Page images
[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

stone. He could not stand alone; could he join Lord Hartington? Could he even conceive the possibility of joining Lord Salisbury? Nothing illustrates so well the strength of the convictions that saved the Union as the fact that both these apparently impossible combinations were accomplished, the one in a few weeks, the other in a few months. It was the crisis of Mr Chamberlain's life; and his decision gave the colour to the rest of his political career. Directly he heard rumours of Mr Gladstone's intentions, he declared that Radicals as well as Whigs' were determined that the integrity of the Empire should be a reality and not an empty phrase.' That was on December 17, 1885. A fortnight later he met Lord Hartington at Devonshire House to concert a demand for explanations from Mr Gladstone. Soon afterwards he entered Mr Gladstone's Cabinet, but the opposition both of temperament and of conviction made this no more than an episode; and, before the Bill was introduced, he had not only resigned, but had taken the first step to working with Lord Hartington against Mr Gladstone. On April 7 he went again to Devonshire House; and Lord Hartington wrote to Goschen,' Things did not look very smooth at first, but the interview ended amicably.' On the 8th Mr Gladstone introduced the Bill; on the 9th Lord Hartington made his first attack upon it, and Mr Chamberlain wrote to him, 'It was the finest [speech] you have ever made and was sustained throughout on the highest level.'

From that moment, though all was not yet to be plain sailing, the Liberal Unionist ship was launched. The party association was formed in May, and Mr Chamberlain joined it in August. By that time the General Election was won, and Mr Gladstone was no longer Prime Minister. But the victory had only been won by all shades of Unionist feeling working together. Not only Whigs and Radicals, but Conservatives and Radicals, Lord Salisbury and Mr Chamberlain, had to unite. In this difficult business it is fair to note that Lord Randolph Churchill was again active and indeed all-important. He alone of Conservatives was a personal friend of Mr Chamberlain; he alone was in a position to bring Lord Salisbury and Mr Chamberlain together. And this, by April, he had succeeded in doing, choosing,

perhaps with some private sense of humour, the Turf Club for the scene of the meeting, as a place where neither was likely to feel too much at home! He, more than anyone, as the fighting man of the party, was able with effect to persuade Conservatives to support Liberal Unionists in the constituencies; and at Birmingham he sealed the Chamberlain alliance by his decisive intervention, for which he was afterwards to suffer in person. After the Ministry had been formed, and Lord Hartington had wisely decided against the Whigs taking office, Lord Randolph kept in touch during his six months of leadership, not only with Lord Hartington, whom he implored to give up a projected Indian visit and stay in England, and with Goschen, for whom a week or two before his own resignation he was urging Lord Salisbury to find a seat, but also with Mr Chamberlain. By the time he fell, the critical first year of the Unionist Coalition was over; and it was greatly due to him that that coalition was strong enough to bear the shock of his disappearance. After that it had

no very serious difficulties to meet, grew steadily in unity and in strength, and for twenty-five years delivered the United Kingdom from any danger of disruption. The story of its origin is ancient history now, as political memories go; but it is one of which the whole nation may be proud. Even the work it did has now begun to pass into history. What will history's judgment on it be?

Foresight is perhaps the greatest quality of statesmen ; but it is their misfortune that history is commonly inclined to demand it of them in impossible measure. Men are judged to have succeeded or failed, not in the light of the facts they had before them, but in the light of those that lie open before the historian. In that light probably the great actors in the victorious struggle of 1886 will come ultimately to be judged. Much has happened already to justify them; much more may happen in the near future. For instance, if it turns out that a struggle for national existence lies before us, and if we emerge victorious from that struggle, history will certainly say that England owed her preservation largely to those who for twenty years pursued a policy of unification and not of disruption; who transformed the poor and discontented Ireland of 1886 into the prosperous and hopeVol. 216.-No. 430.


ful Ireland of 1911; who may be said to have almost discovered the idea of the British Empire as a thing conscious of itself; and who so conducted our foreign policy as to remove all avoidable causes of quarrel with foreign nations, and to substitute for hazardous isolation the understandings necessary for the preservation of European peace.

Again, when history comes to record the final destruction of the old parliamentary system in England, it will probably find that, while parliamentary institutions had been for some time undergoing a process of decay, the year 1911 was the fatal year which made recovery impossible; and that, but for the Unionist combination, a measure resembling the Parliament Act might well have been passed much earlier. If so, it will not be the least of the claims to remembrance of Lord Hartington and his allies that they deferred the revolution for some ten or twenty valuable years.

But these, and others that could easily be suggested, are speculations on what might have happened if the Unionist alliance had failed. The urgent reality of to-day is that we are now once more face to face with a renewal of the original struggle of 1886. The Home Rulers have apparently learnt nothing and forgotten everything. Again, it seems, and once more as the only means of securing a party majority in Parliament, we are to be offered as the solution of the Irish question a scheme which may be broadly said to have never received on its own merits the support of any appreciable proportion of the English or Scottish electorate. The forthcoming plan has not, it is true, been disclosed except in the vaguest outlines, but these are sufficient to show that now, as in 1886, it is a combination of irreconcilable views, a piece of political patchwork made up of the incongruous colours of the various sections that have somehow to be got into one lobby in its favour. The arguments which then successfully appealed against it to the central reason of the nation ought still to prove irresistible; and those who wish to be reminded of them will find them well set forth in these two biographies.

The study of these works will, moreover, enable Unionists to avoid one mistake into which defenders of the Union have sometimes fallen. They will not be tempted

to deny the essential sincerity of Mr Gladstone's conversion to Home Rule. Lord Hartington never did so for a moment. No doubt all human motives are mixed things; and love of power, self-confidence and self-will played a greater part than Mr Gladstone knew in leading him towards the pit into which he fell. And no doubt, as Lord Hartington felt, it was not a perfectly honourable course for a leader to go into a General Election with something like Home Rule in his mind, without giving the electors any inkling of the use to which their confidence might be put if he gained it. But Mr Gladstone would have replied that he could not say what it would be right to do till he knew with what voice the new Irish constituencies were going to speak. That was one of the points on which he and Lord Hartington most definitely differed. To Mr Gladstone's fiery and imaginative nature, Liberty was a kind of goddess whose worship was equally applicable everywhere, whose proper rites were free institutions of the English pattern, and whose voice, when it spoke through these holy channels, it was a kind of impiety to resist. To a plain man like Lord Hartington liberty was merely a sound general principle, the best on which to manage political affairs wherever possible, but entirely subject in its application to considerations of justice and expediency. For him, if Home Rule for Ireland was certain to prove a disaster both to Ireland and England, the fact that eighty Irish members wanted it was one that could not affect his attitude in the slightest degree. To Mr Gladstone, on the other hand, it was a fact of almost sacred significance and authority. His own mind, of its own accord and quite sincerely, had long been moving in the same direction; and of this his more intimate colleagues were aware. But he could not be got to see that, sincere as he was in his convictions, his attitude in the face of the party and the nation was, in fact, one of insincerity. His object, whether he was conscious of it or not, was really to lead his party blindfold across to the Home Rule side of the dividing river, and not to let them know it till the bridge behind them was broken down. And he would probably have succeeded if he had not had to deal with a man so resolute and so unamenable to management by phrases as Lord Hartington.

The best chapter perhaps, certainly the most brilliant, in Mr Holland's book is that entitled 'Mr Gladstone and Lord Hartington.' It is a very fine and penetrating study of two opposing temperaments set by the chances of life in the closest relations for some twenty crowded years. The essential points in the contrast are, of course, obvious; but Mr Holland works it out in interesting detail. As he says, Hartington resembled in some respects the man most unlike Gladstone in all the world, the great Duke of Wellington, to whose distinctive title of the Duke' he ultimately succeeded. He had what Napoleon called the first quality in a general, the 'cool head which receives just impressions of things, which is never confused, nor allows itself to be dazzled or intoxicated by good or bad news.' Mr Gladstone's mind, on the other hand, was highly susceptible of all forms of excitement.

'His opinions on some subjects of great moment' (wrote Lord Selborne) 'were in a constant process of flux and decomposition ; and yet he was impatient of opposition to whatever might be the attitude of his mind for the time being. There was in his thoughts about many things, and in his language, with all his glitter, an involution and indistinctness which made his footing less secure than it seemed and his guidance less safe. . . . It was not his habit to look all round a question or to take in with patience both sides of an argument; when not a partisan he was generally an antagonist.' ('Life,' i, 285.)

In fact, as Mr Holland well puts it, his mind was, for good and for evil, 'like a river in perpetual change and motion.' And he strikingly illustrates the intellectual and moral contrast between the two men by saying:

'If Hartington's soul had been embodied in a Roman noble of the time of the Antonines, it is inconceivable that he should have become a Christian; if Gladstone had been then incarnate he could hardly have escaped from that mighty stream of tendency' (ib. i, 284).

This fluidity of mind was never more conspicuous than in his attitude towards the Irish question. Especially between July 1885 and July 1886, the marvellous compound of seeming incompatibles, which was Gladstone, is seen working at full power. There is the fiery genius so abundantly susceptible to an idea, so absolutely in

« PreviousContinue »