The Diaries of John Bright

By John Bright; R. A. J. Walling | Go to book overview
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CHAPTER XVI IRISH, BOERS AND FELLAHEEN

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THE Midlothian Campaign Of 1879 marked a new departure in British politics and the preparations for it a new phase of Bright's life--the last in which he was to share the responsibility of governing the country.

The four agitated years from 1879 to 1882 dug a gulf deep and broad between the old and the new conceptions in politics. Bright, Radical and progressive as he was, belonged distinctly to the old era. To those years the much abused label, "a time of transition," has been correctly applied. No doubt, every time in a mutable world is a time of transition; but within this period occurred not only a startling uprising of new issues and new men, but a subtle change in the temper of politics and a new alignment of minds which altered the very texture of parties-- and of the Liberal Party especially. In a true perspective, the crashing controversies of 1900, of 1906, and of 1909-14, and their sequel in the past decade, were implicit in the chemical transformations of 1879 to 1882. On the one hand the Radical-Imperialism of Chamberlain and Dilke, and on the other the fermentation of the new ideas about State activity in Social Reform, seemed to a Victorian reformer dangerous vagaries from his ideal of liberation, pacification, non-intervention. They were alien theories cutting athwart his own conception of the evolution of a sturdy and independent society by means of free competition in industry and commerce conducted in an atmosphere of political and intellectual liberty and material peace.

In 1879, when Beaconsfield's Government was tottering, Bright had high hopes of his ideal and expressed them in a vigorous speech at Birmingham in April. The great Liberal victory of 1880 raised them higher. But they faded into despair as the Imperial chicken came home to roost from Ireland, from South Africa and from Egypt, as the decencies of Parliamentary life wore thin in the Irish disorders and the insensate Bradlaugh controversies, as the incompatibilities of Radicals and Whigs,

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