Gladstone and the Irish Nation

By J. L. Hammond | Go to book overview
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With his strong sense of the value and place of self- respect in the life of a nation, Gladstone saw the whole Irish problem with very different eyes from his contemporaries. For many of them Ireland was just a bad joke, amusing but tiresome. For some, as for the later Disraeli, Ireland was discontented because her life "on a damp island contiguous to the melancholy ocean" was monotonous, and her life was monotonous because her bad habits kept away the British capital which would give her variety and wealth. Hence the fault was not British but Irish.1 For others, as for Salisbury, she was like Imogen in the eyes of her father Cymbeline--

"She looks us like A thing more made of malice than of duty."

For others she represented a series of hard problems; each of which needed serious and consecutive study. In several respects Gladstone showed less insight into those problems than others. Mill understood the agrarian problem better; Chamberlain the problem of the development of Irish resources; the brothers Balfour the problem of the congested districts. But what distinguished him was that from first to last he thought of the Irish as a people, and he held that the ultimate test of a policy was whether or not it helped this people to satisfy its self-respect and to find its dignity and happiness in its self-governing life.

This large imaginative understanding gave him a confidence in action greater than he would have gained from

Speech at Aylesbury, November 19, 1868, quoted in Moneypenny and Buckle, II, 431.


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