"I SPOKE for an hour with ease and freedom," says Bright, recording the annual meeting of his constituents at Birmingham in January, 1885. Those who heard him in his prime declared that the measured and mellow eloquence of his old age, charming and finished as it was, quite lacked the electrical magic of the orations on the Crimea and America and India. None are left who listened to these, but personal testimony can be given to the effect of his later speeches on ardent youths in the 'eighties. He seemed to them very wise, very authoritative, very benign--and, until the keen sword of racial and religious strife sliced through the body of the Liberal Party, very modern and very radical. And there is no doubt that now, at 73, he still looked forward to triumph for the principles of peaceful democracy founded in political equality, freedom of speech and thought, freedom of trade and individual liberty. His correspondence of the time betokens an undimmed zest in all these causes.
But the shadows were soon to descend. The last Ministry in which he served expired within six months of the Birmingham meeting, notwithstanding the administration of successive doses of oxygen--the recruiting of Campbell-Bannerman to the Irish Office, the bringing of Lord Rosebery into the Cabinet, and Shaw-Lefevre, the Radical, as Postmaster-General. Difficulties crowded on. Should Ireland have another draught of coercion, or a Land Bill--or both? Or should the scheme of a Central Council, fathered by Bright and Chamberlain, be tried? How to pacify the raging country when it heard of Gordon's death? How to reconcile the taxpayers to a huge Budget of expenses on expeditions that had failed?
The crisis that came on the Budget might have come on any question. The Government was moribund. "When the same heart hath two mortal wounds given it together, it is hard to say which of them killeth." Bright, however, had no hesitation in attributing the death-