Intro Book XIV

OCTOBER 1880 – MAY 1882

Introduction to Book XIV
THE final volume of the Diary covers little more than a year and a half, from October 1880 to May 1882. The last few days of the record make all that goes before them seem of little account. Yet a few words must be said of the eighteen months which seemed to pass so happily and with such happy prospects.

Politics, of course, fill more space than ever. Mr. Gladstone is again in power, since the April General Election. Lady Frederick had not expected his return to office and had even made a bet that he never would return. Indeed, even after he had become Prime Minister, she wrote to her sister-in-law, Lady Louisa : ” Never have I been so perplexed as to what I wished ; and even now, if Mr. G. could have retired outright and altogether, I should have thought it best. But one did gradually get forced into seeing this was impossible, and therefore his taking the leadership was the only right and straightforward thing. It is a joy to know how perfectly and nobly Cavendish ” (i.e., Lord Harting-ton) ” and Lord Granville have acted all through.” No doubt as the situation had developed, in consequence of Gladstone’s return to politics and his Midlothian campaign, no other solution was possible. But Gladstone seems never to have realised that his conduct in throwing up the leadership in misfortune and resuming it after victory did not wear a very generous appear¬ance. Hartington, however, made no complaints. He was never in politics because he liked them. He once said to his old nurse when she came to see him and talked about politics, ” My brother Freddy cares more about politics than I do ” ; and, though he may have privately felt—he could hardly help it, for it was true —that Gladstone had not treated him very well since 1875, he, of course, recognised that there was no com¬parison between Gladstone and himself ; and he was, besides, glad to get the burden off his shoulders. He wrote to Lady Frederick on April 26th, 1880, immediately after things were settled : ” I am very well satisfied with the result of last week’s proceedings, and feel much relieved at having got the weight of the great Liberal Party off my back.” But there were moments when it seemed quite possible that it might soon be on his back again. Gladstone had only been Prime Minister a year and a half when we find him in these pages having a long, and apparently very serious, talk with Frederick Cavendish about a plan of resigning at Easter 1882. The whole conversation is illustrative of the curious unreality which was one side of Glad-stone’s mind and character. Nothing could be more absurd than to persuade himself, as he apparently managed to do, that he had been obliged to take office to carry out the Berlin Treaty (of all things in the world !), to settle Afghanistan and the Transvaal, and to restore the national finances ; and that he could now safely leave to others such trifling difficulties as Ireland and the question of procedure in the House of Commons, or could at least cheerfully assume that they were in ” a hopeful way of being settled.” Of course, so sensible a man as Lord Frederick saw that there was ” hardly a chance ” of anything of the kind. But Gladstone in this as in other matters saw what he wished to see, and was blind to what he did not wish to see ; as here to the necessity, which Frederick Caven¬dish put before him, of his going to the House of Lords if he would not lead in the Commons.

The conversation shows the great confidence with which Gladstone treated Lord Frederick, who was now his right-hand man at the Treasury, where he did all the routine work of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Indeed, Gladstone more than once said he could not have held that office without having Frederick Cavendish as Financial Secretary. And he himself, as well as other good judges, looked upon Lord Frederick as the future Chancellor of the Exchequer. Six months after the murder, his daughter Mary, in a letter to Lady Louisa Egerton, writes that her father had said that if anything had happened to Childers ” there was no one before Freddy for the Chancellorship of the Exchequer.” And when he took office in 1886 he told Lady Frederick that if her husband had been alive, he would have offered him the Exchequer.

This was the position Lord Frederick was winning, not in the opinion of the public or the Press, which knew nothing of him, but among his colleagues and at the Treasury, during the two years between 1880 and his death. His work was done, and his abilities proved, in the service of his Chief and in consultation with the permanent officials of the Treasury. He had little part to play in the great controversies about South Africa and Bradlaugh and the Closure, or even in the ever more and more menacing problem of Ireland, which between them occupied most of the time of Parliament and fill a large space in his wife’s diary. In all of them she took her usual eager interest, warmly supporting her uncle’s Transvaal policy and following him in all the changes of his Irish policy, but strongly disagreeing with him about the propriety of letting Bradlaugh take an oath which he had publicly declared had no meaning to him.

Meanwhile, the ordinary life in London, and at Chatsworth and Holker and Bolton, went on much as before, with ever more of London and less of the country as Lord Frederick got more involved in political work. But they did get to Bolton in 1881, though not till near the end of August, and even then, she says, ” Cavendish and F. cause sad delay in the morning start ; Cavendish groaning over Indian mails,” and her husband no doubt over Treasury documents. Lord de Grey, with no political cares on his mind, ” kills double anybody else as usual.” In any case, to her ” the dear moors are as full of delight as ever,” and, with her invariably perfect health (she notes at Holker in December, when seeing a doctor after a fall out riding, that it is the first time she has ever seen one there), she was able to enjoy every moment of what was to be her last visit with her husband to her beloved ” Happy Valley.” For the rest, life passes as usual. There are visits to country houses, and dinners and parties and ” good works ” in London ; so like the life of people in her world today, and also so unlike, in some greater and some smaller ways ; as, for instance, we find her using for the first time a pen that carries its own ink, seeing electric light for the first time, hearing of the new discovery of the telephone, with which Gladstone, with characteristic conservatism, refused to have anything to do.

We all live, and, happily on the whole, must live, in this way, unaware of events approaching very close to us which will shatter in a moment all ” the things we have seen and have known and have heard of,” and leave us standing alone in this world or another. So it was with Lady Frederick. Yet her religion had always in it a strong admixture of that feeling which is put in the words of Job to his wife, ” What ? shall we receive good at the hand of God and shall we not receive evil ? ” So the last volume of the Diary begins with words of foreboding :

” There is something awful in closing my last book, which lasted six years and contained the most terrible experience of my life, and opening this new one with the trembling thought of what may and must be coming.”

What she meant by those last words I do not know. What terrible meaning they seem to take for us who read them after the event is plain. The Diary contains other passages which strike us as pregnant with awful meaning. Ten years earlier, not long after the assassination of Lord Mayo, she had met Lady Mayo at dinner. The meeting made a great impression on her. ” She touched me much, in the indescribable way the Queen used to, by her unaffectedness and straightforwardness under the dreadful affliction, exerting herself to talk and take interest in things. . . . But it was terrible to sit there with the thought incessantly present, ‘ This is the widow of a murdered man.’ ”

It was almost as if some premonition of her own fate struck upon her now and then. But, as we shall see by her account, there was in fact nothing of the kind when the time came ; less, indeed, than one would expect, considering the plain gravity of the danger to which her husband was going when she said goodbye to him on May 5th, 1882. But he was only to be away from her a couple of nights ; he went on a Friday and was to have come back on the Sunday. Nothing of him came back except what was laid in Edensor Churchyard the following Thursday. And she had to live on for another forty-three years : striking everyone, as Lady Mayo had struck her, by her entire ” unaffectedness and straightforwardness.” She would occasionally write of what she felt to her very nearest relations ; as when she wrote to Lady Louisa of the ” sad disheartenment and blank underneath everything,” which is ” such a great cross, such a weary load to bear ” ; and again, of ” the utter vanishing of all my old mainspring of joy and delight,” which makes all life a ” dreary, lonely plodding, so miserably unfit to be offered to God.”

So she wrote, in September 1882, more fully to her beloved youngest brother Alfred, who had written to her from Bolton :

How nice it was of you to write to me from dear Bolton—once my ” Happy Valley,” and always to be a bright memory to me.

I shall see it from time to time, I hope in quiet empty times, in earlier summer months ; but I shd think ” No more, 0 never more ” in the dear old holiday Augusts.

I think of having reached the end of my life with a sort of stupefied feeling. There may be as many years again to live as I have already spent (for I can’t imagine what is ever to weaken my leathery health), but I have entered on the solemn last stage for all that. The social delights, the absorbing political life, and all the fun of shooting-seasons, lawn-tennis, riding, is gone by and shut off from me, and I am stranded on an awful quiet shore, in the loneliness that none of the dear loving hearts that so help and bless me can ever approach unto or relieve. And it has all come literally in a moment, and before I had begun to feel anything of the flatness or languor of growing older, and just when we were in the very centre of the intensest life together. Oh, how great the happiness was ! and thank God I did enjoy it ! How pathetic every birthday of either of us was to me and how jealously I saw my own wrinkles beginning, and darling Freddy’s soft hair sprinkling itself with grey, and how at Bolton (perhaps specially), and at all joyful times of rest and holidays, and during all lovely summer weather (such as he so deeply and tranquilly revelled in), I used to do what Granny called make ” des confitures ” of each day (gloat over it and make the most of it like jam). Now my wheels are all reversed, and the days and months may flee past like lightning and I shall put out no hand to stop them. Perhaps this is the beginning of ” what I fain would be “—a patient woman looking for and longing after the end of all this ” world of shadows ” and the perfection of all things. But I am not good enough yet ; I can as yet only feel the ” glory and the dream ” of this world gone, and a passive acquiescence in being borne along to what must be better. Oh dear ! to think of my treating my poor old darling sunbeam of a fellow to all this, as he stands on the threshold rejoicing in his strength ! I didn’t go to do it, my old pet king—but you won’t mind, especially when I tell you what a thing it is in my sorrow to remember how I used to rejoice in God’s blessed gifts, and how I love to see every bit of youth and hope and joy that is around me, as long as it is pure and thankful. It is a golden store laying up against dark days : such gladness does not die in the present.

Yet even in one of these same letters in which she pours out her sorrow, she can still say, ” I get on wonderfully well from day to day,” and so, as a general rule, those who saw her would have thought. She was perfectly simple and indulged in no luxury of woe, always ” exerting herself,” as she had said of Lady Mayo, ” to talk and take an interest in things.” The sorrow was in truth always present but seldom visible. She wrote to Mrs. Drew during the murder trials of 1883, when people spoke of the reopening of her wound : ” You know I am never ten minutes together without the full and aching consciousness of what has fallen upon me ; my heart is full to the brim of sorrow, so that all these details cannot add anything.” Yet she lived a full and active life till within a few years of her death. And that was no mere Stoic endurance. In the very first moments of her awful experience, Gladstone had dared to say to her, ” Be assured it will not be in vain,” and at once, as she tells us, ” across all my agony there fell a bright ray of hope, and I saw in a vision Ireland at peace and my darling’s life-blood accepted as a sacrifice for Christ’s sake to help to bring this to pass.” In the power of that spirit she wrote to Lord Spencer, immediately after her husband’s death, that she ” could give up even him if his death were to work good to his fellow-men, which indeed was the whole object of his life.” A priest in Connemara read those words from the altar, on which the whole congregation spontaneously fell down upon their knees. Lord Morley relates this story in his Life of Gladstone ; and adds, ” Well did Dean Church say that no Roman or Florentine lady ever uttered a more heroic thing than was said by this English lady when, on first seeing Mr. Gladstone that terrible night, she said, ‘ You did right to send him to Ireland.’ So, for the rest of her life, she was enabled, not always, but often, to live on these heights of courage and faith which gave her power, through the love of Christ and of him whom she had lost, to transform loneliness and suffering and sorrow into a vision of triumphant hope.

To her beautiful account of the last days of her marriage and the first of her widowhood, I shall, of course, add nothing ; though I will give, later on, her sister Meriel’s account of all that happened on the night on which she received the awful news. The only thing which she would, I think, wish added here is a few words, not about her husband’s death, but about his life and character. When he was appointed Chief Secretary all the papers attacked the appointment, and in the House of Commons it was received with surprise and some disapproval. Lady Frederick wrote to Lady Louisa that it was ” impossible not to feel hurt in one’s feelings by the shower of contemptuous comments.” So far can a lack of the gift of ready speech and a certain want of ease and tact in dealing with men go to conceal ability, at least for a time, in political life. But those who had worked with him knew better. We have seen Mr. Gladstone’s opinion of him. But it may be said that he was biassed by affection for his niece and his niece’s husband. That cannot be said, however, of Treasury officials, such as Lord Welby, Lord Thring, Lord Lingen, Sir Edward Hamilton, Sir Arthur Godley, and Sir Algernon West, all of whom had a high opinion of his abilities. Lady Frederick relates that Sir Ralph Lingen, as he then was, told her that on Lord Frederick saying to him, ” Do you think I am strong enough for this post ? ” he had replied that he considered him ” strong enough for anything.” He added, to her, ” Indeed I had long thought that his brother and he had the future of England in their hands.” Sir Algernon West related to her how he had told John Morley, then Editor of the Pall Mall Gazette, who had attacked the appointment as that of ” an unknown man,” that, if he had asked any of Lord Frederick’s colleagues, he would have been told that he was admirably suited for it. He adds, in his ” Recollections,” that ” the Press had singularly undervalued Lord Frederick’s character and powers.” Lord Thring wrote of him to Lady Frederick in 1886 as one ” who was taken away from us before an opportunity had been given to him of showing to the general public how great were his abilities. Had it pleased Providence to spare him it is quite possible that his gentle, firm interposition might have prevented, or at all events greatly diminished, the present political breach. All that now can be done is to try and imitate that union of courage and courtesy which distinguished him above all political men I have known.” The view of him current in the front-bench world may perhaps be gathered from the little incident recorded in the Diary for the week beginning March 6th, when Lady Frederick dined without him at the Gosehens’. She met the Enfields, and Lady Enfield told her of someone having said that all would have gone well in Ireland if Lord Frederick had been Chief Secretary instead of Forster ; to which Lord Enfield, who had held various offices, added his agreement with that view, and bet Lady Frederick half a crown that her husband would be Chancellor of the Exchequer before the Session was over.

At any rate, if there were those who were ignorant of, or doubted, his powers, there was only one opinion about the beauty of his character. Mr. Gladstone, speaking of him in the House of Commons, said, ” One of the very noblest hearts in England has ceased to beat.” Sir George Trevelyan, who had lived in close friendship with him for many years, wrote to Lady Frederick long afterwards, in 1897, looking back to those days of political and personal comradeship and saying, ” Those places just outside the Cabinet are the happy point of public life, and to feel oneself at that point side by side with such a friend—such a man as never has appeared among us since for all that is good and high and true—and who, I am sure, was never surpassed in former days—was a piece of good fortune which I shall always consider the purest and most unmixed that could befall one.” Lord Welby, who saw so much of him at the Treasury, said of him that while ” almost always in political life people had some selfish aim,” he ” was absolutely devoid of any thought of self.” It must have been some consciousness of this rarity and beauty of character, something much more than mere political loyalty or mere horror at the sudden cruelty of the murder, that sent members of both Houses of Parliament to the funeral at Chatsworth in greater numbers, I think, than have ever attended any other funeral so far away. It was that which his broken-hearted widow, and others, too, who loved him, found written on his face after death. What they saw was in truth what they partly knew and partly guessed. So it is not so very strange that the face which they loved seemed to them, as Lord Spencer wrote at the time, to look as if it were the face of one ” whom no sin or sorrow had ever touched.”