TOPICS OF THE DAY.
MR. GLADSTONE AND HOME-RULE.
WE see with very great regret the sort of language used with regard to the most disinterested statesman of our day by even the most moderate and statesmanlike of the
Tory papers. The statement of the Standard on Thursday that " Mr. Gladstone's desire to reseat himself in office is almost passionately intense, and 'apparently no price is too high to pay for the attainment of that object," is one that shows as complete an ignorance of Mr. Gladstone's character as it shows recklessness in the imputation of selfish motives. If we could dive into that singularly eager, comprehensive, and sanguine mind, what we should probably find uppermost there would be the controversy with Professor Huxley as to " The Dawn of Creation ;" and while the Irish problem would undoubtedly occupy the second place in his interest, it would be found that he would be every whit as willing to contri- bute to its satisfactory solution from the front Opposition Bench, as from the Treasury Bench. That Mr. Gladstone's mind is full of the Irish Question, and that he is ardently desirous of solving far the most perplexing problem which now besets us, there can be no doubt. That he cares in the least whether,—so long as it be rightly solved,—he solves it as he did the question of the Franchise in 1867 from his seat in Opposition, or as he did the question of the Franchise in 1885 from his seat on the Treasury Bench, no one who really knows him would believe for a moment, except, indeed, that he would probably prefer the latter position for the sake of the greater leisure that it would give him for the study of those various theological and literary issues which so deeply fascinate his ardent imagination. We attach no sort of importance to the special revelations made by the Standard and Pall Mall on Thursday, and we protest with all our might against the assumption of the Times that unauthorised and unauthentic statements as to a stateman's convictions when made in the public Press are to be taken as trustworthy, unless they be im- mediately and explicitly contradicted by himself. The effect of suoh an assumption would be that the only manoeuvre necessary to force such a statesman's hand, and compel him to a premature declaration of his policy, would be to invent a policy for him „which he would be bound to contradict, and which he could not contradict without sowing all kinds of misconceptions, unless by explaining at length and quite inopportunely what his plans really are. We hold, therefore, that whatever Mr. Gladstone's views on the Irish problem may be, they have not as yet been communicated to any one, and that the unworthy attempt to compel him to break silence deserves nothing but ignoble failure.
r,v At the same time, we do not doubt for a moment that Mr. ,,Gladstone is brooding anxiously over the wisdom and over the danger of fresh concessions to the Irish demands, and that his mind is full of the arguments both for and against conces- sions of a somewhat large kind. And since, perhaps, he hardly knows as well as some of the journalists, how serious the difficulties of any large concession may be from the British point of view, we desire to place before him, and before every politician who is seriously considering this question, this aspect of the matter. The English people, and English Liberals more -especially, have the greatest faith in Mr. Gladstone. We our- selves attach far more importance to his judgment on points of this kind than to that of any group of statesmen we could name. But the English people, and especially Eng- lish Liberals, cannot conceal from themselves that every concession they have hitherto made to Ireland has, up to the present moment, aggravated instead of alleviating the strain on the relations between Ireland and England, _and has aggravated especially the hostility of Irishmen to the Liberal Party. The Disestablishment of the Irish Church, and the passing of the two Irish Land Acts, so far from convincing the Irish people that the Liberals desire to do them justice, have only elicited from the leader of the Irish Party a manifesto against all Liberals of the most furious kind, deliberately imputing to them even a series of judicial murders. Mr. Gladstone, the one statesman who has carried the Irish reforms triumphantly by his own eloquence and genius, has now not a single Irish supporter. Every friend of the Uuion in Ireland is a supporter of that party which would nave refused reform altogether, and by far the greatest number of the Irish representatives are loud in their. denunciations of the British Government, and still louder in their denunciations
of the Liberal Party. Well, if that is the reward we have got for going so far, what will be our reward for going further? It is a dangerous thing to assume that the tendency of all we have done, in approaching a certain limit, will be reversed the moment we have passed that limit, and that the pro- gressive embitterment which we have created by every fresh concession, however just, will give place to good feeling and loyal co-operation, the moment we make one further con- cession,—of which it is impossible to say that it is either just or unjust in itself, and without relation to the interests of the Empire. The Liberal Party throughout the country are perfectly aware of the complete political failure of their Irish policy, which not only we but they all hold to have been a just and right policy, a policy which we should long ago have enforced for ourselves, had we been the Irish people. With that complete failure before our eyes, shall we be willing to make one very great and most important further concession,— a concession which, if it fail, must lead to civil war,—on the faint hope that it might not fail ? Is it a duty to let a small portion of a great Kingdom govern itself, even when the only sign it has given of power to govern itself is the unanimity with which a most oppressive and criminal popular tyranny has been supported by the people at large ? Is it high treason against Liberalism to maintain that the will of the whole must override the will of a part, whenever there is evidence that the will of the part may probably be asserted in a manner ruinous to the safety of the whole ?
We assert without hesitation that great as is Mr. Gladstone's genius, and vast as is his legitimate influence over English Liberals, he would probably be surprised to find how many Liberals of the purest type might desert him on the proposal to establish an Irish Parliament in Dublin, unless he could show that, in spite of that Irish Parliament, the enforcement of every Imperial law in Ireland would be as effective and as immediate as it can be made now ; and we confess we find it hardly conceivable that any precautions could be taken•which would be worth a straw, for the effective enforcement of all Imperial laws in Ireland where such laws were inconsistent with the wishes of the majority in the Irish Parliament, and of the Ministers responsible to that majority. This, as it seems to us, is the key of the situation. How are the Irish police and the various officers of the Irish Courts of Justice to be compelled to administer a law which the Irish Parliament dislikes and the Irish Ministers know that they must lose their Parliamentary influence by enforcing / We cannot in any way conceive arrangements which would practically secure the enforcement in Ireland of any Im- perial enactment that was regarded with disfavour by the Home- rule Party. And if no such arrangements can be imagined, then real Home-rule means the simple abeyance in Ireland of the authority of the Imperial Parliament, however nominally unconstitutional it might be to ignore that authority. Now, what does that involve ? It involves dishonour to us if we permit it to go on, and the use of military force if we do not. That seems to us a most serious alterna- tive. Of course, a sanguine Liberal may say, as we have heard sanguine Liberals say, —A Try it; and if the Irish ignore Imperial laws, and simply set them at nought, then break with Ireland, and use the military force you have without scruple.' But in view of the events of the last six years, that is surely a very perilous piece of advice. We have taken many steps which it was not only right, but our duty to take ; but every one of them has resulted in a manifestation of far more defiant anti-British feeling in Ireland than we ever had to face before. Why should the next step in the same direction lead to any different result ? Is it not reasonable, reasonable in the highest degree, to expect that the next concession will produce the same sort of effect as all our previous concessions, but in a still greater degree,—the effect of raising the anti- British passion in Ireland a few notes higher ? If it does, we shall be ourselves the authors of the miserable necessity for subjugating Ireland, which we might otherwise have avoided. And what reasonable hope is there that, at the very momee when Ireland sees herself, as she will think, completely victorious, she will recoil from consequences from which, up to that moment, she had never recoiled yet?
Well, we would entreat Mr. Gladstone to consider that there are hundreds of thousands of Liberals in Great Britain who see this danger as we see it, and that it is quite possible, —nay, even quite likely,—that the Liberal army behind him would ground its arms rather than follow him in a policy which seems to them likely to issue, and to issue soon, in civil war. We are not denying that whatever
Mr. Gladstone may have to say will be listened to with the utmost deference, nay, with the most anxious desire to agree with him, if it be possible to agree with him. There is no other leader whom we all revere and trust as we revere and trust him. But it is a most serious matter to take another and far more doubtful, as well as far more decisive, step in a policy which, in its political aspects,—of course we do not refer to its social and civil aspects,—has been up to this day a melancholy failure, in the hope that that step will reverse the whole history of failure, and bring sudden light where till now we have had nothing but darkening gloom. There are not only Whigs and Liberals, but Radicals in large number, who will refuse to take this step ; and a still greater number who will dread it so much, that if they take it at Mr. Gladstone's bidding it will be solely on his authority, and without the smallest conviction of their own. What they think is this,—that if we are not prepared,—as we are not prepared,—for Separa- tion, any great step in the direction of Home-rule will be a mistake, and a far greater mistake even than passive resistance to Mr. Parnell's policy. Let Mr. Parnell turn out Government after Government, if he wilL The time will come when the British people will get sick of that manceuvre, and will send up a Parliament to Westminster in which even 103 Irish Members would not hold the balance of power ; and then at last Ireland would be compelled to come to a compromise. Is not that disagreeable prospect, bad as it is, a better prospect thin any which seems to bold out very little hope of relief till after the occurrence of a civil
war This may be a false estimate of the danger of the situation, but it is certainly one which many thousands of Radicals, as well as many scores of thousands of Liberals, have formed. If Mr. Gladstone were to adopt Home-rule, and had to dissolve on it., might not the result be the very miserable one that a very small minority would be returned to the next Parliament in favour of the policy of the greatest leader of whom the Liberal Party has ever yet been able to boast ?