Gladstone and the Irish Nation

By J. L. Hammond | Go to book overview

CHAPTER V
GLADSTONE'S EUROPEAN SENSE

If we put aside Cobden, whose large outlook and persuasive genius England lost by his early death in 1865, there were only two men in English politics who combined with power over men's minds the quality that was most needed for the solution of the Irish problem. To change the English temper towards Ireland, to shake fundamental views of property and economics, to overcome all the prejudices that estrange men divided by race, religion, and history, to interest Parliament in duties to which it was indifferent, this was a task in which no man could hope to succeed if his mind never moved outside the English orbit. The first qualification then that this task demanded was detachment from the English atmosphere.

Disraeli, as we have seen, possessed this quality, but he lacked others that were essential. He was fighting an uphill battle within his party when first he tried his hand on Ireland. By the time he had power in his grasp old age was stealing upon him; his first enthusiasms had faded; he had thrown himself into new plans which cost less effort and brought greater glory. The man who had called for revolution in the 'forties blamed Gladstone's first Land Bill in 1870, which to-day is only criticized as too gentle in its treatment, as giving to confiscation the sanction of law.

The other public man who had this quality was Gladstone. For if Disraeli stood out among the men of his age by a special experience and outlook, Gladstone too lived in a world of his own. He was, like Disraeli, an enigma to his age. He had affinities with Peel, with Graham, with Aberdeen, with Shaftesbury, with Cobden, and with Bright, but as soon as you name any one of them, differences not

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