1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Parnell, Charles Stewart
PARNELL, CHARLES STEWART (1846-1891), Irish Nationalist leader, was born at Avondale, Co. Wicklow, on the 27th of June 1846. His father was John Henry Parnell; a country gentleman of strong Nationalist and Liberal sympathies, who married in 1834 Delia Tudor, daughter of Commodore Charles Stewart of the United States navy. The Parnell family was of English origin, and more than one of its members attained civic note at Congleton in Cheshire under the Stuarts and during the Commonwealth. Among them was Thomas Parnell, who migrated to Ireland after the Restoration. He had two sons, Thomas Parnell the poet and John Parnell, who became an Irish judge. From the latter Charles Stewart Parnell was lineally descended in the fifth generation. Sir John Parnell, chancellor of the exchequer in Grattan's parliament, and one of O'Connell's lieutenants in the parliament of the United Kingdom, was the grandson of Parnell the judge. The estate of Avondale was settled on him by a friend and bequeathed by him to his youngest son William (grandfather of Charles Stewart Parnell). His eldest son was imbecile. His second son was Sir Henry Parnell, a noted politician and financier in the early part of the 19th century, who held office under Grey and Melbourne, and after being raised to the peerage as Baron Congleton, died by his own hand in 1842. William Parnell was a keen student of Irish politics, with a strong leaning towards the popular side, and in 1805 he published a pamphlet entitled “Thoughts on the Causes of Popular Discontents,” which was favourably noticed by Sydney Smith in the Edinburgh Review. Thus by birth and ancestry, and especially by the influence of his mother, who inherited a hatred of England from her father, Charles Stewart Parnell was, as it were, dedicated to the Irish national cause. He was of English extraction, a landowner, and a Protestant. Educated at private schools in England and at Magdalen College, Cambridge, his temperament and demeanour were singularly un-Irish on the surface—reserved, cold, repellent and unemotional. He appears to have been rather turbulent as a school-boy, contentious, insubordinate, and not over-scrupulous. He was fond of cricket and devoted to mathematics, but had little taste for other studies or other games. He was subject to somnambulism, and liable to severe fits of depression—facts which, taken in connexion with the existence of mental affliction among his ancestors, with his love of solitude and mystery, and his invincible superstitions about omens, numbers and the like, may perhaps suggest that his own mental equilibrium was not always stable. He was as little at home in an English school or an English university as he was afterwards in the House of Commons. “These English,” he said to his brother at school, “despise us because we are Irish, but we must stand up to them. That's the way to treat an Englishman—stand up to him.”
Parnell was not an active politician in his early years. He found salvation as a Nationalist and even as a potential rebel over the execution of the “Manchester Martyrs” in 1867, but it was not until some years afterwards that he resolved to enter parliament. In the meanwhile he paid a lengthened visit to the United States. At the general election of 1874 he desired to stand for the county of Wicklow, of which he was high sheriff at the time. The lord-lieutenant declined to relieve him of his disqualifying office, and his brother John stood in his place, but was unsuccessful at the poll. Shortly afterwards a bye-election occurred in Dublin, owing to Colonel Taylor having accepted office in the Disraeli government, and Parnell resolved to oppose him as a supporter of Isaac Butt, but was heavily beaten. He was, however, elected for Meath in the spring of 1875.
Butt had scrupulously respected the dignity of parliament and the traditions and courtesy of debate. He looked very coldly on the method of “obstruction”—a method invented by certain members of the Conservative party in opposition to the first Gladstone Administration. Parnell, however, entered parliament as a virtual rebel who knew that physical force was of no avail, but believed that political exasperation might attain the desired results. He resolved to make obstruction in parliament do the work of outrage in the country, to set the church bell ringing—to borrow Mr Gladstone's metaphor—and to keep it ringing in season and out of season in the ears of the House of Commons. He did not choose to condemn outrages to gratify the Pharisaism of English members of parliament. He courted the alliance of the physical force party, and he had to pay the price for it. He invented and encouraged “boycotting,” and did not discourage outrage. When a supporter in America offered him twenty-five dollars, “five for bread and twenty for lead,” he accepted the gift, and he subsequently told the story on at least one Irish platform. In the course of the negotiations in 1882, which resulted in what was known as the Kilmainham Treaty, he wrote to Captain O'Shea: “If the arrears question be settled upon the lines indicated by us, I have every confidence that the exertions we should be able to make strenuously and unremittingly would be effective in stopping outrages and intimidation of all kinds.” This is at least an admission that he had, or could place, his hand on the stop-valve, even if it be not open to the gloss placed on it by Captain O'Shea in a conversation repeated in the House of Commons by Mr Forster, “that the conspiracy which has been used to get up boycotting and outrage will now be used to put them down.”
In 1877 Parnell entered on an organized course of obstruction. He and Mr Joseph Gillis Biggar, one of his henchmen, were gradually joined by a small band of the more advanced Home Rulers, and occasionally assisted up to a certain point by one or two English members. Butt was practically deposed and worried into his grave. William Shaw, a “transient and embarrassed phantom,” was elected in his place, but Parnell became the real leader of a Nationalist party. The original Home Rule party was split in twain, and after the general election of 1880 the more moderate section of it ceased to exist. Obstruction in Parnell's hands was no mere weapon of delay and exasperation; it was a calculated policy, the initial stage of a campaign designed to show the malcontents in Ireland and their kinsmen in other lands that Butt's strictly constitutional methods were quite helpless, but that the parliamentary armoury still contained weapons which he could so handle as to convince the Irish people and even the Fenian and other physical force societies that the way to Irish legislative independence lay through the House of Commons. The Fenians were hard to convince, but in the autumn of 1877 Parnell persuaded the Home Rule Confederation of Great Britain (an association founded by Butt, but largely supported by Fenians) to depose Butt from its presidency and to elect himself in his place. He defined his attitude quite clearly in a speech delivered in New York early in 1880: “A true revolutionary movement in Ireland should, in my opinion, partake both of a constitutional and illegal character. It should be both an open and a secret organization, using the constitution for its own purposes, but also taking advantage of its secret combination.” Parnell's opportunity came with the general election of 1880, which displaced the Conservative government of Lord Beaconsfield and restored Mr Gladstone to power with a majority strong enough at the outset to overpower the Opposition, even should the latter be reinforced by the whole of Parnell's contingent. Distress was acute in Ireland, and famine was imminent. Ministers had taken measures to relieve the situation before the dissolution was announced, but Lord Beaconsfield had warned the country that there was a danger ahead in Ireland “in its ultimate results scarcely less disastrous than pestilence and famine. . . . A portion of its population is attempting to sever the constitutional tie which unites it to Great Britain in that bond which has favoured the power and prosperity of both. It is to be hoped that all men of light and leading will resist this destructive doctrine.” The Liberal party and its leaders retorted that they were as strongly opposed to Home Rule as their opponents, but Lord Beaconsfield's manifesto undoubtedly had the effect of alienating the Irish vote in the English constituencies from the Tory party and throwing it on the side of the Liberal candidates. This was Parnell's deliberate policy. He would have no alliance with either English party. He would support each in turn with a sole regard to the balance of political power in parliament and a fixed determination to hold it in his own hands if he could. From the time that he became its leader the Home Rule party sat together in the House of Commons and always on the Opposition side.
In the government formed by Mr Gladstone in 1880 Lord Cowper became viceroy and Mr W. E. Forster chief secretary for Ireland. The outlook was gloomy enough, but the Gladstone government do not seem to have anticipated, as Peel anticipated in 1841, that Ireland would be their difficulty. Yet the Land League had been formed by Michael Davitt and others in the autumn of 1879 for the purpose of agrarian agitation, and Parnell after some hesitation had given it his sanction. He visited the United States at the close of 1879. It was then and there that the “new departure”—the alliance of the open and the secret organizations—was confirmed and consolidated. Parnell obtained the countenance and support of the Clan-na-Gael, a revolutionary organization of the American-Irish, and the Land League began to absorb all the more violent spirits in Ireland, though the Fenian brotherhood still held officially aloof from it. As soon as the general election was announced Parnell returned to Ireland in order to direct the campaign in person. Though he had supported the Liberals at the election, he soon found himself in conflict with a government which could neither tolerate disturbance nor countenance a Nationalist agitation, and he entered on the struggle with forces organized, with money in his chest, and with a definite but still undeveloped plan of action. The prevailing distress increased and outrages began to multiply. A fresh Relief Bill was introduced by the government, and in order to stave off a measure to prevent evictions introduced by the Irish party, Mr Forster consented to add a clause to the Relief Bill for giving compensation in certain circumstances to tenants evicted for non-payment of rent. This clause was afterwards embodied in a separate measure known as the Compensation for Disturbance Bill, which after a stormy career in the House of Commons was summarily rejected by the House of Lords.
The whole Irish question was once more opened up in its more dangerous and more exasperating form. It became clear that the land question—supposed to have been settled by Mr Gladstone's Act of 1870—would have to be reconsidered in all its bearings, and a commission was appointed for the purpose. In Ireland things went from bad to worse. Evictions increased and outrages were multiplied. Intimidations and boycotting were rampant. As the winter wore on, Mr Forster persuaded his colleagues that exceptional measures were needed. An abortive prosecution of Parnell and some of his leading colleagues had by this time intensified the situation. Parliament was summoned early, and a Coercion Bill for one year, practically suspending the Habeas Corpus Act and allowing the arrest of suspects at the discretion of the government, was introduced, to be followed shortly by an Arms Bill. Parnell regarded the measure as a declaration of war, and met it in that spirit. Its discussion was doggedly obstructed at every stage, and on one occasion the debate was only brought to a close, after lasting for forty-one hours, by the Speaker's claiming to interpret the general sense of the house and resolving to put the question without further discussion. The rules of procedure were then amended afresh in a very drastic sense, and as soon as the bill was passed Mr Gladstone introduced a new Land Bill, which occupied the greater part of the session. Parnell accepted it with many reserves. He could not ignore its concessions, and was not disposed to undervalue them, but he had to make it clear to the revolutionary party, whose support was indispensable, that he regarded it only as a payment on account, even from the agrarian point of view, and no payment at all from the national point of view. Accordingly the Land League at his instigation determined to “test” the act by advising tenants in general to refrain from taking their cases into court until certain cases selected by the Land League had been decided. The government treated this policy, which was certainly not designed to make the act work freely and beneficially, as a deliberate attempt to intercept its benefits and to keep the Irish people in subjection to the Land League; and on this and other grounds—notably the attitude of the League and its leaders towards crime and outrage—Parnell was arrested under the Coercion Act and lodged in Kilmainham gaol (October 17, 1881).
Parnell in prison at once became more powerful for evil than he had ever been, either for good or for evil, outside. He may have known that the policy of Mr Forster was little favoured by several of his colleagues, and he probably calculated that the detention of large numbers of suspects without cause assigned and without trial would sooner or later create opposition in England. Mr Forster had assured his colleagues and the House of Commons that the power of arbitrary arrest would enable the police to lay their hands on the chief agents of disturbance, and it was Parnell's policy to show that so long as the grievances of the Irish tenants remained unredressed no number of arrests could either check the tide of outrage or restore the country to tranquillity. Several of his leading colleagues followed him into captivity at Kilmainham, and the Land League was dissolved, its treasurer, Patrick Egan, escaping to Paris and carrying with him its books and accounts. Before it was formally suppressed the League had issued a manifesto, signed by Parnell and several of his fellow-prisoners, calling upon the tenants to pay no rents until the government had restored the constitutional rights of the people. Discouraged by the priests, the No-Rent manifesto had little effect, but it embittered the struggle and exasperated the temper of the people on both sides of the Irish Channel.
Lord Cowper and Mr Forster were compelled to ask for a renewal of the Coercion Act with enlarged powers. But there were members of the cabinet who had only accepted it with reluctance, and were now convinced not only that it had failed, but that it could never succeed. A modus vivendi was desired on both sides. Negotiations were set on foot through the agency of Captain O'Shea—at that time and for long afterwards a firm political and personal friend of Parnell, but ultimately his accuser in the divorce court—and after a somewhat intricate course they resulted in what was known as the Kilmainham Treaty. As a consequence of this informal agreement, Parnell and two of his friends were to be released at once, the understanding being, as Mr Gladstone stated in a letter to Lord Cowper, “that Parnell and his friends are ready to abandon ‘No Rent’ formally, and to declare against outrage energetically, intimidation included, if and when the government announce a satisfactory plan for dealing with arrears.” Parnell's own version of the understanding has been quoted above. It also included a hope that the government would allow the Coercion Act to lapse and govern the country by the same laws as in England. Parnell and his friends were released, and Lord Cowper and Mr Forster at once resigned.
The Phoenix Park murders (May 6, 1882) followed (see Ireland: History). Parnell was prostrated by this catastrophe. In a public manifesto to the Irish people he declared that “no act has ever been perpetrated in our country, during the exciting struggle for social and political rights of the past fifty years, that has so stained the name of hospitable Ireland as this cowardly and unprovoked assassination of a friendly stranger.” Privately to his own friends and to Mr Gladstone he expressed his desire to withdraw from public life. There were those who believed that nevertheless he was privy to the Invincible conspiracy. There is some prima facie foundation for this belief in the indifference he had always displayed towards crime and outrage when crime and outrage could be made to serve his purpose; in his equivocal relation to the more violent and unscrupulous forms of Irish sedition, and in the fact that Byrne, an official of the Land League, was in collusion with the Invincibles, that the knives with which the murder was done had been concealed at the offices of the Land League in London, and had been conveyed to Dublin by Byrne's wife. But the maxim is fecit cui prodest disallows these suspicions. Parnell gained nothing by the murders, and seemed for a time to have lost everything. A new Crimes Bill was introduced and made operative for a period of three years. A régime of renewed coercion was maintained by Lord Spencer and Mr (afterwards Sir George) Trevelyan, who had succeeded Lord Frederick Cavendish in the office of chief secretary; Ireland was tortured for three years by the necessary severity of its administration, and England was exasperated by a succession of dynamite outrages organized chiefly in America, which Parnell was powerless to prevent. The Phoenix Park murders did more than any other incident of his time and career to frustrate Parnell's policy and render Home Rule impossible.
For more than two years after the Phoenix Park murders Parnell's influence in parliament, and even in Ireland, was only intermittently and not very energetically exerted. His health was indifferent, his absences from the House of Commons were frequent and mysterious, and he had already formed those relations with Mrs O'Shea which were ultimately to bring him to the divorce court. The Phoenix Park murderers were arrested and brought to justice early in 1883. Mr Forster seized the opportunity to deliver a scathing indictment of Parnell in the House of Commons. In an almost contemptuous reply Parnell repudiated the charges in general terms, disavowed all sympathy with dynamite outrages, their authors and abettors—the only occasion on which he ever did so—declined to plead in detail before an English tribunal, and declared that he sought only the approbation of the Irish people. This last was shortly afterwards manifested in the form of a subscription known as the “Parnell Tribute,” which quickly reached the amount of £37,000, and was presented to Parnell, partly for the liquidation of debts he was known to have contracted, but mainly in recognition of his public services. The Irish National League, a successor to the suppressed Land League, was founded in the autumn of 1882 at a meeting over which Parnell presided, but he looked on it at first with little favour, and its action was largely paralysed by the operation of the Crimes Act and the vigorous administration of Lord Spencer.
The Crimes Act, passed in 1882, was to expire in 1885, but the government of Mr Gladstone was in no position to renew it as it stood. In May notice was given for its partial renewal, subject to changes more of form than of substance. The second reading was fixed for the 10th of June. On the 8th of June Parnell, with thirty-nine of his followers, voted with the Opposition against the budget, and defeated the government by a majority of 264 votes to 252. Mr Gladstone forthwith resigned. Lord Salisbury undertook to form a government, and Lord Carnarvon became viceroy. The session was rapidly brought to an end with a view to the dissolution rendered necessary by the Franchise Act passed in 1884—a measure which was certain to increase the number of Parnell's adherents in parliament. It seems probable that Parnell had convinced himself before he resolved to join forces with the Opposition that a Conservative government would not renew the Crimes Act. At any rate, no attempt to renew it was made by the new government. Moreover, Lord Carnarvon, the new viceroy, was known to Parnell and to some others among the Irish leaders to be not unfavourable to some form of Home Rule if due regard were paid to imperial unity and security. He sought and obtained a personal interview with Parnell, explicitly declared that he was speaking for himself alone, heard Parnell's views, expounded his own, and forthwith reported what had taken place to the Prime Minister. In the result the new cabinet refused to move in the direction apparently desired by Lord Carnarvon.
Parnell opened the electoral campaign with a speech in Dublin, in which he pronounced unequivocally in favour of self government for Ireland, and expressed his confident hope “that it may not be necessary for us in the new parliament to devote our attention to subsidiary measures, and that it may be possible for us to have a programme and a platform with only one plank, and that one plank National Independence.” This was startling to English ears. The press denounced Parnell; Lord Hartington (afterwards the duke of Devonshire) protested against so fatal and mischievous a programme; Mr Chamberlain repudiated it with even greater emphasis. Meanwhile Mr Gladstone was slowly convincing himself that the passing of the Franchise Act had made it the duty of English statesmen and English party leaders to give a respectful hearing to the Irish National demand, and to consider how far it could be satisfied subject to the governing principle of “maintaining the supremacy of the crown, the unity of the Empire, and all the authority of parliament necessary for the conservation of the unity.” This was the position he took up in the Hawarden manifesto issued in September before the general election of 1885. Speaking later at Newport in October, Lord Salisbury treated the Irish leader with unwonted deference and respect. Parnell, however, took no notice of the Newport speech, and waited for Mr Gladstone to declare himself more fully in Midlothian. But in this he was disappointed. Mr Gladstone went no farther than he had done at Hawarden, and he implored the electorate to give him a majority independent of the Irish vote. Subsequently Parnell invited him in a public speech to declare his policy and to sketch the constitution he would give to Ireland subject to the limitations he had insisted on. To this Mr Gladstone replied, “through the same confidential channel,” that he could not consider the Irish demand before it had been constitutionally formulated, and that, not being in an official position, he could not usurp the functions of a government. The reply to this was the issue of a manifesto to the Irish electors of Great Britain violently denouncing the Liberal party and directing all Irish Nationalists to give their votes to the Tories. In these circumstances the general election was fought, and resulted in the return of 335 Liberals, four of whom were classed as “independent,” 249 Conservatives and 86 followers of Parnell.
Mr Gladstone had now ascertained the strength of the Irish demand, but was left absolutely dependent on the votes of those who represented it. Through Mr Arthur Balfour he made informal overtures to Lord Salisbury proffering his own support in case the Prime Minister should be disposed to consider the Irish demand in a “just and liberal spirit”; but he received no encouragement. Towards the close of the year it became known through various channels that he himself was considering the matter and had advanced as far as accepting the principle of an Irish parliament in Dublin for the transaction of Irish affairs. Before the end of January Lord Salisbury's government was defeated on the Address, the Opposition including the full strength of the Irish party. Mr Gladstone once more became prime minister, with Mr John Morley (an old Home Ruler) as chief secretary, and Mr Chamberlain provisionally included in the cabinet. Lord Hartington, Mr Bright and some other Liberal chiefs, however, declined to join him.
Mr Gladstone's return to power at the head of an administration conditionally committed to Home Rule marks the culminating point of Parnell's influence on English politics and English parties. And after the defeat of the Home Rule ministry in 1886, Parnell was naturally associated closely with the Liberal Opposition. At the same time he withdrew himself largely from active interposition in current parliamentary affairs, and relaxed his control over the action and policy of his followers in Ireland. He entered occasionally into London society—where in certain quarters he was now a welcome guest—but in general he lived apart, often concealing his whereabouts and giving no address but the House of Commons, answering no letters, and seldom fulfilling engagements. He seems to have thought that Home Rule being now in the keeping of an English party, it was time to show that he had in him the qualities of a statesman as well as those of a revolutionary and a rebel. His influence on the remedial legislation proposed by the Unionist government for Ireland was considerable, and he seldom missed an opportunity of making it felt. It more than once happened to him to find measures, which had been contemptuously rejected when he had proposed them, ultimately adopted by the government; and it may be that the comparative tranquillity which Ireland enjoyed at the close of the 19th century was due quite as much to legislation inspired and recommended by himself as to the disintegration of his following which ensued upon his appearance in the divorce court and long survived his death. No sooner was Lord Salisbury's new government installed in office in 1886, than Parnell introduced a comprehensive Tenants' Relief Bill. The government would have none of it, though in the following session they adopted and carried many of its leading provisions. Its rejection was followed by renewed agitation in Ireland, in which Parnell took no part. He was ill—“dangerously ill,” he said himself at the time—and some of his more hot-headed followers devised the famous “Plan of Campaign,” on which he was never consulted and which never had his approval. Ireland was once more thrown into a turmoil of agitation, turbulence and crime, and the Unionist government, which had hoped to be able to govern the country by means of the ordinary law, was compelled to resort to severe repressive measures and fresh coercive legislation. Mr Balfour became chief secretary, and early in the session of 1887 the new measure was introduced and carried. Parnell took no very prominent part in resisting it. In the course of the spring The Times had begun publishing a series of articles entitled “Parnellism and Crime,” on lines following Mr Forster's indictment of Parnell in 1883, though with much greater detail of circumstance and accusation. Some of the charges were undoubtedly well founded, some were exaggerated, some were merely the colourable fictions of political prepossession, pronounced to be not proven by the special commission which ultimately inquired into them. One of the articles, which appeared on the 18th of April, was accompanied by the facsimile of a letter purporting to be signed but not written by Parnell, in which he apologized for his attitude on the Phoenix Park murders, and specially excused the murder of Mr Burke. On the same evening, in the House of Commons, Parnell declared the letter to be a forgery, and denied that he had ever written any letter to that effect. He was not believed, and the second reading of the Crimes Act followed. Later in the session the attention of the house was again called to the subject, and it was invited by Sir Charles Lewis, an Ulster member and a bitter antagonist of the Nationalists, to declare the charges of The Times a breach of privilege. The government met this proposal by an offer to pay the expenses of a libel action against The Times to be brought on behalf of the Irish members incriminated. This offer was refused. Mr Gladstone then proposed that a select committee should inquire into the charges, including the letter attributed to Parnell, and to this Parnell assented. But the government rejected the proposal. For the rest, Parnell continued to maintain for the most part an attitude of moderation, reserve and retreat, though he more than once came forward to protest against the harshness of the Irish administration and to plead for further remedial legislation. In July 1888 he announced that Mr Cecil Rhodes had sent him a sum of £10,000 in support of the Home Rule movement, subject to the condition that the Irish representation should be retained in the House of Commons in any future measure dealing with the question. About the same time the question of “Parnellism and Crime” again became acute. Mr F. H. O'Donnell, an ex-M.P. and former member of the Irish party, brought an action against The Times for libel. His case was a weak one, and a verdict was obtained by the defendants. But in the course of the proceedings the attorney-general, counsel for The Times, affirmed the readiness of his clients to establish all the charges advanced, including the genuineness of the letter which Parnell had declared to be a forgery. Parnell once more invited the House of Commons to refer this particular issue—that of the letter—to a select committee. This was again refused; but after some hesitation the government resolved to appoint by act of parliament a special commission, composed of three judges of the High Court, to inquire into all the charges advanced by The Times. This led to what was in substance, though not perhaps in judicial form, the most remarkable state trial of the 19th century. The commission began to sit in September 1888, and issued its report in February 1890. It heard evidence of immense volume and variety, and the speech of Sir Charles Russell in defence was afterwards published in a bulky volume. Parnell gave evidence at great length, with much composure and some cynicism. On the whole he produced a not unfavourable impression, though some of his statements might seem to justify Mr Gladstone's opinion that he was not a man of exact veracity. The report of the commission was a very voluminous document, and was very variously interpreted by different parties to the controversy. Their conclusions may be left to speak for themselves:—
“I. We find that the respondent members of parliament collectively were not members of a conspiracy having for its object to establish the absolute independence of Ireland, but we find that some of them, together with Mr Davitt, established and joined in the Land League organization with the intention, by its means, to bring about the absolute independence of Ireland as a separate nation.
“II. We find that the respondents did enter into a conspiracy, by a system of coercion and intimidation, to promote an agrarian agitation against the payment of agricultural rents, for the purpose of impoverishing and expelling from the country the Irish landlords, who were styled ‘the English garrison.’
“III. We find that the charge that ‘when on certain occasions they thought it politic to denounce, and did denounce, certain crimes in public, they afterwards led their supporters to believe such denunciations were not sincere,’ is not established. We entirely acquit Mr Parnell and the other respondents of the charge of insincerity in their denunciation of the Phoenix Park murders, and find that the ‘facsimile’ letter, on which this charge was chiefly based as against Mr Parnell, is a forgery.
“IV. We find that the respondents did disseminate the Irish World and other newspapers tending to incite to sedition and the commission of other crime.
“V. We find that the respondents did not directly incite persons to the commission of crime other than intimidation, but that they did incite to intimidation, and that the consequence of that incitement was that crime and outrage were committed by the persons incited. We find that it has not been proved that the respondents made payments for the purpose of inciting persons to commit crime.
“VI. We find, as to the allegation that the respondents did nothing to prevent crime, and expressed no bona fide disapproval, that some of the respondents, and in particular Mr Davitt, did express bona fide disapproval of crime and outrage, but that the respondents did not denounce the system of intimidation that led to crime and outrage, but persisted in it with knowledge of its effect.
“VII. We find that the respondents did defend persons charged with agrarian crime, and supported their families; but that it has not been proved that they subscribed to testimonials for, or were intimately associated with, notorious criminals, or that they made payments to procure the escape of criminals from justice.
“VIII. We find, as to the allegation that the respondents made payments to compensate persons who had been injured in the commission of crime, that they did make such payments.
“IX. As to the allegation that the respondents invited the assistance and co-operation of, and accepted subscriptions of money from, known advocates of crime and the use of dynamite, we find that the respondents did invite the assistance and co-operation of, and accepted subscriptions of money from, Patrick Ford, a known advocate of crime and the use of dynamite; but that it has not been proved that the respondents, or any of them, knew that the Clan-na-Gael controlled the League, or was collecting money for the Parliamentary Fund. It has been proved that the respondents invited and obtained the assistance and co-operation of the Physical Force Party in America, including the Clan-na-Gael, and in order to obtain that assistance abstained from repudiating or condemning the action of that party.”
The specific charges brought against Parnell personally were thus dealt with by the commissioners:—
|“(a)||That at the time of the Kilmainham negotiations Mr Parnell knew that Sheridan and Boyton had been organizing outrage, and therefore wished to use them to put down outrage.|
|“We find that this charge has not been proved.|
|“(b)||That Mr Parnell was intimate with the leading Invincibles; that he probably learned from them what they were about when he was released on parole in April 1882; and that he recognized the Phoenix Park murders as their handiwork.|
|“We find that there is no foundation for this charge. We have already stated that the Invincibles were not a branch of the Land League.|
|“(c)||That Mr Parnell on 23rd January 1883, by an opportune remittance, enabled F. Byrne to escape from justice to France.|
|“We find that Mr Parnell did not make any remittance to enable F. Byrne to escape from justice.”|
The case of the facsimile letter alleged to have been written by Parnell broke down altogether. It was proved to be a forgery. It had been purchased with other documents from one Richard Pigott, a needy and disreputable Irish journalist, who afterwards tried to blackmail Archbishop Walsh by offering, in a letter which was produced in court, to confess its forgery. Mercilessly cross-examined by Sir Charles Russell on this letter to the archbishop, Pigott broke down utterly. Before the commission sat again he fled to Madrid, and there blew his brains out. He had confessed the forgery to Mr Labouchere in the presence of Mr G. A. Sala, but did not stay to be cross-examined on his confession. The attorney-general withdrew the letter on behalf of The Times, and the commission pronounced it to be a forgery. Shortly after the letter had been withdrawn, Parnell filed an action against The Times for libel, claiming damages to the amount of £100,000. The action was compromised without going into court by a payment of £5000.
Practically, the damaging effect of some of the findings of the commission was neutralized by Parnell's triumphant vindication in the matter of the facsimile letter and of the darker charges levelled at him. Parties remained of the same opinion as before: the Unionists still holding that Parnell was steeped to the lips in treason, if not in crime; while the Home Rulers made abundance of capital out of his personal vindication, and sought to excuse the incriminating findings of the commission by the historic antecedents of the Nationalist cause and party. The failure to produce the books and papers of the Land League was overlooked, and little importance was attached by partisans to the fact that in spite of this default (leaving unexplained the manner in which over £100,000 had been expended), the commissioners “found that the respondents did make payments to compensate persons who had been injured in the commission of crime.” Parnell and his colleagues were accepted as allies worthy of the confidence of an English party; they were made much of in Gladstonian Liberal society; and towards the close of 1889, before the commission had reported, but some months after the forged letter had been withdrawn, Parnell visited Hawarden to confer with Mr Gladstone on the measure of Home Rule to be introduced by the latter should he again be restored to power. What occurred at this conference was afterwards disclosed by Parnell, but Mr Gladstone vehemently denied the accuracy of his statements on the subject.
But Parnell's fall was at hand. In December 1889 Captain O'Shea filed a petition for divorce on the ground of his wife's adultery with Parnell. Parnell's intimacy with Mrs O'Shea had begun in 1881, though at what date it became a guilty one is not in evidence. Captain O'Shea had in that year challenged him to a duel, but was pacified by the explanations of Mrs O'Shea. It is known that Captain O'Shea had been Parnell's confidential agent in the negotiation of the Kilmainham Treaty, and in 1885 Parnell had strained his personal authority to the utmost to secure Captain O'Shea's return for Galway, and had quelled a formidable revolt among some of his most influential followers in doing so. It is not known why Captain O'Shea, who, if not blind to a matter of notoriety, must have been complaisant in 1885, became vindictive in 1889. No defence being offered, a decree of divorce was pronounced, and in June 1891 Parnell and Mrs O'Shea were married.
At first the Irish party determined to stand by Parnell. The decree was pronounced on the 17th of November 1890. On the 20th a great meeting of his political friends and supporters was held in Dublin, and a resolution that in all political matters Parnell possessed the confidence of the Irish nation was carried by acclamation. But the Irish party reckoned without its English allies. The “Nonconformist conscience,” which had swallowed the report of the commission, was shocked by the decree of the divorce court. At a meeting of the National Liberal Federation held at Sheffield on the 21st of November, Mr John Morley was privately but firmly given to understand that the Nonconformists would insist on Parnell's resignation. Parliament was to meet on the 25th. Mr Gladstone tried to convey to Parnell privately his conviction that unless Parnell retired the cause of Home Rule was lost. But the message never reached Parnell. Mr Gladstone then requested Mr John Morley to see Parnell; but he could not be found. Finally, on the 24th, Mr Gladstone wrote to Mr Morley the famous and fatal letter, in which he declared his conviction “that, notwithstanding the splendid services rendered by Mr Parnell to his country, his continuance at the present moment in the leadership would be disastrous in the highest degree to the cause of Ireland,” and that “the continuance I speak of would not only place many hearty and effective friends of the Irish cause in a position of great embarrassment, but would render my retention of the leadership of the Liberal party, based as it has been mainly upon the presentation of the Irish cause, almost a nullity.” This letter was not published until after the Irish parliamentary party had met in the House of Commons and re-elected Parnell as its chairman without a dissentient voice. But its publication was a thunderclap. A few days later Parnell was requested by a majority of the party to convene a fresh meeting. It took place in Committee Room No. 15, which became historic by the occasion, and after several days of angry recrimination and passionate discussion, during which Parnell, who occupied the chair, scornfully refused to put to the vote a resolution for his own deposition, 45 members retired to another room and there declared his leadership at an end. The remainder, 26 in number, stood by him. The party was thus divided into Parnellites and anti-Parnellites, and the schism was not healed until several years after Parnell's death.
This was practically the end of Parnell's political career in England. The scene of operations was transferred to Ireland, and there Parnell fought incessantly a bitter and a losing fight, which ended only with his death. He declared that Ireland could never achieve her emancipation by force, and that if she was to achieve it by constitutional methods, it could only be through the agency of a united Nationalist party rigidly eschewing alliance with any English party. This was the policy he proclaimed in a manifesto issued before the opening of the sittings in Committee Room No. 15, and with this policy, when deserted by the bulk of his former followers, he appealed to the Fenians in Ireland—“the hillside men,” as Mr Davitt, who had abandoned him early in the crisis, contemptuously called them. The Fenians rallied to his side, giving him their votes and their support, but they were no match for the Church, which had declared against him. An attempt at reconciliation was made in the spring, at what was known as “the Boulogne negotiations,” where Mr William O'Brien endeavoured to arrange an understanding; but it came to nothing in the end. Probably Parnell was never very anxious for its success. He seems to have regarded the situation as fatally compromised by the extent to which his former followers were committed to an English alliance, and he probably saw that the only way to recover his lost position was to build up a new independent party. He knew well enough that this would take time—five years was the shortest period he allowed himself—but before many months were passed he was dead. The life he led, the agonies he endured, the labours he undertook from the beginning of 1891, travelling weekly to Ireland and intoxicating himself with the atmosphere of passionate nationalism in which he moved, would have broken down a much stronger man. He who had been the most impassive of men became restless, nervous, almost distracted at times, unwilling to be alone, strange in his ways and demeanour. He visited Ireland for the last time in September, and the last public meeting he attended was on the 27th of that month. The next day he sent for his friend Dr Kenny, who found him suffering from acute rheumatism and general debility. He left Ireland on the 30th, promising to return on the following Saturday week. He did return on that day, but it was in his coffin. He took to his bed shortly after his return to his home at Brighton, and on the 6th of October he died. His remains were conveyed to Dublin, and on Sunday, the 11th of October, they were laid to rest in the presence of a vast assemblage of the Irish people in Glasnevin Cemetery, not far from the grave of O'Connell.
The principal materials for a biography of Parnell and the history of the Parnellite movement are to be found in Hansard's Parliamentary Debates (1875-1891); in the Annual Register for the same period; in the Report of the Special Commission issued in 1890: in The Life of Charles Stewart Parnell, by R. Barry O'Brien; in The Parnellite Movement, by T. P. O'Connor, M.P.: and in a copious biography of Parnell contributed by an anonymous but well informed writer to the Dict. of Nat. Biog., vol. xliii.
(J. R. T.)