The Life of William Ewart Gladstone, Vol. 1 (of 3) - 1809-1859
by John Morley
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Mr. Gladstone's dislike and distrust of the intrusion not only of the rude secular arm, but of anything temporal into the sphere of spiritual things, had been marked enough in the old days of battle at Oxford between the tractarians and the heads, though it was less manifest in the Gorham case. In 1853 he found occasion for an honourable exhibition of the same strong feeling. Maurice had got into trouble with the authorities at King's College by essays in which he was taken to hold that the eternity of the future torment of the wicked is a superstition not warranted by the Thirty-nine Articles. A movement followed in the council of the college to oust Maurice from his professorial chair. Mr. Gladstone took great pains to avert the stroke, and here is the story as he told it to his brother-in-law, Lord Lyttelton:—

To Lord Lyttelton.

Oct. 29, 1853.—I remained in town last Thursday in order to attend the council of K.C., and as far as I could, to see fair play. I was afraid of a very precipitous proceeding, and I regret to say my fears have been verified. The motion carried was the Bishop of London's, but I am bound to say he was quite willing to have waived it for another course, and the proceeding is due to a body of laymen chiefly lords. The motion carried is to the effect that the statements on certain points contained in Maurice's last essay are of a dangerous character, and that his connection with the theology of the school ought not to continue. I moved as an amendment that the bishop be requested to appoint competent theologians who should personally examine how far the statements of Mr. Maurice were conformable to or at variance with the three creeds and the formularies of the church of England, and should make a report upon them, and that the bishop should be requested to communicate with the council. For myself I find in different parts of what Maurice has written things that I cannot, and I am quite certain the council had not been able to, reconcile. This consideration alone seemed to me to show that they were not in a condition to proceed with a definite judgment. I do not feel sufficiently certain what his view as a whole may be, even if I were otherwise competent to judge whether it is within or beyond the latitude allowed by the church in this matter. And independently of all this I thought that even decency demanded of the council, acting perforce in a judicial capacity, that they should let the accused person know in the most distinct terms for what he was dismissed, and should show that they had dismissed him, if at all, only after using greater pains to ascertain that his opinions were in real contrariety to some article of the faith. I also cherished the hope, founded on certain parts of what he has said, that his friends might be able in the meantime to arrange some formula concordiae which might avert the scandal and mischief of the dismissal. Sir J. Patteson, Sir B. Brodie, and Mr. Green supported the amendment, but the majority went the other way, and much was I grieved at it. I am not inclined to abate the dogmatic profession of the church—on the contrary, nothing would induce me to surrender the smallest fraction of it; but while jealous of its infraction in any particular, I am not less jealous of the obtrusion of any private or local opinion into the region of dogma; and above all I hold that there should be as much rigour in a trial of this kind, irrespective of the high character and distinguished powers of the person charged in this particular case, as if he were indicted for murder.[283]


Long afterwards, when the alleged heretic was dead, Mr. Gladstone wrote of him to Mr. Macmillan (April 11, 1884): 'Maurice is indeed a spiritual splendour, to borrow the phrase of Dante about St. Dominic. His intellectual constitution had long been, and still is, to me a good deal of an enigma. When I remember what is said and thought of him, and by whom, I feel that this must be greatly my own fault.' Some years after the affair at King's College, Maurice was appointed to Vere Street, and the attack upon him was renewed. Mr. Gladstone was one of those who signed an address of recognition and congratulation.


[278] Memo, by Mr. Gladstone of a conversation with Aberdeen.

[279] The practical impossibility of retaining this learned man, the Derbyite chancellor, upon the coalition woolsack, is an illustration of the tenacity of the modern party system.

[280] It was not until the rise of Mr. Gladstone that a chancellor of the exchequer, not being prime minister, stood at this high level.

[281] From the Baring papers, for which I am indebted to the kindness of Lord Northbrook.

[282] Times, December 23, 1852.

[283] See Life of Maurice, ii. p. 195; Life of Wilberforce, ii. pp. 208-218. See also Mr. Gladstone's letter to Bishop Hampden, 1856, above p. 168.




We have not sought to evade the difficulties of our position.... We have not attempted to counteract them by narrow or flimsy expedients.... We have proposed plans which will go some way towards closing up many vexed financial questions.... While we have sought to do justice to intelligence and skill as compared with property—while we have sought to do justice to the great labouring community by further extending their relief from indirect taxation, we have not been guided by any desire to set one class against another.—GLADSTONE (1853).

Mr. Gladstone began this year, so important both to himself and to the country, with what he described as a short but active and pleasant visit to Oxford. He stayed at Christ Church with Dr. Jacobson, of whom it was observed that he always looked as if on the point of saying something extremely piercing and shrewd, only it never came. He paid many calls, dined at Oriel, had a luncheon and made a speech in the hall at Balliol; passed busy days and brisk evenings, and filled up whatever spare moments he could find or manufacture, with treasury papers, books on taxation, consolidated annuities, and public accounts, alternating with dips into Lamennais—the bold and passionate French mystic, fallen angel of his church, most moving of all the spiritual tragedies of that day of heroic idealists.

On February 3 he moved into the house of the chancellor of the exchequer in that best known of all streets which is not a street, where he was destined to pass some two and twenty of the forty-one years of the public life that lay before him. He had a correspondence with Mr. Disraeli, his predecessor, on the valuation of the furniture in the official house. There was question, also, of the robe that passes down under some law of exchange from one chancellor to another on an apparently unsettled footing. The tone on this high concern was not wholly amicable. Mr. Gladstone notes especially in his diary that he wrote a draft of one of his letters on a Sunday, as being, I suppose, the day most favourable to self-control; while Mr. Disraeli at last suggests that Mr. Gladstone should really consult Sir Charles Wood, 'who is at least a man of the world.' Such are the angers of celestial minds.

At an early cabinet (Feb. 5) he began the battle that lasted in various shapes all the rest of his life. It was on a question of reducing the force in the Pacific. 'Lord Aberdeen, Granville, Molesworth, and I were for it. We failed.' What was the case for this particular retrenchment I do not know, nor does it matter. Fiercer engagements, and many of them, were to follow. Meanwhile he bent all the energies of his mind to the other front of financial questions—to raising money rather than expending it, and with unwearied industry applied himself to solve the problem of redistributing the burdens and improving the machinery of taxation.

For many years circumstances had given to finance a lively and commanding place in popular interest. The protracted discussion on the corn law, conducted not only in senate and cabinet, but in country market-places and thronged exchanges, in the farmer's ordinary and at huge gatherings in all the large towns in the kingdom, had agitated every class in the community. The battle between free trade and protection, ending in a revolution of our commercial system, had awakened men to the enormous truth, as to which they are always so soon ready to relapse into slumber, that budgets are not merely affairs of arithmetic, but in a thousand ways go to the root of the prosperity of individuals, the relations of classes, and the strength of kingdoms. The finance of the whigs in the years after the Reform bill had not only bewildered parliament, but had filled merchants, bankers, shipowners, manufacturers, shopkeepers, and the whole array of general taxpayers with perplexity and dismay. Peel recovered a financial equilibrium and restored public confidence, but Peel was gone. The whigs who followed him after 1846 had once more laboured under an unlucky star in this vital sphere of national affairs. They performed the unexampled feat of bringing forward four budgets in a single year, the first of them introduced by Lord John Russell himself as prime minister. By 1851 floundering had reached a climax. Finance had thus discredited one historical party; it had broken up the other. It was finance that overthrew weak governments and hindered the possibility of a strong one.


Mr. Disraeli, the most unsparing of all the assailants of Peel, tried his own hand in 1852. To have the genius and the patience of a great partisan chief is one gift, and this he had; to grasp the complex material interests of a vast diversified society like the United Kingdom demands powers of a different order. The defeat of Mr. Disraeli's budget at the end of 1852 seemed to complete the circle of fiscal confusion. Every source of public income was the object of assault. Every indirect tax was to be reduced or swept away, and yet no two men appeared to agree upon the principles of the direct taxes that were to take their place. The window duty, the paper duty, the tax on advertisements, the malt-tax, the stamp on marine insurances, were all to vanish, but even the most zealous reformers were powerless to fill the void. The order-book of the House of Commons was loaded with motions about the income-tax, and an important committee sat in 1851 to consider all the questions connected with the possibility of its readjustment and amendment. They could not even frame a report. The belief that it was essentially unjust to impose the tax at one and the same rate upon permanent and temporary incomes, prevailed in the great mass, especially of the liberal party. Discussions arose all through this period, descending not only to the elementary principles of taxation, but, as Mr. Gladstone said, almost to the first principles of civilised society itself. Party distraction, ministerial embarrassment, adjournment after adjournment of a decision upon fundamental maxims of national taxation—such was the bewildered scene. At last a statesman appeared, a financier almost by accident (for, as we have seen, it was by no special choice of his own that Mr. Gladstone went to the exchequer), but a financier endowed with a practical imagination of the highest class, with a combination of the spirit of vigorous analysis and the spirit of vigorous system, with the habit of unflagging toil, and above all, with the gift of indomitable courage. If anybody suggested the reappointment of Hume's committee, the idea was wisely dismissed. It was evidently, as Graham said, the duty of the executive government to lead the way and to guide public opinion in a matter of this crucial importance. It seemed impossible and unworthy to avoid a frank declaration about the income-tax. He was strongly of opinion (March 15) that a larger measure would be carried with greater certainty and ease than simple renewal; and that a combination of income-tax, gradually diminishing to a fixed term of extinction, with reduction of the interest of debt, and a review of the probate and legacy duties, afforded the best ground for a financial arrangement both successful and creditable. It was strong ideas of this kind that encouraged Mr. Gladstone to build on a broad foundation.

The nature of his proceedings he set out in one of the most interesting of his political memoranda:—

The liberals were, to all appearance, pledged to the reconstruction of the tax by their opinions, and the tories by their party following. The small fraction of Peelites could probably be relied upon the other way, and some few individuals with financial knowledge and experience. The mission of the new government was described by Lord Aberdeen in the House of Lords as a financial mission, and the stress of it thus lay upon a person, very ill-prepared. My opinions were with Peel; but under such circumstances it was my duty to make a close and searching investigation into the whole nature of the tax, and make up my mind whether there was any means of accepting or compounding with the existing state of opinion. I went to work, and laboured very hard. When I had entered gravely upon my financial studies, I one day had occasion—I know not what—to go into the city and to call upon Mr. Samuel Gurney, to whom experience and character had given a high position there. He asked me with interest about my preparations for my budget; and he said, 'One thing I will venture to urge, whatever your plan is,—let it be simple.' I was a man much disposed to defer to authority, and I attached weight to this advice. But as I went further and further into my subject, I became more and more convinced that, as an honest steward, I had no option but to propose the renewal of the tax in its uniform shape. I constructed much elaborate argument in support of my proposition, which I knew it would be difficult to answer. But I also knew that no amount of unassisted argument would suffice to overcome the obstacles in my way, and that this could only be done by large compensations in my accompanying propositions. So I was led legitimately on, and on, until I had framed the most complicated scheme ever submitted to parliament.


Truly has it been said that there is something repulsive to human nature in the simple reproduction of defunct budgets. Certainly if anything can be more odious than a living tax, it is a dead one. It is as much as is consonant to biography to give an outline of the plan that was gradually wrought out in Mr. Gladstone's mind during the first three laborious months of 1853, and to mark the extraordinarily far-reaching and comprehensive character of the earliest of his thirteen budgets. Its initial boldness lay in the adoption of the unusual course of estimating the national income roughly for a long period of seven years, and assuming that expenditure would remain tolerably steady for the whole of that period. Just as no provident man in private life settles his establishment on the basis of one year or two years only, so Mr. Gladstone abandoned hand-to-mouth, and took long views. 'I ought, no doubt,' he said afterwards, 'to have pointed out explicitly that a great disturbance and increase of our expenditure would baffle my reckonings.' Meanwhile, the fabric was planned on strong foundations and admirable lines. The simplification of the tariff of duties of customs, begun by Peel eleven years before, was carried forward almost to completion. Nearly one hundred and forty duties were extinguished, and nearly one hundred and fifty were lowered. The tea duty was to be reduced in stages extending over three years from over two shillings to one shilling. In the department of excise, the high and injurious duty on soap, which brought into the exchequer over eleven hundred thousand pounds annually, was swept entirely away. In the same department, by raising the duties on spirits manufactured in Ireland nearer to the level of England and Scotland, a step was taken towards identity of taxation in the three kingdoms—by no means an unequivocal good. Miscellaneous provisions and minor aspects of the scheme need not detain us; but a great reform of rate and scale in the system of the assessed taxes, the reduction of the duty on the beneficent practice of life insurance from half-a-crown to sixpence on the hundred pounds, and the substitution of a uniform receipt stamp, were no contemptible contributions to the comfort and well-being of the community. Advertisements in newspapers became free of duty.[284]


The keystone of the budget in Mr. Gladstone's conception was the position to be assigned in it to the income-tax. This he determined to renew for a period of seven years,—for two years at sevenpence in the pound, for two years more at sixpence, and for the last three at fivepence. By that time he hoped that parliament would be able to dispense with it. Meanwhile it was to be extended to Ireland, in compensation for the remission of a debt owed by Ireland to the British treasury of between four and five millions. It was to be extended, also, at a reduced rate of fivepence, to incomes between a hundred and fifty and a hundred pounds—the former having hitherto been the line of total exemption. From the retention of the income-tax as a portion of the permanent and ordinary finance of the country the chancellor of the exchequer was wholly and strongly averse, and so he remained for more than twenty years to come. In order, however, to meet a common and a just objection, that under this impost intelligence, enterprise, and skill paid too much and property paid too little, he resolved upon a bold step. He proposed that the legacy duty, hitherto confined to personal property passing on death, either by will or by inheritance and not by settlement, should henceforth be extended to real property, and to both descriptions of property passing by settlement, whether real or personal. In a word, the legacy duty was to extend to all successions whatever. This was the proposal that in many senses cut deepest. It was the first rudimentary breach in the ramparts of the territorial system, unless, indeed, we count as first the abolition of the corn law.[285] Mr. Gladstone eagerly disclaimed any intention of accelerating by the pressure of fiscal enactment changes in the tenure of landed property, and the letters which the reader has already seen (pp. 345-9) show the high social value that he invariably set upon the maintenance of the old landed order. The succession duty, as we shall find, for the time disappointed his expectations, for he counted on two millions, and in fact it yielded little more than half of one. But it secured for its author the lasting resentment of a powerful class.

Such was the scheme that Mr. Gladstone now worked out in many weeks of toil that would have been slavish, were it not that toil is never slavish when illuminated by a strenuous purpose. When by and by the result had made him the hero of a glorious hour, he wrote to Lord Aberdeen (April 19): 'I had the deepest anxiety with regard to you, as our chief, lest by faults of my own I should aggravate the cares and difficulties into which I had at least helped to bring you; and the novelty of our political relations with many of our colleagues, together with the fact that I had been myself slow, and even reluctant, to the formation of a new connection, filled me with an almost feverish desire to do no injustice to that connection now that it was formed; and to redeem the pledge you generously gave on my behalf, that there would be no want of cordiality and zeal in the discharge of any duties which it might fall to me to perform on behalf of such a government as was then in your contemplation.'

Thirteen, fourteen, fifteen hours a day he toiled at his desk. Treasury officials and trade experts, soap deputations and post-horse deputations, representatives of tobacco and representatives of the West India interest, flocked to Downing Street day by day all through March. If he went into the city to dine with the Lord Mayor, the lamentable hole thus made in his evening was repaired by working till four in the morning upon customs reform, Australian mints, budget plans of all kinds. It is characteristic that even this mountain load of concentrated and exacting labour did not prevent him from giving a Latin lesson every day to his second boy.


'Some days before the day appointed for my statement,' says Mr. Gladstone, 'I recited the leading particulars to my able and intelligent friend Cardwell, not in the cabinet but then holding office as president of the board of trade. He was so bewildered and astounded at the bigness of the scheme, that I began to ask myself, Have I a right to ask my colleagues to follow me amidst all these rocks and shoals? In consequence I performed a drastic operation upon the plan, and next day I carried to Lord Aberdeen a reduced and mutilated scheme which might be deemed by some politicians to be weaker but safer. I put to Lord Aberdeen the question I had put to myself, and stated my readiness, if he should think it called for, to make this sacrifice to the probable inclinations of my colleagues. But he boldly and wisely said, "I take it upon myself to ask you to bring your original and whole plan before the cabinet." I thought this an ample warrant.'


At last, after Mr. Gladstone had spent an hour at the palace in explaining his scheme to the Prince Consort, the budget was opened to the cabinet (April 9) in a speech of three hours—an achievement, I should suppose, unparalleled in that line, for a cabinet consists of men each with pretty absorbing pre-occupations of his own. The exposition was 'as ingenious,' Lord Aberdeen told Prince Albert, 'as clear, and for the most part as convincing, as anything I have ever heard.' 'Gladstone,' said Lord Aberdeen later (1856) 'does not weigh well against one another different arguments, each of which has a real foundation. But he is unrivalled in his power of proving that a specious argument has no real foundation. On the Succession bill the whole cabinet was against him. He delivered to us much the same speech as he made in the House of Commons. At its close we were all convinced.'[286]

Differences that might easily become serious speedily arose upon details in the minds of two or three of them, and for some days the prime minister regarded the undertaking as not only difficult but perilous. Sir Charles Wood, in cabinet (April 11), strongly disapproved of the extension of income-tax to Ireland, and to the lowering of the exemption line. On Ireland the plan would lay more than half a million of new taxation, whereas much of the relief, such as soap and assessed taxes, would not touch her.[287] Palmerston thought it a great plan, perfectly just, and admirably put together, only it opened too many points of attack, and it could never be carried: Disraeli was on the watch, the Irish would join him, so would the radicals, while the succession duty, to which Palmerston individually had great objection, would estrange many conservatives. Lord John Russell perceived difficulties, but he did not see an alternative. Graham then fell in, disliked the twofold extension of the income-tax, and thought they should only take away half the soap-tax. Lord Lansdowne (a great Irish landlord) agreed with him. Mr. Gladstone told them that he was willing to propose whatever the cabinet might decide on, except one thing, namely, the breaking up of the basis of the income-tax: that he could not be a party to; he should regard it as a high political offence. With this reservation he should follow their judgment, but he strongly adhered to his whole plan. Lord Aberdeen said, 'You must take care your proposals are not unpopular ones.' Mr. Gladstone replied that it was after applying the test of popularity, that he was convinced the budget would be damaged beforehand by some of the small changes that had been suggested.

At the end of a long and interesting discussion, there stood for the whole budget Lord John, Newcastle, Clarendon, Molesworth, Gladstone, with Argyll and Aberdeen more or less favourable; for dropping the two extensions of income-tax and keeping half the soap duty, Lansdowne, Graham, Wood; more or less leaning towards them, Palmerston and Granville. They agreed to meet again the next day (April 12), when they got into the open sea. Wood stuck to his text. Lansdowne suggested that an increased spirit duty and an income-tax for Ireland together would be something like a breach of faith. Palmerston thought they would be beaten, but he would accept the budget provided they were not to be bound to dissolve or resign upon such a point as to the two extensions of the income-tax. Lord John said that if they were beaten on differentiating the tax, they would have to dissolve. Palmerston expressed his individual opinion in favour of a distinction for precarious incomes, and would act in that sense if he were out of the government; as it was, he assented. Argyll created a diversion by suggesting the abandonment of the Irish spirit duty. Mr. Gladstone admitted that he thought the spirit duty the weakest point of the plan, though warrantable and tenable on the whole. At last, after further patient and searching discussion, the cabinet finding that the suggested amendments cut against one another, were for adopting the entire budget, the dissentients being Lansdowne, Graham, Wood, and Herbert. Graham was full of ill auguries, but said he would assent and assist. Wood looked grave, and murmured that he must take time.


In the course of these preliminaries Lord John Russell had gone to Graham, very uneasy about the income-tax. Graham, though habitually desponding, bade him be of good cheer. Their opponents, he said, were in numbers strong; but the budget would be excellent to dissolve upon, and Lord John admitted that they would gain forty seats.

They agreed, however, in Graham's language, that it would never do to play their trump card until the state of the game actually required it. Lord John confessed that he was no judge of figures,—somewhat of a weakness in a critic of a budget,—and Graham comforted him by the reply that he was at any rate the best judge living of House of Commons tactics.

The position of the government in the House of Commons was notoriously weak. The majority that had brought them into existence was excessively narrow. It had been well known from the first that if any of the accidents of a session should happen to draw the tories, the Irish, and the radicals into one lobby, ministers would find themselves in a minority. Small defeats occurred. The budget was only four days off. Mr. Gladstone enters in his diary: 'Spoke against Gibson; beaten by 200-169. Our third time this week. Very stiff work this. Ellice said dissolution would be the end of it; we agreed in the House to a cabinet to-morrow. Herbert and Cardwell, to whom I spoke, inclined to dissolve.' Next day (April 15), the cabinet met in a flutter, for the same tactics might well be repeated, whenever Mr. Disraeli should think the chances good.

Lord John adverted to the hostility of the radicals as exhibited in the tone of the debate, and hinted the opinion that they must take in a reef or two. Mr. Gladstone doubted whether the budget could live in that House, whatever form it might assume; but even with such perils he should look upon the whole budget as less unsafe than a partial contraction. Graham took the same view of the disposition of parliament: keen opposition; lukewarm support; the necessity of a greater party sympathy and connection to enable them to surmount the difficulties of a most unusual and hazardous operation. But he did not appear to lean to dissolution, and the older members of the cabinet generally declared themselves against it. 'In the end we went back to the position that we must have a budget on Monday, but Clarendon, Herbert, and Palmerston joined the chorus of those who said the measure was too sharp upon Ireland. The idea was then started whether we should go the length of the entire remission of the consolidated annuities[288] and impose the income-tax at sevenpence, with the augmented spirit duty. This view found favour generally; and I felt that some excess in the mere sacrifice of money was no great matter compared with the advantage of so great an approximation to equal taxation.' Then, 'speaking with great deference,' Gladstone repeated his belief once more that the entire budget was safer than a contracted one, both for the House and the country, and his conviction that if they proposed it, the name and fame of the government at any rate would stand well. 'Wood seemed still to hang back, but the rest of the cabinet now appeared well satisfied, and we parted, each resolved and certainly more likely to stand or fall by the budget as a whole than we seemed to be on Wednesday.'


The decisive cabinet was on Saturday, April 16. It was finally settled that the budget should be proposed as it stood, with its essential features unaltered. On Sunday, the chancellor of the exchequer went as usual twice to church, and read the Paradiso; 'but I was obliged,' he says, with an accent of contrition, 'to give several hours to my figures.' Monday brought the critical moment. 'April 18. Wrote minutes. Read Shakespeare at night. This day was devoted to working up my papers and figures for the evening. Then drove and walked with C. [Mrs. Gladstone]. Went at 41/2 to the House. Spoke 43/4 hours in detailing the financial measures, and my strength stood out well, thank God. Many kind congratulations afterwards. Herberts and Wortleys came home with us and had soup and negus.'


The proceeding that figures here so simply was, in fact, one of the great parliamentary performances of the century. Lord Aberdeen wrote to Prince Albert that 'the display of power was wonderful; it was agreed in all quarters that there had been nothing like the speech for many years, and that under the impression of his commanding eloquence the reception of the budget had been most favourable.' Lord John told the Queen the speech was one of the ablest ever made in the House of Commons. 'Mr. Pitt, in the days of his glory, might have been more imposing, but he could not have been more persuasive.' Lord Aberdeen heard from Windsor the next day: 'The Queen must write a line to Lord Aberdeen to say how delighted she is at the great success of Mr. Gladstone's speech last night.... We have every reason to be sanguine now, which is a great relief to the Queen.' Prince Albert used the same language to Mr. Gladstone: 'I cannot resist writing you a line in order to congratulate you on the success of your speech of yesterday. I have just completed a close and careful perusal of it and should certainly have cheered had I a seat in the House. I hear from all sides that the budget has been well received. Trusting that your Christian humility will not allow you to be dangerously elated, I cannot help sending for your perusal the report which Lord John Russell sent to the Queen, feeling sure that it will give you pleasure, such approbation being the best reward a public man can have.'

On the cardinal question of the fortunes of the ministry its effect was decisive. The prime minister wrote to Mr. Gladstone himself (April 19): 'While everybody is congratulating me on the wonderful impression produced in the House of Commons last night, it seems only reasonable that I should have a word of congratulation for you. You will believe how much more sincerely I rejoice on your account than on my own, although most assuredly, if the existence of my government shall be prolonged, it will be your work.' To Madame de Lieven Aberdeen said that Gladstone had given a strength and lustre to the administration which it could not have derived from anything else. No testimony was more agreeable to Mr. Gladstone than a letter from Lady Peel. 'I know the recollections,' he replied, 'with which you must have written, and therefore I will not scruple to say that as I was inspired by the thought of treading, however unequally, in the steps of my great teacher and master in public affairs, so it was one of my keenest anxieties not to do dishonour to his memory, or injustice to the patriotic policy with which his name is forever associated.'[289]


Greville makes a true point when he says that the budget speech 'has raised Gladstone to a great political elevation, and what is of far greater consequence than the measure itself, has given the country assurance of a man equal to great political necessities and fit to lead parties and direct governments.'[290] Mr. Gladstone had made many speeches that were in a high degree interesting, ingenious, attractive, forcible. He now showed that besides and apart from all this, he was the possessor of qualities without which no amount of rhetorician's glitter commands the House of Commons for a single hour after the fireworks have ceased to blaze. He showed that he had precise perception, positive and constructive purpose, and a powerful will. In 1851, he had on two occasions exhibited the highest competency as a critic of the budget of Sir Charles Wood. On the memorable night in the previous December, when he had torn Mr. Disraeli's budget to pieces, he had proved how terrifying he could be in exposure and assault. He now triumphantly met the test that he had triumphantly applied to his predecessor, and presented a command of even more imposing resources in the task of responsible construction than he had displayed in irresponsible criticism. The speech was saturated with fact; the horizons were large; and the opening of each in the long series of topics, from Mr. Pitt and the great war, down to the unsuspected connection between the repeal of the soap-tax and the extinction of the slave trade in Africa, was exalted and spacious. The arguments throughout were close, persuasive, exhaustive; the moral appeal was in the only tone worthy of a great minister addressing a governing assembly—a masculine invocation of their intellectual and political courage. This is the intrepid way in which a strong parliament and a strong nation like to see public difficulties handled, and they now welcomed the appearance of a new minister, who rejected what he called narrow and flimsy expedients, of which so much had been seen in the last half dozen years; who was not afraid to make a stand against heedless men with hearts apparently set on drying up one source of revenue after another; who did not shrink from sconcing the powerful landed phalanx like other people; and who at the same time boldly used and manfully defended the most unpopular of all the public imposts. In politics the spectacle of sheer courage is often quite as good in its influence and effect as the best of logic. It was so here. While proposing that the income-tax should come to an end in seven years, he yet produced the most comprehensive analysis and the boldest vindication of the structure of the tax as it stood. His manner was plain, often almost conversational, but his elaborate examination of the principles of an income-tax remains to this day a master example of accurate reasoning thrown into delightful form. He admitted all the objections to it: the inquisition that it entailed, the frauds to which it led, the sense in the public mind of its injustice in laying the same rate upon the holder of idle and secured public funds, upon the industrious trader, upon the precarious earnings of the professional man. It was these disadvantages that made him plan the extinction of the tax at the end of a definite period, when the salutary remissions of other burdens now proposed would have had time to bring forth their fruits. As was said by a later chancellor of the exchequer, this speech not only won 'universal applause from his audience at the time, but changed the convictions of a large part of the nation, and turned, at least for several years, a current of popular opinion which had seemed too powerful for any minister to resist.'[291]

The succession duty brought Mr. Gladstone into the first conflict of his life with the House of Lords. That land should be made to pay like other forms of property Was a proposition denounced as essentially impracticable, oppressive, unjust, cowardly, and absurd. It was called ex post facto legislation. It was one of the most obnoxious, detestable, and odious measures ever proposed. Its author was a vulture soaring over society, waiting for the rich harvest that death would pour into his treasury. Lord Derby invoked him as a phoenix chancellor, in whom Mr. Pitt rose from his ashes with double lustre, for Mr. Gladstone had ventured where Pitt had failed. He admitted that nothing short of the chancellor's extraordinary skill and dexterity could have carried proposals so evil through the House of Commons.[292] Meanwhile the public counted up their gains: a remission on tea, good for twenty shillings a year in an ordinary household; a fall in the washing bill; a boon of a couple of pounds for the man who insured his life for five hundred; an easy saving of ten pounds a year in the assessed taxes, and so forth,—the whole performance ending with 'a dissolving view of the decline and fall' of the hated income-tax.


The financial proceedings of this year included a proposal for the redemption of South Sea stock and an attempted operation on the national debt, by the creation of new stocks bearing a lower rate of interest, two options of conversion being given to the holders of old stock. The idea of the creation of a two-and-half-per-cent. stock, said Mr. Gladstone in later years, though in those days novel, was very favourably received.[293]

I produced my plan. Disraeli offered it a malignant opposition. He made a demand for time; the one demand that ought not to have been made. In proposals of this kind, it is allowed to be altogether improper. In 1844 Mr. Goulburn was permitted, I think, to carry through with great expedition his plan for a large reduction of interest. When Mr. Goschen produced his still larger and much more important measure, we, the opposition, did our best to expedite the decision. There are no complications requiring time on such an occasion. It is a matter of aye or no. But when time is allowed the chapter of accidents allows an opponent to hope that a situation known to be unusually happy will deteriorate. Of this contingency Disraeli took his chance. Time as it happened was in his favour. It was no question of the substance of the plan, but a moderate change in the political barometer, which reduced to two or three millions a subscription which at the right moment would probably have been twenty or thirty.[294]

In a letter to W. R. Farquhar (March 8, 1861) he makes further remarks, which are introspective and autobiographic:—

Looking back now upon those of my proceedings in 1853 which related to interest upon exchequer bills and to the reduction of interest on the public debt, I think that there was nothing in the proposals themselves which might not have taken full and quick effect, if they had been made at a time which I may best describe as the time that precedes high-water with respect to abundance of money and security of the market. As respects exchequer bills, I am decidedly of opinion that the rates of premium current for some years before '53 were wholly incompatible with a sound state of things: and the fluctuations then were even greater than since. Still I think that I committed an error from want of sufficient quickness in discerning the signs of the times, for we were upon the very eve of an altered state of things, and any alteration of a kind at all serious was enough to make the period unfit for those grave operations. It is far from being the first or only time when I have had reason to lament my own deficiency in the faculty of rapid and comprehensive observation. I failed to see that high-water was just past; and that although the tide had not perceptibly fallen, yet it was going to fall. The truth likewise is this (to go a step further in my confessions) that almost all my experience in money affairs had been of a most difficult and trying kind, under circumstances which admitted of no choice but obliged me to sail always very near the wind, and this induced a habit of more daring navigation than I could now altogether approve. Nor will I excuse myself by saying that others were deceived like me, for none of them were in a condition to have precisely my responsibility.

Another note contributes a further point of explanation: 'I have always imagined that this fault was due to my experience in the affairs of the Hawarden and Oak Farm estates, where it was an incessant course of sailing near the wind, and there was really no other hope.'


Seven years later Mr. Gladstone, once more chancellor of the exchequer, again produced a budget. Semi-ironic cheers met his semi-ironic expression of an expectation that he would be asked the question: what had become of the calculations of 1853? The succession duty proved a woeful disappointment, and instead of producing two million pounds, produced only six hundred thousand. A similar but greater disappointment, we must recollect, owing mainly to a singular miscalculation as to the income-tax, had marked Peel's memorable budget of 1842, which landed him in a deficiency of nearly two and a quarter millions, instead of a surplus of half a million.[295] Of the disappointment in his own case, Mr. Gladstone when the time came propounded an explanation, only moderately conclusive. I need not discuss it, for as everybody knows, the effective reason why the income-tax could not be removed was the heavy charge created by the Crimean war. What is more to the point in estimating the finance of 1853, is its effect in enabling us to meet the strain of the war. It was this finance that, continuing the work begun by Peel, made the country in 1859 richer by more than sixteen per cent, than it had been in 1853. It was this finance, that by clinching the open questions that enveloped the income-tax, and setting it upon a defensible foundation while it lasted, bore us through the struggle. Unluckily, in demonstrating the perils of meddling with the structure of the tax, in showing its power and simplicity, the chancellor was at the same time providing the easiest means, if not also the most direct incentive, to that policy of expenditure—it rose from fifty to seventy millions between 1853 and 1859—which was one of the most fatal obstacles to the foremost aims of his political life. It was twenty years from now, as my readers will see, before the effort, now foreshadowed, to exclude the income-tax from the ordinary sources of national revenue, reached its dramatic close.


[284] A curious parliamentary incident occurred. The original proposal was to reduce the duty from eighteen-pence to sixpence. A motion to repeal it altogether was rejected by ten. Then a motion was made to substitute zero for sixpence in the clause. The Speaker ruled that this reversal of the previous vote was not out of order, and it was carried by nine.

[285] Some may place first the Act of 1833 making real estate liable for simple contract debts.

[286] Mrs. Simpson's Many Memories, p. 237.

[287] For paper on Irish income-tax, see Appendix.

[288] Loans made to Ireland for various purposes.

[289] Cavour, as Costi's letters show, took an eager interest in Mr. Gladstone's budget speech.

[290] Greville, Third Series, i. p. 59.

[291] Northcote, Twenty Years of Financial Policy, p. 185.

[292] Mr. Gladstone received valuable aid from Bethell, the solicitor-general. On leaving, office in 1855 he wrote to Bethell: 'After having had to try your patience more than once in circumstances of real difficulty, I have found your kindness inexhaustible, and your aid invaluable, so that I really can ill tell on which of the two I look back with the greater pleasure. The memory of the Succession Duty bill is to me something like what Inkermann may be to a private of the Guards: you were the sergeant from whom I got my drill and whose hand and voice carried me through.'

[293] The city articles of the time justify this statement.

[294] Gladstone Memo., 1897. See also Appendix.

[295] It may be said, however, that Peel was right about the yield of the income-tax, and only overlooked the fact that it would not all be collected, within the year.




He [Burke] maintained that the attempt to bring the Turkish empire into the consideration of the balance of power in Europe was extremely new, and contrary to all former political systems. He pointed out in strong terms the danger and impolity of our espousing the Ottoman cause.—BURKE (1791).

After the session Mr. Gladstone had gone on a visit to Dunrobin, and there he was laid up with illness for many days. It was the end of September before he was able to travel south. At Dingwall they presented him (Sept. 27) with the freedom of that ancient burgh. He spoke of himself as having completed the twenty-first year of his political life, and as being almost the youngest of those veteran statesmen who occupied the chief places in the counsels of the Queen. At Inverness the same evening, he told them that in commercial legislation he had reaped where others had sown; that he had enjoyed the privilege of taking a humble but laborious part in realising those principles of free trade which, in the near future, would bring, in the train of increased intercourse and augmented wealth, that closer social and moral union of the nations of the earth which men all so fervently desire, and which must in the fulness of time lessen the frequency of strife and war. Yet even while the hopeful words were falling from the speaker's lips, he might have heard, not in far distance but close at hand, the trumpets and drums, the heavy rumbling of the cannon, and all the clangour of a world in arms.



One of the central and perennial interests of Mr. Gladstone's life was that shifting, intractable, and interwoven tangle of conflicting interests, rival peoples, and antagonistic faiths, that is veiled under the easy name of the Eastern question. The root of the Eastern question, as everybody almost too well knows, is the presence of the Ottoman Turks in Europe, their possession of Constantinople,—that incomparable centre of imperial power standing in Europe but facing Asia,—and their sovereignty as Mahometan masters over Christian races. In one of the few picturesque passages of his eloquence Mr. Gladstone once described the position of these races. 'They were like a shelving beach that restrained the ocean. That beach, it is true, is beaten by the waves; it is laid desolate; it produces nothing; it becomes perhaps nothing save a mass of shingle, of rock, of almost useless sea-weed. But it is a fence behind which the cultivated earth can spread, and escape the incoming tide, and such was the resistance of Bulgarians, of Servians, and of Greeks. It was that resistance which left Europe to claim the enjoyment of her own religion and to develop her institutions and her laws.' This secular strife between Ottoman and Christian gradually became a struggle among Christian powers of northern and western Europe, to turn tormenting questions in the east to the advantage of rival ambitions of their own. At a certain epoch in the eighteenth century Russia first seized her place among the Powers. By the end of the century she had pushed her force into the west by the dismemberment of Poland; she had made her way to the southern shores of the Black Sea; and while still the most barbaric of all the states, she had made good a vague claim to exercise the guardianship of civilisation on behalf of the Christian races and the Orthodox church. This claim it was that led at varying intervals of time, and with many diversities of place, plea, and colour, to crisis after crisis springing up within the Turkish empire, but henceforth all of them apt to spread with dangerous contagion to governments beyond Ottoman limits.

England, unlike France, had no systematic tradition upon this complicated struggle. When war began between Russia and the Porte in 1771, we supported Russia and helped her to obtain an establishment in the Black Sea. Towards the end of 1782 when Catherine by a sort of royal syllogism, as Fox called it, took the Crimea into her own hands, the whig cabinet of the hour did not think it necessary to lend Turkey their support, though France and Spain proposed a combination to resist. Then came Pitt. The statesman whose qualities of greatness so profoundly impressed his contemporaries has usually been praised as a minister devoted to peace, and only driven by the French Revolution into the long war. His preparations in 1791 for a war with Russia on behalf of the Turk are a serious deduction from this estimate. Happily the alarms of the Baltic trade, and the vigorous reasoning of Fox, produced such an effect upon opinion, that Pitt was driven, on peril of the overthrow of his government, to find the best expedient he could to bring the business to an end without extremities. In 1853 the country was less fortunate than it had been in 1791.

A Russian diplomatist made a homely comparison of the Eastern question to the gout; now its attack is in the foot, now in the hand; but all is safe if only it does not fly to a vital part. In 1852 the Eastern question showed signs of flying to the heart, and a catastrophe was sure. A dispute between Greek and Latin religious as to the custody of the holy places at Jerusalem, followed by the diplomatic rivalries of their respective patrons, Russia and France, produced a crisis that was at first of no extraordinary pattern. The quarrel between two packs of monks about a key and a silver star was a trivial symbol of the vast rivalry of centuries between powerful churches, between great states, between heterogeneous races. The dispute about the holy places was adjusted, but was immediately followed by a claim from the Czar for recognition by treaty of his rights as protector of the Sultan's Christian subjects. This claim the Sultan, with encouragement from the British ambassador, rejected, and the Czar marched troops into the Danubian provinces, to hold them in pledge until the required concession should be made to his high protective claims. This issue was no good cause for a general conflagration. Unfortunately many combustibles happened to lie about the world at that time, and craft, misunderstanding, dupery, autocratic pride, democratic hurry, combined to spread the blaze.


The story is still fresh. With the detailed history of the diplomacy that preceded the outbreak of war between England, France, and Turkey on the one part and Russia on the other, we have here happily only the smallest concern. The large question, as it presented itself to Mr. Gladstone's mind in later years, and as it presents itself now to the historic student, had hardly then emerged to the view of the statesmen of the western Powers. Would the success of Russian designs at that day mean anything better than the transfer of the miserable Christian races to the yoke of a new master?[296] Or was the repulse of these designs necessary to secure to the Christian races—who, by the by, were not particularly good friends to one another—the power of governing themselves without any master, either Russian or Turk? To this question, so decisive as it is in judging the policy of the Crimean war, it is not quite easy even now for the historian—who has many other things to think of than has the contemporary politician—to give a confident answer.

Nicholas was not without advisers who warned him that the break-up of Turkey by force of Russian arms might be to the deliverer a loss and not a gain. Brunnow, then Russian ambassador at St. James's, said to his sovereign: 'The war in its results would cause to spring out of the ruins of Turkey all kinds of new states, as ungrateful to us as Greece has been, as troublesome as the Danubian Principalities have been, and an order of things where our influence will be more sharply combated, resisted, restrained, by the rivalries of France, England, Austria, than it has ever been under the Ottoman. War cannot turn to our direct advantage. We shall shed our blood and spend our treasure in order that King Otho may gain Thessaly; that the English may take more islands at their own convenience; that the French too may get their share; and that the Ottoman empire may be transformed into independent states, which for us will only become either burdensome clients or hostile neighbours.' If this forecast was right, then to resist Russia was at once to prevent her from embarrassing and weakening herself, and to lock up the Christians in their cruel prison-house for a quarter of a century longer. If sagacious calculation in such a vein as this were the mainspring of the world, history would be stripped of many a crimson page. But far-sighted calculation can no longer be ascribed to the actors in this tragedy of errors—to Nicholas or Napoleon, to Aberdeen or Palmerston, or to any other of them excepting Cavour and the Turk.

In England both people and ministers have been wont to change their minds upon the Eastern question. In the war between Russia and Turkey in 1828, during the last stage of the struggle for Greek independence, Russia as Greek champion against the Turk had the English populace on her side; Palmerston was warmly with her, regarding even her advance to Constantinople with indifference; and Aberdeen was reproached as a Turkish sympathiser. Now we shall see the parts inverted,—England and Palmerston ardent Turks, and Aberdeen falling into disgrace (unjustly enough) as Russian. Before we have done with Mr. Gladstone, the popular wheel will be found to make another and yet another revolution.



When Kinglake's first two volumes of his history of the Crimean war appeared (1863), Mr. Gladstone wrote to a friend (May 14): 'Kinglake is fit to be a brilliant popular author, but quite unfit to be a historian. His book is too bad to live, and too good to die. As to the matter most directly within my cognisance, he is not only not too true, but so entirely void of resemblance to the truth, that one asks what was really the original of his picture.'[297] A little earlier he had written to Sir John Acton: 'I was not the important person in the negotiation before the war that Mr. Kinglake seems to suppose; and with him every supposition becomes an axiom and a dogma.' All the papers from various sources to which I have had access show that Mr. Gladstone, as he has just said, had no special share in the various resolutions taken in the decisive period that ended with the abandonment of the Vienna note in the early autumn of 1853. He has himself told us that through the whole of this critical stage Lord Clarendon, then in charge of foreign affairs, was the centre of a distinct set of communications, first, with the prime minister, next, with Lord John Russell as leader in the Commons, and third, with Lord Palmerston, whose long and active career at the foreign office had given him special weight in that department. The cabinet as a body was a machine incapable of being worked by anything like daily and sometimes hourly consultations of this kind, 'the upshot of which would only become known on the more important occasions to the ministers at large, especially to those among them charged with the most laborious departments.'[298] This was not at all said by way of exculpating Mr. Gladstone from his full share of responsibility for the war, for of that he never at any time showed the least wish or intention to clear himself, but rather the contrary. As matter of fact, it was the four statesmen just named who were in effective control of proceedings until the breakdown of the Vienna note, and the despatch of the British and French squadrons through the Dardanelles in October, opened the second stage of the diplomatic campaign, and led directly if not rapidly to its fatal climax.

We have little more than a few glimpses of Mr. Gladstone's participation in the counsels of the eventful months that preceded the outbreak of the war. To Mrs. Gladstone he writes (October 4): 'I can hardly at this moment write about anything else than the Turkish declaration of war. This is a most serious event, and at once raises the question, Are we to go into it? The cabinet meets on Friday, and you must not be surprised at anything that may happen. The weather may be smooth; it also may be very rough.' First the smooth weather came. 'October 7. We have had our cabinet, three hours and a half; all there but Graham and Molesworth,[299] who would both have been strongly for peace. We shall have another to-morrow, to look over our results in writing. Some startling things were said and proposed, but I think that as far as government is concerned, all will probably keep straight at this juncture, and as to war I hope we shall not be involved in it, even if it goes on between Russia and Turkey, which is not quite certain.' Aberdeen himself thought the aspect of this cabinet of the 7th on the whole very good, Gladstone arguing strongly against a proposal of Palmerston's that England should enter into an engagement with Turkey to furnish her with naval assistance. Most of the cabinet were for peace. Lord John was warlike, but subdued in tone. Palmerston urged his views 'perseveringly but not disagreeably.' The final instruction was a compromise, bringing the fleet to Constantinople, but limiting its employment to operations of a strictly defensive character. This was one of those peculiar compromises that in their sequel contain surrender. The step soon showed how critical it was. Well indeed might Lord Aberdeen tell the Queen that it would obviously every day become more and more difficult to draw the line between defensive and offensive, between an auxiliary and a principal. So much simpler is a distinction in words than in things. Still, he was able to assure her that, though grounds of difference existed, the discussions of the cabinet of the 8th were carried on amicably and in good humour. With straightforward common sense the Queen pressed the prime minister for his own deliberate counsel on the spirit and ultimate tendency of the policy that he would recommend her to approve. In fact, Lord Aberdeen had no deliberate counsel to proffer. Speedily the weather roughened.


Four days later (October 12) the minister repeated that, while elements of wide difference existed, still the appearance of that day was more favourable and tended to mutual agreement. At this cabinet Mr. Gladstone was not present, having gone on an expedition to Manchester, the first of the many triumphal visits of his life to the great industrial centres of the nation. 'Nothing,' he wrote to Lord Aberdeen, 'could have gone off better. Yesterday (October 11), I had to make a visit to the Exchange, which was crammed and most cordial. This morning we had first the "inauguration" of the Peel statue, in the presence of an enormous audience—misnamed so, inasmuch as but a portion of them could hear; and then a meeting in the Town Hall, where there were addresses and speeches made, to which I had to reply. I found the feeling of the assemblage so friendly that I said more on the war question than I had intended, but I sincerely hope I did not transgress the limits you would think it wise for me to observe. The existence of a peace and a war party was evident, from alternate manifestations, but I think the former feeling was decidedly the stronger, and at any rate I should say without the smallest doubt that the feeling of the whole meeting as a mass was unequivocally favourable to the course that the government have pursued.'

'Your Manchester speech,' Lord Aberdeen wrote to him in reply, 'has produced a great and, I hope, a very beneficial effect upon the public mind, and it has much promoted the cause of peace.' This result was extremely doubtful. The language of the Manchester speech is cloudy, but what it comes to is this. It recognises the duty of maintaining the integrity and independence of the Ottoman empire. Independence, however, in this case, says Mr. Gladstone, designates a sovereignty full of anomaly, of misery, of difficulty, and it has been subject every few years since we were born to European discussion and interference; we cannot forget the political solecism of Mahometans exercising despotic rule over twelve millions of our fellow Christians; into the questions growing out of this political solecism we are not now entering; what we see to-day is something different; it is the necessity for regulating the distribution of power in Europe; the absorption of power by one of the great potentates of Europe, which would follow the fall of the Ottoman rule, would be dangerous to the peace of the world, and it is the duty of England, at whatever cost, to set itself against such a result.

This was Mr. Gladstone's first public entry upon one of the most passionate of all the objects of his concern for forty years to come. He hears the desolate cry, then but faint, for the succour of the oppressed Christians. He looks to European interference to terminate the hateful solecism. He resists the interference single-handed of the northern invader. It was intolerable that Russia should be allowed to work her will upon Turkey as an outlawed state.[300] In other words, the partition of Turkey was not to follow the partition of Poland. What we shortly call the Crimean war was to Mr. Gladstone the vindication of the public law of Europe against a wanton disturber. This was a characteristic example of his insistent search for a broad sentiment and a comprehensive moral principle. The principle in its present application had not really much life in it; the formula was narrow, as other invasions of public law within the next dozen years were to show. But the clear-cut issues of history only disclose themselves in the long result of Time. It was the diplomatic labyrinth of the passing hour through which the statesmen of the coalition had to thread their way. The disastrous end was what Mr. Disraeli christened the coalition war.

'The first year of the coalition government,' Lord Aberdeen wrote to Mr. Gladstone, 'was eminently prosperous, and this was chiefly owing to your own personal exertions, and to the boldness, ability, and success of your financial measures. Our second year, if not specially brilliant, might still have proved greatly advantageous to the country, had we possessed the courage to resist popular clamour and to avoid war; but this calamity aggravated all other causes of disunion and led to our dissolution.'[301]



On November 4, Clarendon wrote to Lord Aberdeen that they were now in an anomalous and painful position, and he had arrived at the conviction that it might have been avoided by firm language and a more decided course five months ago. 'Russia would then, as she is now, have been ready to come to terms, and we should have exercised a control over the Turks that is now not to be obtained.' Nobody, I suppose, doubts to-day that if firmer language had been used in June to Sultan and Czar alike, the catastrophe of war would probably have been avoided, as Lord Clarendon here remorsefully reflects. However that may have been, this pregnant and ominous avowal disclosed the truth that the British cabinet were no longer their own masters; that they had in a great degree, even at this early time, lost all that freedom of action which they constantly proclaimed it the rule of their policy to maintain, and which for a few months longer some of them at least strove very hard but all in vain to recover.

The Turks were driving at war whilst we were labouring for peace, and both by diplomatic action and by sending the fleet to protect Turkish territory against Russian attack, we had become auxiliaries and turned the weaker of the two contending powers into the stronger. A few months afterwards Mr. Gladstone found a classic parallel for the Turkish alliance. 'When Aeneas escaped from the flames of Troy he had an ally. That ally was his father Anchises, and the part which Aeneas performed in the alliance was to carry his ally upon his back.' But the discovery came too late, nor was the Turk the only ally. Against the remonstrances of our ambassador the Sultan declared war upon Russia, and proceeded to acts of war, well knowing that England and France in what they believed to be interests of their own would see him through it. If the Sultan and his ulemas and his pashas were one intractable factor, the French Emperor was another. 'We have just as much to apprehend,' Graham wrote (Oct. 27), 'from the active intervention of our ally as from the open hostility of our enemy.' Behind the decorous curtain of European concert Napoleon III. was busily weaving scheme after scheme of his own to fix his unsteady diadem upon his brow, to plant his dynasty among the great thrones of western Europe, and to pay off some old scores of personal indignity put upon him by the Czar.

The Czar fell into all the mistakes that a man could. Emperor by divine right, he had done his best to sting the self-esteem of the revolutionary emperor in Paris. By his language to the British ambassador about dividing the inheritance of the sick man, he had quickened the suspicions of the English cabinet. It is true the sick man will die, said Lord John Russell, but it may not be for twenty, fifty, or a hundred years to come; when William III. and Louis XIV. signed their treaty for the partition of the Spanish monarchy, they first made sure that the death of the king was close at hand. Then the choice as agent at Constantinople of the arrogant and unskilful Menschikoff proved a dire misfortune. Finally, the Czar was fatally misled by his own ambassador in London. Brunnow reported that all the English liberals and economists were convinced that the notion of Turkish reform was absurd; that Aberdeen had told him in accents of contempt and anger, 'I hate the Turks'; and that English views generally as to Russian aggression and Turkish interests had been sensibly modified. All this was not untrue, but it was not true enough to bear the inference that was drawn from it at St. Petersburg. The deception was disastrous, and Brunnow was never forgiven for it.[302]


Another obstacle to a pacific solution, perhaps most formidable of them all, was Lord Stratford de Redcliffe, the British ambassador at Constantinople. Animated by a vehement antipathy to Russia, possessing almost sovereign ascendency at the Porte, believing that the Turk might never meet a happier chance of having the battle out with his adversary once for all, and justly confident that a policy of war would find hearty backers in the London cabinet—in him the government had an agent who while seeming to follow instructions in the narrow letter baffled them in their spirit. In the autumn of 1853 Lord Aberdeen wrote to Graham, 'I fear I must renounce the sanguine view I have hitherto taken of the Eastern question; for nothing can be more alarming than the present prospect. I thought that we should have been able to conquer Stratford, but I begin to fear that the reverse will be the case, and that he will succeed in defeating us. Although at our wit's end, Clarendon and I are still labouring in the cause of peace; but really to contend at once with the pride of the Emperor, the fanaticism of the Turks, and the dishonesty of Stratford is almost a hopeless attempt.'[303] This description, when he saw it nearly forty years later, seems to have struck Mr. Gladstone as harsh. Though he agreed that the passage could hardly be omitted, he confessed his surprise that Lord Aberdeen should have applied the word dishonesty to Lord Stratford. He suggested the addition of a note that should recognise the general character of Lord Stratford, and should point out that prejudice and passion, by their blinding powers, often produce in the mind effects like those proper to dishonesty.[304] Perhaps we may find this a hard saying. Doubtless when he comes to praise and blame, the political historian must make due allowance for his actors; and charity is the grandest of illuminants. Still hard truth stands first, and amiable analysis of the psychology of a diplomatic agent who lets loose a flood of mischief on mankind is by no means what interests us most about him. Why not call things by their right names?[305]

In his private letters (November) Stratford boldly exhibited his desire for war, and declared that 'the war, to be successful, must be a very comprehensive war on the part of England and France.' Well might the Queen say to the prime minister that it had become a serious question whether they were justified in allowing Lord Stratford any longer to remain in a situation that enabled him to frustrate all the efforts of his government for peace. Yet here, as many another time in these devious manoeuvres, that fearful dilemma interposed—inseparable in its many forms from all collective action whether in cabinet or party; so fit to test to the very uttermost all the moral fortitude, all the wisdom of a minister, his sense of proportion, his strength of will, his prudent pliancy of judgment, his power of balance, his sure perception of the ruling fact. The dilemma here is patent. To recall Lord Stratford would be to lose Lord Palmerston and Lord John; to lose them would be to break up the government; to break up the government would be to sunder the slender thread on which the chances of peace were hanging.[306] The thought, in short, of the high-minded Aberdeen striving against hope to play a steadfast and pacific part in a scene so sinister, among actors of such equivocal or crooked purpose, recalls nothing so much as the memorable picture long ago of Maria Theresa beset and baffled by her Kaunitzes and Thuguts, Catherines, Josephs, great Fredericks, Grand Turks, and wringing her hands over the consummation of an iniquitous policy to which the perversity of man and circumstance had driven her.

As the proceedings in the cabinet dragged on through the winter, new projects were mooted. The ground was shifted to what Lord Stratford had called a comprehensive war upon Russia. Some of the cabinet began to aim at a transformation of the policy. It was suggested that the moment should be seized to obtain not merely the observance by Russia of her treaty obligations to Turkey, but a revision and modification of the treaties in Turkish interests. This is the well-known way in which, ever since the world called civilised began, the area of conflict is widened. If one plea is eluded or is satisfied, another is found; and so the peacemakers are at each step checkmated by the warmakers. The Powers of central Europe were immovable, with motives, interests, designs, each of their own. Austria had reasons of irresistible force for keeping peace with Russia. A single victory of Russia in Austrian Poland would enable her to march direct upon Vienna. Austria had no secure alliance with Prussia; on the contrary, her German rival opposed her on this question, and was incessantly canvassing the smaller states against her in respect to it. The French Emperor was said to be revolving a plan for bribing Austria out of Northern Italy by the gift of Moldavia and Wallachia. All was intricate and tortuous. The view in Downing Street soon expanded to this, that it would be a shame to England and to France unless the Czar were made not only to abandon his demands, and to evacuate the Principalities, but also to renounce some of the stipulations in former treaties on which his present arrogant pretensions had been formed. In the future, the guarantees for the Christian races should be sought in a treaty not between Sultan and Czar, but between the Sultan and the five Powers.


Men in the cabinet and men out of it, some with ardour, others with acquiescence, approved of war for different reasons, interchangeable in controversial value and cumulative in effect. Some believed, and more pretended to believe, that Turkey abounded in the elements and energies of self-reform, and insisted that she should have the chance. Others were moved by vague general sympathy with a weak power assailed by a strong one, and that one, moreover, the same tyrannous strength that held an iron heel on the neck of prostrate Poland; that only a few years before had despatched her legions to help Austria against the rising for freedom and national right in Hungary; that urged intolerable demands upon the Sultan for the surrender of the Hungarian refugees. Others again counted the power of Russia already exorbitant, and saw in its extension peril to Europe, and mischief to the interests of England. Russia on the Danube, they said, means Russia on the Indus. Russia at Constantinople would mean a complete revolution in the balance of power in the Mediterranean, and to an alarmed vision, a Russia that had only crossed the Pruth was as menacing as if her Cossacks were already encamped in permanence upon the shores of the Bosphorus.

Along with the anxieties of the Eastern question, ministers were divided upon the subject of parliamentary reform. Some, including the prime minister, went with Lord John Russell in desiring to push a Reform bill. Others, especially Palmerston, were strongly adverse. Mr. Gladstone mainly followed the head of the government, but he was still a conservative, and still member for a tory constituency, and he followed his leader rather mechanically and without enthusiasm. Lord Palmerston was suspected by some of his colleagues of raising the war-cry in hopes of drowning the demand for reform. In the middle of December (1853) he resigned upon reform,[307] but nine days later he withdrew his resignation and returned. In the interval news of the Russian attack on the Turkish fleet at Sinope (November 30) had arrived—an attack justified by precedent and the rule of war. But public feeling in England had risen to fever; the French Emperor in exacting and peremptory language had declared that if England did not take joint action with him in the Black Sea, he would either act alone or else bring his fleet home. The British cabinet yielded, and came to the cardinal decision (Dec. 22) to enter the Black Sea. 'I was rather stunned,' Gladstone wrote to Sidney Herbert next day, 'by yesterday's cabinet. I have scarcely got my breath again. I told Lord Aberdeen that I had had wishes that Palmerston were back again on account of the Eastern question.'

Here is a glimpse of this time:—

Nov. 23, '53.—Cabinet. Reform discussed largely, amicably, and satisfactorily on the whole. Dec. 16.—Hawarden. Off at 9 A.M. Astounded by a note from A. Gordon. [Palmerston had resigned the day before.] After dinner went to the admiralty, 101/2-11/2, where Lord Aberdeen, Newcastle, Graham, and I went over the late events and went over the course for to-morrow's cabinet. Dec. 21.—Called on Lord Palmerston, and sat an hour. 22.—Cabinet, 2-71/2, on Eastern Question. Palmerston and reform. A day of no small matter for reflection. Jan. 4, 1854.—To Windsor. I was the only guest, and thus was promoted to sit by the Queen at dinner. She was most gracious, and above all so thoroughly natural.


On the decision of Dec. 22, Sir Charles Wood says:—

We had then a long discussion on the question of occupying the Black Sea, as proposed by France, and it seemed to me to be such a tissue of confusions that I advocated the simple course of doing so. Gladstone could not be persuaded to agree to this, in spite of a strong argument of Newcastle's. Gladstone's objection being to our being hampered by any engagement. His scheme was that our occupying the Black Sea was to be made dependent, in the first place, on the Turks having acceded to the Vienna proposals, or at any rate to their agreeing to be bound by any basis of peace on which the English and French governments agreed. Newcastle and I said we thought this would bind us much more to the Turks than if we occupied the Black Sea as part of our own measures, adopted for our own purposes, and without any engagement to the Turks, under which we should be if they accepted our conditions. Gladstone said he could be no party to unconditional occupation; so it ended in our telling France that we would occupy the Black Sea, that is, prevent the passage of any ships or munitions of war by the Russians, but that we trusted she would join us in enforcing the above condition on the Turks. If they agreed, then we were to occupy the Black Sea; if they did not, we were to reconsider the question, and then determine what to do. Clarendon saw Walewski, who was quite satisfied.

By the middle of February war was certain. Mr. Gladstone wrote an account of a conversation that he had at this time with Lord Aberdeen:—

Feb. 22.—Lord Aberdeen sent for me to-day and informed me that Lord Palmerston had been with him to say that he had made up his mind to vote for putting off (without entering into the question of its merits) the consideration of the Reform bill for the present year. [Conversation on Reform.][308]

He then asked me whether I did not think that he might himself withdraw from office when we came to the declaration of war. All along he had been acting against his feelings, but still defensively. He did not think that he could regard the offensive in the same light, and was disposed to retire. I said that a defensive war might involve offensive operations, and that a declaration of war placed the case on no new ground of principle. It did not make the quarrel, but merely announced it, notifying to the world (of itself justifiable) a certain state of facts which would have arrived. He said all wars were called or pretended to be defensive. I said that if the war was untruly so called, then our position was false; but that the war did not become less defensive from our declaring it, or from our entering upon offensive operations. To retire therefore upon such a declaration, would be to retire upon no ground warrantable and conceivable by reason. It would not be standing on a principle, whereas any man would require a distinct principle to justify him in giving up at this moment the service of the crown. He asked: How could he bring himself to fight for the Turks? I said we were not fighting for the Turks, but we were warning Russia off the forbidden ground. That if, indeed, we undertook to put down the Christians under Turkish rule by force, then we should be fighting for the Turks; but to this I for one could be no party. He said if I saw a way for him to get out, he hoped I would mention it to him. I replied that my own views of war so much agreed with his, and I felt such a horror of bloodshed, that I had thought the matter over incessantly for myself. We stand, I said, upon the ground that the Emperor has invaded countries not his own, inflicted wrong on Turkey, and what I feel much more, most cruel wrong on the wretched inhabitants of the Principalities; that war had ensued and was raging with all its horrors; that we had procured for the Emperor an offer of honourable terms of peace which he had refused; that we were not going to extend the conflagration (but I had to correct myself as to the Baltic), but to apply more power for its extinction, and this I hoped in conjunction with all the great Powers of Europe. That I, for one, could not shoulder the musket against the Christian subjects of the Sultan, and must there take my stand. (Not even, I had already told him, if he agreed to such a course, could I bind myself to follow him in it.) He said Granville and Wood had spoken to him in the same sense. I added that S. Herbert and Graham probably would adhere; perhaps Argyll and Molesworth, and even others might be added.


Ellice had been with him and told him that J. Russell and Palmerston were preparing to contend for his place. Ellice himself, deprecating Lord Aberdeen's retirement, anticipated that if it took place Lord Palmerston would get the best of it, and drive Lord John out of the field by means of his war popularity, though Lord John had made the speech of Friday to put himself up in this point of view with the country.

In consequence of what I had said to him about Newcastle, he [Aberdeen] had watched him, and had told the Queen to look to him as her minister at some period or other; which, though afraid of him (as well as of me) about Church matters, she was prepared to do. I said I had not changed my opinion of Newcastle as he had done of Lord John Russell, but I had been disappointed and pained at the recent course of his opinions about the matter of the war. At my house last Wednesday he [Newcastle] declared openly for putting down by force the Christians of European Turkey. Yes, Lord Aberdeen replied; but he thought him the description of man who would discharge well the duties of that office. In this I agree.[309]

A few days later (March 3) Lord John Russell, by way of appeasing Aberdeen's incessant self-reproach, told him that the only course that could have prevented war would have been to counsel the Turks to acquiesce, and not to allow the British fleet to quit Malta. 'But that was a course,' Lord John continued, 'to which Lansdowne, Palmerston, Clarendon, Newcastle, and I would not have consented; so that you would only have broken up your government if you had insisted upon it.' Then the speaker added his belief that the Czar, even after the Turk's acquiescence and submission, if we could have secured so much, would have given the Sultan six months' respite, and no more. None of these arguments ever eased the mind of Lord Aberdeen. Even in his last interview with the departing ambassador of the Czar, he told him how bitterly he regretted, first, the original despatch of the fleet from Malta to Besika Bay (July 1853); and second that he had not sent Lord Granville to St. Petersburg immediately on the failure of Menschikoff at Constantinople (May 1853), in order to carry on personal negotiations with the Emperor.[310]

An ultimatum demanding the evacuation of the Principalities was despatched to St. Petersburg by England and France, the Czar kept a haughty silence, and at the end of March war was declared. In the event the Principalities were evacuated a couple of months later, but the state of war continued. On September 14, English, French, and Turkish troops disembarked on the shores of the Crimea, and on the 20th of the month was fought the battle of the Alma. 'I cannot help repeating to you,' Mr. Gladstone wrote to Lord Palmerston (Oct. 4, 1854), 'which I hope you will forgive, the thanks I offered at an earlier period, for the manner in which you urged—when we were amidst many temptations to far more embarrassing and less effective proceedings—the duty of concentrating our strokes upon the heart and centre of the war at Sebastopol.'[311] In the same month Bright wrote the solid, wise, and noble letter that brought him so much obloquy then, and stands as one of the memorials of his fame now.[312] Mr. Gladstone wrote to his brother Robertson upon it:—

Nov. 7, 1854.—I thought Bright's letter both an able and a manly one, and though I cannot go his lengths, I respect and sympathise with the spirit in which it originated. I think he should draw a distinction between petty meddlings of our own, or interferences for selfish purposes, and an operation like this which really is in support of the public law of Europe. I agree with him in some of the retrospective part of his letter.

Then came the dark days of the Crimean winter.


In his very deliberate vindication of the policy of the Crimean war composed in 1887, Mr. Gladstone warmly denies either that the ship of state drifted instead of being steered, or that the cabinet was in continual conflict with itself at successive stages of the negotiation.[313] He had witnessed, he declares, much more of sharp or warm argument in every other of the seven cabinets to which he belonged.[314] In 1881 he said to the present writer: 'As a member of the Aberdeen cabinet I never can admit that divided opinions in that cabinet led to hesitating action, or brought on the war. I do not mean that all were always and on all points of the same mind. But I have known much sharper divisions in a cabinet that has worked a great question honourably and energetically, and I should confidently say, whether the negotiations were well or ill conducted, that considering their great difficulty they were worked with little and not much conflict. It must be borne in mind that Lord Aberdeen subsequently developed opinions that were widely severed from those that had guided us, but these never appeared in the cabinet or at the time.' Still he admits that this practical harmony could much less truly be affirmed of the four ministers especially concerned with foreign affairs;[315] that is to say, of the only ministers whose discussions mattered. It is certainly impossible to contend that Aberdeen was not in pretty continual conflict, strong and marked though not heated, with these three main coadjutors. Whether it be true to say that the cabinet drifted, depends on the precise meaning of a word. It is undoubtedly true that it steered a course bringing the ship into waters that the captain most eagerly wished to avoid, and each tack carried it farther away from the expected haven. Winds and waves were too many for them. We may perhaps agree with Mr. Gladstone that as it was feeling rather than argument that raised the Crimean war into popularity, so it is feeling and not argument that has plunged it into the 'abyss of odium.' When we come to a period twenty years after this war was over, we shall see that Mr. Gladstone found out how little had time changed the public temper, how little had events taught their lesson.

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