MR. GLADSTONE AND MR. DISRAELI.
4R. GLADSTONE'S great defeat this day week, and Mr.
• Disraeli's very remarkable and unexpectedly decisive victory, illustrate very curiously what observing politicians had begun to notice for two or three weeks previously,—that the leader of Opposition, whose tact, moderation, and firmness had gained him a chorus of admiring praise in the first six weeks of the session, has been steadily losing ground of late in the House, while the Chancellor of the Exchequer on the -other hand, has, since the disruption of his Ministry and his fresh start on his present plan of Reform, been as steadily gaining ground with the House, and is now, for the present at least, master of the situation. What is the reason of this singular phenomenon l It is not merely that Mr. Disraeli has had the audacity to propose, as a Conservative measure, a scheme of Reform promising to be, in the end at least, far wider than that which he denounced as democratic last -session ; for had Mr. Gladstone advocated the same scheme by way of outbidding a really Conservative proposal of the present Government's, every one knows that he would have been condemned and abandoned by half his party, and scolded at from the other side of the House till the -country would have really believed that he had done some- thing wicked. Mr. Disraeli has met nothing like the diffi- culty in trampling under foot his party's principles which Mr. Gladstone would have met with, even in an attempt to modify and enlarge the views of his party. This may be -due in some small degree to the nature of the two parties. Individual judgment and opinion are infinitely more active .and discriminating among the Liberals than amongst the Con- servatives. There are still a great many left of such old Tory squires as Dir. Kendall, the Member for East Cornwall, who candidly admitted to the House that he had told his consti- tuents how he was utterly opposed to all Reform, but how, if the Government, who know so much better than he could -do, the state of feeling in the country, decided upon a Reform Bill, they would find him certainly voting for it. This sort of utter renunciation of individual judgment is very much rarer on the Liberal side of the House. The Tory party has still something of the compact nature of an avalanche about it, which "moveth altogether, if it move at all." The Tory -" Cave," in spite of the spirit and weight of those who led it, was an utter failure ; Lord Cranborne was the leader of a band of only six. Almost all the rest stuck to their party and voted en masse. The advantage of having a mind, when your followers do not, as a rule, profess one, is evidently much greater than the advantage of having a mind when your followers do pro- fess one, and this Mr. Disraeli now feels. But party reasons are not the only ones at the bottom of this remarkable ebb of Mr. Gladstone's tide and flow of Mr. Disraeli's tide since the crisis in the Ministry. To some extent we believe that personal causes in relation to the tone and temper of the House at large have limited Mr. Gladstone's influence over his own party, and lent Mr. Disraeli a sort of adventitious aid due to the strong contrast of moral and intellectual qualities in which he stands,—in general very much to his own dis- advantage,—with his opponent.
There is something strict about Mr. Gladstone, something of the "righteous and devout " man who lives "in all good conscience before God," scrupulously serving the nation and his party, but never unscrupulous or audacious, and prompt to rebuke the slightest levity, so far as he discerns it, in the political conversation of those around him. Indeed, he imparts moral scrupulosity and moral indignation of tone into his most purely political arguments. Instead of using the regular party arguments, instead of speaking merely of mischief to the country, unfair partiality to this or that class, political disaster, and personal inconsistency, as connected with the course his opponents pursue, Mr. Gladstone insinuates, and in nine cases ont of ten not without sufficient reason, a shade of moral disgust into his manner, which, while in a Christian point of view it is often infinitely gentler than the regular party -artillery, yet conveys a certain effect of moral censorship, and gives the impression of a holier political nature than that of the House at large,—which the House is apt to regard as a sort of hitting below the waist. Mr. Disraeli once spoke of Mr. Glad- .stone's official oratory as "the sanctimonious eloquence of the Chancellor of the Exchequer," and as it is certain that Mr. Glad- stone's moral calibre has always been really higher and more scrupulous than that of the House of Commons, so it is certain that the House has always been sensitively alive to this differ- ence, and conscious of the indications of this difference in Mr. Gladstone's own tone and manner. Members have something of the feeling towards him which the Athenians had towards Aristides the Just. Far from being really dictatorial, Mr. Gladstone has recently, in more cases than one, consulted the wishes of his followers too much ; but in spite of this, there has been about his speeches the dictation, not of imperious will, but of scrupulous obedience to a more rigid code of dis- tinctions, of stricter political piety, of more accurate observ- ance of the whole law of political righteousness. This is what Mr. Disraeli alluded to when in the debate on the second reading of the Reform Bill, he accused Mr. Gladstone of putting him " to the question," and addressing him " with the tone and air of a familiar of the Inquisition," adding, in order to complete the caricature, " that really he had con- gratulated himself on having a solid piece of furniture between them." Now, no doubt, the strong apparent re- pulsion there is to this tone about Mr. Gladstone is due in large measure not to the self-righteousness of the great Liberal statesman, but to the political unrighteousness of the present House of Commons, whose virtue may fairly and truly be said, without theological explanations, to be rather of the nature of filthy rags. We could have no better example of the kind of manner in which Mr. Gladstone's sincere,—and only relatively rigid,—political conscience has convicted the House of sin to its own great discomfort, than the debate on the motion for removing Mr. Churchward from the Commis-. sion of the Peace in Dover, when four Liberal members of the House of Commons were included within the terms of the proposed penalty by Mr. Bentinck's amendment. It will be remembered that in answer to a sardonic question from Mr. Bagge, at the beginning of the discussion, as to whether the four gentlemen convicted of bribery at four specified elections, were the gentlemen of those names now members of the House of Commons, Mr. Disraeli had replied, with reprobate jocularity, that nothing had struck him as so startling as the frequent cases of mistaken identity ; that the highly liberal tone of the gentlemen in question in condemning anything like Tory corruption, was primci facie evidence that they could not be the same persons, and that it would be well to have a Select Committee to inquire. Mr. Gladstone was naturally shocked at the leader of the House thus openly assuming a cynical air, and turning the corruptness of the country into a joke. He withstood Mr. Disraeli to his face ; and the House, who secretly felt grateful to Mr. Disraeli for making light of their sins, fidgeted uneasily under the light but grave rebuke of Mr. Gladstone. "I do not sympathize," said Mr. Gladstone, with some solemnity, " with the Chancellor of the Exchequer's practice in attempting to get rid of these subjects as if they were matters of great levity." And he repeated afterwards, amidst a scene of great excitement, that "this House should take care as to the impression it creates out of doors with regard to the seriousness of its intention of striking at acts of bribery in high places." Now, the " seriousness " of the House's intentions on this subject is of a very questionable kind indeed, and it is apt to feel uncomfortable when Mr. Gladstone or any other prophet reasons before it of " right- eousness, temperance, and judgment to come." It feels just as Felix felt when Paul indulged in remarks on these unpleasant subjects,—fidgetty,—and that prophets are jarring to the nerves. It prefers secretly Mr. Disraeli's bold heathenism. It winces under the yoke of the Moral Law. It takes the first oppor- tunity, when the Moral Law is not strictly at issue, and it can do so decently, of revolting against him who imposes the yoke. It is well enough satisfied with Mr. Gladstone when he presents the attitude of England on any delicate and difficult subject,—say towards Ireland in revolution,— or towards the United States in dudgeon, — in a majestic and generous moral light. All that redounds to its own credit, and so long as the House is allowed to do what seems most expedient under the circumstances, it is an admirable thing to have a great leader who can feel more nobly on such subjects than the mass of Members of Parliament, and drape their actions in a graceful and dignified costume. But when the more noble tone of feeling results in rebukes to their levity for at once bribing and yet affecting to think bribery wrong, the case is not so satisfactory. Then they weigh well with themselves whether the rule of the Sadducee, who, if he takes any line on these subjects, rather takes the line of "I'm the publican, not the pharisee, thank God," is not better, after all.
And yet Mr. Disraeli is really, no more than Mr. Gladstone, the leader the House of Commons would really like. He has gained relatively only by being confronted with this "just and devout" man. The House rather prefers his levity to Mr. Glad- stone's seriousness, when Members are involved in the actual details of political struggle. But what they really prefer is a leader with their own deepest prejudices,—which Mr. Disraeli has not,—their own conventional impression of the sort of un- scrupulousness which is venial if not ornamental in a great poli- tician, and,—what, again, Mr. Disraeli has not,—their own con- ventional impression of what it is decent, if not to be, at least to affect to be. Lord Palmerston certainly came nearer to the sort of man by whom the House likes to be ruled, than either Mr. Gladstone, whose character is too strict, and noble, and scrupulous for it, or Mr. Disraeli, whose character swings loose from all conventional ideas. Neither of the faces which confront each other in the House really suit the majority of tastes. Mr. Gladstone's eager, contentious, careworn, deeply lined face, graven by subtle lines, lowering with a mixture of self-conscious humility, of anxious scrupulosity, and uncalcu- lating impulsiveness, chafes and vexes them, as the face of an over-righteous man who takes distinctions which they do not understand. On the other hand, the impassive, vacant face, from under which, as from under a mask, Mr. Disraeli watches so keenly all that goes on, and "sucks thereout no small ad- vantage" in the form of finely calculated retorts, is not one which they like or trust.. There is an impassiveness in it they rather fear. They don't object to his secretly saying " tush " to his enemies, but they have well founded doubts lest the mind beneath that unreadable countenance is not saying " tush " with at least equal scorn to the fares of his best friends' own pri- vate political idolatry. If Mr. Disraeli is at present waxing in favour with the House, it is only because Mr. Gladstone's righteousness has exceeded what the House, in its present frame of morals, can bear. As the rule of Cromwell led to the popularity of Charles II., so the reign of Mr. Gladstone gives a certain success to the reign of Mr. Disraeli. The House is indifferent, and Mr. Gladstone is earnest. The House is lax, Mr. Gladstone is strict. The House is a little cynical about popular equality, and Mr. Gladstone is enthusiastic. The House is lazy about the details of legislation, and Mr. Glad- stone insists on instructing it elaborately in the profoundest minutiae. The House is apathetic about the Customs and Excise, while Mr. Gladstone is eloquent and diffuse. The House is dead to the woes of the compound householder, while Mr. Gladstone's reins in the night watches summon him to meditate on the ratepaying clauses. All this tells in favour of Mr. Disraeli. While we have a Parliament that "cares for none of these things," Mr. Gladstone will be beaten openly before the tribunal of the Legislature, and the only appeal lies to the country.