THE SEVEN DAYS' DUEL.
duels ebbeat wt e es einn tthhee tHwoou fsreo no ft bCeonme hmeosas, Arar "are beco msays ing that —and certainly this last week may be called, in the phrase of the old Homeric arguments, "the Acts of Disraeli and Gladstone." Yesterday week Mr. Disraeli directed a carefully prepared and very bitterly personal attack on Mr. Gladstone, nominally in relation to the Prime Minister's statement con- cerning the terms and meaning of the Crimean peace, but really pouring vitriol over every weak spot in Mr. Gladstone's political skin. Mr. Gladstone, smarting under the unfairness of some of these injuries, which did indeed go very near to mere political insult, rushed on his antagonist with far too little self-command and deliberation,— and contrived to wound himself somewhat more even than his antagonist in what was meant for self-defence. Mr. Disraeli returned to the charge after a day or two's delay on Monday night, in relation to Lord Hartington's unfortunate Irish motion, and in one of the very cleverest and least statesmanlike speeches ever delivered by him, pierced all the new weak points he could discover in the armour of his opponent. This time Mr. Gladstone was more wary, and did not reply the same night. He took time to recover his equanimity, and when he did speak early on Thursday evening, he was in his ministerial mood, and made what we must call by far the best defence for a weak and indefensible proposal which the House had the opportunity of hearing. He took his shield of faith, where- with if he was not quite able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one, he was at least able to ward them off, and gained a considerable temporary advantage by the dignity and temper of his rejoinder. This seven days' duel is only a new edition of what occurred almost every week during the Session of 1866, and will be likely to occur and recur as long as Mr. Disraeli sits opposite to Mr. Glad- stone and sees any signs that the Minister's power with his party is on the wane. While it is at its highest, Mr. Disraeli keeps silent. He waits for that inevitable decay in strength which all Parliamentary Governments suffer as they grow older and further removed from the hour of their popular birth ; and so soon as signs of this political waste and attrition begin, so soon as Sir Robert Peel, instead of sulking, begins to pour forth his scorn ore rotundo so soon as Mr. Bernal Osborne begins to mingle something wanton, something almost of the satyr, in his sneers so soon as the Ministry itself begins to fall into the all but inevitable carelessness of security and to do things which its warmest supporters regret and disap- prove, Mr. Disraeli sets to work with a will to help the course of nature, by stinging the Minister into imprudence and. en- trapping him into arrogance. The great duel of the last week displays such singular marks of the strength and weakness of the two antagonists, that it may well be worth while to glance over its chief features.
Mr. Disraeli's speech of yesterday week was a masterpiece of scientific irritation. He taunted Mr. Gladstone with the sudden and remarkable changes in his view of treaties and of Irish policy; he taunted him with the ill-support he had given to his envoys at St. Petersburg (Sir A. Buchanan), and Versailles (Mr. No Russell), in leading them to use language which was afterwards disavowed, but not censured ; he taunted him with his attempt to get Sir Spencer Robinson to falsify the date of a minute ; he suggested it as hardly improbable that Mr. Gladstone would explain his language concerning Mr. Odo Russell by asserting that he had said the exact opposite of what he was reported to have said,—and no one, smiled Mr. Disraeli, would be so pleased as himself if Mr. Gladstone should make this assertion ; he taunted him with having ascribed to the Government of 1856, with which he (Mr. Gladstone) was at daggers drawn, his own unpopular views on the Crimean war and peace; he taunted him with having attempted, before he left office in 1855, to starve the British expedition to the Crimea, by proposing insufficient votes in his capacity of Chancellor of the Exchequer ; he taunted him with distort- ing Lord Clarendon's and Lord Palmerston's views when they were dead and could no longer explain them ; he taunted him with having called a Conference merely "to register the humiliation of his country;" in short, he emulated a whole hive of political wasps in his endeavour to sting the Prime Minister into new mistakes. And he was not unsuccessful. Ur. Gladstone had hardly risen before le began to denounce Mr. Disraeli for his reference to the (no doubt perfectly right and formal) condition with Sir Spencer Robinson that he should date his reply to the First Lord of the Admiralty cycler his resignation of office, and not make a precedent for contro- verting in office the views of his superior. "Why does the right honourable gentleman," said Mr. Gladstone, "condescend to stop and take up this paltry and contemptible accusation ?" and to the cries of "Oh !" he rejoined even fiercely, "Yes, very good. Well, if not contemptible, it is a most grave accusation, and I challenge the honourable gentleman to put this accusation in words, and make it the subject of a motion." He charged Mr. Disraeli with having 'hatched' his accusation as to the Government's ill support of its envoys during the last fortnight, and when, in reply to his question as to the page of Sir A. Buchanan's despatch, Mr. Disraeli was understood to say page 45, he burst out with " No ; it is page 13. I did not think the right honourable gentleman would have been so consistent as to misstate even the page of the despatch," hastily correcting himself when the House cried " Oh!" into "as to mistake the page of the despatch." In a word, Mr. Gladstone was quite too hot to make anything like the defence he might have made even for his Russian policy. He did not show that what was a point of first-rate importance when the Porte was exhausted and weak, need no longer be a point of equal importance when it had a great fleet at its disposal. He did not make clear the difference between means and ends, and show that at different epochs different means may be desirable to secure the same ends. He made no one successful parry or thrust against his cruel antagonist, except the remark, "How generous is the right honourable gentleman in his praises of the dead I have heard him eulogize the late Sir Robert Peel and many others who have passed away ; and I cannot but think it would be well if with that liberality for the dead he mingled a little equity for the living,"—which to the man who spent more stinging invective on Sir Robert Peel while living than ever he has spent on Mr. Gladstone, was a home-thrust indeed. Still, on the whole, Mr. Gladstone's reply yesterday week was far more injurious to him than Mr. Disraeli's attack. It was little beyond an explosion of wrath ; and explosions of wrath weaken the strongest Minister, even more than explosions of malice weaken the strongest of Opposition leaders.
On Monday night Mr. Disraeli got his revenge, and was evidently quite aware of the advantage Mr. Gladstone's heat had given him. His tone was no longer scientifically irritating, it was scientifically contemptuous. He expressed great scorn of the Government which, after taking the elec- tions on its Irish policy, and promising to save Ireland, now holds that as the Irish people are in the full enjoyment of "abstract justice," such small matters as "massacres, incen- diarism, and assassinations are things scarcely to be noticed by a minister, and are rather to be referred to the inquiry of a Committee." No doubt Mr. Disraeli's own Government in 1852 had proposed a similar Committee for a similar purpose, but then
the Government of 1852 was in a minority, and had to manage the House the best way it could, and he would never have pro- posed a Committee with a majority of 100 at his back. He , scoffed at the feeble purpose of an Administrationwhich had first suggested a secret committee to devise remedies, then dropped the remedies, and finally dropped the secrecy. He declared that the proper secret committee to take note of the disorders of Westmeath is the committee of the Cabinet itself, which should on its own responsibility propose a remedy ; and he declared that the Ministry, with the great majority at its back, chosen for its promise of a great Irish policy, was by its despicable weakness making Government ridiculous,' nay, that the Prime Minister knew well what he wanted, namely, a sus- pension of the Habeas Corpus Act, but did not choose to pro- pose what, in "flashy speeches," he had so often condemned, without getting a committee as a veil to spare his "self-love." No speech was ever more insolently wounding, but none could have betrayed more openly Mr. Disraeli's complete care- lessness as to the state of Ireland, except as means for dis- crediting his opponents. The disorders in Ireland were evidently meat and drink to him. They were meat and drink to him because they were poison to his opponents.
Mr. Gladstone's delay in reply was most wise. And his reply itself showed as remarkably his moral superiority to his antagonist as a politician, as the debate of Friday week had shown his hopeless inferiority as a political duellist. He remarked with happy severity on the curiously axiomatic character of Mr. Disraeli's assumption that a Government without a Parliamentary majority ought of course to do things quite indefensible in principle in order to retain its position ; and he showed a real conviction that his own proposal of a Committee —unwise and indefensible as we still think it—was really due not to Parliamentary strategy, but to political scruples. There was no case of foreign invasion to justify a proposal of the suspension of the• Habeas Corpus. The crime and illegal conspiracy of West- meath are of no external or special origin. They have existed for years, and defied all the efforts of the Government under the Peace Preservation Act. Mr. Gladstone condemns the practice of asking for new powers in such a case as this,—of no special or temporary character,—without taking the guarantee of an investigation to show that Government had used its existing powers to the full, and had found them inadequate. The Prime Minster really proved, we think, that his blunder arises from his respect for law in Ireland, and not from his -wish to throw responsibility on to a Committee,—nay, that he was willing rather to incur the reproach of weakness than make light of an application for unusual powers under local circumstances that are by no means unusual.
The whole course of the week's duel has shown that Mr. Disraeli's skill in Parliamentary duelling is immensely superior to Mr. Gladstone's, but also that it is so precisely because he is without scruples as a politician and a statesman, while Mr. Gladstone is burdened with too many scruples. Mr. Disraeli betrays how little he cares for the country, if he can but gain a success in sword-play ; he is cool and scien- tific with the foils, because he cares so little. Mr. Gladstone is personally too hot for this sort of strife, and politically too sensitive for it. An insult rankles ; and strong feeling for the real end in view blinds him to the exigencies of the game at which he is playing ; but through all he shows a strong and active political conscience, which has more effect on Parlia- ment than all the triumphs of Mr. Disraeli's skill with the rapier of debate.