AMONG the countrymen of Mr. Gladstone it will be long before even-minded views can be taken of his character, his genius, and his career. They will remember him as he appeared to them in the heat of passionate conflicts, like St. Michael in the eyes of one party, like Apollyon in the sight of the other ; and the good and great imperfect man that he was is little likely to be shown in truth to either. Nor will his work be justly measured or the spirit of his life revealed by cold criticism from Germany and France. More than other public men of our time he needs to be studied with a sympathy dispassionate but warm, and with an interest impartially keen. If such a study is possible anywhere, it ought to be possible in America, and the purpose of this article is to make the attempt.
On the side of both father and mother Mr. Gladstone was of purely Scottish descent: “ half Highland and half Lowland,” as stated by himself; half Celtic and half Teutonic, as the significance of the fact may be better expressed. His remote paternal ancestors were lairds of considerable estate, but the ancient stem had thrown branches into trade, and the statesman sprang from one of those. John Gladstone, his father, began life and commercial experience at Leith, but removed to Liverpool at the age of twenty-two, and entered, in the corn trade, upon a career of great success. He passed in due time to the front rank of the merchant princes of the rising city, and became a man of both weight and power, as much by the force of his character as by the measure of his wealth. When the oracles of Liverpool were questioned, as they often were, by heads of government and committees of Parliament, on matters of fact and policy touching finance and trade, John Gladstone was sure to be heard. His interests had passed far beyond the trade in corn. He was a sugar-planter, with great estates and many hundreds of slaves, in Jamaica and Demerara; he was an owner of ships; he had capital in banks, and varied ventures in many parts of the world. Nor did the powerful, pushing Scotchman confine the working of his energy to these moneygetting affairs. He was active and aggressive in the politics of the day, — conspicuous in the hottest fighting, and continually exposed to the roughest handling in local caricature and abuse. He came to Liverpool, it is said, a Presbyterian and a Whig. He had grown to be a Churchman and a Tory of the stiffest creed. Political distinction was beyond the reach of such talents as he possessed, but as one of the pillars of the party his standing was marked, and he received a baronetcy for reward. He sat in Parliament twice (elected in 1818 and 1820), not for his own city, but for more pliant boroughs at Lancaster and Woodstock, and had little to say or do in the great assembly, so far as can now be seen.
Apparently, Sir John Gladstone was a man of more force than fineness in the qualities that marked his character. Even seventy years ago the best of moral fibre could not reasonably be looked for in a British capitalist who drew profit from the labor of slaves. If the slaveowning of the elder Gladstone had been only a minor incident of his undertakings and kept in the background of his life, it might claim little notice ; but it took importance from its magnitude, and from the prominence of his opposition to all measures in behalf of the slaves. He maintained the discipline of the lash on his plantations to the last, and his great Demerara estates acquired a sinister notoriety in the abolitionist reports of the day. At the end, when compensated emancipation was decreed by the British Parliament, he received more than £75,000 for the slaves that had been solely his own, besides large shares of payment that came to him through his partnership in other estates.
To this thrifty and resolute Scottish merchant of Liverpool there were born four sons, of whom the youngest was William Ewart, so named after one of the father’s Scottish friends. The birth of William Ewart Gladstone occurred on the 29th of December, 1809. Before he reached the age of twelve he was sent to join two of his brothers at Eton, and from Eton he passed to Oxford in January, 1828, entering as a commoner of Christ Church. He came, no doubt, prepared by all the influences of his home, to accept the spirit of the university with a complete surrender to it of heart and mind. He had been reared in an atmosphere of political Toryism, the rank quality of which can easily be conceived. He was now brought into another of like kind, but more penetrating, because of the different elements, scholastic, ecclesiastical, and social, that were subtly distilled into it. Oxford was on the eve of the singular movement of Church revival to which its name was afterward given. The publication of the Tracts for the Times was not yet begun, but much of the feeling that inspired them must have been already in the air. It is true that Mr. Gladstone has said, in A Chapter of Autobiography, that when he resided in Oxford, from 1828 to 1831, “no sign of it [the Tractarian Movement] had yet appeared ; ” but where Newman was preaching, where Pusey was teaching, and where students like Henry Manning and James Hope (the Hope-Scott of later times) were his close companions, there must have been currents in motion around him that set strongly toward the channels of the agitation of 1833. At all events, it is certain that young Gladstone became inspired at Oxford with a passion of belief in and devotion to the Church. By nature he was strongly inclined, it is clear, to religious feeling, and to the attitude of mind which makes religious faith easy. But there cannot be a doubt that the influence of the university turned most of his natural religious fervor into a kind of passionate Churchmanship, which became the dominant strain in his conservatism, and the dominating force in his life for many subsequent years. To understand this principal and most powerful effect upon him from Oxford is nearly to understand Mr. Gladstone, and perhaps to obtain a key to the most puzzling parts of his career.
While everything in his history has gone to prove that he was formed by nature for the activities and contentions of public life, he felt at the university so strong an impulsion toward clerical duties that nothing but the strenuous opposition of his father, it is said, prevented his taking them up. Nevertheless, he prepared himself well, with the opportunities of Oxford, for his future parliamentary work. He was an excellent student, and grounded himself broadly in the learning which gave an endowment of relief to his laborious years. He made the most of the debating clubs, where he shone with a distinction that opened Parliament to him almost on the instant of his quitting the university, from which he bore away the high honors of a “ double first.”
If there was a Tory in England more petrified in his Toryism than any other, it was the Duke of Newcastle. Down to the middle of the year 1832 his Grace had owned, as he conceived, the parliamentary borough of Newark-upon-Trent, dictating the votes of his tenants, and sternly evicting them when they dared to exhibit political opinions of their own. But now his dictatorship in the borough was menaced most seriously by an intermeddling act. The great Reform Bill had been passed, and became law on the 7th of June, 1832, the year in which young Mr. Gladstone finished his studies at Christ Church. That act enlarged the suffrage in every borough, and it animated the independence of tenant voters everywhere. The Duke of Newcastle might still depend upon an influence in Newark too powerful to be easily overcome, but his past security was in doubt. He looked about for some young and ardent mouthpiece of the grim old political faith, whose eloquent, persuasive tongue might help to keep the householders of Newark in line. Young Gladstone was found to satisfy the ducal want, and he received an invitation to stand against a Whig nominee at the coming general election appointed to be held near the end of the year. He accepted the invitation without hesitancy, was duly elected by a considerable majority of votes, and took his seat in that first reformed Parliament of Great Britain which assembled on the 20th of January, 1833.
Here, then, he stood, at the age of twenty-three, — in the doorway of manhood, and yet on the threshold of a political career. Doubtless it seemed a happy fortune that opened Parliament and public life to him so soon, but assuredly it was not. No man of that age, when half the plantings of boyhood are still unripe in him, is prepared to give binding pledges to any party or creed ; least of all is one ready who comes fresh, like the Gladstone lad, from a conservatory culture of the Oxford sort. He needed some years for the maturing of his convictions as his mind matured, and he lost freedom for that. He was committed, — bound fast to the political dogmas of his father, of his university, of his patron the Duke of Newcastle, compelled to make a record on them to which the criticising future would never fail to point.
Nor was this the worst. Macaulay, in his trenchant way, has described the malign intellectual effect of an early cultivation of “the talent for debate.” “ We should sooner expect,” he says, “ a great original work on political science— such a work, for example, as the Wealth of Nations — from an apothecary in a country town or from a minister in the Hebrides than from a statesman who, ever since he was one-and-twenty, had been a distinguished debater in the House of Commons.” The moral mischief that proceeds from the same cause has been pointed out by Mr. Bagehot in his essay on Peel. Neither Macaulay nor Bagehot has overstated the hurt of conscience and mind to which a young politician is exposed, and especially when he enters the arena of parliamentary debate at an immature period of life. Mr. Gladstone was thrust into those dangers at the age of twenty-three. It is necessary to remember the fact, whether we conclude that he resisted and escaped them, or that he suffered by them and bore their marks. All this came upon him, moreover, at precisely the time when England was undergoing an extraordinary emancipation of mind. The passing of the Reform Bill was the breaking of a great dam. The floods were let loose. The old bounds and landmarks were being swept away. The old beaten paths of mental habit were being broken up. And behind it all was no mere weather - change in the British region of politics, but a tremendous historic readjustment of equilibrium in the moral atmosphere of civilization, bringing everything in the political world, and many things outside of it, into question and dispute. The reactions from the French Revolution were totally spent, and the re-reactions were moving mightily on. But the young man Gladstone, in the midst of the surge and tempest of such a time, alive to it, excited by it, in every fibre of his sensitive being, had been chained fast by the Duke of Newcastle to a stake in the sands ! Of course he had no consciousness of his state of duress. He felt free, when he pointed his lance in defense of ground which he could not desert if he would, but the duress was an unfortunate fact.
There was no lack of reformative work waiting for Earl Grey’s Ministry and the reformed Parliament of 1833. Nothing seemed to exist, in Church or State, that did not need to have wrongs, abuses, demoralizations, stupidities, or iniquities reformed out of it. The government and its mixed majority of Whigs and Radicals did their duty with resolution, driving measure after measure through the Commons, and generally through the House of Lords, while the Tory minority, under Peel, as valiantly, but vainly, opposed. Gladstone, of course, flinched from nothing in the opposition. He made his record, with his party, against a clearing out of obnoxious sinecures; against a restriction of flogging in the army; against a removal of Jewish disabilities; against reforming the Irish Church, to diminish its oppressiveness ; against admitting Nonconformists to the universities without a religious test; against an inquiry into the operation of the Corn Laws ; against shortening the seven years’ duration of Parliaments ; and, most notably, perhaps, against the immortal act which emancipated every slave in the British colonies on the first day of August, 1834. In opposing this latter measure Mr. Gladstone made his first important speech, taking ground, not against ultimate emancipation, for which he expressed an ardent desire, but against haste in the liberation of the blacks, demanding time for their preparation to be free.
In view of what came after, it was a curious record that he made in those first two years of his parliamentary life, and in no part more curious than in what related to the Irish Church. That Church was an Establishment for the religious satisfaction of about one tenth (then) of the people at whose cost it was maintained. It supported twentytwo bishops, with incomes amounting to £150,000 a year, and fourteen hundred benefices, endowed with £600,000 a year; in addition to which there was levied a “cess,” or tax, for its benefit, which yielded £60,000 or £70,000 more. The Ministry proposed to reduce the bishoprics to twelve, to abolish the Church cess, and to tax bishops and benefices for the sum needed to repair churches and meet similar needs. That Gladstone should oppose even a measure so moderate in its approach to common justice and common sense as this was a necessary consequence of the view of the Established Church that he had taken into his mind, and which all his opinions must be forced to fit. “ I do not hesitate,” he said, in speaking on the bill, — “I do not hesitate to say that I consider that Establishment to be essentially sacred in its nature.” As a sacred institution, he could not consent to the touch of a profaning hand upon it. So long as he held that view it determined his stand on all questions of Church grievance in Ireland, on all issues with Dissent in England, and on many questions besides. To loosen its hold on his mind would be to set him intellectually free in many directions and over a sweeping range of political thought.
The ministerial majority in Parliament was made up of incongruous elements that could not act together long. Parties on both sides, in fact, were in a transitional state. There were Whigs who found themselves brought into association with more radicalism, or political liberality, than they liked, and there were Tories who had begun to sicken of the rankness of the Toryism of old times. The name “Tory,” indeed, was losing countenance. Mr. John Wilson Croker, in 1831, had suggested the name “Conservative” as a substitute, and the new name was gradually expelling the old from common use, while “ Liberal ” was soon to obtain recognition as the naturally opposite term. In a slow but sure way, old Whigs too sharply driven and younger Tories too sharply curbed were getting ready, without knowing it, for an exchange of place. Meantime, both parties were shambling along in a loose, undisciplined way, hard to control. After several changes in his cabinet, Lord Grey resigned in July, 1834, and the Ministry was reorganized, with Lord Melbourne at the head. But in November King William, who did not love the reformers, thought matters among them were in such a state that he might venture to dismiss the whole Ministry, which he did in a summary way, calling Wellington and Peel to take the government in hand. Peel, who was in Italy, hastened home and assumed the lead. Among those whom he invited to subordinate places in his administration was Gladstone, whose great ability he had easily discerned. He made him UnderSecretary for War and the Colonies, but the honor was briefly enjoyed. Parliament had been dissolved, and the country appealed to. It resented the unconstitutional act of the King in throwing out a Ministry to which the majority in Parliament was still affording support, and it gave its decision against him. Peel, in a famous manifesto to his constituents at Tamworth, had vainly cut himself clear of the antique Toryism to which the bulk of his party adhered, proclaiming an open-minded disposition toward many reforms in State and Church. The Liberals were sent back with a renewed majority in Parliament. The stubborn Sir Robert held his ground against them until the 8th of April, when he had to resign, after defeat on a question concerning the appropriation of surplus revenues of the Irish Church.
King William was then compelled to receive Lord Melbourne again into the premiership, with Lord Palmerston in the foreign office and Lord John Russell in the leadership of the House. The strife of parties continued on much the same lines as before, with much the same state of imperfect combination among the elements of which the parties were composed. Irish questions were kept persistently at the front by O’Connell’s agitations, the great rock of difficulty being always the Irish Church. The Irish land question had not yet arrived within sight. Mr. Gladstone, who had been easily reëlected from Newark, stood fast by his old beliefs. Opposing the appointment of a committee to consider the burning question of Church rates, he went so far in his speech as to deny that the motive for resistance by Dissenters to the payment of rates for supporting a church in whose doctrines they did not believe was a scruple of conscience, entitled to be recognized as such.
On the 20th of June, 1837, the King died, and Queen Victoria came to the throne. Parliament was dissolved, as required by law, and the Melbourne Ministry, manifestly in favor with the young Queen, received approval at the ensuing election from the popular vote. But its moderate majority in the Commons was far from solidity still, and a formidable minority was led against it by Peel, whose party controlled the Lords. It had troubles to face in Canada, in Jamaica, and in Ireland. The difficulties beyond the Atlantic were sharply threatening, but there was sincerity in the disposition to cure their causes, and they were dealt with in a fairly effectual way. The troubles in Ireland were chronic, and nobody in power dared thrust his hand down to the roots of them. Destitution in the wretched island had become frightful, beyond the ability of words to describe. Instead of trying to purge the foul system of things, which paralyzed industry and made a starved population inevitable, the government framed an English-patterned poor law for the country, to ornament it with workhouses and to officialize the pauperization of its people. The taking of tithes from Roman Catholic peasants for a Protestant priesthood produced incessant rage and rioting, and the tithes were millions in arrears. Instead of extinguishing the intolerable wrong, as a pestiferous relic of hateful times, the government made provision for the conversion of tithes into rent charges, and paid part of the arrears to tithe-owners from public funds. Nothing in domestic matters was boldly or thoroughly done, nothing strongly, nothing with agreement in the ministerial ranks. Russell could control the shaping of measures in Parliament not much more than Peel. The strength of the latter grew, while that of the former was weakened, and at last, in May, 1839, the Ministry, in disgust with the situation, resigned. Then came the queer incident of the “ .Bedchamber question.” Peel, called to take the government, feared the disturbing influence of the Whig ladies who surrounded the Queen, and asked permission to make some changes in the household of her Majesty. The Queen refused consent, and Sir Robert withdrew from his undertaking. Lord Melbourne and his associates, with sore unwillingness, but gallantly, resumed the burdens of office, and struggled on for two years more, until the spring of 1841. Then a vote of want of confidence was carried against them, and they went to the country with a new appeal. This time they lost the verdict of the elections, and Peel came down to Parliament with a strong majority at his back. Again, and now quite as a matter of course, Newark and the Duke of Newcastle returned Mr. Gladstone to his seat.
The epoch of the Ministry organized under Peel in 1841 proved to be one of lasting importance in English history. The government had great problems to deal with, great difficulties to encounter, and its dependence was upon a party incapable of comprehending a problem or recognizing a difficulty when it rose. But the abilities and qualities of Peel were singularly fitted to the situation in which he found himself placed. For some time past he had been shaping his mind to the acceptance of changes in public policy from which there was no escape. It was an open and an honest mind, with great power in the practical application of principle to circumstance, but with no originality and no imaginative warmth. He got light on new questions in a very slow mode. He was no discoverer of the inward truths in politics, and was late in seeing them, after other open-minded men had found them and shown them to the world. But when the revelation did reach him, he received it in a fearlessly honest way. He had no weak carefulness for his own consistency. Again and again in his career he yielded himself to conversions which the smallminded have sneered at, which the impenetrable-minded have called treacherous, but which candid minds must greatly admire. We may doubt whether any other character in statesmanship could have been so useful to England as was that of Peel, during the period of extraordinary change in which he served it. With the remarkable hold that he had on the Tory party, through its utter inability to do anything in Parliament without him, his deep and strong conservatism on one side, and his slow but intrepid open-mindedness on the other, would seem to have had an equally great part to play in accomplishing reforms for the time without too much haste.
To serve under such a leader as Sir Robert Peel was one of the fortunate happenings of Gladstone’s life. His, too, was a conscientious mind. We may sometimes have to doubt an equal directness in its working, as compared with the inflexible candor of Peel; but the desire for right was controlling in both. Gladstone was intellectually more alert, and he possessed an imagination that was lacking in his chief. In temperament he was a far more impressionable man, and much more disposed by his nature to become responsive to the expanding and liberalizing tendencies of his age. That natural disposition in him was still oppressed by one tyrannical prepossession of mind; but its liberation approached, and the younger and the elder statesman were soon attuned to a harmony of coöperation which developed the best powers of the one as much as it assisted the work of the other.
The intensity of belief in a divine commission of the Established Church with which Gladstone left Oxford had been deepened, if possible, by the influence of his Tractarian friends. He had not enlisted with them in their “ movement ” by any public act, but his sympathy was understood. In 1838 he satisfied his devotion to the national establishment of religion by an independent offering toward the exaltation of it, in his book on The State in its Relations to the Church. The book would have been forgotten long ago, if Macaulay had not immortalized it by a review, and if the political enemies of the author had not found satisfaction so often in recalling its doctrines to mind. It was written to demonstrate that the propagation of religious truth is one of the chief ends of government; assuming, of course, that religious truth is embodied purely in the doctrines and teachings of the English Church. Wide interest was excited by the work when it appeared, and no little approval was given to it; but more disapproval, apparently, and much criticism that was sharp. It offended all evangelical opinion, whether in the Church or out of it, while its ground of argument was unsatisfactory to the Tractarian party, whose faith in the Anglican Church depended wholly on the evidence to be found of its true descent from the primitive Church. A defense of the Establishment on semi-political lines received no warm welcome at their hands. In the political world it was coldly discussed, as something likely to damage the prospects of the writer, and Peel, especially, is reported to have dismissed it with an impatient remark.
But whatever the effect of the book on Mr. Gladstone’s reputation, he undoubtedly was yet, in 1841, as Macaulay had described him in 1839, “ the rising hope of those stern and unbending Tories, who follow, reluctantly and mutinously, a leader whose experience and eloquence are indispensable to them, but whose cautious temper and moderate opinions they abhor.” Peel can have had no jealousy of him, and he knew his worth. He knew, too, far better than Gladstone himself, the kind of public service for which he needed to be trained. It is said that the young statesman coveted the post of Chief Secretary for Ireland, and that it was denied to him. The Premier was too wise for the mistake which that appointment would have been. While Gladstone remained unable to see anything in Ireland except through the painted windows of the Irish Church, the place he sought might easily have been fatal to his future. He did not know it then, but he must have seen in after years that he owed gratitude to the shrewd wisdom of the chief who assigned him, in the making up of the administration of 1841, to the vicepresidency of the Board of Trade, where his duties came nowhere into touch with questions concerning the Church, and where the strongest of his faculties were brought into full play. He became absorbed in economic studies at once, and was insensibly drawn away from those matters of ecclesiastical and theological consideration which had oppressed and hampered his mind. He now found the class of subjects that he could handle with the finest skill, the details that he could master with the greatest power, the kind of exposition in which he could shine with most distinction in debate. He had been led into the right path at a critical parting of the ways. He had entered upon his real career.
At the same time, the Church, as a national establishment of religion, was being shown to him in a new light, by workings within it which disappointed expectations and beliefs that had been the firmest in his mind. The Oxford movement was proving to be a movement Romeward, and the revival attempted in it had shaken instead of strengthening the English Church. The drift of feeling and the drift of events were going plainly against that conception of the Church which had been the dominating idea in Mr. Gladstone’s mind. Twentyseven years later, in A Chapter of Autobiography, he wrote his own account of the change then beginning to be wrought in his political view of the Established Church.
Summarized in a few words, the truth appears to be that Mr. Gladstone was now coming to the recognition of facts in the light of which the Church could not be any longer the main object in his political views. To remove it from that placg in his thought was to take the corner-stone from his conservatism, and to make inevitable a general crumbling of the alien fabric of inherited and accepted opinions. In coincidence with this release, as it may be called, occurred the circumstance of his appointment to an office that drew him into the imperious current of economic discussion which swept England in those years. It was a discussion more certain than any other that can be imagined to wash British Toryism of the old sort out of a candid, intelligent brain. It had been doing so with Peel; it was to do so with Gladstone; and the evolution of the future leader of English Liberalism from “the young man” who in 1839 could be called “ the rising hope” of “stern and unbending Tories ” was practically accomplished in that fourth decade of his life.
Within the limits of this article the story of Peel’s Ministry and its achievements cannot be told. Of the depression and distress that England had suffered since 1837 ; of the disorder that increased; of the conflicting agitations that ran politically into Chartism and commercially into the overpowering work of the Anti-Corn-Law League ; of the gradual sunrrrender of Peel to the free-trade doctrines of Cobden, Bright, Villiers, and the irresistible league; of his measures, beginning with the sliding-scale of corn duties and the significant tariff revision of 1842, and ending in 1846 with the great act which uprooted protectionism from British policy, and put the seal of its surpassing wisdom on the supremacy of England in the trade of the world, — the tale has been often told, and is familiar to most readers of the present day. Gladstone kept step with his leader, and was the ablest of lieutenants in the whole advance. With every stride forward they left more of the heavy-footed squires of their own country party behind, and drew more of their support from the party they were expected to oppose. It was treason they committed, if we take the judgment of the deserted Tories on what they did ; it was patriotism they exemplified, if the history of England from that day till now is permitted to testify.
While Gladstone was thus finding the way to his ultimate career, the rival most contrasted to him, and destined to dispute power with him most strenuously in the coming time, was doing the same. Disraeli, who entered Parliament in 1837, had thus far made no particular mark in the House. He had amused and interested certain circles by the rather heavy satire and enigmatical doctrine of his political novels, and the acrid wit of phrase-making in his speeches was considerably enjoyed; but of political weight it is manifest that he had none. He was a free-lance in the House, not to be counted on by any party or by any faction of a party. He played with some of the doctrines of radicalism at one moment, as though they were the joy and hope of his life, and tickled the country squires at the next with a coddling of their dearest beliefs. But when it began to be seen that the “ stern and unbending Tories ” were about to lose their “ rising hope ” as well as their departing chief, and that a desperate need of leadership and debating talent was soon to be felt in that venerable party of the past, Disraeli sank himself comfortably into the cool embrace of conservatism, as fast as Peel and Gladstone and other men of shining ability rose out of it. It was so obviously the opening of opportunity, the offered place of little competition, the ground of advantage for dexterous talents like his, that he must have laughed at the humor of ingenious Fortune when she beckoned him to the half-deserted camp. Those were the days when he first won the heart of bucolic conservatism by the stinging phrases that he flung at the “ organized hypocrisy ” of perfidious ministers; by the lively scorn that he heaped on the bourgeois policy of free trade ; by the happy art with which he painted for protectionism and the landed interest a picturesque and historical background of feudal origin and obligation, to distract attention from their want of economic support.
In the last hours of the great battle for free trade Peel lost the help of Gladstone. The latter had been advanced in 1843 from the vice-presidency to the presidency of the Board of Trade, which gave him a cabinet seat. In 1845, on Peel’s proposal to increase the government grant of money to the Roman Catholic College of Maynooth in Ireland, and to establish three non-sectarian colleges in that country, Gladstone felt impelled to resign, in order, as he afterward explained, to place himself in a position of freedom to consider his course “ without being liable to any unjust suspicion on the ground of personal interest.” But, being free, he determined to give support to the bill, and did so by voice and vote. Soon afterward the crisis of the corn-law question was reached in Peel’s cabinet; two of its members resigned, and Mr. Gladstone, as Secretary for the Colonies, came into the vacancy left by Lord Stanley, the Lord Derby of later years. Acceptance of this office involved the resignation of his parliamentary seat. Naturally, the Duke of Newcastle declined to support his reëlection from Newark, and Mr. Gladstone, unwilling to make a contest for the seat, retired. In the great debate of the session of 1846 his voice was not heard. Peel carried his bill in May; but the Protectionists had their revenge next month, when the Liberals joined them in defeating a coercion bill for Ireland, compelling the Ministry to resign.
The new government, formed by Lord John Russell, with Lord Grey and Lord Palmerston for his strongest associates, had no party majority of their own to depend on in the House ; but the fallen minister and his followers gave them a generous support. They held the reins for nearly six years, in the face of Irish difficulties terribly increased by the famine, and of a commercial crisis in England that followed closely after. A general election held in the fall of 1847 confirmed their tenure, and Mr. Gladstone was returned to Parliament by election of the University of Oxford.
The next few years were not eventful ones in his life, though an eventful time in European history. It was the period of many revolutions, of the SchleswigHolstein war, and of the coup d’état in France. Spending the winter of 1850 with his family at Naples, Mr. Gladstone made a searching investigation of the monstrous oppressions of the government of King Ferdinand, and an exposure of them in letters to the Times, which stirred all Europe, creating a public feeling that even King “ Bomba ” could not disregard. Later in that year the death of Sir Robert Peel occurred, and the members of his personal following in Parliament, known then and for some time after as “ Peelites,” were left in an uncertain position. They were on a middle ground in politics, between defined Conservatives and Liberals, binding themselves to neither. They were now less likely to act en masse than when their chief remained to lead them, but they formed a factor to be reckoned with still. They prevented a change of Ministry in 1851 by their refusal to join hands with the Protectionist-Conservative party; and when, next year, the Russell Ministry fell, it was Stanley (now become Earl of Derby) and Disraeli who undertook the government, the Peelites remaining with the opposition. The experiment of Conservative administration lasted only from February till December. Disraeli, who had realized his ambition and become the leader of his party in the House, undertook the Exchequer, and brought in a budget of extraordinary cleverness in its trick-playing with protection and free trade. It was shattered by Gladstone, in a speech that revealed fully for the first time his never equaled power in the handling of the subjects of public finance. The too ingenious budget was thrown out by a majority of nineteen, and the DerbyDisraeli Ministry gave place to one headed by the Earl of Aberdeen, in which Peelites were in coalition with Whigs. The new Ministry represented the first stage in the organic construction of the Liberal party of future politics. Mr. Gladstone now stepped into Mr. Disraeli’s place as Chancellor of the Exchequer, and the rivalry of the two men became pronounced. True rivals in finance, or in any of the higher spheres of statesmanship, they could never be, for one was scientific where the other was ingenious, and warmly earnest where the other was coolly shrewd ; but in the great arena of parliamentary debate they were to head the strife of parties for many years to come.
The budget brought forward by Gladstone in April, 1853, is one of the recognized masterpieces of national finance, and the speech in which he unfolded it was the first of many that are supreme examples of political oratory in their kind. That no other financier in history, so sound in his mastery of principles and so strong in his knowledge of facts, has ever been able to make them a subject of delightful eloquence, in the degree to which they were made so by Mr. Gladstone, seems beyond dispute.
If the government of Lord Aberdeen was financially strong, it was otherwise weak. It allowed England to be drawn into an alliance with the parvenu Emperor of the French, and into a war with Russia that had no justifiable cause and no useful result. It exasperated the nation by its mismanagement of the war, and by the consequent sufferings to which the army in the Crimea was exposed. In February, 1855, it was voted out of office, and a reorganization of Ministry under Lord Palmerston occurred, after Derby and Russell had each attempted the task without success. Mr. Gladstone and other Peelites withdrew, disagreeing with Palmerston’s consent to a committee for investigating the condition of the army before Sebastopol. There was evidently some bitterness in the disagreement ; for Greville, in his diary, July 29, 1855, says, “Gladstone & Co. may now be considered as being in decided opposition,” and remarks, “ The breach between them and the Whigs is very wide, and the Derbyites hate them with intensity, while they are too weak to form a party of their own.” Their opposition, however, does not seem to have gone far in animosity, and Gladstone’s attention must have been much diverted from political affairs ; for it was in this period that he wrote his Studies on Homer and the Homeric Age. Palmerston and his colleagues controlled the government for three years. They brought the Crimean war to a close, and carried British rule in India through the appalling crisis of the Sepoy revolt. Their Ministry was succeeded in the early part of 1858 by a new undertaking of Conservative administration, with Derby and Disraeli at its head. Mr. Gladstone was still further removed from parliamentary occupations for a time by a mission of importance which he accepted, as Lord High Commissioner to the Ionian Islands, with results that led subsequently to the withdrawal of the British protectorate, and the annexation of the islands to the kingdom of Greece. During one session skillful management enabled Disraeli to avoid vital issues with the majority against him in the House. But when, in the next session, he attempted a piece of strategy, bringing in a new Reform Bill for the confusion of the Liberals, it was a characteristic performance, and it characteristically failed. Like his budget of 1852 it was found to be a too ingenious piece of work, and it was condemned by the House. Lord Palmerston took the premiership again, with the reconciled Peelites among his coadjutors, bringing a great array of talent into the Ministry. Mr. Gladstone was once more Chancellor of the Exchequer, and presently heightened his fame as a minister of finance by his cooperation with Cobden in negotiating the treaty of commercial reciprocity with France, and by his eradication of the last remnants of protective duty from the British tariff, accomplished in the budget of 1860. This budget carried with it, among its intended results, a great lowering of the price of paper, thus bringing in the era of cheap newspapers and books, which was most obnoxious to conservatism and gave rise to a fierce struggle with the House of Lords.
Of events that belong in this period, the most important were those connected with the civil war in the United States. The attitude of Mr. Gladstone toward the issues in that conflict was a matter of the deepest interest to Americans then, and has been hardly less so since. That the British government as a whole, and its members generally, should be coldly neutral in form, and plainly unfriendly to the United States in fact, could occasion not much surprise. They represented socially a class or caste in which that prevalent feeling toward the republic was very little disguised. But Americans had been acquiring an idea of Mr. Gladstone which led them to expect something different from him, — something more in the spirit of Bright, of Cobden, and of Goldwin Smith, — and they felt a sore disappointment and resentment when he declared, in a speech made at Newcastle-upon-Tyne, in October, 1862, that Jefferson Davis “ had made an army, had made a navy, and, more than that, had made a nation.” It was half true, and it could easily seem wholly true at the time ; but it was not what a friend of the American Union would say. It was virtually a recognition of the Southern Confederacy, and it had enormous significance and weight, coming from a man in Mr. Gladstone’s official place and with the personal influence that he possessed even then. Some years afterward, Mr. Gladstone took pains to disclaim unfriendly intentions in what he said, confessed the mistake of the opinion he had uttered, and attempted an explanation which saddens one a little in reading, because it limps so lamely. “ I must confess that I was wrong,” he said; “ that I took too much upon myself in expressing such an opinion. Yet the motive was not bad. My sympathies were then — where they had long before been, where they are now — with the whole American people. I, probably, like many Europeans, did not understand the nature and the working of the American Union. I had imbibed conscientiously, if erroneously, an opinion that twenty or twenty-four millions of the North would be happier and would be stronger — of course assuming that they would hold together — without the South than with it, and also that the negroes would be much nearer to emancipation under a Southern government than under the old system of the Union, which had not at that date been abandoned, and which always appeared to me to place the whole power of the North at the command of the slaveholding interests of the South. As far as regards the special or separate interest of England in the matter, I, differing from many others, had always contended that it was best for our interest that the Union should be kept entire.” Now, really, this is not a convincing plea. The Newcastle utterance was too emphatically favorable to Mr. Davis’s “ nation ” to be quite in agreement with the feelings here described. Yet, after all, the offense of Mr. Gladstone ought not to be an unforgivable one. In the autumn of 1862, after McClellan’s Peninsular campaign, after the second Bull Run, after Lee’s invasion of Maryland, it was hard for the firmest foreign friends of the Union to have faith in its restoration, and confidence in the effectiveness of President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, then just put forth. The influence needed to keep alive foreign faith in the Union cause was a deep and dire hatred of slavery, but hatred of slavery was mild in Mr. Gladstone, if not wanting entirely. He was removed by less than thirty years from the time when his family drew no small part of its wealth from slave labor, and it is natural to suppose that he was less likely than other Englishmen of kindred character to be prejudiced against the Confederacy by its “ corner - stone.” But that he was ever inspired by a mean sentiment of hostility to Americans and their country cannot be reasonably believed. The signs of disposition in his whole life are against that interpretation of his words. He spoke from an unsound judgment, most unwisely ; and that is a sin for which he has needed forgiveness more than once. If he had been entirely a wise man, he would not have been a great orator, he would not have wielded the extraordinary power of his enthusiasms, he would not have been Gladstone. Because he was Gladstone, Americans can forget his New castle words with no great difficulty.
Parliament was dissolved by expiration of its term in 1865, and at the following general election Mr. Gladstone lost his Oxford seat. His opinions had become too liberal for the university, especially since misgivings with regard to the Irish Church had begun to find expression in his speeches, and it cast him out. But Lancashire gave him a seat, and he was thenceforth more entirely untrammeled as a representative than he had ever been before. The last thread of connection with the conservatism of his early life had been cut. He took his stand definitely, erelong, by the side of John Bright and the more advanced of the Liberal leaders, as one of the tribunes of the common people. Palmerston died in October, 1865, and Russell came to the head of the government. The introduction of a bill to answer the long-resisted demand for a further reform and extension of the elective franchise was decided upon, and Mr. Gladstone brought it forward in the House. It proved to be too conservative to interest the Radicals greatly, but too radical for the more conservative Liberals, and the overthrow of the government was brought about by it. The death-blow was given by a few professed Liberals, led by Mr. Lowe, who got the name of “ Adullamites ” from one of the witty speeches of Mr. Bright.
Lord Derby and Mr. Disraeli now formed another Ministry, which endured for a little more than two years. It promptly took up the agitated question of reform, and, by making large concessions to the Liberals, passed a bill that went much farther in the democratic direction than the measure lately defeated, and which caused deep Tory disgust. The first appeal made to the new constituencies thus created proved fatal to the responsible authors of the bill. This occurred in 1868, on a question involving the fate of the Church establishment in Ireland. Mr. Gladstone had become convinced that justice to Ireland and peace in that country were impossible without the disestablishment of the church which nine tenths of the Irish people abhorred. He introduced resolutions, accordingly, and carried them against the government. A dissolution of Parliament was the consequence ; but it was postponed until November, when elections were held under the new law. They resulted in a large Liberal majority, distinctly given in support of the policy of Irish Church disestablishment proposed by Mr. Gladstone.
That gentleman was now, conspicuously and beyond question, the head of the party that had triumphed in the elections. It was inevitable that he should take direction of the government, and the way was naturally opened by the recent retirement of Lord John Russell from public life. In the cabinet which he formed, on the Queen’s invitation, several men of subsequent note were first brought to the political front, — Lord Hartington, Mr. Goschen, Mr. Lowe, Mr. Forster, and Lord Dufferin, of the number, — while Mr. Bright made his entry into cabinet office as president of the Board of Trade. Mr. Gladstone, in his fifty-ninth year, was now at the summit of his intellectual powers, but not yet at the zenith of his renown. From the height of his supreme office, he exercised after this time, over England, an influence that grew to be more dominating than any known in English history before, unless the very different influence of the Pitts may possibly be compared with it.
From 1868 to 1874 this first Prime Ministry of Gladstone was filled with great tasks, heroically undertaken and performed. First, of course, was the disestablishment of the Irish Church, in which the national mandate was obeyed. At this time he published the Chapter of Autobiography, already cited, to answer the critics who denounced his change of attitude toward the Protestant establishment in Ireland since the long-past days when it had seemed a sacred thing in his eyes. Disestablishment delivered Ireland from one oppression ; another, more productive of misery, though not more exasperating, remained. The Irish land system, contrived and perfected, without conscience, in the interest of a half-alien landlord class, living generally elsewhere, and caring nothing for the country or the people, was iniquitous almost beyond belief. Tenants had no defined tenure and no rights under it. Landlords held unlimited power to rob them of improvements, exact extortionate rents, evict them at will. It was an old wrong, — older than the English colonial slavery that had been dead for a generation, and which had been scarcely more cruel, — but it had cried to deaf ears until now. And now the cry from Ireland, of all her grievances, had grown louder than it was even in the days of Daniel O’Connell. A resounding, threatening echo to it was coming back from the millions of emigrated Irish in America. Instead of being weakened by the prodigious movement of her population to the New World, Ireland had gained from it a new strength for resistance to her unending oppression. The Irish in America had prospered. Great numbers of them had just gone through a soldierly training in the American civil war. They had money and men and captains to offer to any movement on behalf of Ireland that could be set on foot. From this stimulation came the Fenian conspiracy of 1865-69, which at least compelled the giving of more serious thought in England to Irish grievances than had been given to them before. Mr. Gladstone and others of like mind had now arrived at the determination that those grievances should be removed, that the Irish people should be pacified by justice, and that the chronic disease of hatred in one part of the United Kingdom toward the other part, poisonous and imperiling to the whole body politic, should be radically cured. He addressed himself to the difficult problem of the reform of the Irish land laws with characteristic thoroughness, personally mastering the subject in its technical details and in its legal and historical ramifications so completely that his knowledge, when he dealt with it, was overwhelming to his opponents and amazing to his friends. His Irish land bill was introduced in February, 1870, in a speech of which the biographer of the late Mr. W. E. Forster has said : “ A crowded House had sat entranced whilst Mr. Gladstone had given that wonderful account of the provisions of his Irish land bill, which is regarded by many competent critics as the most remarkable of his oratorical achievements.” He seemed to be always able to arouse new admiration by each effort that he made ; and the more stubborn the subject, the more fascinating his eloquence became. Contest over the bill consumed some months, but it was passed in the August following. That it only half succeeded in its aims is hardly strange. The power of the landlords to oppress their tenants was too great to be baffled on the first attempt. They found loopholes in the act, and contrived means to evade its intentions in many exasperating ways. But the great fact that English statesmen and the English people had begun to show in earnest a will to do justice to Ireland, and that landlords and clergy were no longer to be undisputed in its affairs, had a potent effect. Deep discontent remained, but the violent spirit in it was sapped. Fenianism died out, and no really revolutionary undertaking has assumed form since. The movement for home rule grew up in place of the struggle for national independence; and though Ireland became afterward a more troublesome factor in British politics than ever before, this was because it had been fairly brought into the national politics instead of being thrust outside.
One thing more Mr. Gladstone attempted to do for Ireland, by the creation of a national university, broad enough to cover colleges of all creeds ; but the attempt failed. For education in England, his government took the first great and difficult step toward the institution of a national system of elementary schools. The scheme of its education bill, framed and carried through by Mr. Forster, perpetuated the Church schools, and received more Conservative than Liberal support, being bitterly opposed by a strong radical party which had been striving for a national system of strictly secular schools ; but it was the beginning of duty in a matter that had suffered shameful neglect. Introduction of the ballot, abolition of the sale and purchase of army commissions, and settlement of the Alabama claims by the Treaty of Washington with the United States were among the other notable achievements of the Gladstone government. It seems to have tired the nation at last with an excess of good work, and early in 1874 the Premier felt called upon, without immediate provocation from Parliament, to make an appeal to the country, to test public opinion on his policy, including measures to come. The elections were adverse, and he resigned. Mr. Disraeli was called to the premiership, and formed a strong Ministry, with a strong majority in Parliament to give it support.
Release from office brought with it to Mr. Gladstone a longing for still further release from the labors and responsibilities of his leadership in the Liberal party. With all the intensity of his life in Parliament, it had never been the whole of life to him. He had kept large reserves of other interests, to which he always turned with delight in every hour of escape from official cares. The tastes of the student were never extinguished in him by the busy habits of the man of affairs. And now, at sixty-five, after the accomplishment of so many of his parliamentary aims, a great desire to bring more of the sweetness of rest and letters and domestic privacy into the remaining years of his life came upon him. It is not hard to see that this desire was most natural to him, at that point in his life, though it might not last; and yet, when he announced his wish to withdraw, “ at no distant time,” from “ all the responsibilities of leadership,” every possible motive of meanness was looked for by his political enemies to explain the act. In his own party, hardly less than consternation and hopelessness was caused by the thought of losing him from the place of command ; but he persisted in claiming his release. “ I see no public advantage,” he said, “ in my continuing to act as the leader of the Liberal party, and at the age of sixty-five, after forty-two years of a laborious public life, I think myself entitled to retire on the present opportunity. This retirement is dictated to me by my personal views as to the best method of spending the closing years of my life.... I should, perhaps, add that I am at present, and mean for a short time to be, engaged on a special matter that occupies me closely.” The special matter referred to proved to be the pamphlet on The Vatican Decrees which he published soon after. It represents the kind of occupation to which he hoped to give the remainder of his life.
Soon after the opening of the session in 1875 Mr. Gladstone stepped down to a follower’s place in the Liberal ranks, and the Marquis of Hartington took, reluctantly, the leader’s post. Lord Hartington (now Duke of Devonshire) is an able man ; but he had little of Gladstone’s strength in debate, and nothing of his enthusiasm. There was no moral momentum in his nature to carry him and his party forward to higher ground and further ends. Half the vigor of English Liberalism was soon found to have disappeared, and Disraeli’s task of government was made easy to him by a languid opposition. In domestic matters the new Premier pursued a course to be generally admired, particularly in the passing of important measures of sanitary reform ; but he looked to foreign affairs for the distinction of his Ministry. It was in this period of his administration that the terms “ Jingo ” and “ Jingoism ” came into use, and the barbaric war spirit that they signify was deliberately instigated and used by Disraeli at the time. He had appealed to it in the elections which brought him into power. As stated by his Tory biographer, Mr. Kebbel, he had spoken to the British workmen “ of England; of her glory and her duty ; of the imperial inheritance which their ancestors had won, and which they must transmit to their posterity; of the proud position which she occupied among the nations of the world, and of the divine mission which it was her privilege to fulfill in the spread of civilization and religion.” In an age of economy and materialism,” exclaims Mr. Kebbel, “ of cheap breakfast-tables and bread-and-butter prosperity, these accents fell upon the public ear, long unaccustomed to such sounds, with thrilling power.” So England cheered and shouted, and sang musichall songs, for the time, over a splendid “ imperial policy,” of protection to the rotten despotism of the Turk, of antagonism to Russia, of advance to “ a scientific frontier ” for India, of ownership in the Suez Canal, of extended South African possessions. In the midst of the glory of it, Mr. Disraeli crowned his career in a fitting way by accepting an earldom from the Queen, and sinking his plebeian name in the title of Lord Beaconsfield.
Meantime, Mr. Gladstone had been drawn back irresistibly into the practical leadership of the Liberal party by excitements incident to Turkish affairs, caused especially by the atrocities in Bulgaria. He could not keep out of the fray, nor enter the fray without being in the front of it. His voice rang out against longer adherence to a shameful protectorate over the Turk, maintained to keep the carcass of his dead empire in the way of a Russian advance to the Mediterranean. Jingoism fell before the assaults of common sense and Christian feeling. In vain were there banners and trumpetings when Lord Beaconsfield came back from the settlement of the Treaty of Berlin, boasting of “peace with honor.” The country at large saw emptiness in the outcome of his imperial policy, and gave its preference to the homely “ bread-and-butter prosperity” that seemed to be slipping away. Elections held in 1880, on the dissolution of Parliament, were overwhelmingly in favor of the Liberals. Mr. Gladstone’s Midlothian speeches had been the inspiration of the campaign, and had given its programme to the party. It was possible for no other man to command the political situation, and no other could take the responsibility of government. He could not escape from it if he would.
The brief retirement of Mr. Gladstone to a less burdened life was then followed by the most troubled and trying period of his career. It is doubtful if any statesman was ever more painfully harassed by more varied misfortunes and difficulties, more innocently as to the causing of most among them, than was Gladstone in the five years of his second administration. From the “ spirited policy ” of his predecessor he received a fine legacy of troubles : a British army trapped in Afghanistan; a Boer war, provoked by wrongs which a just British government must redress ; a situation in Egypt leading to the Arabi revolt, to its necessary suppression by British troops, to consequent responsibilities on the Nile, demanding the withdrawal of Egyptian garrisons from the Soudan, to Gordon’s mission to Khartoum, to his beleaguerment by the Mahdists, and to the rescuing expedition which came too late. The anxieties and the storms of party malice which these events produced were enough to bow the shoulders of a younger man than Mr. Gladstone, but they may have seemed light to him compared with the tempest from Ireland that broke upon his government.
The Land Act of 1870 had proved to be abortive legislation. At the trial before the Parnell commission in 1888 Sir Charles Russell produced abundant evidence of its failure to give tenants the protection designed. It had probably, on the whole, made matters in Ireland worse by excitement and disappointment of hopes, and by provoking what seemed to be a conspiracy in the meaner class of landlords to drive the Irish peasantry to despair. Evictions in 1880 were double the yearly average of the preceding quarter-century. Statistics submitted to the Parnell commission show an average in Connaught, between 1853 and 1878, of 960 evictions per year, increased in 1880 to 1995; in Munster, 1076, increased to 2345. In December, 1880, General Gordon, who is a witness to be trusted by all the world, visited the southwest of Ireland, “in the hope,” as he said, “of discovering how some settlement could be made of the Irish question, which, like a fretting cancer, eats away our vitals as a nation.” On his return he wrote as follows to the Times: “I have come to the conclusion that, first, a gulf of antipathy exists between the landlords and tenants of the northwest and west and the southwest of Ireland. It is a gulf which is not caused alone by the question of rents ; there is a complete lack of sympathy between the classes. . . . Second, no half - measure acts which left the landlords with any say to the tenantry of those portions of Ireland will be of any use. They would be rendered, as past land acts in Ireland have been, quite abortive, for the landlords will insert clauses to do away with their force.” He concluded by saying that “ the state of our fellow countrymen in the parts I have named is worse than that of any people in the world, let alone Europe,” and that yet “ they are patient beyond belief, loyal, but at the same time broken - spirited and desperate.” Action in Ireland against this terrible state of things was being doubly organized, with two aims, soon to be combined in one. The Land League of Michael Davitt set itself in array against landlordism as a curse to be wholly rooted out, while the party for Home Rule, now consolidated under a new and masterful leader, Mr. Parnell, made the concession of a separate legislature to Ireland its ultimate demand. The league and the party were allied and powerfully equipped with means for making themselves felt.
This was the Irish situation that confronted Mr. Gladstone when he resumed the task of government. He formed a Ministry that seemed promising of great sympathy and generosity in treatment of the hard problems involved. Mr. Forster, Quaker-bred, and especially known to the Irish people as their well-proved friend, was given the direction of measures for Ireland in the important Chief Secretary’s place. Mr. Bright came into the cabinet; likewise Mr. Chamberlain, representing extreme Birmingham radicalism, and close in relations with the Irish party ; while Sir Charles Dilke, of kindred politics, held a lower administrative place. Ireland seemed to be well befriended in the government, yet no government before was ever involved in an antagonism so bitter with its subjects in the Celtic isle. The very cordialities that were in the situation at first proved mischievous in the end. The Irish expected too much from the government, and too soon. The government, on its side, expected too much trust in its friendly spirit and too much patient waiting. Mr. Forster, especially, would seem to have looked for a faith in himself that was not manifested to his satisfaction. So feelings that were sympathetic at first soon cooled, and an estrangement began that quickly grew to hostility of the fiercest kind. The government, unwilling to take up at once the troublesome project of a new land bill, passed a bill through the House making temporary provision of redress for the persecuted tenants. It was killed by an overwhelming majority in the House of Lords. This let loose the impending storm. Ireland had been wakened from despair to hope, and now hope gave way to wrath, and wrath bred violence, and violence provoked the chastising arm of oppressive power. The scenes of murder and riot that ensued, the dynamite explosions, the organized “ boycotting,” the systematized suspension of rent payments, and all the varied contrivances of disorder that added ruin to ruin in Ireland during the next few years are remembered well. So, too, are the scenes that followed in the British Parliament. The sixty-two representatives of the Home Rule party, led as a solid phalanx by Mr. Parnell, and determined that no other business should be done while Irish questions suffered neglect, practically paralyzed the House for weeks by their tactics of obstruction. Then the Speaker, taking power arbitrarily into his hands, broke the rules of the House, silenced the obstructionists, and enabled the Ministry to puss a coercion bill which gave them despotic powers. Armed with these powers, Mr. Forster applied them with unmerciful severity. An obstinate Yorkshire nature underlying his Quaker culture was roused, and he acted in the spirit of a Tory of some past generation. He filled the prisons with “ suspects,” including Mr. Parnell and other Irish leaders, for a time, and persisted in stubborn blindness to the fact that terror can never make peace.
Of course, Mr. Gladstone, as the head of the government, must be held to account for the sad blundering of this unhappy time. It is said that he never believed in the repressive policy of Mr. Forster; and that is probably true. But he countenanced it too long — allowed it to go too far — for his own fair fame. One feels, too, in reviewing the story, that if he had realized the threat of the situation at an early day, and had brought his whole energy and influence to bear on its difficulties in the beginning, there might have been a very different course of events. It is quite possible that he did not willingly believe in the completeness of the failure of his own Land Act of 1870, and met the demand for its revision too indifferently because too skeptically. This may not be so, but it seems to be a reasonable conjecture; there is some suggestion of it in the awakened vigor with which Mr. Gladstone pressed a new land bill through both houses of Parliament between April and August of 1881, immediately after Mr. Forster’s coercion bill, and while the bludgeon that the latter fashioned was being most roughly used. Naturally, under the circumstances, the new act, which created a tribunal to adjudicate rents, was an inadequate piece of work. It was repudiated by the Irish Nationalist members, who refused to vote on the second reading of it, while it drew fresh denunciations from the landlords and their friends. Mr. Lecky, holding a brief for the latter, devotes a considerable section of his work on Democracy to an argument, which we venture to call fallacious, against this act, as being in violation of contract between the British government and the purchasers of property in Ireland under the Incumbered Estates Act of 1849. As a matter of fact, the principle of the Land Bill of 1881 has been practically maintained by Conservatives as well as Liberals in legislation since, and provisions to improve its working have been added by both.
The policy of Mr. Forster was pursued unrelentingly until April, 1882. Then some kind of overture from Mr. Parnell, in Kilmainham prison, was welcoined by the government, and a truce was arranged which brought active hostilities between the contending parties to an end. Mr. Forster, refusing assent to it, resigned, and Lord Frederick Cavendish was appointed to his place. The assassination of the new Secretary, quickly following, in Dublin, caused no renewal of the state of war, but rather, by the horror of it, sobered all parties in the political world. Parliament was able once more to give attention to neglected affairs. The session of 1883 produced the important law by which corrupt practices in English elections have been effectually suppressed. In the next year’s session a bill for further enlargement of the elective franchise was passed by the Commons, only to be rejected by the Lords, with a consequent excitement the most threatening to the Upper House that had ever appeared. Public demonstrations of feeling had their warning effect, and the franchise bill, — the third Reform Bill of English history, — passed again in November, was accepted by the peers, with a supplementary act which distributes more fairly the parliamentary seats.
In the winter of 1885, failure to rescue General Gordon from Khartoum, added to other causes, turned public feeling very strongly against the government, and in June it resigned, after a vote carried against it in the House. The Conservatives formed a Ministry under Lord Salisbury (Lord Beaconsfield being no more), and were in power during the following seven months. Elections for a new Parliament — the first under the extended franchise — were held in November, and resulted in a singular situation. The Conservatives, now helped by the Irish vote in England, made gains in the towns, while the Liberals swept the counties. At the same time, in Ireland, the Home Rulers elected eighty-five of the one hundred and three in the total representation of the island, and held the balance of power. The Liberal vote in the House of Commons was almost equaled by the combined vote of Conservative and Irish members. It was plain policy for the latter to return to their former alliance with the Liberals, and they did so. The Salisbury Ministry went out of office in the following January.
And now came the part of Mr. Gladstone’s public life which brought both his statesmanship and his character most seriously and most bitterly into dispute. Called again, for the third time, to be Prime Minister of England, he accepted the great office virtually at the hands of the Irish party, without whose support it could not be held, and with it he accepted their programme of home rule for Ireland. It is believed by his enemies that greed of power was the prevailing motive to this course, whatever reasons in its favor he might have persuaded himself to see ; and it is possible that the purity of the convictions on which Mr. Gladstone acted at this juncture may always be called in question. But if we weigh all the circumstances without prejudice, we find no just reason for a suspicion of his absolute sincerity. The most reasonable assumptions are entirely in his favor. It is not reasonable to suspect that in his seventyseventh year, after harvesting all the honors that public life could yield to him, after escaping from a Ministry that had nearly broken him with its many troubles,—it is not reasonable, in the light of all that we know of his character and his studious tastes, to suspect that he was drawn back to the strife and labor of parliamentary government by a merely personal ambition so strong as to warp the convictions of his mind. It is reasonable to suppose that he felt a great ambition to end the unendurable conflict between the members of the United Kingdom ; and no ambition could be more honorable than that, whatever thought of self might mix in it. There are facts, too, which show that Mr. Gladstone had been seeking light on the question of Irish home rule for some years. Mr. Justin McCarthy has given some of them in his recent Story of Gladstone’s Life. Back in 1882, Mr. McCarthy tells us, when the Home Rule members were a minority of the Irish representation in Parliament, the Premier questioned him one day as to the ground on which they could claim to speak and act for the Irish people. “ How am I to know ? ” he asked. The reply was : “ Give us a popular franchise in Ireland, and we shall soon let you know whether we represent the Irish people or whether we do not.” Three years later Gladstone gave the popular franchise to Ireland as well as to Great Britain, and the elections then held raised the Home Rule representation to more than four fifths of the whole. That the mind of Mr. Gladstone had been meantime in a waiting state on the subject, and that this proof of Irish sentiment was decisive to him, does not seem to be fairly open to doubt.
But the wisdom of Mr. Gladstone’s course is more questionable than the sincerity of it. The subject on that side is too large for this article, yet a few words must be said. In his first plan, submitted to Parliament on the 8th of April, 1886, he proposed to give Ireland a distinct legislature, with substantial independence in the control of its domestic affairs, but to silence its voice in the larger affairs of the United Kingdom by taking its representation in the Imperial Parliament entirely away. The Liberal party was broken by the startling proposition. Eighty-five of its members seceded and joined the Conservatives to defeat the bill. Mr. Gladstone appealed by a dissolution, and was beaten in the country overwhelmingly. The seceding Liberals, taking the name of “ Unionists,” formed a coalition with the Conservatives in a Ministry which held the government, under Lord Salisbury, for six years, until the Parliament expired. Then Mr. Gladstone, still full of vigor, and firm in his resolution to give home rule to Ireland, renewed his appeal to the people. The elections of 1892 went against him in England, but favorably in Scotland and Wales, and strongly favorable in Ireland, of course. Without the Irish members he would be heavily outvoted in the House ; with them he had a majority of forty-two. On this dubious verdict he undertook his fourth Ministry, and brought forward his second home rule bill. It was radically different from the first in plan, giving Ireland eighty members in the House of Commons at London (with no vote there on matters affecting Great Britain alone), and a domestic legislature of two houses at Dublin. The Commons passed the bill, and the Lords, as expected, threw it out. Mr. Gladstone saw the uselessness of a dissolution, or of agitation against the peers. He went stoutly through other business of the session to the end, and even to April of the following year. Then he resigned. He had finished his political career.
As proved by the result — doubly proved by all that has appeared since — England was very far from willingness to give Ireland the demanded home rule. Beyond doubt, the unwillingness was greater than popular votes or parliamentary votes disclosed. The amazing influence of Mr. Gladstone, his unequaled persuasiveness, his overpowering prestige, had almost carried his party with him against its will. No other man could have made a show of approach to success in what he undertook. As a tour de force in popular leading it has never, perhaps, been surpassed. But that kind of triumph thinly gilds the actual failure. Had Mr. Gladstone been a statesman more calculating of consequences, either political or personal, more sagacious, either in public views or in party views, more prudent, either selfishly or patriotically, it can hardly be believed that he would have framed his measures as he did, or attempted them at the time. Nor, from an American standpoint, does England seem blamable for the rejection of them. We are experienced in the working of home rule with national unity ; we know federalism in theory and in practice; but there is nothing in our experience or our political philosophy to give us an understanding of the theory or a belief in the practicability of either of the constitutional projects of Mr. Gladstone “ for the future government of Ireland.” Whether Ireland, under the first of them, would be a part or not a part of the United Kingdom — a dependency or a nation — is puzzling to our comprehension. Whether England, Wales, and Scotland, denied homeruling legislation by the second scheme, while Ireland rejoiced in it, would hold an equality of rights and a peerage of rank in the United Kingdom, is no less a problem. Of either plan, the incongruity, the inconsistency with any principle, the departure from all experience, seem most extraordinary.
In these home rule measures Mr. Gladstone had set his hand for the first time to an important undertaking of constructive statesmanship ; and the verdict must be that he was not equal to it. His life-work has been in reforming statesmanship. In that he has had no peer. He has been, we may say, the greatest of those peaceful revolutionists who lift and carry nations forward, out of old conditions into new ; who reconcile their institutions with advancing time, and make them participant in the progress of the world. But this reparative work, most useful, perhaps, that true statesmanship can do, wins commonly less of the admiration of mankind than the framing of political systems and the building of states. Bismarck and Cavour, among Gladstone’s contemporaries, are more than likely to rank above him, in present and in future opinion, as belonging to an order of statesmen that is superior in its kind. The justice of that opinion is far from sure. It turns mostly upon a question of weight in moral qualities that are widely opposed. But the fact of it is to be recognized ; and so, too, is the fact that when Gladstone attempted a serious work of constructive statesmanship he failed.
A grievous ending for so great and so noble a career ! It ought to have been ended for him in the serene contentment of some crowning success. In no procession of noisy triumph, but by some flower - strewn and beautiful way he should have gone to his retirement with a happily satisfied heart. He had done so much for England, — for Britain, for Ireland ! He had labored so long, so hopefully, so valiantly, so hard ! He had struck, without favor or fear, at so many wrongs ! He had remembered so faithfully the whole people, and borne so calmly the selfish resentments of a selfish class ! He had warmed the very heart of the world so often with his generous enthusiasms! He had been for half a century so inspiring a figure in the eyes of all mankind, so chivalrous in standing for Right! One feels that there might fitly have been a trooping of all the people of British race to say Hail and Farewell to him when he went out of public life.
Gladstone’s place in English history will be high, and it will be quite apart from any other. He will have no near companionship in his fame. It will be, we think, an eminence assigned to moral qualities more than to intellectual powers. The very sincerity that his enemies have denied to him will be counted perhaps the loftiest of his claims. It will be seen that few men of brilliant gifts and great ambitions have sought with his earnestness for the Right in what they did, or have stood with his courage by what they found it to be. When he braved the scorn and anger of the Church which has always been more to him than to most of its priests, and challenged by the same act his own past, in order to do justice to the people of another creed, and when he made a righteous peace with the Boers in the face of a storm of English wrath, he rose to a greatness in character that will be measured in future time with clearer eyes than now.
The persuasive witchery of his eloquence will be poorly understood by generations to come. It is not found in the word, the phrase, the argument, or the thought. It came for the most part from the spirit that warmed the breath of the man, sounded in his voice, looked out of his eyes. It was personal to him, largely drawn from the moral qualities that seemed to be his greater distinction. No man of his day has had such power of persuasion as he. It may not be too bold to say that no man of any time has surpassed him in that power. Yet he was never logically strong. His argumentative writings, the most carefully and deliberately composed, show defects of reasoning that are marked. From controversy with an antagonist like Professor Huxley he was sure to come with wounds. Yet his masterful influence over minds of every class is a certain fact. It was once said by somebody that “Gladstone could persuade anybody to anything, — himself included ; ” and no doubt the epigram carries a significant truth. Fashion a man finely and largely, and make him to be tensely strung in every part of his whole nature, but inject a little, barely a little excess on the moral and emotional side, — a little more of feeling, with pressure of conscience behind it, than logical judgment can quite control, — and we shall have the persuasive man who is overpersuasive sometimes to himself. On the great scale, as in Gladstone, it produces a rare and splendid power for the kind of work he had to do, — a rare and splendid character for the delight and admiration of mankind. It kept him in the strength and beauty of youth till he died. It did more ; for he was younger in spirit, younger in the generosities and hospitalities of his mind, when his work was finished than when it began. He, at least, in this questioning nineteenth century, found wellsprings of faith in both God and man, and drank of them to the end.