MR. JOHN MORLEY.
1-4ITERARY men can hardly help looking on Mr. Morley's sudden spring into the most important Cabinet office under Mr. Gladstone's Government with a certain amount of pride. Except the late Lord Lytton, he is probably the first English- man who can be supposed to owe his Ministerial advancement to his pen, and we are by no means sure that Sir Edward Bulwer's popular novels were not rather an obstacle than a help to him in his political life. About Mr. Morley's case there can -be no doubt. His influence in politics dates from his journalism, and as a journalist no one can deny his power. And yet that power is not distinctively of the journalistic type. Mr. Morley is greater, we think, in the field of pure literature than even in the field of political literature. He estimates genius more truly than he estimates ordinary men. He estimates literary genius better even than he estimates political genius. The "Life of Cobden" is a good book, but as a literary production it will not rank beside his books on Voltaire and Rousseau. He is more at home in a field which is partly at least imaginative, than in a field which is altogether homely. In his careful study of Burke he is perhaps at his best ; and it is a good omen,—perhaps the only good omen,—for the great and diffi- cult task which, with a courage almost reminding us of the knight-errant, he has undertaken, that he has given to Burke's writings so zealous and discriminating a study. But, what- ever his success or whatever his failure,—and we venture to say that no one appreciates more adequately than Mr. Morley how much more likely he is to encounter failure than to achieve success,—it is impossible for literary men not to feel the deepest interest in an experiment which Prance tried long ago with results which different men regard very differently, when M. Guizot and M. Thiers directed in turns the counsels of Louis Philippe. England has not yet given any serious trial to the literary man as Minister. In Mr. John Morley as Irish Secretary, and that in a time when our relations with Ireland are far the most important of the questions of the day, we shall have a good opportunity to test the calibre of a brilliant literary man in one of the most difficult parts of the political field.
Without concealing for a moment our belief that Mr. Morley has some of the qualities which will be of the highest possible advantage to the Cabinet,—and it is difficult to over-rate the importance of genuine political imagination which we con- fidently attribute to him,—we cannot deny that some even of the greatest of these qualities bode little good to the peace of mind and political sang-froid of their possessor. The true literary nature is unquestionably sensitive,—we do not mean to personal attacks, which we dare say that Mr. Morley will regard with nearly as much indifference as even his chief, by whom they pass with as little effect as the whistling of the wind. The kind of sensitiveness to which we refer is sensitiveness to the greatness of great issues, to the responsibilities of grave decisions, to the serious national dangers which must be risked and ignored if anything great is to be achieved. This sensitiveness it is which successful statesmen have to fear, if they should wish to accomplish great designs without break breaking their own hearts ; and yet, without this sensitive- ness it is very hard to be sure that they will rightly appre- ciate the difficulties in their way. We doubt, for example, whether Mr. Gladstone himself has this sensitiveness. He guides his course by certain constitutional principles with which he is deeply imbued, and if they fail him,—and dealing with Ireland what principles are there which will not fail him ?—he has' we think, very much of the Frenchman's feeling, "So much the worse for the facts." If you treat the Irish as you treat other political peoples, constitutionally, and they do not answer to your treatment, he thinks, perhaps, 'Well, so mach the worse for Ireland, but so much the better for the statesman who held to his faith in principle and was deceived.' Mr. John Morley, we may be sure, has not that high contentious faith in abstract principles. If we read his recent speeches at Newcastle and Chelmsford at all aright, he is now feeling more as Eliphaz the Temanite felt when the vision of the night startled him, than as a politician feels who has just earned the first-finite of a noble ambition. "Then a spirit passed before my face ; the hair of my flesh
stood up. It stood still, but I could not discern the appear- ance thereof." Mr. Morley, who only entered Parliament in the critical spring of 1883, and who for some years appeared to be possessed by sympathy with the extreme party in Ireland, has latterly been evidently awakening to a still deeper sympathy with the British nation in its perplexing relation to Ire- land. He knows so much of the Irish Party, he has seen so much both of their political craft and of their resources for paralysing government in Great Britain, that he probably appreciates better than any other Member of Parliament, the whole difficulty of the problem before him. In his recent speeches he has shown that he is almost aghast at the magnitude of that problem, that it weighs upon him more and more, that his imagination is burdened with it, that his conscience is oppressed with it, that his political sagacity is almost confounded by it. We should expect thus much from the fineness of his literary insight, and in one sense, no doubt, it is a vast advantage that he realises the situation in all its gravity. But then, how will this sensitive literary insight tell on his power of doing what he will have to do ? The most responsible work of the world has generally been done by men who were half unaware of the responsibility they were incurring, who trod right by a sort of dumb instinct, and without realising how narrow a path they had to tread "between the devil and the deep sea," as the phrase goes. Mr. Morley certainly will not be one of these. If he proves equal to the great task before him, he will have far more true merit than the ordinary statesman, who incurs great perils almost without knowing that he has incurred them ; who plods along the right path without observ- ing the lurking spiritual enemy on his right hand, or the roaring breakers on his left. Mr. Morley will realise to the full every great collapse he escapes before he has escaped it. There is none of that triple brass around his heart which enables men to risk national disgrace without a shudder,— indeed, without realising what there was to shudder at. There will be the danger of all true literary men in governing great democracies. Nothing is more needed by these democracies than guidance,—firm, confident, reso. lute guidance. No one can contribute more elements among those needed to determine the direction of that guidance than literary men of genius. But then, no one is so painfully conscious of all the dangers to be run and of all the risk of failure. If Mr. Morley has grace, when he has once made up his mind, like the prince in the Arabian tale, to stop his ears to all the discordant shrieks with which he is assailed as he passes on his way to the enchanted land which he is asked to rule, perhaps, like the prince, he may successfully achieve its disenchantment, and break the evil spell by which the destiny of Ireland has been so long controlled. But our hope of such a result is very faint indeed. We can only cherish the earnest hope that if he fails, he may yet not lose heart for all the many brilliant tasks which will still be within his power. "Great position," he has said, in concluding his book on Voltaire," often invests men with a second-sight whose visions they lock up in silence, content with the work of the day." Heartily do we hope that this second-sight may be his, and that it may guide him to the great achievement which we nevertheless believe to be beyond his strength, and probably beyond the strength of any living statesman.