THE NEW IRISH PARTY
In the six years during which Gladstone was a free lance, striking first at Pio Nono and then at Disraeli blows that resounded through the world, Irish politics were passing through a revolution that was as dark to him as to other Englishmen. The Home Rule movement when Cardinal Cullen called it a bubble was a respectable agitation in which men of all classes and all religions took part. Its leader was Isaac Butt who, starting as a Protectionist and a Tory, had been drawn into sympathy with national sentiment, first by his study of the land system, then by his defence of the Fenian prisoners. Butt was a man of great ability, courage, and public spirit, an able Parliamentarian, but the victim of drink and debt. In the House of Commons he was on good terms with the Liberals, with whom he was often in agreement, and, oddly enough, on intimate terms with Randolph Churchill, whose father was at that time Viceroy. Churchill was attracted to the Irish cause, and had some notion of enlisting Irish support as a political force of his own. He was himself a Tory, with Radical ideas and generous sympathies, very critical of his leaders, quite ready to strike ahead of his party, or even against it.
Thus the Home Rule party when Gladstone drove his first thunderbolts across the mountains of Europe was not a party of substance. It was not indeed an idle party. Year after year Butt introduced a Home Rule motion, or a demand for a new Land Bill, or a new University Bill, making effective speeches and impressing the House of Commons by his intellectual abilities. But there was nothing except his special interests to distinguish him from an English member, for he had a great respect for the House