Justin H. (Justin Huntly) McCarthy.

England under Gladstone, 1880-1885 online

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arms and the officials of the House for the manner in
which they had interpreted and acted upon the resolution of
May 10. The motion was seconded by Mr. Ashton Dilke,
and an active debate immediately sprang up, which was
chiefly remarkable for a speech made by Mr. Bright, in which
he spoke feelingly of the way in which Mr. Bradlaugh had been
used, and warned the House that if it persisted in its present
course, it would bring itself into some most unfortunate and
calamitous position. In the end J\Ir. Libouchere's motion was
defeated by 191 to 7 — mnjority of 184; and an amendment of Sir
Henry Holland's, pledging the House to approval of the action
of INIr. Speaker and of the officers of the House acting under
his order, was agreed to without a division.

Save for the Coercion and the Land Act, the session was un-
fruitful in Government legislation. With the exception of the
Army Ilegulations Bill, which complemented Lord Cardwell's
Army Organisation Bill by linking every regiment to a particular
locality, and finally did away with flogging in the army, and the
Naval Discipline Amendment Act Amendment Bill, which abo-
lished flogging in the navy, all the other legislative measures pro-
posed by the Government were withdi'awn. Some measures, how-
ever, introduced by private members became law. One was Earl
Cairns' Conveyancing and Law of Property Bill, for simplifying
and improving the practice of conveyancing, with its pendant,
the Solicitors' Remuneration Bill, providing for a uniform system
of charges for conveyancing. Another was Mr. Hutchinson's
Newspaper Libel Bill, making an important change in the law
of libel by extending a privilege to the reports of meetings law-
fully held, and by making the permission of the Attoj-ney-
General a necessary preliminary to a criminal information for
libel. A Bill introduced and carried by Mr. Roberts enacted


that in Wales all premises in which intoxicating liquors were
sold should be closed daring the whole of Sunday. There were
some changes in the Administration. Mr. Grant Duff" was ap-
pointed to the Governorship of Madras. Mr. Leonard Courtney
went to the Colonial Office. Mr. Herbert Gladstone came into
the Ministry as a supernumerary Lord of the Treasury.

The Land Act had not disposed of Irish discontent or settled
the Irish question. When Parliament rose, a great convention
was held in Newcastle, at which Mr. Joseph Cowen spoke.
Mr. Cowen was a brilliant speaker ; he might fairly be called
the foremost of all the younger generation of Parliamentary
orators. Thackeray once spoke of writing down the names of
all his real friends on a very little piece of paper. A little piece
of paper would be quite sufficient to write down the names of
all the orators in St. Stephen's. After Mr. Gladstone and Mr.
P>right comes j\lr. Cowen. When he made his first speech in
the House of Commons on the Bill which proposed to
add the title of Empress of India to the dignities of the
sovereign, all who heard it knew at once that a new and
jDowei-fal force was added to the Parliamentary debates, From
that hour Mr. Cowen took high rank as a political influence.
The music of his phrases, the passion of his language,
the grace and beauty of his sentences, and the honourable
independence of thought which inspired all his utterances never
failed to make the majority of his hearers forget for the moment
not merely the rough northei-n accent of the speaker, but the
unpopularity of the opinions which he was expressing. It has
been Mr. Cowen's fortune generally to support, in the House of
Commons, causes unpopular to the majoi-ity in the House. Like
Hal o' the Wynd, in Scott's story, Mr. Cowen has always fought
for his own hand. His was the most serious attack upon the
Queen's Title Bill, much more seiious, for example, than the
speech of vitriolic bitterness in which Mr. Lowe refused to have
the lisjiiugs of the nursery foisted upon the House. Yet he made
the best defence of the foreign policy of Lord Beaconsfield.

Mr. Cowen has, in fact, what some people would very likely
call old-fashioned notions of the duties of an independent


member. He dees not believe it to be a part of tlie duty of
a member to accept the guidance of his political chief in all
his actions, or to uphold that chief by voice and vote in every
demand which he may make on the House of Commons and
the country. He considers it to be the business of an inde-
pendent politician to think for himself. When he imagines
that his own party are in the wrong he is neither ashamed
nor afraid to say so, and he L> willing to admit that even a
political enemy may at times have justice on his side, how-
ever unpalatable such an admission may be to his own com-
jDanions. Such a man is seldom greatly loved by any political
party. The Treasuiy bench likes men upon whom it can
always fully rely. Ministers are not veiy fond of being told
their duty by their followers. They like absolute obedience,
and unhesitating readiness to follow them into the division
lobby. Such a follower Mr. Cowen cannot be, and his sturdy
independence becomes important when it is accompanied by a
gift of eloquence now rare in the English Houses of Parlia-
ment. No Ministry cares much for the independence which
can only express itself in a few brief, faltering, unimportant
sentences. But it is comj)elled to care very much for the inde-
pendence which can express itself with the passion, the beauty,
and the purpose which men know they have now to expect
from Mr. Cowen. Mr. Cowen's early life brought him into
close contact with men like Herzen, and Kossuth, and Louis
Blanc. His youth was closely linked with the man whose
name hung like a shadow over Europe for a season, with Joseph
Mazzini. To his association with these men and their like Mr.
Cowen owes certain of the ideas which have made him stand
somewhat alone in Pai'liament and in political life. But he
has not borrowed his eloquence from them, or from any one
else. He is an orator by nature, but it is his own earnestness,
his own enthusiasm, his own unswerving honour and honesty,
and no copying of the thoughts or the words of other men,
which have given him a place among the comj^aratively few
orators of the first class that the Victorian age has pro-


Mr. Cowen had been a persistent opponent of the coercive
policy of the Government. He had spoken against it again and
again ; he had supported the Irish members time after time
with his voice and with his vote in opposing the Bills, At the
meeting in Newcastle-on-Tyne on Monday, August 29, 1881,
he attacked the Government with all his energy and all his
eloquence. It had been found useless, he said, to argue with
the master of many legions, even when that master argued on
the extraordinary paradox that the only way in which the law
could be maintained in Ireland was by its being superseded.
The Land Act had failed as a means of pacification. It was
too abstruse and comphcated for plain men to understand, and
its fair proportions were hidden by the repulsive screen of the
Coercion Act. While he strongly condemned the wild writings
and wild threats of the American Fenians, he attributed the
fault of such writings and threats mainly to the action of the
English Government itself. ' No more barbarous or inhuman
treatment had been attempted against political prisoners in
modern days in Western Europe than was meted out by the
English Government to the Fenians. ... By their treatment
we converted men who might have been our friends into foes.'
The outrages in Ireland, on accoiint of which the Government
had demanded coercion, were, Mr. Cowen contended, shame-
fully exaggerated. The i-eason for the exaggeration was this :
the Irish executive feared that a Liberal Parliament would not
pass a Coercion Bill, and that they could only get it by showing
that the countr}' was greatly disturbed, and laAv superseded.
They therefore made no attempt to use the ordinary law with a
view to restrain incipient excess, and their strategy succeeded.
There was no constitutional country in Europe, Mr. Cowen
concluded, in which such a state of things obtained as it did in
Ireland. It was a scandal to our civilisation, and a disgrace to
our statesmanship.

The convention at Newcastle was followed up by another
convention in Ii-eland, in the Dublin Eotunda, a convention
of delegates from the various branches of the Land League all
over Ireland. The convention represented the public feeling of


Ireland, as far as public opinion ever can be represented by a
delegated body. The descendants of the Cromwellian settlers
of the north sat side by side Avith men of the rebel blood of
Tippcrary, with the impetuous people of the south, with the
strong men of the midland hunting counties. The most re-
markable feature of the meeting was the vast number of priests
who were present. A great number of priests, young and old,
spoke at the convention ; all were warm in sympathy with the
League and its leaders ; all were ready to deal with the Bill as
these leaders wished. Mr. Parnell explained his views to the
convention. He announced that the League was willing to use
the Bill as far as it went, but that the existence of the Bill did not
put an end to the work of the Land League ; it had still to be
vigilant ; it had to experiment upon the newly founded land
courts with test cases, and in every way to watch over the in-
terests of the tenant farmers. Not of the tenant farmers alone ;
the Irish labourers were to be thought of as well. The con-
dition of the labourers in Ireland was very bad, and their
complaints had gradually been taking organised shape. They
were now formally recognised by the League, which became
henceforward a Land and Labour League. The convention
was singularly quiet ; the speeches were all moderate in tone ;
the attitude of the League as represented by its delegates was
pacific and constitutional. But the country undoubtedly was
in a disorganised state. The fierce anger that the Coercion
Acts and their operation had aroused was creating a wide-
spread disorder, with which it seemed at first as if coercion
itself could not successfully cope. The Land League leaders
maintained always that they had the country entirely under
their control, and that as long as they were to the front they
could keep the disorder and violence in check. How far they
could have carried this out — how far they could have over-
mastered the forces that were now at work in Ireland — it is
impossible to say, for they were not given the opportunity of
carrying out their promises.

The action of the Government during the couple of mouths
following upon the rising of Parliament is wholly inexplicable.


Tliey cannot have thought that the condition of the country
was dangerous, for they saw fit to set free Father Sheehy, a
step which it is difficult to believe they would have taken if
they considered the country to be seriously disturbed. Yet,
before the release of Father Sheehy, Mr. Parnell had received
in Dublin the greatest tribute of popular enthusiasm that had
been accorded to any Irish leader since the days of the Libe-
rator. He bad been attending meetings in the country. He
returned to Dublin one night towards the end of September.
He was met at the station by an enthusiastic crowd bearing
torches, and was drawn through the Dublin streets to the
Land League offices in Sackville Street. From the windows of
these rooms Mr. Parnell and Mr. Sexton delivered speeches to
the vast excited audience, y>4io choked the whole of Sackville
Street; and on the speeches made that night part of the Govein-
ment case was afterwards made to rest. Yet it was after this
demonstration and after those speeches that the Government
thought j)roper to set Father Sheehy at liberty, although they
must have known that he was scarcely likely to remain quieter
after his experiences of a prison than he was before he entered
it. Is it to be credited that the Government considered the
country to be seriously disorganised and disturbed, and yet
deliberately let loose among such elements of revolution an
agitator who was doubly popular, and therefore doubly danger-
ous, because he was a priest, and was regarded by the people
as a martyr? Father Sheehy at once commenced a vigorous
crusade against the Government, and his entry into Cork, in
company with Mr. Parnell, resembled a Roman triumph.

For a while after the session came to an end there appeared
to be a lull in political excitement. The session had been so
stormy, that it was not unnaturally hoped that it might l)e
succeeded by a lengthened period of repose. One or two bv-
elections took place, without any marked result upon the condi-
tions of parties. Even political foes as well as fi-iends were not
displeased when Mr. James Lowther returned to the Parlia-
mentary field as member for North Lincolnshire. His majority
might be a matter for Liberal regret, for it ran to 471 ; but if a


Tory -vrere to be returned at all, why, then Mr. James Lowther
■was not unwelcome. He had not been a very successful Chief
Secretary for Ireland under the late Government, because his
genial indifference to the cares of office, and light-hearted con-
tempt for official routine, were not calculated to render him a
shining success in perhaps the most difficult post in the Admin-
istration. But as a free-lance he was known to be excellent.
His humour and his good-humour lent an air of piquancy to
his most glaring schemes of obstruction, which robbed them of
half their horror, and his bitterest attacks upon his opponents
were delivered with a schoolboy bonhomie which prevented
them from being offensive even when they were most annoyiug.
Few people seemed to enjoy the fun of political life more
heartily than Mr. James Lowther, and for the sake of an
assembly that wanted all the light-heartedness it could get,
Mr. Lowther was welcomed back to "Westminster. In North
Durham Sir George Elliot was returned in the place of the late
Colonel Joicey, a Liberal. In Cambridgeshire, Mr. J. R.
Bulwer, Q.C., was elected without opposition in the room of
Mr. Kodwell, Q.C., who had resigned. In the county of
Tyrone, in Ireland, there were three candidates in the field
rendered vacant by the appointment of Mr. Litton to a land
commissionership — Mr. Dickson, a Liberal, Colonel Knox, a
Conservative, and Mr. Rylett, a Land League candidate. Mr.
Dickson came to the head of the poll by a large majority. Mr.
Dickson had been in Parliament before, but had been thrown
out at the General Election, which returned his son to Parlia-
ment with the proud distinction of being the youngest of its
uicmbers. Mr. Dickson the younger had little moi^e than
barely come of age when he was returned to Parliament.

On Monday, September 19, 1881, General Garfield, the
President of the United States, died. He had been fired at
some weeks before by a crazy assassin named Guiteau, and had
lingered for a long time, with varying hope of recovery. The
assassination of the Czar Alexander 11. in March had caused
great horror in England ; the death of Garfield created a pro-
found sense of regx*et. Seldom, perhaps, has the death of the


chief magistrate of one country been recognised with so many
public evidences of sympathy and sori-ow in another country.
On the day of the funeral, many persons in London, who were
not American citizens, Avore some sign of mourning in their
dress, and in all the principal streets the shops displayed
emblems of mourning. There was something especially tragic
about the death of a brave soldier, an able man and statesman,
by the hands of a semi-insane mui'derer, for whose crime no
possible reason or shadow of a reason could be alleged. The
murderer Guiteau was put on his trial. National patience
has rarely been more sorely tested than that of the American
public was, during the course of this protracted case, by the un-
seemly conduct of the unhappy wretch who had fired the shot.
The highest praise is but their due for the quiet patience with
which they endured all, and gave the murderer eveiy privilege
that the law allowed him. Months after Garfield was in his
grave the trial was concluded, and Guiteau was executed.

Up to this time nothing new had taken place in Ireland.
The convention had been held, and had passed off quietly. Mr.
Parnell had spoken in Cork and Dublin ; the Land League was
advising the tenant farmers to wait for the submitting of their
cases to the land courts until the test cases of the League had
been decided ; the Land League itself was in full activity, and
seemed more popular than ever. Suddenly a series of events
took place with great ra})idity, which were more startling in
their character than anything that had preceded them. Early
n October Mr. Gladstone entered upon what was called his
Leeds campaign. It was, in point of fact, a campaign against
the Irish Parliamentary party, and against Mr. Parnell in
particular. On Priday, October 7, 1881, Mr. Gladstone was at
Leeds receiving an address from the Mayor and town council,
and he made a speech. This speech was remarkable for the
manner in which it singled out a political ojiponent for all the
energy of Mr. Gladstone's powers of attack. Mr. Gladstone
began by replying to the Conservative taunts over their victory
at Durham. In Durham the victory had been won, it Avas
said, by the Irish vote, and Mr. Gladstone at once turned to


the Irish question. After declaring that the condition of
Ireland for generations, perhaps for centuries, its prosperity
and happiness, or its loss of all rational hope of progress, de-
pended upon its reception of the Land Act, Mr. Gladstone pro-
ceeded to draw a contrast between the conduct of politicians
of the school of 1848, like Sir Charles Gavan Duify, and even of
some advanced men of to-day like Mr. John Dillon, with the
conduct of Mr. Parnell and his followers. Sir Charles Gavan
Duffy was delighted with the new legislation ; Mr. John Dillon,
rather than attempt to plunge his country into disorder by
intercepting the operations of the Land Act, had withdrawn
from politics ; while Mr. Parnell, in carrying out his policy of
j)lunder, was doing his best to arrest its action. ' Mr. Parnell,'
said Mr. Gladstone, slightly confusing his Scripture history in
the vehemence of the moment, desired ' to stand, as Moses
stood, between the living and the dead, but to stand there not,
as Moses stood, to arrest, but to spread the plague.'

Such a speech, made at such a time, natur-ally created the
greatest excitement. Lord Salisbury attended a meeting at
Newcastle-on-Tyne on the following Tuesday, in which he
pointed out humorously that Mr. Gladstone was unjust to
Mr. Parnell. ' When Mr. Gladstone complains that Mr,
Parnell has deserted him, I think he forgets that it is mainly
due to the organisation over which Mr. Parnell presides that he
is now Prime Minister of England. . . . Mr. Gladstone's com-
plaint of Mr. Parnell for preaching the doctrine of public
plunder seems to me a strange application of the old adage that
Catiline should not censure Cethegus for treason.' In such
terms the head of the Opposition bantered the head of the
Government; but in Ireland the speech aroused rejilies that had
little spirit of banter in them. At a meeting in Wexford on
the Sunday following Mr. Gladstone's speech at Leeds, Mr.
Parnell delivered a speech of vehement attack upon the Prime
Minister. It was a curious duel of words, unlike anything that
English political life had been accustomed to ; a Prime Minister
levelling a bitter personal attack upon a political opponent, and
the opponent retorting in terms of equal fierceness. Mr. John


Dillon was not behindhand in replying to the Prime Minister,
Mr. Gladstone had held him up as an honourable contrast to
the conduct of Mr. Parnell, and Mr. Dillon angrily and scorn-
fully repudiated the compliments of the Prime Minister. He
had not, he assured the Prime Minister, retired from politics to
allow free play to the Land Act. On the contrary, he deeply
regretted that he had not been able to stand between his
country and the Land Act altogether.

Mr. Gladstone's speech had aroused the greatest excitement
in Ireland, and indeed in England too. People felt that such a
pronouncement could not have been uttered merely 2'>our rire —
that something more was to come of it ; and something more
came. A few days after Mr. Parnell and Mr. Dillon had replied
to the attack, the Government replied by a veritable co2ip d'etat.
A descent was made upon all the prominent Land League
leaders in Dublin on Thursday, October 13. Mr. Parnell was
arrested in Morrison's Hotel, and conveyed to Kilmainham
early in the morning. Mr. Sexton, M.P., Mr. O'Kelly, I\I.P.,
Mr. Dillon, M.P., Mr. O'Brien, and jMr. J. P. Quinn, secretary
of the Land League, were arrested in rapid succession, and con-
veyed to Kilmainham Prison. Warrants were out for Mr.
Biggar, Mr. Healy, and Mr, Arthur O'Connor, Mr, Biggar
and Mr. Arthur O'Connor got over to England, Avhere Mr,
Healy was, and orders were conveyed to them from their leader
not to return to Ireland to certain arrest, but to remain in
England, v/here they might be useful in keeping the agitation

These wholesale ai-rests startled the whole civilised world.
Continental countries, used to struggles with revolutionary par-
ties, congratulated themselves on the discovery that England, the
proud mother of free nations, had her difficulties as well as they,
and could only meet them with the old methods. In England
itself the coio2) d'etat was received with satisfaction, almost with
rejoicing, by the generality of the supporters of the Government,
though it is hardly necessary to say that advanced Radicals liko
Mr. Jesse Collings, Mr, Thompson of Durham, Mr, Labouchere,
Mr. Storey, and Mr. Joseph Cowen did not share in this satis-

Jl 2


faction, and that the rejoicing was not unanimous even in the
Cabinet. Mr. Gladstone was present at an entertainment given
by the Corporation of the City of London at the Guildhall on
October 13. Mr. Gladstone made a speech which might be
regarded as the epilogue to his Leeds address. In the middle of
an eloquent appeal to the principles of law and order the Prime
Minister produced a telegram which he had just received, and
in tones of triumphant exultation announced to his hearers
the arrest of Mr. Parnell. The effect was curious. Had Mr,
Gladstone informed his audience of the conquest of some foreign
foe, of the successful conclusion of some long and hazardous war,
or the consummation of some honourable and long-looked-for
peace, his words could not have aroused a greater frenzy of
enthusiasm. Every man in the crowded hall sprang to his feet
and cheered till he could cheer no longer. ' Our enemies have
fallen, have fallen,' said Mr. Gladstone ; and the tumultuous
applause with which he was greeted from political opponents,
as well as political allies, must have assured him that he had
wrestled well, and overthrown more than his enemies.

Across the Irish Sea everything was confusion. Arrests
followed arrests ; excited meetings were held all over the
country; a Ladies' Land League, even a Children's Land League,
and a Political Prisoners' Aid Society strove to keep the agita-
tion alive ; there were slight riots here and there ; the Govern-
ment took the most elaborate precautious against a possible
popular rising. Suddenly the walls of Dublin ^vere placarded
by a proclamation calling upon the Irish people to pny no rent
while their leaders were in prison. . This document was signed
by Charles S. Parnell, President, Kilmainham Gaol ; A, J.
Kettle, Honorary Secretary, Kilmainham Gaol ; Michael Davitt,
Honorary Secretary, Portland Prison; Thomas Brennan,
Honorary Secretary, Kilmainham Gaol ; John Dillon, Head
Organiser, Kilmainham Gaol ; Thomas Sexton, Head Organiser,
Kilmainham Gaol ; Patrick Egan, Treasurer, Paris.

The No-Pent Manifesto was dramatically effective, but it
was not generally acted upon ; its framers can hardly have
expected that it would be. The clergy were entirely against it,


Even the most National of Irish ecclesiastics, Archbishop Croke
of Cashel, condemned it unhesitatingly. A general strike of
rent all over Ireland might have been a great political move if

Online LibraryJustin H. (Justin Huntly) McCarthyEngland under Gladstone, 1880-1885 → online text (page 15 of 38)