Page:Dictionary of National Biography volume 43.djvu/345

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of Great Britain, and urged the necessity of more efficient organisation of the Irish vote in England. He computed the number of Irish voters in English constituencies at more than a quarter of a million. On 28 June he was entertained at dinner in London by seventy of his parliamentary colleagues, in honour of his forty-fourth birthday. He congratulated the party on its ‘honourable and hopeful’ alliance with the liberals, and confidently announced that as soon as Mr. Gladstone, ‘the only man of distinguished genius before the public,’ returned to power, he would carry ‘a great measure of home rule,’ which would be accepted by the Irish people ‘as a sufficient solution.’

But in the autumn Parnell had to face a new trial on a purely personal issue, and these fair hopes were frustrated. As early as 28 Dec. 1889 Captain O'Shea had filed a petition for divorce from his wife (Katharine, youngest daughter of the Rev. Sir John Page Wood), on the ground of her adultery with Parnell. On 16 Nov. 1890 the case came into court. It was generally assumed by his political friends that Parnell would rebut the charge satisfactorily. But he offered no defence beyond a general denial, and was not represented by counsel. The respondent also pleaded a general denial, but introduced some recriminatory accusations of bad faith against her husband, which the latter's counsel, with the consent of the court, called witnesses to repel. Not only was the adultery legally proved, but discreditable details respecting Parnell's conduct of the intrigue were brought to public notice. On 17 Nov. a decree nisi was pronounced, with costs against Parnell.

Parliament was to meet on 25 Nov. At first it appeared that Parnell's political position was unaffected by the disclosures in the divorce court. On 20 Nov. there was a great meeting at the Leinster Hall, Dublin. The Irish members mustered in force and passed resolutions, amid enthusiastic applause, pledging unflinching fidelity to Parnell. A cablegram was sent from other Irish members who were in America, asserting their determination to ‘stand firmly’ by him, not only for his ‘imperishable services in the past, but on the profound conviction that’ his ‘statesmanship and matchless qualities as a leader are essential to the safety of our cause.’ On 25 Nov. the Irish parliamentary party met at the House of Commons, and by a unanimous and enthusiastic vote re-elected him leader. His Irish followers thus publicly condoned the offence of his private life.

But Parnell's friends had to reckon with their liberal allies, who had of late proclaimed their faith in his character. The nonconformists, who were the backbone of the English liberal party in the constituencies, were reported to show a disinclination to overlook the obliquities of Parnell's private life. Other sections of the liberal party manifested a strong revulsion of feeling towards him, and it became expedient for the liberal party to dissociate themselves from him. On 24 Nov. Mr. Gladstone accordingly asserted, in an open letter to Mr. Morley, that, ‘notwithstanding the splendid services rendered by Mr. Parnell to his country, his continuance at the present moment in the leadership would be productive of consequences disastrous in the highest degree to the cause of Ireland.’

Parnell indignantly defied this pronouncement. His private failings had in his mind no bearing on his position in public life, and he interpreted Mr. Gladstone's action as that of an Englishman who, for purposes of his own, had stepped in between him and the Irish people. All the hatred of England which had inspired his early political career blazed forth afresh. A minority of his parliamentary followers felt it to be a point of national honour to uphold their leader at all hazards; but the majority of them viewed the matter differently. Since 1885 he had taken no part in their extra-parliamentary agitation, and weeks and months had often elapsed without his assisting in their deliberations at Westminster. He had, in fact, exerted his authority so intermittently that it had lost something of its potency. Mr. Gladstone by his letter held out to the Irish party the threat that unless Parnell were deposed the liberals would cease to advocate home rule. Without the support of the liberals the home-rule cause seemed doomed. It was therefore natural, considering Parnell's recent inaction in the affairs of his party, that as soon as allegiance to him conflicted with what they held to be the prosperity of the home-rule cause, a majority of his followers should desert him.

But Parnell was prepared to fight desperately for his supremacy. He replied to Mr. Gladstone's letter in a ‘Manifesto to the Irish People.’ In it he set forth his version of the confidential discussions with Mr. Gladstone at Hawarden in 1889, of which the accuracy was at once disputed by Mr. Gladstone. He spoke slightingly of Mr. Morley; he appealed to Irishmen ‘to save me from the English wolves now howling for my destruction;’ and he finally warned his countrymen that a postponement of home rule was preferable to such a sacrifice of Irishmen's independence as was implied by their acceptance of Mr. Gladstone's dictation on the question of the leadership.