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(F): IRELAND - John Emerich Edward Dalberg, Lord Acton, Selections from the Correspondence of the First Lord Acton, Vol. I (Cardinal Newman, Lady Blennerhassett, W.E. Gladstone) 
Selections from the Correspondence of the First Lord Acton, edited with and Introduction by John Neville Figgis and Renald Vere Laurence. Vol. I Correspondence with Cardinal Newman, Lady Blennerhassett, W.E. Gladstone and Others (London: Longmans, Gree and Co., 1917).
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10 Downing Street,Whitehall,
My dear Lord Acton,—
I entirely feel that, having now paid our debt to Ireland in Church and Land, and having offered full payment in the matter of Education, though the offer has been wantonly and contumeliously rejected, we are no longer hampered by Irish considerations in the direction of our general policy, and Ultramontanism should for us, wherever our orbits touch, stand or fall upon its merits. Whether the case will be one of standing or falling is a question not very difficult to make the subject of reasonable conjecture.
But I must in fairness add that the three appointments on which so marked a comment has been made, have been decided on separately, each on its merits, and without arrière pensée. At any moment, another appointment might, also without reason, be announced as harking back.
If you think the publication of the Irish-Celtic Dictionary (such I take it to be) is as a public object a thing desirable, we might be able to entertain it. But direct dealing would be awkward. Could not ex-Professor Sullivan make a hypothetical arrangement for a moderate sum? and we could then come from behind the scenes and either buy or aid.
Many thanks for your tidings of Döllinger. I have not seen Marx; but I quite agree in what you say of Political Economy, and it may, I believe, be extended to some other kinds of knowledge.—Ever sincerely yours,
W. E. Gladstone.
Munich, 15th Oct. 1881.
“The Irish speech (Leeds) on Friday and the economic speech on Saturday made the strongest impression on me. The treatment of Home Rule as an idea conceivably reasonable, which was repeated at Guildhall, delighted me. I felt less sure of the distinction between that as a colourable scheme, and the Land League (as now working) as one altogether revolutionary and evil.”
On the Debate on the Address, Feb. 1882.
Cannes,Feb. 20, 1882.
“I have long wished for that declaration about self-government, but I am persuaded there has been as much statesmanship in the choice of the time as of the terms. There is so much danger of being deserted on that line, and of one’s friends combining to effect a reaction. It will not do to make too much of the speeches of 1871. The occasion last week gave extraordinary weight to his words and he would not now say that the movement is superfluous, or that Ireland always got what she wanted. The risk is that he may seem to underrate the gravity of a great constitutional change, in the introduction of a federal element.”
Dear Mr. Gladstone,—
I write this in case I am unable to see you. Goschen wrote to you hurriedly, that it might not seem an effect of Argyll’s speech, and I did not know of it till too late. His correspondence with Hartington came to no conclusion, and so he turned to you—propelled by Chamberlain’s utterances and ignorant of the extent to which Chamberlain represents your views about Ireland.
He has heard Selborne repudiate the doctrine of Chamberlain’s late speeches vehemently. So he thinks the moment favourable to ask you to choose between them. When I say that correspondence is, in such cases, more dangerous than conversation, he says that he wants definite and available security.
When I say that the Left Wing cannot be repudiated at the moment when the new democracy is coming in, he says that he wants them muzzled, not repudiated. When I say that his position would be different if he saw more of you, he says that that is not his fault.
There is no combination between him and Argyll.
But his temper is dangerous; and if you send him a written answer—any written answer that I think possible—I expect that he will declare against you, and refuse to stand as the candidate of the Liberal party.
He is pursuing the obvious policy of the moderate Whigs, and is willing to force you to decide at once between the sections of the party. Probably, but not avowedly, counting on the want of a Conservative leader.
It is an occasion on which management, discussion, might avail to prevent the crisis so many are expecting. He is very willing to see you, it you will see him. I in some measure disturbed him when I represented the probable effects, not of a breach, if that is unavoidable, but of an uncompromising challenge.
He gives me no authority to speak for him, but he knows that I shall give you my account of what I understand him to mean, and shall plead for an interview between you, instead of armed letter-writing.
And I have my own reason for asking you to reflect how many of your late colleagues would be in sympathy with him in the step he has taken—and how needful it is, therefore, to apply personal influence.—Yours most truly,
Friday night,July 10-111 .
Cannes,January 29, 1886.
Dear Miss Gladstone,—
We fancy you have something to distract you from wedding preparations, and the days must be terribly crowded, with the interesting double event.2 I know nothing later than the division; and I conclude that Salisbury meant to be beaten, hoping that the G.O.X.P.M. would fail to construct an administration, and that the Moderados would then join him in a Coalition, or at any rate that he would soon be forced to dissolve and that the Conservative tide would continue to rise, and would make an anti-Irish Ministry possible next year. On the other hand, I see that your father was deliberately playing for victory; and so I suppose he sees his way to keep the Irish quiet until he can beat the House of Lords, and to form an administration on a new footing. I can see little that is hopeful in the attempt; and I don’t think I can be of any use in any direction therefore. I mean for this latter reason I do not come to your wedding. But I hope you will send for me if he thinks I could possibly serve him, in the absence of better men. I shall be too late for the feast, but in time for the fray.—I remain, yours most truly,
Cannes,Jan. 9, 1887.
Dear Mr. Gladstone,—
I have been afraid to write to you since you have got back into the midst of politics, partly from the dread of saying what you would not agree with. The sudden change of front gives me my opportunity.1
Goschen’s change cannot be a surprise to anybody who knows him well. He has been full of increasing soreness ever since you formed your Ministry in 1880. During his Turkish mission he was very little in harmony with the F.O. and felt on his return that he was rather left out in the cold. At the time of the Gordon debates he was eager to defeat the Government, and much disappointed at your victory.
I remember on that occasion calling at Devonshire House, and telling Hartington, who was to speak that evening, how he could disarm Goschen’s opposition. Hartington answered that it was not worth while, as the fall of the Ministry would clear the air. After that crisis I did not expect to see him approach you as nearly as he did during the summer of 1885. He came away from the ill-timed conference with you at Richmond Terrace more discontented and recalcitrant than ever, and I attributed his language during the election to a scheme to hold you and bind you to the limits of the umbrella then unfolded. When I last paid a visit to Seacox he avoided party politics and I made sure that he would go over at the first fair opportunity.
Many people have assured me that Chamberlain’s sense of spretæ injuria formæ is quite as keen as Goschen’s. But I am bound to say that I drew a different conclusion from a long and confidential conversation, sought by him, last summer. It was not explicit or significant enough to be mentioned at the time; but it left on my mind the decided impression that his course was not irrevocable, but like the proverb which says—blessure d’argent n’est pas mortelle, and I gathered that he wished to give me that impression.
So that, if I did not actually expect what has happened, I was not in the least taken by surprise, and my conclusion has been that you ought to put a favourable construction upon it, and to encourage the movement as far as you can.1
I do not venture to plead for confidence, but only for hopefulness, as I told Morley, going down to the Cabinet which decided to dissolve, that I thought it a mistake, and that you were likely to be beaten, and as, at Holmbury, I expressed to yourself my doubt of the extent and quality of the Home Rule feeling in Great Britain, you will not think me inconsistent if I feel now that we must not overestimate the strength of our cause, and that we should do well to concede something to unrighteousness.
There is one force at work in the country which you cannot, or at least which you will not, subject to exact measurement. That is, your own personal influence. People who ask themselves where we should be without you, and which wing of the party would predominate apart from the sword which you throw into the scale, have to face a bewildering problem.
I earnestly hope that the indications of your intentions given in Friday’s papers are near the truth.—Ever truly yours,
72 Princes Gate,July 11, 1887.
Dear Mrs. Drew,—
The tone of the paper is very severe, and the severity does not always strengthen the case. In several instances I think that the impression would be deeper if the statement alone was dealt with, and not the author.
Where I have set two marks, I have a doubt. Lecky1 is not before me; but I do not understand him to say that the colleagues were taken by surprise, as if they had learnt the dissolution by the newspapers, or after the irrevocable steps had been taken. His words may be ambiguous; but I understood him to mean something not very far, probably, from the truth. Namely, that the idea of the dissolution did not ripen in Cabinet deliberations as one expects so grave a thing to do. But that when the returns made a large surplus loom, a little pressure for economy was put on the departments, the idea, devised by the P.M., was adopted by an inner Cabinet, and was then accepted, rather suddenly and with scanty deliberation by the whole. The MS. argues as if Lecky said that the colleagues were informed after the Queen. Nobody thinks that. What people have said is that the vehemence of the P.M. carried away certain colleagues, and that the rest made little fight.
I remember that May brought the news in a veiled way to the Athenæum on the previous afternoon.
The formula: Mr. Lecky, I submit, is wrong, etc., is not very efficacious in discussing facts, especially when the facts are in the writer’s own autobiographical knowledge.
At the foot of the same page, a signal instance of needless asperity.
Later on I have marked another. I am assuming the figures as correct in the matter of 1874.
Perhaps I ought to say in disparagement of my testimony, that I never felt strongly the eagerness of 1853 for the ultimate abolition of the Income Tax.
Also, that the praise of Pitt somewhat weakens the position. That, however, is one of the Five Points. Not the special view of Pitt; but that view of Party which erected a monument to Disraeli and implies the severance of Politics and Ethics.
You remember that conversation with Jowett about Macaulay. I thought Macaulay thoroughly dishonest and insincere and had a variety of reasons, good or bad, for my opinion. At the first, I discovered that Jowett was surprised, almost hurt. So I shut up as soon as I could. They must have thought that I had not much to say, that I could not produce a single passage from his books in my support, that I came to conclusions too quickly, rather from a latent prejudice than on evidence.
What, in such a case, should a good man do? Surely he prefers discomfiture to a fight which is likely to be both tiresome and painful. He will put on no more steam than the thing is worth, and will not mind people being in the wrong, if he is not responsible for them. When no higher question is involved, he will not strive for victory. But such a man gets easily misunderstood. Discretion is taken for acquiescence and the like. Now I suspect that the ex-P.M. sometimes makes that mistake. I have in my eye cases where he has thought that people (not myself) who ceased to contend ceased to disagree.
And I ask myself whether that occurred in 1874, and whether he was quite conscious how much went for agreement and how much for dislike of vain resistance. But I speak from a vague speculation not on any basis of knowledge or report.
We shall hope to hear about your movements.—Believe me, yours most sincerely,
Dear Mr. Gladstone,—
Without waiting for daylight I scribble an answer to your letter.
Only two definite objections—about the number of German Parliaments, and Centralisation in France before the Revolution. And two strong notes of interrogation and doubt as to Nationality and Conscience, and as to the want of Parliaments in modern France. The rest is mere guarding the flanks against unforeseen attack.
That about the consolidation of France (and Spain) ending in instability is a saying of Tocqueville—that modern French governments are very powerful but very unstable. The changes in Spain since the Restoration have been just as numerous. But do not overlook the fact that the unitarian tendency which led to the Belgian insurrection of 1830, the Hungarian of 1848, the loss of Schleswig, etc., is awake still. Victorious Prussia suppressed Home Rule where it could in North Germany, and probably would like to carry that policy farther.
Just as in Switzerland the tendency to merge the Cantons is strong, and is only resisted by the difference of Nationality—the Cantonal system preventing the French minority from being swamped.—Ever yours,
La Madeleine,Feb. 18, 1888.
The argument seems to me perfectly sound and almost perfectly clear to the common reader. I see that what Salisbury said was the usual matter of foreign Conservatives. That nisus is very strong since successive forces, absolute monarchy, and democratic revolution have crushed diversities.
In speaking of Italy, I would keep in mind the case of Venice which would by no means merge into Italy in the time of Manin. The case of the Spirito Municipale against the Spirito Nazionale is expounded by Bonghi1 in one of his books—I think the life of Pasini. It might supply an illustration (? ? ?)
Page 2: ’01—
The comparing of Nationality to Conscience seems to me dazzling but confusing. So much has to be deducted. Nationality is the great carrier of custom, of unreflecting habit and transmitted ideas that quench individuality. Conscience gives men force to resist and discard all this. Nationality has to be dealt with discriminatingly. It is not always liberal or constructive. It may be as dangerous when its boundary is outside that of the State as salutary when inside.
The sentence might suffer a Panslavist interpretation, or it might provoke tiresome questions about cases like Switzerland. If the τέλος of politics is Liberty, and what promotes, secures, and perfects it, there is peril in setting up anything else so high, as the Court of final appeal.
I don’t know exactly what Salisbury said, but in the case of Hungary we have to bear in mind that behind the Magyar there is another race, the Slav, and that the Home Rule principle is not settled there, but begins again beyond the settlement.
Page 5: ’03—
Not so many German Parliaments. One may say, all the principal German states, Saxony, Bavaria, Würtemberg, Baden, etc., have not only their own Parliaments but their own dynasties.
As to Germany, where there is no real diversity of Nationality, but where the divisions were produced by political weakness and misgovernment, there is no basis for a variety of Codes. But this point would require very delicate treatment. One object of a united German code is to get rid of the long prevalence of the Code Napoleon in Western Germany.
But in America the States have different Codes, in spite of the assumption of the Common Law.
And in Germany there are some real national diversities—in Mecklenburg, East Prussia, Silesia, etc.
Page 6: ’05—
France was not quite centralised under the old Régime. There was no uniform Code, but several Coutûmes. And, in the eighteenth century, the local Etats Provinciaux flourished in some places and exercised some measure of real autonomy in Bretagne, Provence, Dauphiné—especially in Languedoc. Many provinces had no such Etats. Then there were the—very ineffective—Parlements.
But there was no such dead-level as since the Revolution and the Empire.
Centralisation was immensely developed by 1789. One of Tocqueville’s main points.
But is it right to say that France suffers from the want of local parliaments? It suffers from excess of centralisation in its administration. But I don’t know whether the local units exist that would supply materials for Parliaments, which imply legislation. At least I hope you will consider attentively what this sentence may imply. Observe the instability of government, the frequency of Revolutions in united France and Spain. Constant variation of the form in spite of unity.
You speak of misguided religious zeal in the papal recruits. By no means all religious. Some went in for Legitimacy, some for absolutism, some, like Surratt,1 to be out of the way. I suggest these reflections as a possible way to avoid the word misguided, which is needless, and might offend.
Love of authority, quand même, made men stand by the Pope. In Mecklenburg, where Catholics were not tolerated (practically) the Lutheran clergy agitated and collected money for defence of the temporal power.
One point occurs to me about Italian unity. Cavour offered federation to the King of Naples, I really believe because he dreaded what France, or Europe, or the Revolutionists might do during the process of absorbing Naples, rather than because he was sure it would be rejected. I daresay you remember the rights of the story. So that Federalism failed repeatedly in the time of Cavour as in that of Rossi, Gioberti,2 and Rosmini, whom Manzoni thought unpractical dreamers.
It failed because it gave the foreigner a foothold in the country.3
Feb. 26th (& 29th).
Dear Mr. Gladstone,—
Don’t suspect me of denying the principle of nationality altogether. Only, if I were to say as much as you say, I should be afraid of being driven to admit the priority of National Independence before individual liberty,—of the figurative conscience before the real. We do not find that Nationalists are always Liberals, especially in Austria. We may pursue several objects, we may weave many principles, but we cannot have two courts of final appeal.
I meet Hervé1 this evening, the leading journalist of the Orleanists, and a man you made happy by quoting him. I will sound him about the propagandist tendency you speak of. If it exists, there will soon be unpleasant signs of its effect on Bulgarian opinion, or it might be a sop to Austrian opinion and influence. But there is no question that in France the Orleanists mean to play that card, so to disarm the extreme legitimists, and believing that the neglect of the Church was one of Louis Philippe’s worst mistakes.
They have offered the Germans the utmost securities about peace if they recover the throne; but they have only succeeded in irritating Bismarck into fits. And they are countenancing a scheme for a Zollverein between Germany and France, to the detriment of the non-continental countries.
Galimberti, the nuncio at Vienna, tells the Grand Duke of Baden—the father of the youth you saw—who told me, that the Pope seriously wishes to come to terms with Italy; that he will abandon all territorial claims for a strip of desert along the Tiber, connecting the Leonine city with the sea. He calculates that he would then employ all his influence at the elections, and become a political power through the Italian Parliament.—I remain, ever yours,
Ad vocem Villari. There is this flaw in the book as it stands, that it no longer represents the author’s view as it was when he wrote it, and if it is not so completely rewritten as to express his present judgment, I fancy that Villari has become much more seriously anti-clerical than he was twenty-five years ago.
16 James Street,Feb. 24th, 1888.
My dear Acton,—
With your usual kindness and promptitude you have supplied all I wanted. Before receiving your answer I had misgivings on subjects comprised in your remarks, and especially I suspected that the impressions about the French Parliaments were liable to misconstruction.
I have “hedged about” nationality with more conditions. I think, however, that in its defecated sense it is one of those permanent and ultimate principles which in the last must become inappellable. I will send you the entire article in due course.
The stream of current events is strong and turbid. I am afraid the cloud that hangs over Europe will not clear, but sooner or later burst. Meantime I am greatly pleased at the attitude which has been defined by the Government. Future liberty of action is not to be hampered by premature engagements. There is a story that Salisbury has said, “Were such and such things to happen, and were I Minister at the time, I should think such and such things to be my duty.” This, whether prudent or not for him, is tolerably harmless for the country.
The course of opinion indicated in the Elections is on the whole highly satisfactory. It is gradually constructing a sorites argument, which must tell. Even the majorities in the House of Commons are dwindling a little.
MacColl’s fate is curious. He has had a triumph in being blackballed at the Athenæum through the unparalleled mass of condolences he has received from every quarter.
I am surprised, and not less pleased, with the address from seventy-five resident graduates at Oxford on behalf of a policy of Home Rule.
Yesterday I was startled on reading in the Standard that in Bulgaria Prince Ferdinand had announced himself as a propagandist of the Roman Catholic Church. If he has thus introduced such a new cause of trouble, it ought to be, and will be, fatal to him. Madame Novikoff, whom I saw yesterday, professed to treat it as a thing perfectly well known to her, and as the grounds of the Czar’s objection to him.
I told her I had received from Athens a curious communication. A society of some kind has been formed there for the union of all the independent Balkan States. She expressed great satisfaction at it.—Ever yours,
W. E. Gladstone.
Dear Mr. Gladstone,1 —
My illegible correspondent was Geffcken.2 I cannot bring myself to look on what has happened, and is happening, in such dark colours as you see. Our opponents have committed themselves to a disgraceful cause in a way nobody could have anticipated—not worse than in the case of the Parnell Commission, but in a more unmistakable and flagrant manner visible to all. It has purified our cause; and I fancy, pace Arnold Morley,3 that it will not weaken us long. Kilkenny, I suppose, has repressed the desire to dissolve.
There is so much to say about it. There never was a moment in your life when your health, and strength, and spirits, that give strength, were of so much value to your friends—in the larger sense—and so important for the higher national and political purposes.—Ever yours,
Villa St. Patrick,Jan. 1, 1891.
Hawarden,Jan. 9, 1891.
My dear Acton,—
To a greybeard in a hard winter the very name of the South is musical, and the kind letters from you and Lord Hampden make it harmony as well as melody. But I have been and am chained to the spot by this Parnell business, and every day have to consider in one shape or other what ought to be said by myself or others. A letter of mine to Hartlepool is just coming out which will speak out for Home Rule, but also tell that we think of trying a piece of legislation, viz. Registration, with the provision called one man one vote. On the 13th, Morley speaks at Newcastle.
I do not know if you have seen Les Derniers Jansénistes by Leon Séché.1 He sent it to me, and asked advice as to sending it to others. I mentioned you, also John Murray. I find in it the most luminous account I have ever seen of the Civil Constitution of the Clergy, and I have also learned or seemed to learn from it for the first time that Grégoire2 was a very high-toned, devout person, and also, say, nine-tenths of a great man. I take it for granted that you have his works.
I have been writing a full reply to Huxley, and I believe (truly or falsely) that it overturns all his contentions. It has cost me much labour, especially in hunting up and down about Josephus for the particulars of an obscure local history, which becomes full of interest in my eyes on account of its connection with the character of our blessed Lord’s ministry on earth.—Believe me, ever yours,
W. E. Gladstone.
[1 ] This letter was written in view of the approaching general election. A little after this Mr. Chamberlain produced the unauthorised programme.
[2 ] The change of Government and Miss Gladstone’s marriage.
[1 ] The allusion here is to the acceptance of office in Lord Salisbury’s government by Lord Hartington and Mr. Goschen. Hitherto the Liberal Unionists had not accepted office under the Conservatives.
[1 ] This refers to the round table conference in which Mr. Chamberlain and Sir George Trevelyan took part. It led to the return of the latter to the Gladstoman fold.
[1 ] This letter refers to Gladstone’s article on “Mr. Lecky and Political Morality” in the Nineteenth Century for 1887.
[1 ]Bonghi, Ruggiero (1828-95), an Italian politician and writer of great weight. That mentioned by Acton is La Vita e i Tempi di V. Pasini, Firenze, 1867.
Valentino Pasini (1806-63) was an Italian of the risorgimento.
[1 ]Surratt, John H., was supposed to be the assailant of Seward, when President Lincoln was assassinated. Surratt fled into Canada and England. Ultimately his mother, Mary E. Surratt, was hanged for conspiracy before the son was caught. He, however, was acquitted. Cf. De Witt, The Judicial Murder of Mary E. Surratt. It is to his hiding that Acton alludes.
[2 ]Gioberti, Vincenzo (1801-51), an Italian statesman and philosopher. He wrote one work, Il primato civile e morale degli Italiani, in which he summoned the Pope to become head of a federation of Italian States. He had much influence over Victor Emmanuel.
[3 ] This letter refers to Gladstone’s article, “Further Notes on the Irish Demand,” published in the Contemporary Review, March 1888.
[1 ]Hervé, Aimé Marie Édouard (1835-99), was an Orleanist, who fought a duel with Edmond About. He was a great opponent of Jules Ferry. After the death of the Comte de Chambord he secured the union of the two branches of the Monarchist party. In 1885 he published La Crise Irlandaise depuis la fin du XVIIIe Siècle jusqu’à nos jours.
[1 ] This letter deals with the effects of the Parnell-O’Shea divorce suit.
[2 ]Geffcken, Friedrich Heinrich von (1830-96). Professor Geffcken became famous through his publishing the Diary of the Emperor Frederic. Bismarck persecuted him in consequence of his telling the truth. Cf. Busch’s Bismarck.
[3 ]Arnold Morley, Liberal Whip, son of Samuel Morley, thought that the effect on the next general election would be disastrous for the Home Rule Party. He was right, as against Acton. Had the elections been taken before the case came on, Gladstone would probably have had a larger majority instead of the small one with which he took office.
[1 ]Séché, Léon, author of Les Derniers Jansénistes, 1891, and Les Origines du Concordat, 1894, and many works on the Romantic Movement.
[2 ]Grégoire, Henri (1750-1831), was the leading bishop of the Constitutional clergy. He was a sincere and convinced democrat, and was President of the Convention. During the Empire he was a senator.