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that lie behind them as yet an undiscovered country of grim and strange
possibilities.

[Sidenote: Lord Randolph.]

But the solid and united ranks of the Tories were broken by one figure
that was once the most potent among them all. I had been strangely moved
at a theatre, a week or so before, as I looked at Lord Randolph
Churchill. I remembered him twelve years ago - a mere boy in appearance,
with clean-shaven face, dapper and slight figure, the alertness and
grace of youth, and a face smooth as the cheek of a maiden. And
now - bearded, slightly bowed, with lines deep as the wrinkles of an
octogenarian, he sometimes looks like the grandfather of his youthful
self. It is in the deep-set, brilliant eyes that you still see all the
fire of his extraordinary political genius, and the embers, that may
quickly burst into flame, of all the passion and force of a violently
strong character. For the moment he sits silent and expectant. He has
even refused to take his rightful place among the leaders of the party
on the Front Opposition Bench. Still he sits in the corner immediately
behind, which is the spectral throne of exiled rulers. He has the power
of all strong natures of creating around him an atmosphere of
uncertainty, apprehension, and fear. Of all the many problems of this
Session of probably fierce personal conflict, this was the most
unreadable sphinx.

[Sidenote: Reaction.]

There came upon the House at the beginning of the following week a
deadly calm, very much in contrast with the storm and stress of its
predecessor. It is ever thus in the House of Commons. You can never tell
how things are going to turn out, except to this extent - that passion
inevitably exhausts itself; and that accordingly, when there has been a
good deal of fire and fury one day, or for a few days, there is certain
to come a great and deadly calm. Uganda is not a subject that excites
anybody but Mr. Labouchere and Mr. Burdett-Coutts; and even on them it
has a disastrous effect. Mr. Burdett-Coutts is always dull; but Uganda
makes him duller than ever. Labby is usually brilliant; while he
discoursed on Uganda he actually made people think Mr. Gladstone ought
to have made him a Cabinet Minister - he displayed such undiscovered and
unsuspected powers of respectable dulness.

[Sidenote: Still the seats.]

Nevertheless, there was still room for excitement and drollery in the
perennial question of the seats. Mr. Chamberlain is not a man to whom
people are inclined to make concessions; he is so little inclined to
give up anything himself; and, accordingly, there arose a very serious
question as to the first seat on the third bench below the Gangway,
which he had taken all defiantly for his own. He counted without one of
the oldest and most respected, but also one of the firmest, men in the
House. Mr. T.B. - or, as everybody calls him, Tom Potter - sits for
Rochdale; he was the life-long friend, and for years he has been the
political successor of Cobden in the representation of Rochdale, and he
is likewise the founder and the President of the Cobden Club. Every man
has his weakness, and the weakness of Mr. Potter is to always occupy the
first seat on the third bench above the Gangway. Everyone loves the
good, kindly old man, the survivor of some of the fiercest conflicts of
our time, and everybody is willing to give way to him. When the Liberals
were in Opposition, there was a general desire among the Irish members
to take possession of the third seat above the Gangway; and the first
seat has enormous advantages - tactically - for anyone anxious to catch
the Speaker's eye. But whenever the sturdy form of the member for
Rochdale appeared, the fiercest of the Irishry were ready to give way;
and from his coign of vantage, he beamed blissfully down on the House of
Commons.

[Sidenote: Strong, but Merciful.]

Mr. Chamberlain had the boldness to challenge what hitherto had remained
unchallenged; and Mr. Potter's wrath was aroused. He is not one of those
people who require the spiritual sustenance of the Chaplain's daily
prayers; and, accordingly, it was an effort to get down at three
o'clock, when that ceremony begins; but his wrath upheld him; and thus
it was that on a certain night, the thin form and sharp nose of Mr.
Chamberlain peered out on the House from behind the massive form of the
Member for Rochdale. It looked as if the unhappy Member for West
Birmingham had undergone a sort of transformation, and had, like Mr.
Anstey's hero in "Vice Versa," gone back to the tiny form and slight
face of his boyhood. Mr. Potter, however, is merciful, and having
asserted his rights, he surrendered them again gracefully to Mr.
Chamberlain; and the perky countenance of the gentleman from Birmingham
once more looked down from the heights of the third bench. It would take
Mr. Chamberlain a long time to do so graceful an act to anybody else.

[Sidenote: "Ugander."]

But on the Monday night nobody need have been very particular as to what
seat he occupied; for nothing could have been much more dull than the
whole proceedings. I make only one or two observations upon Uganda. And
first, why is it that so few members of the House of Commons can
pronounce that word correctly? Mr. Chamberlain, - if there be anything
illiterate to be done, he is always prominent in doing it - Mr.
Chamberlain never mentions the word without pronouncing it "Ugand_er_."
Mr. Courtney for a long while did not venture on the word; and therein
he acted with prudence. It is a curious fact with regard to Mr. Courtney
that when he first came into the House he had a terrible difficulty with
his "h's." In his case it was not want of culture, for he was a
University man, and one of the most accomplished and widely-read men in
the House of Commons. But still there it was; he was weak on his "h's."
He has, however, by this time overcome the defect. Mr. Labouchere talks
classic English; was at a German university; has been in every part of
the world; has written miles of French memorandums; has sung serenades
in Italian; and, if he were not so confoundedly lazy, would probably
speak more languages than any man in Parliament. But yet he cannot
pronounce either a final "g" or allow a word to end in a vowel without
adding the ignoble, superfluous, and utterly brutal "er." When he wishes
to confound Mr. Gladstone, he assaults about "Ugand_er_"; when the
concerns of our great Eastern dependency move him to interest, he asks
about "Indi_er_"; and he speaks of the primordial accomplishments of man
as "readin'" and "writin'."

[Sidenote: Sir Edward Grey.]

Ugand_er_ gave Sir Edward Grey his first opportunity of speaking in his
new capacity of Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs. There are some men
in the House of Commons whose profession is written in the legible
language of nature on every line of their faces. You could never,
looking at Mr. Haldane, for instance, be in doubt that he was an Equity
barrister, with a leaning towards the study of German philosophy and a
human kindliness, dominated by a reflective system of economics. Mr.
Carson - the late Solicitor-General for Ireland, and Mr. Balfour's chief
champion in the Coercion Courts - with a long hatchet face, a sallow
complexion, high cheek-bones, cavernous cheeks and eyes - is the living
type of the sleuth-hound whose pursuit of the enemy of a Foreign
Government makes the dock the antechamber to the prison or the gallows.
Sir Edward Grey, with his thin face, prominent Roman nose,
extraordinarily calm expression, and pleasant, almost beautiful, voice,
shows that the blood of legislators flows in his veins; he might stand
for the highest type of the young English official. He has not spoken
often in the House of Commons - not often enough; but he is known on the
platform and at the Eighty Club. He has the perfect Parliamentary style,
with its virtues and defects, just as another young member of the
House - Mr. E.J.C. Morton - has the perfect platform manner, also with
_its_ virtues and defects. Sir Edward Grey speaks with grace, ease, with
that tendency to modest understatement, to the icy coldness of genteel
conversation, which everybody will recognize as the House of Commons
style. This means perfect correctness, especially in an official
position; but, on the other hand, it lacks warmth. It is only Mr.
Gladstone, perhaps, among the members of the House of Commons - old or
new - who has power of being at once, easy, calm, perfect in tone, and
full of the inspiring glow of oratory.

[Sidenote: Pity the poor farmer.]

The agriculturists are not very happy in their representatives. A debate
on agriculture produces on the House the same effect as a debate on the
Army. It is well known that the party of all the Colonels is enough to
make any House empty; and a debate on agriculture is not much better.
The farmer's friends are always a dreadfully dull lot; and they usually
lag some half-century behind the political knowledge of the rest of the
world. It would have been impossible for anybody but the county members
to attempt a serious discussion on Protection or Bimetallism as cures
for all the evils of the flesh; but that is what the agricultural
members succeeded in doing on a certain Monday and Tuesday night. Their
prosings were perhaps welcome to the House; but it was a curious thing
to see an assembly, as yet in its very infancy, so bored as to find
refuge in every part of the building, except the hall appropriated to
its deliberations. Mr. Chaplin is always to the front on such occasions;
pompous, prolix, and ineffably dull. Mr. Herbert Gardner made his début
as the Minister for Agriculture, and did it excellently.

[Sidenote: Keir-Hardie.]

Mr. Keir-Hardie is certainly one of the most curious forms which have
yet appeared on the Parliamentary horizon. He wears a small cap - such as
you see on men when they are travelling; a short sack coat; a pair of
trousers of a somewhat wild and pronounced whiteish hue; and his beard
is unkempt and almost conceals his entire face. The eyes are deep-set,
restless, grey - with strange lights as of fanaticism, or dreams. He
rather pleasantly surprised the House by his style of speech. Something
wild in a harsh shriek was what was looked for; but the wildest of
Scotchmen has the redeeming sense and canniness of his race - always
excepting Mr. Cunninghame Graham, whose Scotch blood was infused with a
large mixture of the wild tribe of an Arab ancestress; and Mr.
Keir-Hardie - speaking a good deal like Mr. T.W. Russell - made a foolish
proposal in a somewhat rational speech. But he was unlucky in his
backers. The Liberal benches sate - dumb though attentive, and not
unamiable. Mr. Gladstone gazed upon the new Parliamentary phenomenon
with interest, but the only voices that broke the silence of the
reception were the strident tones of Mr. Howard Vincent, of Sheffield,
and Mr. Johnston, of Ballykilbeg. Now Howard Vincent is known to all men
as one of the people who speak in season and out of season, when once
they mount their hobby. The other day I heard of a bimetallist who was
so fond of discussing bimetallism that the railway carriage, in which he
went to town every morning, was always left vacant for him; nobody could
stand him any longer. Similar is the attitude of the House of Commons to
Howard Vincent. Fair Trade is his craze. He proposes it at Tory
Conferences - much to the dismay of Tory wire-pullers; he gets it into
the most unlikely discussions in the House of Commons; and all the world
laughs at him as though he were to propose the restoration of slavery,
or chaos come again. Poor Mr. Johnston only cares about the Pope, and
cheers Mr. Hardie simply as a possible obstruction to Mr. Gladstone.
Ill-omened welcomes these for a friend of Labour.

[Sidenote: Sir John Gorst.]

Sir John Gorst occupies a curious position in his own party. He is one
of their very ablest debaters; always speaks forcibly and to the point;
rarely makes a mistake; and has a wonderfully good eye for the weak
points in the armoury of his opponents. He was the really strong man in
the old Fourth Party combination; but somehow or other he does not get
on with his friends, and has been left without Cabinet office at a time
when many inferior men have been able to get ahead of him. He has a
cold, cynical manner; suggests usually the clever lawyer rather than the
sympathetic politician; and altogether seems at odds with the world and
with himself. He made a bold bid, however, for labour legislation;
placed himself in a different position from the rest of his colleagues;
and altogether made one of those speeches which are listened to in
amused curiosity by political opponents, and in ominous silence and with
downcast looks by political friends. Mr. Balfour's face was a study; but
it was a study in the impassibility which politicians cultivate when
they desire to conceal their hatred of a political friend. It is on the
same side of the House that the really violent and merciless animosities
of the Parliamentary life prevail. I should think that Sir John Gorst is
the object of about as bitter a hatred among his own gang as any man in
the House.

[Sidenote: Mr. George Wyndham.]

In the happily-ended coercion days, letters constantly appeared in the
newspapers, signed "George Wyndham." A certain flippancy and cynicism of
tone, joined to a skilful though school-boyish delight in dialectics,
suggested that though the name was George Wyndham, the writer was an
eminent chief. When at last Mr. George Wyndham made his appearance in
the House and delivered himself of his maiden speech, Mr.
Campbell-Bannerman - one of the wittiest men in the House, though you
would take him for a very serious Scotchman without a joke in him, at
first sight - expressed his satisfaction to find that there was such a
person as Mr. Wyndham, as he had been inclined to rank him with Mrs.
'Arris and other mythical personages of whom history speaks. Mr. Wyndham
is a tall, handsome, slight fellow - with an immense head of black hair,
regular features, hatchet but well-shaped face, and a fine nose, Roman
in size, Norman in aquilinity and haughtiness. He is a smart rather
than a clever man, but has plenty of vanity, ambition, and industry, and
may go far.

[Sidenote: Who said "Rats"?]

Mr. Jesse Collings has changed from a respectable Radical, with good
intentions and excellent sentiments, into a carping, venomous,
wrong-headed hater of Mr. Gladstone and all the proposals which come
from a Liberal Government. On the 8th of February, he gave an extremely
ugly specimen of his malignant temper, by complaining that there was no
care for the agricultural labourer on the part of a Government which has
undertaken the largest scheme of agricultural reform ever presented to a
House of Commons. This had the effect of rousing the Old Man to one of
those devastating bits of scornful and quiet invective by which he
sometimes delights the House of Commons. Jesse had spoken of the
proposals of the Queen's Speech as a ridiculous mouse, and thereupon
came the dread retort that mice were not the only "rodents" that
infested ancient buildings; the words derived additional significance
from the fact that, as he used them, the Prime Minister directed on
Jesse those luminous, large, searching eyes of his, with all their
infinite capacity for expressing passion, scorn, contempt, and disgust.
The House was not slow to catch the significance of the phrase, and
jumped at it, and yelled delightedly until the roof rang again.

[Sidenote: A tumble for Joe.]

This naturally called Joe, pliant creature, to the rescue of his beloved
friend. That, however, was far from a lucky week with Joe; he had begun
to look positively hang-dog, with baffled hate. He attempted to stem the
splendid tide of enthusiasm on which the Grand Old Leader was swimming
triumphantly, by stating that at one time Mr. Gladstone had separated
himself from Mr. Collings's proposals for the reform of the position of
the agricultural labourers. When anybody makes a quotation against Mr.
Gladstone, the latter gentleman has a most awkward habit of asking for
the date, the authority, and such like posers to men of slatternly
memory, and doubtful accuracy. I have heard several of the wonderful Old
Man's private secretaries declare that they had never been able to get
over the dread with which this uncanny power of remembering everything
inspired them - it was awe-inspiring, and produced a perpetual feeling of
nervousness - as though they were in the presence of some extraordinary
and incomprehensible great force of nature. It is rather unfortunate for
Joe that nature did not endow him with any bump of veneration, and that
he is thus ready to embark on hazardous enterprises, in which he oftens
comes to grief. When he made this quotation against Mr. Gladstone, the
Old Man at once pounced on him with a demand for the date and the
authority. Joe was nonplussed, but he stuck to his point.

But on the following day Mr. Gladstone got up and in the blandest manner
declared that he had since looked into the speech to which Mr.
Chamberlain had alluded, and he found that what he had really said was,
that Mr. Collings had been supposed to have advocated "three acres and a
cow" as a policy, and to that policy Mr. Gladstone had declared he had
never given his adherence. This was turning the tables with a vengeance.
Jesse grinned and Joe frowned - the rest of the House was delighted.

[Sidenote: Mr. Asquith.]

The Home Secretary delivered a speech, which in one bound carried him to
the front rank of Ministerial speakers. It was a triumph from beginning
to end: in voice, in delivery, in language - above all, in revelation of
character, it was an intoxication and a delight to the House of Commons.
He swept over the emotions of that assembly like a splendid piece of
music, and there was no room, or time, for reflection.

But there was an aftermath, and then it began to be hinted that it was
the speech of an orator and an advocate rather than of a Minister, and
that it was unnecessarily and unwisely harsh in tone; it uttered "no"
and a "never" - which are the tombs of so many Ministerial declarations.
The occasion was the motion of Mr. Redmond in reference to the release
of the dynamitards. Mr. McCarthy, though he strongly disapproved of the
motion, was forced to express regret that Mr. Asquith had closed the
prison doors with a "bang;" and one or two of the supporters and friends
of Mr. Asquith were also compelled to express their dissent, and to vote
in the lobby against him. But undoubtedly that speech has immensely
increased Mr. Asquith's reputation and strengthens his position. He is
one of the strong and great men of the immediate future.

[Sidenote: Obstruction, naked and unashamed.]

When the debate on amnesty was concluded, there came a climax to that
system of obstruction in which the Tories and the Unionists indulged
during the first fortnight; and there was indication of the growing
exasperation of the Ministerial and the Irish members. Midnight had
struck; and Mr. Balfour, on the part of the Tories, had the face to
declare that it was impossible, at such a late hour, to do justice to
the next amendment. As the next amendment dealt with the Gweedore
prisoners, and as the House has heard of little else but the Gweedore
prisoners for the last fortnight, the majority received this
announcement with a fierce outburst of impatience, the Irish Bench
especially being delighted at the opportunity of paying back to Mr.
Balfour some of the insults he had poured on them so freely during his
six years of power. Meantime, the Liberal temper had been roused to
still more feverish heat by the splendid news from Halifax, followed by
the even more unexpectedly good tidings from Walsall; and there was a
determination to stand no nonsense. But Obstruction was determined to go
on, and when it was two o'clock in the morning Sir William Harcourt
declared that he would not persevere further. There arose a fierce shout
of disappointment from his supporters and from the Irishry; but Sir
William beamed pleasantly, and the majority submitted to the tyranny of
the minority. And thus debating impracticable proposals, barely
listening to long speeches, doing absolutely nothing, the days
succeeded each other; and legislators who wanted work, longed for the
steady and mechanical regularity of their well-ordered offices, their
vast factories, their sanely-conducted communications with all parts of
the world, to which English genius, sense, and industry have brought the
goods of England. The contrast between the Englishman at business and at
politics is exasperating, woeful, tragic.




CHAPTER II.

THE HOME RULE BILL.


[Sidenote: I remember.]

When I saw Mr. Gladstone take his seat in the House of Commons on
February 13th, I was irresistibly reminded of two scenes in my memory.
One took place in Cork some twelve years ago. Mr. Parnell had made his
entry into the city, and the occasion was one of a triumph such as an
Emperor might have envied. The streets were impassable with crowds;
every window had its full contingent; the people had got on the roofs.
It almost seemed, as one of Mr. Parnell's friends and supporters
declared, as if every brick were a human face. Men shouted themselves
hoarse; young women waved their handkerchiefs till their arms must have
ached; old women rushed down before the horses of the great Leader's
carriage, and kissed the dust over which he passed. And, then, when it
was all over, Mr. Parnell had to sit in a small room, listening to the
complaints and most inconvenient cross-questionings of an extremely
pragmatical supporter, who would have been an affliction to any man from
the intensity and tenacity of his powers of boring. As I looked at poor
Parnell, with that deprecatory smile of his which so often lit up the
flint-like hardness, the terrible resolution of his face - as varied in
its lights and shadows as a lake under an April sky - I thought of the
contrast there was between the small annoyances, the squalid cares of
even the greatest leaders of men and the brave outward show of their
reception by the masses. And the other scene of which I thought, was the
appearance of Mr. Irving on a first night in some big play, say, like
"Lear." All the public know is that the actor is there, on the stage, to
pronounce his kingly speech; but, before he has got there, Mr. Irving,
perhaps, has had the sleepless nights which are required in thinking out
the smallest details of his business; perchance, the second before he
looks down on that wild pit, and up at that huge gallery, which are
ready either to acclaim or devour him, he has been in the midst of a
furious dispute about the price of tallow candles, or the delinquencies
of the property-master.

[Sidenote: Tired eyelids upon tired eyes.]

So I thought, as I looked on Mr. Gladstone. For there was that in his
face to suggest sleepless vigils, hard-fought fights - perhaps, small and
irritating worries. Before that great moment, there had been
consultations, negotiations, Cabinet Councils - perchance, long and not
easy discussion of details, settlement of differences, composure of all
those personal frictions and collisions which are inevitable in the
treadmill of political life. Yes; it was the case of the actor-manager
with the thousand and one details of outside work to attend to, as well
as the great and swelling piece of magnificent work for which the great
outside world alone cared - of which it alone knew. To anybody who knows
politics from the inside comes ever some such haunting thought about the
splendour and glory of popular receptions and public appearances. I must
confess that I could not get rid of that impression when I looked on Mr.
Gladstone on that Monday night. A deadlier pallor than usual had settled
on that face which always has all the beautiful shade, as well as the
fine texture of smooth ivory. There was a drawn, wearied look about the
usually large, open, brilliant eyes - that rapt and far-off gaze which is
always Mr. Gladstone's expression when his mind and heart are full.
There are two kinds of excitement and excitability. The man who bursts
into laughter, or shouts, or tears, suffers less from his overstrained
nerves than he whose face is placid while within are mingled all the
rage, and terror, and tumult of great thoughts, and passions, and hopes.
It struck me that Mr. Gladstone was the victim of suppressed excitement
and overstrained nerves, and that it was only the splendid masculine
will, the great strength of his fine physique, which kept him up so


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