Monday, February 28, 2011

31Jan1881, Parliament and the Irish

LONDON, January 31st—February 6th, 1881.
—A very notable week of Parliamentary events. The "debate" on leave to bring in the Coercion Bill began afresh on Monday, and the House sat for 41 1/2 hours. The Speaker and Dep. Speaker (Dr. Playfair) relieved each other, and the House divided itself as before into relays. On Tues. night F. was to sit up, and to go to bed at 8 on Wednesday morning the 2nd Feb. Instead of which, when he turned up at that hour, he announced that after some breakfast and a tub he was to go back again, as a coup d'état was decided on. The Speaker had gone on patiently calling the wretches to order over and over again, and about midnight the Tories made a dead set at Dr. Playfair, who had taken the Chair, to "name" one of the lot. He wouldn't do what the Speaker had declined to do, and a bear-garden ensued. The Front Opposition bench all stalked out of the House, and rest took to shouting. Only poor Mr. Childers was on the Government bench at the time; but after a bit Bright came in and made a good speech which quieted them. Meanwhile F. went off in a cab to Devonshire House and pulled unlucky Hartn. out of bed at 1 when he had just got there and was sound asleep. The rest of the night passed peacefully. Very few even of the Government knew what was planned between the Speaker, Uncle W., and Sir Stafford; but some notion of a decisive step impending must have prevailed, for at 9 a.m. the House was pretty full. I hurried matters at home, but couldn't omit Prayers for any coup d'état! so that I was just in time at 9.30 to be too late. The Speaker took Playfair's place at 9, and without sitting down made a stately little speech as to the obstructed condition of things, and proceeded to say that under the exceptional circumstances he should call on no member to speak, but should at once call for the division. Biggar, one of the most offensive of the Irish, like a hunched-back toad to look at, who was comfortably expecting to resume his speech (interrupted by Playfair's leaving the Chair), was thus left high and dry ! and, before any of them could say Jack Robinson, the division was taken and leave given to bring in the Coercion Bill, which was immediately read a 1st time. When I got there, a bit of the business was being got thro' and then came the announcement that the House do adjourn (for only 2 1/2 hours ! ), received by a worn-out cassé cheer of joy as the hapless M.P.s rushed out of the House and home to bed. We came across Sir Bow-wow Harcourt and Cavendish by Westminster Hall in high feather, Sir Bow-wow saying that it was the 1st time in history that Cavendish had been known to be in bed at 1, and then he was pulled out of it! F. went to bed, but had to be back by 12. Motions for adjournment went on just as if nothing had happened, and so came 6 with no progress made. Uncle W. then gave notice of Anti-Obstruction Resolutions.

—Thurs., Feb. 3rd. The Irish evidently meant to play the game of interrupting Uncle W. on some pretext or another whenever he tried to introduce his Resolutions. Perhaps they might have contrived to do this with temper and success, but an announcement made at the outset of the sitting utterly overthrew their composure, and they were delivered into the hands of the House. The most mischievous agitator who has been stumping Ireland is one Mich. Davitt, a ticket-of-leave man. His last speech was so outrageous, that he has now been arrested, as forfeiting his ticket-of-leave. One of the Irishmen asked Sir Bow-wow if this was true, and they were all rendered frantic by his short answer, "Yes, sir," and by the rather bad taste of cheering which followed. On Mr. Dillon rising when Uncle W. was on his legs, and before he had finished one sentence so that there could be no pretext of a "point of order" —the Speaker called him to order—he defied the Chair, was "named" and immediately whipt out of the House by the Sergeant-at-Arms, backed by 5 messengers, on a motion of Uncle W.'s followed by a division. This performance had to be repeated 4 times, Paddy after Paddy interrupting Uncle W. When Parnell (their leader) was thus marched off, all the Home Rulers rose en masse and shouted "Privilege! Privilege!" waving arms and hats. As unhappy Uncle W. had each time to begin his speech, each time to be interrupted, the Speaker then to do the "naming," Uncle W. then to move the member's expulsion, a division to be taken, the M.P. to refuse to go, the Sergeant-at-Arms to be called in, with or without others to back him, and the rebellious M.P. finally to be marched off, we should have probably spent the next fortnight at the job of getting rid of the whole brigade. But luckily, after the 4th performance, the whole lot were demented enough to refuse to leave the House en masse for the division, upon which Dick Grosvenor solemnly reported to the Speaker that he was unable to clear the House. The 1st time this defiance was overlooked, but the 2nd time the whole number (29) were "named together," and after a last division, marched out, one after another, the necessary application of "force" varying from the old Sergeant-at-Arms single-handed, to 3 or 4 of his myrmidons besides.

Before the whole batch, singly and collectively, had been disposed of, poor Uncle W. had had to make 6 abortive starts on his speech, and had had too, after each "naming," to act as executioner. Punch said he had to be up and down between his seat and the table like a hen on a hot gridiron. Who but he, after such a couple of hours, at 1/4 to 9, without his dinner, could have finished up with a noble, energetic, and perfectly-expressed speech, of which F. told me that he could not have improved it in any degree, either by omission, addition, or alteration, or in the delivery, if he had had a fortnight to prepare it in, and his own moment to deliver it.

I was comforted for my absence by the delight of getting F. home to dinner (at 10!) in one of his rare bouts of intense love and enthusiasm bursting forth. The effect on the House seems to have been beyond, old Tories cheering themselves purple, and Sir J. Hogg (a bitter Conservative of the Pennant type) coming up to F. and saying, "Gladstone has met us most fairly, and we will do our best to meet him." In the speech there was no tinge of temper or vindictiveness; it was a strong, tense show-up of the hopeless nature of the obstruction, and a grand appeal to the House for its own sake ("I speak now, not of myself—my lease is nearly run out") so to act now as to cease to be the laughingstock of the world.

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