Page images

and delay. I will not pronounce an opinion upon a single clause of the bill, it is not necessary to do so in order to be convinced that this intended measure of healing has been managed most unhappily. The main alterations made by the House of Lords have finally been adopted, but to the bitter disappointment of the Ulster Unionists and at the cost of much heart-burning and friction; so that, instead of the Government having derived any advantage from this their first attempt at a healing measure, the positive weakening of the Government is, I fear, the capital and serious fact at the close of the Session.

Plainly, then, Conservatism is not now any longer at its zenith. It ought to be added that this is in no degree by the fault of the Conservative party in the House of Commons. That party has behaved admirably. Readers of the Fathers, if there are any such readers left, may possibly remember a passage in a homily at the end of St. Cyprian's works: Incredibilis res est pastores pati posse aliquid a pecore. The homilist puts it too strongly; the shepherd has sometimes cause to complain of the flock. But certainly of their pecus, the Conservative flock in the House of Commons, the Ministerial shepherds have no cause to complain. Never was there a body of followers more steady, more willing, more self-sacrificing. Mr. Courtney has spoken severely of the demeanour of some of their younger members; but Mr. Courtney, like myself, has come to an age when one is liable to attacks of a sort of irritable antipathy towards white waistcoats, and when one has to be on one's guard against the moroseness of old age. From all I have myself seen, or can learn from others, I should say that any impartial observer who recalls the interruptions prevalent and victorious in the House of Commons of former days, and who witnesses the provocation offered by many of the Irish members now, would be inclined to pronounce the parliamentary demeanour of the whole Conservative party at present, young as well as old, almost angelic. At any rate, of the staunchness, fidelity, patience, and reasonableness of this party towards its leaders there can be no doubt. Nor has the staunchness of the Liberal Unionist members been less exemplary. Their course has been that of men sincerely anxious to save the Government from committing errors, to help the Government out of difficulties, not to make capital out of those errors and difficulties for themselves. Their position is in many respects a harassing one, a position to cause restlessness; but only two of them have been unsettled and carried away by restlessness, Mr. Winterbotham and Sir George Trevelyan. The majority behind the Government has, I repeat, done its duty perfectly. But the fortunes of the Government decline, and those of the majority cannot but decline with them.

Before the Session began, I inquired what the Government should do in order to retain the goodwill of that great body of quiet, reasonable people throughout the country, who thought the course

attempted by Mr. Gladstone and his followers a false and dangerous one, and had placed the Conservatives in power in order to stop it. And I answered my own inquiry by saying, as I have mentioned above, that what the Government had to do was to take, on the great questions of the Session, a course not dubious, fumbling, and failing, but frank, firm, and successful. At Easter I inquired how things stood at the moment to which we were then come; what had been accomplished, what still remained to be accomplished; what was likely to lead to final success, what to failure. And again I answered my own inquiry, and said that reasonable people were glad to see the closure carried, and would be glad to see the Crimes Bill carried, but that there was perhaps a danger of quiet people not insisting strongly enough upon a further thing: how much, after the Crimes Bill was carried, would still require to be done. I said that I believed them to desire and intend most sincerely both to defeat Mr. Gladstone's dangerous plan of Home Rule, and also to remove all just cause of Irish complaint, but that I feared we did not all of us adequately conceive how large and far-reaching were the measures required in order to effect the latter purpose. I added that it was the more necessary for reasonable people to acquire an adequate conception of this, and to make the Government act upon it, because the democracy, the new voters, were feather-brained, were unapt to understand the dangers of such a plan of Home Rule as Mr. Gladstone's, were by nature inclined to dislike a restraining measure such as the Crimes Bill, were being plied with fierce stimulants by Mr. Gladstone and his followers, were agitated and chafing, and if nothing effective was done for removing cause of complaint in Ireland as well as repressing crime there, were likely to burst irresistibly in, bearing Mr. Gladstone back to power.

What I feared has in great measure come to pass. The democracy has not yet indeed borne Mr. Gladstone back in triumph to power, but in the Northwich division it has broken irresistibly in, carrying in triumph on its shoulders Mr. Brunner, who adopts his leader's watchword of Masses against classes! and proclaims his election to be a signal victory in that war. Mr. Gladstone and his followers are superbly elate, they will ply the democracy with fiercer stimulants than ever; if things continue to go as they are now going, the agitation will grow hotter and hotter; at election after election will be raised the cry of Masses against classes! and a perpetual series of Mr. Brunners will win by it, until at last there is nothing left for them except to devour one another.

The end of the Session will give us a little breathing time. At Easter I said that the prospects of a final happy issue were favourable, if the great force of quiet reasonable opinion throughout the country -the force which defeated Mr. Gladstone at the last electionremained active and watchful. At the end of the Session, in spite

of all that has happened, I still say the same thing. The Government is weaker. But the dangerous parts of the Gladstonian plan of Home Rule have been dropped and abandoned by its authors. To plain people outside of the rivalry of parties it will seem of little. matter which party settles the Irish question so long as the settlement is a safe and good one. But it may be said that the passions they have fomented, the tempers they have raised, the featherbrained democracy to which they appeal, may compel Mr. Gladstone and his lieutenants to withdraw concessions which he had been compelled to make, and to recur to a scheme of Home Rule bad and unsafe. And this is no doubt a possible danger. Only in one way can it be averted. Only in one way can either the present weak Government be strengthened so as to endure and so as to achieve a settlement of the Irish question, or Mr. Gladstone be controlled and influenced so as to adhere to his present coneessions, and to adopt a settlement of the Irish question, if to him it falls to settle it, safe and reasonable. Either thing can come about only by the force of quiet reasonable opinion in the country continuing active and watchful-nay, increasing its activity and watchfulness. And it is in one direction above all that its activity and watchfulness have to be directed: to secure the full and frank removal, now that power has been taken for quelling disorder, of all just cause of complaint in Ireland; and with this object, to habituate itself to consider, more adequately perhaps than it has yet considered, what large and far-reaching measures are required for that purpose, and to make its insistence on such measures as operative as its approval of a Crimes Bill has been.

Nor, in doing this, need our friends go back in the very slightest degree from their approval of the closure and the Crimes Act. To them, indeed, to brush away the claptrap and insincerities, with which the politician inflames the feather-brained democracy, is not difficult. In 'the present deplorable Session, which must make every Englishman blush, or weep, or both,' cries Mr. Gladstone, the closure imposes upon the deliberations of your free Parliament restraints hitherto totally unknown.' But in the eyes of reasonable people the present Session is deplorable not because too much restraint has been put upon the barren obstructive talk which Mr. Gladstone is pleased to call deliberation, but because too little has been put upon it. The liberties of the House of Commons,' he cries again, 'have been sacrificed to the causeless, wanton, mischievous, insidious coercion of Ireland.' But a Judge declares to us that in parts of Ireland the law has ceased to exist; there is a state of war with authority and with the institutions of civilised life.' Mr. Dillon boasts that there are hundreds of farms in Kerry on which no person dares lay his foot.' The Tuam News reports: Hugh Baldwin was summoned to attend the meeting of the Kiltartan branch of the National League, the charge of associating with a notorious

[ocr errors]
« PreviousContinue »