Justin H. (Justin Huntly) McCarthy.

England under Gladstone, 1880-1885 online

. (page 9 of 38)
Online LibraryJustin H. (Justin Huntly) McCarthyEngland under Gladstone, 1880-1885 → online text (page 9 of 38)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

December 29, 1880, one of the greatest novelists of the nine-
teenth century passed away. The impression that ' George
Eliot ' had made upon her age was profound and lasting ; to a
really large number of thoughtful people, men and w^omen, her
novels supplied not merely a philosophy, but a religion. The
tendency of her admirers to regard George Eliot thus as a
teacher and prophetess rather than as an artist and romancist, is
perhaps to be regretted because of the impression it produced
upon her later work. The devotees of the George Eliot cult
were inspired by an almost Bacchic frenzy of enthusiasm, ready
at all times to turn and rend, as Agave and her companions
rent Pentheus in the weird Cadmeian forest, any adventurer
bold enough to find any fault with the idol. All this was bad
for the idol, and its evil effects are painfully visible in her later
works. George Eliot was a great novelist as Thackeray and
Dickens and Jane Austen were great novelists. Her Tullivers
andPoysers and Bedes and iNIarners, even her fifteenth-century
Florentines, these are precious possessions in the illimitable
Avorld of fiction, rare and welcome presences in the cloud
country of romance. She was essentially a great novelist, a
wonderful delineator of certain kiuds of characters, an excellent
teller of a certain kind of story, a deep thinker in certain veins
of thought. The mistake of her admirers — of the admirers, that
is, who did not know what to admire her for — was to attempt
to make her a scientific ^Nloses the lawgiver, a feminine London
Socrates. As well attempt to reason out a system of domestic
ethics from the early verses of Mr. Swinburne, or to discover
the hidden principles of political government in the romances
of Charlotte Bronte. To George Eliot the story-teller, the
inimitable painter of character, let us be grateful with all our


hearts, as in the one case we are to the compilers of the
' Thousand and One Nights,' whose names have perished, or in
the other to the author of the ' Comedie humaine.' But to
George Eliot the Positivist, the scientific thinker, the expounder
of life-hxws and life-theoi"ies, we might have been grateful had
she written scientific treatises or vokimes on ethics, instead of
allowing these faculties to spoil her later stoi'ies. Let us, in-
deed, be thankful that in her list there are not many novels
like ' Daniel Deronda,' even while we regret that we have not
more like 'Silas Marner,' 'Adam Bede,' 'The Mill on the
Floss,' and ' Romola.'

Many striking names, if no other very great name, disappear
from the list of the living in 1880. Two belong to politicians of
widely different types. Lord Stratford de RedclifTe was a very
old man, ninety-two, when he died. The school of diplomacy
to which he belonged had practically passed away long before
him ; at least, all the conditions of diplomacy in the fields which
were peculiarly his own had altei'ed almost beyond recognition.
During his long career Lord Stratford de Redclifie was able to
render many valuable services to his country, and none more
valuable than that which he gave when he saw through the
Bussian schemes in the Vienna note of 1853. Lord Stratford
de Redclifle had the cui'ious fortune to win the profound
admiration of one clever literary man, and the profound dislike
of another. To Mr. Kinglake Lord Stratford de Eedcliffe was
scarcely less than inspired, and the historian of the Crimean
war writes of the ' great Eltchi ' as some enthusiast might
write of one of the Hebrew prophets. Mr. Grenville Murray,
the once renowned ' Boving Englishman,' saw no such merits
in the Constantinople ambassador ; he presented portraits of
him in his writings which resulted in something like a public
scandal, and in the withdrawal of Mr. Grenville Murray from
the diplomatic post he held at that time.

Lord Hampton was a statesman of a very different kind.
He was known as Sir John Pakington during that part of his
political career which had any importance, though his import-
ance was never very great, and was generally unfortunate for


his party. He was chiefly lemarkable for a genial alacrity in
accepting any office that might come in his way, without any
self-searchings as to his own peculiar capacity or incapacity for
the post. On only one occasion was he ever very conspicuously
brought before the eyes of his countrj'men, and that was in
1867, when his mai-vellous incapacity for keeping a secret told
the story of the Ten Minutes Bill, and revealed the whole of
the hidden history of the struggles of Mr. Disraeli and his
colleagues with the Reform qu'^stion.

Among the other eminent men who died diiring the year
perhaps Sir Alexander Cockburn was the most remarkable.
From the day of the fierce debate over Don Pacifico and Lord
Palmerston's policy of Roman citizenship in 1850, the career of
J\lr. Cockburn was a scries of successes. The speech he de-
livered in that debate Avas the brilliant preface to a brilliant
career. la a career that vf&s henceforward all of brightness,
one or two episodes shine out with special distinctness. One
was when he delivered his charge to the Grand Jury in the
historic Jamaica trials. Carlyle, with his characteristic hatred
of 'niggers,' might write from Chelsea to tell Alexander Cock-
burn that, far before and above the British law, there was a
martial law which privileged the white man to flog the dark
man and the dark woman, but the world Avill remember in Sir
Alexander Cockburn's charge one of the finest and most
eloquent defences of civil law against outrage and violence that
was ever deli veered from the judicial bench.

By the death of Mr. Tom Taylor, dramatic literature lost
a copious and creditable wi-iter. and Punch a conscientious
editor. Literature of a certain kind lost J. R. Planche, Pierce
Egan the younger, and W. H. G. Kingston, the boys' novelist.
Natural science suffered by the death of Mr Frank Bnckland,
who had earned honourable distinction as a naturalist, and
rendered good service to his country in his work as Commis-
sioner of Fisheries.

A career which had at one time seemed promising came to
a poor conclusion in this year. Dr. Kenealy, wlio had got into
the old Parliament as an advocate of the case of the 'Claimant,'


and as the representative of the Magna Cbarta Association, had
stood again for Stoke at the General Election and been de-
feated. He did not long survive his defeat. He was a man
of considerable natural abilities, who had at one period
promised to do well and to go far. In his youth he had
been an almost brilliant speaker ; he had a fair acquaintance
with a variety of languages, and could turn off clever trans-
lations and imitations that were not much inferior to those
of his witty countryman, Father Prout. He had written
verse which had nothing very remarkable in it, and had pre-
faced one of his efforts mth a dedication to Mr. Disraeli,
which might well have been called fulsome, and which was re-
called to Dr. Kenealy's disadvantage in after years when he had
made himself conspicuous by tlie offensive virulence of his
attacks upon his former hero. In the House of Commons he
was a complete failure. The showy oratory of his youth had
quite deserted him ; he was heavy, dull, and uninteresting. He
had entered the House of Commons with great announcements
of what he was going to do, and he did nothing He subsided,
and was almost forgotten before the General Election brought
about his defeat, and was followed by his death. His dispo-
sition was an unhappy one, which had always led him into
quarrels and dissensions, and had animated him apparently only
with an intense desire for notoriety of any kind, and at almost
any price. In his private and his public life he contrived for
a time to make himself conspicuous. He may be regretted for
his wasted life, and for the abilities which, had they been better
employed, might have earned him honourable and deserved



Early in its career the Ministry had a more serious difficulty
to encounter than the question of a member's right to affirm.
The new Ministry might without great exaggeration be said to


have scai'cely been in ofSce many hours before they were con-
fronted by the Irish question, and under conditions Avhich
rendered it especially difficult to deal with.

In order to properly understand the exact position of affairs
in Ireland at the moment when Mr. Gladstone took office in
1880, it is necessary to consider some of the events that took
place under the preceding Ministry, and even earlier. When
Mr. Gladstone went out of office in 1874, he had passed two
great Irish measures, and had tripped himself and his adminis-
tration up over a tliird. The measui-e which overthrew him
was the Irish University Education Bill ; the measures which
he carried disestablished the Irish Church, and created the Land
Act of 1870. "With the land question before the passing of
that Act we have here nothing to do. The Act had recognised
that there was need of reform in the Irish land system, and
it strove to effect that reform. The Land Act of 1870 en-
deavoured, first, to give the tenant some security of tenure ;
second, to encourage the making of impi-ovements throughout the
country ; and third, to promote the establishment of a peasant
proprietorship. It sought to further the first and second of
these aims by legalising the Ulster tenant right on farms where
it already existed, and by allowing compensation for disturbance
and for improvements to evicted tenants on farms where the
Ulster tenant-right system did not prevail. Up to this time
the Ulster tenant-right custom was not recognised by law, and
as it differed widely in different estates, it was not very easy to
define strictly. Eoughly speaking, however, it maintained, for
those who were bound to it by time and tradition, first, that
the tenant was not to be evicted so long as he paid his rent
and acted properly, his landlord having indeed the right of
raising the rent from time to time, though not so high as to
destroy the tenant's interest; second, that the tenant who
wished to leave his holding had a right to sell his interest in
the farm, subject to the landlord's consent to receive the new
purchaser as a tenant ; third, that if the landlord wanted to
take the land himself, he must pay a fair sum for the tenant
right. It may be fairly said that wherever the Ulster tenant-


right custom existed the relationsliiiD between landloid and tenant
were reasonably good. On estates where the custom of any-
thing like it did not prevail, the tenant had practically no rights
as against the landlord. The majority of Irish tenancies were
tenancies from year to year. These might at any time be
ended by the landlord after due notice. A comparatively small
proportion of tenancies were let on leases which gave the
tenant security of possession for a considerable period, so long as
he could pay the yearly rent, or the landlord did not press too
heavily for arrears. In neither case had the tenant any right
to claim on eviction compensation for disturbance, or for any
improvements he might have made in the land ; and in Ireland,
except on a few ' English-managed ' estates, the improvements
are always made by the tenants. In the yearly tenancies the
landlord had always the power of raising the rent when he
pleased ; in estates held on lease he could raise it at the expira-
tion of the lease, and, as a rule, the landlord or his agent always
did so raise the rent whenever the exertions of the tenant had
made the land of more value than when he had entered it.
Undoubtedly one of the reasons for the wretched condition of
so many Irish farms and ctibins was that the tenant feared, and
often justly feared, that the smallest sign of well-being, the
least evidence of improvement of any kind, would be taken by
the landlord or his agent as a sure sign that he might safely
raise the rent. Raising the rent was the one great dread of the
tenant. So great was the poverty of the average tenant, that
in many cases it was almost impossible to pay any rent at all,
and the prospect of having the existing rent raised was terror.
The Irish peasant is as a rule profoundly unwilling to emigrate.
He loves his land with a passion which defies starvation, and
he will make any sacrifices and run any risks to remain at
home. Of those who do emigrate, the majority always dream
of returning, and manj^ do return, to their native land. The
land is the love, but it is also the life of the Irish peasant. If
he remains in Ireland, he has nothing else to live upon, and he
is ready to take the land on any terms the landlord chooses to
make, trusting to- Providence to see him safely through with his


rent at the due time, or hoping that the landlord may be found
easy-going and unexacting. Fui-thermore, the Ii-ish peasant is
in his heart convinced tliat the land is reallv his ; that the
landlord to whom he pays his rent and the agent to whom he
touches his hat are alike, whatever their nationality, the repi-e-
sentatives of an alien rule, of a coercion Avhich is no conquest.

Evictions were the great miseiy of the peasantry. Evic-
tions were often for non-payment of rent, often because the
landlord wished to clear the ground, and was anxious to get rid
of his tenants whether they paid their rent or no. In the years
from 1849 to 1882 inclusive, the evictions have been on an aver-
age of more than three thousand families a year. The highest
rates of eviction were in 1849 and 1850, the two years imme-
diately following the rising of 1848, when the rates were
16,686 and 19,949 families in each year. The rate was at its
lowest in 1869, when the number of evicted families was
only 374. From 1865 to 1878 inclusive, the number of evic-
tions never got into the thousands; in 1879 they were over
1,000; in 1880, over 2,000; in 1881 and 1882, over 3,000.
The Land Act of 1870 did not lessen evictions, as gre;it
numbers of the tenantry in all parts of the country were in
heavy arrears of rent. In many estates it was practically com-
pulsory for the rent to be in arrears by a process known as the
hanging gale, by which the tenant had always a year's or half a
year's rent duo and hanging over him, thus giving him com-
pletely into the landlord's power as regarded eviction.

One of the objects of the Land Act of 1870 was to create a
peasant proprietary, through the clauses known by the name of
Mr. Bright. Something of the kind had already existed on a
very small scale. When the Irish Church was disestablished,
the Church Temporalities Commissioners Avere given the power
to aid occupying tenants of Church lands in purchasing their
holdings when it was wished. These tenants were allowed,
on payment of one-fourth of the purchase-money, to leave
three-fourths of the pui-chase-money on mortgage at four
per cent., the principal and interest to be repaid in half-
yearly payments, extending over a period of thirty-two years.


Nearly three-fourths of the tenants occupying Church lands did
in fact tlius purchase their holdings. It was -with the intention
of increasing such facilities for the purchase of holdings that the
Bright clauses were introduced. A landlord and a tenant
might come to an agreement under the Act hy which the tenant
could purchase his holding, and receive a Landed Estates Court
conveyance. The very fact, however, that a Landed Estates
Court conveyance is absolutely binding in. its character, and
gives its possessor an absolute title to the land acquired, to the
disregard of any subsequent claims that might be made after
the sale was eflfected, made the process a costly one. To prevent
any mistake in the transfer of the land, or injury to any third
parties, careful investigations had to be made, and elaborate re-
quirements gone through, all of which made the process of
transfer costly and troublesome. The expenses were often from
ten to thirty per cent, of the price of the farm ; in some extreme
cases the cost of the transference was very considerably greater
than the actual price of the purchased land. Moreover, the
tithe-rent chai'ges, quit-rents, and drainage charges, to Avhich
most Irish estates are subject, remained with the land instead
of being transferred to the money in. court, and were a fruitful
source of trouble to the new purchasers.

All these various conditions combined to make the working
of the Bright clauses far more limited and unsatisfactory than had
been intended by their framers. Thus the Act failed practically
to establish a system of peasant proprietorship on anj^thing like
an extended scale, or indeed on any scale large enough to judge of
its working by. It did not give the ordinary tenant any great
degree of security of tenure. It allowed him, indeed, the pri-
vilege of going to law with his landlord, but as in most cases
the tenant had little or no money, while the landlord could fight
out the case from court to court, appeal to the law was a privi-
lege of no great vabae to the tenant. The chief thing actually
accomplished by the Act was the legalising of the excellent
Ulster custom.

The passing of the Land Act, instead of settling the Land
question in Ireland, was destined to give it a fresh impetus.


The year that saw it passed saw also the formation of an Irish
organisation which was to be the cause of bringing every phase
of the Irish question more prominently before the notice of
England than at any time since O'Connell, if not, indeed, since
the Union. On May 19, 1870, two months and a few days
before the Land Act became law, a meeting was held in Dublin
of representative Irishmen of all opinions, and of all political
and religious creeds. The object of the meeting was to form an
organisation to advocate the claims of Ireland to some form of
Home Government. The words ' Home Rule ' were used by some
one, and they became at once the shibboleth of the new party.

At the General Election of 1874 some sixty Irish members
were returned pledged to Home Rule principles, and to maintain
a separate and distinct party in the House of Commons, under
the leadership of Mr, Isaac Butt, an eminent Protestant lawyer,
who, in his yovith, had been strongly opposed to the O'Connell
movement. It is not necessary here to enter into any explanation
of the Home Rule demand. It is enough to say that a Home
Rule motion was annually brought forward by Mr, Butt in the
House of Commons, and annually outvoted. The more active
among the Home Rulers became dissatisfied with Mr. Butt's
leadership, and began to cast about for a new leade)'. They
found him in a young man who had been an unnoticed member
of the House for a year or two, ]\Ir. Charles Stewart Parnell.

Mr. Parnell was a Protestant, of English descent — he was
of the family of the poet Parnell, and of Sir Henry Parnell,
afterwards Lord Congleton, the reform ally of Lord Grey and
Lord Melbourne — a Cambridge man, of apparently Conservative
tendencies. In 1871, after some years of travel, in America
among other places, he settled down on his estate at Avondale in
Wicklow, within whose boundaries is to be found Moore's Vale
of Avoca with its meeting watei's. His first attempt to enter
political life was doubly a failure. He failed to get elected for
Dublin, and he broke down completely in his first attempt to
make a public speech. In 1875 he was elected for Meath, but he
attracted no notice in the House of Commons until 1877, when
he became the head of a small party of advanced Home Rulers


who endeavoured to prevent the introduction of Government
measures at late hours of the night by ingenious and systematic
obstruction. The Irish members did not invent obstruction.
It had been practised often before for special purposes by
Liberals and Tories alike. But they applied the method with
considerable ingenuity and consistence. The obstructionists
became popular in Ireland in exact proportion to their un-
popularity in the House of Commons. It was soon evident
that the Butt Gironde was being greatly embarrassed by the
IMountain party which was forming under the headship of
Mr. Parnell. The early obstruction was on English measures,
and was carried on often with the active support and co-opera-
tion of the more advanced members of the Liberal opposition.
One of the fiei-cest nights of obstruction was on the South
African Bill, when the Irish party were ably and energeti-
cally supported by the Radicals ; and not a few Englishmen
would now Avish that the obstruction had then been sufficient
to defeat that unlucky measure. Mr. Parnell, moreover, car-
ried many useful amendments to the Factories and Work-
shops Bill of 1878, the Prison Code, and the Army and Navy
Mutiny Bills. It may be faii-ly said that his efforts con-
tributed very appreciably to the abolition of flogging in the

Meanwhile all dispute or discvission with regard to the
leadership of Mr. Butt was settled by the death of Mr. Butt
himself in 1879, and Mr. Shaw was chosen leader in his stead.
]\Ir. Shaw became leader in difficult times. The land question
was coming up again. Mr. Butt shortly before his death had
predicted its reappearance, and been laughed at for his prophecy,
but he was soon proved to be right. The condition of the
peasantry was still very bad, their tenure of land precarious.
A new land agitation was inaugurated by a new man. Mr.
Michael Davitt was the son of an evicted tenant. He had
lost his arm while a boy in a machine accident in Lancashire.
When a young man he joined the Fenian movement, was
arrested, and sentenced to fifteen years' penal servitude. Seven



yeai'S later he was let out on ticket of leave. During his im-
prisonment he had thought much of the means of bettering the
condition of Ireland, and had come to the conclusion that by-
constitutional agitation, not by force of arms, the improvement
could be best accomplished. Mr. Davitt went to America,
planned out there a scheme of land organisation, and returned
to Ireland to put it into practice. He found the condition of
the Irish peasant very wretched. For three years the harvest
had been going from bad to worse, and there was danger of a
serious famine. Mr. Davitt and his friends organised land
meetings in various parts of Ireland ; the new scheme was
eagerly responded to by the tenant farmers in all directions.
In October 1879 the Irish National Land League was formed.
Mr. Davitt and some other Land Leaguers were prosecuted for
speeches made at some of the land meetings, but the prose-
cutions were abandoned. Mr. Parnell went to America to
raise funds to meet the distress ; the Lord Mayor of Dublin,
Mr. E. D. Gray, M.P., raised a fund at home, so did the
Duchess of Marlborough. The Government passed certain
relief measures. The severity of the famine was stayed, but
neither the Goveimment nor the public and private relief was
able to prevent a great amount of suffering. Such was the
condition of affairs in Ireland when Lord Beaconsfield wrote
his letter to the Duke of Marlborough, in which he attacked
the Liberal party for their compromises with Irish faction and
disaffection. As we have seen, the Irish vote in England was
in consequence given in almost every case to the Liberal
candidates. In Ireland the Home Rule party were largely
increased, and in the party itself the section that followed
Mr. Parnell were soon found to bo numerically the strongest.
At a meeting in Dublin Mr. Parnell was formally chosen
leader of the party in the place of ]Mr. Shaw ; and in the House
of Commons the Parnellites, as the advanced party of Irish
members were now called, took their seats on the Opposition
side below the gangway, while the moderate Home Pulers
under the direction of Mr. Shaw ranged themselves on the
Liberal benches.


The new Irish party which followed the lead of Mr. Parnell
has been often represented by the humourist as a sort of
Falstaffian ' ragged i-egiment,' and its members as rivals of
Lazarus in the painted cloth, to whom the mere necessities of
civilised life were luxuries, to obtain which they would follow
any leader and advocate any cause. From dint of repetition this
has come to be almost an article of faith in some quarters.
Yet it is curiously without foundation. A large proportion

Online LibraryJustin H. (Justin Huntly) McCarthyEngland under Gladstone, 1880-1885 → online text (page 9 of 38)