members,
on the other hand, were no less energetic in their efforts to
widen the scope of the Bill, and make it of a character more
markedly beneficial to the tenant class. Their efforts were



THE LAND ACT. 145

more successful than those of the Conservative party. The
general principles of the Bill remained the same, but its scope
was widened, and its powers of application strengthened to
a surprising degree. The Bill in the final form in which it
was presented to the House of Lords in the end of July, after
months of protracted debate, might be not unfairly characterised
as in lai'ge part the creation of Mr. Healy and the Irish party,
of Mr. Charles Bussell and certain of the Ulster members. The
sleeper in the Arabian story scarcely underwent a more remark-
able metamorphosis when he assumed the care and dignity of
the Kalif than was experienced by the new Bill in its passage
from the Treasury bench to the Upper House. It is only neces-
sary to compare the original draft of the Bill with its final form
to see how important these alterations were. The famous Healy
clause was constructed to exclude altogether the valuation of
improvements made by the tenant in estimating the amount to
be fixed as a judicial rent. On the other hand, an amendment
by Mr. Heneage was agreed to, excluding what are called
* English -managed ' estates from the operation of the Healy
clause. The court was empowered by another provision to
quash leases contracted since 1870 which might be shown on
examination to have been drawn up with a view to dodging
or defeating the objects of that measure. The emigration pro-
posals, which were extremely obnoxious to the Irish party,
were very lai'gely modified. The total expenditure for this
purpose was limited to 200,000/., not more than a third of
which was to be f-pent in any single year. A clause was intro-
duced allowing the commissioners to make advances to tenants
for the purpose of clearing off arrears of rent which had accrued
for three years.

On July 29 the Bill was read a third time in the House of
Commons, and was carried up to the House of I-ords, where it
was read a first time for form's sake without opposition the
same evening. After two nights' debate it was read a second
time without division, in obedience to Lord Salisbury's counsels.
In committee, however, the majority in the Lords fell upon

L



146 ENGLAND UNDER GLADSTONE.

the measure. They reduced the Bill to a nullity by compre-
hensive interpolations and additions. They altered, they
amended, they substituted, till the Bill resembled Wallenstein's
horse as shown to Brown, Jones, and Robinson. The head,
legs, and part of the body are new, all the rest is the real horse.
The Bill in this ' real hoi'se ' condition was returned to the
Commons. The Ministry accepted a few of the least important
amendments, modified some others, and firmly rejected those
which struck at the vitality of the measure. It was sent back
to the Lords again, and once again the Lords, with that mar-
vellous infatuation which is the peculiar privilege of the Upper
House in its struggles with the Commons, proceeded to make
the measure useless by reinstating the objectionable amend-
ments and interpolations. The Bill was then sent down to the
Commons. The Ministry made a further pretence of considering
the question. The more dangerous amendments which the Lords
had restored were struck out, but the Ministry made certain
concessions. In the first form of the Healy clause, for instance,
the Government had insisted upon a j^roviso that the tenant
should not be allowed the value of improvements for whicli he
had been paid by the landlord. The Government nov/ con-
ceded the addition ' or otherwise compensated.' Under these
words Irish courts can, as in the case of Adams and Dunseath,
rule that length of enjoyment is to be taken into account as an
element in considering the value of a tenant's improvement.
The Bill was then handed back to the Lords. By this time
public feeling was thoroughly aroused at the prospect of a
serious constitutional strutmle between the two Houses. Liberal
meetings were held in all pai-ts of the country, at which the
Government were vigoi'ously encouraged to make no con-
cessions, to fight the fight out to the end. The Lords blustered,
but their courage was shaken. Two of the most compre-
hensively destructive of the Lords' amendments had been
moved by the Duke of Argyll and Lord Lansdowne. On
August 16, when the Bill came before the Lords for the tliird
time. Lord Salisbury still assumed a semi-defiant attitude.
Perhaps on the whole, he said, their lordships had better accept



THE LAND ACT. 147

the Bill, unless indeed the Duke of Ai"gyll and Lord Lansdowne
pressed their amendments. In that case Lord Salisbury would
certainly vote for them, and for resistance to the imperious
Commons. But the Duke of Argyll was conveniently absent.
Lord Lansdowne sat in his seat and made no sign. Lord
Salisbury had sounded his trumpet, and no knight challenger
gallojied into the arena. So with something of an ill grace Lord
Salisbury bade those of his inclining hold their hands, and
the Land Bill of 1881 became law. The House of Lords had
gained nothing by their opposition, but for the moment at least
they were saved from the consequences of direct collision with
the Commons.

In the meantime the Bradlaugh case had come up again.
Mr. Bradlaugh, as we have seen, had taken the affirmation and
his seat under all the penalties that might come upon him if
his so doing were decided to be illegal. He was at once sued
for penalties by a man named Clarke, who, as was afterwards
shown, was a mere man of straw sustained by INIr. Newdegate.
The judge of the court of law in which Mr. Bradlaugh was sued
decided that the statute allowing affirmation to be made in certain
cases in lieu of taking the oath did not apply to Mr. Bradlaugh's
case, and did not, therefore, exempt him from the obligation of
taking the usual oath, and from the penalties consequent upon
his failure to do so. The case was brought before the Court of
Appeal, where the judgment of the lower court was confirmed.
Mr. Labouchere moved for a new writ. Mr. Bradlaugh stood
again for Northampton, and was re-elected by a majority of 132
over his Conservative opponent, Mr. Corbett, on Saturday, April
0, 1881. On Tuesday, April 2G, Mr. Bradlaugh presented him-
f-elf in the Houss of Commons, and offi?red to take the oath. He
had been escorted to the table by Mr. Labouchere and Mr. Burt,
and the clerk was proceeding to administer the oath, when Sir
Stafford Northcote got up to interpose. The Speaker immediately
rose, and announced that although under ordinary circumstances a
member presenting himself to comply with the legal formalities of
the House was entitled to do so without interruption, yet, having
regard to the former resolution of the House, and the reports of

L 2



H3 EXGLAyS rNBER GLADSTONE

the two select committees, lie did not think it his duty to with-
hold from the House an opportunity of expressing its opinions on
the new conditions. He accordingly desired Mr, Bradlaugh to
retire while the question was being considered by the House,
and Mr. Bradlaugh accordingly retired, after asking that the
House would not decide upon his case before it had heard him
speak in his own defence. An active debate, led by Sir Staiford
Northcote, immediately followed. The Opposition maintained
that the House could not look on and allow any one to go
throvigh the solemn formality of taking the oath after having
publicly proclaimed that the essential conditions which made
such an oath binding were absent from his mind. The Minis-
terial speakers, on the other hand, argued that they had nothing
whatever to do with Mr. Bradlaugh's belief or disbelief; and
that if the newly elected member for Northampton was
ready to take the oath the House had no alternative but to
allow him to do so, in spite of any declarations he might
have made as to the binding nature of the obligation. Mr.
Bradlaugh was heard at the Bar during the course of the
debate, urging his case with energy and with eloquence, and
warning the House that to deny him his legal right would
throw him back on agitation. The Opposition, however, carried
the day. Sir Stafford Northcote had put his protest into the
form of a motion that, having regard to the former resolution
and the reports of the committees, Mr. Bradlaugh should
not be permitted to go throvigh the form of repeating the
words of the oath prescribed by the statute. This motion was
carried by a majority of 33^208 to 175. AVhen the numbers
were declared Mr. Bradlaugh again advanced to the table. He
was immediately called upon to withdraw by the Speaker, but
he refused to obey, declaiing that the order was illegal. There
was great confusion in the House, members of all parties shout-
ing out their opinions more or less inarticulately. The Speaker
usked the noisy House for instructions as to how he should
proceed. The Tories yelled for Mr. Gladstone to get up ; the
Liberals shrieked back indignant refusal. After an interval
of confused clamour, during which Mr. Bradlaugh stood in the



THE LAND ACT. 149

centre of the House before the table, Hke the hero of Flaubert's
* Salammbo ' among his Carthaginian enemies, Sir Stafford
Northcote rose with bland curiosity to inquire whether the
Prime Minister intended to take any steps in regard to the
resolution that the House had just agreed to. The Prime
Minister replied in a studiously composed tone that he had voted
with the minority, and that it was the duty of the majority, and
not of the Ministry, to carry out the resolution. Sir Stafford
Northcote accordingly, promptly assuming the leadership of the
House, moved that Mr. Bradlaugh be ordered to withdraw.
The motion was, of course, carried, and the Speaker ordered
Mr. Bradlaugh to retire. Mr. Bradlaugh refusing as before,
the serjeant-at-arms was called in to enforce the order of the
House. In company with Captain Gossett Mr. Bradlaugh
retired to the Bar of the House, only to rush forward again to
the table. The serjeant-at-arms then called to his aid a little
army of messengers, who forced Mr. Bradlaugh — offering, how-
ever, no i-esistance, and protesting against the use of physical
force — back to the Bar. As he seemed determined to fight
his way again to the table, the Speaker once more appealed to
the House for guidance. A scene of shai-p recrimination fol-
lowed, Sir Stafford Northcote taunting the Government with
abetting Mr. Bradlaugh in his action, and Mr. Gladstone
warmly denying the accusation. Mr. Cowen interrupted the
strife by a motion for adjournment of the House, which was
promptly carried.

The next day, Wednesday, April 27, 1881, Mr. Bradlaugh
again presented himself at the table, again demanded to be
sworn; again was ordered by the Speaker to withdraw, and
again refused to do so, until the serjeant-at-arms came to take
him by the arm. A new debate sprang up, the Opposition and
the Ministerialists rejDeating their old ai'guments, and the con-
victions of everybody remaining entirely unchanged. At length
a sort of general understanding seemed to be arrived at, ac-
cording to which the Government would bring in, as soon as
might be, some measure for remedying the law which regulated
the formalities of the Parliamentary oath ; and on this under-



loO ENGLAND VNLEIl GLADSTU^E.

standing it was announced by Mr, Labouchere that Mr. Brad-
laugh would refrain from presenting himself at the table of the
House for the present. As a consequence of this understanding
the Attorney- General, on Monday, May 2, moved for leave to
introduce the Parliamentary Oaths Bill, allowing members to
make affirmation. But the Bill was vigorously opposed, and
several nights passed without any progress being made with the
measure. Mr. Bradlaugh thereupon made his appearance in the
House again on Tuesday, May 10, when the now familiar cere-
mony was gone thi'ough. Mr. Bradlaugh offered to take the
oath, was ordered to withdraw by the Speaker, and refused to
do so until the serjeant-at-arms brought the semljlance of phy-
sical force to bear upon him. Then Sir Stafford Northcote,
once more assuming his function of leader of the House, moved
that the serjeant-at-arms should exclude Mr. Bradlaugh from
the House until he should engage not to disturb the proceedings
of the House further — a motion which was carried without a
division.

For some weeks nothing further was heard of the Bradlaugh
question in the House of Commons. On July 4, however, Mr.
Gladstone announced that the Govei'nment did not intend to
proceed Avith the Parliamentary Oaths Bill that session. Mr.
Bradlaugh immediately wrote to the Speaker, announcing his
intention of presenting himself again and claiming his right to
take the oath and his seat. The Speaker read the letter to the
House, and informed the House that he had given special direc-
tions to the sei jean t-at- arms to carry out the resolution of May 10.
Mr. Bradlaugh did not, however, follow up his letter imme-
diately. He attended meetings in various places, occupied him-
self in obtaining a summons at Bow Street against Mr. New-
degate for ' maintenance ' in giving indemnity for costs to the
man who prosecuted him, and seemed in no hurry to claim his
seat. On Wednesday, August 3, however, Mr. Bradlaugh made
the attempt. He held a great meeting in Trafalgar Square
on Tuesday, August 2, at which he announced his intention
of proceeding to the House of Commons and taking his seat.
Under the impression that he was about to do so then and there,



THE LAND ACT. 151

a cheering, excitable crowd of some five thousand persons
poured down Whitehall and through Parliament Street into
Parliament Square, and tried to flood Palace Yard with noisy
humanity. A strong body of police were, however, in readiness ;
and though some score or so of people succeeded in getting in,
the gates were speedily closed, and the shouting crowd efiectually
excluded. It soon became understood that the next day's demon-
stration was to be more serious. Long before midday on Wednes-
day, August 3, a crowd, at least as large as that of the preceding
day, had collected in Parliament Square, cheering for Mr. Brad-
laugh, and greeting with loud acclaim the various deputations
that came up bearing petitions praying that Mr. Bradlaugh be
allowed to take his seat. Palace Yard was guarded care-
fully by a very large force of police, and the bulk of the crowd
were kept outside the gates in perfect order. But the bearers
of petitions were allowed to come inside the gates, and to range
themselves in order in Westminster Hall. At about twenty
minutes to twelve JNIr. Bradlaugh, accompanied by his friend
Dr. Aveling, arrived before the gates of Palace Yard, and was
at once admitted, amidst the wildest enthut^iasm on the part of
the crowd. Once inside Palace Yard, j\Ir. Bradlaugh was met
by Inspector Denning, who quietly asked him what he proposed
to do. Mr. Bradlaugh as quietly answered that he had come to
take his seat ; and entering Westminster Hall, w^here the ranged
lines of petitioners greeted him lustily, he passed in through the
members' entiance, and so into the lobby, and to the very door
of the Chamber. Here Mr. Bradlaugh stood and waited until
the Speaker should take the ciiair, the central figure of a crowd
of excited and wondering members. The scene was strange
enough. Across the door the sei jean t-at- aims and his assistants
were langed, and near them were several of the House messen-
gers, and some dozen policemen. The lobby was crowded by
curious members — and by members only, as the strictest orders
had been given and obeyed that day to let none but members
and officials of the House into the inner lobby. As soon as the
Speaker had taken the chair, Mr. Bradlaugh, who had been
standing perfectly self-possessed in the middle of the lobby,



152 ENGLAND TINDER GLADSTONE,

advanced to the door of the Chamber. His path was immediately
barred by Mr. Erskine, who courteously enquired what he
wanted. By those who crushed about and craned forward to
hear the remarkable dialogue, Mr. Bradlaugh was heard to reply
that, as the duly elected member for Northampton, he had come
to take the oath and liis seat. Mr. Erskine answered that he had
received orders not to admit Mr. Bradlaugh, and Mr. Bradlaugh
responded that such orders were illegal, and that he had a right
to enter. Once again Mr. Bradlaugh urged his right of entry,
and once again Mr. Erskine pleaded his orders, and refused him
admission. The conversation was carried on gravely and decor-
ously on both sides, but the greatest excitement governed the
crowd who surrounded the pair, and who listened to the dialogue
while watching the well-guarded door. When Mr. Erskine made
his final refusal to allow Mr. Bradlaugh passage, Mr. Bradlaugh
immediately stepped forvvai'd as if to push his Avay into the
Chamber. He was at once stopped by the officials ; he offered
resistance to their efforts, and in a moment was engaged in a
sort of scuffle with one of them. Then followed probably one
of the most extraordinary and painful scenes that the House of
Commons had ever witnessed since Cochrane, the gallant Dun-
donald, the last of the Sea Kings, was haled from the House
fighting with all the strength of his giant frame. The police-
men who had been waiting in readiness seized Mr. Bradlaugh,
and proceeded to drag him away from the entrance to the
Chamber. Mr. Bradlaugh is a man of great physical strength,
and he exerted himself to the utmost to free himself from those
who held him. The spectators in the lobby hurriedly made
way, and in the midst of the policemen Mr. Bradlaugh, offering
a vigorous resistance, was hurried through the door of the lobby
and down the stairs leading to the members' entrance, and so
out into Palace Yard, where he Avas released, hatless, breathless,
with his coat torn from the violence of the struggle that had
just ensued. The police, it must be stated, did all that was
possible under the conditions of the struggle not to hurt Mr.
Bradlaugh ; but it was impossible that the strife could have
been other than severe and exhausting, when a man of powerful



THE LAND ACT. ' 153

build was being carried, struggling with all his might, down-
stairs and through narrow passages. For a moment there was a
danger or at least the possibility of a conflict between the police
and the crowd, as Mr. Bradlaugh stood there disan-ayed, exhaus-
ted, and excited, in the sight of bis followers. Men of all kinds
were present in the crowd of Mr. Bradlaugh's supporters that
day, inside and outside the gates of Palace Yard, who would
have been willing enough to use force to assist their leader.
One man at least in that crowd deserves special consideration,
James Thomson, true poet and brilliant writer, author of ' The
City of Dreadful Night,' a poem whose profound pessimism is
illumined by a melancholy beauty, and of some even more valu-
able songs of the joys and pleasures of the poor. Thomson
had been of old a friend and follower of Mr. Bradlaugh ; their
ways of thougbt had varied of late, and their paths had separated ;
but here, in the moment of difficulty, Thomson came to do all
he could for the cause which he believed to be just, the cause
of his old friend. Thomson's wild genius and splendid gifts
came to a sad end some eighteen months later, when he died
sviddenly in a hospital, still a young man, leaving behind him
only a brilliant memory and some verses of great fulfilment and
greater promise. His career was not unlike that of Henri
Murger, or some of his clever, eccentric companions. Like
Murger's, it was erratic, fitful, full of gifts and of promise; like
Murger's, it came to an end too soon, and very sadly ; like
Murger's, it was much regretted.

Mr. Bradlaugh, however, made no appeal to his followers to
come to hisaid. Those vrho clustered about him were dispersed by
the police, Mr. Bradlaugh drank some water and waited peace-
ably talking to Inspector Denning, until he received information
that the House had, by its vote, approved of the action that had
been taken. He then drove across to Westminster police covu't,
to ask for a summons for formal assault against Inspector
Denning. The magistrate, Mr. Sheil, found the case involved
too many technicahties and complications to admit of his granting
the summons just then; and Mr. Bradlaugh withdrew by the
magistrate's door leading into Vincent Square, at the request of



154 ENGLAND UNDER GLADSTONE.

the police authorities, in order to avoid a scene with the crowd
outside.

In the meantime much had been doing inside the House
of Commons. As soon as Mr. Bradlaugh had been removed,
Mr. Labouchera complained in the House of the treatment of
his colleague, and made a motion censuring the serjeant-at-



Online LibraryJustin H. (Justin Huntly) McCarthyEngland under Gladstone, 1880-1885 → online text (page 14 of 38)