TOPICS OF THE DAY.
MR. GLADSTONE AS LEADER OF THE HOUSE OF COMMONS.
MR. BRIGHT'S speech at Rochdale concludes with a some- what curious passage, in which he expresses his eager desire that Lord Russell were not in the Lords, and could still lead the House of Commons, and expresses it in a way which indicates very distinctly indeed, not exactly what he thinks, but what he does not think, of the statesman to whom that office now falls. " I lament deeply," he says, " that Lord Russell is not at this moment a member of the House of Commons ;" and further on he adds, in regard to Reform, " much depends upon him, and I am not sure with regard to the measure that is coming that everything does not depend upon him." Clearly Mr. Bright places no confidence at all in Mr. Gladstone. And what of Mr. Gladstone him- self, —how does he look upon the task before him ? He has told us by the motto to his Lancashire speeches that he partly realizes the greatness of the change which his prospects have undergone, that "he'll shape his old course in a country new." He has, like the Earl of Kent, in King Lear, already experienced ingratitude where he should least have found it,—in the University of Oxford,—but has he not new trials of the same kind still before him, and is not Mr. Bright already by antici- pation turning him from his door ? We know no states- man whom we admire so much, and from whom we hope for so much, as Mr. Gladstone. But we fear that the same motto which he has chosen as a delicate reproach to Oxford may be but too applicable to the case of other desertions of Mr. Gladstone in this ungrateful world,—that in the "new country " in which he has now to travel, he will often " weary with the greatness of his way" and with the pangs incident to a nature in many respects too sensitive for the work before him.
Undoubtedly in the task of leading the House of Commons Mr. Gladstone has a kind of duty before him to which every states- man would look forward with anxiety, but to which such a states- man as Mr. Gladstone must look forward with peculiar anxiety, and that in great measure for the very reasons for which we all admire him. For Mr. Gladstone is in many respects the first leader of the modern generation of politicians,—the poli- ticians who do not look at politics as a game of chess, but as a department of life almost as grave, and quite as full of moral perplexity, as their religious belief itself. Lord Palmer- ston was a man of the world ; Mr. Disraeli thought the world an oyster, the only problem being how to open it ; Sir Robert Peel was a man of the world with a certain dramatic impres- siveness that was not earnestness ; and Lord Russell is a Whig nobleman, with convictions certainly, but with no conviction so strong as the necessity of breaking all opposition to his own Government. Mr. Gladstone is the first leader of the House of Commons, who will look at the obstacles to his Government from a quite different point of view than that of mere difficulties to be surmounted. Take the case of Mr. Bright himself, for instance, who is quite likely to be one of Mr. Gladstone's difficulties. Lord Palmerston probably regarded Mr. Bright as a providential instrument intended to render ultra-Radical views obnoxious to the country, and took no more note of what he said than just to pick out the points on which a judicious word or two in due season would be calculated to aid this beneficent intention of Providence. But Mr. Gladstone will certainly not be able to take this calm, external view of powerful assailants. If Mr. Bright is un- pleasant, he will fret, he will think of ways of convincing his reason, of arguments likely to persuade him that he is wrong; he will look at his speeches with a contentious controversial zeal ; he will measure the weight of his thought as thought instead of merely measuring its importance as a political phenomenon. Even if Lord Palmerston were annoyed by a vigorous Radical onslaught, he only thought of his opponent as Mr. Kinglake says that the Turks think of an Englishman or an Englishman of a snowstorm, namely, as " a mysterious, unaccountable, un- comfortable work of God, which may have been sent for some good purpose, to be revealed hereafter." But that is the point of view of a statesman who is mainly a man of the world,—who looks not at the intrinsic value of a thought, but at its political operation,—at its influence on the state of parties, at the move' which will best counteract it as a matter of policy. But Mr. Gladstone is not mainly a man of the world. He is a man who broods over his plans and his ideas and the ideas of his opponents with a strong desire to arrive at the truth. Difficulties that were mere stumbling-blocks to be avoided to the old school of states- men will be thorns in the flesh to be prayed against, and patiently used as political crosses, by Mr. Gladstone. Now this more modern and higher, if sometimes too sensitive, way of looking at political life will undoubtedly be a real difficulty to Mr. Gladstone as leader of the House of Commons. The management of the House must always be more or less a matter of real savoir-faire. In the House of Commons it is scarcely true that the forces to be dealt with are convictions. At a stage further back no doubt it is so, and one great advantage that Mr. Gladstone will have over former leaders is this,—that he may exercise if he will• a real influence on the convictions of the country, and even raise the standard of its political ethics. But, parties once fairly organized in the House of Commons, the majority of members are more or less pledged, and scarcely at liberty, even if they were able, to alter their minds, though they may be induced by politic considerations to alter their votes. The notion of seriously altering the convictions of members of Parliament, say on Reform, by argument, however powerful, is like the notion that you could mould a bust in the marble because you can mould it in the clay. To address argument to the member for Birmingham, for instance, on that subject, in the same sense in which you would address argument to minds still con- fessedly in search of truth, is a waste of moral and intellectual force. It might tell powerfully upon the country, but it would be sure not to answer the purpose for which Mr. Glad- stone would be in danger of using it, the clearing of a Par- liamentary obstruction out of his path. As a set-off against the advantage of having a Minister at the head of the House of Commons to whom political conviction means something very real, something implying a long intellectual and moral process for every conviction,—we have undoubtedly the dis- advantage that he will feel intellectual and moral objections to his policy far too keenly, and desire too much to parry them, not for the reason for which a swordsman desires to parry a dangerous blow—because it is dangerous, but for the reason for which an argumentative man desires to answer even the feeblest objections,—from a sort of intellectual resent- ment of their vexatious impertinence, and from a fascinating sense of being able to annihilate them completely.
Then, again, Mr. Gladstone will have another great difficulty as leader of the House of Commons. He will not only, we fear, look at his duties too much as persuasive duties, too little as managing duties, but his political position will be perplexing and sometimes unintelligible to his followers. He will care too much to understand them, often when there is very little to be understood ; they will care too little to understand him, even when there is much to be understood, and they will be the harder to manage in consequence. A leader loses much in power whose followers cannot pretend to follow him into half his positions. In Mr. Gladstone they will have such a leader. Much of the course which he shaped in the old country—on ecclesiastical questions, for instance and which he promises to shape also in the " country new," is utterly un- intelligible to Liberals in a great Liberal leader. His mind is indeed made up of a complex system of intellectual cells com- municating with each other by passages intelligible to himself but not to the mass of mankind Now the habit of following, a habit useful to a party, must be at least seriously weak- ened when, on a certain class of subjects, the Liberals have to admit to themselves that they must "make allowances" for their leader, and leave him to think and 'vote apart from them. None of the mere phalanx-men had any difficulty in following Lord Palmerston or Lord Russell. The Conserva- tive-Liberal creed of the one, the Whig creed of the other, was as well known, as visible an external reality, as easy to rally to, as the standard in an army. But Mr. Gladstone's creed to be understood at all must be studied in its motives. Why is he, for instance, almost one of the Manchester school on questions of military expenditure, finance, and peace,— nearly as Liberal as they are on the extension of the franchise, —and yet a Southerner in feeling on the American question ? Why has he the keenest possible sympathy with the miserable captives of Naples, and little or none with the miserable cap- tives of Louisiana or Mississippi Why does he trust popular feeling and free inquiry so implicitly in secular matters and distrust it in religious,—devote all his power as a statesman to promote the spiritual principle of a free press, and yet to sustain the authoritative and dogmatic principle of a traditional Church ? These are questions which can of course be an-
swered by any one who has studied the interior of Mr. Glad- stone's faith. But few politicians do study interiors at all. The vague popular impression is that his politics are " not of a piece, and you don't know where to have him," that " a plain man can't follow Mr. Gladstone with any consistency, but must set up thinking for himself." And this, we take it, will be one—by no means wholly unfortunate—but rather disorganizing effect of the leadership of this bril- liant man. The multiplicity of seams in his views will deter men more than ever from pinning their faith on his. You might be a Palmerstonian or a Whig, but only Gladstone can be a Gladstonian. And hence we suspect the common-place mem- bers, the ruck of the Liberal party, will become under Mr. Gladstone's leadership hard to manage ;—will begin to think they ought to have a separate reason, like their leader, for every vote they give,—and being incapable of seeing so many reasons, will fall into the sort of disorder into which, from a different and nearly opposite cause, Mr. Disraeli's Tory viewi- ness has thrown the party under his control.
The transition from the old, simple, external politic states- manship to the less hard, less crystallized, more excitable type which is constantly in process of intellectual fermentation, al- ways changing in the mind of its representative, cannot but bring with it many obstructions to the old system of party govern- ment. Mr. Brand, the Liberal whip, will be sure to find his task much less easy under the new regime, and we do not doubt that we shall have to pay a price for the privilege of being led by a nobler type of statesman than has perhaps ever before had the management of the Liberal party. Still we do not doubt that in spite of a number of petty difficulties we shall be gainers by the change. To " shape their old course in a country new " may be as hard for Mr. Gladstone's followers as for himself ; but we do not doubt that though that course will be harder to find, the country through which it lies is a better country, the purer air of which it will brace us all to breathe.