The Life of William Ewart Gladstone, Vol. 1 (of 3) - 1809-1859
by John Morley
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[296] In 1772 Burke had said that he did not wish well to Turkey, for any people but the Turks, situated as they are, would have been cultivated in three hundred years; yet they grow more gross in the very native soil of civility and refinement. But he did not expect to live to see the Turkish barbarian civilised by the Russian.—Corr. i. p. 402.

[297] To Mrs. Gladstone, Jan. 3, 1863: 'In the evenings I have leisure. Much of it I have been spending in reading Kinglake's book, which touches very nearly, and not agreeably or justly, the character of Lord Aberdeen and his government. I am afraid Newcastle blabbed on what took place, and that his blabbing was much coloured with egotism. Clarendon, I hear, is very angry with the book, and Lewis too, but Lewis is not a party concerned.'

[298] Eng. Hist. Rev. No. vi. p. 289.

[299] 'Molesworth in the cabinet,' said Lord Aberdeen later, 'was a failure. Until the war he was a mere cipher. When the war had broken out and was popular he became outrageously warlike.'—Mrs. Simpson's Many Memories, p. 264; see also Cobden's Speeches, ii. p. 28.

[300] Eng. Hist. Rev. No. vi. p. 290.

[301] March 17, 1856.

[302] See Martens' Recueil des Traites, etc., published by the Russian foreign office, 1898, vol. xii., containing many graphic particulars of these events.

[303] Stanmore, Earl of Aberdeen, pp. 270-1.

[304] To Sir A. Gordon, Aug. 31, 1892.

[305] See Stanmore, p. 253.

[306] This is clearly worked out by Lord Stanmore, p. 254, etc.

[307] Ashley's Life of Palmerston, ii. p. 270.

[308] See Appendix.

[309] Lord Blachford in his Letters says of Newcastle (p. 225): 'An honest and honourable man, a thorough gentleman in all his feelings and ways, and considerate of all about him. He respected other people's position, but was sensible of his own; and his familiarity, friendly enough, was not such as invited response. It was said of him that he did not remember his rank unless you forgot it. In political administration he was painstaking, clear-headed, and just. But his abilities were moderate, and he did not see how far they were from being sufficient for the management of great affairs, which, however, he was always ambitious of handling.' See also Selborne's Memorials, ii. pp. 257-8.

[310] Martens.

[311] The equivocal honour of originality seems to belong to the French, but they had allowed the plan to slumber.—De La Gorce, Hist. du second Empire, i. pp. 231-3.

[312] It is given in Speeches, i. p. 529. Oct. 29, 1854.

[313] Eng. Hist. Rev. April 1887. This article was submitted to the Duke of Argyll and Lord Granville for correction before publication.

[314] The cabinet of 1892 was his eighth.

[315] Aberdeen, Russell, Palmerston, Clarendon.




To rear up minds with aspirations and faculties above the herd, capable of leading on their countrymen to greater achievements in virtue, intelligence, and social well-being; to do this, and likewise so to educate the leisured classes of the community generally, that they may participate as far as possible in the qualities of these superior spirits, and be prepared to appreciate them, and follow in their steps—these are purposes requiring institutions of education placed above dependence on the immediate pleasure of that very multitude whom they are designed to elevate. These are the ends for which endowed universities are desirable; they are those which all endowed universities profess to aim at; and great is their disgrace, if, having undertaken this task, and claiming credit for fulfilling it, they leave it unfulfilled.—J. S. MILL.

The last waves of the tide of reform that had been flowing for a score of years, now at length reached the two ancient universities. The Tractarian revival with all its intense pre-occupations had given the antique Oxford a respite, but the hour struck, and the final effort of the expiring whigs in their closing days of power was the summons to Oxford and Cambridge to set their houses in order. Oxford had been turned into the battle-field on which contending parties in the church had at her expense fought for mastery. The result was curious. The nature of the theological struggle, by quickening mind within the university, had roused new forces; the antagonism between anglo-catholic and puritan helped, as it had done two centuries before, to breed the latitudinarian; a rising school in the sphere of thought and criticism rapidly made themselves an active party in the sphere of affairs; and Mr. Gladstone found himself forced to do the work of the very liberalism which his own theological leaders and allies had first organised themselves to beat down and extinguish.


In 1850 Lord John Russell, worked upon by a persevering minority in Oxford, startled the House of Commons, delighted the liberals, and angered and dismayed the authorities of the powerful corporations thus impugned, by the announcement of a commission under the crown to inquire into their discipline, state, and revenues, and to report whether any action by crown and parliament could further promote the interests of religion and sound learning in these venerable shrines. This was the first step in a long journey towards the nationalisation of the universities, and the disestablishment of the church of England in what seemed the best fortified of all her strongholds.

After elaborate correspondence with both liberal and tory sections in Oxford, Mr. Gladstone rose in his place and denounced the proposed commission as probably against the law, and certainly odious in the eye of the constitution. He undertook to tear in tatters the various modern precedents advanced by the government for their purpose; scouted the alleged visitorial power of the crown; insisted that it would blight future munificence; argued that defective instruction with freedom and self-government would, in the choice of evils, be better than the most perfect mechanism secured by parliamentary interference; admitted that what the universities had done for learning was perhaps less than it might have been, but they had done as much as answered the circumstances and exigencies of the country. When we looked at the lawyers, the divines, the statesmen of England, even if some might judge them inferior in mere scholastic and technical acquirements, why need we be ashamed of the cradles in which they were mainly nurtured? He closed with a triumphant and moving reference to Peel (dead a fortnight before), the most distinguished son of Oxford in the present century, and beyond all other men the high representative and the true type of the genius of the British House of Commons.[316] In truth no worse case was ever more strongly argued, and fortunately the speech is to be recorded as the last manifesto, on a high theme and on a broad scale, of that toryism from which this wonderful pilgrim had started on his shining progress. It is just to add that the party in Oxford who resisted the commission was also the party most opposed to Mr. Gladstone, and further that the view of the crown having no right to issue such a commission in invitos was shared with him by Sir Robert Peel.[317] Of this debate, Arthur Stanley (a strong supporter of the measure), tells us: 'The ministerial speeches were very feeble.... Gladstone's was very powerful; he said, in the most effective manner, anything which could be said against the commission. His allusion to Peel was very touching, and the House responded to it by profound and sympathetic silence.... Heywood's closing speech was happily drowned in the roar of "Divide," so that nothing could be heard save the name of "Cardinal Wolsey" thrice repeated.'[318] The final division was taken on the question of the adjournment, when the government had a majority of 22. (July 18, 1850.)



In Oxford the party of 'organised torpor' did not yield without a struggle. They were clamorous on the sanctity of property; contemptuous of the doctrine of the rights of parliament over national domains; and protestant collegians subsisting on ancient Roman catholic endowments edified the world on the iniquity of setting aside the pious founder. They submitted an elaborate case to the most eminent counsel of the day, and counsel advised that the commission was not constitutional, not legal, and not such as the members of the university were bound to obey. The question of duty apart from legal obligation the lawyers did not answer, but they suggested that a petition might be addressed to the crown, praying that the instrument might be cancelled. The petition was duly prepared, and duly made no difference. Many of the academic authorities were recalcitrant, but this made no difference either, nor did the Bishop of Exeter's hot declaration that the proceeding had 'no parallel since the fatal attempt of King James II. to subject the colleges to his unhallowed control.' The commissioners, of whom Tait and Jeune seem to have been the leading spirits, with Stanley and Mr. Goldwin Smith for secretaries, conducted their operations with tact, good sense, and zeal. At the end of two years (April 1852) the inquiry was completed and the report made public—one of the high landmarks in the history of our modern English life and growth. 'When you consider,' Stanley said to Jowett, 'the den of lions through which the raw material had to be dragged, much will be excused. In fact the great work was to finish it at all. There is a harsh, unfriendly tone about the whole which ought, under better circumstances, to have been avoided, but which may, perhaps, have the advantage of propitiating the radicals.'[319]

Mr. Gladstone thought it one of the ablest productions submitted in his recollection to parliament, but the proposals of change too manifold and complicated. The evidence he found more moderate and less sweeping in tone than the report, but it only deepened his conviction of the necessity of important and, above all, early changes. He did not cease urging his friends at Oxford to make use of this golden opportunity for reforming the university from within, and warning them that delay would be dearly purchased.[320] 'Gladstone's connection with Oxford,' said Sir George Lewis, 'is now exercising a singular influence upon the politics of the university. Most of his high church supporters stick to him, and (insomuch as it is difficult to struggle against the current) he is liberalising them, instead of their torifying him. He is giving them a push forwards instead of their giving him a pull backwards.'[321]

The originators of the commission were no longer in office, but things had gone too far for their successors to burke what had been done.[322] The Derby government put into the Queen's speech, in November (1852), a paragraph informing parliament that the universities had been invited to examine the recommendations of the report. After a year's time had been given them to consider, it became the duty of the Aberdeen government to frame a bill. The charge fell upon Mr. Gladstone as member for Oxford, and in the late autumn of 1853 he set to work. In none of the enterprises of his life was he more industrious or energetic. Before the middle of December he forwarded to Lord John Russell what he called a rude draft, but the rude draft contained the kernel of the plan that was ultimately carried, with a suggestion even of the names of the commissioners to whom operations were to be confided. 'It is marvellous to me,' wrote Dr. Jeune to him (Dec. 21, 1853), 'how you can give attention so minute to university affairs at such a crisis. Do great things become to great men from the force of habit, what their ordinary cares are to ordinary persons?' As he began, so he advanced, listening to everybody, arguing with everybody, flexible, persistent, clear, practical, fervid, unconquerable. 'I fear,' Lord John Russell wrote to him (March 27), 'my mind is exclusively occupied with the war and the Reform bill, and yours with university reform.' Perhaps, unluckily for the country, this was true. 'My whole heart is in the Oxford bill,' Mr. Gladstone writes (March 29); 'it is my consolation under the pain with which I view the character my office [the exchequer] is assuming under the circumstances of war.' 'Gladstone has been surprising everybody here,' writes a conspicuous high churchman from Oxford, 'by the ubiquity of his correspondence. Three-fourths of the colleges have been in communication with him, on various parts of the bill more or less affecting themselves. He answers everybody by return of post, fully and at length, quite entering into their case, and showing the greatest acquaintance with it.'[323] 'As one of your burgesses,' he told them, 'I stand upon the line that divides Oxford from the outer world, and as a sentinel I cry out to tell what I see from that position.' What he saw was that if this bill were thrown out, no other half so favourable would ever again be brought in.


The scheme accepted by the cabinet was in essentials Mr. Gladstone's own. Jowett at the earliest stage sent him a comprehensive plan, and soon after, saw Lord John (Jan. 6). 'I must own,' writes the latter to Gladstone, 'I was much struck by the clearness and completeness of his views.' The difference between Jowett's plan and Mr. Gladstone's was on the highly important point of machinery. Jowett, who all his life had a weakness for getting and keeping authority into his own hands, or the hands of those whom he could influence, contended that after parliament had settled principles, Oxford itself could be trusted to settle details far better than a little body of great personages from outside, unacquainted with special wants and special interests. Mr. Gladstone, on the other hand, invented the idea of an executive commission with statutory powers. The two plans were printed and circulated, and the balance of opinion in the cabinet went decisively for Mr. Gladstone's scheme. The discussion between him and Jowett, ranging over the whole field of the bill, was maintained until its actual production, in many interviews and much correspondence. In drawing the clauses Mr. Gladstone received the help of Bethell, the solicitor-general, at whose suggestion Phillimore and Thring were called in for further aid in what was undoubtedly a task of exceptional difficulty. The process brought into clearer light the truth discerned by Mr. Gladstone from the first, that the enormous number of diverse institutions that had grown up in Oxford made resort to what he called sub-legislation inevitable; that is to say, they were too complex for parliament, and could only be dealt with by delegation to executive act.

It is untrue to say that Oxford as a place of education had no influence on the mind of the country; it had immense influence, but that influence was exactly what it ought not to have been. Instead of stimulating it checked, instead of expanding it stereotyped. Even for the church it had failed to bring unity, for it was from Oxford that the opinions had sprung that seemed to be rending the church in twain. The regeneration introduced by this momentous measure has been overlaid by the strata of subsequent reforms. Enough to say that the objects obtained were the deposition of the fossils and drones, and a renovated constitution on the representative principle for the governing body; the wakening of a huge mass of sleeping endowments; the bestowal of college emoluments only on excellence tested by competition, and associated with active duties; the reorganisation or re-creation of professorial teaching; the removal of local preferences and restrictions. Beyond these aspects of reform, Mr. Gladstone was eager for the proposed right to establish private halls, as a change calculated to extend the numbers and strength of the university, and as settling the much disputed question, whether the scale of living could not be reduced, and university education brought within reach of classes of moderate means. These hopes proved to be exaggerated, but they illustrate his constant and lifelong interest in the widest possible diffusion of all good things in the world from university training down to a Cook's tour.

Mr. Gladstone seems to have pressed his draftsmen hard, as he sometimes did. Bethell returning to him 'the disjecta membra of this unfortunate bill,' tells him that he is too deeply attached to him to care for a few marks of impatience, and adds, 'write a few kind words to Phillimore, for he really loves you and feels this matter deeply.' Oxford, scene of so many agitations for a score of years past, was once more seized with consternation, stupefaction, enthusiasm. A few private copies of the draft were sent down from London for criticism. On the vice-chancellor it left 'an impression of sorrow and sad anticipations'; it opened deplorable prospects for the university, for the church, for religion, for righteousness. The dean of Christ Church thought it not merely inexpedient, but unjust and tyrannical. Jowett, on the other hand, was convinced that it must satisfy all reasonable reformers, and added emphatically in writing to Mr. Gladstone, 'It is to yourself and Lord John that the university will be indebted for the greatest boon that it has ever received.' After the introduction of the bill by Lord John Russell, the obscurantists made a final effort to call down one of their old pelting hailstorms. A petition against the bill was submitted to convocation; happily it passed by a majority of no more than two.


At length the blessed day of the second reading came. The ever zealous Arthur Stanley was present. 'A superb speech from Gladstone,' he records, 'in which, for the first time, all the arguments from our report were worked up in the most effective manner. He vainly endeavoured to reconcile his present with his former position. But, with this exception, I listened to his speech with the greatest delight.... To behold one's old enemies slaughtered before one's face with the most irresistible weapons was quite intoxicating. One great charm of his speaking is its exceeding good-humour. There is great vehemence but no bitterness.'[324] An excellent criticism of many, perhaps most, of his speeches.

'It must ever be borne in mind,' Mr. Gladstone wrote to Lord John at the outset, 'with respect to our old universities that history, law, and usage with them form such a manifold, diversified, and complex mass, that it is not one subject but a world of subjects that we have to deal with in approaching them.' And he pointed out that if any clever lawyer such as Butt or Cairns were employed to oppose the bill systematically, debate would run to such lengths as to make it hopeless. This was a point of view that Mr. Gladstone's more exacting and abstract critics now, and many another time, forgot: they forgot that, whatever else you may say of a bill, after all it is a thing that is to be carried through parliament. Everybody had views of his own. A characteristic illustration of Mr. Gladstone's temper in the arduous work of practical legislation to which so much of the energies of his life was devoted, is worth giving here from a letter of this date to Burgon of Oriel. Nobody answers better to the rare combination, in Bacon's words, of a 'glorious nature that doth put life into business, with a solid and sober nature that hath as much of the ballast as of the sail':—

Sometimes it may be necessary in dealing with a very ancient institution to make terms, as it were, between such an institution and the actual spirit of the age. This may be in certain circumstances a necessary, but it can never be a satisfactory, process. It is driving a bargain, and somewhat of a wretched bargain. But I really do not find or feel that this is the case now before us. In that case, my view, right or wrong, is this: that Oxford is far behind her duties or capabilities, not because her working men work so little, but because so large a proportion of her children do not work at all, so large a proportion of her resources remains practically dormant, and her present constitution is so ill-adapted to developing her real but latent powers. What I therefore anticipate is not the weakening of her distinctive principles, not the diminution of her labour, already great, that she discharges for the church and for the land, but a great expansion, a great invigoration, a great increase of her numbers, a still greater increase of her moral force, and of her hold upon the heart and mind of the country.


Pusey seems to have talked of the university as ruined and overthrown by a parricidal hand; Oxford would be lost to the church; she would have to take refuge in colleges away from the university. Oxford had now received its death-blow from Mr. Gladstone and the government to which he belonged, and he could no longer support at election times the worker of such evil, and must return to that inactivity in things political, from which only love and confidence for Mr. Gladstone had roused him. 'Personally,' the good man adds, 'I must always love you.' To Pusey, and to all who poured reproach upon him from this side, Mr. Gladstone replied with inexhaustible patience. He never denied that parliamentary intervention was an evil, but he submitted to it in order to avert greater evil. 'If the church of England has not strength enough to keep upright, this will soon appear in the troubles of emancipated Oxford: if she has, it will come out to the joy of us all in the immensely augmented energy and power of the university for good. If Germanism and Arnoldism are now to carry the day at Oxford (I mean supposing the bill is carried into law), they will carry it fairly; let them win and wear her (God forbid, however); but if she has a heart true to the faith her hand will be stronger ten times over than it has been heretofore, in doing battle.... Nor am I saddened by the pamphlet of a certain Mr. —— which I have been reading to-day. It has more violence than venom, and also much more violence than strength. I often feel how hard it is on divines to be accused of treachery and baseness, because they do not, like us, get it every day and so become case-hardened against it.'

In parliament the craft laboured heavily in cross-seas. 'I have never known,' says its pilot, 'a measure so foolishly discussed in committee.' Nor was oil cast upon the waters by its friends. By the end of May Mr. Gladstone and Lord John saw that they must take in canvas. At this point a new storm broke. It was impossible that a measure on such a subject could fail to awaken the ever ready quarrel between the two camps into which the English establishment, for so many generations, has so unhappily divided the life of the nation. From the first, the protestant dissenters had been extremely sore at the absence from the bill of any provision for their admission to the remodelled university. Bright, the most illustrious of them, told the House of Commons that he did not care whether so pusillanimous and tinkering an affair as this was passed or not. Dissenters, he said with scorn, are expected always to manifest too much of those inestimable qualities which are spoken of in the Epistle to the Corinthians: 'To hope all things, to believe all things, and to endure all things.'

More discredit than he deserved fell upon Mr. Gladstone for this obnoxious defect. In announcing the commission of inquiry four years before, Lord John as prime minister had expressly said that the improvement of the universities should be treated as a subject by itself, and that the admission of dissenters ought to be reserved for future and separate consideration. Writing to Mr. Gladstone (Jan. 1854) he said, 'I do not want to stir the question in this bill,' but he would support a proposal in a separate bill by which the halls might be the means of admitting dissenters. Mr. Gladstone himself professed to take no strong line either way; but in a parliamentary case of this kind to take no line is not materially different from a line in effect unfriendly. Arthur Stanley pressed him as hard as he could. 'Justice to the university,' said Mr. Gladstone in reply, 'demands that it should be allowed to consider the question for itself.... Indeed, while I believe that the admission of dissenters without the breaking up of the religious teaching and the government of the university would be a great good, I am also of opinion that to give effect to that measure by forcible intervention of parliament would be a great evil. Whether it is an evil that must some day or other be encountered, the time has not yet, I think, arrived for determining.' The letter concludes with a remark of curious bearing upon the temper of that age. 'The very words,' he says to Stanley, 'which you have let fall upon your paper—"Roman catholics"—used in this connection, were enough to burn it through and through, considering we have a parliament which, were the measure of 1829 not law at this moment, would I think probably refuse to make it law.' There is no reason to think this an erroneous view. Perhaps it would not be extravagant even to-day.

What Mr. Gladstone called 'the evil of parliamentary interference' did not tarry, and on the report stage of the bill, a clause removing the theological test at matriculation was carried (June 22) against the government by ninety-one. The size of the majority and the diversified material of which it was composed left the government no option but to yield. 'Parliament having now unhappily determined to legislate upon the subject,' Mr. Gladstone writes to the provost of Oriel, 'it seems to me, I may add it seems to my colleagues, best for the interests of the university that we should now make some endeavour to settle the whole question and so preclude, if we can, any pretext for renewed agitation.' 'The basis of that settlement,' he went on in a formula which he tenaciously reiterated to all his correspondents, and which is a landmark in the long history of his dealing with the question, 'should be that the whole teaching and governing function in the university and in the colleges, halls, and private halls, should be retained, as now, in the church of England, but that everything outside the governing and teaching functions, whether in the way of degrees, honours, or emoluments, should be left open.' The new clause he described as 'one of those incomplete arrangements that seem to suit the practical habits of this country, and which by taking the edge off a matter of complaint, are often found virtually to dispose of it for a length of time.' In the end the church of England test was removed, not only on admission to the university, but from the bachelor's degree. Tests in other forms remained, as we shall in good time perceive. 'We have proceeded,' Mr. Gladstone wrote, 'in the full belief that the means of applying a church test to fellowships in colleges are clear and ample.' So they were, and so remained, until seventeen years later in the life of an administration of his own the obnoxious fetter was struck off.


The debates did not close without at least one characteristic masterpiece from Mr. Disraeli. He had not taken a division on the second reading, but he executed with entire gravity all the regulation manoeuvres of opposition, and his appearance on the page of Hansard relieves a dull discussion. If government, he asked, could defer a reform of the constitution (referring to the withdrawal of Lord John's bill) why should they hurry to reform the universities? The talk about the erudite professors of Germany as so superior to Oxford was nonsense. The great men of Germany became professors only because they could not become members of parliament. 'We, on the contrary, are a nation of action, and you may depend upon it, that though you may give an Oxford professor two thousand a year instead of two hundred, still ambition in England will look to public life and to the House of Commons, and not to professors' chairs.' The moment the revolution of 1848 gave the German professors a chance, see how they rushed into political conventions and grasped administrative offices. Again, the principle of the bill was the laying of an unhallowed hand upon the ark of the universities, and wore in effect the hideous aspect of the never-to-be-forgotten appropriation clause. If he were asked whether he would rather have Oxford free with all its imperfections, or an Oxford without imperfections but under the control of the government, he would reply, 'Give me Oxford free and independent, with all its anomalies and imperfections.' An excellently worded but amusingly irrelevant passage about Voltaire and Rousseau, and the land that was enlightened by the one and inflamed by the other, brought the curious performance to a solemn close. High fantastic trifling of this sort, though it may divert a later generation to whose legislative bills it can do no harm, helps to explain the deep disfavour with which Disraeli was regarded by his severe and strenuous opponent.

'The admiration of posterity,' Dr. Jeune wrote to Mr. Gladstone, 'would be greatly increased if men hereafter could know what wisdom, what firmness, what temper, what labour your success has required.' More than this, it was notorious that Mr. Gladstone was bravely risking his seat. This side of the matter Jeune made plain to him. 'Had I foreseen in 1847,' replied Mr. Gladstone (Broadstairs, Aug. 26, 1854), 'that church controversies which I then hoped were on the decline, were really about to assume a fiercer glare and a wider range than they had done before, I should not have been presumptuous enough to face the contingencies of such a seat at such a time.' As things stood he was bound to hold on. With dauntless confidence that never failed him, he was convinced that no long time would suffice to scatter the bugbears, and the bill would be nothing but a source of strength to any one standing in reputed connection with it. To Dr. Jeune when the battle was over he expresses 'his warm sense of the great encouragement and solid advantage which at every stage he had derived from his singularly ready and able help.' To Jowett and Goldwin Smith he acknowledged a hardly lower degree of obligation. The last twenty years, wrote a shrewd and expert sage in 1866, 'have seen more improvement in the temper and teaching of Oxford than the three centuries since the Reformation. This has undoubtedly been vastly promoted by the Reform bill of 1854, or at least by one enactment in it, the abolition of close fellowships, which has done more for us than all the other enactments of the measure put together.'[325] 'The indirect effects,' says the same writer in words of pregnant praise, 'in stimulating the spirit of improvement among us, have been no less important than the specific reforms enacted by it.'[326]



Another of the most far-reaching changes of this era of reform affected the civil service. J. S. Mill, then himself an official at the India House, did not hesitate 'to hail the plan of throwing open the civil service to competition as one of the greatest improvements in public affairs ever proposed by a government.' On the system then reigning, civil employment under the crown was in all the offices the result of patronage, though in some, and those not the more important of them, nominees were partially tested by qualifying examination and periods of probation. The eminent men who held what were called the staff appointments in the service—the Merivales, Taylors, Farrers—were introduced from without, with the obvious implication that either the civil service trained up within its own ranks a poor breed, or else that the meritorious men were discouraged and kept back by the sight of prizes falling to outsiders. Mr. Gladstone was not slow to point out that the existing system if it brought eminent men in, had driven men like Manning and Spedding out. What patronage meant is forcibly described in a private memorandum of a leading reformer, preserved by Mr. Gladstone among his papers on this subject. 'The existing corps of civil servants,' says the writer, 'do not like the new plan, because the introduction of well-educated, active men, will force them to bestir themselves, and because they cannot hope to get their own ill-educated sons appointed under the new system. The old established political families habitually batten on the public patronage—their sons legitimate and illegitimate, their relatives and dependents of every degree, are provided for by the score. Besides the adventuring disreputable class of members of parliament, who make God knows what use of the patronage, a large number of borough members are mainly dependent upon it for their seats. What, for instance, are the members to do who have been sent down by the patronage secretary to contest boroughs in the interest of the government, and who are pledged twenty deep to their constituents?'

The foreign office had undergone, some years before, a thorough reconstruction by Lord Palmerston, who, though very cool to constitutional reform, was assiduous and exacting in the forms of public business, not least so in the vital matter of a strong, plain, bold handwriting. Revision had been attempted in various departments before Mr. Gladstone went to the exchequer, and a spirit of improvement was in the air. Lowe, beginning his official career as one of the secretaries of the board of control, had procured the insertion in the India bill of 1853 of a provision throwing open the great service of India to competition for all British-born subjects, and he was a vigorous advocate of a general extension of the principle.[327] It was the conditions common to all the public establishments that called for revision, and the foundations for reform were laid in a report by Northcote and Sir Charles Trevelyan (November 1853), prepared for Mr. Gladstone at his request, recommending two propositions, so familiarised to us to-day as to seem like primordial elements of the British constitution. One was, that access to the public service should be through the door of a competitive examination; the other, that for conducting these examinations a central board should be constituted. The effect of such a change has been enormous not only on the efficiency of the service, but on the education of the country, and by a thousand indirect influences, raising and strengthening the social feeling for the immortal maxim that the career should be open to the talents. The lazy doctrine that men are much of a muchness gave way to a higher respect for merit and to more effectual standards of competency.


The reform was not achieved without a battle. The whole case was argued by Mr. Gladstone in a letter to Lord John Russell of incomparable trenchancy and force, one of the best specimens of the writer at his best, and only not worth reproducing here, because the case has long been finished.[328] Lord John (Jan. 20) wrote to him curtly in reply, 'I hope no change will be made, and I certainly must protest against it.' In reply to even a second assault, he remained quite unconvinced. At present, he said, the Queen appointed the ministers, and the ministers the subordinates; in future the board of examiners would be in the place of the Queen. Our institutions would be as nearly republican as possible, and the new spirit of the public offices would not be loyalty but republicanism! As one of Lord John's kindred spirits declared, 'The more the civil service is recruited from the lower classes, the less will it be sought after by the higher, until at last the aristocracy will be altogether dissociated from the permanent civil service of the country.' How could the country go on with a democratic civil service by the side of an aristocratic legislature?[329] This was just the spirit that Mr. Gladstone loathed. To Graham he wrote (Jan. 3, 1854), 'I do not want any pledges as to details; what I seek is your countenance and favour in an endeavour to introduce to the cabinet a proposal that we should give our sanction to the principle that in every case where a satisfactory test of a defined and palpable nature can be furnished, the public service shall be laid open to personal merit.... This is my contribution to parliamentary reform.' On January 26 (1854) the cabinet was chiefly occupied by Mr. Gladstone's proposition, and after a long discussion his plan was adopted. When reformers more ardent than accurate insisted in later years that it was the aristocracy who kept patronage, Mr. Gladstone reminded the House, 'No cabinet could have been more aristocratically composed than that over which Lord Aberdeen presided. I myself was the only one of fifteen noblemen and gentlemen who composed it, who could not fairly be said to belong to that class.' Yet it was this cabinet that conceived and matured a plan for the surrender of all its patronage. There for the moment, in spite of all his vigour and resolution, the reform was arrested. Time did not change him. In November he wrote to Trevelyan: 'My own opinions are more and more in favour of the plan of competition. I do not mean that they can be more in its favour as a principle, than they were when I invited you and Northcote to write the report which has lit up the flame; but more and more do the incidental evils seem curable and the difficulties removable.' As the Crimean war went on, the usual cry for administrative reform was raised, and Mr. Gladstone never made a more terse, pithy, and incontrovertible speech than his defence for an open civil service in the summer of 1855.[330]

For this branch of reform, too, the inspiration had proceeded from Oxford. Two of the foremost champions of the change had been Temple—afterwards Archbishop of Canterbury—and Jowett. The latter was described by Mr. Gladstone to Graham as being 'as handy a workman as you shall readily find,' and in the beginning of 1855 he proposed to these two reformers that they should take the salaried office of examiners under the civil service scheme. Much of his confident expectation of good, he told them, was built upon their co-operation. In all his proceedings on this subject, Mr. Gladstone showed in strong light in how unique a degree he combined a profound democratic instinct with the spirit of good government; the instinct of popular equality along with the scientific spirit of the enlightened bureaucrat.


[316] July 18, 1850.

[317] Letter to Bishop Davidson, June 11, 1891.

[318] Life, i. p. 420.

[319] Life of Stanley, i. p. 432.

[320] Letters to Graham, July 30, 1852, and Dr. Haddan, Aug. 14 and Sept. 29, 1852.

[321] Letters, March 26, 1853, p. 261.

[322] Interesting particulars of this memorable commission are to be found in the Life of Archbishop Tait, i. pp. 156-170.

[323] Mozley, Letters, p. 220. Mr. Gladstone preserved 560 letters and documents relating to the preparation and passing of the Oxford University bill. Among them are 350 copies of his own letters written between Dec. 1853 and Dec. 1854, and 170 letters received by him during the same period.

[324] Life, i. p. 434.

[325] Academical Organisation. By Mark Pattison, p. 24.

[326] The following speeches made by Mr. Gladstone on the Oxford bill were deemed by him of sufficient importance to be included in the projected edition of his collected speeches: On the introduction of the bill, March 19 (1854); on the second reading, April 7; during the committee stage, April 27, June 1, 22, 23, and July 27.

[327] Life of Lord Sherbrooke, pp. 421-2.

[328] For an extract see Appendix.

[329] Romilly, quoted by Layard, June 15th, 1855.

[330] He made three speeches on the subject at this period; June 15th and July 10th, 1855, and April 24th, 1856. The first was on Layard's motion for reform, which was rejected by 359 to 46.




The expenses of a war are the moral check which it has pleased the Almighty to impose upon the ambition and lust of conquest, that are inherent in so many nations. There is pomp and circumstance, there is glory and excitement about war, which, notwithstanding the miseries it entails, invests it with charms in the eyes of the community, and tends to blind men to those evils to a fearful and dangerous degree. The necessity of meeting from year to year the expenditure which it entails is a salutary and wholesome check, making them feel what they are about, and making them measure the cost of the benefit upon which they may calculate.—GLADSTONE.

The finance of 1854 offered nothing more original or ingenious than bluntly doubling the income tax (from seven pence to fourteen pence), and raising the duties on spirits, sugar, and malt. The draught was administered in two doses, first in a provisional budget for half a year (March 6), next in a completed scheme two months later. During the interval the chancellor of the exchequer was exposed to much criticism alike from city experts and plain men. The plans of 1853 had, in the main, proved a remarkable success, but they were not without weak points. Reductions in the duties of customs, excise, and stamps had all been followed by increase in their proceeds. But the succession duty brought in no more than a fraction of the estimated sum—the only time, Mr. Gladstone observes, in which he knew the excellent department concerned to have fallen into such an error. The proposal for conversion proved, under circumstances already described, to have no attraction for the fundholder. The operation on the South Sea stock was worse than a failure, for it made the exchequer, in order to pay off eight millions at par, raise a larger sum at three and a half per cent., and at three per cent. in a stock standing at 87.[331] All this brought loudish complaints from the money market. The men at the clubs talked of the discredit into which Gladstone had fallen as a financier, and even persons not unfriendly to him spoke of him as rash, obstinate, and injudicious. He was declared to have destroyed his prestige and overthrown his authority.[332]


This roused all the slumbering warrior in him, and when the time came (May 8), in a speech three and a half hours long, he threw his detractors into a depth of confusion that might have satisfied the Psalmist himself. Peremptorily he brushed aside the apology of his assailants for not challenging him by a direct vote of want of confidence, that such a vote would be awkward in a time of war. On the contrary, he said, a case so momentous as the case of war is the very reason why you should show boldly whether you have confidence in our management of your finances or not; if you disapprove, the sooner I know it the better. Then he dashed into a close and elaborate defence in detail, under all the heads of attack,—his manner of dealing with the unfunded debt, his abortive scheme of conversion, his mode of charging deficiency bills. This astonishing mass of dry and difficult matter was impressed in full significance upon the House, not only by the orator's own buoyant and energetic interest in the performance, but by the sense which he awoke in his hearers, that to exercise their attention and judgment upon the case before them was a binding debt imperatively due to themselves and to the country, by men owning the high responsibility of their station. This was the way in which he at all times strove to stir the self-respect of the House of Commons. Not sparing his critics a point or an argument, he drove his case clean home with a vigour that made it seem as if the study of Augustine and Dante and the Fathers were after all the best training for an intimate and triumphant mastery of the proper amount of gold to be kept at the bank, the right interest on an exchequer bond and an exchequer bill, and all the arcana of the public accounts.[333] Even where their case had something in it, he showed that they had taken the wrong points. Nor did he leave out the spice of the sarcasm that the House loves. A peer had reproached him for the amount of his deficiency bills. This peer had once himself for four years been chancellor of the exchequer. 'My deficiency bills,' cried Mr. Gladstone, 'reached three millions and a half. How much were the bills of the chancellor whom this figure shocks? In his first year they were four millions and a half, in the second almost the same, in the third more than five and a quarter, in the fourth nearly five millions and a half.' Disraeli and others pretended that they had foreseen the failure of the conversion. Mr. Gladstone proved that, as matter of recorded fact, they had done nothing of the sort. 'This is the way in which mythical history arises. An event happens without attracting much notice; subsequently it excites interest; then people look back upon the time now passed, and see things not as they are or were, but through the haze of distance—they see them as they wish them to have been, and what they wish them to have been, they believe that they were.'

For this budget no genius, only courage, was needed; but Mr. Gladstone advanced in connection with it a doctrine that raised great questions, moral, political, and economic, and again illustrated that characteristic of his mind which always made some broad general principle a necessity of action. All through 1854, and in a sense very often since, parliament was agitated by Mr. Gladstone's bold proposition that the cost of war should be met by taxation at the time, and not by loans to be paid back by another generation. He did not advance his abstract doctrine without qualification. This, in truth, Mr. Gladstone hardly ever did, and it was one of the reasons why he acquired a bad name for sophistry and worse. Men fastened on the general principle, set out in all its breadth and with much emphasis; they overlooked the lurking qualification; and then were furiously provoked at having been taken in. 'I do not know,' he wrote some years later to Northcote, 'where you find that I laid down any general maxim that all war supplies were to be raised by taxes.... I said in my speech of May 8, revised for Hansard, it was the duty and policy of the country to make in the first instance a great effort from its own resources.' The discussions of the time, however, seem to have turned on the unqualified construction. While professing his veneration and respect for the memory of Pitt, he opened in all its breadth the question raised by Pitt's policy of loan, loan, loan. The economic answer is open to more dispute than he then appeared to suppose, but it was the political and moral reasons for meeting the demands of war by tax and not by loan that coloured his economic view. The passage in which he set forth the grounds for his opinion has become a classic place in parliamentary discussion, but it is only too likely for a long time to come to bear reproducing, and I have taken it as a motto for this chapter. His condemnation of loans, absolutely if not relatively, was emphatic. 'The system of raising funds necessary for wars by loan practises wholesale, systematic, and continual deception upon the people. The people do not really know what they are doing. The consequences are adjourned into a far future.' I may as well here complete or correct this language by a further quotation from the letter to Northcote to which I have already referred. He is writing in 1862 on Northcote's book on Twenty Years of Finance. 'I cannot refrain,' he says, 'from paying you a sincere compliment, first on the skill with which you have composed an eminently readable work on a dry subject; and secondly, on the tact founded in good feeling and the love of truth with which you have handled your materials throughout.' He then remarks on various points in the book, and among the rest on this:—


Allow me also to say that I think in your comparison of the effect of taxes and loans you have looked (p. 262) too much to the effect on labour at the moment. Capital and labour are in permanent competition for the division of the fruits of production. When in years of war say twenty millions annually are provided by loan say for three, five, or ten years, then two consequences follow.

1. An immense factitious stimulus is given to labour at the time—and thus much more labour is brought into the market.

2. When that stimulus is withdrawn an augmented quantity of labour is left to compete in the market with a greatly diminished quantity of capital.

Here is the story of the misery of great masses of the English people after 1815, or at the least a material part of that story.

I hold by the doctrine that war loans are in many ways a great evil: but I admit their necessity, and in fact the budget of 1855 was handed over by me to Sir George Lewis, and underwent in his hands little alteration unless such as, with the growing demands of the war, I should myself have had to make in it, i.e. some, not very considerable, enlargement.

Writing a second letter to Northcote a few days later (August 11, 1862), he goes a little deeper into the subject:—

The general question of loans v. taxes for war purposes is one of the utmost interest, but one that I have never seen worked out in print. But assuming as data the established principles of our financial system, and by no means denying the necessity of loans, I have not the least doubt that it is for the interest of labour, as opposed to capital, that as large a share as possible of war expenditure should be defrayed from taxes. When war breaks out the wages of labour on the whole have a tendency to rise, and the labour of the country is well able to bear some augmentation of taxes. The sums added to the public expenditure are likely at the outset, and for some time, to be larger than the sums withdrawn from commerce. When war ends, on the contrary, a great mass of persons are dismissed from public employment, and, flooding the labour market, reduce the rate of wages. But again, when war comes, it is quite certain that a large share of the war taxes will be laid upon property: and that, in war, property will bear a larger share of our total taxation than in peace. From this it seems to follow at once that, up to the point at which endurance is practicable, payment by war-taxes rather than by taxes in peace is for the interest of the people at large. I am not one of those who think that our system of taxation, taken as a whole, is an over-liberal one towards them. These observations are mere contributions to a discussion, and by no means pretend to dispose of the question.



In the autumn he had a sharp tussle with the Bank of England, and displayed a toughness, stiffness, and sustained anger that greatly astonished Threadneedle Street. In the spring he had introduced a change in the mode of issuing deficiency bills, limiting the quarterly amount to such a sum as would cover the maximum of dividends payable, as known by long experience to be called for. The Bank held this to be illegal; claimed the whole amount required, along with balances actually in hand, to cover the entire amount payable; and asked him to take the opinion of the law officers. The lawyers backed the chancellor of the exchequer. Then the Bank took an opinion of their own; their counsel (Kelly and Palmer) advised that the attorney and solicitor were wrong; and recommended the Bank to bring their grievance before the prime minister. Mr. Gladstone was righteously incensed at this refusal to abide by an opinion invited by the Bank itself, and by which if it had been adverse he would himself have been bound. 'And then,' said Bethell, urging Mr. Gladstone to stand to his guns, 'its counsel call the Bank a trustee for the public! Proh pudor! What stuff lawyers will talk. But 'tis their vocation.' Mr. Gladstone's letters were often prolix, but nobody could be more terse and direct when occasion moved him, and the proceedings of the lawyers with their high Bank views and the equivocal faith of the directors in bringing fresh lawyers into the case at all provoked more than one stern and brief epistle. The governor, who was his private friend, winced. 'I do not study diplomacy in letters of this kind,' Mr. Gladstone replied, 'and there is no sort of doubt that I am very angry about the matter of the opinion; but affected and sarcastic politeness is an instrument which in writing to you I should think it the worst taste and the worst feeling to employ. I admire the old fashion according to which in English pugilism (which, however, I do not admire) the combatants shook hands before they fought; only I think much time ought not to be spent upon such salutations when there is other work to do.'

In a letter to his wife seven years later, Mr. Gladstone says of this dispute, 'Mr. Arbuthnot told me to-day an observation of Sir George Lewis's when at the exchequer here. Speaking of my controversy with the Bank in 1854, he said, "It is a pity Gladstone puts so much heat, so much irritability into business. Now I am as cool as a fish."' The worst of being as cool as a fish is that you never get great things done, you effect no improvements, and you carry no reforms, against the lethargy or selfishness of men and the tyranny of old custom.[334]

Now also his attention was engaged by the controversies on currency that thrive so lustily in the atmosphere of the Bank Charter Act, and, after much discussion with authorities both in Lombard Street and at the treasury, without committal he sketched out at least one shadow of a project of his own. He knew, however, that any great measure must be undertaken by a finance minister with a clear position and strong hands, and he told Graham that even if he saw his way distinctly to a plan, he did not feel individually strong enough for the attempt. Nor was there time. To reconstitute the Savings Bank finance, to place the chancery and some other accounts on a right basis, and to readjust the banking relations properly so-called between the Bank and the state, would be even more than a fair share of financial work for the session. Before the year was over he passed a bill, for which he had laid before the cabinet elaborate argumentative supports, removing a number of objections to the then existing system of dealing with the funds drawn from Savings Banks.[335]

The year closed with an incident that created a considerable stir, and might by misadventure have become memorable. What has been truly called a warm and prolonged dispute[336] arose out of Mr. Gladstone's removal of a certain official from his post in the department of woods and forests. As Lord Aberdeen told the Queen that he could not easily make the case intelligible, it is not likely that I should succeed any better, and we may as well leave the thick dust undisturbed. Enough to say that Lord John Russell thought the dismissal harsh; that Mr. Gladstone stood his ground against either the reversal of what he had done, or any proceedings in parliament that might look like contrition, but was willing to submit the points to the decision of colleagues; that Lord John would submit no point to colleagues 'affecting his personal honour'—to such degrees of heat can the quicksilver mount even in a cabinet thermometer. If such quarrels of the great are painful, there is some compensation in the firmness, patience, and benignity with which a man like Lord Aberdeen strove to appease them. Some of his colleagues actually thought that Lord John would make this paltry affair a plea for resigning, while others suspected that he might find a better excuse in the revival of convocation. As it happened, a graver occasion offered itself.


[331] Northcote, Financial Policy, p. 242; Buxton, Mr. Gladstone: A Study, pp. 154-5.

[332] Greville, Part III. i. pp. 150, 151, 157.

[333] Not many years before (1838), Talleyrand had surprised the French institute by a paper in which he passed a eulogy on strong theological studies; their influence on vigour as well as on finesse of mind; on the skilful ecclesiastical diplomatists that those studies had formed.

[334] See Appendix.

[335] 17 and 18 Vict., c. 50.

[336] Walpole's Russell, ii. p. 243 n.




Party has no doubt its evils; but all the evils of party put together would be scarcely a grain in the balance, when compared with the dissolution of honourable friendships, the pursuit of selfish ends, the want of concert in council, the absence of a settled policy in foreign affairs, the corruption of certain statesmen, the caprices of an intriguing court, which the extinction of party connection has brought and would bring again upon this country.—EARL RUSSELL.[337]

The administrative miscarriages of the war in the Crimea during the winter of 1854-5 destroyed the coalition government.[338] When parliament assembled on January 23, 1855, Mr. Roebuck on the first night of the session gave notice of a motion for a committee of inquiry. Lord John Russell attended to the formal business, and when the House was up went home accompanied by Sir Charles Wood. Nothing of consequence passed between the two colleagues, and no word was said to Wood in the direction of withdrawal. The same evening as the prime minister was sitting in his drawing-room, a red box was brought in to him by his son, containing Lord John Russell's resignation. He was as much amazed as Lord Newcastle, smoking his evening pipe of tobacco in his coach, was amazed by the news that the battle of Marston Moor had begun. Nothing has come to light since to set aside the severe judgment pronounced upon this proceeding by the Universal opinion of contemporaries, including Lord John's own closest political allies. That a minister should run away from a hostile motion upon affairs for which responsibility was collective, and this without a word of consultation with a single colleague, is a transaction happily without a precedent in the history of modern English cabinets.[339] It opened an intricate and unexpected chapter of affairs.

The ministerial crisis of 1855 was unusually prolonged; it was interesting as a drama of character and motive; it marked a decisive stage in the evolution of party, and it was one of the turning points in the career of the subject of this biography. Fortunately for us, Mr. Gladstone has told in his own way the whole story of what he calls this 'sharp and difficult passage in public affairs,' and he might have added that it was a sharp passage in his own life. His narrative, with the omission of some details now dead and indifferent, and of a certain number of repetitions, is the basis of this chapter.



On the day following Lord John's letter the cabinet met, and the prime minister told them that at first he thought it meant the break-up of the government, but on further consideration he thought they should hold on, if it could be done with honour and utility. Newcastle suggested his own resignation, and the substitution of Lord Palmerston in his place. Palmerston agreed that the country, rightly or wrongly, wished to see him at the war office, but he was ready to do whatever his colleagues thought best. The whigs thought resignation necessary. Mr. Gladstone thought otherwise, and scouted the suggestion that as Newcastle was willing to resign, Lord John might come back. Lord John himself actually sent a sort of message to know whether he should attend the cabinet. In the end Lord Aberdeen carried all their resignations to the Queen. These she declined to accept, and she 'urged with the greatest eagerness that the decision should be reconsidered.' It is hard at this distance of time to understand how any cabinet under national circumstances of such gravity could have thought of the ignominy of taking to flight from a motion of censure, whatever a single colleague like Lord John Russell might deem honourable. On pressure from the Queen, the whigs in the government, Lord John notwithstanding, agreed to stand fire. Mr. Gladstone proceeds:—

Lord John's explanation, which was very untrue in its general effect, though I believe kindly conceived in feeling as well as tempered with some grains of policy and a contemplation of another possible premiership, carried the House with him, as Herbert observed while he was speaking. Palmerston's reply to him was wretched. It produced in the House (that is, in so much of the House as would otherwise have been favourable), a flatness and deadness of spirit towards the government which was indescribable; and Charles Wood with a marked expression of face said while it was going on, 'And this is to be our leader!' I was myself so painfully full of the scene, that when Palmerston himself sat down I was on the very point of saying to him unconsciously, 'Can anything more be said?' But no one would rise in the adverse sense, and therefore there was no opening for a minister. Palmerston [now become leader in the Commons] had written to ask me to follow Lord John on account of his being a party. But it was justly thought in the cabinet that there were good reasons against my taking this part upon me, and so the arrangement was changed.

Roebuck brought forward his motion. Mr. Gladstone resisted it on behalf of the government with immense argumentative force, and he put the point against Lord John which explains the word 'untrue' in the passage just quoted, namely, that though he desired in November the substitution of Palmerston for Newcastle as war minister, he had given it up in December, and yet this vital fact was omitted.[340] It was not for the government, he said, either to attempt to make terms with the House by reconstruction of a cabinet, or to shrink from any judgment of the House upon their acts. If they had so shrunk, he exclaimed, this is the sort of epitaph that he would expect to have written over their remains: 'Here lie the dishonoured ashes of a ministry that found England in peace and left in it war, that was content to enjoy the emoluments of office and to wield the sceptre of power, so long as no man had the courage to question their existence: they saw the storm gathering over the country; they heard the agonising accounts that were almost daily received of the sick and wounded in the East. These things did not move them, but so soon as a member of opposition raised his hand to point the thunderbolt, they became conscience-stricken into a sense of guilt, and hoping to escape punishment, they ran away from duty.' Such would be their epitaph. Of the proposed inquiry itself,—an inquiry into the conduct of generals and troops actually in the field, and fighting by the side of, and in concert with, foreign allies, he observed—'Your inquiry will never take place as a real inquiry; or, if it did, it would lead to nothing but confusion and disturbance, increased disasters, shame at home and weakness abroad; it would convey no consolation to those whom you seek to aid, but it would carry malignant joy to the hearts of the enemies of England; and, for my part, I shall ever rejoice, if this motion is carried to-night, that my own last words as a member of the cabinet of the Earl of Aberdeen have been words of solemn and earnest protest against a proceeding which has no foundation either in the constitution or in the practice of preceding parliaments; which is useless and mischievous for the purpose which it appears to contemplate; and which, in my judgment, is full of danger to the power, dignity, and usefulness of the Commons of England.' A journalistic observer, while deploring the speaker's adherence to 'the dark dogmatisms of medieval religionists,' admits that he had never heard so fine a speech. The language, he says, was devoid of redundance. The attitude was calm. Mr. Gladstone seemed to feel that he rested upon the magnitude of the argument, and had no need of the assistance of bodily vehemence of manner. His voice was clear, distinct, and flexible, without monotony. It was minute dissection without bitterness or ill-humoured innuendo. He sat down amid immense applause from hearers admiring but unconvinced. Mr. Gladstone himself records of this speech: 'Hard and heavy work, especially as to the cases of three persons: Lord John Russell, Duke of Newcastle, and Lord Raglan.' Ministers were beaten (January 29) by 325 to 148, and they resigned.

Jan. 30, 1855.—Cabinet 1-2. We exchanged friendly adieus. Dined with the Herberts. This was a day of personal light-heartedness, but the problem for the nation is no small one.


The Queen sent for Lord Derby, and he made an attempt to form a government. Without aid from the conservative wing of the fallen ministry there was no hope, and his first step (Jan. 31) was to call on Lord Palmerston, with an earnest request for his support, and with a hope that he would persuade Mr. Gladstone and Sidney Herbert to rejoin their old political connection; with the intimation moreover that Mr. Disraeli, with a self-abnegation that did him the highest credit, was willing to waive in Lord Palmerston's favour his own claim to the leadership of the House of Commons. Palmerston was to be president of the council, and Ellenborough minister of war. In this conversation Lord Palmerston made no objection on any political grounds, or on account of any contemplated measures; he found no fault with the position intended for himself, or for others with whom he would be associated. Lord Derby supposed that all would depend on the concurrence of Mr. Gladstone and Herbert. He left Cambridge House at half-past two in the afternoon, and at half-past nine in the evening he received a note from Lord Palmerston declining. Three hours later he heard from Mr. Gladstone, who declined also. The proceedings of this eventful day, between two in the afternoon and midnight, whatever may have been the play of motive and calculation in the innermost minds of all or any of the actors, were practically to go a long way, though by no means the whole way, as we shall see, towards making Mr. Gladstone's severance from the conservative party definitive.

Jan. 31.—Lord Palmerston came to see me between three and four, with a proposal from Lord Derby that he and I, with S. Herbert should take office under him; Palmerston to be president of the council and lead the House of Commons. Not finding me when he called before, he had gone to S. Herbert, who seemed to be disinclined. I inquired (1) whether Derby mentioned Graham? (2) Whether he had told Lord Palmerston if his persevering with the commission he had received would depend on the answer to this proposal. (3) How he was himself inclined. He answered the two first questions in the negative, and said as to the third, though not keenly, that he felt disinclined, but that if he refused it would be attributed to his contemplating another result, which other result he considered would be agreeable to the country. I then argued strongly with him that though he might form a government, and though if he formed it, he would certainly start it amidst immense clapping of hands, yet he could not have any reasonable prospect of stable parliamentary support; on the one hand would stand Derby with his phalanx, on the other Lord J. Russell, of necessity a centre and nucleus of discontent, and between these two there would and could be no room for a parliamentary majority such as would uphold his government. He argued only rather faintly the other way, and seemed rather to come to my way of thinking.

I said that even if the proposition were entertained, there would be much to consider; that I thought it clear, whatever else was doubtful, that we could not join without him, for in his absence the wound would not heal kindly again, that I could not act without Lord Aberdeen's approval, nor should I willingly separate myself from Graham; that if we joined, we must join in force. But I was disposed to wish that if all details could be arranged, we should join in that manner rather than that Derby should give up the commission, though I thought the best thing of all would be Derby forming a ministry of his own men, provided only he could get a good or fair foreign secretary instead of Clarendon, who in any case would be an immense loss....

I went off to speak to Lord Aberdeen, and Palmerston went to speak to Clarendon, with respect to whom he had told Derby that he could hardly enter any government which had not Clarendon at the foreign office. When we reassembled, I asked Lord Palmerston whether he had made up his mind for himself independently of us, inasmuch as I thought that if he had, that was enough to close the whole question? He answered, Yes; that he should tell Derby he did not think he could render him useful service in his administration. He then left. It was perhaps 6.30. Herbert and I sat down to write, but thought it well to send off nothing till after dinner, and we went to Grillion's where we had a small but merry party. Herbert even beyond himself amusing. At night we went to Lord Aberdeen's and Graham's, and so my letter came through some slight emendations to the form in which it went.[341] I had doubts in my mind whether Derby had even intended to propose to Herbert and me except in conjunction with Palmerston, though I had no doubt that without Palmerston it would not do; and I framed my letter so as not to assume that I had an independent proposal, but to make my refusal a part of his.

Feb. 2.—I yesterday also called on Lord Palmerston and read him my letter to Lord Derby. He said: 'Nothing can be better.'


Lord Derby knew that, though he had the country gentlemen behind him, his own political friends, with the notable and only half-welcome exception of Mr. Disraeli, were too far below mediocrity in either capacity or experience to face so angry and dangerous a crisis. Accordingly he gave up the task. Many years after, Mr. Gladstone recorded his opinion that here Lord Derby missed his one real chance of playing a high historic part. 'To a Derby government,' he said, 'now that the party had been drubbed out of protection, I did not in principle object; for old ties were with me more operatively strong than new opinions, and I think that Lord Derby's error in not forming an administration was palpable and even gross. Such, it has appeared, was the opinion of Disraeli.[342] Lord Derby had many fine qualities; but strong parliamentary courage was not among them. When Lord Palmerston (probably with a sagacious discernment of the immediate future) declined, he made no separate offer to the Peelites. Had Lord Derby gone on, he would have been supported by the country, then absorbed in the consideration of the war. None of the three occasions when he took office offered him so fine an opportunity as this; but he missed it.'

On the previous day, Mr. Gladstone records: 'Saw Mr. Disraeli in the House of Lords and put out my hand, which was very kindly accepted.' To nobody was the hour fraught with more bitter mortification than to Mr. Disraeli, who beheld a golden chance of bringing a consolidated party into the possession of real power flung away.



Next, at the Queen's request, soundings in the whig and Peelite waters were undertaken by Lord Lansdowne, and he sent for Mr. Gladstone, with a result that to the latter was ever after matter of regret.

Feb. 2.—In consequence of a communication from Lord Lansdowne, I went to him in the forenoon and found him just returned from Windsor. He trusted I should not mind speaking freely to him, and I engaged to do it, only premising that in so crude and dark a state of facts, it was impossible to go beyond first impressions. We then conversed on various combinations, as (1) Lord J. Russell, premier, (2) Lord Palmerston, (3) Lord Clarendon, (4) Lord Lansdowne himself. Of the first I doubted whether, in the present state of feeling, he could get a ministry on its legs. In answer to a question from him, I added that I thought, viewing my relations to Lord Aberdeen and to Newcastle, and his to them also, the public feeling would be offended, and it would not be for the public interest, if I were to form part of his government (i.e. Russell's). Of the second I said that it appeared to me Lord Palmerston could not obtain a party majority. Aloof from him would stand on the one hand Derby and his party, on the other Lord J. Russell, who I took it for granted would never serve under him. Whatever the impression made by Russell's recent conduct, yet his high personal character and station, forty years career, one-half of it in the leadership of his party, and the close connection of his name with all the great legislative changes of the period, must ever render him a power in the state, and render it impossible for a government depending on the liberal party to live independently of him. I also hinted at injurious effects which the substitution of Palmerston for Lord Aberdeen would produce on foreign Powers at this critical moment, but dwelt chiefly on the impossibility of his having a majority. In this Lord Lansdowne seemed to agree.

Lastly, I said that if Lord Lansdowne himself could venture to risk his health and strength by taking the government, this would be the best arrangement. My opinion was that at this crisis Derby, if he could have formed an administration, would have had advantages with regard to the absorbing questions of the war and of a peace to follow it, such as no other combination could possess. Failing this, I wished for a homogeneous whig government. The best form of it would be under him. He said he might dare it provisionally, if he could see his way to a permanent arrangement at the end of a short term; but he could see nothing of the sort at present.

An autobiographic note of 1897 gives a further detail of moment:—He asked whether I would continue to hold my office as chancellor of the exchequer in the event of his persevering. He said that if I gave an affirmative reply he would persevere with the commission, and I think intimated that except on this condition he would not. I said that the working of the coalition since its formation in December 1852 had been to me entirely satisfactory, but that I was not prepared to co-operate in its continuation under any other head than Lord Aberdeen. I think that though perfectly satisfied to be in a Peelite government which had whigs or radicals in it, I was not ready to be in a whig government which had Peelites in it. It took a long time, with my slow-moving and tenacious character, for the Ethiopian to change his skin.

In the paper that I have already mentioned, as recording what, when all was near an end, he took to be some of the errors of his life, Mr. Gladstone names as one of those errors this refusal in 1855 to join Lord Lansdowne. 'I can hardly suppose,' he says, more than forty years after that time, 'that the eventual failure of the Queen's overture to Lord Lansdowne was due to my refusal; but that refusal undoubtedly constituted one of his difficulties and helped to bring about the result. I have always looked back upon it with pain as a serious and even gross error of judgment. It was, I think, injurious to the public, if it contributed to the substitution as prime minister of Lord Palmerston for Lord Lansdowne,—a personage of greater dignity, and I think a higher level of political principle. There was no defect in Lord Lansdowne sufficient to warrant my refusal. He would not have been a strong or very active prime minister; but the question of the day was the conduct of the war, and I had no right to take exception to him as a head in connection with this subject. His attitude in domestic policy was the same as Palmerston's, but I think he had a more unprejudiced and liberal mind, though less of motive force in certain directions.'



The next day Mr. Gladstone called on Lord Aberdeen, who for the first time let drop a sort of opinion as to their duties in the crisis on one point; hithertofore he had restrained himself. He said, 'Certainly the most natural thing under the circumstances, if it could have been brought about in a satisfactory form, would have been that you should have joined Derby.' On returning home, Mr. Gladstone received an important visitor and a fruitless visit.

At half-past two to-day Lord John Russell was announced; and sat till three—his hat shaking in his hand. A communication had reached him late last night from the Queen, charging him with the formation of a government, and he had thought it his duty to make the endeavour. I repeated to him what I had urged on Lord Lansdowne, that a coalition with advantages has also weaknesses of its own, that the late coalition was I thought fully justified by the circumstances under which it took place, but at this juncture it had broken down. This being so, I thought what is called a homogeneous government would be best for the public, and most likely to command approval; that Derby if he could get a good foreign minister would have had immense advantages with respect to the great questions of war and peace. Lord John agreed as to Derby; thought that every one must have supported him, and that he ought to have persevered.

I held to my point, adding that I did not think Lord Aberdeen and Lord Palmerston represented opposite principles, but rather different forms of the same principles connected with different habits and temperaments. He said that Lord Palmerston had agreed to lead the House of Commons for him, he going as first minister to the Lords; but he did not mention any other alteration. Upon the whole his tone was low and doubtful. He asked whether my answer was to be considered as given, or whether I would take time. But I said as there was no probability that my ideas would be modified by reflection, it would not be fair to him to ask any delay.

With the single exception of Lord Palmerston, none of his colleagues would have anything to do with Lord John, some even declining to go to see him. Wood came to Mr. Gladstone, evidently in the sense of the Palmerston premiership. He declared that Aberdeen was impossible, to which, says Mr. Gladstone, 'I greatly demurred.'


Thus the two regular party leaders had failed; Lord Aberdeen, the coalition leader, was almost universally known to be out of the question; the public was loudly clamouring for Lord Palmerston. A Palmerston ministry was now seen to be inevitable. Were the Peelites, then, having refused Lord Derby, having refused Lord John, having told Lord Lansdowne that he had better form a system of homogeneous whigs, now finally to refuse Lord Palmerston, on no better ground than that they could not have Lord Aberdeen, whom nobody save themselves would consent on any terms to have? To propound such a question was to answer it. Lord Aberdeen himself, with admirable freedom from egotism, pressed the point that in addition to the argument of public necessity, they owed much to their late whig colleagues, 'who behaved so nobly and so generously towards us after Lord John's resignation.'

'I have heard club talk and society talk,' wrote an adherent to Mr. Gladstone late one night (February 4), 'and I am sure that in the main any government containing good names in the cabinet, provided Lord John is not in it, will obtain general support. Lord Clarendon is universally, or nearly so, looked on as essential. Next to him, I think you are considered of vital importance in your present office. After all, rightly or wrongly, Lord Palmerston is master of the situation in the country; he is looked upon as the man. If the country sees you and Sidney Herbert holding aloof from him, it will be said the Peelites are selfish intriguers.' The same evening, another correspondent said to Mr. Gladstone: 'Two or three people have come in since eleven o'clock with the news of Brooks's and the Reform. Exultation prevails there, and the certainty of Palmerston's success to-morrow. There is a sort of rumour prevalent that Lord Palmerston may seek Lord J. Russell's aid.... This would, of course, negative all idea of your joining in the concern. Otherwise a refusal would be set down as sheer impracticability, or else the selfish ambition of a clique which could not stand alone, and should no longer attempt to do so. If the refusal to join Palmerston is to be a going over to the other side, and a definite junction within a brief space, that is clear and intelligible. But a refusal to join Lord Palmerston and yet holding out to him a promise of support, is a half-measure which no one will understand, and which, I own, I cannot see the grounds to defend.'


We shall now find how after long and strenuous dubitation, the Peelite leaders refused to join on the fifth of February, and then on the sixth they joined. Unpromising from the very first cabinet, the junction was destined to a swift and sudden end. Here is the story told by one of the two leading actors.

Sunday, Feb. 4.—Herbert came to me soon after I left him, and told me Palmerston had at last got the commission. He considered that this disposed of Lord Lansdowne; and seemed himself to be disposed to join. He said we must take care what we were about, and that we should be looked upon by the country as too nice if we declined to join Palmerston; who he believed (and in this I inclined to agree), would probably form a government. He argued that Lord Aberdeen was out of the question; that the vote of Monday night was against him; that the country would not stand him.

No new coalition ought to be formed, I said, without a prospect of stability; and joining Lord Palmerston's cabinet would be a new coalition. He said he rather applied that phrase to a junction with Derby. I quite agreed we could not join Derby except under conditions which might not be realised; but if we did it, it would be a reunion, not a coalition. In coalition the separate existence is retained. I referred to the great instances of change of party in our time; Palmerston himself, and Stanley with Graham. But these took place when parties were divided by great questions of principle; there were none such now, and no one could say that the two sides of the House were divided by anything more than this, that one was rather more stationary, the other more movable. He said, 'True, the differences are on the back benches.'

I said I had now for two years been holding my mind in suspense upon the question I used to debate with Newcastle, who used to argue that we should grow into the natural leaders of the liberal party. I said, it is now plain this will not be; we get on very well with the independent liberals, but the whigs stand as an opaque body between us and them, and moreover, there they will stand and ought to stand.

Lord Palmerston came a little after two, and remained perhaps an hour. Lord Lansdowne had promised to join him if he formed an administration on a basis sufficiently broad. He wished me to retain my office; and dwelt on the satisfactory nature of my relations with the liberal party. He argued that Lord Aberdeen was excluded by the vote on Monday night; and that there was now no other government in view. My argument was adverse, though without going to a positive conclusion. I referred to my conversation of Wednesday, Jan. 31, in favour of a homogeneous government at this juncture.

At half-past eleven I went to Lord Aberdeen's and stayed about an hour. His being in the Palmerston cabinet which had been proposed, was, he said, out of the question; but his velleities seemed to lean rather to our joining, which surprised me. He was afraid of the position we should occupy in the public eye if we declined....

Feb. 5.—The most irksome and painful of the days; beginning with many hours of anxious consultation to the best of our power, and ending amidst a storm of disapproval almost unanimous, not only from the generality, but from our own immediate political friends.

At 10.30 I went to Sir James Graham, who is still in bed, and told him the point to which by hard struggles I had come. The case with me was briefly this. I was ready to make the sacrifice of personal feeling; ready to see him (Lord Aberdeen) expelled from the premiership by a censure equally applicable to myself, and yet to remain in my office; ready to overlook not merely the inferior fitness, but the real and manifest unfitness, of Palmerston for that office; ready to enter upon a new venture with him, although in my opinion without any reasonable prospect of parliamentary support, such as is absolutely necessary for the credit and stability of a government—upon the one sole and all-embracing ground that the prosecution of the war with vigour, and the prosecution of it to and for peace, was now the question of the day to which every other must give way. But then it was absolutely necessary that if we joined a cabinet after our overlooking all this and more, it should be a cabinet in which confidence should be placed with reference to war and peace. Was the Aberdeen cabinet without Lord Aberdeen one in which I could place confidence? I answer, No. He was vital to it; his love of peace was necessary to its right and steady pursuit of that great end; if, then, he could belong to a Palmerston cabinet, I might; but without him I could not.

In all this, Sir J. Graham concurred. Herbert came full of doubts and fears, but on the whole adopted the same conclusion. Lord Aberdeen sent to say he would not come, but I wrote to beg him, and he appeared. On hearing how we stood, he said his remaining in the cabinet was quite out of the question; and that he had told Palmerston so yesterday when he glanced at it. But he thought we should incur great blame if we did not; which, indeed, was plainly beyond all dispute.


At length, when I had written and read aloud the rough draft of an answer, Lord Aberdeen said he must strongly advise our joining. I said to him, 'Lord Aberdeen, when we have joined the Palmerston cabinet, you standing aloof from it, will you rise in your place in the House of Lords and say that you give that cabinet your confidence with regard to the question of war and peace?' He replied, 'I will express my hope that it will do right, but not my confidence, which is a different thing.' 'Certainly,' I answered, 'and that which you have now said is my justification. The unswerving honesty of your mind has saved us. Ninety-nine men out of a hundred in your position at the moment would have said, "Oh yes, I shall express my confidence." But you would not deviate an inch to the right or to the left.'

Herbert and I went to my house and despatched our answers. Now began the storm. Granville met us driving to Newcastle. Sorry beyond expression; he almost looked displeased, which for him is much. Newcastle: I incline to think you are wrong. Canning: My impression is you are wrong. Various letters streaming in, all portending condemnation and disaster. Herbert became more and more uneasy.

Feb. 6.—The last day I hope of these tangled records; in which we have seen, to say nothing of the lesser sacrifice, one more noble victim struck down, and we are set to feast over the remains. The thing is bad and the mode worse.

Arthur Gordon came early in the day with a most urgent letter from Lord Aberdeen addressed virtually to us, and urging us to join. He had seen both Palmerston and Clarendon, and derived much satisfaction from what they said. We met at the admiralty at twelve, where Graham lay much knocked up with the fatigue and anxiety of yesterday. I read to him and Lord Aberdeen Palmerston's letter of to-day to me. Herbert came in and made arguments in his sense. I told him I was at the point of yesterday, and was immovable by considerations of the class he urged. The only security worth having lies in men; the man is Lord Aberdeen; moral union and association with him must continue, and must be publicly known to continue. I therefore repeated my question to Lord Aberdeen, whether he would in his place as a peer declare, if we joined the cabinet, that it had his confidence with reference to war and peace? He said, much moved, that he felt the weight of the responsibility, but that after the explanation and assurances he had received, he would. He was even more moved when Graham said that though the leaning of his judgment was adverse, he would place himself absolutely in the hands of Lord Aberdeen. To Herbert, of course, it was a simple release from a difficulty. Palmerston had told Cardwell, 'Gladstone feels a difficulty first infused into him by Graham; Argyll and Herbert have made up their minds to do what Gladstone does.' Newcastle joined us, and was in Herbert's sense. I repeated again that Lord Aberdeen's declaration of confidence enabled me to see my way to joining....

I went to Lord Aberdeen in his official room after his return from Palmerston. It was only when I left that room to-day that I began to realise the pang of parting. There he stood, struck down from his eminence by a vote that did not dare to avow its own purpose, and for his wisdom and virtue; there he stood endeavouring to cure the ill consequences to the public of the wrong inflicted upon himself, and as to the point immediately within reach successful in the endeavour. I ventured, however, to tell him that I hoped our conduct and reliance on him would tend to his eminence and honour, and said, 'You are not to be of the cabinet, but you are to be its tutelary deity.'

I had a message from Palmerston that he would answer me, but at night I went up to him.



The rush of events was now somewhat slackened. Lord John called on Graham, and complained of the Peelites for having selfishly sought too many offices, alluding to what Canning had done, and imputing the same to Cardwell. He also thought they had made a great mistake in joining Palmerston. He seemed sore about Mr. Gladstone, and told Graham that Christopher, a stout tory, had said that if Gladstone joined Derby, a hundred of the party would withdraw their allegiance. At the party meeting on Feb. 21, Lord Derby was received with loud cries of 'No Puseyites; No papists,' and was much reprehended for asking Gladstone and Graham to join.

'I ought to have mentioned before,' Mr. Gladstone writes here, 'that, during our conferences at the admiralty, Lord Aberdeen expressed great compunction for having allowed the country to be dragged without adequate cause into the war. So long as he lived, he said with his own depth and force, it would be a weight upon his conscience. He had held similar language to me lately at Argyll House; but when I asked him at what point after the fleet went to Besika Bay it would have been possible to stop short, he alluded to the sommation, which we were encouraged however, as he added, by Austria to send; and thought this was the false step. Yet he did not seem quite firm in the opinion.'

Then came the first cabinet (Feb. 10). It did not relieve the gloom of Mr. Gladstone's impressions. He found it more 'acephalous' than ever; 'less order; less unity of purpose.' The question of the Roebuck committee was raised, on which he said he thought the House would give it up, if government would promise an investigation under the authority of the crown. The fatal subject came up again three days later. Palmerston said it was plain from the feeling in the House the night before, that they were set upon it; if they could secure a fair committee, he was disposed to let the inquiry go forward. On this rock the ship struck. One minister said they could not resign in consequence of the appointment of the committee, because it stood affirmed by a large majority when they took office in the reconstructed cabinet. Mr. Gladstone says he 'argued with vehemence upon the breach of duty which it would involve on our part towards those holding responsible commands in the Crimea, if we without ourselves condemning them were to allow them to be brought before another tribunal like a select committee.'

Dining the same evening at the palace, Mr. Gladstone had a conversation on the subject both with the Queen and Prince Albert. 'The latter compared this appointment of a committee to the proceedings of the Convention of France; but still seemed to wish that the government should submit rather than retire. The Queen spoke openly in that sense, and trusted that she should not be given over into the hands of those "who are the least fit to govern." Without any positive and final declaration, I intimated to each that I did not think I could bring my mind to acquiesce in the proposition for an inquiry by a select committee into the state of the army in the Crimea.'

Time did not remove difficulties. Mr. Gladstone and Graham fought with extreme tenacity, and the first of them with an ingenuity for which the situation gave boundless scope. To the argument that they accepted office on reconstruction with the decision of the House for a committee staring them in the face, he replied: 'Before we were out, we were in. Why did we go out? Because of that very decision by the House of Commons. Our language was: The appointment of such a committee is incompatible with the functions of the executive, therefore it is a censure on the executive; therefore we resign! But it is not a whit more compatible with the functions of the executive now than it was then; therefore it is not one whit less a censure; and the question arises, (1) whether any government ought to allow its (now) principal duty to be delegated to a committee or other body, especially to one not under the control of the crown? (2) whether that government ought to allow it, the members of which (except one) have already resigned rather than allow it? In what way can the first resignation be justified on grounds which do not require a second?' He dwelt mainly on these two points—That the proposed transfer of the functions of the executive to a select committee of the House of Commons, with respect to an army in the face of the enemy and operating by the side of our French allies, and the recognition of this transfer by the executive government, was an evil greater than any that could arise from a total or partial resignation. Second, that it was clear that they did not, as things stood, possess the confidence of a majority of the House. 'I said that the committee was itself a censure on the government. They had a right to believe that parliament would not inflict this committee on a government which had its confidence. I also,' he says, 'recited my having ascertained from Palmerston (upon this recital we were agreed) on the 6th, before our decision was declared, his intention to oppose the committee....'

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