Friday, March 04, 2011

08Oct1881, Leeds: They Roared Like Many Waters

MARTON HALL, October 8th, 1881.
—Leeds eclipsed all this [FN: I.e. the Middlesbrough festivities.] pretty completely ! and indeed the mighty enthusiasm there outstrips anything we saw or heard of last year at the general election. Unluckily dear old Sir Edward Baines could not receive us as he had intended, owing to his wife's illness, tho' she was getting better (she died shortly after), and his brother, who lives a long way out of the town, was a timid old boy who took pains to keep us out of the thick of events, much to my disgust. We left Middlesbrough early on Friday, hoping to come in for most of the 1st meeting; but were driven off remorselessly to the Baines's retreat and had to lunch there. Pleasant daughters and a benign old wife. The evening banquet made up for much: it was most beautifully done with white and red hangings, and lit up resplendently with the wonderful new electric lights, mixed with gas. The speech we missed in the morning was a first-rate demolition of the new craze called "Fair Trade," which Uncle W. summarised very pat by saying it was an improvement on the old precept, inasmuch as it would make it read "If thine enemy smite thee on the one cheek, thou shalt smite thyself on the other." In the evening he spoke on Ireland, and never did he speak with more weight and power. I could see, sitting near him, how deeply he felt the awful responsibility of the moment; for what he had to do was to warn Parnell and Co., that the "long patience" of the Government had all but reached its term. He had to say that now the Land Act was law it was to have fair play. Parnell has been inciting the people to take no advantage of it until he is pleased to give them leave. He is now explicitly warned that if he persists in this line, he will be stopped. Uncle W. also dwelt with overwhelming force on all the incitements to lawlessness and violence in Parnell's speeches. It was as clear as possible that a new line was to be taken by Government. The applause was immense. After dinner he was escorted home by a procession of torch-bearers (again we were safely convoyed home, out of all the fun ! by poor old Frederick Baines).

Other functions followed on Saturday, but the thing was the monster mass meeting of about 25,000 people. I was frightened to death for the 1st hour. The atmosphere was horrible; and the people, tired of waiting, would not listen to anyone except Uncle W. and Herbert, and took to that dreadful swaying which is the most awful thing to see in a great crowd. Air, however, was let in and all went well when once Uncle W. got up. The 25,000 cheers that uprose were something never-to-be-forgotten ! followed by "Kentish fire" and then by roars of "He's a jolly good fellow." At last came silence, and he began "Mr. Chairman." Hearing his clear voice throughout the hall started them afresh ! and they roared like many waters for several more seconds. The speech went into points of Foreign Policy chiefly, and, as always, I was struck with the keenness and quickness with which each point was taken. I never was more struck by his glorious gift of raising every subject on to a high moral platform with a power of conviction that carries these great multitudes up with him like one man. He was rather hoarse all along, but his voice rather improved as he went on.... Nice to see the intense affection for "Herbert," as everyone calls him ("'towd mon and Herbert"). He made an excellent, perfectly-expressed little speech; his voice a beautiful flexible tenor, almost equal to his father's, tho' very different. After this back to Holker.

No comments: