Saturday, February 26, 2011

19Apr1880, Gladstone Prime Minister Again

LONDON, April 19th-25th, 1880.
—A week of great incidents. Final Tory Cabinet on Tuesday. On Thursday Hartington was sent for. He and Ld. Granville and Uncle William have, of course, come to an understanding about the leadership among themselves, but Uncle W. had to be dragged up by force on Monday the 12th from Hawarden for the purpose by a letter from Ld. Granville. His wish was to be perfectly passive, recognizing the other two as undeniably before the country as leaders but ready to accept responsibility if it should be their wish and the Queen's.

It was strange of the Queen to send for Hartington rather than for Ld. Granville, who of course has been the recognized leader ever since Uncle W. resigned in January '75. Some say she took specially amiss Ld. G.'s action at the time of the Royal Titles Bill. Hartington came back in the evening, nothing having been settled; and on Friday he and Ld. Granville went to Windsor together; a very good thing. That same evening the Queen sent for Uncle William; and he kissed hands on his appointment as First Lord of the Treasury and Chancellor of the Exchequer. And so I lose my bet of £2 (with Major Bourke) last Nov., when I bet that he would not take office again. At that time I did not wish it or expect it; and up to quite lately I have been in great perplexity. Of course it was impossible to foresee — no one did — the immense victory, brought about so mainly by his means. Even the autumn Midlothian campaign only made one hope that the tide was beginning to turn; and when we set off on our election travels, all we talked of was at first the likelihood of reducing the Conservative majority, then the possibility of the Liberals having a majority of 15, 20, or 30. I could not help thinking that for the ticklish job of working things under such circumstances, Hartington or Ld. G. might be better hands than Uncle W. One knew also that Uncle W. had undertaken to fight Midlothian, (and that only with the expressed approval of Ld. G.), for no personal object or with any desire to resume the lead, but simply and solely because he was told on good authority that his winning that seat would best promote the cause which to him was the cause of right and morality, viz., the turning out of Dizzy's Government. I heard later that he did tell Ld. G. that if he won Midlothian it would bring him to the fore again.

But the march of events this spring has brought one irresistibly to see what a dilemma the question has come to be. His victory has carried with it the victory of nearly the whole of Scotland, not to speak of England and Wales; and his magnificent speeches have, more than any other influence, united the party and raised them to a noble pitch of enthusiasm, beyond what anybody could have dreamed. He is in full vigour of mind and body, to a degree he certainly little imagined could be his case at 70 when he resigned the leadership 5 years ago. What position could it be right for him to take now, when the battle has been fought and won so mainly under his name? Can the responsibility be rightly vested in one man when the power and influence has been so largely exercised by another? I put aside as quite absurd any notion of his occupying some subordinate or extra post in the Cabinet. No good can ever be done by people in a false position towards each other and towards the Queen and country. The only workable alternative to his taking the reins would be his absolute retirement into country life, or silent membership ; and how could that be right after his strong expressions of political views and aims, and with no excuse of broken health? and how could he avoid all possibility of matters arising upon which it would be his duty to bestir himself? All these considerations weighed more and more with one; and yet there was much on the other side too. After that never-to-be-forgotten scene in the drill-hall at Halifax, a regular vision possessed me of the grandeur of his retiring, on the very top of the wave of triumph, leaving it manifest to the whole world that he had fought and won with absolutely unselfish aims, and stopping evil tongues at once and for ever. All we had seen in our Riding too of loyal enthusiasm for Hartington made me think the Radicals would follow him stoutly, while it did not seem by any means so clear that the Whigs, and the timid section generally, would follow Uncle W. Then there was the certainty, much strengthened by his own excellent election speeches, that Hartington was "up to the job"; and last, but hardly least, the knowledge that the Queen would far prefer either of the existing leaders to Uncle W., whom Dizzy has bamboozled her into dreading above all things. But the arguments on the other side could not, when it came to the point, be gainsaid; and after the last few days of intense anxiety (there being one awful moment of difficulty with H.M.), our grand old ship of State has, as always, swung safely and soundly round to the wind, and we are in smooth waters. From the very outset, at the time of the Bulgarian horrors, it has been a great drama that has been enacted; and while all the ruck of cynics and Philistines have been throwing their mud of base imputations and slanders, we who believe in a God above us, and who know Uncle W.'s noble and true motives, can see and believe that the whole bit of history, "the forse non morrà," has been guided to its present crisis by the Hand of God. Nothing, however, could have come right but for the perfect conduct of the 3 leaders towards each other and to the Queen and country. It did my heart good to hear Ld. Wolverton say this, almost with tears in his eyes; and he has had every opportunity of judging, as he has gone much to and fro between them. He said they had all acted with perfect truth and honour and unselfishness ; and with entire confidence in each other.

We were dining with the Henry Grenfells on Friday, and Arthur Godley was there, to whom arrived in the middle of dinner the most graceful little letter in the world from Ld. Granville, releasing him from his secretary duties, and setting him free for his old post as Uncle W.'s secretary. Arthur Godley much moved. The announcement was what first announced to us who was Prime Minister. We went up to Harley St. afterwards. Saw Cavendish, the Roseberys, Algy West, etc. Uncle W. lost no time in asking F. to be Financial Secretary in the most kind and delightful way; and Auntie P. told me he said he could not undertake the Exchequer without someone like him to help him. She is proud and happy, of course, but by no means tête-montée; on the contrary, grave and rather awestruck. When the Queen sent for him and he told Auntie P., she said, as he was setting out, "Is there anything I can do for you?" "Pray for me," he answered.—Sunday, 25th. We went to church at Putney, and lunched and dined with the Hugh Smiths at Roehampton: lovely blossoming spring. It looks as if we were to have fine seasons as well as other good fortune N.B. The Queen was quite gracious to Uncle W.

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