Editor’s note: In Stead scholarship, this article is often erroneously cited as coining the phrase “New Journalism”. See, for example, W.T. Stead and the Branding of the New Journalism
Up to Easter
Mathew Arnold, The Nineteenth Century No. CXXIII. (May, 1887) pp. 629-643.
Professor huxley told us in this Review last month, that in his eyes the chief good is, in brief, freedom to say what he pleases, when he pleases. Singular ideal for so clear-sighted a man! It is the ideal of Mr. Dillon, and Mr. W. O’Brien, and apparently of the Gladstonian Liberals generally: if Mr. Dillon and Mr. W. O’Brien please to say ‘disagreeable things,’ it is monstrous and intolerable, says Mr. John Morley, that they should be prevented. For my part, as I grow old, and profit, I hope, by the lessons of experience, I think the chief good, that which above all makes life worth living, is to be of use. In pursuit of this good, I find myself from time to time brought, as almost every one in the present critical juncture must be brought, to politics. I know the objections to meddling with them; I know and can perfectly understand the impatience and irritation which my intervention in these matters causes to many people. Nothing I should like better than to feel assured that I should never have occasion to write a line on politics again. I write on other subjects with much more pleasure; and it is true, quite true, that there are springs of movement in politics which one must be in the game to perceive and estimate fully—which an outsider, as he is called, cannot duly appreciate.
But on the other hand there is in practical politics a mass of insincerity, of phrase, fiction, and claptrap, which can impose, one would think, on no plain reasonable man outside of politics. This insincerity is found useful for purposes of party or faction; but there are moments when it is expedient for plain reasonable people, who have nothing to gain by it and everything to lose, to say to one another how hollow it all is. There are happily thousands of such people in this country, and they are the greater force here in England because to their plain reasonableness, which is a thing common enough where men have not interest to blind them, they add courage. They want nothing for themselves in politics, they only demand that the politician shall not bring the country into danger and disaster. To them, as one to whom some of them are not ill-disposed to listen, I speak; as one of themselves, as one who wants nothing for himself through politics, who is too old, and of habits and tastes too formed, to wish to enter the House of Commons even if he could ; whose one concern with politics is that the politicians should not bring the country into danger and disaster.
The force of which I have been speaking has defeated Mr. Gladstone; but the call upon its activity and watchfulness is not yet over. It is very far from being over, although the prospects of a happy issue, if this great force remains active and watchful, are favourable. From time to time those who compose it should ask themselves how things stand at the moment to which we are come, what has been accomplished; what still remains to be accomplished; what is likely to lead us to success, what to failure: and this, at the short pause brought by Easter, I now propose to do.
When Parliament met there were three questions making evidently the first and chief demand upon its attention : the questions of procedure, Ireland, local government. Procedure has been dealt with. The debate on the Address was proof enough, if any proof had been wanted, how urgent was the need of some power to stop debating prolonged for the purpose of delay and obstruction. The amiable leader of the House of Commons expressed his profound regret at having to propose the creation of such a power; he ought rather to have expressed profound regret at its not having been proposed long ago. Long ago the country had made up its mind that to pretend ‘discussion’ to be the object of such debates as those which have gone on in the House of Commons during the last few years was an absurdity; a conspicuous instance of that inveterate trick of parliamentary insincerity of which one is inclined to ask with Figaro, ‘ Who is being taken in by it?’ It matters not what party it is which may seek to profit by such ‘discussion,’ whether Conservatives, or Radicals, or Parnellites: it should be made impossible. The state of the House of Commons, since such ‘discussion’ grew to prevail there, had become a scandal and a danger. Mr. Gladstone seems now doomed to live, move, and have his being in that atmosphere of rhetorical and parliamentary insincerity of which I have spoken; to him, therefore, it may be vain to urge that the state of the House of Commons alone was perhaps a change more serious for evil than all his catalogued jubilee-host of Liberal reforms was a change for good. Instinctively, however, the country felt how grave was the danger, and was deeply relieved when the power of closure was carried.
It is a step of incalculable importance; a step restoring to the House of Commons free action, dignity, all that enables it to be a blessing to the country and not a bane. The form in which the power is conferred is a thing of minor importance as compared with the attainment of the power itself. Perhaps closure by a majority of three-fifths would have been a better form than that which has been adopted. That which has been adopted is in itself good and reasonable enough, and no one really doubts that the Speaker’s leave will be given or refused with perfect fairness. But parliamentary insincerity is to be reckoned with, which certainly will never hesitate to denounce the Speaker’s action as unfair, so often as it finds its own interest in doing so. This, however, is an inconvenience which we must now make up our minds to face, along with the other inconveniences of parliamentary insincerity. The great matter is that we have at last got the desired, the salutary, the indispensable power of closure. May it be applied wisely, but resolutely!
The debates on the Address and on Procedure were full of Ireland, but since those debates ended Ireland occupies the attention of Parliament with hardly an admixture of anything else. There is the Bill for making good certain shortcomings in the Land Act of 1881 which have become apparent, and there is the Crimes Bill. The first of these two Bills need not long detain us. The Act of 1881 maybe a bad one, but if it exists and has to be worked, manifest shortcomings in it ought to be repaired. The Crimes Bill—the eighty-seventh Coercion Bill, so its enemies are fond of telling us, the eighty-seventh of our Coercion Bills, and the most savage and odious of them all—is the important matter in question just now. How is the country likely to take it? how ought the country to take it? I have repeatedly urged that we might need a much more thorough repression of disorder than any we have had hitherto, but that much more thorough remedial measures were needed as well. Lord Spencer, a man who deserves all our respect, tells us that he has come to believe in Home Rule, because he found that ‘repressive measures, accompanied though they had been by remedial measures, had not succeeded, though they for a time put down crime.’ But surely the defect may have lain in the remedial measures. If they had been better, they might have succeeded; but unless crime is put down, and if law and government are powerless, your remedial measures, even though thorough and good, cannot have the chance of succeeding. Therefore whoever obstructs the repression of disorder, obstructs remedial measures. Meanwhile, as to the past, it is something to have put down crime, even if your remedial measures have turned out to be not yet what is right and sufficient.
Many Conservative candidates at the last election declared against coercion. They said with Mr. Pitt that they wished the Irish to live under equal laws with the English and Scotch, and they added that they were against all Coercion Bills for the future. If they had confined themselves to the first of their two propositions they would have been on impregnable ground. In truth the real necessity for the Crimes Bill arises from the Irish not being under equal laws with the English and Scotch. If an Englishman or a Scotchman commits murder, or mutilates animals, or cuts off a girl’s hair and tars her head, he can with certainty be punished; an Irishman, at present, cannot. It is to make the convictions and sentences of the criminal law reach the Irish criminal as they reach the English or Scotch criminal, that a Crimes Act is at present necessary. If the Conservatives stuck obstinately to their second proposition, they would be making it impossible to give effect to their first. They do well, therefore, to confess that their essential proposition was their first one, and that their second, which they imagined to mean but the same thing as their first, was a mistake. The country did not commit their mistake, and can have no difficulty in concluding that if the Irish ought, as certainly they ought, to live under equal laws with the English and Scotch, and to have impunity for crime no more than we have, a Crimes Act may under the present circumstances be necessary, and to this conclusion the country will, I believe, certainly come.
I myself could have wished that the government had seen its way to act administratively, and by the common law, with much more vigour than it did. My opinion that it was in their power to do so counts for very little, but it is an opinion held also, I know, by men well entitled to judge. How much a government can do administratively, under the common law, in such a state of things as that which prevails in Ireland, has never fairly been tried. It needs resolution to try it, but to try it might have been well, and might have shown government that it had much more strength than it supposed. ‘The laws,’ says Burke with his usual wisdom, ‘reach but a very little way. Constitute government how you please, infinitely the greater part of it must depend upon the exercise of the powers which are left at large to the prudence and uprightness of ministers of state.’
Our ministers, however, instead of boldly using the large powers given to them by the common law to prevent crime and outrage, prefer to proceed by statute. Their preference is natural enough. They have Great Britain in view, where the state of affairs and the temper of the people are not revolutionary, and where to proceed regularly by statute gives all the security needful. But the state of affairs and the temper of the people in a large part of Ireland is revolutionary. If we suppose parts of Great Britain in the same state, it would be preferable here also to act with vigour administratively, rather than to proceed by special statute. Administrative action is what certain emergencies require. The French republican government the other day did not prosecute the municipality of Marseilles for glorifying the Commune: it dissolved it.
In certain emergencies, therefore, vigorous administrative action may be required in some parts of one whole country under the same laws, although in other parts it is not required. Does such an emergency present itself in parts of Ireland? Is the state of affairs, the temper of the people, revolutionary there, and the law set at defiance? In Kerry, says Judge O’Brien, ‘the law has ceased to exist: there is a state of war with authority and with the institutions of civilised life.’ In other parts, terrorism, we are told, is regnant; there is quiet, because the orders of the League are obeyed without resistance. If resistance is attempted, crime comes swiftly to punish it. ‘I am not fastidious,’ says a lieutenant of Mr. Parnell, ‘as to the methods by which the cause may be advanced: I do not say you should alone use dynamite, or the knife, or the rifle, or parliamentary agitation; but I hold no Irishman true who will not use all and each as the opportunity presents itself.’ If resistance has made it necessary to ‘advance the cause’ by crime, convictions for crime can no longer be obtained. As to the law’s being set at defiance in parts of Ireland, this will surely suffice.
Then as to the temper of revolution, Mr. Parnell declared his programme, with entire candour, some time ago in America. ‘None of us, whether we are in America or in Ireland or wherever we may be, will be satisfied until we have destroyed the last link that keeps Ireland bound to England.’ But since then, he and his followers have consented, we are told, to be satisfied with Ireland’s having the control of her own local affairs only, and for imperial affairs’ they will let her remain subject to the Crown and to the Imperial Parliament. And Mr. Godkin is angry with me for not believing them. But only the other day comes another lieutenant of Mr. Parnell and cries: ‘Ireland a nation! Strike a blow for Home Rule, the Irish nation, and the green flag of our people!’ And another lieutenant avows at Chicago—a place very favourable to plain speaking—that it is ‘the duty of the League to make the government of Ireland by England an impossibility.’ Another declares that ‘ any person entering Ireland officially commissioned by England to any administrative office enters it at his peril.’ A priest who refuses to give evidence in a court of justice is brought up for contempt of court, and a Board of Guardians, which has no concern whatever with the matter, publishes the following resolution: ‘We condemn the brutal and tyrannical action of the authorities in arresting Father Kelleher, the respected and patriotic parish priest of Youghal.’ Finally Mr. W. O’Brien, elate with his impunity at home, promises to his friends new worlds to conquer abroad: ‘If Trench dares to lay a robber hand upon any honest man’s home, we will hunt Lord Lansdowne with execrations out of Canada.’
This is the revolutionary temper and language which Mr. Gladstone formerly described as that of men ‘marching through rapine to the disintegration of the Empire,’ but which, since the last election, he and his friends prefer to call’ the disorder inevitable while the responsibility for the maintenance of order is withdrawn from the leaders chosen by the majority of the Irish people.’ With them, with the very holders, therefore, of the language just quoted, are ‘ the influences of moderation and legality’ which will give us all that we want, if we do but surrender Ireland to Mr. Parnell and his lieutenants. And I suppose it is in order to enable us to believe this the more readily that Mr. Dillon says: ‘The magistrates and police know perfectly well that Mr. Parnell will be their master, as he will be the master of this country, within a very short time.’ One can feel the balmy ‘influences of moderation’ beginning to breathe already. And Mr. Morley is shocked that people should be prevented from saying the ‘disagreeable’ things which have been above quoted. He and Mr. Gladstone are shocked that we should even call them ‘revolutionary,’ and talk of repressing them, when they proceed from ‘ the representatives of Ireland.’ If they proceeded from the representatives of Yorkshire they would alike be revolutionary, alike need repression. I wonder how far Mr. Morley’s indulgence would extend. I believe he is kindly disposed to me, as I am sure I am kindly disposed to him; yet I should not like to be brought before him, as president of a Committee of Public Safety, on a charge of incivism. I suspect he would be capable of passing a pretty sharp sentence with ‘sombre acquiescence.’ At any rate the ‘disagreeable’ sayings and doings which in his Irish friends he cannot bear to check would in any other country of Europe infallibly bring down upon the performers the ‘ state of siege.’
For they are really and truly the sayings and doings of revolution, as different as possible from those of lawful political agitation familiar in this country. The latter may be a safety-valve; the former is an incendiary fire. Its kindlers and feeders do not exhale their passion by what they are doing and saying: they heighten it. By holding such furious language as theirs, a man in Great Britain finds that he diminishes his importance, and stops ; in Ireland he finds that he increases it, and therefore proceeds more hotly than ever. ‘What you make it men’s interest to do,’ says Burke, ‘ that they will do. The more they have free play, the more do the sayers of such things as I have been quoting get drunk with rage and hatred themselves, and make their followers drunk with them also.
It is of no use deceiving ourselves, and holding insincere language. I regretted to see Mr. Balfour congratulating himself on the number of meetings which had been held without hindrance. Perhaps he congratulates himself, too, on the Dublin municipality being undissolved, or the resolving board of guardians. Perhaps Mr. Forster congratulated himself on United Ireland appearing quite regularly, I suppose being in Parliament debauches the mind and makes it lose all sense that make-believe of this kind is not only insincere but absurd. Else Mr. Gladstone would not gravely tell us that such debates as have of late gone on in the House of Commons were ‘protracted discussion which was required,’ and that he can conceive no greater calamity to the House of Commons’ than the frequent cutting-short of such debates by the closure. Sir George Trevelyan would not tell us that ‘the real defect’ of the Crimes Bill is that ‘it is directed against the written and spoken expression of opinion.’ As if all that chooses to call itself debate and discussion were really such. As if, because in general the expression of opinion should be free, you must allow the expression of all opinion, at all times, and under all circumstances! This is adopting Professor Huxley’s theory of the summum bonum with a vengeance. In the present state of Ireland, is Mr. Parnell’s ‘None of us will be satisfied until we have destroyed the last link that keeps Ireland bound to England ;’ is Mr. Harris’s ‘If the tenant farmers shot down landlords as partridges are shot down in September, Matt Harris never would say one word against them ;’ is Mr. W. O’Brien’s ‘If Trench dares to lay a robber hand upon any honest man’s home, we will hunt Lord Lansdowne with execrations out of Canada,’ expression of opinion which it is wise to permit, and with which it is a real defect in the Government to interfere? A man must surely have deluged his mind with make-believe before he can think or even say so. Anywhere else in Europe, as I have said, such expression of opinion, and what is now going on in Ireland, would be met by the state , of siege. For the sake of the Irish themselves it is wrong and cruel to let it continue. The whole force of reasonable opinion in this country will go with the Government in stopping it. Whether Government should have proceeded administratively or by special statute may be a question; but the important thing is to stop the j state of things and the language now prevailing in parts of Ireland, and as the Government have elected to proceed by statute, they should be supported. And with regard to details of the statute, the end to be attained should be steadily kept in view. A man may dislike, for instance, the change of venue, but he must keep in mind the end to be attained, conviction on clear proof of guilt. Can a conviction for murder, even on clear proof, be now secured without change of venue? If not, the Government ought to be supported in changing it. But the real mind of the country, if the Government will be frank with it and trust it, may be relied upon, I hope, much more than politicians, for not being led off from the real aim by cries and pretexts.
I hope so, and I believe so too; and therefore merely to exhort reasonable people, who are happily a great force in this country, to be steady as they have hitherto been, to brush insincerities aside, to keep in clear view the dangerous features of disorder in Ireland at present, and to support the Government in quelling it, I should not now be writing. It is what is to come after quelling it that has the great interest for me. I am not afraid of a refusal by the reasonable people of this country for the powers necessary to quell disorder; I am only afraid of their not insisting strongly enough on a further thing—how much, after it is quelled, will still require to be done. Not that they do not sincerely desire to give Ireland the due control of her own affairs. I am convinced that the great body of reasonable people in this country do, as I have repeatedly said, sincerely desire and intend two things: one, to defeat Mr. Gladstone’s dangerous plan of Home Rule; the other, to remove all just cause of Irish complaint, and to give to the people of Ireland the due control of their own local affairs. But how large and far-reaching are the measures required to do this, I am afraid many of us do not adequately conceive. Yet, if these measures are not forthcoming, Mr. Gladstone’s Home Rule will certainly arrive.
The Gladstonian contention is now, as we all know, that for the disordered state of Ireland ‘no remedy is possible until the national aspirations of the Irish people are gratified.’ The cry of the Irish people is, ‘Ireland a nation ! Strike a blow for Home Rule, the Irish nation, and the green flag of our people!’ The Gladstonian cry is, ‘A separate Parliament and separate Executive for Ireland.’ Both cries lead in the end to the same thing, and a thing full of mischief and danger both for Great Britain and Ireland—a separate Ireland.
To this they lead, as the great body of reasonable people in England perceived instinctively, and as no reasonable person who has not an interest in being insincere with himself can fail to perceive. It would not be possible for Ireland to possess, without using it for getting more, such a vantage-ground as a separate Parliament and Executive would give her, any more than it would have been possible for the Americans of the South to possess, without using it for getting more, such a vantage-ground as a separate Southern Congress and Executive would have supplied. Such is the nature of things. In the case of Ireland we have our warning, not only from the nature of things, but from the express words of the Irish themselves, who when they are free to speak their real mind tell us that they ‘will not be satisfied until they have destroyed the last link that keeps Ireland bound to England,’ and that what they want is ‘ Ireland a nation, and the green flag of our people.’ I can understand Mr. Gladstone shutting his eyes to what is sure to happen, because he can shut or open his eyes to whatever he pleases, and has his mind full of a great piece of parliamentary management which will insure to him the solid Irish vote and seat him firmly again in power. I can understand his partisans shutting their eyes to it, some out of fidelity to his person, some out of fidelity to their party, others from reasons which I will not now stay to draw out. But that any reasonable man, letting his mind have fair play, should doubt that Mr. Gladstone’s ‘separate Parliament and Executive for Ireland’ leads by a rapid incline to Mr. W. O’Brien’s ‘Ireland a nation, and the green flag of our people,’ I cannot understand. Nor can I understand his doubting that this has danger.
We confuse ourselves with analogies from distant and unlike countries, which have no application. Let us take our analogy from close at hand, where the political incorporation has been, and is, the same as that of Ireland with England. Provence was once a nation, the Nation Provençale, as down to the end of the last century it was still called. A sagacious lawyer, Portalis, remonstrating in 1798 against a uniform legislation for France, declared that France was a country compose de divers peuples, ‘composed of different peoples,’ and it was for Provence, in particular, that Portalis spoke. Whatever Ireland had to make her a nation, that Provence had also. Ireland’s troubled history can show one beautiful and civilising period in the far past; but Provence founded modern literature. It had its own Estates and Parliament; it had the greatest of French orators, Mirabeau. Well, if Provence were discontented to-day, and demanded back its separate Estates and nationality, what should we think of a French statesman, a French political party, which declared that for the discontent of Provence there was ‘no remedy possible until the national aspirations of the Provençal people are gratified?’ We should say they were lunatics. If they went on to inflame and infuriate the discontent by all the means in their power, calling the incorporation with France ‘disgraceful,’ and expatiating on the ‘infamy and corruption’ through which it had been brought about, we should say they were criminal lunatics.
As for Provence being a nation, we should say that she was indeed a nation poetically, but not now politically, and that to make her now a nation politically would be suicide both for France and herself. And if some well-meaning ex-prefect, like Lord Spencer, were to plead as a reason for making Provence a nation politically, that ‘repressive measures, accompanied though they had been by remedial measures, had not succeeded,’ and that therefore ‘they ought to use the Provençal spirit of nationality, having failed in the past from not having sufficiently consulted the wishes of Provence in that respect,’ what should we say? We should say he was a most extraordinary reasoner. We should say that if his remedial measures had not succeeded, that was probably because they were bad and insufficient; and not till the right remedial measures had been sought and applied far more seriously than hitherto, need France think of committing suicide by erecting Provence, and probably this and that other part of France afterwards, following the example of Provence, into a separate nation again. In fact, means have been found, without ‘using the Provenpal spirit of nationality,’ to make Provence perfectly contented in her incorporation with France. And so they have to be found, and may be found, for Ireland.
It is a consolation for us in the troublous times through which we are passing, that we have public men who appear to possess, distributed amongst them, the powers requisite for discerning and treating all the capital facts of the situation: one having the powers needed for dealing with one branch of such facts, another of another. Mr. Gladstone is no doubt a source of danger. The historian will some day say of him what was said by the preacher of an eccentric funeral sermon in Mayfair Chapel on Frederick, Prince of Wales: ‘He had great virtues; indeed they degenerated into vices; he was very generous, but I hear his generosity has ruined a great many people; and then his condescension was such that he kept very bad company.’ But as a compensation for our dangers from Mr. Gladstone, we have in Lord Hartington a statesman who has shown that he thoroughly grasps the meaning of Gladstonian Home Rule, sees where the proposal to give Ireland a separate Parliament and Executive leads, and is staunch in rejecting it, clear and keen in judging fallacious securities offered with it. Such a security is the retention of the Irish members at Westminster. Their retention, if their brethren wielded the legislature and executive of Ireland, would but double, as Lord Hartington truly saw, our dangers and difficulties.
All Lord Hartington’s firmness will be needed. It has suited Mr. Gladstone and his friends to launch their new doctrine that no constraint must be put upon the Irish, and that there is no remedy for the disorder there until the national aspirations of the Irish are gratified. I have said that no reasonable man, who thinks fairly and seriously, can doubt that to gratify these aspirations by reconstituting Ireland as a nation politically, is full of dangers. But we have to consider the new voters, the democracy, as people are fond of calling them. They have many merits, but among them is not that of being, in general, reasonable persons who think fairly and seriously. We have had opportunities of observing a new journalism which a clever and energetic man has lately invented. It has much to recommend it; it is full of ability, novelty, variety, sensation, sympathy, generous instincts ; its one great fault is that it is feather-brained. It throws out assertions at a venture because it wishes them true; does not correct either them or itself, if they are false; and to get at the state of things as they truly are seems to feel no concern whatever.
Well, the democracy, with abundance of life, movement, sympathy, good instincts, is disposed to be, like this journalism, feather-brained; just as the upper class is disposed to be selfish in its politics, and the middle class narrow. The many restraints of their life particularly incline the democracy to believe with Mr. Fox that if people very much desire a thing they ought to have it, and that, therefore, the national aspirations of the Irish ought to be gratified. They do not look to the end and forecast consequences. When they are told that if we satisfy the national aspirations of the Irish the Irish will love us, and that all will thenceforth go well, they believe it because they wish to believe it. If they are told that the Bill for dealing with disorder in Ireland is savage and odious beyond precedent, they believe it, because to think this of a restraining measure is agreeable to them. The democracy is by its nature feather-brained; the English nation is not; and the democracy will in England work itself, probably, at last clear. But at present, even here, in England, and above all in those industrial centres where it is most left to itself, and least in contact with other classes, it is disposed to be featherbrained. This makes the strength of Mr. Gladstone. The great body of reasonable opinion in England is against him on Home Rule, and in Lord Hartington we have a leader convinced and firm; but we must not deceive ourselves. The democracy is being plied with fierce stimulants, and is agitated and chafing. If we cannot remove all just cause of complaint in Ireland, cannot produce, for local government there and for the land, a plan manifestly reasonable and good, the democracy will burst irresistibly in, bearing Mr. Gladstone in triumph back to power, and Home Rule along with him.
Lord Salisbury has declared his belief that ‘remedial measures, and remedial measures of a very far-reaching tendency, are strongly called for by the condition of things in Ireland.’ Undoubtedly they are, and to hug ourselves in the belief that they are not, but that all which is required is to put down disorder, is fatal. Some people say Ireland has no more cause of complaint than England or Scotland. One of these gentlemen wrote the other day to a newspaper saying that Ireland had even less, because she has not an established church. This is like congratulating Mr. Gladstone on living under the blessings of a Divorce Act, or Mr. Beresford Hope on having the prospect of soon being allowed to marry his deceased wife’s sister.
A man peculiarly well informed on the matter, Mr. Edwin Chadwick, asserts that in several important branches of local government (he mentions the Poor Law system in especial) Ireland has the advantage of England. No doubt he is right. But this advantage is something devised and conferred by superior authority: the question is whether the call of the community itself for a thing desired by it and fairly reasonable, is not more likely to be thwarted in Ireland than in Great Britain. Most certainly it is. Let me take a single instance in illustration: I will be as brief as possible. I believe that public aid was desired for a Catholic training school for elementary teachers in Ireland, and that Lord Spencer thought the desire reasonable, and wished it to be complied with. Denominational training schools, as we call them, have in Great Britain, and have long had, the bulk of their expense supplied from public funds. But the moment the members from northern Ireland got wind of the matter, they were indignant, and protested against the project. Probably the northern members would have had the support of British Nonconformity and secularism: ‘the Liberal party has emphatically condemned religious endowment.’ At any rate Lord Spencer foresaw a storm, and the project was not persisted in. But how reasonable and permissible a thing, how entirely a thing within the fair scope of a community’s wishes, to have in a part of Ireland, where the vast bulk of the community is Catholic, a Catholic training school with public aid; and how irritating to find that in Great Britain there are denominational training schools with public aid, because the community wishes it; but in Ireland, although the community may wish it, it cannot have them!
I have often said that one has no need to go beyond Church and education to see how completely Great Britain, while talking pompously of ‘the tolerance of the British Constitution,’ has had two sets of weights and measures, one for itself and another for Ireland. The tolerance of the British Constitution consists in letting Irish revolutionists say whatever they like; a liberty often extremely bad for them. But in complying with the fair wishes of the Catholic community in Ireland the tolerance of the British Constitution utterly disappears. I feel the more strongly on this matter because of what I have seen abroad, in acquainting myself with the humble but everywhere present public service of popular education. There indeed there is absolute equality of treatment; there indeed there is not a double set of weights and measures; there you will never find a Protestant community indulged with a training school of its own, while a Catholic community is denied one. Goethe used to pray: ‘God give us clear notions of the consequences of things. ‘If the British Philistine could ever frame such a prayer and have it granted, he would come to understand how completely Archbishop Walsh and Archbishop Croke are the consequences of things of our own doing. No doubt the Vatican disapproves their action ; but how must the Vatican at the same time secretly feel that it serves us right!
It is undeniable that a fairly reasonable wish of the community in Ireland is more likely to be thwarted than in England and Scotland. That is a reason against leaving the Imperial Parliament to go on controlling Irish local affairs. But who, with Colonel Saunderson and Mr. Sexton present to his mind, will believe that in the present state of tempers the Catholic Irish in an Irish Parliament would duly entertain reasonable wishes of the Protestants of the north, or the Protestant Irish those of Catholics of the south? This is an objection to Mr. Gladstone’s Home Rule not from an imperial point of view any longer, but from a purely Irish one. The fairly reasonable wishes of the community, in the respective parts of Ireland, ought to be made possible of attainment by the community. ‘Ireland a nation, and the green flag of our people,’ is not a fairly reasonable wish. But a Catholic training school is.
Whoever has had occasion to learn the course of public business in foreign countries, knows what we lose for want of proper local government in Great Britain. The House of Commons is far too large; a quantity of business comes before it which it should not have to discharge. Of our numerous House of Commons very many men are members, and unfit for such a position, who would be excellently fitted for local assemblies, which do not, however, exist to receive them. The best thing I have observed in New England is the effect of the training in local government upon the average citizen there. With us, little is known of systems of local government, and there is no cry for the thing; to discredit it, to throw out the scoff of the Heptarchy, is easy enough. But it is unpatriotic and unwise. Infinitely more unpatriotic and unwise is the neglect of this remedy in Ireland, where the want of it has had special bad consequences which it has not had in Great Britain, and which are full of danger. It should be made as serious, important, and strong there, as possible.
The county is too small a basis to take even in rich and populous England, except in a very few cases. Certainly it is too small a basis to take in Ireland. Every one sees how the province in Ireland affords a larger unit at once convenient and natural. I do not know what arrangements might be the best in the interests simply of local business. But it is important to remark that politically there could be no objection to resolving the provincial assemblies of Ireland into two only, one for the Catholic South and another for the Protestant North. The formidable political danger of Mr. Gladstone’s one Parliament and Executive for all Ireland is that such a power would most surely be tempted, so far as we can at present foresee, to pose as a separate nation with a policy contrary to that of Great Britain. But an assembly for a part only of Ireland cannot so pose; the assembly and government of the Catholic South will be balanced by those of the Protestant North, which is smaller, indeed, in extent and numbers, but superior in wealth, energy, and organisation. The governments would balance one another politically, and administratively would each do simply their own business, which in the furious conflicts of a joint assembly would often suffer or be left undone. Many men who now have no trade but agitation would become good and useful citizens in the field of activity opened by these assemblies and their business. The flower of the political talent of Ireland would find its place in the Imperial Parliament.
Mr. Reginald Brett says that no other Irish policy is possible than Mr. Gladstone’s, ‘which was right in principle, but faulty in vital details’. This is in the sacred language of the practical politicians, to which a plain outsider has not the key. But let us hope that the plan of two assemblies may be sufficiently like Mr. Gladstone’s to pass with Mr. Brett as Gladstonian in principle, possible, and desirable.
The reason of the country judged Mr. Gladstone’s Home Rule dangerous. It perceives, however, the need of local government for Ireland, and leaves the plan of it to the Government; only let us insist that what is done shall be effectual. Happily we have in Mr. Goschen a statesman as fit for planning local government as Lord Hartington is for combating Gladstonian Home Rule.
Finally, there is the land question. Mr. Gladstone’s missionaries are sent out to cry that all the Conservative Government wants is to enable the landlords to extort their unjust rents. Of course some danger there is that the Conservative party may not be stringent enough in dealing with landlords. But evidently something has to be done. It is confessed that the Bill for admitting leaseholders to the benefit of the Act of 1881, and for preventing harsh evictions, is a measure of temporary relief only. The Act of 1881 has failed, as it was likely to fail. I may say so, for I said so in 1881, provoking somewhat, I may add, my friend Mr. John Morley by my want of faith. By that Act, I said, ‘ownership and tenure will be made quite a different thing in Ireland from that which they are in England, and in countries of our sort of civilisation generally, and this is surely a disadvantage.’ An adumbration of dual ownership there was in Irish land-tenure already; such an ownership, with such parties to it, had elements of trouble; the thing was to get rid of it. Instead of getting rid of it, the Act of 1881 developed and strengthened it. What we all now see to be desirable, is to have one owner, and that owner, as far as possible, the cultivator.
The reason of the country supports the Government in quelling revolutionary anarchy in Ireland, and in restoring the rule of law and order there. Here it is as conservative as the Conservative party. But it has no landlord bias, and in its judgment on Irish landlords it is disposed to be severe. ‘Mere land-merchants,’ too many of them, says their own friend Croker; ‘from their neglect of their duties springs their difficulty with their rents, and the general misery and distraction.’ Often ‘insolent’ besides; an offence which the Irish peasant resents more even than oppression. It is a terrible indictment; and there are landlords still against whom it might justly be brought. The Land Purchase Commissioner of the government ‘has known rack-renting prevail to an extent simply shocking;’ Sir Redvers Buller desires ‘a court with a very strong coercive power on a bad landlord.’
Landlordism, as we know it in these islands, has disappeared from most countries. It depends on the consent of the community. In England, as I have often said, it has kept this consent partly through the moderation of the people, but above all through that of the landlords themselves. It has become impossible to maintain by the force of England the system of landlordism where it has not, as in England itself, the consent of the community; and this the reason and conscience of England begin to feel more and more. Mr. Chamberlain, I believe, is the statesman who might be proctor for the real mind of the country on this matter, as Lord Hartington might be proctor for it on the matter of Home Rule, and Mr. Goschen on that of local government. It seems admitted, however, that if we organise local government in Ireland, we yet cannot leave, as would be natural, the community itself to deal with the landlords there : the Government of the Catholic South with the landlords of the South, that of the Protestant North with those of the North. England and its Government are partly accountable for the faults of the landlords and for their present position. The Imperial Parliament must therefore help in solving the land question. But Mr. Gladstone’s twenty years’ purchase all round is as little pleasing to the mind of the country as his Home Rule. No solution will satisfy the mind and conscience of the country which does not regard equity, discriminate between the good landlord and the bad, and lance the deep imposthume of moral grievance.
Sir George Trevelyan adheres to his passionate love for the Liberal party, his passionate grief at its not being in power. I am too old for these romantic attachments. Sir George Trevelyan himself confesses that ‘it is impossible for young politicians to have any idea of the half-heartedness of the Liberal politics of the past.’ I confess that I am not sanguine about those of the near future. Why then should we be so very eager to take up again with ‘the tabernacle of Moloch,’ Mr. Gladstone’s old umbrella, or ‘the star of our god Remphan,’ the genial countenance of Sir William Harcourt, merely in order to pass forty years in the wilderness of the Deceased Wife’s Sister? If the Conservative Government will quell anarchy in Ireland, give us a sound plan of local government there, and deal effectually with the land question, we may be well satisfied to allow them the lease of power requisite for this, and I believe the country will let them have it.