MR. LOWE'S CHARGE OF INGRATITUDE.
THERE was something very forcible in Mr. Lowe's manner of stating last week at Sheffield how much the present Ministry have really done during their tenure of office, and the almost unexampled character of their legislative and economical successes. Of course, being a man of the world, he made light of the ingratitude which appears to have rewarded him and his colleagues for their great achievements. Whatever else is effected by reproaches heaped upon the ungrateful, one thing is never effected,—they are never made grateful by having their ingratitude demonstrated. Gratitude is a matter of feeling, after all, and even a conviction that we ought to be grateful does not make us grateful. But Mr. Lowe, though he dwelt as lightly as possible on the meagreness of the emotion which the high efforts of the Ministry had called forth, evidently felt a very genuine sentiment of chagrin and surprise that achievements so heroic had fallen so flat. As he very powerfully put it, at the time the present Government entered on office, in 1868-69, a number of middle-aged gentlemen came to "resolutions the most extravagant " that ever were arrived at by such a body of men. They determined that if they remained in office at all, they would render their tenure of power "memorable in the history of their country ;" that " they would shirk no difficulty and shrink from no unpopularity or obloquy, but would grapple with and, if possible, surmount all the leading difficulties then seen in the political horizon." And they had not only attempted this, but they had succeeded. They had passed two great and almost revolutionary measures for the benefit of Ireland, and failed only in the third and least important ; they had passed a great measure for the education of the people, and another for the protection of the newly enfranchised in their political rights. They had struck at the root of panic in relation to the Army by undertaking a complete reorganisa- tion of the Military system, so as to make the whole Regular and Auxiliary Forces into one compact mass for the purpose of resisting invasion. They had reorganised also the Judicial system, so as to knit together again the divided strands of civil justice. They had done all this within five years, much of it at great expense, and yet instead of increasing the expenditure in proportion to the increased efficiency of the new systems, they had reduced the absolute cost of government considerably, and its pressure on the people enormously,—more than any Government had ever before succeeded in doing in the same time. And yet after all this quite Quixotic endeavour, and unheard-of, almost inconceivable success, they found nobody half so much delighted, half so surprised, a quarter part as grateful as themselves. Mr. Lowe's not very serious effort to account for this paradox was of course not successful. His wish, naturally, was to leave a sense of paradox in all this in- gratitude as keen as possible, and not to attenuate the feeling of wonder with which it might be regarded. But it is worth accounting for seriously. We happen to agree heartily with Mr. Lowe as to the unprecedented value, importance, and difficulty of all the great measures achieved except the Ballot, and fully believe with him that Mr. Gladstone's great Administration will be looked back upon as for ever " memorable in the history of this country." And yet we think we can give a much better explanation of the ingratitude betrayed than he attempted, or probably even intended to give.
The first reason why that ingratitude is felt, is that the Administration has been acting exactly like a landowner or capitalist who goes on for five years sinking more and more fixed capital in his land or works, without deriving as yet apenny of immediate profit. He may be, in the broadest sense, sagacious, high-minded, virtuous, in so doing, but he cannot expect his policy to be appreciated by a world which can estimate only what it sees. The glory must be of a deferred and prospective nature,—i.e., must be a hope, and not of the popular, telling kind at all. Moreover, in relation to political measures, the English people are not accustomed to these long-deferred evidences of success. The relaxations of very galling restrictions which followed the great Reform Act produced an immediate and sensible relief to the people. The evidence of the reward for a Free-trade policy was hardly delayed a year. The bene- fits of the Postal reforms,of the Railway legislation, were keenly and immediately felt. But not one of the great measures of the present Government has yet produced, we will not say fruit, but even the sure promise of fruit, the fragrant blossom which precedes it. Ireland, though so far more prosperous than
• she was, is to outward appearance disloyal, gloomy, as great a perplexity to the Government as ever before. The Army is shrieking about its wrongs, and there is no evidence mani- fest to the people of its increased efficiency. The Dissenters are in revolt against the Education policy, and the first crop -of children gathered in under it has not yet had time .to grow up. The great judicial reform is not even in force, and those who predict its failure are almost as many as those who praise its wisdom. In a word, the moral capital of the Government has been sunk in "permanent improve- ments," not one of which yet brings in a visible revenue. It has walked by faith, not by sight, and like all who walk by faith, and not by sight, it must look to the unseen reward for which it has worked. This is our first explanation,—the Government has been too spiritual-minded to reap the imme- diate praise of men. It has appealed to Posterity, and by Posterity it must be heard.
In the next place, the Government, while playing for these great ends,—ends which it took faith to realise at all,—has been very careless of that kind of prestige, and even credit, which tells most in the immediate impression formed by the
people of their rulers. We cut a very poor figure when Russia tore up her treaty with us in 1370. We cut a still poorer figure when America, having persuaded us to yield point after point in the Washington Treaty, suddenly sprang the monstrous " indirect claims," on a Government which appeared to be peacefully slumbering for weeks and even months after they were preferred. Then we were worsted in the end, and that was not agreeable to the feelings of the people. Again, Mr. Lowe, though he has brilliant results to produce of his financial administration, has done himself so little justice in the pre- sentation of his finance measures, that much more effect of failure is now connected with his name than success. The lucifer-match all but exploded one of his Budgets ; and until this speech at Sheffield, he has never really made the country understand how much he has lightened the pressure upon the taxpayers. He has snubbed innumerable deputations, but never made the people feel in whose interest they had been snubbed. Again, the Prime Minister himself has made great individual mistakes, and defended them with a subtlety that aggravated them in the mind of the public,--as in relation to the cele- brated device for so evading an Act of Parliament as to be enabled to promote Sir R. Collier to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council rid the Common Pleas. Again, the Ministry have been in direct collision with a great coarse interest, the Licensed Victuallers, and have come off but second - best. In a word, the theatrical effect of the Government has been decidedly poorer than in the case of a dozen other governments which have not attempted a tithe of their legislative exploits. The public judges by the general effect of the daily administrative displays, much more than by the record of legislative work, and the general effect of the daily administrative displays has not been favourable for the Ministry. There has been, on the contrary, something at once clumsy and fine-drawn in its appearances as an Execu- tive before the country. Mr. Lowe himself has a good deal to do with producing this impression of gaucherie and sharp prac- tice which has injured the style of the Administration. His defiance at once of Parliament and of justice in relation to matters like the Embankment site, for which he takes so much undeserved credit, and his blunders in relation to the Zanzibar contract and the Telegraph scandal, have told with even more than their fair weight on the public. On the other hand, the practical success of his economies has never been even taken credit for in Parliament. He reserved for the Master Cutlers' feast at Sheffield what he ought to have expounded with honourable pride in successive Budget speeches. His administration has been apparently anxious to seem worse than it was. He has bungled publicly, and earned the public gratitude as privately as possible. Such a speech as this should have been made earlier, and in Parliament.
The upshot of the matter appears to be this : that the Ministry have done really heroic legislative work, but that, like almost all heroic work, it was done in the expectation of an unpopu- larity which has been richly earned. Those who retain, as we do, their full confidence in the large fruit of ultimate benefit to the Empire which these measures will produce, always have been grateful for them, and are now as grateful as ever. But constituencies live by sight. They see little of the promised results, and believe the effort made to have been thrown away. Of course they are ungrateful, and of course their ingratitude is not diminished by the very considerable administrative blun- ders which have been, in part, a result of the diversion of Ministerial attention to these great legislative attempts, and which have been instantaneously discovered, have been very conspicuous, and have afforded immense encouragement to the enemy. Mr. Lowe must really content himself, as he tries to think himself content, with the belief that time will vindicate for the Administration of which he has been so important a member the glory of its really great achievements, and throw
into the shade the comparatively unimportant errors by which that glory has been overshadowed.