In 1870 Mr. Gladstone laid the ax at the root of another tree whose fruit had cursed the Irish peasantry. This was the system of land tenure which prevailed in the southern and western counties. In the province of Ulster, in the north of Ireland, the tenantry were of another sort, and there were other means of livelihood than agriculture. Out of this condition had sprung the so-called "Ulster tenant-right," the vital principle of which was that a tenant could not be evicted so long as he paid his rent, and "could sell the good will of his farm for what it would fetch in the market." This tenant-right was what Palmerston dismissed with the scornful remark that it was another name for "landlord's wrong." It did not exist elsewhere in Ireland, where a landlord might raise the rent and throw a tenant into the street at will. The Land Act, which Gladstone carried in 1870, gave legal force to the old Ulster custom and applied it to the whole island. Provision was made by which the tenant whose improvements had increased the value of his holding might receive compensation. The Irish landlords and the same class in England made a clamorous protest against such "state interference with freedom of contract," but without avail. Of what the Land Act of 1870 accomplished, Mr. Justin McCarthy is a competent judge. He says: "It was a first and an experimental measure, and no first and experimental measure ever does quite succeed in its object. It has had to be amended and expanded over and over again.....But it introduced a new principle, which no one since has ever attempted to abolish. That new principle was that the Irish tenant was entitled to some share and property in the improvements which he himself had made in his farm. It was, therefore, in the best sense of the word, a revolutionary measure. It created a new principle, and that principle has since been settled. It did not go nearly far enough in the right direction, but it showed the direction in which legislation ought to go, and it was on that account the opening of a new era for Ireland."
The same wave of reforming zeal which brought these blessings to Ireland gave the English nation its first system of free schools (1870), abolished the purchase of commissions in the army (1871), agreed to the principle of arbitrations in international disputes (the Geneva award on the "Alabama Claims" 1872), and introduced the vote by ballot (1872). The effort to establish university education in Ireland upon a basis broad enough to afford equal opportunities for Roman Catholic and Protestant youth was defeated (1873). A few months later, when the national election had pronounced against the liberal policy, Mr. Gladstone yielded his place to his rival, Disraeli.
In the spring of 1874 Mr. Gladstone formally resigned the leadership of his party, then in opposition, and withdrew to a considerable degree from active participation in parliamentary affairs, devoting himself with his accustomed zeal to his studies, which at that time were concerned with ecclesiastical subjects. From his retirement he emerged, in 1876, to write that trenchant series of letters on the "Bulgarian Atrocities," which so stirred the indignation of the English people that Disraeli was unable to carry them into an armed alliance with the red- handed Turk against the Russians. His fierce and persistent onslaughts upon the foreign policy of the government at length carried the nation with him and drove Disraeli (now Lord Beaconsfield) from power.
No one but Mr. Gladstone could be thought of to head the ministry, and in 1880, he came in for his second term as Prime Minister. The state of Ireland again concerned him deeply. He carried an improved Land Act, but the Lords threw out his bill to relieve the special difficulties which the famine of 1880 had brought upon the Irish tenantry, and the exasperated tenantry resorted to reprisals upon the persons and property of the landlords. The Irish Land League, under the direction of Charles Stewart Parnell, resisted the operation of the new Land Act until its worth should have been tested. Mr. Gladstone and the Irish leaders worked at cross purposes, and thoroughly distrusted one another. The government found it necessary to exert force in order to suppress the agrarian disorders. Mr. Parnell and his associates were thrown into jail, and the Land League was proclaimed as an unlawful association. Parnell, whose word was law with the Leaguers, retaliated by forbidding the tenantry to pay rent. In the spring of 1882, when better feeling was beginning to prevail, some Irish conspirators (Invincibles) assassinated Lord Frederick Cavendish and his secretary in Phoenix Park, Dublin. Cavendish was the newly appointed secretary for Ireland, and appears to have been mistaken for W. E. Forster, his predecessor, who was held responsible for the rigorous measures of the past winter. The National League was formed to take the place of the proscribed Land League, and Irish distress and crime continued with little abatement. The "boycott" was applied in its most oppressive form, rents remained unpaid, and evictions were frequent and distressing.
Cabinet dissensions over Irish measures and general criticism of the foreign policy which had made a generous peace with the Boers of South Africa, and was accused of abandoning General Gordon to his fate at Khartoum, weakened its hold upon the people and their representatives. The Irish members held the balance of power in the Commons, and when, in the spring of 1885, they joined forces with the Conservatives, the Liberals were again unseated.
Lord Salisbury and Lord Randolph Churchill, the Conservative leaders who came into power in 1885, enjoyed a brief and troubled tenure of office. The general election of 1885 was the first to be held under the Reform Law of the previous year, which had given to Ireland the same freedom of electoral franchise which had existed in the English and Scottish boroughs since 1869. The result was a great increase in the number of Nationalist members in Parliament. Of the one hundred and three members for Ireland no less than eighty-four were returned as Home Rulers, a compact and formidable body acting as a unit under the leadership of Mr. Parnell.
The first leader of the little company of Irish Home Rulers that had appeared in Parliament in the early '70's was Isaac Butt. His repeated attempts to have the subject considered were as often rejected with derision. In his own party he was opposed by an element which desired to resort to aggressive measures to compel the English to heed Ireland's demand for local self-government. Prominent in this radical wing was a young Protestant, Charles Stewart Parnell, the grandson of Commodore Stewart of the United States Navy. In 1880 he was recognized as the chairman of the Irish Home Rulers in Parliament. For many years he continued to exercise a control over this party and over the Irish people such as no one, save perhaps O'Connell himself, had ever attained. He conceived and enforced the obstructive policy which so embarrassed the second Gladstone administration. By exasperating tactics, which we Americans call "filibustering," the obstructionists, unable to secure what they wanted for Ireland, succeeded in paralyzing the law-making branch of the British constitution. It was only by adopting new and arbitrary rules for choking off debate that any legislation could be passed in the stormy decade beginning with 1881. Arrests, suspensions, and expulsions of Irish members repeatedly disturbed the dignity of the House of Commons, and kept ever present before the English representatives the temper of the subject kingdom.
A statesman as earnest as Mr. Gladstone, as little bound by precedent, and as surely impelled in his later years by a purpose to enact into law the wishes of the people, could not but be profoundly impressed by the unanimity with which, in 1885, the Irish used their new gift of the ballot to send men to Parliament who were pledged to work for Home Rule. It was no sudden conversion but the result of a long consideration which led to his open profession, in 1885, of his determination to crown his efforts for the relief of the Irish nation by giving them the separate legislative body for which they had asked with such persistent clamor. It is possible, in reviewing his statements for a dozen years previous, in the light of the final declaration, that his mind had been dwelling on the subject as his old political mentor, Peel, dwelt upon the question of free trade in the years before he renounced protectionism utterly.
No sooner did Gladstone come into office, in 1886, than he concentrated his energies upon his Home Rule project. His chief lieutenant, John Morley, the English Radical, was sent to Ireland as chief secretary. In April, in one of the greatest speeches of a career remarkable for its eloquence, Mr. Gladstone introduced to the House of Commons his first Home Rule Bill, "An act to make better provision for the government of Ireland." It proposed to establish at Dublin a Parliament of Peers and Commons, under a lord-lieutenant appointed by the crown, and an independent privy council. The Irish Parliament was to have control of local finances except customs duties, and it was excluded from interference with army and navy, foreign or colonial affairs, or with religious endowments. An essential provision was that after the establishment of the Dublin Parliament Ireland should no longer be represented in the "imperial" Parliament at Westminster. A week later a "purchase of land" bill was introduced by the Prime Minister to provide funds for buying out the Irish landlords and distributing their holdings among the tenants. The Home Rule Bill split the Liberal party in twain. Lord Hartington, the Whig, Joseph Chamberlain, the Radical, and John Bright, the hero of the non-conformists, broke away from their old leader and helped to organize the "Liberal Unionist" party, rallying those Liberals who remained true to the Act of Legislative Union of the three kingdoms. Ninety-three rallied under this banner on April 14th, when the bill was killed on its second reading by a vote of 343 to 313. The nation was appealed to in vain. In July the Gladstonian government gave up the fight against the Conservative and Liberal-Unionist coalition and Lord Salisbury resumed the premiership.
For Ireland a new era began, characterized by agrarian crime, anti-rent agitation under the "Plan of Campaign," and Parnellite obstruction at Westminster.
In 1893 the "Grand Old Man," now Prime Minister for the fourth time, and in his eighty-fourth year, made a final endeavor to bring order into Ireland, by enabling her to regulate her own affairs. The Home Rule Bill of 1893 differed from the earlier measure chiefly in respect to the Irish representation at Westminster. Ireland, in addition to her local Parliament at Dublin, was granted eighty seats in the "imperial" House of Commons, though the Irish members might not vote on exclusively British measures. "This was to get over two objections: The first was the objection of those who complained of Ireland's being taxed by the imperial Parliament without representation. The second was the objection of those who complained that whereas English members could not interfere in the affairs of Ireland, Irish members might come over to the imperial Parliament and interfere in the affairs of England." The Old Man Eloquent, now backed by an overwhelming majority, carried the bill triumphantly through the Lower House only to meet defeat by a majority of ten to one in the Lords, the stronghold of Conservatism, where every progressive measure of reform has to encounter resistance at the outset. Though the Lords have learned to yield when the nation reiterates its determined demand for a law, they were spared on this occasion. Mr. Gladstone did not renew the bill. In March, 1894, he withdrew forever from public life, which he had adorned so long and so conspicuously, his last words in Parliament taking the form of an impressive warning against the assertion of authority by the Upper House. In his last interview with the leader of the Irish Home Rulers he assured them of his belief in the ultimate triumph of their cause—a cause whose success was mentioned in his prayers.
The Queen offered her aged public servant an earldom on his retirement, but his was not an ambition to be pleased with such empty rewards. In his beautiful castle of Hawarden, surrounded by his books and his family, he spent the years which remained to him in a graceful old age. To the last his mind remained alert and active. He busied himself with the classical and theological studies which had been the delight of his young manhood, and the relaxation of his active years. His translations, his controversial pamphlets, his letters on public questions, showed the refinement and vigor of his remarkable intellect. When he died the English-speaking world paid a universal tribute of respect to his memory.
In linking these biographies with certain public questions or events, the name of Gladstone has been connected with the cause of Ireland—a "lost cause," as some may say, because Home Rule, which was to have been the capstone of his edifice, was rejected by the builders. But it must not be forgotten that it was Gladstone who swept away the burdensome Irish Church and improved the land laws, the franchise, and the opportunities of education in Ireland, and made an English statesman's name beloved in the Emerald Isle for the first time since Charles James Fox. Nor should his great work for Ireland obscure the grand achievements of the earlier years when he led the Liberal party through its wonderful program of reform in England; nor should any prejudice against the friend of Ireland dull our perception to the clear voice which so often pleaded the cause of ignorance and oppression at home and abroad, and touched the best that was in the conscience of his countrymen. A good, great, learned, eloquent statesman, William Ewart Gladstone towers in moral grandeur above his fellows like a mountain peak above the foothills, and the far-surrounding plain.
QUESTIONS FOR REVIEW
1. Why has Ireland menaced the peace of England for more than a century? 2. What events led up to the organization of the "Young Ireland" Society? 3. What results had the Irish famine of 1846? 4. Describe the Fenian agitations. 5. Give an account of the early career of Gladstone. 6. What two important books did he write on church affairs? 7. What view did he take of the Anti-Corn Law bill? 8. How did he clash with Disraeli on the reform movement of 1866? 9. To what three grievances of Ireland did he devote himself? 10. Describe the events connected with the disestablishment of the Irish church. 11. What did he secure to Ireland by the Land Act of 1870? 12. What other reforms were carried through about the same time? 13. What did he accomplish by his letters on the "Bulgarian Atrocities?" 14. What difficulties beset his attempts at reform in Ireland in 1880-85? 15. How did the policy of Gladstone's cabinet toward the Boers and General Gordon weaken its influence? 16. How did the Irish wing of Parliament make itself fell under the new Conservative cabinet? 17. Describe Gladstone's Home Rule Bill of 1886 and its defeat? 18. What new attempt at Home Rule was made in 1893, and with what result ? 19. Sum up the chief services of Gladstone to his countrymen.
LIFE OF W. E. GLADSTONE. Justin McCarthy. LIFE OF GLADSTONE. G.W.E. Russell. W ILLIAM EWART GLADSTONE. James Bryce. A DIARY OF THE HOME RULE PARLIAMENT. Henry W. Lucy. YOUNG IRELAND. C. G. Duffy. DANIEL O'CONNELL. J.A. Hamilton. HISTORY OF LEGISLATIVE UNION OF GREAT BRITAIN AND IRELAND. T. D. Ingram.
BEACONSFIELD AND THE BRITISH EMPIRE
[BENJAMIN DISRAELI, Earl of Beaconsfield; born, London, December 21, 1804; died, London, April 19, 1881; baptized in the Church of England, 1817; privately educated; studied law in a solicitor's office, 1821-24; 1825, published his first novel "Vivian Grey"; 1830-31, traveled in Europe and the Levant; his novel "Contarini Fleming" attracts notice 1832; after defeats becomes Member of Parliament for Maidstone 1837; marries Mrs. Wyndham Lewis 1839; leads the "Protectionist" attack on Peel 1846; leader of opposition 1849-52, 1852-58, 1859-66, 1868-74; Chancellor of Exchequer 1852, 1858-59, 1866-68; Premier 1868, 1874-80.]
The expansion of the English domain by discovery and colonization or by war and conquest has been one of the distinguishing features of the nineteenth century. The movement may be said to have begun with the planting of the North American colonies two hundred years before. A century later the victories of Lord Clive and the administration of Warren Hastings, the empire-builder, laid a broad foundation for British dominion in India. Before the dawn of the nineteenth century the voyages of Captain James Cook in the South Pacific had opened new doors to Anglo-Saxon expansion in Australia, New Zealand, and the neighboring islands. In 1806 England wrested from the Dutch the sovereignty of Cape Colony at the southern extremity of Africa, the strategic half- way station on the main traveled sea-road to India and the East. Gibraltar, Malta, and Cyprus in the Mediterranean, Aden, Singapore, and Hong Kong in the Far Eastern seas were acquired and fortified in order to protect British commerce. It could be said with truth that the sun never set upon the flag of England, and that the morning drum-beat of her garrisons saluted the sun in his daily journey around the world. At the close of the century the foreign possessions of Great Britain amounted in area to ten million square miles, and in population to three hundred and fifty million souls.
The problems which have sprung from this vast colonial empire have been among the most serious which English statesmen have been compelled to face. The colonies in America and Australia were English in blood, language, and institutions. In South Africa a large proportion of the inhabitants were Dutch "Boers," transferred without their consent and against their will to a foreign sovereignty. In India and Burma the English established their authority and maintained it by force of arms over teeming native populations of another race and religion. How to hold together an empire so vast and various; how to adapt administrative methods to its novel and changing needs; how, if possible, to organize the incongruous multitude of dependencies, colonies, and protected states into some sort of federal empire— these are among the newer problems of British statesmanship.
Americans know how imperfectly the ministers of George III. were prepared to deal with such problems, and how their blundering resulted in the independence of the United States. The lesson of 1776 has not been forgotten, as the history of England's conciliatory policy toward Canada and the Australasian commonwealth abundantly testifies. Lord Tennyson's verses, written in the year of the Queen's jubilee, give expression to the altered relation of the mother-country toward her colonial offspring:
"Britain fought her sons of yore, Britain failed; and nevermore, Careless of our growing kin, Shall we sin our fathers' sin; Men that in a narrower day - Unprophetic rulers they- Drove from out the eagle's nest That young eagle of the West To forage for herself alone; Britons, hold your own! "Sharers of our glorious past, Brothers, must we part at last? Shall we not thro' good and ill Cleave to one another still? Britain's myriad voices call, Sons be welded each and all Into one imperial whole, One with Britain, heart, and soul! One life, one fleet, one flag, one throne! Britons, hold your own."
Although as yet no statesman has arisen who has been able to frame a plan of federation which should weld all into "one imperial whole," the idea is abroad, and has occupied many minds. Perhaps the man whose powerful imagination first grasped the "imperial" idea and began to look upon Greater Britain as having common interests, and being capable of assuming common responsibilities, was Lord Beaconsfield, or Benjamin Disraeli—to use the name by which he first came into public notice. Death hushed his active mind before he could give form and substance to his great concept, and it was left to others trained in his school to propagate the idea, and just at the century's close to demonstrate its significance and worth. Yet what he did for England through a long life spent in conspicuous public service renders it impossible to exclude him from any list of Ten Great Englishmen of the nineteenth century. Nor is there in the entire group a personality more interesting than that of the ambitious, determined, witty, eloquent, and amazingly clever Israelite who raised himself by sheer force of intellect from an object of ridicule and contempt to the leadership of the hereditary aristocracy, membership in the House of Lords, chief minister of England, friend of the sovereign, and arbiter of the destinies of nations. On that January night in 1846, when Sir Robert Peel, as Prime Minister, confessed to the House of Commons his conversion to the theory of free trade, and his purpose to repeal the Corn Laws, he was answered by Benjamin Disraeli in a speech which for bitterness of sarcasm, brilliancy of wit, and savagery of denunciation, has seldom been equaled in parliamentary history. (See Appendix.) He denounced Peel as "a man who never originates an idea; a watcher of the atmosphere; a man who takes his observations, and when he finds the wind in a particular quarter turns his sails to suit it.....Such a man may be a powerful minister, but he is no more a great statesman than the man who gets up behind a carriage is a great whip!" Such an attack, voicing the feelings of the Tory protectionists, and coming from Peel's own side of the House, at that critical moment, made the political fortune of the speaker. From that hour Benjamin Disraeli was looked upon as the hope of the remnant of the Tory party, which could no longer follow Peel.
Disraeli was in his tenth year of membership in the House of Commons. He was a descendant of a line of Spanish and Venetian Jews who had sought refuge in England and prospered there. His father, Isaac Disraeli, had broken with the family traditions, devoting himself to literature instead of getting gain, and had renounced the faith of his fathers. The son, Benjamin, was baptized into the Church of England at the age of thirteen, educated among his father's books and in private schools, and at seventeen articled to a firm of London solicitors. Instead of practicing law the young clerk practiced authorship so cleverly as to make a sensation in his twenty-first year with a novel "Vivian Grey" (1826), the first of eleven ("Young Duke," 1831; "Contarini Fleming," 1832; "Alroy," 1833; "Henrietta Temple," 1836; "Venetia," 1837; "Coningsby," 1844; "Sybil," 1845; "Tancred," 1847; "Lothair," 1870; "Endymion," 1880), besides several long poems, burlesques, and political pamphlets, and "The Life of Lord George Bentinck." "Vivian Grey" was very smartly done, and fashionable London was captivated by its clever satire and witty dialogue. On the profits of his earlier books he traveled extensively in Europe and the Levant, where his Oriental imagination was strongly stimulated. Before he was thirty he had won his way into the most exclusive circles of London society, the vogue of his novels and the brilliancy of his conversational powers commending him to the "smart set" of the metropolis. His determination "to be somebody" in spite of the disadvantages of blood, birth, and lack of money led him to ridiculous affectations—yet, however ridiculed at the time, they served his turn, and brought him the notice that he craved. N. P. Willis, who saw the much-talked-about young Israelitish novelist at Lady Blessington's, wrote of the strange vision: "He was sitting in a window looking on Hyde Park, the last rays of sunlight reflected from the gorgeous gold flowers of a splendidly embroidered waistcoat. Patent leather pumps, a white stick with a black cord and tassel, and a quantity of chains about his neck and pockets served to make him a conspicuous object. He has one of the most remarkable faces I ever saw. He is lividly pale, and but for the energy of his actions and the strength of his lungs, would seem to be a victim of consumption. His eye is black as Erebus, and has the most mocking, lying-in-wait sort of expression conceivable. His mouth is alive with a kind of working and impatient nervousness; and when he has burst forth as he does constantly with a particularly successful cataract of expression, it assumes a curl of triumphant scorn that would be worthy of Mephistopheles. His hair is as extraordinary as his taste in waistcoats. A thick, heavy mass of jet-black ringlets falls on his left cheek almost to his collarless stock, which on the right temple is parted and put away with the smooth carefulness of a girl." A lady who met him at dinner described him as appareled in a black velvet coat lined with satin, purple trousers with a gold stripe on the outside seam, a scarlet waistcoat, lace wristbands to his finger tips, white gloves with flashy rings worn outside. Add to these the flowing black ringlets, and do not wonder that his hostess told the young man that he was making a fool of himself. Froude says he dressed in this fantastic guise to give the impression of folly so that his sudden displays of brilliancy might have the more striking effect coming from such an unlikely source.
Self-esteem was abounding in the young Hebrew, and he did not hesitate to compare himself with others to his own advantage. At twenty-nine he wrote his sister after an evening in the gallery of the House of Commons, "Heard Macaulay's best speech.....but between ourselves I could floor them all!" Egotism it doubtless was, but it sprang from no empty confidence in himself. The time was not distant when he was the acknowledged master of the House which looked so tempting from the galleries. He had offered himself as a Tory with Radical ideas—a combination as unusual as his style of apparel—to the electors of High Wycombe in June, 1832, but was beaten, as he was again in the autumn. It was said that in one of his early candidacies he replied to an elector, who had asked him on what he intended to stand, in the sententious phrase "on my head!" In 1834 he stood for Taunton, only to be defeated a third time. O'Connell, who had helped him in his first campaign, was mortally offended by Disraeli's allusion to his "bloody hand" in the Taunton canvass. The Irish orator, in a bitter rejoinder at Dublin, denounced Disraeli as a Jewish traitor, "the heir at law of the blasphemous thief that died upon the cross."
After many fruitless struggles the coveted seat was won, and in 1837 Benjamin Disraeli entered the House of Commons for Maidstone, his colleague being Wyndham Lewis, the friend whose good offices had gained him the nomination. Not long after the death of Mr. Lewis, in 1838, Mr. Disraeli married his lively widow, a woman to whose devotion not less than to her ample fortune he owed a debt of gratitude which he never failed to acknowledge.
Welcomed to the ranks of the Tory opposition by Sir Robert Peel, the ambitious recruit plunged at once into oratory—only to have his maiden effort drowned by the jeers of his hostile hearers, led by O'Connell's "tail" of Irish members. They mocked at his appeals for a hearing, and though the Tories cheered his pluck, he could not make it go. "At last, losing his temper, which until now he had preserved in a wonderful manner, he paused in the midst of a sentence, and looking the Liberals indignantly in the face, raised his hands and opening his mouth as widely as its dimensions would admit, said, in a remarkably loud and almost terrific tone, 'I have begun, several times, many things, and I have often succeeded at last; aye, sir, and though I sit down now, the time will come when you will hear me.'"
Nor did he ever again fail to get a hearing. He spoke often and to the point, enlivening his solid argument with touches of wit and gleams of imagination which light up the dreary pages of the parliamentary journals. At the first he was the steady supporter of Peel, but this clever man of ideals, imagination, and insight, could have little in common with that prosy, plodding man of business, whose stronghold was in the esteem of the plodding middle classes. When the Tories came into power in 1841, with Peel as Prime Minister, he found no place in his government for the supporter whose talent all parties had now begun to recognize. The slight bred coolness, and as Peel began to veer towards free trade principles, Disraeli, gathering a few ardent Tory protectionists about him, made himself a thorn in the premier's side. His caustic sayings about Peel's acceptance of the principles of the opposition were the talk of the clubs. "The right honorable gentleman," he said, "caught the Whigs bathing and he walked away with their clothes." He characterized the premier's genius as "sublime mediocrity," amid shouts of applause, and his government, raised to office by protectionist votes, yet steadily promoting free trade measures, he branded as "organized hypocrisy." His hostility to the repeal of the Corn Laws was based not so much upon economic argument superior to that of Cobden, as upon his fundamental belief that the greatness of the English nation in all past centuries had been derived from the wise rule of the aristocratic, land-owning class, and a fond belief that the retention of the tariff upon imported agricultural produce would support this ancient pillar of the constitution. Furthermore, his contention that England's adoption of free trade would be met by rival nations with high tariffs against imports of English goods has been borne out by the facts of subsequent history, against the confident assertion of Cobden and the Manchester school of economists that the world would soon follow the lead of England in throwing down all artificial barriers to the exchange of commodities. Peel carried his bill, as we have seen, but the protectionists wreaked their vengeance by overthrowing his government in the moment of victory.
From the hour of his defeat, in 1846, Sir Robert Peel was no longer a party chief. The Tory aristocracy who had lent their aid to the fatal coalition against him were led at first by Lord George Bentinck, but the real director of the organization was Disraeli. In 1849 he succeeded to the formal leadership of the Conservative opposition in the House of Commons, and in 1852, when the Russell ministry went out, he took office under Lord Derby as Chancellor of the Exchequer, and leader of the House of Commons. The Free Trade League bristled up at this resurgence of the protectionist champions, but Disraeli was too wise to invite a renewal of that contest which the voice of the nation had settled, and the subject was left to lapse into innocuous desuetude for half a century. Representing but a minority in Parliament, the ministry could maintain itself but a few months. December, 1852, found the Whigs again in power, where they remained until 1859, Disraeli using his talents the while to build up and consolidate the Tory opposition and to disintegrate the discordant elements, Free Trade, Liberal, Peelite, and Radical, who rallied under the government banner.
In 1858-59 the Derby-Disraeli ministry enjoyed a second brief lease of office, and after the long Whig administration of Palmerston and Russell (1859-66), they succeeded to the direction of affairs for the third time.
Out of office Disraeli continued to entertain Parliament with the audacious, brilliant, and often masterly speeches which he alone of his generation could deliver, and his short-lived experiences as the director and spokesman of the government policy equally evidenced his administrative ability, his control of his followers, and his knowledge of the spirit and temper of the Commons and the nation.
When Benjamin Disraeli, the young novelist, was presented to Lord Melbourne at a social gathering in the early '3O's his lordship had graciously asked how he could serve him. To which the flippant young man had replied that he would like to be Prime Minister. In February, 1868, the resignation of Lord Derby raised Mr. Disraeli to the height of his youthful ambition. He was premier until December, 1868, when his great rival and former party-associate, Gladstone, wrested the honor from his grasp.
During the third Derby-Disraeli ministry, the Reform Bill of 1867 was passed. Thirty-five years before the Grey-Russell Whigs had disfranchised the rotten boroughs and admitted the middle class people of the towns to citizenship and parliamentary representation. As years passed the demand increased for a further extension of the electoral franchise. The Chartists of 1848 demanded universal suffrage and were sternly repressed. After nearly a score of years the Gladstonian Liberals were prepared to gratify this demand in considerable measure, but before they could fully develop their policy, they were out and the Conservatives were in. It was at this juncture that Disraeli took "the leap in the dark," carrying, in 1867, an act "which, in its inevitable developments must give the franchise to every householder in the United Kingdom; and he gained for his party the credit, if credit it was, of having passed a more completely democratic measure than the most radical responsible statesman had yet dared to propose." His accession to the premiership evoked fresh testimony to his popularity. Mr. Froude makes no concealment of the attacks which were made upon him by open foes, or the disguised contempt of members of the aristocracy whose pride of birth had nevertheless allowed them to avail themselves of his talent for leadership. "Yet," says the same biographer, "when he went down to Parliament for the first time in his new capacity, he was wildly cheered by the crowds in Palace Yard. The shouts were echoed along Westminster Hall and through the lobbies, and were taken up again warmly and heartily in the House itself, which had been the scene of so many conflicts-the same House in which he had been hooted down when he first arose to speak."
When Gladstone's first administration (1868-74) had exhausted its volcanic energies, Disraeli for a second time became the chief minister of the Queen, this time not to finish out a weakened term, but with a clear majority at his back, and with the confidence of the Crown and the nation. Internal reforms had gone far enough for the time, and foreign affairs for which Mr. Gladstone had shown less aptitude needed attention from some one who could reproduce the spirit of a Canning, a Palmerston, or a John Bull.
The statesmen who had directed the affairs of the nation for the past thirty years, had seen little to be thankful for in the extensive colonial possessions of England. They had for the most part been "Little Englanders," to use a term of recent coinage, and while using the military power of the government to put down armed resistance to English sovereignty and to defend the integrity of the boundaries of the distant colonies, had done little else to hold the fabric together. Some of the most eminent among them were of the opinion that the possession of the colonies was an element of weakness. In the pursuance of such theories the English commonwealths of British America, Australia, and New Zealand were allowed to develop forms of local government but slightly removed from independence. Their constitutions, approved by English Liberal cabinets, allowed them to impose duties against the mother country, and exempted them from most of the burdens of taxation and military service which are the natural incidents of dependence.
Disraeli's view of all this was vigorously expressed in 1872. "Gentlemen, if you look to the history of this country since the advent of Liberalism, forty years ago, you will find that there has been no effort so continuous, so subtle, supported by so much energy, and carried on with so much ability and acumen, as the attempts of Liberalism to effect the disintegration of the empire of England. And, gentlemen, of all its efforts, this is the one which has been the nearest to success.....Not that I, for one, object to self-government.....But self-government when it was conceded ought to have been conceded as part of a great policy of imperial consolidation. It ought to have been accompanied with an imperial tariff, by securities for the people of England for the enjoyment of the unappropriated lands which belonged to the sovereign as their trustee, and by a military code which should have precisely defined the means and the responsibilities by which the colonies should be defended, and by which, if necessary, this country should call for aid from the colonies themselves. It ought further to have been accompanied by some representative council in the metropolis, which would have brought the colonies into constant and continuous relations with the home government. All this, however, was omitted because those who advised that policy looked upon the colonies of England, looked even upon our connection with India as a burden on this country, viewing everything in a financial aspect, and totally passing by those moral and political considerations which make nations great." Further on in the same speech he had declared, "in my opinion no minister in this country will do his duty who neglects any opportunity of reconstructing as much as possible our colonial empire, and of responding to those distant sympathies which may become the source of incalculable strength and happiness to this land." Yet his own ministry either had no such opportunity, or neglected it, and this far-seeing view of imperial relations was bequeathed unfulfilled for the guidance of those who were to come after.
Disraeli's six years of government were, however, signalized by a series of exploits which restored the tarnished prestige of England in the councils of Europe and doubtless served, however indirectly, to increase the pride of the colonies in the mother country.
When the ship canal was constructed by de Lesseps, connecting the Mediterranean with the Red Sea and shortening by one-half the route to India, the project had been frowned on by England. In 1875 the Khedive of Egypt, the largest stockholder in the canal, became hard-pressed for funds, and a telegram from Disraeli bought the entire block of shares for the English government for four million pounds. This stroke secured English control of the waterway, and was immensely popular with the nation. The Prince of Wales was sent with great pomp on a tour of India, and in 1876 the Queen's title was made more imposing by the addition of the words "Empress of India." The latter move may be viewed as a counter-stroke against recent advances of the Russians, whose disposition to raise the Eastern Question was irrepressible. The revolt of certain Christian states of Turkey in Europe had revived the animosities which had smouldered since the Crimean War, and while Russia prepared to support the claims of the Christians, Disraeli again ranged England on the side of the Turk. The Queen-Empress, as if to give personal support to the policy of her Prime Minister, raised him to the peerage with the title of Earl of Beaconsfield (1876).
The hatreds and intrigues in the Balkan peninsula led to a bloody war between Russia and Turkey. It soon became evident that unless saved by English intervention, Constantinople must fall into the hands of the Czar. Beaconsfield's spirited language at this crisis was paraphrased in the London music-halls in the famous couplet:
"We don't want to fight, but, by Jingo, if we do, We've got the ships, we've got the men, we've got the money, too,"
a song which gave the name of "Jingo" to the war policy of the Conservatives. An English fleet was sent to Constantinople, and England refused to recognize the terms of the treaty of San Stephano, which Russia had extorted from her conquered foe, and demanded that the Eastern Question should be submitted to a congress of the powers. That congress was held at Berlin in the summer of 1878. Prince Bismarck presided, and Lord Beaconsfield attended in person, accompanied by the Foreign Secretary, Lord Salisbury (since premier). The provisions of the Berlin treaty are too complex to be explained here, but they removed the grip of Russia from the throat of the Sultan, and established a group of Balkan principalities of varying degrees of autonomy. "Peace with honor" Beaconsfield announced as the outcome of his mission to Berlin, while the majority of the nation applauded.
Beaconsfield's star culminated at the Congress of Berlin. The efforts of his administration to defend India on the side of Russia by strengthening English hold on Afghanistan, led to the second Afghan War with its bloody massacres and humiliating episodes. In South Africa the imperial policy gave offense to blacks as well as whites, and led to wars which reflected little honor upon British arms. Hard times and consequent hardship among the agricultural classes at home combined with the petty but distressing occurrences in Asia and Africa to bring about a Liberal victory at the general election of 1880, and in April of that year Beaconsfield resigned his portfolio and seals to his great rival, Mr. Gladstone.
It was characteristic of the man's indomitable energy to signalize the year of his fall by writing another novel, "Endymion," a remarkable feat for a man of seventy-six years. He continued to appear in Parliament until near the day of his death, which took place in London, April 19, 1881, on the night following Easter Day.
Among the eulogies pronounced in Parliament upon the fallen leader none was more satisfactory in its explanation of Disraeli's remarkable career than that of the Marquis of Salisbury, who, at his death, succeeded to the chieftancy in the Conservative party. "To me," he said, "as I believe to all others who have worked with him, his patience, his gentleness, his unswerving and unselfish loyalty to his colleagues and fellow- laborers, have made an impression that will never leave me so long as life endures. But these feelings could only affect a limited circle of his immediate adherents. The impression which his career and character have made on the vast mass of his countrymen must be sought elsewhere. To a great extent, no doubt, it is due to the peculiar character of his genius, to its varied nature, to the wonderful combination of qualities he possessed, and which rarely reside in the same brain. To some extent also there is no doubt that circumstances—that is, the social difficulties which opposed themselves to his early rise and the splendid perseverance by which they were overcome—impressed his countrymen who love to see exemplified that career open to all persons, whatever their initial difficulties may be, which is one of the characteristics of the institutions of which they are most proud.
"Zeal for the greatness of England was the passion of his mind. Opinions might, and did, differ deeply as to the measures and steps by which expression was given to the dominant feelings, and more and more, as life drew near its close, as the heat and turmoil of controversy were left behind, as the gratification of every possible ambition negatived the suggestion of any inferior motives and brought out into greater prominence the purity and strength of this one intense feeling the people of this country recognized the force with which this desire dominated his actions. In the questions of interior policy which divided classes, he had to consider them, he had to judge them, and to take his course accordingly. It seemed to me that he treated them always as of secondary interest compared to the one great question—how the country to which he belonged might be made united and strong!"
The party to which Disraeli's genius gave direction and victory came again to power after the defeat of the Gladstonian schemes for the relief of Ireland, and reinforced by the Liberal-Unionist contingent under Joseph Chamberlain it has governed England for nearly twenty years. Its head, Lord Salisbury, one of Beaconsfield's most trusted lieutenants, has been true to the ruling ideas of his brilliant chief. The idea of an English empire, its parts inspired with a common purpose, has been zealously nourished. The jubilee (1887) and diamond jubilee (1897), of Queen Victoria's reign, were seized upon to give prominence and honor to the colonial representatives. The premiers of the colonies have met in conference at London and the whole vast and complex problem of federal empire has come under discussion. The problem is still far from solution, but that the relation has passed beyond the stage of mere sentiment is shown in many ways. The joy of the colonies over the diamond jubilee (1897), their united grief at Victoria's passing (1901), their welcome to the son of Edward VII., upon his progress around the world, and the unanimity with which volunteers sprang to the aid of England in the South African War—this response of English hearts in Canada, Australia, and elsewhere to the drum-beat of the empire was the fulfillment of one of Beaconsfield's imaginative dreams. A writer in the "Spectator" two years earlier had made the prophecy which in the century's end came to be realized:
"The night is full of darkness and doubt, The stars are dim and the Hunter's out: The waves begin to wrestle and moan; The Lion stands by his shore alone, And sends to the bounds of Earth and Sea First low notes of the thunder to be. Then East and West through the vastness grim, The whelps of the Lion answer him."
QUESTIONS FOR REVIEW
1. What different elements make up the present British Empire? 2. What prominence did Disraeli gain from his speech against Peel in 1846? 3. Describe his early life and personal appearance. 4. What unsuccessful attempts did he make to enter Parliament? 5. Describe his maiden speech in the House. 6. How did he regard Peel and the Corn Laws? 7. What was "the leap in the dark," which he took in 1867? 8. How had the statesmen immediately preceding Disraeli looked upon English colonial possessions? 9. What was his point of view as expressed in 1872? 10. How did England secure control of the Suez Canal? 11. What position did England take with reference to the Russo- Turkish War? 12. What circumstances led to the overthrow of Disraeli's party? 13. What was Lord Salisbury's estimate of Disraeli? 14. How have Disraeli's ideas been recognized under the Salisbury government? 15. What is "jingoism"?
LIFE OF BEACONSFIELD. J. A. Froude. LIFE OF LORD GEORGE BENTINCK. Benjamin Disraeli. CONINGSBY. Benjamin Disraeli. IMPERIAL FEDERATION. George R. Parkin. PROBLEMS OF GREATER BRITAIN. Sir C. W. Dilke.
[This dispatch by the Duke of Wellington touching upon the battle of Waterloo is in his usual plain and straightforward manner.]
To Marshal Lord Beresford, G. C. B.: You will have heard of our battle of the 18th. Never did I see such a pounding match. Both were what the boxers call "gluttons." Napoleon did not manoeuver at all. He just moved forward in the old style in columns, and was driven off in the old style. The only difference was, that he mixed cavalry with his infantry, and supported both with an enormous quantity of artillery.
I had the infantry for some time in squares, and I had the French cavalry walking about as if they had been our own. I never saw the British infantry behave so well.
OPPOSITION TO REFORM
[In the House of Lords in the course of the debate on the King's Speech, Nov. 2, 1830, the Prime Minister, the Duke of Wellington, spoke in part as follows. The inflexible Toryism of the speech disgusted the country and led to the defeat of the ministry. Earl Grey came into power and carried the Reform Bill.]
This subject brings me to what noble lords have said respecting the putting the country in a state to overcome the evils likely to result from the late disturbances in France. The noble Earl has alluded to the propriety of effecting parliamentary reform. The noble Earl has, however, been candid enough to acknowledge that he is not prepared with any measure of reform, and I can have no scruple in saying that his Majesty's government is as totally unprepared with any plan as the noble Lord. Nay, I, on my own part, will go further, and say, that I have never read or heard of any measure up to the present moment which can in any degree satisfy my mind that the state of the representation can be improved, or be rendered more satisfactory to the country at large than at the present moment. I will not, however, at such an unseasonable time, enter upon the subject, or excite discussion, but I shall not hesitate to declare unequivocally what are my sentiments upon it. I am fully convinced that the country possesses at the present moment a legislature which answers all the good purpose of legislation, and this to a greater degree than any legislature ever has answered in any country whatever. I will go further, and say, that the legislature and the system of representation possess the full and entire confidence of the country—deservedly possess that confidence—and the discussions in the legislature have a very great influence over the opinions of the country. I will go still further, and say, that if at the present moment I had imposed upon me the duty of forming a legislature for any country, and particularly for a country like this, in possession of great property of various descriptions, I do not mean to assert that I could form such a legislature as we possess now, for the nature of man is incapable of reaching such excellence at once; but my great endeavor would be to form some description of legislature which would produce the same results. The representation of the people at present contains a large body of the property of the country, and in which the landed interests have a preponderating influence. Under these circumstances, I am not prepared to bring forward any measure of the description alluded to by the noble Lord. I am not only not prepared to bring forward any measure of this nature, but I will at once declare that as far as I am concerned, as long as I hold any station in the government of the country, I shall always feel it my duty to resist such measures when proposed by others.
THE LAUREATE'S TRIBUTE
[The feeling of the English nation toward the Duke of Wellington was nobly expressed by Tennyson in his great "Ode," published in 1852, the year of the Duke's death.]
Bury the Great Duke With an empire's lamentation; Let us bury the Great Duke To the noise of the mourning of a mighty nation- Mourning when their leaders fall, Warriors carry the warrior's pall, And sorrow darkens hamlet and hall.
Where shall we lay the man whom we deplore? Here in streaming London's central roar. Let the sound of those he wrought for, And the feet of those he fought for Echo round his bones forevermore.
Lead out the pageant, sad and slow, As fits a universal woe; Let the long, long procession go, And let the sorrowing crowd about it grow, And let the mournful martial music blow; The last great Englishman is low.
Mourn, for to us he seems the last, Remembering all his greatness in the past. No more in soldier fashion will he greet With lifted hand the gazer in the street. O friends, our chief state-oracle is mute; Mourn for the man of long-enduring blood, The statesman-warrior, moderate, resolute, Whole in himself, a common good. Mourn for the man of amplest influence, Yet clearest of ambitious crime; Our greatest, yet with least pretense, Great in council and great in war, Foremost captain of his time, Rich in saving common sense, And as the greatest only are, In his simplicity sublime. O good gray head which all men knew, O voice from which their omens all men drew, O iron nerve to true occasion true, O fall'n at length that tower of strength, Which stood four-square to all the winds that Such was he whom we deplore! The long self-sacrifice of life is o'er, The great world-victor's victor will be seen no more.
. . .
Who is he that cometh like an honored guest, With banner and with music, with soldier and with priest, With a nation weeping and breaking on my rest? Mighty seaman, this is he Was great by land as thou by sea. Thine island loves thee well, thou famous man, The greatest sailor since our world began. Now to the roll of muffled drums To thee the greatest soldier comes; For this is he Was great by land as thou by sea; His foes were thine; he kept us free; O give him welcome, this is he Worthy of our gorgeous rites, And worthy to be laid by thee; For this is England's greatest son, He that gained a hundred fights Nor ever lost an English gun; This is he that far away Against the myriads of Assaye Clashed with his fiery few and won; And underneath another sun, Warring on a later day, Round affrighted Lisbon drew The treble works, the vast designs Of his labored rampart-lines, Where he greatly stood at bay, Whence he issued forth anew, And ever great and greater grew, Beating from the wasted vines Back to France her banded swarms, Back to France with countless blows, Till o'er the hills her eagles flew, Beyond the Pyrenean pines; Followed up in valley and glen With blare of bugle, clamor of men, Roll of cannon and clash of arms, And England pouring on her foes. Such a war had such a close. Again their ravening eagle rose In anger, wheel'd on Europe shadowing wings, And barking for the thrones of kings; Till one that sought but duty's iron crown, On that loud Sabbath shook the spoiler down; A day of onsets, of despair! Dashed on every rocky square Their surging charges foamed themselves away; Last the Prussian trumpet blew; Thro' the long tormented air Heaven flashed a sudden jubilant ray, And down we swept and charged and overthrew. So great a soldier taught us there What long-enduring hearts could do In that world-earthquake, Waterloo! Mighty seaman, tender and true, And pure as he from taint of craven guile, O savior of the silver-coasted isle, O shaker of the Baltic and the Nile, If aught of things that here befall Touch a spirit among things divine, If love of country move thee there at all, Be glad because his bones are laid by thine! And thro' the centuries let a people's voice In full acclaim, A people's voice, The proof and echo of all human fame, A people's voice, when they rejoice, At civic revel and pomp and game, Attest their great commander's claim With honor, honor, honor, honor to him, Eternal honor to his name.
A people's voice! We are a people yet, Tho' all men else their nobler dreams forget, Confused by brainless mobs and lawless powers; Thank Him who isled us here, and roughly set His Briton in blown seas and storming showers, We have a voice with which to pay the debt Of boundless love and reverence and regret To those great men who fought and kept it ours. And keep it ours, O God, from brute control; O statesmen, guard us, guard the eye, the soul Of Europe, keep our noble England whole, And save the one true seed of freedom sown Betwixt a people and their ancient throne, That sober freedom, out of which there springs Our loyal passion for our temperate kings; For, saving that, ye help to save mankind Till public wrong be crumbled into dust, And drill the raw world for the march of mind, Till crowds at length be sane and crowns be just. But wink no more in slothful overtrust. Remember him who led your hosts; He bade you guard the sacred coasts. Your cannons molder on the seaward wall; His voice is silent in the council hall Forever; and whatever tempests lour Forever silent; even if they broke In thunder, silent; yet remember all He spoke among you, and the man who spoke; Who never sold the truth to serve the hour, Nor paltered with Eternal God for power; Who let the turbid streams of rumor flow Thro' either babbling world of high and low; Whose life was work; whose language rife With rugged maxims hewn from life; Who never spoke against a foe; Whose eighty winters freeze with one rebuke All great self-seekers trampling on the right: Truth-teller was our England's Alfred named; Truth-lover was our English Duke; Whatever record leap to light He never shall be shamed. . . .
Peace, his triumph will be sung By some yet unmolded tongue, Far on in summers that we shall not see; Peace, it is a day of pain For one about whose patriarchal knee Late the little children clung; O peace, it is a day of pain For one upon whose hand and heart and brain Once the weight and fate of Europe hung. Ours the pain, be his the gain! More than is of man's degree Must be with us, watching here At this, our great solemnity. Whom we see not, we revere; We revere, and we refrain From talk of battles loud and vain, And brawling memories all too free. For such a wise humility As befits a solemn fame: We revere, and while we hear The tides of music's golden sea Setting toward eternity, Uplifted high in heart and hope are we, Until we doubt not that for one so true There must be other nobler work to do Than when he fought at Waterloo; And Victor he must ever be, For tho' the Giant Ages heave the hill And break the shore, and evermore Make and break and work their will; Tho' world on world in myriad myriads roll Round us, each with different powers, And other forms of life than ours, What know we greater than the soul? On God and godlike men we build our trust. Hush, the Dead March wails in the people's ears; The dark crowd moves, and there are sobs and tears: The black earth yawns; the mortal disappears; Ashes to ashes, dust to dust. He is gone who seemed so great— Gone; but nothing can bereave him Of the force he made his own Being here, and we believe him Something far advanced in state, And that he wears a truer crown Than any wreath that man can weave him. Speak no more of his renown, Lay your earthly fancies down, And in the vast cathedral leave him, God accept him, Christ receive him!
["The Needy Knife-Grinder," which follows, was one of the most notable contributions which appeared in "The Anti-Jacobin." It is scarcely necessary to point out its satire upon the humanitarian sympathies of those Englishmen who had been carried away by the ideas of the French Revolution. The verses—a parody of Stanley's "Sapphics"—were the joint production of George Canning and John Hookham Frere.]
THE FRIEND OF HUMANITY AND THE NEEDY KNIFE-GRINDER
FRIEND OF HUMANITY
Needy knife-grinder! Whither are you going? Rough is the road; your wheel is out of order; Bleak blows the blast; your hat has got a hole in't, So have your breeches!
Weary knife-grinder! little think the proud ones Who in their coaches roll along the turnpike Road, what hard work 'tis crying all day "Knives and Scissors to grind O!"
Tell me, knife-grinder, how you came to grind knives? Did some rich man tyrannically use you? Was it some squire? or parson of the parish? Or the attorney?
Was it the squire for killing of his game? Or Covetous parson, for his tithes distraining? Or roguish lawyer, made you lose your little All in a lawsuit?
Have you not read the "Rights of Man," by Tom Paine? Drops of compassion tremble on my eyelids, Ready to fall as soon as you have told your Pitiful story.
Story, God bless you, I have none to tell, sir; Only last night a-drinking at the Chequers, This poor old hat and breeches, as you see, were Torn in a scuffle.
Constables came up for to take me into Custody; they took me before the justice; Justice Oldmixon put me in the parish Stocks for a vagrant.
I should be glad to drink your honor's health in A pot of beer, if you will give me sixpence; But for my part I never love to meddle With politics, sir.
FRIEND OF HUMANITY
I give thee sixpence; I will see thee damned first, Wretch! whom no sense of wrongs Can rouse to vengeance! Sordid, unfeeling, reprobate, degraded, Spiritless outcast!
[Kicks the K-g, overturns his wheel, and exit in a transport of republican enthusiasm and universal philanthropy.]
THE GOVERNMENT OF ENGLAND.
[The following extract from a speech on Parliamentary Reform affords an excellent example of his style of eloquence.]
Other nations, excited by the example of the liberty which this country has long possessed, have attempted to copy our Constitution; and some of them have shot beyond it in the fierceness of their pursuit. I grudge not to other nations that share of liberty which they may acquire; in the name of God, let them enjoy it! But let us warn them that they lose not the object of their desire by the very eagerness with which they attempt to grasp it. Inheritors and conservators of national freedom, let us, while others are seeking it in restlessness and trouble, be a steady and shining light to guide their course; not a wandering meteor to bewilder and mislead them.
Let it not be thought that this is an unfriendly or disheartening counsel to those who are either struggling under the pressure of harsh government, or exulting in the novelty of sudden emancipation. It is addressed much rather to those who, though cradled and educated amidst the sober blessings of the British Constitution, pant for other schemes of liberty than those which that Constitution sanctions, other than are compatible with a just equality of civil rights, or with the necessary restraints of social obligations; of some of whom it may be said, in the language which Dryden puts into the mouth of one of the most extravagant of his heroes, that
"They would be free as nature first made man, Ere the base laws of servitude began, When wild in the woods the noble savage ran."
Noble and swelling sentiments! but such as cannot be reduced into practice. Grand ideas! but which must be qualified and adjusted by a compromise between the aspirings of individuals, and a due concern for the general tranquility; must be subdued and chastened by reason and experience before they can be directed to any useful end! A search after abstract perfection in government may produce in generous minds an enterprise and enthusiasm to be recorded by the historian and to be celebrated by the poet; but such perfection is not an object of reasonable pursuit, because it is not one of possible attainment; and never yet did a passionate struggle after an absolutely unattainable object fail to be productive of misery to an individual, of madness and confusion to a people. As the inhabitants of those burning climates which lie beneath a tropical sun sigh for the coolness of the mountain and the grove, so (all history instructs us) do nations which have basked for a time in the torrid blaze of unmitigated liberty too often call upon the shades of despotism, even of military despotism, to cover them—a protection which blights while it shelters; which dwarfs the intellect and stunts the energies of man, but to which a wearied nation willingly resorts from intolerable heats and from perpetual danger of convulsion.
Our lot is happily cast in the temperate zone of freedom, the clime best suited to the development of the moral qualities of the human race, to the cultivation of their faculties, and to the security as well as the improvement of their virtues; a clime, not exempt, indeed, from variations of the elements, but variations which purify while they agitate the atmosphere that we breathe. Let us be sensible of the advantages which it is our happiness to enjoy. Let us guard with pious gratitude the flame of genuine liberty, that fire from heaven, of which our Constitution is the holy depository; and let us not, for the chance of rendering it more intense and more radiant, impair its purity or hazard its extinction.
[The bill for the charter of the Liverpool and Manchester railway was referred to the Committee of the House of Commons, March 21, 1825. The canal companies had employed able counsel to oppose it. A month was consumed before the company's engineer, Mr. George Stephenson, was called by the Committee. The following account of his first day's examination is from his fascinating biography by Dr. Samuel Smiles.]
On the 25th George Stephenson was called into the witness-box. It was his first appearance before a committee of the House of Commons, and he well knew what he had to expect. He was aware that the whole force of the opposition was to be directed against him; and if they could break down his evidence, the canal monopoly might yet be upheld for a time. Many years afterward, when looking back at his position on this trying occasion, he said: "When I went to Liverpool to plan a line from thence to Manchester, I pledged myself to the directors to attain a speed of ten miles an hour. I said I had no doubt the locomotive might be made to go much faster, but that we had better be moderate at the beginning. The directors said I was quite right; for that if, when they went to Parliament, I talked of going at a greater rate than ten miles an hour, I should put a cross upon the concern. It was not an easy task for me to keep the engine down to ten miles an hour, but it must be done, and I did my best. I had to place myself in that most unpleasant of all positions—the witness-box of a parliamentary committee. I was not long in it before I began to wish for a hole to creep out at! I could not find words to satisfy either the committee or myself. I was subjected to the cross-examination of eight or ten barristers, purposely, as far as possible, to bewilder me. Some member of the committee asked if I was a foreigner, and another hinted that I was mad. But I put up with every rebuff, and went on with my plans, determined not to be put down."
George Stephenson stood before the committee to prove what the public opinion of that day held to be impossible. The self-taught mechanic had to demonstrate the practicability of accomplishing that which the most distinguished engineers of the time regarded as impracticable. Clear though the subject was to himself, and familiar as he was with the powers of the locomotive, it was no easy task for him to bring home his convictions, or even to convey his meaning, to the less informed minds of his hearers. In his strong Northumbrian dialect, he struggled for utterance, in the face of the sneers, interruptions, and ridicule of the opponents of the measure, and even of the committees, some of whom shook their heads and whispered doubts as to his sanity when he energetically avowed that he could make the locomotive go at the rate of twelve miles an hour! It was so grossly in the teeth of all the experience of honorable members, that the man "must certainly be laboring under a delusion!"
And yet his large experience of railways and locomotives, as described by himself to the committee, entitled this "untaught, inarticulate genius," as he has been described, to speak with confidence on the subject. Beginning with his experience as a brakesman at Killingworth in 1803, he went on to state that he was appointed to take the entire charge of the steam engines in 1813, and had superintended the railroads connected with the numerous collieries of the grand allies from that time downward. He had laid down or superintended the railways at Burradon, Mount Moor, Springwell, Bedlington, Helton, and Darlington, besides improving those at Killingworth, South Moor, and Derwent Crook. He had constructed fifty-five steam-engines, of which sixteen were locomotives. Some of these had been sent to France. The engines constructed by him for the working of the Killingworth Railroad, eleven years before, had continued steadily at work ever since, and fulfilled his most sanguine expectations. He was prepared to prove the safety of working high-pressure locomotives on a railroad, and the superiority of this mode of transporting goods over all others. As to speed, he said he had recommended eight miles an hour with twenty tons, and four miles an hour with forty tons; but he was quite confident that much more might be done. Indeed he had no doubt they might go at the rate of twelve miles. As to the charge that locomotives on a railroad would so terrify the horses in the neighborhood that to travel on horseback or to plow the adjoining fields would be rendered highly dangerous, the witness said that horses learned to take no notice of them, though there were horses that would shy at a wheelbarrow. A mail-coach was likely to be more shied at by horses than a locomotive. In the neighborhood of Killingworth, the cattle in the fields went on grazing while the engines passed them, and the farmers made no complaints.
Mr. Alderson, who had carefully studied the subject, and was well skilled in practical science, subjected the witness to a protracted and severe cross-examination as to the speed and power of the locomotive, the stroke of the piston, the slipping of the wheels upon the rails, and various other points of detail. Stephenson insisted that no slipping took place, as attempted to be extorted from him by the counsel. He said, "It is impossible for slipping to take place so long as the adhesive weight of the wheel upon the rail is greater than the weight to be dragged after it." There was a good deal of interruption to the witness's answers by Mr. Alderson, to which Mr. Joy more than once objected. As to accidents, Stephenson knew of none that had occurred with his engines. There had been one, he was told, at the Middleton Colliery, near Leeds, with a Blenkinsop engine. The driver had been in liquor, and put a considerable load on the safety-valve, so that upon going forward the engine blew up and the man was killed. But he added, if proper precautions had been used with that boiler, the accident could not have happened. The following cross-examination occurred in reference to the question of speed:
"Of course," he was asked, "when a body is moving upon a road, the greater the velocity the greater the momentum that is generated?" "Certainly." "What would be the momentum of forty tons moving at the rate of twelve miles an hour?" "It would be very great." "Have you seen a railroad that would stand that?" "Yea." "Where?" "Any railroad that would bear going four miles an hour; I mean to say, that if it would bear the weight at four miles an hour, it would bear it at twelve." "Taking it at four miles an hour, do you mean to say that it would not require a stronger railway to carry the same weight twelve miles an hour?" "I will give an answer to that. I dare say every person has been over ice when skating, or seen persons go over, and they know that it would bear them better at a greater velocity than it would if they went slower; when they go quick, the weight in a measure ceases." "Is not that upon the hypothesis that the railroad is perfect?" "It is; and I mean to make it perfect."
It is not necessary to state that to have passed through his severe ordeal scatheless needed no small amount of courage, intelligence, and ready shrewdness on the part of the witness. Nicholas Wood, who was present on the occasion, has since stated that the point on which Stephenson was hardest pressed was that of speed. "I believe," he says, "that it would have lost the company their bill if he had gone beyond eight or nine miles an hour. If he had stated his intention of going twelve or fifteen miles an hour, not a single person would have believed it to be practicable." Mr. Alderson had, indeed, so pressed the point of "twelve miles an hour," and the promoters were so alarmed lest it should appear in evidence that they contemplated any such extravagant rate of speed, that immediately on Mr. Alderson sitting down, Mr. Joy proceeded to re-examine Stephenson, with the view of removing from the minds of the committee an impression so unfavorable, and as they supposed, so damaging to their case. "With regard," asked Mr. Joy, "to all those hypothetical questions of my learned friend, they have been all put on the supposition of going twelve miles an hour; now that is not the rate at which, I believe, any of the engines of which you have spoken have traveled?" "No," replied Stephenson, "except as an experiment for a short distance." "But what they have gone has been three, five, or six miles an hour?" "Yes." "So that those hypothetical cases of twelve miles an hour do not fall within your general experience?" "They do not."
The committee also seem to have entertained some alarm as to the high rate of speed which had been spoken of, and proceeded to examine the witness farther on the subject. They supposed the case of the engine being upset when going at nine miles an hour, and asked what, in such a case, would become of the cargo astern. To which the witness replied that it would not be upset. One of the members of the committee pressed the witness a little farther. He put the following case: "Suppose, now, one of these engines to be going along a railroad at the rate of nine or ten miles an hour, and that a cow were to stray upon the line and get in the way of the engine; would not that, think you, be a very awkward circumstance?" "Yes," replied the witness, with a twinkle in his eye, "very awkward-for the cow!" The honorable member did not proceed farther with his cross-examination; to use a railway phrase, he was "shunted." Another asked if animals would not be very much frightened by the engine passing at night, especially by the glare of the red-hot chimney? "But how would they know that it wasn't painted?" said the witness.
LORD JOHN RUSSELL
THOMAS MOORE TO LORD RUSSELL
[About the year 1816 Lord Russell's health being delicate he was rarely in his seat in the House of Commons, and even expressed his determination to withdraw from public life altogether. This "Remonstrance" from the poet Thomas Moore is valuable at least for the view which it gives of the considerations which impelled the scion of the great Whig house to serve his country.]
What! thou, with thy genius, thy youth, and thy name! Thou, born of a Russell, whose instinct to run The accustom'd career of thy sires is the same As the eaglet's to soar with his eyes on the sun; Whose nobility comes to thee, stamp'd with a seal Far, far more ennobling than monarch e'er set; With the blood of thy race offer'd up for the weal Of a nation that swears by that martyrdom yet! Shalt thou be faint-hearted, and turn from the strife, From the mighty arena, where all that is grand, And devoted, and pure, and adorning in life Is for high-thoughted spirits like thine to command? Oh no! never dream it; while good men despair Between tyrants and traitors, and timid men bow, Never think for an instant thy country can spare Such a light from her dark'ning horizon as thou! With a spirit as meek as the gentlest of those Who in life's sunny valley lie shelter'd and warm, Yet bold and heroic as ever yet rose To the top cliffs of Fortune, and breasted her storm; With an ardour for liberty, fresh as in youth It first kindles the bard and gives light to his lyre, Yet mellow'd e'en now by that mildness of truth, Which tempers, but chills not, the patriot fire; With an eloquence, not like those rills from a height, Which sparkle and foam, and in vapour are o'er, But a current that works out its way into light Through the filt'ring recesses of thought and of lore: Thus gifted, thou never canst sleep in the shade; If the stirring of genius, the music of fame, And the charm of thy cause have not power to persuade, Yet think how to freedom thou'rt pledged by thy name. Like the boughs of that laurel, by Delphi's decree, Set apart for the fame and its service divine, All the branches that spring from the old Russell tree Are by liberty claim'd for the use of her shrine.
ON BRIBERY AT ELECTIONS
[After his unsuccessful contest for a seat in the House of Commons for Huntingdon in 1826, Lord John Russell drafted a measure for the prevention of bribing and sent it to Lord Althorp with a letter which was published in "The Times " and attracted much notice. The following passages are extracted.]
Bribery is clearly forbidden by the law, and it is competent for every British subject to petition the House of Commons, praying them to inquire into any particular instance of that offense which may have occurred under his own observation. The House may, if it thinks fit, refer such a petition to the Committee of Privileges, or to any other committee it may choose to appoint for the purpose.
Bribery in a candidate, however, makes void the election, and a petition complaining of bribery committed, with a view to the last election in a borough, is properly an election petition. But a term of fourteen days is the limited period within which a petition of this nature can be presented, and various onerous duties are imposed upon the petitioner—he must enter into a recognizance to pursue his complaint, and must incur an expense of some hundreds or even some thousands in prosecuting the inquiry.
Still this mode of inquiry is now so established that when upon two or three occasions complaints have been sent to me of bribery in a particular borough, I feared to bring them before the House of Commons lest I should be told that the petition was an election petition which could not otherwise be entertained.
. . .
From this state of things great impunity has been allowed to gross acts of corruption. A gentleman from London goes down to a borough of which he scarcely before knew the existence. The electors do not ask his political opinions; they do not inquire into his private character; they only require to be satisfied of the impurity of his intentions. If he is elected no one, in all probability, contests the validity of his return. His opponents are as guilty as he is and no other person will incur the expense of a petition for the sake of a public benefit. Fifteen days after the meeting of Parliament a handsome reward is distributed to each of the worthy and independent electors.
This is the practice against which the resolutions of the late House of Commons were directed. They pledge the House to inquiry not on a question between two rivals contending for a seat, but on a question affecting the character and purity of Parliament. They allow complaints to be made not only against the sitting member, but against the borough; they enlarge the time within which such complaints may be made, and instead of deterring petitioners by expense, they provide that a specific complaint, if fit to be inquired into, shall be inquired into for the sake of the public at the public cost.
Such is the proposition approved by the late House of Commons, and which I venture to think not unworthy of being countenanced by a Whig reformer. There are many other abuses in our present mode of elections, to which local remedies might, I think, be successfully applied; nor is there any one more fit or more able than yourself to conduct such measures. Undoubtedly many obstacles would be raised to delay our progress, especially on the part of "the presiding genius of the House of Lords." But I am persuaded that reformers in general have never made a sufficient estimate of the support they would receive, or set a sufficient value on the objects they might attain, by a vigorous attack on particular abuses.
THE CHAMPION OF REFORM
[Lord John Russell's share in carrying the Reform Act of 1832 was celebrated by Lord Lyttleton in the following lines.]
In England's worst days, when her rights and her laws Were spurned by a Prince of the fell Stuart line, A Russell stood forth to assert her lost cause, And perish'd a martyr at liberty's shrine. The smell of that sacrifice mounted to heaven; The cry of that blood rose not thither in vain; The crime of the tyrant was never forgiven; And a blessing was breathed on the race of the slain. Dethroned and degraded, the Stuart took flight, He fled to the land where the Bourbon bore sway, A curse clung to his offspring, a curse and a blight, And in exile and sorrow it wither'd away. But there sprang from the blood of the martyr a race Which for virtue and courage unrival'd has shone; Its honors still worn with a patriot grace, Still loved by the people, revered by the throne. And see where in front of the battle again A Russell, sweet liberty's champion, appears; While myriads of freemen compose his bright train, And the blessing still lives through the long lapse of years.
[During the parliamentary session of 1846 when the bill for the repeal of the Corn Law was passing through its parliamentary stages, Mr. Cobden's letters from London to personal friends and to his wife afford frequent glimpses of his interest, his suspense, and his final exultation.]
"London, February 19th. To T. H. Ashworth: Your letter has followed me here. Peel's declaration in the House that he will adopt immediate repeal if it is voted by the Commons, seems to me to remove all difficulty from Villiers's path; he can now propose his old motion without the risk of doing any harm even if he should not succeed. As respects the future course of the league, the less that is said now about it publicly the better. If Peel's measure should become law, then the Council will be compelled to face the question, 'What shall the League do during the three years?' It has struck me that under such circumstances we might absolve the large subscribers from all further calls, put the staff of the League on a peace footing, and merely keep alive a nominal organization to prevent any attempt to undo the good work we have effected. Not that I fear any reaction. On the contrary, I believe the popularity of free-trade principles is only in its infancy, and that it will every year take firmer hold of the head and heart of the community. But there is perhaps something due to our repeated pledges that we will not dissolve until the Corn Laws are entirely abolished. In any case the work will be effectually finished during this year, provided the League preserve its firm and united position; and it is to prevent the slightest appearance of disunion that I would avoid now talking in public about the future course of the League. It is the League, and it only, that frightens the peers. It is the League alone which enables Peel to repeal the law. But for the League the aristocracy would have hunted Peel to a premature grave, or consigned him like Lord Melbourne to a private station at the bare mention of total repeal. We must hold the same rod over the Lords until the measure is safe; after that I agree with you in thinking that it matters little whether the League dies with honors, or lingers out a few years of inglorious existence."
"May 16th. To F. W. Cobden: I last night had the glorious privilege of giving a vote in the majority for the third reading of the bill for the total repeal of the Corn Law. The bill is now out of the House, and will go up to the Lords on Monday. I trust we shall never hear the name of 'Corn' again in the Commons. There was a good deal of cheering and waving of hats when the Speaker had put the question, that this bill do now pass.' Lord Morpeth, Macaulay, and others came and shook hands with me, and congratulated me on the triumph of our cause. I did not speak, simply for the reason that I was afraid that I should give more life to the debate, and afford an excuse for another adjournment; otherwise I could have made a telling and conciliatory appeal. Villiers tried to speak at three o'clock this morning, but I did not think he took the right tone. He was fierce against the protectionists, and only irritated them, and they wouldn't hear him. The reports about the doings in the Lords are still not satisfactory or conclusive. Many people fear still that they will alter the measure with a view to a compromise. But I hope we shall escape any further trouble upon the question.....I feel little doubt that I shall be able to pay a visit to your father at midsummer. At least nothing but the Lords throwing back the bill upon the country could prevent my going into Wales at the time, for I shall confidently expect them to decide one way or another by the 15th of June. I shall certainly vote and speak against the Factory Bill next Friday."
"May 18th. To Mrs. Cobden: We are so beset by contradictory rumors, that I know not what to say about our prospects in the Lords. Our good, conceited friend told me on Wednesday that he knew the peers would not pass the measure, and on Saturday he assured me that they would. And this is a fair specimen of the way in which rumors vary from day to day. This morning Lord Monteagle called on me, and was strongly of the opinion that they would 'move on, and not stand in people's way.' A few weeks will now decide the matter one way or another. I think I told you that I dined at Moffat's last Wednesday. As usual he gave us a first- rate dinner. After leaving Moffat's at eleven o'clock, I went to a squeeze at Mrs. —. It was as usual hardly possible to get inside the drawing-room doors. I only remained a quarter of an hour, and then went home. On Saturday I dined at Lord and Lady John's, and met a select party, whose names I see in to-day's papers.....I am afraid if I associate much with the aristocracy, they will spoil me. I am already half-seduced by the fascinating ease of their parties."
"May 19th. To F. W. Cobden: I received your letters with the enclosures. We are still on the tenter-hooks respecting the conduct of the Lords. There is, however, one cheering point: the majority on the second reading is improving in the stock-books of the whippers-in. It is now expected that there will be forty to fifty majority at the second reading. This will of course give us a better margin for the committee. The government and Lord John (who is very anxious to get the measure through) are doing all they can to insure success. The ministers from Lisbon, Florence, and other continental cities (where they are peers) are coming home to vote in committee. Last night was a propitious beginning in the Lords. The Duke of Richmond was in a passion, and his tone and manner did not look like a winner."