Page:Dictionary of National Biography. Sup. Vol II (1901).djvu/324

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Gladstone
Gladstone
312

attacked with violence accordingly. Gladstone did not shrink from dealing with the purely religious aspect of the question, and the last part of his speech reads like a sermon. Quoting some magnificent lines of Lucretius, he argued that agnosticism and not atheism was the special danger of the time. In a peroration of singular beauty he implored the house not to connect the truths of religion with the sense of political and personal injustice. The bill, however, was on 3 May rejected by 292 votes against 289.

In September of this year Gladstone, accompanied by his old friend Tennyson, took a short trip on Sir Donald Currie's ship, the Pembroke Castle, to the north of Scotland, and afterwards to Copenhagen, where they met several royal personages, including the czar. At Kirkwall, where the prime minister, and the poet laureate both received the freedom of the borough, Gladstone made a graceful speech, contrasting the perishable nature of the statesman's fame with the immortal renown of the great poet. One result of this voyage appeared in the 'London Gazette' of the following January, when it was announced that her majesty had conferred a peerage on Tennyson, the first poet who entered the House of Lords as such.

During 1883 the rising of the forces of the mahdi in the Soudan placed the Egyptian garrisons there in great danger. On 18 Jan. General Charles Gordon [q. v.], formerly governor-general of the Soudan, undertook, at the request of the British government, to effect their relief by peaceful means. He set out for Khartoum, accompanied only by his aide-de-camp, Colonel Stewart. On 12 Feb. it was announced that the Egyptian garrison at Sinkat had been cut to pieces by the mahdi's forces. On the same evening Sir Stafford Northcote rose to move a vote of censure on the Egyptian policy of the government. Gladstone's position was a difficult one. He defended himself on the double ground that the great source of evil in Egypt was the dual control which he had inherited from his predecessors, and that since the British occupation began valuable reforms had been carried out. There was to be no reconqest of the Soudan, but the garrison of Tokar was to be relieved from Suakim. The policy of the government was, in the phrase of Sir Wilfrid Lawson, to 'rescue and retire.' The motion was rejected by the narrow majority of eighteen, and a similar motion of censure in the House of Lords was carried by one hundred. A few days after the division came the news that Tokar had surrendered to the mahdi's general, Osman Digna. On 3 April Gladstone declared that Gordon had full authority to return whenever he thought proper, and denounced the plea for military intervention by England as merely made in the interests of the bond-holders. Meanwhile the public became anxious about Gordon's fate, and on 12 May another vote of censure was moved, this time by Sir Michael Hicks-Beach, who complained that the government were doing-nothing at all. Gladstone replied that Gordon had never asked for soldiers, and had started on the understanding that there was to be no invasion of the mahdi's territory. On this occasion both Forster and Mr. Goschen severely criticised the government from the ministerial benches; but the motion was rejected by a majority of twenty-eight. On 28 June a conference of the powers, with Lord Granville in the chair, met in London to arrange the finances of Egypt. But on 2 Aug. Gladstone had to tell the House of Commons that it had failed to arrive at any result, and on 11 Aug. Lord Northbrook was sent to examine the whole subject at Cairo.

On 27 Feb. 1884 Lord Derby concluded with President Kruger, and two other Boer delegates, the convention of London, which modified the convention of Pretoria in favour of the Transvaal. The suzerainty of the queen over the South African Republic was in terms abolished, though the precise effect of the clause was afterwards disputed. It was provided that treaties between the Transvaal and all foreign powers except the Orange Free State should be subject to the approval of the British government. The policy of this convention did not come before the House of Commons till 30 July, when the debate turned chiefly upon the sufficiency of the protection exercised by the paramount power over the native tribes. Gladstone defended the settlement, and also the restoration of Cetewayo, which he described as the only possible amends for the iniquities of the Zulu war. The important questions which afterwards arose between the British government and the Boers were not then present to any one's mind.

The franchise bill, which was the principal work of this session of 1884, was introduced by Gladstone on 29 Feb. Although his speech lasted for two hours, and was a luminous exposition of the whole subject, the purport of the bill was extremely simple. It gave to householders and to lodgers in counties precisely the same suffrage enjoyed by the same classes in the boroughs. It also conferred a new right of voting, called the ser-