Justin H. (Justin Huntly) McCarthy.

England under Gladstone, 1880-1885 online

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stone — who had indeed openly avowed that they would never
again consent to take office under him — found the winter of their
discontent melting away under the glorious summer of suc-
cess, and showed themselves wdlling to waive their objections and
enrol themselves once more beneath Mr. Gladstone's banner.

At first the process of Cabinet-making went smoothly enough.
There was no difficulty in assigning the most important offices
to the most obvious men. Lord Granville, Lord Hartington,
Lord Northbrook, Lord Selborne, Mr. Childers, and Mr. Forster
were easily apportioned off. Then came the critical question of
the Radical strength. The Whigs as a matter of course did not
like the idea of any Radical element being allowed to mix in
the composition of the Cabinet. For them Mr. Bright, Mr.
Forster, and Mr. Gladstone himself were quite revolutionary
enough, and they wished to have nothing to do with the fiery
spirits below the gangway. Even Mr. Gladstone, while ready
to recognise the Radicals by giving them places in the Ministry,


was said to be unwilling to allow men as yet unti-ied in office to
enter the Cabinet at once. But the Radicals were determined
to have a representative in the Cabinet. Their leaders made a
resolute stand. Some one of their number — it did not much
matter which — but some prominent Radical must have a place
in the new Cabinet, or they would laiow the reason why. They
had a perfect right to make this demand, and to take their
stand upon it. In the years that had elapsed since Mr. Glad-
stone went out of office in 1874 Radicalism had been growing
more and more powerful every day. In Scotland, in the north
of England especially, Radicalism and not Liberalism was the
antafTonist of Conservatism. The Radicals of Birmingham, of
Manchester, of Newcastle-on-Tyne, and all the great towns of
the noi'th had learnt to organise, had become by organisation
the most powerful body of opinion in the country. Of these men
jMr. Chamberlain was the chosen captain. Sir Charles Dilke was
the champion in especial of the Radical working-men of London.
One or other of these two must be given a seat in the Cabinet :
so the Radical fiat had gone forth, and Mr. Gladstone could
not, had he been inclined, have affijrded to disregard that fiat.
The idle gossip of the hour, the many-tongued rumour that ran
during those eventful weeks through club-rooms and drawing-
rooms and editors' rooms, said that Sir Charles Dilke and Mr,
Chamberlain had joined their foi'tunes, had packed cards to-
gether, had entered into a solemn league with a seat in the
Cabinet for its object, and that each was pledged to support with
all the strength of his influence and his following the one who
should be chosen. Whether this were so or not, the strong
voice of Radicalism had declared that one of its two clnefs
should be chosen, and Radicalism was likely to have its way.

Sir Charles Dilke declined to accept any office unless some
representative of the Radical members below the gangway found
his way into the Cabinet. He himself suggested Mr. Cham-
berlain, as a man whom all the Radicals would be glad to
see chosen. There was a distinct pause in the process of foi-ma-
tion. Conference after conference was held ; at the clubs in-
tense excitement prevailed, rumour after r\imour in turn took


possession of tlie public mind. The excitement was well
warranted. The situation almost deserved the dignity of a con-
stitutional crisis. Were the Radical party already strong enough
with the country to be able to dictate to a Ministry and demand
a place in the Cabinet % It was soon shown that they were.
After some eventful days of expectancy and much going to and
fro of ambassadors from the two camps, it became known that
the Radicals had carried their point, and that Mr. Gladstone
had accepted the situation and offered Mr, Chamberlain a seat
in the Cabinet. It was judged wiser to risk offending the
Whigs than to reject the Radicals,

At last, in the end of April, the Cabinet was formed and
the Ministry completed ; so many ambitions had been gratified,
so many encouraged, so many more had been frustrated, Mr,
Gladstone took the two offices of First Lord of the Treasury
and Chancellor of the Exchequer, The Great Seal and the
Lord High Chancellorship were intrusted to Lord Selborne.
Lord Granville became Foreign Secretary, Sir William Har-
court became Home Secretary, Lord Hartington became Secre-
tary for India, Mr. Childers went to the War Office, Lord
Kimberley undertook the affairs of the Colonies, Mr, Bright
accepted the Chancellorship of the Duchy of Lancaster, Mr,
Foi'ster was made Chief Secretaiy to the Lord-Lieutenant, Mr.
Chamberlain represented Radicalism in the Cabinet as President
of the Board of Trade. The Duke of Argyll as Privy Seal,
Mr. Dodson as President of the Local Government Board, and
Lord Spencer as Lord President, of the Council completed the
roll of the Cabinet.

Outside the Cabinet, the most important members of the
Ministry were Sir Charles Dilke as Under Secretary for Foreign
Affairs, Mr. Fawcett as Postmaster- General, and Sir Henry
James as Attorney-Geneial. Mr. Grant Duff, a politician of
brilliant promise and scant performance, of wide information
which he seemed unable to turn to much account, of abilities
which would have made the fortunes of half a dozen other men
and of which he made little enough, was Under Secretary
for the Colonies. Mr. Adam, who had long been famous for


liis services as Whip to the Liberal party, sought I'est in the
Department of Public Works, only to weary soon enough of what
he called ' looking after flower-pots,' and, after seeking once
more fit service for his energies in the administration of
Madras, to die a too early death. Mr. Shaw Lefevre, an able
politician, who knew something more about land tenure than
most people, and was valued accordingly, became Secretary to
the Admiralty ; Sir Farrer Herschell was Solicitor-General.
IMr. Mundella undertook the education department as Vice-
President of the Council. One man whose name was con-
spicuously absent from the composition of the new Ministry,
Mr. Stansfeld, was absent, not by omission, but by his own
choice. His former services included him in the list of those
to whom pi'offer of .some place is inevitable, but the condition
of his health did not allow him to enter once more into the
harness of oflice. He remained outside the Ministry, and the
Government, as some sign of recognition of his ability and his
claims upon their consideration, afterwards nominated him as
a member of an important commission to inquire into the
working of the English land system.

Elevation to the peerage consoled or was expected to con-
sole some statesmen whom for various reasons it was not
convenient to include in the Cabinet, or even in the Ministry.
Eoremost among these was iMr. Lowe, who was sent to the
Upper House under the title of Lord Sherbrooke. Mr. Lowe
was a man of splendid gifts, profoundly cultured, a brilliant
and bitter speaker, of wide and original ideas, but he was
not a man whom it was easy for any statesman, or any body of
statesmen, to get on with. He was not to be relied on as an
invariable supporter of his chief ; he was crotchety, even eccen-
tric, in some of his views; and he was incapable of sacrificing
his own opinions, or abandoning his own ideas, to any one.
So his fiery light was allowed to shine fitfully in the House of
Lords — very fitfully and faintly indeed, for Lord Sherbrooke
appeared to find the company of the Peers oppressive, and
seldom roused himself to address them. Another and a very
different man, for whom a seat was found on the scarlet benches,


was Mr. KnatcLbull-Hugessen, now Lord Brabourne. Mr.
Knatchbull-Hngessen had earned some deserved distinction
outside the House of Commons as a writer of very graceful and
pretty fairy stories for children ; inside the House of Commons
he had not made himself very conspicuous. He would, it was
said, have much preferred a place in the Ministry to a peerage,
but he had to take the peerage. He was afterwards accused of
being ungrateful for the gift, of going out of his way as Lord
Brabourne to attack the chief he had served as Mr. Knatchbull-
Hugessen. A silly squabble arose much later in the journals as
to whether Lord Brabourne had or had not bound himself to
Mr. Gladstone by ostentatious place-hunting. One who professed
to know, writing under the name of an ' Old Whip,' said he had.
Lord Brabourne fiercely retaliated that he had not. In the end
the * Old Whip ' apologised. It was made clear that Lord Bra-
bourne had not rashly committed himself in writing. He had
been made a peer ; but a man is not supposed to owe any servile
gratitude to the Minister who gives him a title, at least not
since the days of Sir Robert AValpole. But Lord Brabourne
did undoubtedly become to the best of his ability a somewhat
hostile critic of Mr. Gladstone's policy. If any reasons other
ihan honest conviction need be sought for, perhaps being
shouldered out of the Ministry into the House of Lords might
aflford an explanation. Mr. Knatchbull-Hugessen thought he
was a statesman, and statesmen have not nowadays a very dis-
tinguished part to play in the Peers' Chamber.



The Prime Minister who had just triumphantly returned to
power might well be pardoned for a little human exultation over
his victory. Six years before, acting on an impulse of political
pique, he had dissolved Parliament and fallen hopelessly into
minority and the cold shades of Opposition, ISTot long before the
election Punch had a cartoon representing Mr. Gladstone as a


jockey urging his horse over the dangerous and difficult fence of
the Irish University Bill. When the rejection of the measure
had practically decided the fate of the Ministry, Punch completed
its allegory by another cartoon, in which the horse and its rider
lay thrown and prone on the other side of the hedge, with the
legend ' Come a cropper.' Mr. Gladstone had indeed come a
cropper. There is a story told in some of the Indian mythologies
of one of the gods who was flung by some superior deity so high
into heaven that though he has been falling down to earth ever
since, he has never j-et come back again. Conversely, Mr.
Gladstone was hurled so far down into the abyss of defeat that
for a time it seemed as if he would never scale his way to the
upper air and behold the stars again. For a while he still remained
leader of the Opposition. Then he suddenly took it into his
head to retire in a measui-e from public life. He had got in-
volved in a theological discussion with Cardinal Newman ; all
the fiery impetuosity of his nature appeared to be wholly
wrapped up in the questions of Catholic and Protestant dogma;
he announced that he would no longer lead the Opposition in the
House of Commons. Some younger man must be found for that
duty. His followers tried in vain to dissuade him ; and then
the younger man was found in the person of Lord Hartingtou.
The career of the eldest son of the Duke of Devonshire is a
remarkable instance of what dogged determination to succeed
in an ungrateful task may accomplish. A Roman gentleman of
the pre-Coesarian period, were he as wild as Catiline and his
companions, was sm^e to take a hand in the great game of
politics, Milo was. eager for his consulship ; Clodius took at
least as much trouble to get his pragtorship as to slip in among
the women at the Bona Dea ceremony. The young patricians
of the age of Anne and her Hanoverian successors took as
kindly to politics as to horse-racing, and duelling, and beat-
ing the watch, and making the ' grand tour.' But, unless
popular impression was even more mistaken than usual,
Lord Hartington did not take kindly to politics or to poli-
tical life. He had his own ideas of enjoyment; he was
very fond of horses and theatres, and o'her bright and lively


pleasures ; and he found, it was confidently asserted, the busi-
ness of political life a dreadful bore. No sign of this whispered
weariness was ever shown in Lord Hartington's political career.
He entered Parliament very young; he was early put into
the service of the State. Long before any minister dreamed of
offeiing a place in his ministry to Mr. Bright, Lord Hartington
had served his apprenticeship in the routine of office. A hard
apprenticeship it must have been. Lord Hartington would have
been infinitely happier, no doubt, if he could have passed his
time in his own way in more congenial pursuits than in reading
blue-books, and addressing Mr. Speaker. But he was the son
of a great Whig Duke, and the political Parcse had decided that
he must play a part in the statesmanship of England. He set to
work to learn his lesson with the same unswerving persever-
ance that he would no doubt have shov/n if he had been called
upon in duty to his House to become a soldier, or a sailor, or a
divine. For a long time he did not seem to possess any capa-
city for political life beyond patience. He was put through
grade after grade of ministerial office, without manifesting more
ability than nine out of eveiy ten members of the House of
Commons would have shown in his place. He was not at first,
nor for long enough, even a moderately good speaker. But he
had patience, and he had determination. Steady practice gave
him in the end a certain distinct gift of speech, not indeed elo-
quence, or pretending to eloquence, but a debating facility that
of late has approached to excellence in its kmd. Long, however,
before he had shown any skill as a politician, he had been
looked upon as a future leader of the Liberal party, because,
whatever his merits or defects as a statesman, he was the heir
of the Duke of Devonshire. But in 1874 he had already shown
sufficient signs of capacity to justify his party in choosing him
as their leader, even if he had more possible rivals in the field
than either Mr. Forster or Mr. Lowe. Lord Hartington be-
came accordingly the leader of the Liberal Opposition in tho
House of Commons, and led it very well. His position was. not
altogether an easy one. Mr. Gladstone, in spite of his pro-
claimed retirement from the fervid courses of politics, in spite



of his apparent absorption in theological argiimentation, was
not altogether a Hieronymus in Bethlehem. He came out of
his monastic retreat occasionally ; he laid down the Fathers
and took up blue-books ; he was scarcely less in the House of
Commons than of old, and he very often forgot that he had
abdicated the post of leader of the Liberal party. Few things
are more embarrassing to the leader of a pai'ty than the unex-
pected interference of an older and more influential politician
than himself; and of this emban-assment Lord Hai'tington had
his full share during the term of his captaincy. It soon be-
came recognised that Mi\ Gladstone had by no means gone into
the wilderness ; that questions of foreign and domestic polity
were still to the full as interesting for him as the subtlest argu-
ments deducible from the Council of Nicsea, or the weakest
points in the polemical armour of the Angelic Doctor ; that, in
fact, Mr. Gladstone was still actually, if not nominally, the
leader of the Liberal party. He gave very good proof of his
leadership at the time when the Beaconsfield Ministry was
declining to its fall, drifting from peace and honour to dispeace
in Afghanistan and dishonour in South Africa. Mr. Gladstone
made the famous Midlothian campaign. He went from town
to town speaking against the Government with all his eld elo-
quence and more than his old success. ' The pit rose at me,' a
great actor once exclaimed, exulting on the conclusion of some
great night of triumph. The country literally ' rose at ' Mr.
Gladstone. "Wherever he went he was greeted with enthusiasm,
with homage, with acclamation. Six years before, when he
talked in the driving rain to his Greenwich electors, and, emu-
lating the swan who dies in singing, composed his playful
verses about the Straits of Malacca, most persons thought he
had touched his zenith ; he appeared to have reached his nadir a
few years later, when he was hustled by a gang of jingo rowdies
in Cavendish Square, and had to take refuge — he and his wife
— from their brutal violence in the house of his friend Dr., now
Sir, Andrew Clarke. The Midlothian campaign seemed to
show that every one was wrong, that Mr. Gladstone had never
been so popular before ; the general election made it certain.


The most remarkable thing connected with the new Ministry
was the way in which the Liberal piqiiPAte had been strengthened
by an infusion of Radical grape-juice. The men below the
gangway were represented by Mr. Chamberlain in the Cabinet,
and Sir Charles Dilke and Mr. Leonard Courtney in the Min-
istry. Mr. Chamberlain was a remarkable type of the advanced
Eadical. He represented Birmingham in company with Mr.
Bright, who had at one time seemed so terrible a reformer in
the eyes of the steady-going politician, but whose Badicalism
showed wan and pale indeed by the side of the stronger colour
of Mr. Chamberlain's ideas. Indeed, of late, Mr. Bright
appeared little better than a Conservative by the side of the
tiery young men and advanced middle-aged men who were
guiding Liberal opinion in all directions, and Avho were now
climbing into the Ministry ; actually creeping into the sacred
core of the Cabinet itself to frighten Whig dukes with their
north country ideas and their ti'ansatlantic democracy. Most
of the real political strength of England lies now in the sturdy
northern manufactui-ing towns, which only came into political ex-
istence with the Reform Bill of 1832 ; and Mr. Chamberlain was
the recognised exponent of north country opinion.

Mr. Chamberlain was not in the strictest sense a very young
man when he first began to count as an influence in politics.
He was boi-n in 1836. He maybe said roughly to have floated
into the ken of those who watch the political heavens for the
appearance of any new planet in 1874, when he retired from the
business in which he made a fortune, and was for the first time
of thi'ee successive times elected Mayor of Birmingham. He
was forty years old before he first entered Parliament in the
June of 1876, but in our time and with our notions a man of
forty is a mere boy in political life, with practically all his career
before him. The diff^^erence between jjolitics and almost every
other human pursuit is one that lends a special attraction to
politics. At an age when a man in art of any kind hopes to
have made himself a name and reputation, or in commerce has
at least dreamed of retiring into private life and enjoying the
fruit of his labours, he finds himself fitted to begin the game



of politics from the laeginning with as fair a chance as if he were
a boy of twenty. No man becomes a poet or a painter who has
passed his third decade without shaping a sonnet or sketching a
haystack. Nor, except in the rarest cases, does the merchant
or the tradesman who has devoted some twenty years of man-
hood to one branch of commerce turn on the mid pathway of
his life to essay some other. Few men * wait till they come
to forty years ' to become soldiers or sailors, or to enter
the Church, or to study for the Bar. But in politics, in Parlia-
mentary life, the middle-aged man almost realises the wish of
the hero of Oliver Wendell Holmes' pathetic little poem, and
becomes a boy again, and goes to school with at least the possi-
bility of winning many prizes, and of climbing to the head of
his form. ]\Iere youth has perhaps never been of so little value
as in the successive parliaments of the Victorian age. Perhaps
it would be fairer to say that the term Youth has never received
a more liberal interpretation. INIr. Chamberlain, the success-
ful Birmingham manufacturer, with one career behind him,
entered Parliament to renew his youth, and to find a new and
far greater career before him. Mr. Chamberlain's appearance,
and something in Mr. Chamberlain's character, fostered the
general feeling of his youth. William of Orange was said never
to have been young, and to have sat at eighteen among the
fathers of the Commonwealth seemingly as old as the oldest
among them. Mr. Chamberlain, on the other hand, seems to
have something of perennial youth about him. He sits among
the fathers of the Commonwealth with a quiet au' of juvenility
which recalls the Arcadian days of Prime Ministers of one-and-
twenty, and youthful politicians smuggled surreptitiously into
the House before they had even attained their majority. His
face is young ; there is a youthful neatness in his attire, a youth-
ful pride in the rare flowers that bloom in his button-hole,
a youthful heat and impetuosity occasionally; all of which
combine together to bid defiance to time. For with all his
shrewdness and his tact — and Mr. Chamberlain is one of the
shrewde.'^t as well as one of the ablest of living statesmen — he
has occasionally given way to impulses of passion which seem


strangely out of accord with his habitual grave demeanour.
Before he ever entered the House of Commons he made a famous
attack upon Mr. Disraeli in which he accused him of mendacity
with a bluntness that is not habitual in English political dis-
cussion. For this, however, he afterwards apologised very much
as Lord Durham once apologised for a fierce attack he had made
upon the Bishop of Exeter. Like Lord Durham, Mr. Chamber-
lain had been tortured by domestic loss. Those who most re-
gretted the attack admitted that the apology only did Mr.
Chamberlain honour, and it may be not unsafely assumed that
the object of the attack was the very last to bear it in unchari-
table memory.

Once again, after Mr. Chamberlain had been for some time
a member of the House, he allowed himself in a moment of
political passion to break through his self-control, this time to
the horror of the graver and more solemn members of his own
party. It was during a memorable night of the memorable
flogging debates of the last Parliament. Lord Hartington, then
leader of the Liberal Opposition, was not going as far against
the Government as some of his nominal followers below the
gangway thought that he ought to go. Mr. Chamberlain j umped
to his feet, and in an angry speech spoke of Lord Hartington as
the ' late leader of the Liberal party.' The speech, and the
attitude of Mr. Chamberlain's companions, had the effect of
bringing Lord Hartington to take up the line of action desired
below the gangway, but its effects upon the minds of respectable
Whigs may be easily imagined. No doubt that it rankled in
many Whig minds when the Whig Liberals did theii- best in
1880 to keep the speaker out of the Cabinet.

During the compar-atively short time in which Mr. Chamber-
lain has been prominently before the world he has certainly
succeeded in winning for himself a very i-emarkable position.
There is a story told of him that once, some few years ago,
when he was travelling in Iceland with a brother Badical, who
was also a brother member, he got into talk with a schoolmaster
in one of the small Icelandic towns. The schoolmaster displayed
a considerable knowledge of English political life, and observed


that there was one rising politician whose career he was follow-
ing with great attention : could the travellers tell him anything
about this man ? his name was Joseph Chamberlain. The story-
is a fair illustration of the way in which Mr. Chamberlain has
succeeded in identifying himself with the purposes and the aspi-
rations of the Radical party. Swift once said of Bolingbroke
that he wanted something of the alderman to be a successful
statesman. Something of the alderman, using the word in its
best sense, in the sense which made an Athenian archon proud
of his archonship, there is in the character of Mr. Chamberlain.
It is the presence of this quality, this almost Hellenic feeling of
love for ' the city,' which won his way in Birmingham, and
raised him to the l&\dership of Englidi Radicalism. Ambitious,
masterful, profoundly politic, occasionally impulsive, he is at
the present moment one of the most interesting as well as one
of the most gifted of English representatives.

When Lord Beaconsfield, out of office, solaced liimself by

Online LibraryJustin H. (Justin Huntly) McCarthyEngland under Gladstone, 1880-1885 → online text (page 2 of 38)