TOPICS OF THE DAY.
WE have a great respect for the Standard, which we regard as understanding the opinion of the Electors of these Islands at least as well as any Liberal journal ; but the "pathetic position" which the Standard conjured up for us on Tuesday and Wednesday is certainly to be regarded as a party manmuvre, rather than as a transcript of fact. Mr. Gladstone was most reluctant, or, at all events, sincerely believed that he was most reluctant,—it is not given to many men to weigh in any very accurate balance the relative force of conflicting desires,—to re-enter the field of Minis- terial duties. Doubtless, he has often since sighed over the heavy burden he has taken up, and what he said at Leeds indicates distinctly enough his full conviction of the power of the men who must succeed him to discharge their duties efficiently, and of the rapid approach of the time when they must be tested. But beyond that there is absolutely no foundation at all for the Standard's emotion, and as much as this we all knew quite as well as the Conservative elegist of Wednesday last. But when a statesman in Mr. Gladstone's position takes up the duties of Prime Minister, he is well aware that nothing but illness or genuine inability to discharge them properly can absolve him from the duty of finishing, so far as possible, the special task with which he felt himself called upon to grapple. Nothing can be more certain than that before the next meeting of Parliament, there is no possibility that Mr. Gladstone can sincerely persuade himself that this has been achieved. If he feels the weight of a special responsibility on him at all, it is the responsibility to see his own work—the Irish land policy of 1870—duly amended and completed ; and further, to see that Parliamentary anarchy which the tactics of the Irish party have not so much created, as exaggerated, till some heroic remedy is seen to be absolutely needful, in a way to be cured. Mr. Gladstone came back to public life to reverse the dangerous and unscrupulous foreign policy of Lord Beaconsfield, and in that he has already suc- ceeded. But he had no sooner returned to public life than he was met with two very critical problems, one of which was closely connected with his own special policy of 1870, and the other of which is so difficult and complex, that only a statesman of the first authority and the largest experience in the House of Commons can hope to grapple with it success- fully. We may assert with perfect confidence that if Mr. Gladstone's health lasts, he would think it cowardly to retreat from his post till he had seen these two questions—the anarchy in Ireland and the anarchy in the House of Commons—either removed, or in a fair way to speedy removal, for, in relation to both of them, the personal weight of Mr. Gladstone and the influence of his name are almost of more consequence for the purpose of success than any other condition whatever. Doubt- less, when he has, in his own belief, solved or brought within "a measurable distance" of easy solution, these two great diffi- culties, he will again begin to meditate on the special fit- ness of retirement for a statesman of his age. He believes, probably, that in more than one recent instance English statesmen have kept their hold of the helm after they had lost the strength of arm to put it down firmly when
they would. He will not fall into the same mistake. But it would be evading the post of duty, unnecessarily to leave the House of Commons when the Home-rule party is raging furiously and imagining vain things against the Govern- ment, as a result of the policy for which Mr. Gladstone is responsible ; and when the forms and procedure of the House are so little adapted to its present needs, though so deeply rooted in the traditions of the past, that only a statesman of the greatest authority and experience can well hope to persuade the House to make the necessary reforms. Everything that Mr.
Gladstone has said proves how keenly he feels the obligation laid upon him at least to tide the country past these two dangerous rocks, before he thinks of his own ease. We venture to affirm that only serious illness would induce him to pass on the legacy of these embarrassments to his colleagues.
But it is easy to understand why these rumours are set afloat.
The true pathos of the situation, as the Standard calls it, is the pathos of Conservative inability to cope with Mr. Gladstone. The Tories are as much daunted at the echo with which the country sends back the sound of his speeches, as the Trojans were when Achilles' shout was heard from beyond the trench. They are daunted by Mr. Gladstone, and they are not daunted by any other of the Liberal leaders. Hence the eagerness of the Standard for that "pathetic position" over which it weeps crocodile tears. But the pathos is within the Tory ranks, not outside it. If Mr. Gladstone could but be persuaded to retire, then they think they might have a chance ; and the prospect moves them so deeply, that they even feel a tenderness for Mr. Gladstone, so long as they can persuade themselves that he is on the eve of resignation. They even get maudlin over the prospect, and can hardly distinguish between the tears of joy with which they contemplate the rolling away of the burden, and the tears of sympathy they are ready to weep over the object of their fears, if only he would take himself off, and leave them nothing but the memory of him with which to contrast the lesser opponents, with whom. they conceive themselves strong enough to cope.
Mr. Gladstone, however, will not voluntarily take himself off,, until he has done all he can to diminish to the utmost the difficulties of his successors. It is only fitting that he who first gave Ireland the hope of a suitable land-law should complete his work, if he can, and should himself face the small, but not on that account less formidable, phalanx. who will do all in their power when Parliament meets to inflame Ireland against the authors of the new policy.. And it is still more fitting that at a time when the procedure of the House of Commons needs a thorough re- organisation, the reorganisation should be proposed by a. Prime Minister of the first rank, with his seat in that House, and with the unlimited confidence of the people, rather than by even so able a leader as Lord Hartington, who would pro- bably not be Prime Minister at all, but only the lieutenant of Lord Granville, and whose close connection with the Upper House might possibly, to some extent, diminish the authority of his. opinions for the great masses of the people. Every one who knows. LordHartington knows perfectly well that a more sound and. trustworthy Liberal does not exist within the limits of the party. But then, in the Constituencies, every one does not know Lord, Hartington. His name is not yet the household word which Mr. Gladstone's long ago became. And it is only fitting that when the question arises of limiting, in the interests of the people at large, the freedom of minorities, the question should be dealt with by one whom all England knows to be as zeal- ous for all kinds of freedom, and especially freedom of speech, as a statesman whose privilege it has often been to. transmute minorities into great majorities by the magic of hie utterance and the enthusiasm of his hope, is likely to be.. None but Mr. Gladstone can adequately confront either the Irish Irreconcilables whom he has been compelled to imprison, or the partisans of Obstruction whom he proposes to paralyse,. so as to convince the people of England that in each task alike he is pursuing no arbitrary or despotic policy, but the policy of a statesman who cares as much for the welfare of Ireland as he cares for the welfare of any other equal area in the British Isles, and whose object it is to silence free speech only where it is essentially destructive of all the objects of free speech,—because it prevents altogether the free resolve of the popular body, and the free action of their Executive. Mr. Gladstone will not willingly resign till the Irish difficulty has assumed a different and more promising phase, nor till the Parliamentary problem has received at least a provisional solution.