Justin H. (Justin Huntly) McCarthy.

England under Gladstone, 1880-1885 online

. (page 3 of 38)
Online LibraryJustin H. (Justin Huntly) McCarthyEngland under Gladstone, 1880-1885 → online text (page 3 of 38)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

publishing ' Endymion,' he made one of his characters, Walder-
share, become Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs, with a chief
in the House of Lords. Waldershare declares that in these
conditions he is * master of the situation ; ' and he is anxious to
form a gallery of the portraits of all the great men who in theii'
time had been Under Secretaries for Foreign Affairs, Avith chiefs
among the peers. There could be no doubt as to whom Lord
Beaconsfield had in his mind when he wrote those lines. Sir
Charles Dilke had just become Under Secretary for Foreign
Affairs ; he had a chief in the Upper House, and he was
certainly 'master of the situation.' Sir Charles Dilke was
obviovisly pleased to be Secretary of State, and he played the
part with all the enjoyment with which Sulpice Vaudrey, in
Jules Claretie's clever novel, ' M. le Ministre,' enjoyed the
sensation of finding himself Minister of the Interior. Not
quite ten years before, Sir Charles Dilke had been one of the
best abused men in England. He was an open and avowed
Republican. Republicanism is not an ungi-acefid addition to
the attractions of a clever young politician with a comfortable
income. The well-to-do Republican can assume to himself all


the picturesqueness of a Camille Desmoulins, or a fiery intrepid
St. Just, without incurring the slightest suspicion of being
spurred into a democracy by a desire for a livelihood. Eabagas
is a rowdy who haunts humble cabarets, but the Phrygian
cap of liberty sits becomingly enough on the forehead of Lord
Magnus Charters, and Eepublicanism with ten thousand a year
generally ceases to be obnoxious. Yet Sir Charles Dilke suc-
ceeded in making his Republicanism and himself exceedingly
obnoxious to a very large number of people. It was not that
Sir Charles Dilke's Republicanism was so very red : it was red
rather by contrast than sanguine-hued of set purpose. But when
Sir Charles Dilke first came prominently into public notice,
the rise and fall of the Paris Commune had frightened a good
many people in England into alarm at any kind of democratic
agitation. There had been a decided growth of Republican
feeling in England before the Commune ; there was an equally
decided reaction and falling oft' after the Commune.

Sir Charles Dilke had made himself conspicuous by going
about the country and delivering stirring speeches of a more
or less Republican kind, and attacking the way in which the
income and allowances of the Crown were spent. There were
generally rows, and occasionally broken heads at his meetings,
and he was called 'citizen Dilke,' and made fun of in theatres
and by newspapers, and was denounced in drawing-rooms, and
worshipped in working men's clubs. His opponents practically
challenged him to repeat in the House of Commons what he
had been saying in the country, and he at once accepted the
challenge. In March 1872 he brought forward a motion in
the House of Commons for inquiring into the way in which
the money of the Crown was spent. Sir Charles Dilke said
what he had to say quietly and composedly, and the House
listened to him with wonder and anger, and he was replied to
very bitterly by Mr. Gladstone. The Prime Minister brought
all the force of his eloquence and his invective to bear upon the
young member. He attacked him with as much bitterness as
Walpole could have used to some Jacobite Shippen, scheming
to overthrow the monarchy altogether. He seemed to point


him out to the House and to the country as an object of scorn
and indignation. "When he sat down, leaving the object of his
assault apparently alone and without a friend, Mr. Auberon
Herbert rose. Mr. Auberon Herbert was a young politician
of good family and advanced ideas, to whom at ordinary times
the House was pi-epared to listen ; but it was not prepared now
to listen to what Mr. Auberon Herbert had to say, for Mr.
Herbert had risen to support Sir Charles Dilke, and to avow
himself, too, as a Republican. The House of Commons lost
its head completely; it howled and yelled, and shouted at Mr.
Herbert. The long-forgotten cockcrow rang its shrill clarion
through the din of the chamber, making itself audible above
the bellowings of respectable country members, and the
shrieks of startled supporters of the jMinistry. Mr. Herbert
held his ground, but he could not obtain a hearing. The
Speaker, usually so authoritative, could not calm the House;
his appeals for order wei-e as vain as the kingship of Knut
against the waves of the Channel, or the mop of Mrs. Partington
against the waters of the Atlantic.

That night Su* Charles Dilke's unpopularity reached its
height ; from that night he began slowly but surely to become
popular once more. He never put himself forward again so
markedly as a Republican, and he gi-adually became a favourite
among those politicians who like, with Zenobia, to know rising
young men who will probably become Cabinet ministers. At
the very time when Sir Charles Dilke was most unpopular,
in those March days of 1872, a political observer predicted that
in ten years Sir Charles Dilke would be an under-secretary.
The prediction overleaped its time ; in eight years Sir Charles
Dilke was in a Ministry ; in ten years he was destined to be
in the Cabinet. In opposition Sir Charles Dilke distinguished
himself especially by his profound knowledge of foreign politics.
He let Republicanism alone for the time. Some people said
that he found that Liberty's red nightcap could be worn
just as well under the arm like a crush-hat as plucked de-
fiantly forward upon the forehead. In reality, no doubt. Sir
Charles Dilke saw that the time was not come for revolutionary

THE NEW men: 25

display ; that the democratic cause advanced best in England
by being left to itself. No one was surprised when Sir Charles
Dilke became a member of the Gladstone Ministry ; one or
two were surprised that he consented to remain out of the

Of Mr. Bright, as of Mr. Gladstone himself, it is not neces-
sary to say much. It is curious, however, to note the difference
that time had made in his political position since the days when
he first took office, as President of the Board of Trade, in 1868.
Then Mr. Bright was looked upon as an extremely advanced
politician, whom it was at least venturesome if not reckless to
admit into a Cabinet. In the twelve years that had gone by
the tone of English Badicalism had altered greatly. The
Radicalism of 1868 was but the Liberalism, even the Whiggism,
of 1880. Mr. Bright, indeed, had never been by nature a very
Radical politician. He was much less of a Radical than his
friend Cobclen, for example. He had become associated with
some great measures of reform, which were far in advance of the
general political feeling of the time in which they were intro-
duced. But he was very far from being an advanced Radical, or
from being in sympathy with advanced Radical projects which
involved great changes. There was always a very strong Con-
servative element in Mr. Bright's nature, even in the days
when he was denounced by his opponents as a revolutionary
demagogue. Now, however, his place in a Liberal Cabinet
seemed reasonable ; no one felt any alarm about that. It was
the younger men, the advanced Radicals, the Chamberlains
and Dilkes, who were stirring up public action and party alarms
by their advances vipon a Cabinet where Mr. Bright's presence
was, if anything, regarded as a pledge of safety against the
impetuosity of youthful and ardent Radicalism.

Mr. Fawcett was one of the most remarkable men in the
Administration. "Weighted at the very beginning of his man-
hood by a misfortune that might well have paralysed his hopes
and withered his ambition, he met his calamity with a patient
resolution which may fitly be called heroic. He made up his
mind to go on in the career he had marked out for himself in


spite of his terrible affliction. He was fortunate indeed in
having the worldly means which allowed him to pursue without
privation, and without the anxiety of poverty, the path he had
chosen in the days before his darkness. But he was still more
fortunate in the possession of a mind strong with that proud
patience which the gods are said to love — calm, fixed, and reso-
lute. He met one of the deepest misfortunes that can befall any
man with a lofty resignation, but he did not resign himself to
despair or to inaction ; he determined still to live an active and
a useful life, and he kept his purpose well. Before he entered
the House of Commons he had won an honourable name as a
political economist. In the House of Commons he soon rose
to eminence ; his inflexible independence of thought prevented
him from ever becoming that poorest of political creations, the
mere party man. His leaders soon learnt that they could never
count upon passive obedience or tacit submission from his eager
and energetic spirit ; his mouth always spoke from the fulness
of his heart ; he was always on the side of what he believed to
be honest and just and honourable, without a thought as to the
result of his attitude upon the temper of a minister or the num-
bers of a division lobby. On Indian affairs, in the complex
ramifications of Indian finance, he showed himself to be an
especial master. Long before Mr. Fawcett entered the House
of Commons the days had gone by when all debates on Indian
affairs were conducted by a few officials and one or two special-
ists or crotcheteers in a deserted chamber. Debates on India
had come to command universal attention ; men of all parties
and moods made it their business to study India and harangue
on Indian questions. Among the best informed of these Mr.
Fawcett soon rose to distinction; but he never became, as
many men have become, so fascinated by the wealth and variety
of subjects which are included in the one word ' India ' as to lose
his interest in, or his grasp over, other topics. Conspicuous for
his variety of information on Indian questions, even among
Indian specialists, he never became a mere specialist himself,
never became absorbed in one set of political problems to the
exclusion of all others. "When it was made known, therefore,


in 1880 that Mr. Fawcett had been chosen to fill the office of
Postmaster-General, most persons felt that a good choice had
been made, and that Mr. Fawcett woiald find himself as much
at home in the Post Office as he had been in the chair of Politi-
cal Economy in Cambridge. But it may be confidently asserted
that no one, even of Mr. Fawcett's warmest admirers and
closest friends, could have expected that he would win the signal
success which he has won in the first office that he ever filled
vinder the Crown.

The new Home Secretary was not the most popular member
of the new Government, even with his own party. His ability
was unquestioned, but certainly not his sincerity. People
charged him with want of political morality; hinted that
he fought neither for principle nor for party, but solely for
himself; that he was the adventurer of administrations. He
was never called a trimmer, as one of the most able writers in
the Liberal party called Mr. Forster a trimmer, but he was
quietly accused of want of conviction. He gave his services to
the Liberal party as a De Bracy or a John Hawkwood lent his
lances to king or kaiser. As far as the virtues of a free com-
panion went, he was of sterling service ; while all was going
well with the Ministry of which he formed a part, his bitter
speech and hard blows were always at the command of his chief.
But when the foi-tunes of the political war began to wane, then,
some said, it was no more safe to rely upon him than it would
have been to trust to a condoUiere when the money was all
gone, and there were no tall towns to take. Men had not for-
gotten how, when the position of jMi\ Gladstone seemed low
indeed. Sir William Harcourt had turned upon his captain and
his comrades, and had delivered himself of what Mr. Gladstone
mockingly called 'portentous erudition ' on the Public Worship
Bill. He was whispered to entertain a very cordial dislike for his
leader, but he was essential to the Ministry all the same. There
was something of the Copper Captain, of the Alsatian Ti-ojan,
about his eloquence, which would have made Sheridan smile and
Burke shiver, but it was none the less exceedingly effective.
There were few men in the House of Commons who could be called


Sir William Harcourt's match in boisterous debate ; few men
who could stand against him when he was hitting his hardest,
and return him blow for blow undismayed. When he assailed
an opponent, he fell upon him with all his force, and literally
whirled him away. He had not the slightest skill in sarcasm,
and, to do him justice, rarely employed it; but in sheer invec-
tive he was unsurpassed, and, within the limits of parliamentary
discourse, almost unsurpassable. His thunder was not perhaps
the purest Olympian ; it was more like the clattering bronze of
Salmoneus, but it often frightened its immediate hearers as effec-
tually as if it had really rumbled from the sacred mountain. He
was a power in the House, therefore, and the minister who had
him in service felt safer. Nobody could smash an antagonist
more effectually ; nobody could be more noisily indignant,
more obstreperously virtuous, more loudly humorous. Some-
times he got into difficulties from not taking the trouble to
learn the intentions of a Ministry, and vociferated one line of
policy only to be instantly contradicted by some fellow-minister,
who had to assure the House that the Government meant the
very opposite of what the Home Secretary had been saying.
But nobody minded these mistakes much ; least of all the
Home Secretary himself, who lilied to make a rattling speech,
and be cheered by somebody, and cared very little for the effect
of his words five minutes after he had uttered them.

The new Chief Secretary to the Lord Lieutenant had
hitherto been a man of failures. His friends said that he had
never yet got the chance of showing his real ability as a states-
man ; his enemies hinted that he had already made the very
most of the abilities he was endowed with. Among his own
party Mr. Forster was not universally admired. Mr. P. H. Hill,
the author of ' Political Portraits,' perhaps the most remarkable
political satires since the Letters of Junius, is himself a distin-
guished supporter of the Liberal party. He has described Mr.
Forster as the most dexterous trimmer of his day, as the states-
man who has taken Mr. Facing-Both-Ways as his poHtical model.
* Like some barbarous tribes, who sacrifice to the evil spirit be-
cause they feel that the benevolence of the good spirit is theirs


already, Mr. Forster has neglected his Libei'al friends for his
Conservative adversaries. . . . The resentment which these
tactics have created is confined to a section of the Libei'al party.
The distrust which they have inspired is far more widely
spread, and, unless it be dispelled by a different line of conduct,
must affect for the worse Mr. Forster's political prospects and
career,' in spite of qualities ' which might insure Mr. Forster
a noble career, if he could unlearn his practice of manoeuvring
with his adversaries against his friends.' These words, written
in 1873, while Mr. Forster was still in office, give an excellent
idea of the estimation in which Mr. Forster was held by the
supporters of his own party a decade since. But one of the
most skilful strokes in this Political Portrait is where, dwelling
on Mr. Forster's histrionic ])owers, the writer describes him as
'the best stage Yorkshireman, whether in the parliamentary
or any other theatre, of his day.' This is an excellent presenta-
tion of Mr. Forster's character. His statesmanship is all stage-
play. His is the part of heavy vii-tue, and he rather overdoes
it. He has little tricks of manner, little bits of 'business,'
which are always being brought into his interpretation of what
a rough but honest minister ought to be. He is always
costumed, figuratively if not actually, as the bluff stage farmer,
whose word is his bond ; who may be rough indeed, but is
astoundingly honest. He is the ' Elephant ' of Scott's ' Count
Robert of Paris,' who has abandoned the garb of a Byzantine
stoic for the attire of a stage Yorkshireman. It is not difficult
to imagine Mr. Forster adapting to himself those lines in
Virgil's story which tell of the duty and destiny of imperial
Rome. Mr. Forster may whisper to himself that not for him
are the graces of one minister, or the Homeric culture of
another, the social distinction of a third, or the eloquence of a
fourth. For him, however, it is reserved to rule the world with
awful sway, to tame the pi'oud, to set free the fettered slave.
These are imperial arts, and worthy of the honourable member
for Bradford. Somehow or other Mr. Forster was not quite
equal to this exalted dignity. He was too anxious to have the
applause of the House. He was too eager to pose as the great


and good before both parties. He was not content with being
a prophet for his own country alone, and hence his ill-success.
Mr. Forster's own majestic way — majestic in the sense which
gave Henry VIII. the title of Bluff, and threw a curious lustre
over "William IV. — became too well kno-\vn in St. Stephen's.
He would begin generally by going on the lines of common
sense. He would put forth his own views with much display
of sturdiness, generally baiting them -s^-ith some ingenious
phrase that took a Tory cheer or two, and occasionally throwing
in a rough and ready joke of the farmer's feast order, to show
that thei'e is an element of dry humour lurking in his rugged
nature. "WTien this action did not produce its due effect, Mr.
Forster generally turned to the pathetic, seemed to lament a
world in which virtue is misprized, and in which the deeds of
men who love their land are harshly understood. Tired of
beholding desert a beggar born, and simple truth miscalled —
not, indeed, simplicity — he would imply that he was eager to
be gone fi'om all this, but that he felt that he could not leave
his love the Commonwealth alone. ]Mr. Forster was no less
happy in his imperious moods than in the pathetic. To beard
the lion in his den and the Douglas in his hall would appear
not half so desperate a deed as to cross Mr. Forster in this
most impressive part of his performance. All this was excel-
lent, very ' witty and comedy ' of its kind, but it seemed some-
how to lack sincerity. Nobody believed in it, either on Mr.
Forster's own side, which he had so often abandoned, or in the
Tory camp, whose sweet voices he had so often and so success-
fully solicited. He was applauded for his mimetic qualities,
not for his candour, nor his disinterestedness.

Mr. Mundella is one of the men to whom the Panglosses of
our political system are wont to point as a proof of the perfec-
tion of existing mode of government. He is their standing
reply to any complaints upon the inequality of a form of admin-
istration which is based largely upon the aristocratic principle.
Mr. Mundella, they urge eagerly, is not an aristocrat. He
does not belong to any of the old country families which are
in themselves an aristocracy. He is hardly an Englishman :


he began life very humbly ; he has worked his way up ; he has
won a political position j he is now in the Ministry. How,
therefore, can it be said that the English method of governing
is unequal in its distribution of political prizes % Without admit-
ting the validity of the argument, it may be at once admitted
that, in the existing condition of things, a Ministry is so much
the better which numbers Mr. Mundella among its members.
The peculiar circumstances attending his rise in the world have
happily saved him from a too complete subservience to anti-
quated routine. He brings with him into the Cabinet an ele-
ment of freshness of thought which is welcome. He is not a
Radical of the new school, it is true, but neither is he a Whig of
the old school. He represents, if only vaguely and faintly, the
new order, before which the old is rapidly giving way. He
has ideas and abilities beyond the proportion which have
hitherto been considered sufficing for many ministers of high
position under the Crown ; and as an example of the rapidly
decreasing section who formed what may be called the left
centre of the Liberal party, he possesses a peculiar interest of
his own.

Among the men of second-i*ate administrative ability, Mr.
Childers stood high, and Mr. Dodson low. Mr. Childers was
one of those sensible, steady-going, hard-working politicians
who are of considerable service in a Ministry formed after the
feshion of an English Ministry. He might alwavs be relied
upon to do reasonably well whatever work was set him to do ;
and though in the nearly twenty years that have gone by since
he first experienced office as a Lord of the Admiralty in 18G4,
he has not illuminated his record with any brilliant, or even
bright achievements, he has made no egregious blunders, and
few conspicuous mistakes. He is an eminently safe, if not
eminently interesting politician. Yet in comparison with his
colleague Mr. Dodson, who is endowed with verv much the same
kind of political virtues, j\Ir. Childers seems to rise to the level of
a Richelieu or a Colbert. Mr. Dodson is an estimable and
painstaking man, with a certain capacity for figures such as is
in all probability enjoyed by nine out of every ten clerks in the


kingdom. There is not the faintest reason why he should be a
Cabinet minister ; no arguments to support his claims can be
adduced from anything he has ever done, or from i-easonable
speculation as to what he is likely to do. He is simply one of
the anomalies of our constitutional system. The best that can
be said for him is that he is no worse than many others who
have, during the present reign, held high and responsible office ;
the worst, that he represents the traditions of respectable medio-
crity in an epoch when that tradition has become wearisome to
the temper of mankind.

Sir Henry James is, perhaps, a rather more successful man
than impartial students of political life had expected him to
be. * Le petit ira loin,' says a chaa-actcr in one of Balzac's
novels of another. ' C'est selon,' is the answer, ' mais il ira.'
Such a conversation, with Sir Henry James for its subject,
might very well have taken place when Sir Henry James first
appeared in political life. If the cautious observer could not
absolutely endorse the pi'ophecies of enthusiastic friends that
the representative of Taunton would go very far on the path-
way of Parliamentary success, he might safely admit that he
would certainly go some way. He has probably gone farther
than most persons would have been willing to predict. He is
an indispensable and valued member of any Liberal Govern-
ment ; he is excellent in opposition. Behind his bland exterior
and smooth sentences there is an acridity of attack, a pungency
of epigram which make him a redoubtable ally and a singulai'ly
disagreeable opponent. The Woman's Eights party have never
forgiven him for his barbed sayings about them, sayings
which cut, perhaps, all the more sharply for the faint feminine
element of spitefulness with which they were feathered. Yet,
curiously enough, there is something in Sir Henry James's
manner, at once caiessing and reassuring, familiar and yet
deferential, which vaguely suggests the ladies' doctor,

Mr Grant Dufl", on the other hand, has certainly not ful-
filled, or even nearly fulfilled, the promise of his youth. There
was a time when almost anything seemed possible for the
brilliant and highly cultured young man for whom destiny had


SO agreeably smootliened the road towards distinction. It is
difficult to say why Mr. Grant Duff's career is a disappointing
one. Whatever he has ti-ied to do — and he has tried many
things — he has done well, and sometimes excellently. He can
make good speeches ; he can write clever books. His ' Studies in
European Politics ' is probably not much read now. It is not
twenty years old, and yet the period of which it treats is
almost as much ancient history as the wars of the third
Thothmes ; the conditions of the political game then are as
different from the conditions of the game now as they were
from the conditions of the game as played by Pericles. Yet

Online LibraryJustin H. (Justin Huntly) McCarthyEngland under Gladstone, 1880-1885 → online text (page 3 of 38)