Nobody, perhaps, has a better right to be counted fortunate than a man who can feel that he is strong, that he is liked, and that he is successfully promoting principles of government for his fellow- countrymen in which he sincerely believes. In July, 1885, Sir Charles Dilke had all these grounds for satisfaction, and in no common measure. Of course there were anxieties, politically speaking; Mr. Gladstone's future course of action was uncertain, and Mr. Gladstone was so great a force that he might at any time derange all calculations—as, in point of fact, he did. Still, time was on the side of the Radicals, and from day to day they held what they called 'cabals' of the group formed by Chamberlain, Shaw-Lefevre, Trevelyan, Morley, and Dilke himself. At these meetings Sir Charles regularly presided.
The work of the Commission on Housing was in its last stages; its chairman was able to announce on July 1st, when laying the foundation- stone of some artisans' dwellings in Hoxton, that the Commission's Bill would be introduced in the Lords by Lord Salisbury, and that he himself would have charge of it in the Commons. For a man who had so laboured during the past five years such duties as these were child's play, and Sir Charles was able for the first time for many months to take his share in social enjoyments. He dined repeatedly at Grillion's; he went to parties at famous houses both of his political allies and political opponents; above all, he found time for restful days upon his beloved river. He went to Henley in that July with his old rowing comrade Steavenson 'to see Bristowe's fine Trinity Hall eight'; he spent Sunday, July 12th, at Dockett in company with Mr. Cyril Flower; and for the next Sunday, the 19th, he was engaged to be at Taplow Court with Mr. W. H. Grenfell, famous among oarsmen. But of that day more has to be written.
Throughout the month one dark cloud had hung over him: Mrs. Pattison was grievously ill in the Madras hills, and not until the fourth week in July did he know even the nature of her illness. It was typhoid, and it left her weak to face what had to come, like a 'bolt from the blue,' upon her and her future husband. Her first marriage had brought her discipline rather than happiness; now in the middle years of life her vivid nature was blossoming out again in the promise of union with a man before whom there lay open an illustrious career. Illness struck her down, and while she lay convalescent there came to her as black a message as ever tried the heart of any woman.
* * * * *
On the evening of Saturday, July 18th, Sir Charles Dilke was entertained at a dinner given by the Reform Club—a very rare distinction—to celebrate the passing of the Redistribution Bill into law. From this ceremony, which crowned and recognized his greatest personal achievement, he returned late, and found at his house a letter from an old family friend who asked him to call on the following Sunday morning on grave business. He then learnt that the wife of a Liberal member of Parliament had volunteered a 'confession' to her husband, in which she stated that she had been unfaithful to him with Sir Charles immediately after her marriage.
His note in his private diary on Sunday is: '19th.—Early heard of the charge against me. Put myself in hands of J. B. Balfour, and afterwards of Chamberlain and James.'
Later Sir Charles Dilke went down to Taplow, and spent the day there. This accusation found him separated from his future wife by many thousand miles; worse than that, she had been dangerously ill; the risk to her of a telegraphed message must be great; yet there was the chance from day to day that newspaper rumour might anticipate direct tidings from him to her. He was 'in as great misery as perhaps ever fell upon a man.'
He returned next morning to preside at the last meeting of the Commission on Housing, when, he says, 'the Prince of Wales proposed a vote of thanks to me in an extremely cordial speech.' From that attitude of friendliness the future King Edward never departed.
'I had a dinner-party in the evening, which was one of several in preparation for our Ward meetings in Chelsea, which I had to continue to hold in spite of my private miseries.
'I was engaged on the one night for which none of these dinners had been fixed to dine with Lord and Lady Salisbury, and to attend the Princess of Wales's Ball at Marlborough House, and I wrote to put off my engagements, for which I was much blamed; but I think that I was right.'
For three or four days Sir Henry James, Mr. Chamberlain, and Mr. J. B. Balfour, the Lord Advocate of Mr. Gladstone's Ministry, moved to secure a court of inquiry which would act without prejudice to the right of legal action. But within the week it was certain that public proceedings would be taken.
The blow had come suddenly; it came with dramatic incidence at the moment when Sir Charles's prestige was most effectively recognized; and from the moment that it fell he knew that the whole tenor of his life was altered. On Thursday, July 23rd, four days afterwards, he wrote in his Diary of the time this judgment:
'Left for the last time the House of Commons, where I have attained some distinction. It is curious that only a week ago Chamberlain and I had agreed, at his wish and suggestion, that I should be the future leader, as being more popular in the House, though less in the country, than he was, and that only three days ago Mr. Gladstone had expressed the same wish. Such a charge, even if disproved, which is not easy against perjured evidence picked up with care, is fatal to supreme usefulness in politics. In the case of a public man a charge is always believed by many, even though disproved, and I should be weighted by it through life. I prefer, therefore, at once to contemplate leaving public life.'
Upon the first sentence of this he added in a marginal note, written after his marriage with Mrs. Mark Pattison, and after he had, in spite of that first decision, returned to the House of Commons: 'Chamberlain overpersuaded Emilia, and, through her, me, but he was wrong.'
Of honourable ambition Sir Charles Dilke had as much as any man. Yet in the innermost record of these days—in those letters which, not yet daring to despatch them, he wrote to his future wife—there is not a hint of his personal loss, not a word of the career that he saw broken. These things had no place in the rush of feeling which overwhelmed him, and left him for the moment unable to trust his own judgment or assert his own will.
Through the months of Mrs. Pattison's absence in India one note had been constant in his letters—the reiterated anticipation of what he hoped to bring her. Up to the middle of July his letters, apart from the news of his daily life, are filled with joyful forecast, not of his own happiness, but of his and hers together—of his happiness in seeing her happy. When the stroke fell, the note, even though it changed, was the same in essence: 'I feel this may kill you—and it will kill me either if it kills you or if you don't believe me.'
That was written down within an hour after he had the news. Never afterwards did he consider the possibility of her failing him.
The next day he wrote:
'Taplow Court, Taplow, July 20th.
'The only thing I can do in future is to devote myself entirely to you and helping in your work. To that the remainder of my life must be dedicated. I fancy you will have the courage to believe me whatever is by madness and malevolence brought against me....'
He wrote again:
'The less you turn from me, and the more you are true—and of course you will be all true ... —the more misery and not the less is it to me to bring these horrors on you. This thing is not true, but none the less do I bring these horrors on you.'
So desperate was the tumult in Sir Charles Dilke's mind that Mr. Chamberlain strove to tranquillize him by a change of scene. Some spot, such as is to be found in Sir Charles's own holiday land of Provence, at first occurred to his friend, though this would have meant the cancelling of all Mr. Chamberlain's public engagements at that most critical moment in politics. But Sir Charles instead went down to Highbury, where he passed his days much in the open air, playing lawn tennis and riding with his host's son, Mr Austen Chamberlain.
Here he rapidly came back to something of his normal self. As news had been telegraphed of Mrs. Pattison's gradual recovery, it was decided to inform her of what had happened. Mr. Chamberlain undertook the delicate task of wording the communications. She telegraphed back at once that full assurance of her trust and of her loyalty on which Sir Charles had counted. But it was characteristic of her not to stop there. A telegram from Mrs. Pattison to the Times announcing her engagement to Sir Charles Dilke immediately followed on public intimation of the proceedings for divorce. Lord Granville wrote to Sir Charles: 'I wish you joy most sincerely. The announcement says much for the woman whom you have chosen.'
Yet days were to come when the storm was so fierce about Sir Charles Dilke and 'the woman whom he had chosen' that few cared to face it in support of the accused man and the wife who had claimed her share in his destiny.
When those days came, they found no broken spirit to meet them. Through his affections, and only through his affections, this man could be driven out of his strongholds of will and judgment; when that inner life was assured, he faced the rest with equanimity. He writes:
'August 28th.—I continue to be much better in health and spirit. I was five and a half weeks more or less knocked over; I am strong and well, and really happy in you and for you, and confident and all that you could wish me to be these last few days.'
Mrs. Pattison, before she left Ceylon on her way to England, sent him a telegram, the reply to which was written to meet her at Port Said: 'Nothing ever made me so happy.... Though it has been a frightful blow, I am well now; and the blow was only a blow to me because of you.'
At first sympathy and support were proffered in ample measure. On being formally notified of proceedings in the divorce case, he wrote at once a letter to the Liberal Association of Chelsea, in which he declared that the charge against him was untrue and that he looked forward with confidence to the result of a judicial inquiry; but at the same time he offered to withdraw his candidature for the seat at the forthcoming election, if the Council thought him in the circumstances an undesirable candidate. To this offer the Council replied by reiterating their confidence in him. About the same time, yielding to Chamberlain's advice, he returned to the House of Commons while the Housing Bill was in Committee, and took part in the proceedings as usual.
The Prince of Wales, to whom he communicated news of his engagement before the public announcement, wrote warm congratulations and wishes for dispersal of the overhanging trouble. Mr. Gladstone, who had frequent occasion to write to him on public business, in one of these political letters added congratulations on the engagement, though he had made no allusion to the Divorce Court proceedings. But Mr. Gladstone's chief private secretary, Sir Edward Hamilton, had written at the first publication of them this assurance:
'You may depend upon it that your friends (among whom I hope I may be counted) are feeling for you and will stand by you; and, if I am not mistaken, I believe your constituents will equally befriend you; indeed, I am convinced that the masses are much more fair and just than the upper classes. Anything that interfered with your political career would not only be a political calamity, but a national one; and I do not for a moment think that any such interference need be apprehended.'
This letter represented the attitude that was generally observed towards Sir Charles Dilke by political associates till after the first trial.
Mr. Chamberlain's support was unwavering, though there were some who anticipated that the misfortunes of the one man might disastrously affect the political career of the other.
It is true that by the amazing irony of fate which interpenetrated this whole situation the Tories gained in Mr. Chamberlain their most powerful ally, and that Sir Charles had to encounter all the accumulated prejudice which the 'unauthorized programme' had gathered in Tory bosoms. But none of these things could be foreseen when Chamberlain, then in the full flood of his Radical propaganda, invited Sir Charles to make his temporary home at Highbury. Here, accordingly, he stayed on through August and the early part of September, breaking his stay only by two short absences. There still lived on at Chichester old Mr. Dilke's brother, a survivor of the close-knit family group, preserving the same intense affectionate interest in Charles Dilke's career. To him this blow was mortal. Sir Charles paid him in the close of August his yearly visit: ten days later he was recalled to attend the old man's funeral in the Cathedral cloisters.
In the middle of September he crossed to France, and waited at Saint Germain for Mrs. Pattison, who reached Paris in the last days of the month. On October 1st Sir Charles crossed to London; she followed the next day, and on the 3rd they were married at Chelsea Parish Church. Mr. Chamberlain acted as best man.
Return to England meant a return to work. The General Election was fixed for November; and from August onwards Dilke had been drawn back by correspondents and by consultations with Chamberlain into the stream of politics, which then ran broken and turbulent with eddies and cross- currents innumerable. Chamberlain, sustaining alone the advanced campaign, wrote even before the marriage to solicit help at the earliest moment; and from October onwards the two Radicals were as closely associated as ever—but with a difference. Circumstances had begun the work of Sir Charles's effacement.
When the election came, his success was personal; London went against the Liberals, his old colleague Mr. Firth failed, so did Mr. George Russell in another part of the borough, which was now split into several constituencies; but Chelsea itself stood to its own man. The elections were over on December 19th. Before that date it was apparent that the Irish party held the balance of power, and Mr. Gladstone had already indicated his acceptance of Home Rule. [Footnote: Chapter XLV., p. 196.]
Parliament met early, and by January 28th, 1886, the Tory Government had resigned. Mr. Gladstone, in framing his new Administration, thought it impossible to include a man suffering under a charge yet untried, and wrote:
'February 2nd, 1886
'My Dear Dilke,
'I write you, on this first day of my going regularly to my arduous work, to express my profound regret that any circumstances of the moment should deprive me of the opportunity and the hope of enlisting on behalf of a new Government the great capacity which you have proved in a variety of spheres and forms for rendering good and great service to Crown and country.
'You will understand how absolutely recognition on my part of an external barrier is separate from any want of inward confidence, the last idea I should wish to convey.
'Nor can I close without fervently expressing to you my desire that there may be reserved you a long and honourable career of public distinction.
'Believe me always,
'W. E. Gladstone.'
Less than a fortnight later the divorce case was heard: the charge against Sir Charles was dismissed with costs, the Judge saying expressly that there was no case for him to answer.
The Prime Minister's attitude made it inevitable that while the case was untried Sir Charles should be excluded from the new Ministry; but not less inevitably his position before the world was prejudiced by that exclusion. Had Parliament met, as it usually meets, in February; had the whole thing so happened that the judgment had been given before the Ministry came to be formed, exclusion would have been all but impossible. We may take it that Mr. Chamberlain would have insisted on Sir Charles's inclusion as a condition of his own adherence; it would have been to the interest of every Gladstonian and of every follower of Chamberlain to maintain the judgment. As it was, the effect of Sir Charles's exclusion had been to prepare the way for a vehement campaign directed against him by a section of the Press.
By the law a wife's confession of misconduct is evidence against herself, entitling the husband to a divorce; but if unsupported by other witnesses it is no evidence against the co-respondent. But a question arose which afterwards became of capital importance. Should Sir Charles go into the witness-box, deny on oath the unsworn charges made against him, and submit himself to cross-examination? His counsel decided that there was no evidence to answer; they did not put their client into the box, and the course was held by the Judge to be the correct one.
In reply to the Attorney-General's representation that there was no case whatever which Sir Charles Dilke was called to answer, Mr. Justice Butt said that he could not see the shadow of a case. In his judgment he said: 'A statement such as has been made by the respondent in this case is not one of those things which in common fairness ought for one moment to be weighed in the balance against a person in the position of Sir Charles Dilke. Under these circumstances, I have no hesitation whatever in saying that counsel have been well advised in suggesting the course which they have induced Sir Charles Dilke to take, and the petition, as against him, must be dismissed with costs.'
Dilke himself notes: 'On Friday, February 12th, the trial took place, and lasted but a short time, Sir Henry James and Sir Charles Russell not putting me into the box, and Sir Charles Butt almost inviting them to take that course. Lord Granville had written to me: "Will you forgive my intruding two words of advice? Put yourself unreservedly into the hands of someone who, like our two law officers, unites sense with knowledge of the law." I had done this, and had throughout acted entirely through James, Russell, and Chamberlain. In court and during the remainder of the day, Chamberlain, James, and Russell, were triumphant....'
For the moment it seemed as if misfortune had ended in triumph. Congratulations poured in upon both Sir Charles and his wife; the official leaders welcomed the judgment. Mr. Chamberlain sent an express message to Downing Street: 'Case against Dilke dismissed with costs, but the petitioner has got his divorce against his wife.' Mr. Gladstone answered: 'My dear Chamberlain, I have received your prompt report with the utmost pleasure.' Sir William Harcourt wrote direct:
'Dear Dilke,—So glad to hear of the result and of your relief from your great trouble.—Yours ever, W. V. H.'
Lady Dilke's friends wrote to her, congratulating her on the reward that her courage and her loyalty had reaped.
But in Sir Charles's Diary of that date, where notes of any personal character are few indeed, this is written on the day after the case was heard, in comment on the action of a certain section of the Press:
'Renewed attempt to drive me out of public life. But I won't go now. In July I said to Emilia and to Chamberlain: "Here is the whole truth—and I am an innocent man; but let me go out quietly, and some day people will be sorry and I shall recover a different sort of usefulness." They would not let me go. Now I won't go.'
A man other than innocent would have rested on the strong judgment in his favour and let agitation die down, but the attacks continued and Dilke would not wait their passing. Chamberlain was included in these attacks, 'for having kept me out of the box,' and wrote in reply to Sir Charles: 'I was only too glad to be able in any way to share your burdens, and if I can act as a lightning conductor, so much the better.... Of course, if you were quite clear that you ought to go into the box, it is still possible to do so, either by action for libel or probably by intervention of the Queen's Proctor.'
'This was the first suggestion made to me of any possibility of a rehearing of the case ... and though Hartington, James, and Russell, were all under the impression that I should find no further difficulty, it was the course which I ultimately took,' and which he pressed on with characteristic tenacity. And here laymen may be permitted to marvel at the fallibility of eminent lawyers. 'No one, of all these great lawyers,' foresaw the position in which he would be placed as a result of his application. Yet from the moment that this procedure was adopted it was possible that he might be judged without those resources of defence which are open to the meanest subject charged with an offence.
In March Sir Charles Dilke applied to the Queen's Proctor for his intervention in order that the case might be reheard. The application failed. In April he moved again, this time by a public letter, and this time the Queen's Proctor yielded. Application was made in the Court of Probate and Divorce to the President, Sir James Hannen, that Sir Charles Dilke should be made a party to the intervention or reinstated in the suit.
The President laid down that Sir Charles was no party to the suit, and had now no right to appear except as a witness, and might not be represented by counsel. The question was then taken to the Court of Appeal, but, on strictly technical grounds, the Court held that Sir Charles was no longer a party, and that he could not be allowed to intervene. Thus the first judgment, by declaring him innocent and awarding him costs as one unjustly accused, led straight to his undoing. He had been struck out of the case; he was now a mere member of the general public. There never were, probably, legal proceedings in which from first to last law and justice were more widely asunder.
Sir Charles Dilke was, in fact, in the position from which Sir Henry James had sought to protect him—the position described in the course of his pleading for reinstatement:
'I have no desire to put forward any claim for my client other than one founded on justice, but I cannot imagine a more cruel position than that in which Sir Charles Dilke would be placed in having a grave charge against him tried while the duty of defending his interest was committed to hands other than those of his own advisers.'
The consequences which flowed from the technical construction put upon the situation were these: In reality Sir Charles Dilke was the defendant on trial for his political life and his personal honour. Yet although Sir Henry James and Sir Charles Russell were there in court ready briefed, neither was allowed to speak. Dilke's case against his accuser had to be dealt with by the counsel for the Queen's Proctor, Sir Walter Phillimore, who, though a skilled ecclesiastical lawyer, was comparatively inexperienced in the cross-examination of witnesses and in Nisi Prius procedure, and was opposed by Mr. Henry Matthews, the most skilled cross-examiner at the bar. Sir Walter Phillimore also stated publicly, and properly, that it was not his 'duty to represent and defend Sir Charles Dilke.' So strictly was this view acted upon that Sir Charles did not once meet Sir Walter Phillimore in consultation; and witnesses whom he believed to be essential to his case were never called. But that was not all. According to the practice of that court, all the information given by Dilke was at once communicated to the other side; but as Sir Charles was not a party to the suit, the Queen's Proctor did not communicate to him what he learned from that other side.
In an ordinary trial the witnesses of the accusers are heard first. And this order is recognized as giving the greatest prospect of justice, since if the defence is first disclosed the accuser may adjust details in the charge so as, at the last moment, to deprive the defence of that fair-play which the first order of hearing is designed to secure. The only possible disproof which Sir Charles could offer was an alibi. It was of vital importance to him that the accusation should be fixed to dates, places, days, hours, even minutes, with the utmost possible precision. Then he might, even after the lapse of years, establish the falsity of a charge by proof that he was elsewhere at the time specified. But in this case, owing to the form that the proceedings took, the opportunity which of right belongs to the defence was given to the accuser. The accusation being technically brought by the Queen's Proctor, who alleged that the divorce had been obtained by false evidence, Sir Charles Dilke was produced as his witness, and had at the beginning of the proceedings to disclose his defence.
Further, and even more important, the issue put to the jury was limited in the most prejudicial way.
'On the former occasion,' said Sir James Hannen, 'it was for the petitioner to prove that his wife had committed adultery with Sir Charles Dilke.' (This, as has been seen, the petitioner failed to prove against Sir Charles Dilke; the petitioner had to pay Sir Charles's costs.) 'On this occasion it is for the Queen's Proctor to prove that the respondent did not commit adultery with Sir Charles Dilke.'
How this negative was to be proved in any circumstances it is difficult to see, and under the conditions Sir Charles had no chance to attack the accusation brought against him.
Sir Charles's own comment in his Diary of the time was:
'July 16th—My case tried again. I not a party, and—though really tried by a kind of Star Chamber—not represented, not allowed to cross-examine, not allowed to call witnesses; and under such circumstances the trial could have but one result, which was that the jury, directed to decide if they were in doubt that the Queen's Proctor had not established his case, would take that negative course. The trial lasted from Friday, 16th, to Friday, 23rd, inclusive, and the jury decided, as they could not have helped deciding, and as I should have decided had I been one of them.'
The situation may be thus summed up:
In the first trial the petitioner failed to produce any legal evidence whatever of the guilt of Sir Charles Dilke; in the second the Queen's Proctor failed to prove his innocence. [Footnote: Technically the verdict, by dismissing the Queen's Proctor's intervention, confirmed the original judgment, which dismissed Sir Charles from the case.]
The verdict of the jury at the second trial was not a verdict of Guilty against Sir Charles; it was a declaration that his innocence was not proven, the question put to the Jury by the clerk after their return into Court following the words of the Act of Parliament, and being whether the decree nisi for the dissolution of the marriage of the petitioner and the respondent was obtained contrary to the justice of the case by reason of material facts not being brought to the knowledge of the Court. The Jury's answer followed the same words. [Footnote: See report in Daily News, Saturday, July 24th, 1886.] When we add to that the conditions under which the question was tried, we see that they were such as to make the proof of innocence impossible.
Those about Sir Charles at this time remember how even at that bitter moment he began to look round for any method by which his case might be reheard. He wrote to Sir Henry James that it would be a proper course for himself to invite a trial for perjury; and though Lady Dilke was so ill 'from sick and sleepless nights' that she had been ordered at once to Royat, he waited for three weeks before accompanying her abroad, to give time for action to be taken, and wrote to Sir Richard Webster (then Attorney-General) practically inviting a prosecution.
He did not abandon hope of a rehearing, and worked for many years in the trust that the evidence accumulated by himself and his friends might be so used, nor did he cease his efforts till counsel in consultation finally assured him 'that no means were open to Sir Charles Dilke to retry his case.'
Sir Eyre Crowe, a friend valued for his own as well as for his father's sake (Sir Joseph Crowe, to whom Sir Charles was much attached), wrote at the time of Sir Charles's death: 'How he bore for long years the sorrow and misfortunes of his lot had something heroic about it. I only once talked to him about these things, and was intensely struck by his Roman attitude.' It was the only attitude possible to such a man. Placed by his country's laws in the situation of one officially acquitted by a decision which was interpreted into a charge of guilt; forced then, in defence of his honour, into the position of a defendant who is debarred from means of defence; assured after long effort that no legal means were open to him to attempt again that defence, he solemnly declared his innocence, and was thereafter silent.
'By-and-by it will be remembered that as a fact the issue was never fairly represented and never fairly met,' was the estimate of Sir Francis Jeune, afterwards President of the Divorce Court. And from the first there were many lawyers and thinking men and women who would have endorsed it. From the first also there were those who believed Sir Charles's word. Among such faithful friends, Lord Edmond Fitzmaurice, Sir Robert Collins, Mr. Cyril Flower, Mrs. Westlake and Mr. Westlake, Q.C., Mr. Thursfield of the Times, Mr. Chamberlain, Sir Francis and Lady Jeune, Sir Charles's old college friend Judge Steavenson, stand out in memory. He himself says: 'I received after the trial ... a vast number of letters from people who wrote to express their belief in me. Some, as, for example, from Dr. Hatch' (the eminent Oxford theologian) 'and his wife, and from Dr. Percival, Head-master of Rugby, [Footnote: Dr. Percival was President of Trinity College, Oxford, till 1887, when he went to Rugby. He became Bishop of Hereford.] and his wife, were from firm friends of Emilia, brought to me by their belief in her; some from friends, some from political foes, of all sorts—all breathing confidence and devotion.'
Mr. Chamberlain wrote: 'I feel bitterly my powerlessness to do or say anything useful at the present time.' In such a case the testimony of intimates is weighty, and Sir John Gorst sent in June, 1913, his recollection of words used by Mr. Chamberlain in the autumn of 1886: 'I assure you that, as a man of honour, I don't believe the charges made against him. If you had been in and out of his house at all times as I have been, you would see they were impossible.'
Then as now there existed a certain body of opinion which would have discriminated between a man's private honour and his public usefulness, holding that the nation which throws aside a great public servant because of charges of personal immorality is confusing issues, and sacrificing the country's welfare to private questions. Whatever is to be said for this view, it was one to which Sir Charles Dilke wished to owe nothing. He did not share it, and those whose adherence he acknowledged were those who believed his word. From different sources, then, Sir Charles had found confidence and support, but they were small stay in that gradually accumulating torrent of misfortune.
As the Press campaign had developed in the spring, he found himself avoided in Parliament and in society. In the House, where a few months before he had again and again been the Government spokesman and representative, he was retired into the ranks of private members. This short Parliament of 1886 came to an end in June, and, in the General Election which followed, London went solidly against Home Rule; and Sir Charles, though as compared with other Gladstonian Liberals he did well, found himself rejected by the constituency which had stood by him in four contests. Such a reverse occurs in the life of almost every prominent politician, and, though harassing, is of no determining import. For Sir Charles Dilke at this moment it was a cruel blow. The personal discredit against which he had to fight coincided with the discredit of his party; and when the jury came to their decision in July, after a week in which the newspapers had been filled daily with columns of scandalous detail, public feeling assumed a character of bitter personal hostility.
'Sir Charles's fall,' says the chronicler of that period, Mr. Justin McCarthy, 'is like that of a tower. He stood high above every rising English statesman, and but for what has happened he must have been Prime Minister after Gladstone.' [Footnote: This article appeared in a Canadian journal after the second trial.]
THE RADICAL PROGRAMME VERSUS HOME RULE
JULY TO DECEMBER, 1885.
[Footnote: This chapter and the next cover the same dates as the preceding chapter, which contains the record of other than political events, while these deal with the political history of the time.]
The period between July, 1885, and July, 1886, determined the course of English history for a generation. At the beginning of this period, Sir Charles Dilke was one of the three men on the Liberal side who, after Mr. Gladstone, counted most, and he commanded more general approval than either Chamberlain or Hartington. But from the first rumour of his personal misfortune his influence rapidly dwindled; when the period closed, many of those who had been his political associates had left him, and from Mr. Chamberlain, in political life, he was irretrievably sundered.
In July, 1885, the much-talked-of visit of the Radical leaders to Ireland was abandoned, owing, it appears, to the change in Sir Charles's personal fortunes. Meanwhile the first-fruits of the Tory alliance with Parnellism had begun to appear, and on July 21st Mr. Gladstone had made, as has been seen, [Footnote: See p.158] a powerful appeal to his Radical colleagues for support of Lord Spencer—addressing it, after his invariable custom, to Dilke. It was the last time that he did so, and he wrote then without knowledge of the blow which had already fallen on Sir Charles.
In the end Mr. Gladstone's appeal was disregarded, and, when Lord Spencer's policy was assailed in the House, the Press noted the significant absence of Dilke and Chamberlain from the front bench. It would have been more significant had not Sir Charles been then engrossed with his personal concerns. Not until the last days of August was he 'sufficiently recovered from the blow to be able to take some interest in politics'; and then it was merely to take an interest, not to take a part. Yet already the crucial question for Liberal policy had begun to define itself.
On August 24th, Parnell, speaking in Ireland, declared that the one plank in Ireland's platform was National independence. In reply, Lord Hartington, speaking at Waterfoot in Lancashire, declared his confidence that no British party would concede Parnell's demand. But Lord Hartington did not confine his speech to this
'A speech by Hartington in Lancashire read to Chamberlain and myself like a declaration of war against the unauthorized programme and its author; and when Rosebery wrote to me to congratulate me on my coming marriage, I replied in this sense. I had a good deal of correspondence with James as to what should be the nature of Chamberlain's reply at Warrington on Tuesday, September 8th, James trying to patch up things: "The ransom theory [Footnote: Mr. Chamberlain on January 29th, 1885, at Birmingham: "I hold that the sanctity of public property is greater than even that of private property, and that, if it has been lost or wasted or stolen, some equivalent must be found for it, and some compensation may fairly be exacted from the wrongdoer." See Chapter XXXVIII., p. 105.] startled a good many people, and dissent from it was to be expected. But surely such dissent does not cause a man to be unfit to be in the Liberal ranks...." James also sent me a memorandum from which I extracted the following sentence: "If it be once introduced as an admitted principle that no man can take office without stipulating for the success of every question to which he may have given a support, and if every man in Government is to be bound to reject all concessions to those with whom he has on any point ever differed, the practical constitution of this country would be overthrown...." On September 5th Chamberlain had received a letter from Harcourt which I afterwards considered with him "I set store by your declaration that you will try to be as moderate as you can. You have no idea how moderate you can be till you try. I am not the least despondent about the state of affairs. The Liberal party has a Pentecostian gift of tongues, and the Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and others, require to have the gospel preached to them in very different languages.... I suppose that Bosebery reported to you his phrase that 'he had expressed himself on the land question more clumsily even than usual!' It is impossible to be angry with such frankness...."'
Lord Rosebery had written at the same time to Sir Charles that the real trouble arose from 'clumsiness of arrangement,' and quoted Lord Hartington's words as accepting this view.
'John Morley wrote also on September 4th to Chamberlain that Goschen was rather wrathful that Hartington should be so slow and infrequent in speaking while he, Chamberlain, was so active, but that he did not believe Hartington meant war.'
None adverted to the difficulty, which was nevertheless the central one, of reaching an agreement concerning an Irish policy. Mr. Morley was right when he said that there was not going to be 'war' in the Liberal party over questions of English reform. The question which was to split the party was Ireland, and Chamberlain in his Warrington speech joined Hartington in repudiating Parnell's demand. But Mr. Chamberlain saw what Lord Hartington did not, that a Liberal party must have a positive policy, and his conception of a Liberal policy during these months was to force the pace on social questions and leave Ireland alone.
At these critical moments of August and September, 1885, Sir Charles was a guest in Mr. Chamberlain's house, and was in consultation with him; but it was a consultation to which one of the two brought a mind preoccupied with his own most vital concerns. Scarcely a month had gone by since the petition had been filed, in July, 1885; much less than a month since he had been on the very edge of a complete breakdown. He had been dragged back, almost against his will and against his judgment, into political life by that imperious personality with which he had been so long associated in equal comradeship. Under the old conditions Sir Charles and Mr. Chamberlain would have inevitably influenced each other's action, and it is at least possible that Sir Charles's gift for bringing men together and concentrating on essentials might have altered the whole course of events. But it is clear, from what followed later, that under the conditions which existed there was no thorough discussion between them, since the line which Sir Charles took on Ireland when the dividing of the ways came was a surprise to his friend.
'On September 10th, 1885, there came a letter from Mr. Gladstone, addressed to Chamberlain and myself. Chamberlain replied, after consultation, in our joint names.'
They developed their views as to their programme of English as distinct from Irish reforms.
'Mr. Gladstone wished to issue an address (to his constituents with a view to the General Election), and had got Hartington to ask him to do so, and he now wanted us also to ask him. We stipulated that we must have (1) power to local authorities to take land for housing, allotments, and so forth, and (2) free schools: otherwise, while we could not object to his issuing his own address, we could not offer to support or join a future Government.'
'On the 15th Chamberlain wrote to me to Paris that he gathered Mr. G. intended to issue immediately, without waiting his reply.'
He would write, however, asking for further allusions to compulsory powers for taking land, and asked Sir Charles to write direct about registration.
On September 20th Mr. Chamberlain wrote again, enclosing a copy of his letter to Mr. Gladstone, and stating his opinion that the manifesto was bad, and that he regarded it, especially the part referring to free schools and education, [Footnote: Mr. Gladstone was never at any time in harmony with the views of the more advanced section of his own party on education. See the account of the curious controversy between him and Lord Russell during the last days of the latter's leadership of the Liberal party (Life of Granville, vol. i., pp. 516, 517).] as a slap in the face to himself and Sir Charles. He added that he had written frankly to Mr. Gladstone, telling him that he was dissatisfied, and expressed his opinion that Mr. Gladstone would give way, and that his reign could not last long. Through the somewhat involved phraseology of Mr. Gladstone's letter, it seemed possible to extract some hope in regard to extra powers for local authorities, and a revision of taxation in favour of the working classes. He concluded by saying that if his party could get a majority, he would make their terms on joining the Government, and regretting that Sir Charles was not still staying with him.
The letter to Mr. Gladstone spoke of the manifesto as a blow to the Radical party, and went on to say that, in the event of the Liberal party returning in full power to office, he would offer loyal support, as far as possible, to any Government that might be formed, but that the joining any Administration formed on the narrow basis of the programme now presented would be impossible. It ended with the words: 'Dilke has left me, but, from a letter I have received from him, I am justified in saying that he shares my views.'
'I told Chamberlain that in my first speech (and I had two to make shortly after my proposed marriage in October) I intended to attack Reform of the House of Lords from the Single Chamber point of view.'
He replied urging Sir Charles to give this question prominence and importance, and to do so in the name of the Radical Party, as expressing their policy, for fear that even Radical candidates should be under some misapprehension. He also authorized him to use his (Mr. Chamberlain's) name, as concurring in the views expressed.
'On the 25th I received a letter from Chamberlain containing Mr. Gladstone's reply:
'"My Dear Chamberlain,
'"Were I engaged (which Heaven forfend) in the formation of a new Liberal Government, and were your letter of yesterday an answer to some invitation to join it, then I should have read the letter with great regret; but I pointed out to you (as I think), in a previous letter, that it would (as far as I could judge) be an entire mistake to lay down a credo of Liberal policy for a new Government at the present juncture. You and Hartington were both demurring in opposite senses, and I made to each the same reply. My aim was for the election only, in giving form to my address. As to what lies beyond, I suppose the party will, so far as it has a choice, set first about the matters on which it is agreed. But no one is bound to this proposition.
'"Bright once said, with much force and sense, that the average opinion of the party ought to be the rule of immediate action.
'"It is likely that there may be a split in the party in the far or middle distance, but I shall have nothing to do with it, and you, I am sure, do not wish to anticipate it or force it on. What I have said may, I hope, mitigate any regret such as you seem to intimate.
'"I am at present busy on private affairs and papers, to which for six years past I have hardly given one continuous hour. Later on I should like much to explain to you my personal views and intentions in conversation. It would be difficult to do so in writing. They turn very much upon Ireland—the one imperial question that seems at present possible to be brought into immediate view. But, for Liberals generally, I should have thought that there was work enough for three or four years on which they might all agree. So far as my observation and correspondence go, I have not found that non-Whig opinion is offended.
'"Sincerely yours, '"W. E. Gladstone.
'"P.S.—A letter received from Dilke speaks pleasingly about the address.
'"I may say that I was quite unconscious of interfering with your present view, which I understood to be that none of your advanced proposals were to be excluded, but all left open for discussion.—W. E. G."
'On the passage with regard to Ireland I noted: "He means that he would go on as Prime Minister if he could see his way to carry the larger Local Government (Ireland) scheme, and not otherwise." But he meant more.'
Sir Charles also wrote suggesting that Mr. Chamberlain should, in his correspondence with Mr. Gladstone, go into the question of the Whig composition of Liberal Cabinets, and the latter promised 'to say just what you suggest.'
Those who occupied the centre position in the Liberal party were bewildered by divided counsels.
'On September 28th I received from Chamberlain a letter enclosing one from Harcourt.... He (Harcourt) dwelt upon the delicacy of Mr. Gladstone's position. "He (Mr. Gladstone) says, if he is not wanted, he will 'cut out,' and he doubts, I think, if either you or Hartington want him. But I hope in this he is mistaken; for he is wanted, and neither section can do without him.... When I spoke at Plymouth I knew nothing of the contents of his address, nor indeed, that it was about to appear so soon, though, oddly enough, it came out the next day. I therefore spoke like a cat in walnut shells, and had, like a man who makes a miss at billiards, to 'play for safety.' I am quite with you on the subject of the acquisition of land by local authorities, and also on free education, which seem to be your two sine qua nons. As to what you say about remaining outside a new Liberal Government, forgive me for saying that is all nonsense. If a Liberal Government cannot be formed with you and Dilke, it certainly cannot be formed without you. You have acquired the right and the power to make your own conditions, and I am sure they will be reasonable ones."'
Sir William Harcourt omitted to consider the possibility of a Government being formed—as actually happened—while the charges against Sir Charles were still untried. Politically, he made an omission which was less natural; once more there is no reference to the Irish problem and its effect. Yet in Mr. Gladstone's mind it was daily becoming more insistent.
'On September 28th Chamberlain wrote enclosing a letter from Mr. Gladstone, and his reply:
'"My Dear Chamberlain,
'"I felt well pleased and easy after receiving your note of the 21st, but there is a point I should like to put to you with reference to your self-denying ordinance making the three points conditions of office.
'"Suppose Parnell to come back eighty to ninety strong, to keep them together, to bring forward a plan which shall contain in your opinion adequate securities for the union of the Empire, and to press this plan, under whatever name, as having claims to precedence (claims which could hardly be denied even by opponents), do you think no Government should be formed to promote such a plan, unless the three points were glued on to it at the same time? Do you not think you would do well to reserve elbow-room for a case like this? I hope you will not think my suggestion—it is not a question— captious and a man-trap. It is meant in a very different sense. A Liberal majority is assumed in it.
'"Yours sincerely, '"W. E. Gladstone."'
When that letter reached Highbury, Sir Charles was in France, awaiting Mrs. Pattison's arrival from India. Mr. Chamberlain's reply was written without consultation on September 28th. In it he said that he had assumed that Local Government would be the first work of a Liberal Government, and that Bills for the three countries would be brought in together. Mr. Parnell's change of front would, he thought, have limited the proposals to the establishment of County Councils, with certain powers for the acquisition of land by Local Authorities. He thought it unlikely that Parnell would bring forward a scheme that any Liberal Government could support; but if he did, he would do all he could to assist the Government in dealing with it, whether from inside or outside the Cabinet.
Chamberlain further urged Dilke to lay stress on the determination of his party not to be 'mere lay figures in a Cabinet of Goschens.' He regarded his party as indispensable, and if the Government tried to do without them, they were determined to make trouble. He expressed an earnest wish that Sir Charles Dilke could be working with them; but he did not press this at the moment, if Sir Charles was taking a holiday after his marriage.
Dilke took the briefest of holidays; on October 6th, three days after his wedding, he spoke at Chelsea. After dwelling at length on Chamberlain's proposal to give powers of compulsory land purchase to local authorities, he asked for the widest form of elective self- government for Ireland consistent with the integrity of the Empire, [Footnote: 'In my individual opinion, the natural crowning stone of any large edifice of local government must sooner or later be some such elective Local Government Board for each of the three principal parts of the United Kingdom and for the Principality of Wales, as I have often sketched out to you. As regards Ireland, we all of us here, I think, agree that the widest form of elective self-government should be conferred which is consistent with the integrity of the Empire. No one can justify the existence of the nominated official Boards which at present attempt to govern Ireland. I care not whether the Irish people are or are not at the moment willing to accept the changes we have to propose. If the present system is as indefensible as I think it, we should propose them all the same. If they are not at first accepted, our scheme will at least be seen and weighed, and we shall be freed from the necessity of appearing to defend a system which is obnoxious to every Liberal principle. I would ask you to remember some words in Mr. Ruskin's chapter on "The Future of England," in his Crown of Wild Olive, which are very applicable to the situation:—"In Ireland, especially, a vicious system has been so long maintained that it has become impossible to give due support to the cause of order without seeming to countenance injury." The bodies which would deal with education, with private Bills, with provisional order Bills, and with appeals from local authorities in matters too large for county treatment, in Wales and Scotland and England itself, if I had my way, as well as in Ireland, would, I believe, make the future government of the United Kingdom, as a United Kingdom, more easy than it is at present.'] and went on to assume that the first session of the new Parliament would be 'a Local Government session.' In the following week 'I made an important speech at Halifax on Local Government which attracted much attention.' 'Halifax will be all Local Government,' he wrote to Mr. Frank Hill, 'which is necessary, as it is clear that Balfour and Salisbury have cribbed my last year's Bill.'
'I may note here that on October 6th, at my Chelsea meeting, George Russell told me that he had on the previous day induced Mr. Gladstone to send for Chamberlain to Hawarden. On October 7th Chamberlain wrote:
'"My Dear Dilke,
'"I was sent for here, but up to now I do not know why.... My present object is to say that you made a capital speech, and that I approve every word of it except the part about London Government. But as to this I suppose that Londoners must have their way and their own form of municipal government though I doubt if it will not prove a fatal gift. Why will the papers invent differences between you and me? I verily believe that if I spoke your speech, and you spoke mine, they would still find the distinguishing characteristics of each speaker unchanged. I thought your last part admirable and just what I should have said. Yet the Standard thinks it quite a different note to the South London and Bradford speeches. Mr. G. thinks Mr. Parnell's last speech more satisfactory I confess I had not perceived the improvement. He (Mr. G.) is still very sweet on National Councils."
'On October 9th Chamberlain wrote:
'"I am not quite certain what was Mr. G.'s object in sending for me. I suppose he desired to minimize our conditions as far as possible. He was very pleasant and very well, with no apparent trace of his hoarseness. He spoke at considerable length on the Irish Question; said he was more than ever impressed with the advantages of the Central Council scheme, and had written strongly to that effect to Hartington. But I do not gather that he has any definite plan under present circumstances. He thought Parnell's last speech was more moderate (I confess I do not agree with him), and I suppose that if we get a majority his first effort will be to find a modus vivendi, and to enter into direct communications with this object.
'"As regards Radical programme I stuck to the terms of your speech, namely, first, compulsory powers for acquiring land to be inserted in the Local Government Bill. Second, freedom to speak and vote as we liked on questions of free schools. He boggled a good deal over this, and said it was very weakening to a Government; but I told him we could not honestly do less, and that I expected a large majority of Liberals were in favour of the proposal. We did not come to any positive conclusion, nor do I think that he has absolutely made up his mind, but the tone of the conversation implied that he was seeking to work with us, and had no idea of doing without us. At the close he spoke of his intention to give up the leadership soon after the new Parliament met. I protested, and said that if he did this our whole attitude would be changed, and we must and should ask from Hartington much larger concessions than we were prepared to accept from him. I expect the force of circumstances will keep him in his place till the end, though I believe he is sincerely anxious to be free."' [Footnote: Mr. Gladstone's account of this interview is to be found in Morley's Life of Gladstone, vol. iii., p. 224.]
On October 17th Chamberlain wrote 'on another letter of Mr. Gladstone's, which I do not possess:
'"I do not think it is wise to do anything about Mr G.'s letter on Ireland. I agree with your recollection of the matter. But Mr. G. is not far wrong, and we have our hands full of other things. The Irish business is not the first just now."
'About this time I was taken as arbitrator in a considerable number of disputed candidatures, in most of which I acted by myself, and in one, the Walworth case, with Chamberlain and John Morley.'
'I had been to see Manning, at his wish, with my wife, and he had spoken kindly about Chamberlain, on which I wrote to Chamberlain about him; and Chamberlain replied:
'"Our experience in the Irish Question has not been encouraging. We understood the Cardinal cordially to approve of my scheme of National Councils and to be ready to use his influence in any way to promote its acceptance. On our part we were prepared to press the question at any sacrifice, and to make the adoption of our scheme a condition of our membership of any future Government. And yet, when the time came to ask the Cardinal for his help, he refused categorically so small a matter as an introduction to the Irish Bishops, and, as I understood, on the ground that the Conservatives were in office. Would not the same influence prevail in the matter of education? Besides, I do not see what Cardinal Manning has to offer. The majority of English Catholics are Conservative, and no concession that it is in our power to make would secure their support for the Liberal party. I am therefore of opinion that the differences between us can only be decided by the constituencies."
'The Cardinal wrote concerning Chamberlain:
'"Mr. Chamberlain was good enough to send me his scheme for Local Government in Ireland, in which in the main I agree, and did all in my power to promote its acceptance. The Government went out, and you asked of me to promote what I called a 'Midlothian in Ireland,' under the eyes of the new Lord Lieutenant. (I wrote on this to Chamberlain: 'I answered this at the time and have done so again now.') Did Mr. Chamberlain understand my agreement with his scheme as carrying any consequences beyond that scheme or any solidarity in such an aggressive action against any party whatsoever in power?... In the matter in which he was courteous enough to make known his scheme to me, I have promoted it where and in ways he does not know."
'In a day or two there came another letter from Manning:
'"It is true you did disclaim a Midlothian; but I told you that I know my Irishmen too well, and believe that even Paul and Barnabas would have been carried away. Moreover, if you had been silent as fishes, the moral effect would have been a counter-move. Your humility does not admit this. So you must absolve me for my one word."'
Mr. Chamberlain commented in strong terms on the diplomatic methods of the great ecclesiastic. The 'countermove' implied that there had been a Tory move in the direction of Home Rule with a view to securing Irish support. Manning believed, as Mr. Gladstone also believed, that the Tories meant business; later it became clear that they had no constructive Irish policy at all. Yet the question grew daily more pressing.
'At the end of October Chamberlain wrote:
'"I had a note from Mr. G. this morning urging unity, and saying he had an instinct that Irish questions 'might elbow out all others.' This makes me uneasy. I hear from another source that he is trying to get Parnell's ideas in detail. It is no use."'
To Mr. Gladstone, Chamberlain wrote, on October 26th, that he could not see his way at all about Ireland. He emphasized his view that Ireland had better go altogether than the responsibilities of a nominal union be accepted, and that probably the majority of Liberals would not give more than English Local Government; and that, if possible, Irish and English Local Government should be dealt with together. Unless the principle of the acquisition of land by local authorities was accepted, neither he nor Dilke nor Morley, nor probably Lefevre, could join the Government.
The strife between Chamberlain and Hartington was maintained, and Mr. Gladstone interposed by a letter to the Chief Whip, in which he advised the intervention of Lord Granville in view of 'his great tact, prudence, and experience.' On November 5th Mr. Chamberlain wrote to Sir Charles, enclosing Mr. Gladstone's letter, and adding:
'Mr. G.'s is the most definite proof I have had yet that he does not mean to quarrel with us. Lord Granville has just been here. He told me nothing about Ireland, but I am convinced that Mr. Gladstone has been trying to make a treaty all to himself. It must fail.'
No such treaty was made, and on the eve of the General Election of November, 1885, Parnell issued an instruction that the Irish in England should vote Tory.
'On Tuesday, November 24th, our poll took place in Chelsea, and on Wednesday, November 25th, the count, which showed that I was returned, although only by a small majority.... The Irish had voted for Whitmore, the Conservative candidate, my opponent, in consequence of the issue at the last moment of the bill, "Mr. Parnell's order—Vote for the Conservative, Mr. Whitmore. Irishmen, do your duty and obey your leader."'
'I had been summoned by Chamberlain, who desired a meeting of our party within the party, in a letter in which he said:
'"It does not look as if the Tories would have the chance of doing much mischief; but I should much like them to be in for a couple of years before we try again, and then I should 'go for the Church.'"'
Dilke notes that Chamberlain was persuaded to drop this line of attack, on which he had already embarked. Disestablishment of the Church of England had proved to be anything but a good election cry; the ransom doctrine had not brought in more votes than it lost; and the 366 certain Liberal seats with twenty-six doubtful ones which Mr. Schnadhorst counted up at the end of October were now an illusion of the past. The election was generally taken as a set-back to the extreme Radicals.
'On Saturday, December 5th, we met at Highbury, and remained in council until Monday, December 7th. Mr. Gladstone, we were informed (that is Morley, Lefevre, and myself), had presented a Home Rule scheme to the Queen, who had shown it to Lord Salisbury, and Randolph Churchill had told Lady Dorothy Nevill, who had told Chamberlain, but no statement had been made by Mr. Gladstone to his former colleagues.'
BEGINNING OF THE HOME RULE SPLIT
DECEMBER, 1885, TO FEBRUARY, 1886
After the meeting of Radicals, December 5th to 7th, at Highbury, Sir Charles went back to London.
'On Wednesday, December 9th, I spoke at the Central Poor Law Conference.... I carried the assembly, which was one of Poor Law Guardians, and therefore Conservative, along with me in the opinion that it was desirable to elect directly the whole of the new bodies in local government, instead of having either a special representation of Magistrates or any system of indirect election or choice of Aldermen.'
He argued in the belief that the next session might still see a Tory Government in power. 'If the Conservatives propose a Local Government Bill,' he said at Chelsea, 'it will be our Local Government Bill which they will propose.' He notes: 'They proposed two-thirds of it, and carried one-third, in 1888.'
'At this moment, not knowing how far Mr. Gladstone was willing to go in the Home Rule direction, and that there was, therefore, any chance of his securing the real support of the Irish party, I was opposed to the attempt to turn out the Government and form a Liberal Administration resting on the support of a minority, and I spoke in that sense to my constituents. My view was that it would be disastrous to advanced Liberalism to form a Government resting on a minority, as it would be impossible to carry any legislation not of a Conservative type.'
'Chamberlain wrote to me on December 15th, with regard to one of my speeches, that I was too polite to the Tories. "This," he added, "is where I never err."
'On December 18th I received some copies of important letters. Mr. Gladstone's scheme had got out on the 16th, [Footnote: Lord Morley's Life of Gladstone, vol. iii., pp. 264,265, shows that the "scheme got out" owing to Sir Charles Dilke's speech to his constituents. Mr. Herbert Gladstone came to town on the 14th partly in consequence of a speech "made a few days before by Sir Charles Dilke," and the talk it caused. The speech was "taken to mean" that the two Radical leaders preferred keeping the Tories in power "in the expectation that some moderate measures of reform might be got from them, and that meanwhile they would become committed with the Irishmen. Tactics of this kind were equivalent to the exclusion of Mr. Gladstone, for in every letter that he wrote he pronounced the Irish Question urgent." Accordingly, on December 16th there came the unauthorized version of Mr. Gladstone's scheme, given to the Press through his son.] and on the 17th he wrote to Lord Hartington a letter of which the latter sent me a long extract. [Footnote: The letter, which has been printed both by Lord Morley and by Mr. Bernard Holland, is that in which Mr. Gladstone detailed the "conditions of an admissible plan" of Home Rule, and expressed a determination "on no account to do or say anything which would enable the Nationalists to establish rival biddings between us." It is so germane to this discussion that part of it is again printed in the appendix following this chapter (p. 208).]
'At the same time I received a letter from Chamberlain in which he said:
'"Have I turned round? Perhaps I have, but it is unconsciously. Honestly I thought you went beyond us in your speeches, but I feel that your judgment is very likely better and certainly as good as mine, and I should have said nothing but for the flood of letters I received.
'"The situation changes every minute. The announcement of Mr. G.'s plan makes it much more serious; and I altered my speech somewhat to-night to meet it, but unless I have failed in my endeavour I have not said anything which will embarrass you, and I had you constantly in mind throughout. Please read it carefully and let me know exactly what you think and how far I have succeeded. I would not put you in a hole for a King's ransom if I could avoid it.
'"I agree entirely with you as to dissolution. The Tory game is to exaggerate Mr. Gladstone's performance and to go to the country on the 'integrity of the Empire.' I have endeavoured to reserve our position, and, as to taking office, to make it clear that we are opposed to it, unless we can get a big majority, which is impossible. Unless I am mistaken, the Gladstone business will exclusively occupy attention the next few days, and my speech will pass without much notice. But again I say that I have tried (and I hope and believe I have succeeded) to avoid anything which may appear like contradiction or opposition to your line.
'"Finally, my view is that Mr. G.'s Irish scheme is death and damnation; that we must try and stop it; that we must not openly commit ourselves against it yet; that we must let the situation shape itself before we finally decide; that the Whigs are our greatest enemies, and that we must not join them if we can help it; that we cannot take office, but must not offer assistance to the Tories publicly; that we must say all we can as to their shameful bargain and surrender of principle; that even if they bring in good measures they will also bring in bad, which we shall be forced to oppose; and that the less we speak in public for the present, the better."
'I had told Chamberlain that his speech had given the impression that he had turned round.'
Sir Charles, in a further speech to his constituents at Chelsea, reaffirmed the principles which he had already publicly laid down.
'In speaking on the night of Friday, December 18th, at Chelsea, I declared that we ought not to allow ourselves to be driven either forward or backward from the principles that we had put forward with regard to Ireland, and that our course should be to continue to propose the measures which we had previously proposed without reference to the Parnellite support of Conservative candidates. The scheme which I had put forward at the General Election was the one to which I adhered. If it had been generally adopted when first suggested, it would have received very large support in Ireland.'
He then quotes from the report of his speech this sentence: 'We are told that now it is too late, but for my part I should not be inclined to recede from it because it does not meet with general support.'
On this Chamberlain wrote:
'December 19th, 1885.
'My Dear Dilke,
'The papers this morning seem to show that I have succeeded in avoiding any kind of conflict with you. Your own speech was most judicious. What a mess Mr. G. has made of it! What will be the end of it all? Why the d—— could he not wait till Parnell had quarrelled with the Tories? I fancy that a large number, perhaps the majority, of Liberals will support any scheme of Mr. G.'s, but I doubt if the country will endorse it. The Tories, if they are wise, will throw everything else aside and go for the "Empire in danger," dissolving at the earliest possible opportunity. The Liberals would be divided and distracted, and I think we shall be beaten into a cocked hat. Our game—yours and mine—is to avoid definite committal for the moment. Circumstances change every hour. Harcourt is coming to me on Saturday and Sunday.'
'On the next day Chamberlain sent me a copy of a letter to him from Mr. Gladstone:
'"December 18th, 1885.
'"My Dear Chamberlain,
'"I thank you very much for your references to me in your speech last night.
'"In this really serious crisis we must all make efforts to work together; and I gladly recognize your effort.
'"Moreover, reading as well as writing hastily, I think we are very much in accord.
'"Both reflection and information lead me to think that time is very precious, and that the hour-glass has begun to run for a definitive issue.
'"But I am certainly and strongly of opinion that only a Government can act, that especially this Government should act, and that we should now be helping and encouraging them to act as far as we legitimately can.
'"In reply to a proposal of the Central News to send me an interviewer, I have this morning telegraphed to London: 'From my public declarations at Edinburgh with respect to the Government, you will easily see that I have no communication to make.'
'"Be very incredulous as to any statements about my views and opinions. Rest assured that I have done and said nothing which in any way points to negotiation or separate action. The time may come, but I hope it will not. At present I think most men, but I do not include you, are in too great a hurry to make up their minds. Much may happen before (say) January 12th. The first thing of all is to know what will the Government do? I know they have been in communication with Parnellites, and I hope with Parnell.
'"I remain always,
'"W. E. Gladstone."
'I fancy that I was the cause of Chamberlain receiving this letter, as I had told Brett (who at once wrote to Hawarden) that Chamberlain was angry at not having been consulted.'
'On December 21st we went down to Pyrford, which was now just finished, to stay there for the first time, and remained until Christmas Eve. On December 22nd I received a letter from Chamberlain from Highbury.'
In this letter Mr. Chamberlain chronicled Sir William Harcourt's visit—who, after 'raving against the old man and the old cause,' had left in better spirits. Mr. Chamberlain was in much doubt whether Mr. Gladstone would go on or would retire after Lord Hartington's letter to the Press, [Footnote: This is a reference to Lord Hartington's letter in the Press of December 21st, 1885, which he alludes to, in writing to Mr. Gladstone, as "published this morning" (Life of Duke of Devonshire, vol. ii., p. 103).] and had written to Mr. Gladstone to say that he did not think the country would stand an independent Parliament. He saw nothing between National Councils and Separation, and wondered whether Mr. Gladstone thought that—in the event of a separate Irish Legislature—Ireland could be governed by a single Chamber, and England and Scotland by two.
'On December 26th Chamberlain wrote:
'"I do not envy you the opportunity of speaking on the 31st. It is a dangerous time, and I am inclined myself to 'lie low.' Is it desirable to say anything? If it is right to speak at all, I think something like a full expose of motifs is necessary, and I put the following before you as the heads of a discourse.
'"At present there are two different ideas, for settlement of Ireland, before the public imagination, viz.: (A) National Councils; (B) Separation.
'"As to A, the fundamental principles are supremacy of Imperial Parliament and extension of local liberties on municipal lines. It is a feasible, practical plan. But it has the fatal objection that the Nationalists will not accept it. It is worse than useless to impose on them benefits which they repudiate. As to B, everyone professes to reject the idea of separation. If it were adopted, I have no doubt it would lead to the adoption of the conscription in Ireland; then to the conscription in England, and increase of the navy; fresh fortifications on the west coast, and finally a war in which Ireland would have the support of some other Power, perhaps America or France. Between these alternatives there is the hazy idea of Home Rule visible in Morley's speech and Gladstone's assumed intention. It is dangerous and mischievous to use vague language on such a subject. Those who speak ought to say exactly what they mean. It will be found that Home Rule includes an independent separate Irish Parliament, and that all guarantees and securities, whether for the protection of minorities or for the security of the Empire, are absolutely illusory.
'"At the same time we are to continue to receive Irish representatives at Westminster in the Imperial Parliament, and we shall not even get rid of their obstruction and interference here by the concession of their independence in Ireland. To any arrangement of this kind, unworkable as I believe it to be, I prefer separation—to which, indeed, it is only a step.
'"Is there any other possible arrangement which would secure the real integrity of the Empire for Imperial purposes, while allowing Irishmen to play the devil as they like in Ireland?
'"Yes, there is. But it involves the entire recasting of the British Constitution and the full and complete adoption of the American system. According to this view you might have five Parliaments, for England, Scotland, Wales, Ulster, [Footnote: This is the first suggestion of a scheme under which part of Ireland would be separated from the rest.] and the three other provinces combined. Each Parliament to have its own Ministry, responsible to it and dependent on its vote. In addition an Imperial Parliament or Reichsrath with another Ministry dealing with foreign and colonial affairs, army, navy, post-office, and customs.
'"To carry out this arrangement a Supreme Court or similar tribunal must be established, to decide on the respective attributes of the several local legislatures and the limits of their authority.
'"The House of Lords must go, or you must establish a separate Second Chamber for each legislature.
'"It is impossible to suppose that the authority of the Crown could survive these changes for long. One or other of the local legislatures would refuse to pay the expense, and, as it would have some kind of local militia at its back, it is not likely that the other legislatures would engage in civil war for the sake of reimposing the nominal authority of the Sovereign.
'"As a Radical all these changes have no terrors for me, but is it conceivable that such a clean sweep of existing institutions could be made in order to justify the Irish demand for Home Rule? Yet this is the only form of federal government which offers any prospect of permanence or union for Imperial purposes.
'"If English Liberals once see clearly that indefinite talk about Home Rule means either separation or the entire recasting of the whole system of English as well as Irish government, they will then be in a position to decide their policy. At present they are being led by the Daily News and Morley and Co. to commit themselves in the dark."
'Next day, December 27th, Chamberlain wrote:
'"The situation (Irish) is now as follows:
'"(1) The Government have been informed that Mr. Gladstone thinks this great question should not be prejudiced by party feeling, and that he will support them in any attempt they may make to give Home Rule to Ireland.
'"(2) Mr. Gladstone has been informed that the Government will see him damned first.
'"(3) The Irishmen have been informed that Mr. Gladstone will not move a step till the Government have spoken or until the Irish have put them in a minority.
'"(4) In either of these events he will do his best to effect a thorough settlement. 'He will go forward or fall.'
'"(5) I gather that he will not, as he ought, challenge Parnell to say publicly exactly what he wants, but that he will propose his own scheme, which is an Irish legislature with a veto reserved to the Crown—to be exercised on most questions on the advice of the Irish Ministry, but on questions of religion, commerce, and taxation, on the advice of the Imperial Ministry.
'"(6) The Irish are suspicious, and have not made up their minds. Parnell says nothing, but the rank and file are inclined to give Mr. Gladstone his chance and turn him out again if they are not satisfied with his proposals.
'"The Tories hope to get out Mr. Gladstone's intentions in debate on Address, and threaten another immediate dissolution if they are placed in a minority; I think, however, their true policy is and will be to let Mr. Gladstone come in and make his proposals. This will divide the Liberal party, and in all probability alarm and disgust the country.
'"Was there ever such a situation? Test Mr. Gladstone's scheme in practice. The Irish Ministry insist on necessity of restoring Irish manufactures by protection. The Imperial Parliament veto their proposals. Thereupon the Irish representatives join the Tories and turn out the Government on a foreign and colonial debate, the same Government being in a great majority on all English and Scotch questions. How long can such a state of things last? Mr. Gladstone will have the support of a portion of the Liberal party—Morley, for instance, Storey, the Crofters' representatives, and probably some of the Labour representatives. How many more will he get? Will he have the majority of the Radicals? Will he have the majority of the Liberals, following the party leader like sheep? It is curious to see the Scotsman and the Leeds Mercury leading in this direction. What are we to do? Certainly I will not join a Government pledged to such a mad and dangerous proposal. But this may mean isolation for a long time.
'"The prospect is not an inviting one.
'"I have told Harcourt the facts as in the numbered paragraphs. Do not say a word to anyone else. Harcourt is perplexed and hesitating. I think he is impressed with the danger of Fenian outrages, dynamite, and assassination.
'"For myself, I would sooner the Tories were in for the next ten years than agree to what I think the ruin of the country."
'On New Year's Eve, the 31st, we went to Rugby, where I had to make the speech alluded to in Chamberlain's letter. I had received an invitation, dated December 29th, to a meeting at Devonshire House. Hartington wrote:
'"My Dear Dilke,
'"You know, no doubt, that Harcourt has had a good deal of communication with Chamberlain lately. I hear that Chamberlain will be in town on Friday (New Year's Day), and it is proposed that he, Harcourt, you, and I, should meet here on Friday at four to talk over matters, especially Irish. I have asked Granville to come up if he likes. I do not think there would be any advantage in having any others, unless Rosebery?
'I sent this letter to Chamberlain with an inquiry as to what he knew about the meeting, and he replied on New Year's Eve:
'"The meeting to-morrow was arranged by telegraph.... I suspect Mr. Gladstone is inclined to hedge. He refuses to satisfy the Irish by any definite statements. I hope they may continue suspicious and keep the Tories in for some time."'
'Yet it was Chamberlain who was to turn out the Tories. On New Year's Eve, at Rugby, referring to the Irish Question, I praised the speech made by Trevelyan on the previous night as being "a declaration in favour of that scheme of National Councils which he supports for Ireland at least, and which was recommended in an able article in the Fortnightly Review for Scotland, Ireland, and Wales." I said: "I am one of those who have never limited my views upon the subject to Ireland. Mr. Trevelyan last night spoke as though it were only in Ireland that it was necessary to institute some local body to deal with purely local questions—with those questions which now come before nominated boards or branches of the Executive Government." I went on to speak in the sense of Mr. Gladstone's letter, in favour of the Conservatives being encouraged to propose such Irish remedial legislation.
'On New Year's Day, 1886, an important meeting took place at Devonshire House between Hartington, Harcourt, Chamberlain, and myself. I did not see my way clearly, and did not say much; the other three arguing strongly against Mr. Gladstone's conduct in having sent Herbert Gladstone to a news agency to let out his views for the benefit of the provincial Press, in such a way as to put pressure on his colleagues. It seemed to me that the pressure, though no doubt unfair and indefensible, had nevertheless been pretty successful, as neither Harcourt nor Chamberlain saw their way to opposing Mr. Gladstone, although both of them disliked his scheme. Hartington only said that he "thought he could not join a Government to promote any such scheme." But, then, he would not, I pointed out, be asked to do so. He would be asked to join a Government to consider something. The practical conclusion come to was to write to Mr. Gladstone to urge him to come to London to consult his colleagues. On January 4th I heard from Hartington that Mr. Gladstone informed him that he had nothing to add to his previous letter dated December 17th. Hartington wrote:
'"I have heard from Mr. Gladstone. He declines to hasten his arrival in London, but will be available on the 11th after 4 p.m. for any who may wish to see him. He will be at my sister-in-law's (Lady F. Cavendish), 21, Carlton House Terrace.... He has done nothing and will do nothing to convert his opinions into intentions, for he has not the material before him. There is besides the question of Parliamentary procedure (this refers to action on the Address). For considering this, he thinks the time available in London will be ample."
'In forwarding the correspondence to Chamberlain with a copy of the letter of December 17th, 1885, as I was requested by Hartington to do, I added that Mr. Gladstone could hardly be said not to have done anything which had enabled the Nationalists to establish rival biddings between the two sides (to use his phrase), because we knew that he had asked Arthur Balfour to go to Lord Salisbury with a message from him promising his support if the Government would bring in a Home Rule scheme. This he had let out to the Irish.
'After this we were in consultation as to whether we ought to see Mr. Gladstone separately; and Hartington wrote to me on January 10th, 1886, from Hardwick, that he did not see how we could decline to see Mr. Gladstone separately, but that we might be as reticent as we pleased, and could all combine in urging further collective consultations; and it was arranged that Hartington himself should see Mr. Gladstone on January 12th—the day of the election of the Speaker. Mr. Gladstone then informed us all that he would see such of us as chose on the afternoon of January 11th, and Chamberlain then wrote:
'"As far as I know, only Harcourt is going on Monday, and I on Tuesday morning. If for any reason you think it well to go, there is really not the least objection."
'I went on the 11th, but nothing of the least importance passed, and the same was the case with Chamberlain's interview on the 12th. Harcourt was present on the 11th, and evidently in full support of Gladstone.
'On the 15th Labouchere gave a dinner to Chamberlain and Randolph Churchill, but I do not think that anything very serious was discussed. There was a sharp breach at this moment between Chamberlain and Morley, Chamberlain telling Morley that his speeches were "foolish and mischievous," and that he was talking "literary nonsense—the worst of all."
'On January 21st we had a meeting of all the ex-Cabinet at Lord Granville's. Chamberlain breakfasted with me before the meeting, and he drew and I corrected the amendment which was afterwards accepted at the meeting as that which should be supported by the party on the Queen's Speech, and which was that moved by Jesse Collings by which the Government were turned out on the 26th. The adoption of our amendment was very sudden. The leaders had met apparently without any policy, and the moment Chamberlain read our "three acres and a cow" amendment, they at once adopted it without discussion as a way out of all their difficulties and differences. [Footnote: This amendment was carried by seventy-nine votes, and the Government thus overthrown.] The Government resigned on the 28th, and on the 29th I had an interview with Chamberlain as to what he should do about taking office.
'On January 30th Mr. Gladstone offered Chamberlain the Admiralty, after Hartington had refused to join the Government. Chamberlain came and saw me, and was to go back to Mr. Gladstone at six. He thought he had no alternative but to accept a place in the Government, although he did not like the Admiralty. Mr. Gladstone showed him a form of words as to Irish Home Rule. It was equivalent to a passage in Sexton's [Footnote: Home Rule M.P. for S. Sligo, 1885-1886; Belfast W., 1886-1892.] speech on the 22nd, at which Mr. Gladstone had been seen to nod in a manner which implied that he had suggested the words. The proposal was, as we knew it would be, for inquiry. Chamberlain did not object to the inquiry, but objected to the Home Rule. Chamberlain, before returning to Mr. Gladstone, wrote him a very stiff letter against Home Rule, which somewhat angered him. On Sunday, January 31st, Chamberlain wrote that for personal reasons he had sooner not accept the Admiralty. Mr. Gladstone saw Chamberlain again later in the day, on the Sunday, and asked what it was then that he wanted; to which Chamberlain replied, "The Colonies," and Mr. Gladstone answered, "Oh! A Secretary of State." Chamberlain was naturally angry at this slight, and being offered by Mr. Gladstone the Board of Trade, then refused to return to it. After leaving Mr. Gladstone he went to Harcourt, and told Harcourt that he would take the Local Government Board, "but not very willingly." On Monday, February 1st, I asked Chamberlain to reconsider his decision about the Admiralty, and found that he would have been willing to have done so, but that it was now too late. On the 2nd Mr. Gladstone wrote me a very nice letter quoted above, [Footnote: Chapter XLII., p.172.] about the circumstances relating to the trial then coming on which made it impossible for him to include me in the Ministry. Morley wrote: "Half my satisfaction and confidence are extinguished by your absence. It may and will make all the difference."'
Mr. Morley's apprehension was justified by events.
In 1880 the position of the Radical leaders, while only private members, had been of such strength that Sir Charles had been able to secure, from a reluctant Prime Minister, the terms agreed on between Mr. Chamberlain and himself. He had obtained for both positions in the Government, and procured Cabinet rank for Chamberlain. Now that the power of one of the allies was demolished, and Mr. Chamberlain stood alone, Mr. Gladstone's view of the changed situation was apparent. The 'slight' to Chamberlain was followed by that course of action which resulted in his breach with the Liberal party. Together the two men could, from a far stronger point of vantage than in 1880, have made their terms; with Mr. Chamberlain isolated Mr. Gladstone could impose his own. The alteration in the course of English political history which the next few months were to effect was made finally certain by Sir Charles Dilke's fall.
Lord Rosebery wrote on February 3rd to say that he had been appointed Foreign Secretary, an office which in happier circumstances would, he said to Sir Charles, 'have been yours by universal consent.' The letter went on to state in very sympathetic words how 'constantly present to his mind' was his own inferiority in knowledge and ability to the man who had been set aside.
'I had written to Rosebery at the same moment, and our letters had crossed. I replied to his:
'"My Dear Rosebery,
'"Our letters crossed, but mine was a wretched scrawl by the side of yours. I do not know how, with those terrible telegrams beginning to fly round you, you find time to write such letters. I could never have taken the Foreign Office without the heaviest misgiving, and I hope that whenever the Liberals are in, up to the close of my life, you may hold it. My 'knowledge' of foreign affairs is, I admit to you, great, and I can answer questions in the Commons, and I can negotiate with foreigners. But these are not the most important points. As to the excess of 'ability' with which you kindly and modestly credit me, I do not admit it for a moment. I should say that you are far more competent to advise and carry through a policy—far more competent to send the right replies to those telegrams which are the Foreign Office curse. As to questions, these are a mere second curse, but form a serious reason why the Secretary of State should be in the Lords.
'"I have always said that, if kept for no other reason, the Lords should remain as a place for the Secretary of State for the Foreign Department, and I think also for the Prime Minister. Between ourselves, you will not have quite a fair chance in being Secretary of State for the Foreign Department under Mr. Gladstone, because Mr. Gladstone will trust to his skill in the House of Commons, and will speak and reply when the prudent Under-Secretary would ask for long notice or be silent. Lord Granville was always complaining, and Mr. Gladstone always promising never to do it again, and always doing it every day. [Footnote: See supra, p. 51 and note.] I am going to put down a notice to-day to strengthen your hands against France in re Diego Suarez."