24 FEBRUARY 1866, Page 5


AfiR. GLADSTONE has begun his career as leader of the 1 House of Commons amidst conditions of the most hampering and delicate kind, and yet every one is talking not only of the success of his start, but of its brilliant -success. It is not too much to say that in a condition of Par- liaments/7 feeling which might well have daunted any man without unusual confidence in his own judgment,—and this Mr. Gladstone certainly has not, and perhaps it is partly due to his self-distrust that he has succeeded as he has,—he has thus far steered his course not only so as to satisfy all parties in the House, but so as to accomplish something of much greater importance to his general influence as a statesman,— to increase the self-respect of Parliament. This is a kind of influence which of course the leader of the House of Com- mons can exert in far greater degree not only than any other single member, but almost than any number of leading mem- bers. The leader.of the House of Commons sums up after a debate of moment, in the name, not merely of his party, but of the whole House. We do not mean of course that he can express any view which his party disowns,—but only that he is expected to feel in some degree for all parties, to give the fair weight and estimation to the half-expressed reluctances of the House as well as to its fully expressed resolves, to do justice to the spirit of his opponents even when he cannot accept their advice, and above all to single out from the ideas -and feelings which have found expression in the House those -which best deserve emphatic record, and the notice of -which will do most to raise the tone of future debates. It may be said with some certainty that no leader of the House for many years has discharged this part of his task so ably as Mr. Gladstone is now discharging it. Nor, short as his trial has been, have there been wanting more than one pretty severe test. Only on the second night of the session, in the discussion on the state of Ireland, it became necessary to moderate, as it were, for the House, between the purely Irish and quasi-disaffected mood of the O'Donoghue, and the 1/A1f-brutal determination of the English imperial feeling to crush out everything like dis- content. The question. was simply as to admitting words which would have suggested a sort of apology for Fenianism -into the Address, on the one hand, and blankly snubbing the sore Irish feeling on the other. Mr. Gladstone did neither. He gave full and large expression to the sincere belief of the House of Commons, that it has tried to deal perfectly equally

• by all the different sections of the United Kingdom. He even showed the excellent results which, in spite of the present troubles, had grown out of that comparative justice, in the loyal and peaceful disposition of the higher class of Irish, once so rebellions. He refused even to hear of qualifying the censure with which the rebellion ought to be spoken of in a formal Address to the Throne. But nevertheless he con- trived to qualify very much the feeling of hopeless resent- ment which the Irish patriots usually feel after hear- ing the replies of British Ministers to their grievances. Both on the second night of the session, and with still more striking effect in last Saturday's debate on the Habeas Corpus Act, Mr. Gladstone showed a delicacy of sympathy of which Lord Palmerston, with all his great quali- ties, would have been quite incapable, and yet to which the House was evidently in the highest degree suscep- tible. The distinction which he took in the earlier debate between the common legislation, which must be the same for every part of the United Kingdom, and the special legisla- tion, which ought to take the special colour of local wishes and national habits, was both an opening for hope, and a tribute to the pride, of Ireland. While asserting the English feeling concerning the Union and all attempts to break it, not only with force, but with earnest conviction that it was right and wise, he expressed also the highest vein of feeling in the House concerning our half-neglected responsibility to Ireland, and so made the debate one tending rather to healing and reconcilia- tion than to new resentments. But what he effected last Satur- day in the same direction,—that of expressing the highest and sincerestpart of the English feeling towards Ireland without re- laxing an atom in the tone of his rebuke for the guilt of the re- bellion, was far more difficult and far more brilliant in its success. Mr. Bright's fine speech,—no doubt defective as such a speech by Mr. Bright would be sure to be defective, in failing to give due credit for what England has done, and to make due allowance for the real unreasonableness of much of the Irish feeling of discontent,—had stirred the anger of the narrower English party in the House, and Mr. Roebuck and Mr. Horsman had given an expression, the former coarse and violent, the latter decorous, but stiff, purblind, and utterly unstatesmanlike, to the brutal English conviction that Mr. Bright was expressing a humiliation—really shared by all thoughtful men—only in order to find a new excuse for blam- ing his country. These speeches had roused the worst and narrowest vein of feeling in the House, and no leader but Mr. Gladstone could have restored the temper of grave and regret- ful resolve, in which it was necessary to the self-respect of Parliament to come to the decision to suspend the guarantee for Irish liberties. Lord Palmerston would probably have contented himself with repeating some of Mr. Horsman's rebukes to Mr. Bright in a more genial and cheerful way ; certainly he would not have made Ireland feel the pain with which the Government adopted this course ; and most likely he would not have made the House feel satisfied with itself in what it had said. It would have rises with that sense of dissatisfaction with which men often reflect afterwards on the smart flippant criticisms by which they have crushed a half just and wholly earnest remonstrance. But Mr. Glad- stone did more than restore the dignity, he raised the tone of the House. He gave full credit to Mr. Bright for both the truth and eloquence of what he had said, though he expressed his pain at its onesidedness. He admitted that Mr. Bright might be right in saying that the routine of office made so exhausting a drain on the strength of Ministers that they had little time for the highest, the legislative, duties of statesmen with respect to a disaffected province of the empire. But the beauty with which he turned this admission into an appeal for immediate and energetic action, should live among the most subtle and delicate touches of true Parliamentary tact :—" I admit that the pressing and the worrying influence of the mass of details with which all public life is overloaded may have had upon us, and upon others worthier than us, the effect of obscuring our views, and of lowering our ideas in respect of the fit objects of public policy. But in this day we have one duty to perform ; it may be a painful and grievous, but it is yet a very solemn and peremptory, obligation. However con- tracted may be the skill of statesmanship in this country, at least let us hope that we retain a sensitive perception of its elementary functions, and that we know that, as no man can reach the higher rounds of a ladder without first treading the lower, so no man is fit to deal with great political problems unless he sets before his eye, and never suffers to be out of his vision for one moment,- the peremptory duty of maintaining the blessings of peace and order, and of advising the loyal and well disposed masses of the community against those who have been unhappily misled. That is the duty of the day, and to that duty of .the day we now confine ourselves."

These sentences seem to us, we confess, some of the happiest ever uttered by a leader of the House of Commons on whom. the ditty had devolved of not only• tranquillizing jarring feel- ings, but stalking a new and higher chord, which should alter and• improve the moral impression of the whole debate. The man who can do that may, and probably will, make grave mistakes in judgment ; but he has a power in him higher than fliers judgment,—a power to inspire the House which he leads with a new standard of statesmanship. We venture to say that Mr. Bright felt he had omitted much that he might better have said) after Mr. Gladstone's speech, and that Mr. Horsman went away shamed by the higher thought and higher tone of the Liberal leader. As for Mr. Roebuck, he is probably too hardened in such guilt to know what shame means.

Nor has it been exclusively in these greater trials of his Par- liamentary tact and feeling that Mr. Gladstone has shown many of the higher qualities of a leader. In the debate on the indemnity clauses of the Cattle Plague• Bill, we think it was sufficiently evident to any one who scanned closely the Chan- cellor of the Exchequer's short speeches, that he was really anything but friendly to the principle of indemnifying the stockowners by a rate levied on the community at large, and that he stifled the impulse to express that unfriendly feeling from respect to the opinion of the House. If we are right in this interpretation of his conduct, we believe that this pru- dence was really a greater exercise of self-control, far more difficult, because far more counter to the nature of Mr. Gladstone, than any other effort for which he has been as yet called upon. If Mr. Gladstone should ever fail as leader of the House, it will probably be in some useless outbreak against what he thinks an unreasonable and unjust display of prejudice or self-interest, even though it is of no more use to protest than it is for the breaker to protest against the reef on which it breaks. Still it is a good omen that Mr. Gladstone was able to avoid breaking with the opinion of the House, however hastily and rashly formed,—for to have attempted to overrule it in the very first moment of his sway in the Lower House, would have been to give an impression of dictatorial and vehemently tenacious purpose, that could not but have affected the attitude of Parliament towards him unfavourably. If Mr. Gladstone can learn to bend to the clear wish of the House in all the less important cases where that wish chafes him and he longs inwardly to dash himself against it, he will have a far better chance of commanding deference when he feels it his duty not to bend to the wish even of Parliament, but either to win his cause or resign his place. It would clearly have been bad judgment, and something almost like egotism, to challenge such an issue at the very outset of his career, on a Bill to provide indemnity for what we all hope, is a very temporary sacrifice enforced by the Legislature. And we argue from the good grace with which Mr. Glad- stone gave way, that he has it in him not only to express the highest tone of feeling on any subject in the House of Commons, but to bow to an erroneous decision, the error of which he himself clearly sees, where the error involved is not one of first-rate magnitude. We confess it is on questions of similar difficulty that we shall look most anxiously to Mr. Gladstone's policy in future.

Finally, even on mere trifles, the Chancellor of the Ex- chequer has shown already that tact, vivacity, and playful- ness, the stimulus of which does so much to keep the House in good humour with itself and with its leader. Of course he has not the peculiar cheery humour of Lord Palmerston. But when stretched on the rack by such inquisitors as Mr. Lowe and Sir Robert Peel, with a view to extorting information on the course of the Government concerning the Catholic University, Mr. Gladstone not only proved an unsqueezeable witness, but one whose replies turned the laugh against his assailants. It was the same with the attempt to press out of him some half voluntary hint on the subject of Reform. When Mr. (Ray introduced nis Educational Franchise Bill, Mr. Clay, Mr. Gregory, and Mr. Horsman did all in their power to extort from the leader of the House some sign or shadow of the coming event. Mr. Gladstone noted the trap, and very composedly walked round it, amidst the laughter and cheers of the House. " With respect," he said, "to the modest invitation of the honourable member for Hull, and the more elaborate invitation of the honourable member who followed him, for some expression from me on the part of the Government as to the merits of my honourable's friend's proposal, I can only say that not my respect for the one nor my admiration for the ability of the other, nor any other motive or consideration, will extract from me any such opinion. (Great laughter.)" Already, then, rather less than three weeks from the assembly of Parliament, the Chancellor of the Exchequer has been tried on all points, and, so far, not only not been found wanting, but has taken a higher, and more difficult, and not less successful line than even his great pre- decessor. He has been pliant in a ease in which a fair knowledge of him might have predicted that he would prove inflexible, and therefore brittle ; he has been at once inexorable and playful in trifles involving the mere finesse of politics ; and on the greater Irish question, without showing any relaxed sense of either the dignity or the authority of the nation or Government, he has spoken in a tone of generous candour and frank regret, amounting almost to humility, which, while it strengthened the hands of the Executive, raised abso• the self-respect of Parliament, and exalted the whole tone and standard of Parliamentary feeling. If he could only go on as he has begun; he would be a leader of the House greater than any it has had for years, certainly since the time of Mr.. Canning, and probably for a longer time:. We must remember, however, the old maxim, never more likely to prove true than in such a case as this, that the degradation of a higher type is always worse than the degradation of a lower. In proportion as the standard is noble, is the departure from it fatal. - little blunder in Mr. Gladstone might prove much more fatal than a greater blunder in Lord Palmerston. The more delicate- instrument has the greater difficulty in righting-itself if it is. once disordered. But that we have a higher type of leader in. Mr. Gladstone, if he can only carry out his own. conception, than we have had for a generation, it is impossible for any close political observer to doubt.