HL Deb 20 May 1898 vol 58 cc80-9

My Lords, before we go to the business of the day, it is our duty to record the occurrence of a great calamity. The most distinguished political name in this century has been withdrawn from the roll of the living. It will be in accordance with tradition, in cases somewhat similar, and I am sure in accordance with the feelings of this House, that we should address the Queen on this sorrowful occasion, and combine our voice with that of the House of Commons in urging that the greatest possible public honour may be bestowed on the memory of him who has been taken away. I propose, therefore, to move— That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that Her Majesty will be graciously pleased to give directions that the remains of the Right Hon. William Ewart Gladstone be publicly interred in the Collegiate Church of St. Peter, Westminster, and that a monument be there erected, with an inscription expressive of public admiration and attachment, and of the high sense entertained by the House of his rare and splendid gifts and of his devoted labours in Parliament and in great offices of State, and to assure Her Majesty that this House will concur in giving effect to Her Majesty's directions. My Lords, very few words are necessary, or would be fitting, to commend this Motion to your acceptance, or to dwell upon the great career which yesterday was closed. His history, his merits, his wonderful qualities, have been dwelt on by many tongues and many pens, and I need not repeat them here. But the point which seems to me remarkable, and which, I think, will attract the attention of foreign nations and of future generations, perhaps more than any other, is the universal consent of all persons, of all classes, and of all schools of thought in doing honour on this sorrowful occasion to a man who has been more mixed up in political conflict than probably any man that our history records. The conflicts of the past are so far forgotten that there is no difference of feeling or of opinion in the honour which we pay to his great qualities, or in our desire that that honour should be duly displayed before the eyes of all the world. What is the cause of this unanimous opinion? Of course, he had qualities which distinguished him from all other men; and you may say it was his transcendent intellect, his astonishing power of attaching men to him, the great influence he was able to exert upon the thought and the convictions of his contemporaries. But these things would not explain the attachment and the adoration of those whose ideas he represented. They would not explain why it is that feelings almost, if not quite, as fervent are felt and expressed by those whose ideas he has not expressed, and whose policy he has invariably withstood. My Lords, I do not think the reason is to be found in anything so far removed from the common feelings of mankind as the abstruse and controverted questions of the policy of the day. They have nothing to do with it. Whether he was right or whether he was wrong in all the Measures, or in most of the Measures, which he proposed, those are matters of which the discussion has passed by, and would certainly be singularly inappropriate here, but which are really remitted to the judgment of future, generations, who will securely judge by experience what we can only decide by forecast. But it was considerations more common to the mass of human beings, to the general working of the human mind, than any controverted questions of policy—it was that men recognised in him a man guided, whether under mistaken impressions or not it matters not, but guided in all the steps that he took, in all the efforts that he made, by a high moral ideal. What he sought was the achievement of great ideals, and whether they were based upon sound convictions or not, they could have issued from nothing but the greatest and the purest moral aspirations; and he is honoured by his countrymen because through so many years, because through so many vicissitudes and conflicts, they have recognised this one characteristic of his action which has never left it, never ceased to colour it. He will leave behind him, especially to those who have followed with deep interest the history of his later years—I might almost say the later months of his life—the memory of a great Christian statesman, set up necessarily on high, from which the sight of his character, his motives, and his intentions was situated so that it could strike all the world. It will have left a deep and most salutary influence on the political thought and the social thought of the generation in which he lived, and he will be long remembered, not so much for the causes in which he was engaged, or the political projects which he favoured, but as a great example of which history hardly furnishes a parallel, of a great Christian man. I beg, my Lords, to move the Motion.


My Lords, I am under no ordinary difficulty in following the noble Marquess, because I do not conceive that anything could be said better, anything more appropriate, anything more touching, than the speech in which he has introduced this Motion. He has undoubtedly struck the keynote of the universal feeling towards the Statesman we have lost. I agree entirely with the noble Marquess that, whatever we on this side, who have acted with him so long, may think of his political career—which naturally we sympathise with in its details far more than the noble Lords who sit opposite—but, whatever we may think of that, we are as much aware as the noble Marquess is that this extraordinary manifestation of public feeling—I suppose such a manifestation is without parallel in this country—is not caused by his splendid political achievements—I speak of his eloquence, his guidance of Ministries, and the high position which he occupied so long in the counsels of the Crown. We are as well aware as the noble Marquess is that that is not the cause of this great manifestation of regret. It is, as the noble Marquess said, the appreciation of the moral qualities of the man, of the high-mindedness of his conduct, of the unvarying uprightness of his conduct, and the sense which the nation feels, as the noble Marquess has justly said, that in him we have lost not merely a Statesman of great power and great reputation, but we have lost a man who set an example to all who have occupied high places in this country, and to all the people of this country, whether high or low, of a life nobly spent, pure in its intentions, pure in its conduct, and which, I agree with the noble Marquess, will hereafter be considered a bright example to this nation. My Lords, I can add no more. I need hardly say how strong my personal sympathies are upon such an occasion. It so happens that I am now the only person remaining who sat in all the Cabinets over which Mr. Gladstone presided; but this is not the occasion to enter into any details. I merely wish to repeat that I am sure we on this side of the House warmly acknowledge the manner in which the noble Marquess has proposed this Motion, and I am certain it will meet with the concurrence of the whole House.


There are some Members of your Lordships' House, some of whom belong to the Government and others who give a general support to the Government, who, however, occupy a position somewhat distinct from that of those in whose name the two noble Lords have just spoken. On behalf of those I desire to associate myself absolutely and unreservedly with what has fallen from the two noble Lords who preceded me. It has been my lot to serve in Parliament as a supporter, a colleague, and an opponent of Mr. Gladstone, and for that reason I and those whom I represent are, perhaps, better able even than any others to appreciate the full force of all that has been said by my noble Friends on both sides of the House. But for the events of 1886 it would have been unnecessary, and it would even have been an impertinence on my part, to add anything to that which has been said as to the great qualities of Mr. Gladstone or any of the incidents of his great career. As to those events. I only desire to say this: to be placed in acute opposition to one with whom as a trusted Leader we had been in relations of intimate confidence and warm personal friendship must necessarily have been, and was, to us a most painful position. But, although it was not in the character of Mr. Gladstone to shrink from letting his opponents feel the full weight of his blame or censure when he considered that blame or censure was deserved, I can truly say that I can recall no word of his which added unnecessary bitterness to that position. My Lords, deeply as we regret the difference of opinion which caused the separation between Mr. Gladstone and so many of those who had been his most devoted adherents, we never doubted, and we do not doubt now, that in that, as in every other matter with which during his long public life he had to deal, his action was guided by no other consideration than that of a sense of public duty, and by his conception of that which was in the highest and truest interests of his country. My Lords, I beg, on behalf of some of the noble Lords in this House, to express our sincere concurrence in everything that has been said by the noble Lords who have preceded me.


My Lords, there would at first sight appear little left to be said after what has been so eloquently and feelingly put from both sides of the House; but as Mr. Gladstone's last successor in office, and as one who was associated with him in many of the most critical episodes of the last 20 years of his life, your Lordships will perhaps bear with me for a moment while I say what little I can say on such a subject and on such an occasion. My Lords, it has been said by the Prime Minister, and I think truly, that the time has not yet come to fix with any approach to accuracy the place that Mr. Gladstone will fill in history. We are too near him to do more than note the vast space that he filled in the world, the great influence that he exercised, his constant contact with all the great movements of his time. But the sense of proportion must necessarily be absent, and it must be left for a later time, and even, perhaps, for a later generation, accurately to appraise and appreciate that relation. My Lords, the same may also be said of his intellect and of his character. They are, at any rate, too vast a subject to be treated on such an occasion as this. But I may at least cite the words, which I shall never forget, which were used by the noble Marquess when Mr. Gladstone resigned the office of Prime Minister, that— his was the most brilliant intellect that had been applied to the service of the State since Parliamentary Government began. That seems to me an adequate and a noble appreciation; but there is also this pitiful side, incident to all mortality, but which strikes one more strongly with regard to Mr. Gladstone than with regard to anyone else, and it is this—that intellect, mighty by nature, was fashioned and prepared by the labour of every day and almost every hour until the last day of health—fashioned to be so perfect a machine, only to be stopped for ever by a single touch of the Angel of Death. My Lords, there are two features of Mr. Gladstone's intellect which I cannot help noting on this occasion, for they were so signal and so salient, and distinguished him so much, so far as I know, from all other minds that I have come into contact with, that it would be wanting to this occasion if they were not noted. The first was his enormous power of concentration. There never was a man, I believe, in this world who at any given moment, on any given subject, could so devote every resource and power of his intellect, without the restriction of a single nerve within him, to the immediate purpose of that subject and that object. And the second feature is one which is also rare, but which, I think, has never been united so much with the faculty of concentration, and it is this: the infinite variety and multiplicity of his intellect. There was no man, I suspect, in the history of England—no man, at any rate, in recent centuries—who touched the intellectual life of the country at so many points, and over so great a range of years. But that, in reality, was not merely a part of his intellect, but of his character, for the first and most obvious feature of Mr. Gladstone's character was the universality and the humanity of his sympathy. I do not now mean, as we all know, that he sympathised with great causes and with oppressed nations, and with what he believed to be the cause of liberty all over the world; but I do mean his sympathy with all classes of human beings, from the highest to the lowest. That, I believe, was one of the secrets of his almost unparalleled power over his fellow men. May I give two instances of what I mean? The first time he visited Midlothian we were driving away from, I think, his first meeting, and we were followed by a shouting crowd as long as their strength would permit; but there was one man who held on much longer than any of them, who ran, I should think, for two miles, with evidently some word he was anxious to say, and when he dropped away we listened for what it might be. It was this: "I wished to thank you, Sir, for the speech you made to the workhouse people." I dare say not many of your Lordships recollect that speech; for my purpose, it does not particularly matter what its terms may have been. We should think it, however, an almost overwhelming task to speak to a workhouse audience, and to administer words of consolation and sympathy to a mass who, after all, represent in the main exhaustion and failure and destitution. That was the lowest class. Let me take another instance—from the highest. I believe that the last note Mr. Gladstone wrote with his own hand was written to Lady Salisbury, to ask her about a carriage accident in which the noble Marquess had been involved. I think it is pathetic, and characteristic of the man, that in the hour of his sore distress, when he could hardly put pen to paper, he should have written that note of sympathy to the wife of the most prominent, and not the least generous, of his political opponents. My Lords, sympathy was one great feature of Mr. Gladstone's character. There was another with which the noble Marquess has dealt, which I will only touch on in a single word, for it is a subject not for this moment or for this purpose. I mean the depth of his Christian faith. I have heard, not often, and have seen it made a subject for cavil, for sarcasm, for scoffing remarks. Those remarks were the offspring of ignorance, and not of knowledge. The faith of Mr. Gladstone, obviously to all who knew him, pervaded every act and every part of his life. It was the faith, the pure faith, of a child, confirmed by the experience and the conviction of a man. And that last word brings me to the other, and the only other point of his character, on which I would say a word. There was no expression so frequently on Mr. Gladstone's lips as the word "manhood." Speaking; of anyone—I can appeal to his friends behind me—he would say, with an accent that no one who heard him could ever forget, "So-and-so had the manhood to do this"; "So-and-so had the manhood to do that"; and no one, I think, will, in the converse, ever forget the extremity of scorn which he could put into the negative phrase, "So-and-so had not the manhood to do this"; "So-and-so had not the manhood to say that." It was obvious, from all he said and from all he did, that that virile virtue of manhood, in which he comprehended courage, righteous daring, the disdain of odds against him—that virile virtue of manhood was, perhaps, the one that he put the highest. This country, this nation, loves brave men. Mr. Gladstone was the bravest of the brave. There was no cause so hopeless that he was afraid to undertake it; there was no amount of opposition that would cow him when once he had undertaken it. It was then faith, manhood, and sympathy that formed the triple base of Mr. Gladstone's character. My Lords, this is, as has been pointed out, a unique occasion. Mr. Gladstone always expressed the hope that there might be an interval left to him between the end of his political and of his natural life. That period was given to him, for it is more than four years since he quitted the sphere of politics. Those four years have been with him a special preparation for his death; but have they not also been a preparation for his death with the nation at large? Had he died in the plenitude of his power as Prime Minister would it have been possible for a vigorous and convinced Opposition to allow to pass to him, without a word of dissent, the honours which are now universally conceded? My Lords, that has all changed now. Hushed is the voice of criticism, hushed are the controversies in which he took part, hushed for the moment is the very sound of Party conflict. I venture to think that this is a notable fact in our history. It was not so with the elder Pitt. It was not so with the younger Pitt. It was not so with the elder Pitt, in spite of his tragic end, of his unrivalled services, and of his feeble old age. It was not so with the younger Pitt, in spite of his long control of the country and his absolute and absorbed devotion to the State. I think that we should remember this as creditable, not merely to the man, but to the nation. My Lords, there is one deeply melancholy feature of Mr. Gladstone's death, by far the most melancholy, to which, I think, none of my noble Friends have adverted I think that all our thoughts must be turned, now that he has gone, to that solitary and pathetic figure, who for 60 years shared all the sorrows and all the joys of Mr. Gladstone's life; who received his every confidence and every aspiration; who shared his triumphs with him, and cheered him under his defeats; who, by her tender vigilance, I firmly believe, sustained, and prolonged his years. I think that the occasion ought not to pass without letting Mrs. Gladstone know that she is in all our thoughts to-day. And yet, my Lords, putting that one figure aside, to me, at any rate, this is not an occasion for absolute and entire and unreserved lamentation. Were it, indeed, possible so to protract the inexorable limits of human life, that we might have hoped that future years, and even future generations, might see Mr. Gladstone's face and hear his matchless voice, and receive the lessons of his unrivalled experience, we might, perhaps, grieve to-day as those who have no hope. But that is not the case. He had long exceeded the span of mortality, and his latter months had been months of unspeakable pain and distress. He is now in that rest for which he sought and prayed, and which was to give him relief from an existence which had become a burden to him. Surely this should not be an occasion entirely for grief, when a life prolonged to such a limit, so full of honour, so crowned with glory, has come to its termination. The nation lives that produced him. The nation that produced him may yet produce others like him; and in the meantime. it is rich, in his memory, rich in his life, and rich, above all, in his animating and inspiring example. Nor do I think that we should regard this heritage as limited to our own country or to our own race. It seems to me—if we may judge by the papers of to-day—that it is shared by, that it is the possession of, all civilised mankind; and that generations yet to come, through many long years, will loot for encouragement in labour, for fortitude in adversity, for the example of a sublime Christianity, with constant hope and constant encouragement, to the pure, the splendid, the dauntless figure of William Ewart Gladstone.

Question put.

Motion agreed to.