« PreviousContinue »
he had—and they were not many-over the Education Bill, and so exposed himself and his party with strange heedlessness to the vigorous attack of the Opposition Chief. Still, however it may be explained, the fact remains that on our side of the House we have no man who knows the House of Commons so well, no man who is as quick and ready in debate, and no man who can look back upon so long and variel a Parliamentary career. He, more than any other man, is the custodian and depository of the great Gladstonian tradition. Mr. Morley and Mr. Asquith, his only possible rivals, are but men
is. Since Mr. Gladstone's departure, Sir William Harcourt has more and more assumed the airs and played the part of the G. O. M. in the House of Commons. And he has done so with no little success. This, indeed, is one of the things which I lay as salve to my conscience when it makes me uneasy for dwelling so much upon the good side of Sir William Harcourt. It would seem as if, to some small extent, he was really regenerate. What could be further, for instance, from the William Vernon Harcourt who first left the impression of his personality on the House, and the grave, dignifiel and portly old gentleman who will be seventy next year, who now plays the part of heavy father in the House of Commons ?
MR. GLADSTONE'S PROPHECY. It is curious to note that Mr. Gladstone himself, in a sarcastic moment, when chaffing the Luther of the new Reformation for his dogmatic bumptiousness in his advocacy of the Bill for putting down ritualism, predicted, in a vein of irony somewhat unusual to him, the present evolution of the old Parliamentary Hand No. 2 who occupies the seat which Mr. Gladstone held so long on the Liberal Front Bench. Mr. Gladstone said in 1874 that when Sir William Harcourt should have sown his Parliamentary wild oats, his great powers
“ will be found to be combined with a degree of temper, a degree of wisdom, a degree of consideration for the feelings of others, a degree of strictness and vigour in stating and l'e-stating the arguments of his opponents, and in fact with a consummate attainment of every political virtue that will inake my honourable and learned friend outshine and eclipse all former notabilities of Parliament."
SIE WILLIAM'S GREAT EXAMPLE." This, of course, might still be said to be ironical, but there seems to be little doubt that Sir William Harcourt has honestly endeavoured to walk in the footsteps of Mr. Gladstone. On the memorable occasion of Nr. Gladstone's departure from the arena in which he had so long figured as Master of Debate, Sir William Harcourt thus referred to his departing chief:
If I may borrow a phrase of his own, we are “painfully conscious of the fate which awaits those who with unequal hands attempt to guide the chariot of the sun." We cannot furuish bis inexhaustible knowledge, that mature experience, those unfailing resources, that splendid eloquence, the fire which kindlel passion and which roused enthusiasm, and which prevailed as much by sympathy as by reason. In these, I think, I may be permitted to say we may take him as our great ex:umple. The right hon. gentleman opposite, in his generous and touching recognition of this great man, has properly dealt with one of the greatest features of that great character. I think of that dignified demeanour towards his opponents, of that stately and old-world courtesy, diversified at times by that pleasant humour which we so well remember, and which, in the midst of all the struggles of party, raised the tone and maintained the reputation of the House of Commons.
Sir William Harcourt is indeed far from having attained the dignity and courtesy of his great example, but he is improving, and last Session it was noted by friends and foes alike that the unaccustomed rôle of the Master of Assemblies which he assumed more in Opposition than when he was Leader of the House, tended to soften some of the harder and more disagreeable qualities of the Liberal leader.
THE REAL LEADER OF THE HOUSE. Of course he had great chances last Session, when, for some reason or other, Mr. Balfour muffed what chances
6. TUE RIGHT HON. GENTLEMAN WALKED OVER
FROM THE HOME OFFICE" (in 1888).
of yesterday compared with this doughty ancient who has been fighting in the forefront of every Parliamentary fray since the year 1873.
IV.-SAUL WHO WAS CALLED PAUL. There is an excellent story told of an undergraduate whose knowledge of Scripture was somewhat hazy. On being asked by the examiner, “Who was the first king of Israel ?” he answered at a venture, in an agony oi indecision, “Saul.” Seeing by the face of the examiner that he had, much to his own surprise, hit the mark, he could not resist the temptation of following up his success by volunteering the additional information : "Saul, who was afterwards called Paul." Sir William Harcourt resembles the genuine Saul who was afterwards called Paul, but not the first King of Israel, although he resembles the son of Kishin towering head and shoulders over most of his colleagues.
HTS RECORD AS SAUL OF TARSUS. Paul as Saul held the garments of those who had He used to be sadly unsound on the question of stripped to the buff the better to hurl stones at Disestablishment. As late as 1886 he proclaimed aloud the unfortunate proto-martyr of the Christian Church; in the House of Commons that the Church of England in and Sir William Harcourt can look back upon many an Wales was so much an integral part of the Established occasion on which he has held the garments of those Church of England that it was not merely difficult, but who have stoned the righteous Stephen.
he would say impossible, to raise the question as a finely said by a good Roman Catholic lady, who was
separate one. And on another occasion he declared that, asked by a malicious gossip about the antecedents of a “In my opinion he is a purblind politician who does not certain fair convert who had recently been admitted, perceive that the residuary legatee of disestablishment "I do not remember anything that occurred before will infallibly be the Church of Rome.” That was in his her baptism.” We cannot adopt this pleasant rule green and salad days, when he had not yet emancipated in relation to our political Paul. On the contrary,
himself from the influences that surrounded him in his he must share the fate of his great forerunner, the boyhood. Now no one is a more enthusiastic supporter of apostle, whose missionary exploits are for ever inex the disestablishment and disendowment of the Welslı tricably bound up with the unfortunate incident of Church than he. Stephen's martyrdom.
THE PIT FROM WHICH HE WAS DUG.
If special honour is paid to those who come out of
much tribulation into the kingdom, so Sir William To do Sir William justice it must be admitted that he
Harcourt deserves surely special recognition for the shows no disposition to deny that in the olden days, and
ability with which he has triumphed over the clinging in the days that are not so very far gone, he dwelt
influences of heredity and environment.
As an angry among the heathen and that his face was not turned
Churchman wrote some years ago : towards Zion. There is the famous passage, for instance,
Who is Sir William Harcourt, and from whom does he: in which he repudiated with scorn the idea of being a
descend? There is no family in England in late years which Home Ruler or governing Ireland according to Irish has received more, if so much, Church money as his. His ideas. The classic instance in which Sir William played
grandfather, as soon as his age allowed, was made Bishop of the part of Saul of Tarsus with a vengeance was the Carlisle and subsequently Archbishop of York-in all, fifty-oft-quoted passage from the speech he delivered at
six years Bishop. His patronage was liberally bestowed on Lowestoft, December 14th, 1885, within a few months his family; he gave his son, Sir William Harcourt's father, of his accepting office under Mr. Gladstone in order the best livings in the diocese, and the latter died Rector of 10 govern the country by an intimate alliance with the Bolton Percy and Canon Residentiary of York Minster. Parnellites :
Another son the Archbishop made Chancellor and Vicar
General of the diocese; another Registrar. Other members of The Tories proposed to govern the country by an intimate
his family also enjoyed good preferments, “ endowments" of alliance with men who openly avowed their object was the
the Church, and yet this is the man of all others who dismemberment of Ireland from England. Was it possible
denounces the Establishment and the cndowments of the the country was going to tolerate such a transaction ? Liberals
Church of England given to it by its members. If his opinion must not be in a hurry to turn the Tories out. He would let
.be as expressed in his speech, is it not incumbent on him to them for a few monthis stew in their owu Parnellite juice, and
practise what he preaches and make restitution of some of the when they stank in the nostrils of the country, as they would
many thousands which his family has received from the stink, then the country would fing them, disiredited and
Church, and of which he has had a share ? disgraced, to the constituencies, and the nation would pronounce its final judgment upon them. They would hear no
HIS DEFENCE OF LANDLORD'S “RENT.” inore of Tory reaction for many generations.
Another subject on which he has found salvation to
even an alarming extent had to do with the question of HIS PUBLIC RECANTATION.
landlords. Of late years, notably of last Session, Sir Just as Paul the apostle was never ashamed to tell the William posed as the great opponent of measures intended story of his conversion and to speak of his strange to assist “Our Splendid Paupers.” The Rating Bill of experience on his road to Damascus, so Sir William
last year was strongly denounced by him because it Harcourt is not less ready to confess how he found was equivalent to a vote of two millions a year to the salvation. Speaking at the Derby Election in 1892, he landlords, whose rents he suggested more than once were sid:
much too high. During the discussion on his great Mr. Hextall says that I once held different views from Budget he was merciless on “Our Splendid Paupers”; those which I now profess. That is perfectly true. I never nor could he desist from the opportunity which his Bill have concealed it from you or from any man. I have gave him of ridiculing their professions of impecuniosity. changed my views on the subject of the government of Yet not so very long ago ten years ago as a matter of Ireland. The ground of my change of view was my experience fact-he spoke of landlords and of rent almost as if he -it is quite true--of surrounding circumstances. I saw by had been even such a man as the Duke of Devonshire. experience that coercion had failed. I saw that Ireland, when for the first time she had a free suffrage, by 85 per cent.
Writing to the Secretary of the Land Restoration League, of the members she returned bad declared in favour of
he put the facts in favour of the landlords as tersely as domestic self-rule in Ireland. These were circumstances
they have ever been put by any one :which I thought were weighty circumstances, and I was The fact that a very large portion of the rent paid by the prepared to follow the great leader of the Liberal party in occupier of the land simply represents the interest of the the new and Liberal policy which he had proclaimed.
capital espended by the proprietor is often overlooked. When Since that time there have been many rumours as to
I put it at the figure of two-thirds of the rent I spoke roughly
-of course the proportion will vary largely according to the his inclination to backslide, but so far as outward form
circumstances; but to give an example of what I intended, goes, Sir William Harcourt has been as true to Home the following instance may be taken. Supposing a farm of Rule since he became Paul as he was to coercion in the 300 acres of mixed arable and grass yielding a rent of £300-days when he was Saul.
£1 per acre-we must consider what would be the ordinary
capital expenditure required to bring this land from a wild and uncultivated state into a condition capable of yielding this rent. First, it must be grubbed, cleared, and fenced ; ditches, gates, and roads for access must be made. This could not be done for less than £300 or £400, probably more ; the grass land would have to be sown at considerable expense. With this done the land must be drained, probably 200 or 300 acres would require to be drained at a cost of £5 per acre£1,000 for 200 acres. Proper farm buildings and sheds must be erected. This could not well be done for a farm of this size at less than £1,800. The figures will amount to a capital expenditure of nearly £3,500. As these works are of a character largely requiring renewal within a limited period,
Chamberlain of Holloway in '85 was from the Chamberlain of to-day. Then he laid before you an abundant and succulent feast of a democratic programme. That has disappeared, and instead of it we have a sort of shabby genteel menu dished up to a moru select and refined company. What has become of the Radical programme? The powerful and popular democratic leader has been transformed into the feeble apologist of a tottering Tory Government. There is not a principle which Mr. Chamberlain has not whittle l down. There is not a measure that he has not watered down in order to please a party of which he has become a complacent instrument, ani! that is why the voice which was once powerful now has ceased to influence and charm.
it would not be possible to put the remunerative interest upon them at less than 6 per cent. ; the interest therefore would absorb more than £200 for the capital expended, leaving not more than one-third for the rent of the land.
HIS OPINION OF MR. CHAMBERLAIN. It is hardly fair, perhaps, to represent the change of his views about Mr. Chamberlain as another instance of his conversion, for Mr. Chamberlain himself has changed so much, that that is why Sir William's estimate of his former colleague has undergone such a transformation Eleven years ago Sir William Harcourt was hand-andglove with Mr. Chamberlain, and even ten years ago they met at our famous Round Table more as allies than as rivals; but that was the point of cleavage between them; after that he washed his hands of his quondam comrade. But that he himself explained after his own fashion, with vigour and lucidity. Speaking at West Islington in 1891, he said :
I remember the days of '85. What a different man the
HIS VOLTE FACE ON INDIVIDUAL LIBERTY. There are two other subjects on which there is a great deal of difference between the Liberal Paul of to-day and the Saul of Tarsus of former times. I have still a vivid recollection of the vehement denunciation which he nurled against those who proposed to interfere witli individual liberty and increase the number of inspectors, whom he then was inclined to regard as the pest of modern life. It was the time when the Colorado heetle was eating up the potatoes everywhere, and Sir William declared to his own infinite satisfaction that the inspector, who was invading every department of industrial and social life, was as bad as the Colorado beetle, and ought to be named Inspector vastatrix. But that was twenty years ago. Now Sir William Harcourt is an eight-hours man and an advocate for the infinite multiplication of inspectors in most departments of modern industry. In this he has but moved with the times. Instead of standing as the champion of private liberty, he is the one
is what is going to destroy the old families and shut up the ancient mansions of England. Sir, if anybody reads the records day by day of the Bankruptcy Courts of this country, they will find that it is not taxation, it is not even agricultural depression, which is the sole cause of the breaking up of old families and of great mansions.
HIS QUALITIES IN DEBATE. As a debater and as a platform orator he is probably the best that we have left in the House of Commons. Mr. Gladstone and Lord Randolph Churchill alone could be regarded his superiors. It is said that he consumes much midnight oil in the manufacture of the spontaneous and impromptu epigrams with which he delights his audiences. This must be recorded to his credit as an instance of the pains he takes to amuse and instruct his
great modified ex-ministerial advocate of local veto—the measure which John Stuart Mill selected as illustrating more than any other what was utterly indefensible in the statutory limitations of the liberty of the citizen.
HIS DEVOTION TO THE NAVY. The only other instance that I should mention of the Saul-Paul kind is more satisfactory. Sir William is usually regarded as a Little Englander, and as such has never been considered a friend of the navy, the existence of which is the pledge of the security of our Empire. In olden days—indeed, not so very far gone, as recently as 1891-Sir William took his parable against the advocates for strengthening the navy. There was a debate in the House of Commons on the protection of British commerce, the discussion being raised by those who wished to provide an adequate navy for the proteetion of our commerce in the case of war. Sir William Harcourt was against it, of course, and ridiculed the fears that were expressed by the alarmists and panic-mongers. He ridiculed their warnings as to the consequences that would follow a war in which our navy was not able to dominate the sea. They even declared, he said, that we should not be able to import corn or export our manufactures, he maintained that nothing of the kind would
all that would happen would be that we should lose the carrying trade of the world. That was all; everything we wanted would come in under foreign flags ! In such an airy fashion did he speak of one of the greatest staple industries upon which our industrial and commercial greatness depends. That was in 1891. In May, 1894, when he spoke for the first time as Leader of the House of Commons, in succession to Mr. Gladstone, his note was very different. He said :
We have always held, and hold as strongly as the other party, that the supremacy of the British Navy should be maintained. Last November we stated that the supremacy of the Navy was unquestioned and unquestionable, and that we were prepared to take such measures as would maintain that condition of the Navy in the future. That statement will be justified by the estimates to be laid before the House.
V.-A CATALOGUE POLITICIAN. Sir William Harcourt's record as a legislator has not been conspicuous for its brilliancy. His opportunities, however, L'ave not been great. He is the champion of substituting a catalogue for a policy. Like every one else, he was at first overshadowed by Mr. Gladstone.
HIS SINGLE ACHIEVEMENT.
ANNOUNCING THE RESIGNATION OF THE (OVERNMENT IN THE
HOUSE OF COMMONS ON JUNE 24TH.
His one great achievement was the Budget by wnich he readjusted the Death Duties and made a perceptible approximation to the adjustment of taxation in proportion to wealth. His scheme of graduation was vehemently attacked, and the Duke of Devonshire was very lugubrious concerning the Death Duties; but as the new Ministry have made no serious attempt to interfere with the settlement, we may take it that the justice of his reform is recognised even by those who most criticised it.
WHAT HIS DEATH DUTIES COME TO. The effects of his new Death Duties were thus summarised when he was defending himself from an attack of the Duke of Devonshire:
Upon smaller fortunes it will be about one year's income. tipon all moderate fortunes it will be about one and a half year's income, and upon the great fortunes it may be two, and that divided into eight years, or sixteen half-yearly payments. The duty will accrue how often? If you take a generation of twenty-five years it will accrue four times in a century, if you take it at twenty it will accrue five times in a century. That
fellow men. It is a great thing to be able to make people laugh, and Sir Willian Harcourt has always contrived to do this without ever degenerating into a mere Merry Andrew. Some of his jokes may be rather ponderous, but they usually tell with the audience. His epitaph on the last Conservative Ministry was a fair specimen of his platform humour. He ridiculed the Church of England Temperance Society as "very much Church and very little Temperance,” and declared that on the tombstone of the Ministry would be inscribed :
They lived upon
DRINK. His phrases are often very happy. One of the best of those was that in which, defending himself from the complaints of those ardent juveniles who imagine that
be well if he sticks to the line he laid down in his address to his constituents at Rhymney last month when he repudiated the idea that it was the duty of the Opposition to resist and delay all the measures of the Government, good or bad. When Ministers introduced Bills which were good and in accordance with the priuciples that commended themselves to his judgment, be intended to support them, and only to oppose those which seemed to him to run counter to the best interests of the State. If he would but base his policy on these lines, laying it down as the principle to be followed by the Liberal Party, he would do a great deal to overcome the breakdown in the Parliamentary machine, and at the same time to secure such legislation as the Liberals deemed necessary. For it is obvious, and has been admitted very candidly by no less an authority than Mr. Balfour himself, that it is impossible to pass any long measure through the House of Commons that is seriously opposed. The Leader of the Opposition, therefore, in the House of Commons has it in his hands, if he chooses to take advantage of his opportunity, to practically dictate what the Ministerial programme shall be; he simply needs to go through the measures introduced by Ministers at the beginning of the Session, and intimate that he will co-operate with the Government to secure the passing of all such as are of a non-contentious, useful nature, reserving the whole strength of his Opposition for those which he condemns. By this means Ministers would be inevitably led to take the line of least resistance, and so to legislate in the direction that is in accord with Liberal convictions.
everything can be done in a hurry, he said: “Yo, gentlemen, works that are made to last, take time to accomplish. For my part, I am no admirer of the jerrybuilder in polities.”
HIS GIFT OF HAPPY ILLUSTRATION. He has a gift of lucid exposition, perhaps partly derived from his legal training, and also in part a natural or inherited gift. It is a great thing to be able to make every one who hears you understand exactly what you are driving at. There is nothing Gladstonese about Sir William Harcourt; his metaphors are homely, and such as can be understood by the wayfaring man. For instance, what could be better than his description of the Newcastle Programme, when he compared the Liberal Party to one of those great steamtugs which drags in its wake a whole flotilla of heavyladen vessels. Home Rule was the first, but behind it came many other vessels of precious freight, which he then proceeded to name as they were to be found marshalled in the Newcastle Programme. Alas! the metaphor was only too exact: the Liberal Party was a steam-tug, but not a great one; and instead of dragging in its wake the vast flotilla of heavy-laden vessels, it simply churned the water with unavailing paddles, and proved to all the world that it had not sufficient horsepower to move the heavy dead weight behind it.
THE IMPOLICY OF THE CATALOGUE POLICY. But although Sir William must have gnashed his teeth over the impossibility of the task to which he had committed himself, he never showed the white feather, but protested the more strenuously his complete satisfaction with the policy of the programme the more utterly it was breaking down in his hands. Instead of recognising that they had frightfully overtasked the strength of the Liberal steam-tug, he maintained that the policy of the Liberal Party was an entire policy, and must be promoted as a whole. The programme of the Liberal Party is, and ought to be, a multifarious programme. “The mouse that is confined to one poor hole can never be a mouse of any soul.” This was the antithesis of the Policy of Concentration.
HIS DEFENCE OF THE CATALOGUE. No one was more energetic than he in insisting on the Newcastle Programme as a kind of sacred mandate laid upon the Government by the country which they must carry out at all hazards. On assuming the Leadership, he said:
When this Parliament was elected, and when this Government came into office, it did so upon the distinct statement that the whole of that plan, beginning with Home Rule and going on to disestablishment, including the Local Veto Bill and the other Bills, enumerated in the Queen's Speech, would be pressed forward. You (the Opposition) denounced our plan, the country pronounced in our favour and against you. It is the mandate of this Parliament to carry that plan and that scheme into execution, and when the House of Commons rejects that scheme you will be justified in condemuing us. But as long as we have the support of the majority of the House of Commons we shall proceed continuously with that plan in good and evil report, and use every means at our disposal to promote these measures and carry them through this House. What may be done with them in another place is not our responsibility. The responsibility for that conduct will be ultimately judged by the country:
THE TRUE POLICY OF THE OPPOSITION. As the country has now expressed its judgment with considerable emphasis, Sir William is free to take a new tack, which he probably will not be slow to do. It will
VI.-HIS RELATIONS WITH LORD ROSEBERY.
The extent to which the personal relations between Sir William Harcourt and Lord Rosebery led to the decisior of the latter to abandon the Leadership of the Party, is buried at present in impenetrable obscurity. It was known that Lord Rosebery and Sir William Harcourt were not on the best of terms with each other before the Unionists came in, and since that time their love for each other has not increased. This is a matter of temperament possibly as much as difference of opinion. Personalities and dislikes cannot be eliminated from the conduct of human affairs.
THE ANTIPATHIES OF GREAT MEN. Archibald Forbes has recently reminded us how intense was the personal antipathy between the thrto great men who, under the German Emperor, secured the triumph of Germany in the great war with France. Bismarck, Von Moltke, and Von Roon were all jealous of each other, and in one case at least the jealousy went to the length of genuine personal dislike. But although these three great men were thus at daggers drawn, the tremendous pressure of the war, and the necessity of getting definite work done from day to day, enabled them to meet and work under their Emperor from beginning to end, without their personal friction impairing in the least the efficiency of the German arms and the success of the German policy. No doubt the same thing might have happened here if we had had an Emperor over our Moltke and Bismarck, or if they had in hand any piece of work of the tremendous importance and all-absorbing nature of the FrancsGerman war. Unfortunately, we had no Emperor, and there was no particular work to do. “Satan finds some mischief still for idle hands to do," and it was natural that between Sir William Harcourt and his leader the comparative idleness of a period of Opposition should