Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

Majesty's responsible advisers.” He was a man highly esteemed by all parties; a man of high principle and of amiable character. But he was not equal to the occasion when any difficulty arose, and he contrived to put himself almost invariably in the wrong when dealing with the Re. torm League. He exerted his authority at a wrong time, and in a wrong way; and he generally withdrew from his wrong position in somewhat too penitent and humble an attitude. He strained too far the authority of his place, and he did not hold high enough its dignity. He was succeeded in office by Mr. Gathorne Hardy, who left the Poor Law Board to become Home Secretary.

The Reform Bill then was passed. The “leap in the dark" was taken. Thus did the Prime Minister, Lord Derby, describe the policy of himself and his colleagues. The phrase has become historical, and its authorship is invari. ably ascribed to Lord Derby. It was in fact Lord Cranbourne who first used it. During the debates in the House of Commons he had taunted the government with taking a leap in the dark. Lord Derby adopted the expression and admitted it to be a just description of the movement which he and his ministry had made. It is impossible to deny that the government acted sagaciously in settling the question so promptly and so decisively; in agreeing to almost anything rather than postpone the settlement of the controversy even for another year. But one is still lost in woader at the boldness, the audacity with which the Conservative government threw away in succession every prin. ciple which they had just been proclaiming essential to Conservatism and put on Radicalism as a garment. On a memorable occasion Mr. Disraeli said that Peel caught the Whigs bathing and walked away with their clothes. Now he himself had ventured on a still less scrupulous act spoliation. He helped to turn the Whigs out of their clothes in order that he might get

into the garments.

[ocr errors]

Nothing could have been more surprising than the courage with which he undertook the series of transformations, un. less, perhaps, the elaborate simplicity with which toward the end he represented himself as one who was acting in the truest spirit of consistency. Few could help being impressed, or at least imposed upon, by the calm earnestness of his declarations. Juvenal's Greek deceived the very eyesight of the spectators by the cleverness of his persona tion. Mr. Disraeli was almost equally successful. The success was not, perhaps, likely to conduce to an exalted political morality. The one thing, however, which most people were thinking of in the autumn of 1867 was that the Reform question was settled at last, and for a long time. Nothing more would be heard of the unenfranchised millions and the noble working-man, on the one hand; of the swart mechanic's bloody hand and the reign of anarchy on the other. Mr. Lowe is entitled to the last word of the controversy. The working.man, the majority, the people who live in the small houses, are enfranchised; "we must now," Mr. Lowe said, " at least educate our new masters.”

CHAPTER LIII.

THE FENIAN MOVEMENT.

THE

CHE session of Parliament which passed the Reform

Bill was not many days over when the country was startled by the news that a prison van had been stopped and broken open under broad day in Manchester, and two political prisoners rescued from the custody of the police The political prisoners were Fenians. We have spoken already of the Fenian movement as one of the troubles now gathering around the path of successive governments. It was at an early period of Lord Russell's administration that the public first heard anything substantial about the movement. On Feburary 16th, 1866, Parliament was surprised not a little by an announcement which the government had to make. Lord Russell told the House of Lords, and Sir George Gray announced to the House of Commons that the goverment intended to suspend the Habeas Corpus Act in Ireland and that both Houses of Parliment were to be called together next day for the purpose of enabling the min. istry to carry out this resolve. The next day was Saturday an unusual day for a Parliamentary sitting at any early part of the session ; unusual indeed when the session had only just begun. The government could only excuse such a summons to the Lords and Commons not the plea of absolute urgency; and the word soon went round in the lobbies that a serious discovery had been made, and that a conspiracy of a formidable nature was preparing a

rebellion in Ireland. The two Houses met next day, and a measure was introduced to suspend the Habeas Corpus Act in Ireland, and give the Lord.Lieutenant almost un. limited power to arrest and detain suspected persons. The measure was run through its three readings in both Houses in the course of the day. The House of Lords had to keep up their sitting until the document should arrive from Osborne to authorize the commissioners to give the Queen's assent to the bill. The Lords, therefore, haying discussed the subject sufficiently to their satisfaction at a comparative. ly early hour in the evening, suspended the sitting until eleven at night. They then resumed, and waited patiently for the authority to come from Osborne, where the Queen was staying. Shortly before midnight the needful authority arrived, and the bill became law at twenty minutes before one o'clock on Sunday morning.

It seems almost superfluous to say that such a bill was not allowed to pass without some comment, and even some opposition in the House of Commons. Mr. Bright made a speech which has always since been regarded as in every sense one of the very finest he ever delivered. That was the speech in which he declared his conviction that “ if the majority of the people of Ireland, counted fairly out, had their will and had the power, they would unmoor the island form its fastenings in the deep, and move it at least two thous. and miles to the west.” That was in itself a sufficiently humiliating confession for an English statesman to have to make. It was not humiliating to Mr. Bright personaily ; for he had always striven to obtain such legislation for Ireland as should enable her to feel that hers was a friendly partnership with England, and not a compulsory and unequal connection. But it was humbling to any Englishman of spirit and sense to have to acknowledge that after so many years and centuries of experiment and failure, the governo ment of England had not yet learned the way to keep up the connection between the countries without coercion acts and measures of repression in Ireland. No Englishman who puts the question fairly to his conscience will deny that if he were considering a matter that concerned a foreign country and a foreign government, he would regard the mere fact a a condemnation of its system of rule. It would be idle to try to presuade him that it was all the fault of the Poles it the Russians had to govern by mere force in Poland; all the fault of the Venetians if the Austrians could never get beyond a mere encampment in Venetia. His strong common sense, unclouded in such a case by prejudice, would at once enable him to declare with conviction, that where, after long trial, a state cannot govern a population except by sheer force, the cause must be sought in the badness of the governing system rather than in the perversity of human nature, among the governed. Mr. Mill, who spoke in the same debate, put the matter effectively enough when he observed that if the captain of a ship, or the master of a school, has continually to have recourse to violent measures to keep crew or boys in order, we assume, without asking for further evidence, that there is something wrong in his system of management. Mr. Mill' dwelt with force and justice on one possible explanation of the difficulty which English governments seem always to encounter in Ireland. He spoke of the “eternal political non possumus” which English statesmen opposed to every special demand for legislation in Ireland ; a non possumus which, as he truly said, only means, “ We don't do it in England.”

The Habeas Corpus Act was, therefore, suspended once more in Ireland. The government acknowledged that they had to deal with a new rebellion in that country. The rebellion this time might have sprung up from the ground, so suddenly did the knowledge of it seem to have come upon the vast majority of the public here. Yet there had for a long time been symptoms enough to give warning of such a

« AnteriorContinuar »