The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 83
"The key of India is not Candahar, but London," said Beaconsfield, in his last House of Lords' speech. I suppose the impressions of the events in Afghanistan and the Soudan must be more vivid, more moist as it were, here in London than in Manchester, Glasgow, or Melbourne. Truly we have been kept stirring. Another remark of Disraeli occurs to me. "Some men live in the past, others in the future. I live in the present."
As I survey the seething mass of the House of Commons, over the Want of Confidence debate, after the fall of Khartoum, and death of General Gordon, my eye-glass is naturally focussed on Mr. Gladstone. The career of a statesman is one of continually striking a mean between conflicting exigencies. The whole universe is in unstable equilibrium, and so are its politics.
We think of Gladstone as the Grand Young Man, the inspired young Tory prig, who so excited the ire of Macaulay with his page 34 Church and State notions. He was the Lord Randolph Churchill of the days of Peel, though not a bit like Lord Randolph Churchill. Then begins his struggle with Disraeli, whose remembrance we conjure up, as he sat on the Opposition bench, stony as the Sphinx, his lustrous dark eyes lazily surveying Gladstone while Gladstone thumped the green despatch box on the table, and quivered with the rage which was condensed in his catlike, and almost viperish face.
But what magic there is in that sonorous silver voice! When Palmerston died, Gladstone told the Commons how he had sat entranced through five hours of a summer's evening, while Palmerston, in 1850, unfolded the Foreign Policy of England in regard to the once famous Pacifico case. It was then that Palmerston uttered his immortal declaration that the Englishman said "Civis Romanus Sum," wherever he might be placed upon the earth's surface. Wherever he was, he knew that the irresistible arm of England would be stretched out, if need be, for his protection.
"The time is out of joint, oh, spite of spite,
That ever I was born to set it right."
I remember the zenith of his career. It was in 1872, that marvellously prosperous commercial year, with the people's William as the helm. He was then the glorified and aureoled statesman of the poetic and unparalleled financial statements. One or two of us in the journalists' gallery can turn back to 1852, when Disraeli's Budget, as Chancellor of the Exchequer, was so mercilessly torn to rags by the brilliant Gladstone. Then followed the magnificent surprise of Gladstone's first budget as Chancellor of the Exchequer. There was something Miltonic infused into figures. Sir Gorgius Midas, the man who swallowed sovereigns like water, or golden Tokay, felt that he himself, as a financier, was a great tone poet. He was like Mons. Jourdain, who talked prose all his life without knowing it.
Budget followed upon budget in Gladstone's career, piling up the edifice of a Palace of Vathek, soundly based on gold. He complains now that Fate did not give him Khartoum and Gordon when he was the Grand Young Man, and so on till 1872 came in 1885. Up to seventy years of age, he can never have believed that man was born to trouble, as the sparks fly upward.
He looks now frightfully harried, as he reclines on the newly-patched cushions with their new brass stud nails, just where the page 35 dynamitards blew up his seat. He almost says, "Would I had been there!"
Perhaps my eyeglass is next caught by the courtly Granville, in the Speaker's gallery, front row, where Hartington lends him an ear, from the inside, and keeps nodding his head, as much as to say," Oh, yes," "Oh, ah," "Just so," while Granville's dexter finger taps the mahogany rail.
Childlike and bland is the broad, square, cream-coloured visage of Lord Granville, fringed with its silvery hair and closely cut crisp, grey whiskers. Here is an aristocrat to the back-bone, a Soapy Sam of politics. His smile is unvarying, even if he bestows a nod on Mr. Bradlaugh, who watches the debates in such a hungry, vulpine manner. To be sure Bradley, as they call him in the comedy of The Candidate, keeps a very stiff upper lip, long and bulging, but contrast the turmoil of his existence with Lord Granville's, who is as composed when he watches the exciting battle of the House of Commons, which imminently threatens his own loss of the Foreign Office, as he is while perusing "Le Maitre des Forges;" in the superb library at Walmer. Did this genial, snug, and smug old gentleman ever know one moment of real anxiety?
But such can never snatch the highest prize—yes, they can—witness Lord Melbourne. However that is a long time ago. Easy young men cannot even be bishops nowadays. Who, then, are the men marked for the highest distinction?
Amid the heated haze of the chamber, where our dazed vision, under the electric light, sees a nimbus round every head on the crowded benches, we wander back to Lord Hartington, the firm, quiet, and composed. He will lead the Conservatives yet as their Premier, for he can never, except under Gladstone's control, work in harness with cleanly-shaved Chamberlain there, the little flower garden at his button-hole. Chamberlain is to be the Gladstone of the future, and Hartington the Disraeli. But then Hartington is getting somewhat on towards sixty. It is a fact. Time won't linger. Hartington is not so young as he was when Gladstone took office this time, and more by token, as he was when Gladstone retired from the leadership of the Opposition in his favour. How these old politicians do hang on!
But Randy, where are you? Away in India. You are decidedly wanted on the battle field at this crisis. There is no one to lead the Prince Rupert Cavalry charge, and hurl Gladstone over at the right moment.
Sir Stafford Northcote is only a business man. He is not able to drive the sword home, even if he were not restrained by his former secretariat to Mr. Gladstone. Sir R. Assheton Cross and W. H. Smith are of the same school—very good bricks and mortar in an Administration. We sigh for Lord Cranbrook, as the page 36 Gathorne Hardy of old in the Commons, a splendid Hussar of the Forum.
Hugh Curly-Headed Childers and Vernon Harcourt are the Gog and Magog of the Cabinet, terrible big fellows, big-brained, and broad-browed too. We don't know whether the story is true about Childers being found perusing State important papers under a cigar in a London music hall, perfuming them with his Havannah, as Kinglake discovered Napoleon Ill's practice from the odour of the Crimean War documente in the Tuileries.