Justin H. (Justin Huntly) McCarthy.

England under Gladstone, 1880-1885 online

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' Studies in European Politics ' is in many respects a brilliant
book. It deserves to be read, if only as an example of the way
in which political question after political question may be
treated with a freshness and grace that can be called nothing
less than fascinating. One can hardly help thinking that if
Mr. Grant Duff had written more he miofht have made a greater
name. As it is, the part he plays is a small one. There are
still a few people who believe profoundly in Mr. Grant Duff,
who follow his utterances with anxiety, to whom he is indeed
Trophonius ; but their number is not increasing.

Lord Selborne Avas a much more prominent poHtician when
he sat in the Lower House as Sir Roundell Palmer. He had
been a Conservative, and he came over to the Liberal side of
politics, but he never seemed quite to belong to or be wholly
absorbed in the Liberal party, as he indeed shows by calling
himself to this day a Liberal-Conservative. At one time it
was the fashion to speak of him as one of the finest speakers
in the House of Commons, but the fame of his oratory has
greatly fallen away of late years. He had always the worst
defects of the Peelite school, all the faults of voice and manner
which the adherents of Sir Robert Peel seemed to consider
themselves bound to adopt together with the principles of their
leader. Sir Roundell Palmer always made his speeches in a
tone of voice which suggested that at any moment the emotions
of the speaker might prove too much for him, and he would



burst into a flood of tears. Lord Selborne is essentially a theo-
logical politician. He may be likened to a Church of England
version of Thackeray's Jesuit Father Holt disguised as a soldier.
Lord Selborne is a Church of England divine disguised as a
Lord Chancellor ; but his theology is not illiberal. He strongly
opposed the passing of the Ecclesiastical Titles Bill in 1851.
The predominance of the Churchman over the lawyer was
shown in him when he severed himself from Mr. Gladstone on
the question of the Irish Church, and seemingly cut himself
adrift from all possibility of political preferment. Virtue was
not all its own reward in his case. Events were propitious to
him, and entrustetl him with the Great Seal ; but while he has
always shown himself a skilful lawyer, a sound theologian, and
an honourable politician, he has never succeeded in proving
himself a statesman.

The Duke of Argjdl seemed a little out of his element in a
Cabinet which included INIr. Chamberlain, in a Ministry which
numbered Sir Charles Dilke among its members. "When,
thirty-eight years before, he had as a boy of nineteen taken
upon himself to lectui-e the House of Lords in his pamphlet
' Advice to the Peers ' he promised to be a very advanced politi-
cian indeed. For a time he kept up the character. He supported
Dr. Chalmers in the great Scottish Church question. In the
House of Loi'ds he distinguished himself for his impetuosity,
and for the irreverent indifference with which he assailed
established statesmen. The Duke of Argyll was undoubtedly
clever ; he made clever speeches, he wrote clever books on all
kinds of topics, he said clever things, he soon got into the
groove of office and kept in it, but he never quite justified
his early reputation ; and now in the new Cabinet he dis-
tinctly belonged to what might be called the reactionary

Lord Kimberley would have been described by Ancient
lago as ' a worthy peer.' He has always been holding high
offices, and has never made any great mark in any of them.
He has fulfilled his duties respectably; has never been con-
spicuous for genius or remarkable for any glaring blunders.

THE NEW men: 35

Like tlie members of the House of Lords in Mr. Gilbert's

' lolanthe,' he always —

Did nothing in particular,
And did it very well.

Ever since he began his career as Under Secretary for Foreign
Affairs, under Lord John Russell in 1852, he has regularly
been accommodated with office whenever a Liberal Government
has come into power, and he has always remained serenely indif-
ferent to any desire for distinguishing himself. The patient ox,
which by the borders of the Nile walks its unceasing circle in the
sahhieh that draws water from the river for the irrigation of the
fields, has as much ambition for the changeful life of the desert
camel as Lord Kimberley has to make himself in any way con-
spicuous among statesmen. Destined to be in office and in
opposition in stirring times, Lord Kimberley never condescended
to distinguish himself by any display of administi'ative talent
while in office, or statesmanship out of office.

One of the most remarkable episodes of the electoral cam-
paign was the conversion of Lord Derby. The conversion can
hardly be said to have been very sudden or very startling. For
some time it had been evident that Lord Derby was falling slowly
away from the faith of his fathers. When he resigned his
position in Lord Beaconsfield's Government, shortly before the
fall of the Tory Ministry, Lord Salisbury assailed him with a
savage vehemence, which he no doubt justified to himself by the
certainty that Lord Derby was leaving not merely the ]\Iinistry
but the party. It takes a very impetuous and unbridled
nature to allow a minister to compare with Titus Gates a man
with whom it may be necessary in future years to act in concert.
Lord Dei'by was an able and a conscientious man ; his warmest
admirers would never have called him a brilliant politician.
He was curiously unlike his father, still more curiously unlike
the great statesman from Avhom he fell away in 1878. His
mind was as free from passion or emotion, or any of what may
be called the artistic feelings, as if it had been the coldly logical
machine desired by some of our scientific men. His father was
as fond of scholarship — not very exact scholarship, indeed — as if



he had been a Fox or a Bolingbroke ; the son never showed
more affection for arts or letters than did the elder Walpole or
the younger Pitt, but he had a marvellous capacity for getting
up facts and figures and understanding statistics. The father
found time to translate Homer ; the son undei-took to prove to
the world that even a Tory lord might understand something of
political economy.

Lord Derby was a slow, ineffective speaker. Of poor de-
livery in his youth, he never really brightened into anything
even approaching eloquence. He pofsessed a curious power of
reducing everything, even the uncommon, to the commonplace,
eo that when he said, as he often did, things wise and sensible,
and even new, he invariably, or almost invariably, so clothed
and uttered them as to make them appear like the sheerest and
tritest truisms. He was frigidly methodical, drily, somewhat
drearily, accurate, with nothing about hitn to harass and perplex
his party and his partisans ; he could do what Disraeli could
never do, he could be intelligent and seem dull, and so in some
ways he was the very man the Tories wanted when he first
took ofiice under his eloquent, gifted, showy father. Once he
had shaken off the chains of office, he was felt to be drifting
day by day nearer and nearer to straightforward recognition
of Liberalism. At length came the letter to Lord Sefton
which announced what every one was expecting, that he had
definitely broken with the Conservatives, and had made up his
mind, ' however reluctantly,' to be known henceforward as a
Liberal peer. Kot a few of his former friends and followers
regarded him from that day as if he had really been the Titus
Gates that Lord Salisbury had painted. They forgot, or they
did not care to remember, that their own chief had been a
Radical, or had at least allowed others to think him a Kadical,
and that it is not always fair to consider the change of political
opinion the same thing as political apostasy.

Two other members of the new jMinistry have yet to be
mentioned, Mr. Hibbert and Mr. George Osborne Morgan.
Mr. Hibbert had been in ofiice before, the same office to which
he was now reappointed, that of Parliamentary Secretary to the


Local Government Board. The most remarkable event of his
political career is his connection with the Municipal Franchise
Act. Mr. Osborne Morgan is chiefly connected in the public mind
with the Burials Bill, but there was a time when he thought
moi-e of the laurel than the cypress. In his youth he cultivated
the Muses, not unsuccessfully, so far as the winning of a New-
digate pi-ize for verse can be called success ; but he soon aban-
doned poetry for the law, and it is not likely that he has ever
regretted his choice. Lucian once in a dream was wooed by
Art and Philosophy, to choose between them ; and the prudent
Greek ranged himself by the side of Philosophy, who seemed to
promise him the most comfortable existence. It is not probable
that Mr. Osborne Morgan would have added much to the
poetry of his century. At least, there is no certainty that he
would do so assured in the opening lines of his ' Settlers in
Australia ' : —

"\^Tio that has wandered by the ocean shore,
His full soul echoing to the wild waves' roar,
Feels not their spirit as a thrilling bond
Luaking his fancy to the worlds beyond ;
Till his rapt thoughts, exulting, yearn to stray
With the wan billows glimm'ring far away ?
Earth has her barriers, but thou, mighty Sea,
Bidd'st man be one, divisionless, like thee.

It is not very easy to imagine Mr. Osborne Morgan now
desirous of wandering by the ocean shore, and allowing his full
soul to echo, or his rapt thoughts to stray. Certainly a youthful
ambition to be divisionless is most unfortunately answered by a
manhood passed largely in the division lobbies of the House of
Commons. But although Mr. Osborne Morgan has forsworn
the Muses, it is possible, if not very likely, that he sometimes
sighs for the recreations of his youth, and dreams of fashioning
a madrigal or hammering out an ode when his more immediate
business is the drafting of a measure or the emendation of a
clause. But if any such ideas ever harass him, he allows no sign
of it to appear in his demeanour. There is as little display of
poetry in Mr. Osborne Morgan's language as there is of eccen-
tricity in his garb.




Parliame^'t met on Thursday, April 29, and the House of
Commons re-elected Mr. Brand as Speaker. The next few days
were devoted to swearing in the members. A ceremony which
invariably takes several days was destined on this occasion to
prove less monotonous and more momentous than is usual,
and to beget a ' question ' which was destined to be a torment
to the Government all through their career, and the cause of
several severe Ministerial defeats. Among the new members
returned to the House of Commons by the general election was
]Mr. Charles Bradlaugh as one of the representatives, in com-
panionship with Mr. Henry Labouchere, of Northampton.
Mr. Bradlaugh's had been a strange and strenuous career. He
was born poor ; he had educated himself ; he fought against
many diiliculties, and overcome them. He had been a jii'ivate
soldier ; he had been in a solicitor's office ; he had been the
editor of free-thinking newspapers. He had made a sort of re-
ligion of free-thought, and went about preaching it everywhere,
often at great personal risk to himself, always with aggressive
hostility to religious belief in general and the Christian belief
in particular. He was connected with the struggle for Italian
independence ; he was on terms of intimacy with many of the
leaders of the Fenian movement of 1867 ; he played a prominent
part in the agitation which led to the Hyde Park meetings and
the passing of the lieform Bill of 18GG. He had tried unsuc-
cessfully before to enter Parliament. He was undoubtedly au
orator of gi-eat ability and power. He represented a large body
of opinion in England politically as well as philosophically. He
was well known to entertain objections to taking any oath
which implied belief in Christianity, and in his many struggles
with the law he had fought this point again and again. Natu-
rally the greatest curiosity was felt as to the course he would


pursue when he entered the Commons' chamber. On Monday,
May 3, Mr. Bradlaugh came to the table of the House of
Commons and handed a paper to the chief clerk, stating his wish
to be allowed to make affirmation instead of taking the oath in
the usual manner. This he claimed the right to do under the
Parliamentary Oaths Act. The Speaker threw himself upon
the judgment of the House, and Lord Frederick Cavendish rose
and moved the appointment of a select committee to inquire
into the case. Sir Stafford Northcote approved of this com-se.
The Government were destined to be unlucky in every stage of
this qiiestion. AVhen the House met again on Wednesday, the
5th, Lord Richard Grosvenor brought down no small indigna-
tion from the Opposition by proposing to add to the select com-
mittee the names of men who at the time were not members of
Parliament. The names were those of ministers who had to
stand again after taking office ; and though there was every
probability of their re-election, still they were not members of
the House, and there was at least the possibility that they might
not be members. There was some wranglmg over this point,
and at last the House was adjourned till the following Monday,
when due notices of the names could be given, and the com-
mittee formed on the following day. On the Tuesday Lord
Richard Grosvenor moved his committee. It was vigorously
opposed by Sir Henry Wolff, who maintained that until the
Queen had explained the cause of calling Parliament no business
beyond the swearing in of new members and the issuing of new
writs could be entertained. In asking why the Government
were in such a hurry he hit at once the weakness of the Ministry,
They did undoubtedly seem far too much in a hurry, far too
eager to ' rush things.' A sharp debate followed, but the
Government carried their point, and the committee was nomi-
nated. The committee was composed of Mr. Walpole, its
chairman, Sir Gabriel Goldney, Major Nolan, the Attorney-
General, the Solicitor-General, Mr. Watkin Williams, Sir
Henry Jackson, Mr. Serjeant Simon, Mr. Whitbread, Mr. John
Bright, Mr. Massey, Sir John Holker, Mr. Grantham, Mr.
Staveley Hill, Mr. Pemberton, Mr. Hopwood, Mr. Chaplin, Mr.


Beresford Hope, and Lord Henry Lennox. The committee
decided against Mr. Bradlaugb, though, only by the casting vote
of the chairman. The committee decided that Mr. Bradlaugh
did not belong to the class of persons who, like Quakers and
Moravians, are exempted by law from the necessity of taking
the oath. The Government had no doubt hoped that the de-
cision of the committee would have been favourable, for both
its law officers voted in favour of the relief of Mr. Bradlaugh ;
the Opposition perhaps fancied that they would get rid of Mr.
Bradlaugh by the refusal.

After the committee had reported against Mr. Bradlaugh,
Mr. Bradlaugh declared himself ready to take the oath, came
into the House on May 21, and demanded to be sworn according
to the invariable custom. But the Opposition was ready for him.
Sir Henry Wolif interposed between Mr. Bradlaugh and the
Clerk of the House. He insisted that the House ought to
refuse to accept Mr. Bradlaugh's oath. The position was in-
deed perplexing. So far as we know, the whole records of
Parliamentary life do not aiford a single precedent for refusing
to allow a member to take the oath. The circumstances of the
case itself, however, were without precedent. Mr. Bradlaugh
had previously objected to take the oath. His claim to be
allowed to affirm in Parliament, as he had been allowed to
affirm in law courts, implied that the oath was not binding
vipon him. Moreover, Mr. Bradlaugh had issued a manifesto
after the refusal to allow hira to affirm, in which he declared to
the world and to the city that the oath contained unmeaning
words, and the like. "What was to be done % The best that
the ingenuity of Parliament could devise was to suggest the
formation of a new committee to consider this new feature of
the problem. A committee was accordingly formed which,
after much deliberation, came to the conclusion that Mr.
Bradlaugh could not be allowed to swear, but hinted that it
would not really be a bad plan to let him affirm, and take
whatever legal consequences, if any, would fall upon him by so
doing. Perhaps of all the ways of getting out of the difficulty,
this was about the worst. The House had first refused to


allow Mr. Bradlaugh to affirm ; now it was proposed that lie
should be allowed to affirm as an interesting experiment in
political and legal science, while a be^vildered senate stood by
to see what happened. Such as the advice was, the Ministry
did not then decide to act upon it. Mr. Labouchere, Mr. Brad-
laugh's colleague in the representation of Northampton, met
the decision of the committee by moving on June 21 a re-
solution that Mr. Bradlaugh be allowed to affirm.

Mr. Henry Labouchere was one of the most interesting
men in the new Parliament. As his name implied, he was of
an old French family. Huguenots, who had settled in England.
He had passed his youth in the diplomatic service. He had
travelled widely, and had a profound acquaintance with men,
women, and manners in every capital of the world, from Con-
stantinople to Washington. A thorough man of the world in
that sense of the time-honoured phrase which means that the
man to whom it is applied has made himself perfectly acquainted
with all the weaknesses and follies of humanity, Mr. Labouchere
delighted to play the part of an easy-going, imperturbable,
suave-lived cynic. Had he lived in Athens under Alexander,
he would have been sure to make friends with Diogenes,
and would certainly have irritated the tubbed philosopher
beyond measure by the easy superiority and wider scope of his
own consummate disbehef in all that the 'dog' affif^cted to dis-
beheve. In the Rome of Nero he would undoubtedly have en-
chanted Petronius by what the arbiter would have called the
' curious felicity ' of his criticisms on humanity ; while even the
chronicler of Neronic Rome might have been surprised, if not
abashed, by the corrosive scepticism of his companion. Mr.
Labouchere had played many parts, and done many things, in
his varied career. He had been a diplomatist. He had been
a financier. He had been a politician of very advanced Liberal
politics in Parliament for a year, from 1867 till 1868. He had
owned theatres. He had gained great distinction as a journal-
ist by living in Paris during its siege, and sending really
brilliant descriptive letters about his expeiiences to the Daily
News, of which he was one of the proprietors. He was one of


tlie original founders of the World, when that herald of society
journals was started, and, after a while, he withdrew from the
World in order to start a society journal of his own. Truth is
one of the instances on record of a journal whose popularity and
existence depend entirely on one man. It is read wherever the
English language is spoken by people who are anxious to know
what Mr. Labouchere thinks of things in general. Often
enough, no doubt, utterances and articles are accepted as Mr.
Labouchere's with which he has nothing whatever to do ; but,
none the less, it may be taken as certain that Truth would be
as impossible without Mr. Labouchere's cool frankness and
demure, merciless cynicism as the Tatler woiild have proved if
Steele had handed it over to some dullard like the editor of the
True Patriot. Truth has been cruel, but it has been the terror
and the scourge of a crowd of swindlers, and charlatans, and
rascals ; and if the butterfly scandals of society have been
pinned on its pages, these pages have alrvaya been open to the
chivalrous defence of the oppressed, the \mpopular, the unjustly
j udged. Of all Ids various experimen s and experiences, that
of political life appeared to aflFord Mr. I abouchere the greatest
pleasure, for in 1874 he stood again for Parliament, and was
defeated. At the general election of 880 he stood again for
Northampton, and was returned at tht head of the poll. He
made himself at once the champion of his colleague's case. His
resolution that Mr. Bradlaugh be allowed to aflirm was sun-
ported by the Prime Minister ; it was rejected on June 22 by 275
votes to 230. Mr. Bradlaugh on the rollowiug day, "Wednesday,
June 23, presented himself at the table to be sworn. The Speaker
gravely informed him of the resolution iA the House, and called
upon him to withdraw. He claimed to be heard at the bar of
the House, and heard at the bai he accordingly was for the
firfjt, but not the last, time. After an eloquent speech, he once
more announced his intention of seeking to be sworn, and
advanced towards the table. The serjeant-at-arms touched him
on the shoulder, and Mr. Bradlaugh at once retired below the
bar, only to come forward once and appeal energetically, fi'om the
floor of the House, against the decision of the Commons. The


Speaker then, having done all that lay in his own power to do,
appealed to the House itself, and Sir Stafford Northcote moved
that Mr. Bradlaugh be arrested. The warrant was immediately-
made out, and Mr. Bradlaugh was confined at once in the clock

It was felt only too keenly, however, that the House had
gained nothing whatever by this step. They had only placed
themselves in a false position, from which, as a matter of fact,
they had to retreat almost immediately. They had indeed got
Mr. Bradlaugh under lock and key, but it was simply impos-
sible that they could keep him so. He was not in the least
likely to abandon the position he had taken upj his claim,
whether legally right or wrong, was one which had a gi-eat deal
of sympathy, not only in the country, but in the House itself.
There was nothing for it but to release Mr. Bradlaugh as soon
as possible from his confinement in the clock tower. Then the
Government took a curious step. On Thursday, July 1, Mr.
Gladstone introduced a resolution allowing any one claiming
the privilege to make affirmation instead of taking the usual
oath, the person so affirming to be subject to any statutory,
penalties if it were afterwards decided that he had broken the
law by the act. This lame resolution was adopted on division
by 303 to 249 votes, and gave Mr. Bradlaugh the right of
Avhich he availed himself on the following day to come to
the table of the House, make affirmation, and take his seat
as a member. In point of fact tlie Ministry, remembering
the ingenious advice of the second committee, had suggested
that Mr. Bi-adlaugh should be allowed to affirm at his own
risk, as it were. In other -s^-ords, they said, ' We will not
allow you to take the oath ; to affirm is probably illegal, but
we wUl allow you to affirm, and see if any one will sue you
for so doing.' In this spirit the Government allowed Mr.
Bradlaugh to athi-m, and so for a season Mr. Bradlaugh found
himself really representing Northampton. An action, however,
was immediately brought against him to recover heavy penalties
for having sat and voted without previously taking the oath.
As the legal penalty is 500Z. for each offence and as Mr.


Bradlaiigh voted incessantly during his biief occupation of his
seat, the sum claimed from him rapidly assumed gigantic pro-

The Opposition can hardly be said to be to blame for all
this muddle. They were bitter over their big defeat; they
had seemed to be engaged in a hopeless struggle with the
great Liberal Ministry with its gigantic majority ; and lo, at
the very beginning of the session fortune put into their hands
an unexpected way of harassing their triumphant foes. On
the Bradlaugh question the quick-witted among the Tories saw
that the Liberal majority was unmanageable, could not be
counted on. The disheartened took courage ; the depressed
became animated ; they struck out at the Government, and
found that their blows told. It would be too much to expect
such an Opposition to forego the chance of revenge that one
election had thus afforded them. At least they did not, and
again and again in the history of the Parliament they were
able to strike at their enemies with tremendous effect whenever

Online LibraryJustin H. (Justin Huntly) McCarthyEngland under Gladstone, 1880-1885 → online text (page 4 of 38)