23 SEPTEMBER 1882, Page 7


NO Parliamentary speaker on either side has advanced to the front with greater rapidity than Mr. Gibson. Having filled, little more than two years ago, with no apparent incongruity, the post of official subordinate to Mr. Lowther, he has made such excellent use of his opportunities, that he may now be counted a certain member of the next Conservative Cabinet. Mr. Gibson's rise has, no doubt, been hastened by a somewhat accidental concurrence of favourable conditions. It does not often happen in political life that an ambitious and able man is lucky enough to find a subject, upon which he pos- sesses the exclusive information of a specialist, absorbing public attention, and deciding the fate of a Ministry, at a moment when his own party is exceptionally poor, both in the technical knowledge which the occasion demands, and in general debating power. Yet this has been M. Gibson's good- fortune during the Sessions of 1881 and 1882. No measure was ever submitted to Parliament that raised a greater number of complex and unintelligible issues than the Irish Land Bill of last year. In that pathless waste of intricacies in which so many even of the most clear-headed critics floundered hope- lessly and lost their way, Mr. Gibson moved with the sure and easy step of a man to whom every inch of the ground was familiar. His speech on the second reading was, in its way, a masterpiece. For nearly two hours, with breathless speed and unflagging animation, he dragged the House through all the highways and byways of the Bill, penetrating every hole and corner of it, exposing every hidden flaw, tracking out the unsuspected consequences of unobserved provisions, multiplying illustrations, and accumulating in- stances, to the manifest embarrassment of his opponents' and the bewildered admiration of his exhausted followers. When at last he sat down, and it was seen that no Minister ventured, on the spur of the moment, to reply, the Conservatives were seized with a fit of exultation which lasted for nearly a week, and Mr. Gibson was admitted on all hands to have passed from the second rank among the debaters of his party into the first. The position so won he has since not only maintained, but improved. Over and over again, in the protracted debates on the Land Bill last year and on the Arrears Bill during the present Session, his special knowledge, reinforced, as it always is, by a ready tongue and a business-like habit of mind, has been of invaluable service to the Opposition. Mr. Gibson, however, has been careful from the first to let it be known that he will not be content with the reputation of a mere specialist. Even in the House of Commons he has several times made excursions into the field of general politics, and he is rapidly becoming one of the most indefatigable, and at the same time one of the most popular, of the platform speakers of his party. His oratory does not, it is true, reach a very high level, suffering from the defects of excessive verb- osity and a fatiguing vehemence of manner, and being almost wholly destitute of the graces of diction and ease of style by which Lis colleague, Mr. Plunket, still keeps alive the better traditions of Irish eloquence. But for all that, Mr. Gibson is a vigor- ous and, within his range, a highly effective speaker, of whom it may at least be said that whatever his hand finds to do— from the hazardous adventure of crossing swords with Mr. Gladstone in the House of Commons, down to the bloodless work of beating the drum and waving the flag at a Conserva- tive demonstration—he does it manfully, and with all his might. To a party officered and led as the Opposition is at present in the Lower House, the value of such a recruit cannot be easily appraised.

It would be doing a great injustice to Mr. Gibson to regard him as a free-lance, whose connection with the Conservatives is an accident, and who has entered upon the struggles of poli- tical life without serious interests or independent convictions. No one who has watched the attitude he has himself taken up, and the advice which he has tendered to his party, upon Irish questions during the last two years, can doubt that, so long as he is dealing with matters of which his knowledge is first- hand, he has both the insight and the instincts of a statesman. Nothing can lus more remarkable than the contrast between the spirit in which his views of Irish policy are conceived, and the traditional tone of the old Parliamentary type of Orange leader, such, for instance, as the late Chief Justice Whiteside. He has never joined either in the cry for vengeance, or in the croakings of despair, which have formed the refrain of all Tory proposals and criticisms on Irish matters during the past two years. IIe never fell into the mistake, so common among men on his side, of identifying the cause of the landlords, as a

whole, with the claims and interests of the worst and least deserving members of their class. His intimate acquaintance with the people, and, as we should judge, a certain subdued sympathy with them, based upon a real comprehension of their character and sufferings, enabled him to preserve a cool head and a hopeful temper amid the contagion of panic and blind- ness which prevailed around him. As he said last week at Accrington, with perfect truth, he "never at the worst of times lost heart about Ireland." It is true that Mr. Gibson was one of the most active assailants of the Land Act of het year. But he carefully abstained from committing himself to the favourite Tory position that no Land Act was required, and that if the Executive had only shown its teeth with sufficient determination, the agitation would have vanished into the air, and the old tenure need never have been touched. He knew the country far too well to be really frightened at the prospect of the "three F's," and his criticism was throughout a criticism mainly of details, and not of principles. In the conflicts between the two Houses on the Land Bill last year, and again this year on the Arrears Bill, he is credited with having strenuously urged the conciliatory policy which ulti- mately prevailed. We see that in one of his speeches at Accrington, Mr. Gibson is reported to have said that there is no ono to whom it is a greater pleasure to go in a grave political crisis than Lord Salisbury. The intention of this amiable, but somewhat artless, observation is, of course, obvious. For- tunately, however, for the Tory party, Lord Salisbury is not their only adviser in groat emergencies ; and they cannot do better, when the issue is a purely Irish one, than to con- tinue to listen to Mr. Gibson's sagacious and clear-sighted counsels.

When Mr. Gibson quits Irish topics for general politics, there is a noticeable and melancholy falling-off in the quality of his statesmanship. The direct knowledge, the clear vision, the voice of authority are gone, and in their platys we have the sonorous platitudes of a thorough-going partisan. If he never sinks below, he rarely rises above the prejudices and con- ventionalities of an average Tory Member. He has associated himself from the first with the ill-advised crusade which has secured for Mr. Bradlaugh so much factitious popu- larity. Ho is, of course, a determined opponent of Closure by a bare majority, aud in that matter promises the Govern- ment "the resolute opposition of those whose co-operation is spurned, whose counsel is rejected, and whose freedom is assailed." Like many Conservatives of short memories, he seems to have been firmly persuaded that M. Gladstone would, under no circumstances, go to war ; and that, if by any chance he did, he would infallibly make a mess of it. This illusion having been dispelled by recent events, Mr. Gibson's views of the party bearings of foreign politics are for the moment dis- organised, and he was obliged to improvise for the benefit of the Accrington Conservatives a startling novelty, in the shape of an elaborate contrast between the peaceful triumphs of Lord I3eaconsfield and, the sanguinary exploits of his bellicose successor. This is a feat of rhetoric for which Mr. Gibson deserves great credit, and it is probable, now that the idea has once been started, that it will make the round of the numerous Tory demonstrations which promise to enliven the remaining weeks of the Recess. That Mr. Gibson himself will prove an acceptable and inspiring orator on these occasions, when one of the secrets of success is to know how to put a common-place and one-sided view in a telling and forcible way, we make no doubt. It must be acknowledged, too, that the temper of his speeches is admirable ; that he never descends to personalities ; and that there is no trace of bitterness or malignity in his most vehe- ment denunciations. In the every-day struggles of party warfare, he is a formidable opponent, and a serviceable and versatile ally. But except in the department which, by close study, long experience, and natural sympathy, he has made hie own, he does not seem likely to contribute much that is original or fruitful to the statesmanship of the Opposition.