Thomas Henry Huxley. 1825-1895.
On Mr. Gladstone's withdrawal from public life, Lord Rosebery became Prime Minister. There was nothing else for it; there was no other man whom the Liberal Party could put in his place. But it would be idle to question the fact that many Liberals complained, not so much of the choice as of the conditions which made the choice all but inevitable. In the first instance, as we have already pointed out, there is a strong and growing objection in the Liberal Party to the appointment of a Prime Minister whose place compels him to be in the House of Lords. In the present instance, however, there were other grounds for complaint. Lord Rosebery was regarded by many as not a sufficiently advanced Liberal to become the head of a Liberal Administration. There was a sort of feeling that he had not devoted himself absolutely to politics, that he was a lover of politics as he was a lover of travelling and of horse-racing, and of art and of books, that what one of his critics called the " fatal mark of the amateur " was on him. Then, again, many were of opinion that the high Parliamentary position and the long services of Sir William Harcourt entitled him to be the Liberal Prime Minister as well as the Liberal leader of the House of Commons. But Sir William Harcourt was not very popular with all the Liberals, and his name did not carry so much weight with the country in general as the name of Lord Rosebery. Every one acknowledged his gifts as a resourceful Chancellor of the Exchequer, and his power as a fighting leader of the Liberal Opposition; but many even of his own colleagues doubted whether he would carry the full support of the Liberal public if he were to be made Prime Minister.
The Liberal Government held in its inner circle, at least one man of the highest intellect and undoubted statesmanlike capacity in the person of Mr. John Morley; but Mr. Morley had not been long enough in public life from the time when he exchanged the student's desk for a seat in the House of Commons to accustom the Liberal Party to the idea of his becoming the immediate successor to Mr. Gladstone. A few years before there seemed every chance that Sir Charles Dilke would have been designated as the Liberal Prime Minister in the event of Mr. Gladstone's retirement. Sir Charles Dilke was one of the most practical and the best informed men in the House of Commons. His knowledge of foreign affairs was unequalled probably by that of any other man on either side of the House; and what other men knew through blue books and newspapers, Sir Charles Dilke knew by personal observation and by study on the spot. But owing to a private trouble Sir Charles Dilke had for some time ceased to be regarded as a possible occupant of office, and even those who most admired his ability and his knowledge of public affairs, did not venture to suggest his name. Lord Rosebery therefore became Prime Minister; and during his short retention of office he maintained his position with dignity, with judgment, and with more than one display of high and genuine Parliamentary eloquence. But the fate of the Ministry was already foreshadowed; and when the Government were defeated on a sudden motion finding fault with them concerning a detail of comparatively little importance in the arrangements of the army, Lord Rosebery and his colleagues accepted the defeat as a vote of censure; an appeal was made to the country, and Lord Salisbury and the Conservatives came back to office with an immense majority to sustain them in the House of Commons.
(From a photograph by Messrs. Russell & Son.) The Earl Of Rosebery 1847.
The Conservative Government had a difficult task before them, especially where foreign politics were concerned. China had once again become a region to tempt the ambition of Western traders and Western politicians. The war between China and Japan which had ended in the defeat of the Chinese, despite their vast superiority in the number of their population, in the extent of their territory and in their wealth, seemed to have suddenly called the attention of all the great Continental Powers to the expediency of securing each for itself some portion of Chinese soil, or at least the right of control over such a portion, in order to open up new fields for the ambition of the colonists, the trader, the soldier, and the statesman. Russia, Germany, and France vied with each other in the practical application of the new policy, and a large proportion of public opinion in England proclaimed that if Lord Salisbury did not take a firm stand England would be left out of the competition altogether.
Another element of disturbance seemed likely to agitate the politics of Europe. The great American Republic appeared inclined to abandon the creed of Washington and other great American statesmen since his time, and to claim a right of interference in the politics of the old world. Just at this time a war broke out between the United States and Spain on account of the manner in which the island of Cuba, lying not far off the coast of the American state of Florida, was governed by its Spanish masters. The war is only mentioned here as illustrating one of the new difficulties which seem to threaten the Conservative Government of England. As every reasonable observer must have expected, Spain was completely beaten in the struggle, and within less than three months lost two navies and several of her strong places in the West Indies and in the Philippines. Everything indicated that while their strong majority would probably enable them to take what course they pleased in domestic affairs, the disturbed condition of foreign affairs would be a serious trial to the Conservative statesmen.
During the winter of 1895, the public began to be alarmed with reports of Mr. Gladstone's decaying health. For a long time these reports remained unheeded for the good reason that Mr. Gladstone's intellectual activity seemed as unresting as it ever had been when he was in the very zenith of his physical powers and in the thick of his political struggles. For though he had quitted public life Mr. Gladstone did not withdraw his intellect, and his sympathies, from the interests of his own people and of foreign peoples, especially of peoples who were in his own words, " rightly struggling to be free." He made known his views in eloquent written words with regard to the persecutions inflicted by the Ottoman Government on the unhappy Christians under Turkish rule. He championed once again the national claims of Greece and the demand of the Cretans to be for ever released from Ottoman oppression and allowed to cast in their destinies with those of the Greek kingdom. Had Mr. Gladstone been once again in physical strength, once again able to lead a crusade in defence of a rightful cause, we may well be allowed to believe that the power of the Ottoman in the South of Europe would have been quickly deprived of some of its chances of oppression.
The Tower Bridge.
Mr. Gladstone, from time to time, made known his views on various other questions of interest, religious, literary, and artistic; and the best men in all countries felt with gladness that the guiding light of his intellect and his sympathy had not been wholly withdrawn from the world. On the 1st of June, 1896, Mr. Gladstone delivered a remarkable exposition of his views on the relations between the Church of England and the Church of Rome in reference to a letter addressed to the English people by Pope Leo the Thirteenth, which seemed almost like an appeal for a reunion of the Churches. We mention the fact only as a further illustration of Gladstone's indomitable mental energy, enduring to the last.
In the winter of 1897, however, Mr. Gladstone removed to Cannes, in the south of France, a favourite winter retreat of his, and we all expected his return to England with renewed health, when the later spring should come to soften and brighten the atmosphere of England. But the winter at Cannes was unusually sharp and chill, and Mr. Gladstone's medical advisers thought it better that he should try the climate of Bournemouth. He tried the climate of Bournemouth, but the result brought little cheer to his family and his friends. Then at last it was made known that it was thought best he should return to the familiar air of his home, at Hawarden Castle; and when this news was sent over the world, every one felt sure that the end was near. Gladstone was coming home, as Edmund Burke had done, to die. The end was not long delayed. On the 19th of May, Ascension Day, 1898, Gladstone died at Hawarden, surrounded by the wife and children who loved him and whom he had loved. The demand of the nation was that he should be buried in Westminster Abbey, and his family yielded to the demand with the sole reservation, which his own dying wishes had secured, that a place must be kept beside his coffin for the coffin of his devoted wife. Gladstone's corpse was removed to London, and it lay coffined in state for the reverent homage of the public in the grand and historic Westminster Hall. Then the coffin was consigned to earth in Westminster Abbey with a ceremonial as majestic, as solemn, and at the same time as simple, as ever expressed the homage of princes and of people to a statesman who had won the love of his people and the admiration of the civilised world.