AND SOME OTHERS
A BOOK OF REMINISCENCES BY THE RIGHT HONOURABLE
GEORGE W. E. RUSSELL
TO THE EARL CURZON OF KEDLESTON, K.G.,
I INSCRIBE THIS BOOK, NOT SHARING HIS OPINIONS BUT PRIZING HIS FRIENDSHIP
My cordial thanks for leave to reproduce papers already published are due to my friend Mr. John Murray, and to the Editors of the Cornhill Magazine, the Spectator, the Daily News, the Manchester Guardian, the Church Family Newspaper, and the Red Triangle.
G. W. E. R.
I. LORD PALMERSTON II. LORD RUSSELL III. LORD DERBY IV. BENJAMIN DISRAELI V. WILLIAM EWART GLADSTONE VI. LORD SALISBURY VIII. ARTHUR JAMES BALFOUR IX. HENRY CAMPBELL-BANNERMAN
II.—IN HONOUR OF FRIENDSHIP
I. GLADSTONE—AFTER TWENTY YEARS II. HENRY SCOTT HOLLAND III. LORD HALLIFAX IV. LORD AND LADY RIPON V. "FREDDY LEVESON" VI. SAMUEL WHITBREAD VII. HENRY MONTAGU BUTLER VIII. BASIL WILBERFORCE IX. EDITH SICHEL X. "WILL" GLADSTONE XI. LORD CHARLES RUSSELL
III.—RELIGION AND THE CHURCH
I. A STRANGE EPIPHANY II. THE ROMANCE OF RENUNCIATION III. PAN-ANGLICANISM IV. LIFE AND LIBERTY V. LOVE AND PUNISHMENT VI. HATRED AND LOVE VII. THE TRIUMPHS OF ENDURANCE VIII. A SOLEMN FARCE
I. MIRAGE II. MIST III. "DISSOLVING THROES" IV. INSTITUTIONS AND CHARACTER V. REVOLUTION—AND RATIONS VI. "THE INCOMPATIBLES" VII. FREEDOM'S NEW FRIENDS
I. EDUCATION AND THE JUDGE II. THE GOLDEN LADDER III. OASES IV. LIFE, LIBERTY, AND JUSTICE V. THE STATE AND THE BOY VI. A PLEA FOR INNOCENTS
I. THE "HUMOROUS STAGE" II. THE JEWISH REGIMENT III. INDURATION IV. FLACCIDITY V. THE PROMISE OF MAY VI. PAGEANTRY AND PATRIOTISM
VII.—FACT AND FICTION
I. A FORGOTTEN PANIC II. A CRIMEAN EPISODE
PRIME MINISTERS AND SOME OTHERS
I remember ten Prime Ministers, and I know an eleventh. Some have passed beyond earshot of our criticism; but some remain, pale and ineffectual ghosts of former greatness, yet still touched by that human infirmity which prefers praise to blame. It will behove me to walk warily when I reach the present day; but, in dealing with figures which are already historical, one's judgments may be comparatively untrammelled.
I trace my paternal ancestry direct to a Russell who entered the House of Commons at the General Election of 1441, and since 1538 some of us have always sat in one or other of the two Houses of Parliament; so I may be fairly said to have the Parliamentary tradition in my blood. But I cannot profess to have taken any intelligent interest in political persons or doings before I was six years old; my retrospect, therefore, shall begin with Lord Palmerston, whom I can recall in his last Administration, 1859-1865.
I must confess that I chiefly remember his outward characteristics—his large, dyed, carefully brushed whiskers; his broad-shouldered figure, which always seemed struggling to be upright; his huge and rather distorted feet—"each foot, to describe it mathematically, was a four-sided irregular figure"—his strong and comfortable seat on the old white hack which carried him daily to the House of Commons. Lord Granville described him to a nicety: "I saw him the other night looking very well, but old, and wearing a green shade, which he afterwards concealed. He looked like a retired old croupier from Baden."
Having frequented the Gallery of the House of Commons, or the more privileged seats "under the Gallery," from my days of knickerbockers, I often heard Palmerston speak. I remember his abrupt, jerky, rather "bow-wow"-like style, full of "hums" and "hahs"; and the sort of good-tempered but unyielding banter with which he fobbed off an inconvenient enquiry, or repressed the simple-minded ardour of a Radical supporter.
Of course, a boy's attention was attracted rather by appearance and manner than by the substance of a speech; so, for a frank estimate of Palmerston's policy at the period which I am discussing, I turn to Bishop Wilberforce (whom he had just refused to make Archbishop of York).
"That wretched Pam seems to me to get worse and worse. There is not a particle of veracity or noble feeling that I have ever been able to trace in him. He manages the House of Commons by debauching it, making all parties laugh at one another; the Tories at the Liberals, by his defeating all Liberal measures; the Liberals at the Tories, by their consciousness of getting everything that is to be got in Church and State; and all at one another, by substituting low ribaldry for argument, bad jokes for principle, and an openly avowed, vainglorious, imbecile vanity as a panoply to guard himself from the attacks of all thoughtful men."
But what I remember even more clearly than Palmers ton is appearance or manner—perhaps because it did not end with his death—is the estimation in which he was held by that "Sacred Circle of the Great-Grandmotherhood" to which I myself belong.
In the first place, it was always asserted, with emphasis and even with acrimony, that he was not a Whig. Gladstone, who did not much like Whiggery, though he often used Whigs, laid it down that "to be a Whig a man must be a born Whig," and I believe that the doctrine is absolutely sound. But Palmerston was born and bred a Tory, and from 1807 to 1830 held office in Tory Administrations. The remaining thirty-five years of his life he spent, for the most part, in Whig Administrations, but a Whig he was not. The one thing in the world which he loved supremely was power, and, as long as this was secured, he did not trouble himself much about the political complexion of his associates. "Palmerston does not care how much dirt he eats, so long as it is gilded dirt;" and, if gilded dirt be the right description of office procured by flexible politics, Palmerston ate, in his long career, an extraordinary amount of it.
Then, again, I remember that the Whigs thought Palmerston very vulgar. The newspapers always spoke of him as an aristocrat, but the Whigs knew better. He had been, in all senses of the word, a man of fashion; he had won the nickname of "Cupid," and had figured, far beyond the term of youth, in a raffish kind of smart society which the Whigs regarded with a mixture of contempt and horror. His bearing towards the Queen, who abhorred him—not without good reason—was considered to be lamentably lacking in that ceremonious respect for the Crown which the Whigs always maintained even when they were dethroning Kings. Disraeli likened his manner to that of "a favourite footman on easy terms with his mistress," and one who was in official relations with him wrote: "He left on my recollection the impression of a strong character, with an intellect with a coarse vein in it, verging sometimes on brutality, and of a mind little exercised on subjects of thought beyond the immediate interests of public and private life, little cultivated, and drawing its stores, not from reading but from experience, and long and varied intercourse with men and women."
Having come rather late in life to the chief place in politics, Palmerston kept it to the end. He was an indomitable fighter, and had extraordinary health. At the opening of the Session of 1865 he gave the customary Full-Dress Dinner, and Mr. Speaker Denison,[*] who sat beside him, made this curious memorandum of his performance at table: "He ate two plates of turtle soup; he was then served very amply to cod and oyster sauce; he then took a pate; afterwards he was helped to two very greasy-looking entrees; he then despatched a plate of roast mutton; there then appeared before him the largest, and to my mind the hardest, slice of ham that ever figured on the table of a nobleman, yet it disappeared just in time to answer the enquiry of the butler, 'Snipe or pheasant, my lord?' He instantly replied, 'Pheasant,' thus completing his ninth dish of meat at that meal." A few weeks later the Speaker, in conversation with Palmerston, expressed a hope that he was taking care of his health, to which the octogenarian Premier replied: "Oh yes—indeed I am. I very often take a cab at night, and if you have both windows open it is almost as good as walking home." "Almost as good!" exclaimed the valetudinarian Speaker. "A through draught and a north-east wind! And in a hack cab! What a combination for health!"
[Footnote *: Afterwards Lord Ossington.]
Palmerston fought and won his last election in July, 1865, being then in his eighty-first year, and he died on the 15th of October next ensuing. On the 19th the Queen wrote as follows to the statesman who, as Lord John Russell, had been her Prime Minister twenty years before, and who, as Earl Russell, had been for the last six years Foreign Secretary in Palmerston's Administration: "The Queen can turn to no other than Lord Russell, an old and tried friend of hers, to undertake the arduous duties of Prime Minister and to carry on the Government."
It is sometimes said of my good friend Sir George Trevelyan that his most responsible task in life has been to "live up to the position of being his uncle's nephew." He has made a much better job of his task than I have made of mine; and yet I have never been indifferent to the fact that I was related by so close a tie to the author of the first Reform Bill, and the chief promoter—as regards this country—of Italian unity and freedom.
Lord John Russell was born in 1792, and became Prime Minister for the first time in 1846. Soon after, Queen Victoria, naturally interested in the oncoming generation of statesmen, said to the Premier, "Pray tell me, Lord John, whom do you consider the most promising young man in your party?" After due consideration Lord John replied, "George Byng, ma'am," signifying thereby a youth who eventually became the third Earl of Strafford.
In 1865 Lord John, who in the meantime had been created Earl Russell, became, after many vicissitudes in office and opposition, Prime Minister for the second time. The Queen, apparently hard put to it for conversation, asked him whom he now considered the most promising young man in the Liberal party. He replied, without hesitation, "George Byng, ma'am," thereby eliciting the very natural rejoinder, "But that's what you told me twenty years ago!"
This fragment of anecdotage, whether true or false, is eminently characteristic of Lord Russell. In principles, beliefs, opinions, even in tastes and habits, he was singularly unchanging. He lived to be close on eighty-six; he spent more than half a century in active politics; and it would be difficult to detect in all those years a single deviation from the creed which he professed when, being not yet twenty-one, he was returned as M.P. for his father's pocket-borough of Tavistock.
From first to last he was the staunch and unwavering champion of freedom—civil, intellectual, and religious. At the very outset of his Parliamentary career he said, "We talk much—and think a great deal too much—of the wisdom of our ancestors. I wish we could imitate the courage of our ancestors. They were not ready to lay their liberties at the foot of the Crown upon every vain or imaginary alarm." At the close of life he referred to England as "the country whose freedom I have worshipped, and whose liberties and prosperity I am not ashamed to say we owe to the providence of Almighty God."
This faith Lord Russell was prepared to maintain at all times, in all places, and amid surroundings which have been known to test the moral fibre of more boisterous politicians. Though profoundly attached to the Throne and to the Hanoverian succession, he was no courtier. The year 1688 was his sacred date, and he had a habit of applying the principles of our English Revolution to the issues of modern politics.
Actuated, probably, by some playful desire to probe the heart of Whiggery by putting an extreme case, Queen Victoria once said: "Is it true, Lord John, that you hold that a subject is justified, under certain circumstances, in disobeying his Sovereign?" "Well, ma'am, speaking to a Sovereign of the House of Hanover, I can only say that I suppose it is!"
When Italy was struggling towards unity and freedom, the Queen was extremely anxious that Lord John, then Foreign Secretary, should not encourage the revolutionary party. He promptly referred Her Majesty to "the doctrines of the Revolution of 1688," and informed her that, "according to those doctrines, all power held by Sovereigns may be forfeited by misconduct, and each nation is the judge of its own internal government."
The love of justice was as strongly marked in Lord John Russell as the love of freedom. He could make no terms with what he thought one-sided or oppressive. When the starving labourers of Dorset combined in an association which they did not know to be illegal, he urged that incendiaries in high places, such as the Duke of Cumberland and Lord Wynford, were "far more guilty than the labourers, but the law does not reach them, I fear."
When a necessary reform of the Judicature resisted on the ground of expense, he said:
"If you cannot afford to do justice speedily and well, you may as well shut up the Exchequer and confess that you have no right to raise taxes for the protection of the subject, for justice is the first and primary end of all government."
Those are the echoes of a remote past. My own recollections of my uncle begin when he was Foreign Secretary in Lord Palmerston's Government, and I can see him now, walled round with despatch-boxes, in his pleasant library looking out on the lawn of Pembroke Lodge—the prettiest villa in Richmond Park. In appearance he was very much what Punch always represented him—very short, with a head and shoulders which might have belonged to a much larger frame. When sitting he might have been taken for a man of average height, and it was only when he rose to his feet that his diminutive stature became apparent.
One of his most characteristic traits was his voice, which had what, in the satirical writings of the last century, used to be called "an aristocratic drawl," and his pronunciation was archaic. Like other high-bred people of his time, he talked of "cowcumbers" and "laylocks"; called a woman an "oo'man," and was much "obleeged" where a degenerate race is content to be "obliged."
The frigidity of his address and the seeming stiffness of his manner were really due to an innate and incurable shyness, but they produced, even among people who ought to have known him better, a totally erroneous impression of his character and temperament.
In the small social arts, which are so valuable an equipment for a political leader, he was indeed deficient. He had no memory for faces, and was painfully apt to ignore his political supporters when he met them outside the walls of Parliament; and this inability to remember faces was allied with a curious artlessness which made it impossible for him to feign a cordiality he did not feel. In his last illness he said: "I have seemed cold to my friends, but it was not in my heart." The friends needed no such assurance, for in private life he was not only gentle, affectionate, and tender to an unusual degree, but full of fun and playfulness, a genial host and an admirable talker. The great Lord Dufferin, a consummate judge of such matters, said: "His conversation was too delightful, full of anecdote; but then his anecdotes were not like those told by the ordinary raconteur, and were simply reminiscences of his own personal experience and intercourse with other distinguished men."
When Lord Palmerston died, The Times was in its zenith, and its editor, J. T. Delane, had long been used to "shape the whispers" of Downing Street. Lord Russell resented journalistic dictation. "I know," he said, "that Mr. Delane is very angry because I did not kiss his hand instead of the Queen's" The Times became hostile, and a competent critic remarked:"
"There have been Ministers who knew the springs of that public opinion which is delivered ready digested to the nation every morning, and who have not scrupled to work them for their own diurnal glorification, even although the recoil might injure their colleagues. But Lord Russell has never bowed the knee to the potentates of the Press; he has offered no sacrifice of invitations to social editors; and social editors have accordingly failed to discover the merits of a statesman who so little appreciated them, until they have almost made the nation forget the services that Lord Russell has so faithfully and courageously rendered."
Of Lord Russell's political consistency I have already spoken; and it was most conspicuously displayed in his lifelong zeal for the extension of the suffrage. He had begun his political activities by a successful attack on the rottenest of rotten boroughs; the enfranchisement of the Middle Class was the triumph of his middle life. As years advanced his zeal showed no abatement; again and again he returned to the charge, though amidst the most discouraging circumstances; and when, in his old age, he became Prime Minister for the second time, the first task to which he set his hand was so to extend the suffrage as to include "the best of the working classes."
In spite of this generous aspiration, it must be confessed that the Reform Bill of 1866 was not a very exciting measure. It lowered the qualification for the county franchise to L14 and that for the boroughs to L7; and this, together with the enfranchisement of lodgers, was expected to add 400,000 new voters to the list.
The Bill fell flat. It was not sweeping enough to arouse enthusiasm. Liberals accepted it as an instalment; but Whigs thought it revolutionary, and made common cause with the Tories to defeat it. As it was introduced into the House of Commons, Lord Russell had no chance of speaking on it; but Gladstone's speeches for it and Lowe's against it remain to this day among the masterpieces of political oratory, and eventually it was lost, on an amendment moved in committee, by a majority of eleven. Lord Russell of course resigned. The Queen received his decision with regret. It was evident that Prussia and Austria were on the brink of war, and Her Majesty considered it a most unfortunate moment for a change in her Government. She thought that the Ministry had better accept the amendment and go on with the Bill. But Lord Russell stood his ground, and that ground was the highest. "He considers that vacillation on such a question weakens the authority of the Crown, promotes distrust of public men, and inflames the animosity of parties."
On the 26th of June, 1866, it was announced in Parliament that the Ministers had resigned, and that the Queen had sent for Lord Derby. Lord Russell retained the Liberal leadership till Christmas, 1867, and then definitely retired from public life, though his interest in political events continued unabated to the end.
Of course, I am old enough to remember very well the tumults and commotions which attended the defeat of the Reform Bill of 1866. They contrasted strangely with the apathy and indifference which had prevailed while the Bill was in progress; but the fact was that a new force had appeared. The Liberal party had discovered Gladstone; and were eagerly awaiting the much more democratic measure which they thought he was destined to carry in the very near future. That it was really carried by Disraeli is one of the ironies of our political history.
During the years of my uncle's retirement was much more in his company than had been possible when I was a schoolboy and he was Foreign Secretary or Prime Minister. Pembroke Lodge became to me a second home; and I have no happier memory than of hours spent there by the side of one who had played bat, trap and ball with Charles Fox; had been the travelling companion of Lord Holland; had corresponded with Tom Moore, debated with Francis Jeffrey, and dined with Dr. Parr; had visited Melrose Abbey in the company of Sir Walter Scott, and criticized the acting of Mrs. Siddons; had conversed with Napoleon in his seclusion at Elba, and had ridden with the Duke of Wellington along the lines of Torres Vedras. It was not without reason that Lord Russell, when reviewing his career, epitomized it in Dryden couplet:
"Not heaven itself upon the past has power, But what has been has been, and I have had my hour."
My opportunities of observing Lord Derby at close quarters, were comparatively scanty. When, in June, 1866, he kissed hands as Prime Minister for the third time, I was a boy of thirteen, and I was only sixteen when he died. I had known Lord Palmerston in the House of Commons and Lord Russell in private life; but my infant footsteps were seldom guided towards the House of Lords, and it was only there that "the Rupert of debate" could at that time be heard.
The Whigs, among whom I was reared, detested Derby with the peculiar detestation which partisans always feel for a renegade. In 1836 Charles Dickens, in his capacity of Parliamentary reporter, had conversed with an ancient M.P. who allowed that Lord Stanley—who became Lord Derby in 1851—might do something one of these days, but "he's too young, sir—too young." The active politicians of the sixties did not forget that this too-young Stanley, heir of a great Whig house, had flung himself with ardour into the popular cause, and, when the Lords threw out the first Reform Bill, had jumped on to the table at Brooks's and had proclaimed the great constitutional truth—reaffirmed over the Parliament Bill in 1911—that "His Majesty can clap coronets on the heads of a whole company of his Foot Guards."
The question of the influences which had changed Stanley from a Whig to a Tory lies outside the purview of a sketch like this. For my present purpose it must suffice to say that, as he had absolutely nothing to gain by the change, we may fairly assume that it was due to conviction. But whether it was due to conviction, or to ambition, or to temper, or to anything else, it made the Whigs who remained Whigs, very sore. Lord Clarendon, a typical Whig placeman, said that Stanley was "a great aristocrat, proud of family and wealth, but had no generosity for friend or foe, and never acknowledged help." Some allowance must be made for the ruffled feelings of a party which sees its most brilliant recruit absorbed into the opposing ranks, and certainly Stanley was such a recruit as any party would have been thankful to claim.
He was the future head of one of the few English families which the exacting genealogists of the Continent recognize as noble. To pedigree he added great possessions, and wealth which the industrial development of Lancashire was increasing every day. He was a graceful and tasteful scholar, who won the Chanceller's prize for Latin verse at Oxford, and translated the Iliad into fluent hexameters. Good as a scholar, he was, as became the grandson of the founder of "The Derby," even better as a sportsman; and in private life he was the best companion in the world, playful and reckless, as a schoolboy, and never letting prudence or propriety stand between him and his jest. "Oh, Johnny, what fun we shall have!" was his characteristic greeting to Lord John Russell, when that ancient rival entered the House of Lords.
Furthermore, Stanley had, in richest abundance, the great natural gift of oratory, with an audacity in debate which won him the nickname of "Rupert," and a voice which would have stirred his hearers if he had only been reciting Bradshaw. For a brilliant sketch of his social aspect we may consult Lord Beaumaris in Lord Beaconsfield's Endymion; and of what he was in Parliament we have the same great man's account, reported by Matthew Arnold: "Full of nerve, dash, fire, and resource, he carried the House irresistibly along with him."
In the Parliament of 1859-1865 (with which my political recollections begin) Lord Palmerston was Prime Minister and Lord Derby Leader of the Opposition, with Disraeli as his lieutenant in the House of Commons. If, as Lord Randolph Churchill said in later years, the business of an Opposition is to oppose, it must be admitted that Derby and Disraeli were extremely remiss. It was suspected at the time, and has since been made known through Lord Malmesbury's Memoirs, that there was something like an "understanding" between Palmerston and Derby. As long as Palmerston kept his Liberal colleagues in order, and chaffed his Radical supporters out of all the reforms on which their hearts were set, Derby was not to turn him out of office, though the Conservative minority in the House of Commons was very large, and there were frequent openings for harassing attack.
Palmerston's death, of course, dissolved this compact; and, though the General Election of 1865 had again yielded a Liberal majority, the change in the Premiership had transformed the aspect of political affairs. The new Prime Minister was in the House of Lords, seventy-three years old, and not a strong man for his age. His lieutenant in the House of Commons was Gladstone, fifty-five years old, and in the fullest vigour of body and mind. Had any difference of opinion arisen between the two men, it was obvious that Gladstone was in a position to make his will prevail; but on the immediate business of the new Parliament they were absolutely at one, and that business was exactly what Palmerston had for the last six years successfully opposed—the extension of the franchise to the working man. When no one is enthusiastic about a Bill, and its opponents hate it, there is not much difficulty in defeating it, and Derby and Disraeli were not the men to let the opportunity slide. With the aid of the malcontent Whigs they defeated the Reform Bill, and Derby became Prime Minister, with Disraeli as Leader of the House of Commons. It was a conjuncture fraught with consequences vastly more important than anyone foresaw.
In announcing his acceptance of office (which he had obtained by defeating a Reform Bill), Derby amazed his opponents and agitated his friends by saying that he "reserved to himself complete liberty to deal with the question of Parliamentary reform whenever suitable occasion should arise." In February, 1867, Disraeli, on behalf of the Tory Government, brought in the first really democratic Reform Bill which England had ever known. He piloted it through the House of Commons with a daring and a skill of which I was an eye-witness, and, when it went up to the Lords, Derby persuaded his fellow-peers to accept a measure which established household suffrage in the towns.
It was "a revolution by due course of law," nothing less; and to this day people dispute whether Disraeli induced Derby to accept it, or whether the process was reversed. Derby called it "a leap in the dark." Disraeli vaulted that he had "educated his party" up to the point of accepting it. Both alike took comfort in the fact that they had "dished the Whigs"—which, indeed, they had done most effectually. The disgusted Clarendon declared that Derby "had only agreed to the Reform Bill as he would of old have backed a horse at Newmarket. He hates Disraeli, but believes in him as he would have done in an unprincipled trainer: he wins—that is all."
On the 15th of August, 1867, the Tory Reform Bill received the Royal Assent, and Derby attained the summit of his career. Inspired by whatever motives, influenced by whatever circumstances, the Tory chief had accomplished that which the most liberal-minded of his predecessors had never even dreamed of doing. He had rebuilt the British Constitution on a democratic foundation.
At this point some account of Lord Derby's personal appearance may be introduced. My impression is that he was only of the middle height, but quite free from the disfigurement of obesity; light in frame, and brisk in movement. Whereas most statesmen were bald, he had an immense crop of curly, and rather untidy, hair and the abundant whiskers of the period. His features were exactly of the type which novelists used to call aristocratic: an aquiline nose, a wide but firmly compressed mouth, and a prominent chin. His dress was, even then, old-fashioned, and his enormous black satin cravat, arranged in I know not how many folds, seemed to be a survival from the days of Count D'Orsay. His air and bearing were such as one expects in a man whose position needs no advertizing; and I have been told that, even in the breeziest moments of unguarded merriment, his chaff was always the chaff of a gentleman.
Lord Beaconsfield, writing to a friend, once said that he had just emerged from an attack of the gout, "of renovating ferocity," and this phrase might have been applied to the long succession of gouty illnesses which were always harassing Lord Derby. Unfortunately, as we advance in life, the "renovating" effects of gout become less conspicuous than its "ferocity;" and Lord Derby, who was born in 1799, was older than his years in 1867. In January and February, 1868, his gout was so severe that it threatened his life. He recovered, but he saw that his health was no longer equal to the strain of office, and on the 24th of February he placed his resignation in the Queen's hands.
But during the year and a half that remained to him he was by no means idle. He had originally broken away from the Whigs on a point which threatened the temporalities of the still-established Church of Ireland; and in the summer of 1868 Gladstone's avowal of the principle of Irish Disestablishment roused all his ire, and seemed to quicken him into fresh life. The General Election was fixed for November, and the Liberal party, almost without exception, prepared to follow Gladstone in his Irish policy. On the 29th of October Bishop Wilberforce noted that Derby was "very keen," and had asked: "What will the Whigs not swallow? Disraeli is very sanguine still about the elections."
The question about the Whigs came comically from the man who had just made the Tories swallow Household Suffrage; and Disraeli's sanguineness was ill-founded. The election resulted in a majority of one hundred for Irish Disestablishment; Disraeli resigned, and Gladstone became for the first time Prime Minister.
The Session of 1869 was devoted to the Irish Bill, and Lord Derby, though on the brink of the grave, opposed the Bill in what some people thought the greatest of his speeches in the House of Lords. He was pale, his voice was feeble, he looked, as he was, a broken man; but he rose to the very height of an eloquence which had already become traditional. His quotation of Meg Merrilies' address to the Laird of Ellangowan, and his application of it to the plight of the Irish Church, were as apt and as moving as anything in English oratory. The speech concluded thus:
"My Lords, I am now an old man, and, like many of your Lordships, I have already passed three score years and ten. My official life is entirely closed; my political life is nearly so; and, in the course of nature, my natural life cannot now be long. That natural life commenced with the bloody suppression of a formidable rebellion in Ireland, which immediately preceded the union between the two countries. And may God grant that its close may not witness a renewal of the one and a dissolution of the other."
This speech was delivered on the 17th of June, 1869, and the speaker died on the 23rd of the following October.
I always count it among the happy accidents of my life that I happened to be in London during the summer of 1867. I was going to Harrow in the following September, and for the next five years my chance of hearing Parliamentary debates was small. In the summer of 1866, when the Russell-Gladstone Reform Bill was thrown out, I was in the country, and therefore I had missed the excitement caused by the demolition of the Hyde Park railings, the tears of the terrified Home Secretary, and the litanies chanted by the Reform League under Gladstone's window in Carlton House Terrace. But in 1867 I was in the thick of the fun. My father was the Sergeant-at-Arms attending the House of Commons, and could always admit me to the privileged seats "under the Gallery," then more numerous than now. So it came about that I heard all the most famous debates in Committee on the Tory Reform Bill, and thereby learned for the first time the fascination of Disraeli's genius. The Whigs, among whom I was reared, did not dislike "Dizzy" as they disliked Lord Derby, or as Dizzy himself was disliked by the older school of Tories. But they absolutely miscalculated and misconceived him, treating him as merely an amusing charlatan, whose rococo oratory and fantastic tricks afforded a welcome relief from the dulness of ordinary politics.
To a boy of fourteen thus reared, the Disraeli of 1867 was an astonishment and a revelation—as the modern world would say, an eye-opener. The House of Commons was full of distinguished men—Lord Cranborne, afterwards Lord Salisbury; John Bright and Robert Lowe, Gathorne Hardy, Bernal-Osborne, Goschen, Mill, Kinglake, Renley, Horsman, Coleridge. The list might be greatly prolonged, but of course it culminates in Gladstone, then in the full vigour of his powers. All these people I saw and heard during that memorable summer; but high above them all towers, in my recollection, the strange and sinister figure of the great Disraeli. The Whigs had laughed at him for thirty years; but now, to use a phrase of the nursery, they laughed on the wrong side of their mouths. There was nothing ludicrous about him now, nothing to provoke a smile, except when he wished to provoke it, and gaily unhorsed his opponents of every type—Gladstone, or Lowe, or Beresford-Hope. He seemed, for the moment, to dominate the House of Commons, to pervade it with his presence, and to guide it where he would. At every turn he displayed his reckless audacity, his swiftness in transition, his readiness to throw overboard a stupid colleague, his alacrity to take a hint from an opponent and make it appear his own. The Bill underwent all sorts of changes in Committee; but still it seemed to be Disraeli's Bill, and no one else's. And, indeed, he is entitled to all the credit which he got, for it was his genius that first saw the possibilities hidden in a Tory democracy.
To a boy of fourteen, details of rating, registration, and residential qualification make no strong appeal; but the personality of this strange magician, un-English, inscrutable, irresistible, was profoundly interesting. "Gladstone," wrote Lord Houghton to a friend, "seems quite awed with the diabolical cleverness of Dizzy, who, he says, is gradually driving all ideas of political honour out of the House, and accustoming it to the most revolting cynicism." I had been trained by people who were sensitive about "Political honour," and I knew nothing of "cynicism"; but the "diabolical cleverness" made an impression on me which has lasted to this day.
What was Dizzy in personal appearance? If I had not known the fact, I do not think that I should have recognized him as one of the ancient race of Israel. His profile was not the least what we in England consider Semitic. He might have been a Spaniard or an Italian, but he certainly was not a Briton. He was rather tall than short, but slightly bowed, except when he drew himself up for the more effective delivery of some shrewd blow. His complexion was extremely pale, and the pallor was made more conspicuous by contrast with his hair, steeped in Tyrian dye, worn long, and eked out with artificial additions.
He was very quietly dressed. The green velvet trousers and rings worn outside white kid gloves, which had helped to make his fame in "the days of the dandies," had long since been discarded. He dressed, like other men of his age and class, in a black frock-coat worn open, a waistcoat cut rather deep, light-coloured trousers, and a black cravat tied in a loose bow—and those spring-sided boots of soft material which used to be called "Jemimas." I may remark, in passing, that these details of costume were reproduced with startling fidelity in Mr. Dennis Eadie's wonderful play—the best representation of personal appearance that I have ever seen on the stage.
Disraeli's voice was by nature deep, and he had a knack of deepening it when he wished to be impressive. His articulation was extremely deliberate, so that every word told; and his habitual manner was calm, but not stolid. I say "habitual," because it had variations. When Gladstone, just the other side of the Table, was thundering his protests, Disraeli became absolutely statuesque, eyed his opponent stonily through his monocle, and then congratulated himself, in a kind of stage drawl, that there was a "good broad piece of furniture" between him and the enraged Leader of the Opposition. But when it was his turn to simulate the passion which the other felt, he would shout and wave his arms, recoil from the Table and return to it, and act his part with a vigour which, on one memorable occasion, was attributed to champagne; but this was merely play-acting, and was completely laid aside as he advanced in years.
What I have written so far is, no doubt, an anachronism, for I have been describing what I saw and heard in the Session of 1867, and Disraeli did not become Prime Minister till February, 1868; but six months made no perceptible change in his appearance, speech, or manner. What he had been when he was fighting his Reform Bill through the House, that he was when, as Prime Minister, he governed the country at the head of a Parliamentary minority. His triumph was the triumph of audacity. In 1834 he had said to Lord Melbourne, who enquired his object in life, "I want to be Prime Minister"—and now that object was attained. At Brooks's they said, "The last Government was the Derby; this is the Hoax." Gladstone's discomfiture was thus described by Frederick Greenwood:
"The scorner who shot out the lip and shook the head at him across the Table of the House of Commons last Session has now more than heart could wish; his eyes—speaking in an Oriental manner—stand out with fatness, he speaketh loftily; and pride compasseth him about as with a chain. It is all very well to say that the candle of the wicked is put out in the long run; that they are as stubble before the wind, and as chaff that the storm carries away. So we were told in other times of tribulation. This was the sort of consolation that used to be offered in the jaunty days of Lord Palmerston. People used then to soothe the earnest Liberal by the same kind of argument. 'Only wait,' it was said, 'until he has retired, and all will be well with us.' But no sooner has the storm carried away the wicked Whig chaff than the heavens are forthwith darkened by new clouds of Tory chaff."
Lord Shaftesbury, as became his character, took a sterner view. "Disraeli Prime Minister! He is a Hebrew; this is a good thing. He is a man sprung from an inferior station; another good thing in these days, as showing the liberality of our institutions. But he is a leper, without principle, without feeling, without regard to anything, human or Divine, beyond his own personal ambition."
The situation in which the new Prime Minister found himself was, from the constitutional point of view, highly anomalous. The settlement of the question of Reform, which he had effected in the previous year, had healed the schism in the Liberal party, and the Liberals could now defeat the Government whenever they chose to mass their forces. Disraeli was officially the Leader of a House in which his opponents had a large majority. In March, 1868, Gladstone began his attack on the Irish Church, and pursued it with all his vigour, and with the support of a united party. He moved a series of Resolutions favouring Irish Disestablishment, and the first was carried by a majority of sixty-five against the Government.
This defeat involved explanation. Disraeli, in a speech which Bright called "a mixture of pompousness and servility," described his audiences of the Queen, and so handled the Royal name as to convey the impression that Her Majesty was on his side. Divested of verbiage and mystification, his statement amounted to this—that, in spite of adverse votes, he intended to hold on till the autumn, and then to appeal to the new electorate created by the Reform Act of the previous year. As the one question to be submitted to the electors was that of the Irish Church, the campaign naturally assumed a theological character. On the 20th of August Lord Shaftesbury wrote: "Dizzy is seeking everywhere for support. He is all things to all men, and nothing to anyone. He cannot make up his mind to be Evangelical, Neologian, or Ritualistic; he is waiting for the highest bidder."
Parliament was dissolved in November, and the General Election resulted in a majority of one hundred for Gladstone and Irish Disestablishment. By a commendable innovation on previous practice, Disraeli resigned the Premiership without waiting for a hostile vote of the new Parliament. He declined the Earldom to which, as an ex-Prime Minister, he was by usage entitled; but he asked the Queen to make his devoted wife Viscountess Beaconsfield. As a youth, after hearing the great speakers of the House which he had not yet entered, he had said, "Between ourselves, I could floor them all"—but now Gladstone had "floored" him, and it took him five years to recover his breath.
WILLIAM EWART GLADSTONE
Most people remember Gladstone as an old man. He reached the summit of his career when he had just struck seventy. After Easter, 1880, when he dethroned Lord Beaconsfield and formed his second Administration, the eighteen years of life that remained to him added nothing to his fame, and even in some respects detracted from it. Gradually he passed into the stage which was indicated by Labouchere's nickname of "The Grand Old Man"; and he enjoyed the homage which rightly attends the closing period of an exemplary life, wonderfully prolonged, and spent in the service of the nation. He had become historical before he died. But my recollections of him go back to the earlier sixties, when he was Chancellor of the Exchequer in Lord Palmerston's Government, and they become vivid at the point of time when he became Prime Minister—December, 1868.
In old age his appearance was impressive, through the combination of physical wear-and-tear with the unconquerable vitality of the spirit which dwelt within. The pictures of him as a young man represent him as distinctly handsome, with masses of dark hair thrown back from a truly noble forehead, and eyes of singular expressiveness. But in middle life—and in his case middle life was continued till he was sixty—he was neither as good-looking as he once had been, nor, as grand-looking as he eventually became. He looked much older than his age. When he met the new Parliament which had been elected at the end of 1868, he was only as old as Lord Curzon is now; but he looked old enough to be Lord Curzon's father. His life had been, as he was fond of saying, a life of contention; and the contention had left its mark on his face, with its deep furrows and careworn expression. Three years before he had felt, to use his own phrase, "sore with conflicts about the public expenditure" (in which old Palmerston had always beaten him), and to that soreness had been added traces of the fierce strife about Parliamentary Reform and Irish Disestablishment. F. D. Maurice thus described him: "His face is a very expressive one, hard-worked, as you say, and not perhaps specially happy; more indicative of struggle than of victory, though not without promise of that. He has preserved the type which I can remember that he bore at the University thirty-six years ago, though it has undergone curious development."
My own recollection exactly confirms Maurice's estimate. In Gladstone's face, as I used to see it in those days, there was no look of gladness or victory. He had, indeed, won a signal triumph at the General Election of 1868, and had attained the supreme object of a politician's ambition. But he did not look the least as if he enjoyed his honours, but rather as if he felt an insupportable burden of responsibility. He knew that he had an immense amount to do in carrying the reforms which Palmerston had burked, and, coming to the Premiership on the eve of sixty, he realized that the time for doing it was necessarily short. He seemed consumed by a burning and absorbing energy; and, when he found himself seriously hampered or strenuously opposed, he was angry with an anger which was all the more formidable because it never vented itself in an insolent or abusive word. A vulnerable temper kept resolutely under control had always been to me one of the most impressive features in human character.
Gladstone had won the General Election by asking the constituencies to approve the Disestablishment of the Irish Church; and this was the first task to which he addressed himself in the Parliament of 1869. It was often remarked about his speaking that in every Session he made at least one speech of which everyone said, "That was the finest thing Gladstone ever did." This was freely said of it he speech in which he introduced the Disestablishment Bill on the 1st of March, 1869, and again of that in which he wound up the debate on the Second Reading. In pure eloquence he had rivals, and in Parliamentary management superiors; but in the power of embodying principles in legislative form and preserving unity of purpose through a multitude of confusing minutiae he had neither equal nor second.
The Disestablishment Bill passed easily through the Commons, but was threatened with disaster in the Lords, and it was with profound satisfaction that Mrs. Gladstone, most devoted and most helpful of wives, announced the result of the division on the Second Reading. Gladstone had been unwell, and had gone to bed early. Mrs. Gladstone who had been listening to the debate in the House of Lords, said to a friend, "I could not help it; I gave William a discreet poke. 'A majority of thirty-three, my dear.' 'Thank you, my dear,' he said, and turned round, and went to sleep on the other side." After a stormy passage through Committee, the Bill became law on the 26th of July.
So Gladstone's first great act of legislation ended, and he was athirst for more. Such momentous reforms as the Irish Land Act, the Education Act, the abolition of religious tests in the University, the abolition of purchase in the Army, and the establishment of the Ballot, filled Session after Session with excitement; and Gladstone pursued each in turn with an ardour which left his followers out of breath.
He was not very skilful in managing his party, or even his Cabinet. He kept his friendships and his official relations quite distinct. He never realized the force of the saying that men who have only worked together have only half lived together. It was truly said that he understood MAN, but not men; and meek followers in the House of Commons, who had sacrificed money, time, toil, health, and sometimes conscience, to the support of the Government, turned, like the crushed worm, when they found that Gladstone sternly ignored their presence in the Lobby, or, if forced to speak to them, called them by inappropriate names. His strenuousness of reforming purpose and strength of will were concealed by no lightness of touch, no give-and-take, no playfulness, no fun. He had little of that saving grace of humour which smoothes the practical working of life as much as it adds to its enjoyment. He was fiercely, terribly, incessantly in earnest; and unbroken earnestness, though admirable, exhausts and in the long run alienates.
There was yet another feature of his Parliamentary management which proved disastrous to his cause, and this was his tendency to what the vulgar call hair-splitting and the learned casuistry. At Oxford men are taught to distinguish with scrupulous care between propositions closely similar, but not identical. In the House of Commons they are satisfied with the roughest and broadest divisions between right and wrong; they see no shades of colour between black-and white. Hence arose two unfortunate incidents, which were nicknamed "The Ewelme Scandal" and "The Colliery Explosion"—two cases in which Gladstone, while observing the letter of an Act of Parliament, violated, or seemed to violate, its spirit in order to qualify highly deserving gentlemen for posts to which he wished to appoint them. By law the Rectory of Ewelme (in the gift of the Crown) could only be held by a graduate of the University of Oxford. Gladstone conferred it on a Cambridge man, who had to procure an ad eundem degree at Oxford before he could accept the preferment. By law no man could be made a paid member of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council unless he had served as a judge. Gladstone made his Attorney-General, Sir John Collier, a Judge for three weeks, and then passed him on to the Judicial Committee. Both these appointments were angrily challenged in Parliament. Gladstone defended them with energy and skill, and logically his defence was unassailable. But these were cases where the plain man—and the House of Commons is full of plain men—feels, though he cannot prove, that there has been a departure from ordinary straightforwardness and fair dealing.
Yet again; the United States had a just complaint against us; arising out of the performances of the Alabama, which, built in an English dockyard and manned by an English crew, but owned by the Slaveowners' Confederacy, had got out to sea, and, during a two years' cruise of piracy and devastation, had harassed the Government of the United States. The quarrel had lasted for years, with ever-increasing gravity. Gladstone determined to end it; and, with that purpose, arranged for a Board of Arbitration, which sat at Geneva, and decided against England. We were heavily amerced by the sentence of this International Tribunal. We paid, but we did not like it. Gladstone gloried in the moral triumph of a settlement without bloodshed; but a large section of the nation, including many of his own party, felt that national honour had been lowered, and determined to avenge themselves on the Minister who had lowered it.
Meanwhile Disraeli, whom Gladstone had deposed in 1868, was watching the development of these events with sarcastic interest and effective criticism, till in 1872 he was able to liken the great Liberal, Government to "a range of exhausted volcanoes," and to say of its eminent leader that he "alternated between a menace and a sigh." In 1873 Gladstone introduced a wholly unworkable Bill for the reform of University education in Ireland. It pleased no one, and was defeated on the Second Reading. Gladstone resigned. The Queen sent for Disraeli; but Disraeli declined to repeat the experiment of governing the country without a majority in the House of Commons, and Gladstone was forced to resume office, though, of course, with immensely diminished authority. His Cabinet was all at sixes and sevens. There were resignations and rumours of resignation. He took the Chancellorship of the Exchequer, and, as some authorities contended, vacated his seat by doing so. Election after election went wrong, and the end was visibly at hand.
At the beginning of 1874 Gladstone, confined to his house by a cold, executed a coup d'etat. He announced the Dissolution of Parliament, and promised, if his lease of power were renewed, to repeal the income-tax. The Times observed: "The Prime Minister descends upon Greenwich" (where he had taken refuge after being expelled from South Lancashire) "amid a shower of gold, and must needs prove as irresistible as the Father of the Gods." But this was too sanguine a forecast. Greenwich, which returned two members, placed Gladstone second on the poll, below a local distiller, while his followers were blown out of their seats like chaff before the wind. When the General Election was over, the Tories had a majority of forty-six. Gladstone, after some hesitation, resigned without waiting to meet a hostile Parliament. Disraeli became Prime Minister for the second time; and in addressing the new House of Commons he paid a generous compliment to his great antagonist. "If," he said, "I had been a follower of a Parliamentary chief so eminent, even if I thought he had erred, I should have been disposed rather to exhibit sympathy than to offer criticism. I should remember the great victories which he had fought and won; I should remember his illustrious career; its continuous success and splendour, not its accidental or even disastrous mistakes."
The roost loyal Gladstonian cannot improve upon that tribute, and Gladstone's greatest day was yet to come.
This set of sketches is not intended for a continuous narrative, but for a series of impressions. I must therefore condense the events of Disraeli's second Administration (during which he became Lord Beaconsfield) and of Gladstone's Administration which succeeded it, hurrying to meet Lord Salisbury, whom so far I have not attempted to describe.
From February, 1874, to May, 1880, Disraeli was not only in office, but, for the first time, in power; for whereas in his first Administration he was confronted by a hostile majority in the House of Commons, he now had a large majority of his own, reinforced, on every critical division, by renegade Whigs and disaffected Radicals. He had, as no Minister since Lord Melbourne had, the favour and friendship, as well as the confidence, of the Queen. The House of Lords and the London mob alike were at his feet, and he was backed by a noisy and unscrupulous Press.
In short, he was as much a dictator as the then existing forms of the Constitution allowed, and he gloried in his power. If only he had risked a Dissolution on his triumphal return from Berlin in July, 1878, he would certainly have retained his dictatorship for life; but his health had failed, and his nerve failed with it. "I am very unwell," he said to Lord George Hamilton, "but I manage to crawl to the Treasury Bench, and when I get there I look as fierce as I can."
Meanwhile Gladstone was not only "looking fierce," but agitating fiercely. After his great disappointment in 1874 he had abruptly retired from the leadership of the Liberal party, and had divided his cast-off mantle between Lord Granville and Lord Hartington. But the Eastern Question of 1876-1879 brought him back into the thick of the fight. Granville and Hartington found themselves practically dispossessed of their respective leaderships, and Gladstonianism dominated the active and fighting section of the Liberal party.
It is impossible to conceive a more passionate or a more skilful opposition than that with which Gladstone, to use his own phrase, "counter-worked the purpose of Lord Beaconsfield" from 1876 to 1880—and he attained his object. Lord Beaconsfield, like other Premiers nearer our own time, imagined that he was indispensable and invulnerable. Gladstone might harangue, but Beaconsfield would still govern. He told the Queen that she might safely go abroad in March, 1880, for, though there was a Dissolution impending, he knew that the country would support him. So the Queen went off in perfect ease of mind, and returned in three weeks' time to find a Liberal majority of one hundred, excluding the Irish members, with Gladstone on the crest of the wave. Lord Beaconsfield resigned without waiting for the verdict of the new Parliament. Gladstone, though the Queen had done all she could to persuade Hartington to form a Government, was found to be inevitable, and his second Administration was formed on the 28th of April, 1880. It lasted till the 25th of June, 1885, and, its achievements, its failures, and its disasters are too well remembered to need recapitulation here.
When, after a defeat on the Budget of 1885, Gladstone determined to resign, it was thought by some that Sir Stafford Northcote, who had led the Opposition in the House of Commons with skill and dignity, would be called to succeed him. But the Queen knew better; and Lord Salisbury now became Prime Minister for the first time. To all frequenters of the House of Commons he had long been a familiar, if not a favourite, figure: first as Lord Robert Cecil and then as Lord Cranborne. In the distant days of Palmerston's Premiership he was a tall, slender, ungainly young man, stooping as short-sighted people always stoop, and curiously untidy. His complexion was unusually dark for an Englishman, and his thick beard and scanty hair were intensely black. Sitting for a pocket-borough, he soon became famous for his anti-democratic zeal and his incisive speech. He joined Lord Derby's Cabinet in 1866, left it on-account of his hostility to the Reform Bill of 1867, and assailed Disraeli both with pen and tongue in a fashion which seemed to make it impossible that the two men could ever again speak to one another—let alone work together. But political grudges are short-lived; or perhaps it would be nearer the mark to say that, however strong those grudges may be, the allurements of office are stronger still. Men conscious of great powers for serving the State will often put up with a good deal which they dislike sooner than decline an opportunity of public usefulness.
Whatever the explanation, the fact remains that Lord Salisbury (who had succeeded to the title in 1868) joined Disraeli's Cabinet in 1874, and soon became a leading figure in it. His oratorical duels with the Duke of Argyll during the Eastern Question of 1876-1879 were remarkably, vigorous performances; and, when he likened a near kinsman to Titus Oates, there were some who regretted that the days of physical duelling were over. In 1878 he accompanied Lord Beaconsfield to the Congress of Berlin, being second Plenipotentiary; and when on their return he drove through the acclaiming streets of London in the back seat of the Triumphal Car, it was generally surmised that he had established his claim to the ultimate reversion of the Premiership. That reversion, as I said just now, he attained in June, 1885, and enjoyed till February, 1886—a short tenure of office, put the earnest of better and longer things to come.
At this period of His career Lord Salisbury was forced to yield to the democratic spirit so far as to "go on the stump" and address popular audiences in great towns. It was an uncongenial employment. His myopia rendered the audience invisible, and no one can talk effectively to hearers whom he does not see. The Tory working men bellowed "For he's a jolly good fellow"; but he looked singularly unlike that festive character. His voice was clear and penetrating, but there was no popular fibre in his speech. He talked of the things which interested him; but whether or not they interested his hearers he seemed not to care a jot. When he rolled off the platform and into the carriage which was to carry him away, there was a general sense of mutual relief.
But in the House of Lords he was perfectly and strikingly at home. The massive bulk, which had replaced the slimness of his youth, and his splendidly developed forehead made him there, as everywhere, a majestic figure. He neither saw, nor apparently regarded, his audience. He spoke straight up to the Reporters' Gallery, and, through it, to the public. To his immediate surroundings he seemed as profoundly indifferent as to his provincial audiences. He spoke without notes and apparently without effort. There was no rhetoric, no declamation, no display. As one listened, one seemed to hear the genuine thoughts of a singularly clever and reflective man, who had strong prejudices of his own in favour of religion, authority, and property, but was quite unswayed by the prejudices of other people. The general tone of his thought was sombre. Lord Lytton described, with curious exactness, the "massive temple," the "large slouching shoulder," and the "prone head," which "habitually stoops"—
"Above a world his contemplative gaze Peruses, finding little there to praise!"
But though he might find little enough to "praise" in a world which had departed so widely from the traditions of his youth, still, this prevailing gloom was lightened, often at very unexpected moments, by flashes of delicious humour, sarcastic but not savage. No one excelled him in the art of making an opponent look ridiculous. Careless critics called him "cynical," but it was an abuse of words. Cynicism is shamelessness, and not a word ever fell from Lord Salisbury which was inconsistent with the highest ideals of patriotic statesmanship.
He was by nature as shy as he was short-sighted. He shrank from new acquaintances, and did not always detect old friends. His failure to recognize a young politician who sat in his Cabinet, and a zealous clergyman whom he had just made a Bishop, supplied his circle with abundant mirth, which was increased when, at the beginning of the South African War, he was seen deep in military conversation with Lord Blyth, under the impression that he was talking to Lord Roberts.
But, in spite of these impediments to social facility, he was an admirable host both at Hatfield and in Arlington Street—courteous, dignified, and only anxious to put everyone at their ease. His opinions were not mine, and it always seemed to me that he was liable to be swayed by stronger wills than his own. But he was exactly what he called Gladstone, "a great Christian statesman."
It was in December, 1885, that the present Lord Gladstone; in conjunction with the late Sir Wemyss Reid, sent up "the Hawarden Kite." After a lapse of thirty-two years, that strange creature is still flapping about in a stormy sky; and in the process of time it has become a familiar, if not an attractive, object. But the history of its earlier gyrations must be briefly recalled.
The General Election of 1885 had just ended in a tie, the Liberals being exactly equal to the combined Tories and Parnellites. Suddenly the Liberals found themselves committed, as far as Gladstone could commit them, to the principle of Home Rule, which down to that time they had been taught to denounce. Most of them followed their leader, but many rebelled. The Irish transferred their votes in the House to the statesman whom—as they thought—they had squeezed into compliance with their policy, and helped him to evict Lord Salisbury after six months of office. Gladstone formed a Government, introduced a Home Rule Bill, split his party in twain, was defeated in the House of Commons, dissolved Parliament, and was soundly beaten at the General Election which he had precipitated. Lord Salisbury became Prime Minister for the second time, and ruled, with great authority and success, till the summer of 1892.
Meanwhile, Gladstone, by his indefatigable insistence on Home Rule and by judicious concessions to opponents, had to some extent repaired the damage done in 1886; but not sufficiently. Parliament was dissolved in June, 1892, and, when the Election was over, the Liberals, plus the Irish, made a majority of forty for Home Rule. Gladstone realized that this majority, even if he could hold it together, had no chance of coercing the House of Lords into submission; but he considered himself bound in honour to form a Government and bring in a second Home Rule Bill. Lord Rosebery became his Foreign Secretary, and Sir William Harcourt his Chancellor of the Exchequer. The Home Rule Bill struggled through the House of Commons, but was thrown out in the Lords, 41 voting for and 419 against it. Not a single meeting was held to protest against this decisive action of the Lords, and it was evident that the country was sick to death of the Irish Question.
Gladstone knew that his public work was done, and in the spring of 1894 it began to be rumoured that he was going to resign. On the 1st of March he delivered his last speech in the House of Commons, and immediately afterwards it became known that he was really resigning. The next day he went to dine and sleep at Windsor, taking his formal letter of resignation with him. He had already arranged with the Queen that a Council should be held on the 3rd of March. At this moment he thought it possible that the Queen might consult him about the choice of his successor, and, as we now know from Lord Morley's "Life," he had determined to recommend Lord Spencer.
Lord Harcourt's evidence on this point is interesting. According to him—and there could not be a better authority—Sir William Harcourt knew of Gladstone's intention. But he may very well have believed that the Queen would act (as in the event she did) on her own unaided judgment, and that her choice would fall on him as Leader of the House of Commons. The fact that he was summoned to attend the Council on the 3rd of March would naturally confirm the belief. But Dis aliter visum. After the Council the Queen sent, through the Lord President (Lord Kimberley), a summons to Lord Rosebery, who kissed hands as Prime Minister at Buckingham Palace on the 9th of March.
Bulwer-Lytton, writing "about political personalities, said with perfect truth:
"Ne'er of the living can the living judge, Too blind the affection, or too fresh the grudge."
In this case, therefore, I must attempt not judgment but narrative. Lord Rosebery was born under what most people would consider lucky stars. He inherited an honourable name, a competent fortune, and abilities far above the average. But his father died when he was a child, and as soon as he struck twenty-one he was "Lord of himself, that heritage of woe."
At Eton he had attracted the notice of his gifted tutor, "Billy Johnson," who described him as "one of those who like the palm without the dust," and predicted that he would "be an orator, and, if not a poet, such a man as poets delight in." It was a remarkably shrewd prophecy. From Eton to Christ Church the transition was natural. Lord Rosebery left Oxford without a degree, travelled, went into society, cultivated the Turf, and bestowed some of his leisure on the House of Lords. He voted for the Disestablishment of the Irish Church, and generally took the line of what was then considered advanced Liberalism.
But it is worthy of note that the first achievement which brought him public fame was not political. "Billy Rogers," the well-known Rector of Bishopsgate, once said to me: "The first thing which made me think that Rosebery had real stuff in him was finding him hard at work in London in August, when everyone else was in a country-house or on the Moors. He was getting up his Presidential Address for the Social Science Congress at Glasgow in 1874." Certainly, it was an odd conjuncture of persons and interests. The Social Science Congress, now happily defunct, had been founded by that omniscient charlatan, Lord Brougham, and its gatherings were happily described by Matthew Arnold: "A great room in one of our dismal provincial towns; dusty air and jaded afternoon light; benches full of men with bald heads, and women in spectacles; and an orator lifting up his face from a manuscript written within and without." One can see the scene. On this occasion the orator was remarkably unlike his audience, being only twenty-seven, very young-looking even for that tender age, smartly dressed and in a style rather horsy than professorial. His address, we are told, "did not cut very deep, but it showed sympathetic study of social conditions, it formulated a distinct yet not extravagant programme, and it abounded in glittering phrases."
Henceforward Lord Rosebery was regarded as a coming man, and his definite adhesion to Gladstone on the Eastern Question of 1876-1879 secured him the goodwill of the Liberal party. The year 1878, important in politics, was not less important in Lord Rosebery's career. Early in the year he made a marriage which turned him into a rich man, and riches, useful everywhere, are specially useful in politics. Towards the close of it he persuaded the Liberal Association of Midlothian to adopt Gladstone as their candidate. There is no need to enlarge on the importance of a decision which secured the Liberal triumph of 1880, and made Gladstone Prime Minister for the second time.
When Gladstone formed his second Government he offered a place in it to Lord Rosebery, who, with sound judgment, declined what might have looked like a reward for services just rendered. In 1881 he consented to take the Under-Secretaryship of the Home Department, with Sir William Harcourt as his chief; but the combination did not promise well, and ended rather abruptly in 1883. When the Liberal Government was in the throes of dissolution, Lord Rosebery returned to it, entering the Cabinet as Lord Privy Seal in 1885. It was just at this moment that Matthew Arnold, encountering him in a country-house, thus described him: "Lord Rosebery is very gay and 'smart,' and I like him very much."
The schism over Home Rule was now approaching, and, when it came, Lord Rosebery threw in his lot with Gladstone, becoming Foreign Secretary in February, 1886, and falling with his chief in the following summer. In 1889 he was chosen Chairman of the first London County Council, and there did the best work of his life, shaping that powerful but amorphous body into order and efficiency. Meanwhile, he was, by judicious speech and still more judicious silence, consolidating his political position; and before he joined Gladstone's last Government in August, 1892, he had been generally recognized as the exponent of a moderate and reasonable Home Rule and an advocate of Social Reform. My own belief is that the Liberal party as a whole, and the Liberal Government in particular, rejoiced in the decision which, on Gladstone's final retirement, made Rosebery Prime Minister.
But it was a difficult and disappointing Premiership. Harcourt, not best pleased by the Queen's choice, was Chancellor of the Exchequer and Leader of the House of Commons. Gladstone, expounding our Parliamentary system to the American nation, once said: "The overweight of the House of Commons is apt, other things being equal, to bring its Leader inconveniently near in power to a Prime Minister who is a Peer. He can play off the House of Commons against his chief, and instances might be cited, though they are happily most rare, when he has served him very ugly tricks."
The Parliamentary achievement of 1894 was Harcourt's masterly Budget, with which, naturally, Lord Rosebery had little to do; the Chancellor of the Exchequer loomed larger and larger, and the Premier vanished more and more completely from the public view. After the triumph of the Budget, everything went wrong with the Government, till, being defeated on a snap division about gunpowder in June, 1895, Lord Rosebery and his colleagues trotted meekly out of office. They might have dissolved, but apparently were afraid to challenge the judgment of the country on the performances of the last three years.
Thus ingloriously ended a Premiership of which much had been expected. It was impossible not to be reminded of Goderich's "transient and embarrassed phantom"; and the best consolation which I could offer to my dethroned chief was to remind him that he had been Prime Minister for fifteen months, whereas Disraeli's first Premiership had only lasted for ten.
AUTHUR JAMES BALFOUR
When Lord Rosebery brought his brief Administration to an end, Lord Salisbury became Prime Minister for the last time. His physical energy was no longer what it once had been, and the heaviest of all bereavements, which befell him in 1899, made the burden of office increasingly irksome. He retired in 1902, and was succeeded by his nephew, Mr. A. J. Balfour, The Administration formed in 1895 had borne some resemblance to a family party, and had thereby invited ridicule—even, in some quarters, created disaffection. But when Lord Salisbury was nearing the close of his career, the interests of family and of party were found to coincide, and everybody felt that Mr. Balfour must succeed him. Indeed, the transfer of power from uncle to nephew was so quietly effected that the new Prime Minister had kissed hands before the general public quite realized that the old one had disappeared.
Mr. Balfour had long been a conspicuous and impressive figure in public life. With a large estate and a sufficient fortune, with the Tory leader for his uncle, and a pocket-borough bidden by that uncle to return him, he had obvious qualifications for political success. He entered Parliament in his twenty-sixth year, at the General Election of 1874, and his many friends predicted great performances. But for a time the fulfilment of those predictions hung fire. Disraeli was reported to have said, after scrutinizing his young follower's attitude: "I never expect much from a man who sits on his shoulders."
Beyond some rather perplexed dealings with the unpopular subject of Burial Law, the Member for Hertford took no active part in political business. At Cambridge he had distinguished himself in Moral Science. This was an unfortunate distinction. Classical scholarship had been traditionally associated with great office, and a high wrangler was always credited with hardheadedness; but "Moral Science" was a different business, not widely understood, and connected in the popular mind with metaphysics and general vagueness. The rumour went abroad that Lord Salisbury's promising nephew was busy with matters which lay quite remote from politics, and was even following the path of perilous speculation. It is a first-rate instance of our national inclination to talk about books without reading them that, when Mr. Balfour published A Defence of Philosophic Doubt, everyone rushed to the conclusion that he was championing agnosticism. His friends went about looking very solemn, and those who disliked him piously hoped that all this "philosophic doubt" might not end in atheism. It was not till he had consolidated his position as a political leader that politicians read the book, and then discovered, to their delight, that, in spite of its alarming name, it was an essay in orthodox apologetic.
The General Election of 1880 seemed to alter the drift of Mr. Balfour's thought and life. It was said that he still was very philosophical behind the scenes, but as we saw him in the House of Commons he was only an eager and a sedulous partisan. Gladstone's overwhelming victory at the polls put the Tories on their mettle, and they were eager to avenge the dethronement of their Dagon. "The Fourth Party" was a birth of this eventful time, and its history has been written by the sons of two of its members. With the performances of Lord Randolph Churchill, Sir John Gorst, and Sir Henry Drummond Wolff I have no concern; but the fourth member of the party was Mr. Balfour, who now, for the first time, began to take a prominent part in public business. I must be forgiven if I say that, though he was an admirable writer, it was evident that Nature had not intended him for a public speaker. Even at this distance of time I can recall his broken sentences, his desperate tugs at the lapel of his coat, his long pauses in search of a word, and his selection of the wrong word after all.
But to the Fourth Party, more than to any other section of the House, was due that defeat over the Budget which, in June, 1885, drove Gladstone from power and enthroned Lord Salisbury. In the new Administration Mr. Balfour was, of course, included, but his sphere of work was the shady seclusion of the Local Government Board, and, for anything that the public knew of his doings, he might have been composing a second treatise on philosophic doubt or unphilosophic cocksureness. The General Election of 1885 marked a stage in his career. The pocket-borough which he had represented since 1874 was merged, and he courageously betook himself to Manchester, where for twenty years he faced the changes and chances of popular election.
The great opportunity of his life came in 1887. The Liberal party, beaten on Home Rule at the Election of 1886, was now following its leader into new and strange courses. Ireland was seething with lawlessness, sedition, and outrage. The Liberals, in their new-found zeal for Home Rule, thought it necessary to condone or extenuate all Irish crime; and the Irish party in the House of Commons was trying to make Parliamentary government impossible.
At this juncture Mr, Balfour became Chief Secretary; and his appointment was the signal for a volume of criticism, which the events of the next four years proved to be ludicrously inapposite. He, was likened to a young lady—"Miss Balfour," "Clara," and "Lucy"; he was called "a palsied, masher" and "a perfumed popinjay"; he was accused of being a recluse, a philosopher, and a pedant; he was pronounced incapable of holding his own in debate, and even more obviously unfit for the rough-and-tumble of Irish administration.
The Irish, party, accustomed to triumph over Chief Secretaries, rejoicingly welcomed a new victim in Mr. Balfour. They found, for the first time, a master. Never was such a tragic disillusionment. He armed himself with anew Crimes Act, which had the special merit of not expiring at a fixed period, but of enduring till it should be repealed, and he soon taught sedition-mongers, Irish and English, that he did not bear this sword in vain. Though murderous threats were rife, he showed an absolute disregard for personal danger, and ruled Ireland with a strong and dexterous hand. His administration was marred by want of human sympathy, and by some failure to discriminate between crime and disorder. The fate of John Mandeville is a black blot on the record of Irish government; and it did not stand alone.
Lord Morley, who had better reasons than most people to dread Mr. Balfour's prowess, thus described it:
"He made no experiments in judicious mixture, hard blows and soft speech, but held steadily to force and tear.... In the dialectic of senate and platform he displayed a strength of wrist, a rapidity, an instant readiness for combat, that took his foes by surprise, and roused in his friends a delight hardly surpassed in the politics of our day."
It is not my business to attack or defend. I only record the fact that Mr. Balfour's work in Ireland established his position as the most important member of the Conservative party. In 1891 he resigned the Chief Secretaryship, and became Leader of the House; was an eminently successful Leader of Opposition between 1892 and 1895; and, as I said before, was the obvious and unquestioned heir to the Premiership which Lord Salisbury laid down in 1902.
As Prime Minister Mr. Balfour had no opportunity for exercising his peculiar gift of practical administration, and only too much opportunity for dialectical ingenuity. His faults as a debater had always been that he loved to "score," even though the score might be obtained by a sacrifice of candour, and that he seemed often to argue merely for arguing's sake. It was said of the great Lord Holland that he always put his opponent's case better than the opponent put it for himself. No one ever said this of Mr. Balfour; and his tendency to sophistication led Mr. Humphrey Paul to predict that his name "would always be had in honour wherever hairs were split." His manner and address (except when he was debating) were always courteous and conciliatory; those who were brought into close contact with him liked him, and those who worked under him loved him. Socially, he was by no means as expansive as the leader of a party should be. He was surrounded by an adoring clique, and reminded one of the dignitaries satirized by Sydney Smith: "They live in high places with high people, or with little people who depend upon them. They walk delicately, like Agag. They hear only one sort of conversation, and avoid bold, reckless men, as a lady veils herself from rough breezes."
But, unfortunately, a Prime Minister, though he may "avoid" reckless men, cannot always escape them, and may sometimes be forced to count them among his colleagues. Lord Rosebery's Administration was sterilized partly by his own unfamiliarity with Liberal sentiment, and partly by the frowardness of his colleagues. Mr. Balfour knew all about Conservative sentiment, so far as it is concerned with order, property, and religion; but he did not realize the economic heresy which always lurks in the secret heart of Toryism; and it was his misfortune to have as his most important colleague a "bold, reckless man" who realized that heresy, and was resolved to work it for his own ends. From the day when Mr. Chamberlain launched his scheme, or dream, of Tariff Reform, Mr. Balfour's authority steadily declined. Endless ingenuity in dialectic, nimble exchanges of posture, candid disquisition for the benefit of the well-informed, impressive phrase-making for the bewilderment of the ignorant—these and a dozen other arts were tried in vain. People began to laugh at the Tory leader, and likened him to Issachar crouching down between two burdens, or to that moralist who said that he always sought "the narrow path which lies between right and wrong." His colleagues fell away from him, and he was unduly ruffled by their secession. "It is time," exclaimed the Liberal leader, "to have done with this fooling"; and though he was blamed by the Balfourites for his abruptness of speech, the country adopted his opinion. Gradually it seemed to dawn on Mr. Balfour that his position was no longer tenable. He slipped out of office as quietly as he had slipped into it; and the Liberal party entered on its ten years' reign.
"He put his country first, his party next, and himself last." This, the noblest eulogy which can be pronounced upon a politician, was strikingly applicable to my old and honoured friend whose name stands at the head of this page. And yet, when applied to him, it might require a certain modification, for, in his view, the interests of his country and the interests of his party were almost synonymous terms—so profoundly was he convinced that freedom is the best security for national welfare. When he was entertained at dinner by the Reform Club on his accession to the Premiership, he happened to catch my eye while he was speaking, and he interjected this remark: "I see George Russell there. He is by birth, descent, and training a Whig; but he is a little more than a Whig." Thus describing me he described himself. He was a Whig who had marched with the times from Whiggery to Liberalism; who had never lagged an inch behind his party, but who did not, as a rule, outstep it. His place was, so to speak, in the front line of the main body, and every forward movement found him ready and eager to take his place in it. His chosen form of patriotism was a quiet adhesion to the Liberal party, with a resolute and even contemptuous avoidance of sects and schisms.
He was born in 1836, of a mercantile family which had long flourished in Glasgow, and in 1872 he inherited additional wealth, which transformed his name from Campbell to Campbell-Bannerman—the familiar "C.-B." of more recent times. Having graduated from Trinity College, Cambridge, he entered Parliament as Member for the Stirling Burghs in 1868, and was returned by the same delightful constituency till his death, generally without a contest. He began official life in Gladstone's first Administration as Financial Secretary to the War Office, and returned to the same post after the Liberal victory of 1880. One of the reasons for putting him there was that his tact, good sense, and lightness in hand enabled him to work harmoniously with the Duke of Cambridge—a fiery chief who was not fond of Liberals, and abhorred prigs and pedants. In 1884, when Sir George Trevelyan was promoted to the Cabinet, Campbell-Bannerman was made Chief Secretary for Ireland, and in that most difficult office acquitted himself with notable success. Those were not the days of "the Union of Hearts," and it was not thought necessary for a Liberal Chief Secretary to slobber over murderers and outrage-mongers. On the other hand, the iron system of coercion, which Mr. Balfour administered so unflinchingly, had not been invented; and the Chief Secretary had to rely chiefly on his own resources of firmness, shrewdness, and good-humour. With these Campbell-Bannerman was abundantly endowed, and his demeanour in the House of Commons was singularly well adapted to the situation. When the Irish members insulted him, he turned a deaf ear. When they pelted him with controversial questions, he replied with brevity. When they lashed themselves into rhetorical fury, he smiled and "sat tight" till the storm was over. He was not a good speaker, and he had no special skill in debate; but he invariably mastered the facts of his case. He neither overstated nor understated, and he was blessed with a shrewd and sarcastic humour which befitted his comfortable aspect, and spoke in his twinkling eyes even when he restrained his tongue.
The Liberal Government came to an end in June, 1885. The "Home Rule split" was now nigh at hand, and not even Campbell-Bannerman's closest friends could have predicted the side which he would take. On the one hand, there was his congenital dislike of rant and gush, of mock-heroics and mock-pathetics; there was his strong sense for firm government, and there was his recent experience of Irish disaffection. These things might have tended to make him a Unionist, and he had none of those personal idolatries which carried men over because Mr. Gladstone, or Lord Spencer, or Mr. Morley had made the transition. On the other hand, there was his profound conviction—which is indeed the very root of Whiggery—that each nation has the right to choose its own rulers, and that no government is legitimate unless it rests on the consent of the governed.