[from W Ralph Hall Caine Isle of Man]

CHAPTER XVI.

MR. GLADSTONE'S VISIT

ON Tuesday afternoon, October 1, 1878, a private telegram was received in Douglas, saying that Mr. Gladstone, accompanied by his son, the Rev. Stephen Edward Gladstone, was that day one of the passengers of the steamer King Orry.

The message, which was unconfirmed by any other agency, had been handed in at Southport, in Lancashire, about fifteen miles from the point of embarkation. There was on the part of some persons, therefore, a certain disposition to treat the matter as a rather silly hoax; but there were others who, Manxman-like, saw not only truth in the legend, but a dark and sinister motive in the advent of so distinguished 'a stranger. What could that motive be?

Liverpool Churchmen languishing for funds, despite long periods of unexampled prosperity, for their pet scheme of a bishopric independent of Chester, had not scrupled to follow the example of Carlisle, and advocate the confiscation of the income of the diocesan head of Sodor and Man. It did not seem to concern these good people that what they called 'an amalgamation' was to Manx eyes nothing better than barefaced robbery.

The connection of Manchester with the Isle of Man is even closer and more widespread, and the people of that city could have suggested, with no greater lack of reason, a like plan of incorporation. All that the advocates of the scheme could say was that Liverpool was the principal port of arrival and departure for passengers passing to and from the Isle of Man.

They might have laid claim, with equal honesty and specious plea of good intent, to the funds of any like establishment in New York, Boston, or Philadelphia.

Mr. Gladstone, however, was at that moment the very last man in England to whom the Government of the day would have entrusted any such delicate commission as that of which he was suspected. Overwise Englishmen may laugh at the Manxman for his conceit in supposing that in a year of great European unrest-'a tumultuous year,' to borrow a term from Lord Morley's biography-when war with Russia was once more hanging in the balance, the British Government should be planning so startling a coup-the annexation of the Isle of Man! But surely they forget their own history.

Did not the King's Ministers busy themselves with appalling zeal over all the absurd details of the Customs tariff of our little island kingdom, and determine on the acquisition of the rights of sovereignty of the Duke of Athole, at a time when they were, by their fatuous acts, paving the way for the loss of half an entire continent? No kingdom was too small to obtain consideration, no continent too large to escape intelligent appreciation.

Mr. Gladstone soon relieved public feeling on the island. The European crisis had reached a phase at which silence was golden, and his visit to the Isle of Man had no other purpose than that of passing a few days in quiet, so far as the larger affairs of the nation were concerned, amid varied and charming scenery, and in a bracing climate which could be reached by a short sea-voyage, his favourite mode of travel.

The Southport telegram was the work of an overzealous but well-informed admirer, who was anxious that Mr. Gladstone, now within nine or ten weeks of his seventieth year, and the virtual leader of his party, should receive a fitting welcome on our island. Its effect was to give the visit a character different from that which Mr. Gladstone himself had intended or desired. And now, looking back through the vista of thirty odd years, the trite observation obtrudes itselfwhat extraordinary developments may hang upon the trifling incident of a holiday at the sea-side!

Mr. Gladstone was a former Prime Minister of England, and an old servant of the Crown. He had a few years before yielded up the leadership of his party to a younger man. From his retreat at Hawarden there had issued ' The Vatican Decrees,' a publication which brought about the head of the author a veritable storm of vituperation. The storm had abated. Now it was the foreign policy of the Government, frightening to a sagacious member of the Cabinet like Lord Derby, which had brought Mr. Gladstone once more into the arena of party warfare. The windows of his London home had been smashed by the mob for his pains.

It was not humanly possible for a political gladiator, whose opinions had given rise to such outbursts of popular fury, and in whose personality so much interest was centred, to visit our shores without attracting notice; but is it too much to say that the failure of that Southport telegram might have altered the whole course of English politics from that time to the present ? Let us see.

Mr. Gladstone might have come to the Isle of Man, and spent a delightfully invigorating week, walking over hills and chatting with farming folk, and have returned without any intimate knowledge of the history or traditions of the island. More important still, his imagination might never have been quickened by intimate contact with the leaders of a people to whom self-government is a natural inheritance, despite the shadowy semblance of the thing which is all we enjoy down to this hour-to our sorrow, if not also to our disgrace.

As it was, every facility was afforded him of observing the life of the people and the picturesque country in their possession, of learning every revered tradition, and acquainting himself with every treasured relic of the past. He left, after rather less than one week's stay on the island, knowing more,' as I am told by one who had special opportunities of judging by his conversation, of the old customs and legends, and of everything connected with the working of our form of Home Rule, I than the oldest inhabitant.'

Mr. Gladstone passed on board the King Orry at the Liverpool landing-stage without attracting any public notice, but he had not travelled far before the keen glance of the sailors assured him that, as he remarked to his son, 'We shall be found out ultimately.' And it was so. On reaching Douglas a large body of people had gathered to bid the distinguished visitor a respectful welcome. Cheers were raised as soon as Mr. Gladstone was identified, dressed in the bottle-green cut-away coat which was destined to form part and parcel of his fame.

From the steps of the Peveril Hotel he was induced to address a few words of thanks to the people. ' It is no small pleasure to me, though late in life, to pay this, my first, visit to your beautiful island.' And then, noting the harbour, pier, and promenade buildings in course of construction, which were the feature of Governor Loch's regime, Mr. Gladstone added a word of gratification at observing such ' evidences of public spirit and progress.'

Mr. Gladstone was not on the island more than an hour when a telegram reached him as he sat at tea in the coffee room. The telegram was from the Governor. His Excellency tendered the hospitality of Government House to both visitors. Mr. Gladstone, however, declined the invitation, on the ground that he desired his visit to be kept as ' private as possible,' and that his arrangements at the Peveril ' could not very well be interfered with.'

Colonel Paul, the chief of police, next brought a special message from Government House, and Mr. Gladstone was induced to so far depart from his plans as to accept an invitation to meet certain leading residents at dinner on Thursday, and sleep the night there.

Visitors poured into the hotel on the evening of arrival, and Mr. Gladstone was in such high spirits that he resented no intrusion. On no more formal introduction than a visiting-card, many residents had an opportunity of a talk. No one was turned away; everyone was received freely and frankly. But not every caller was quick enough to perceive that in interviewing' Mr. Gladstone the plain truth was that, in the result, Mr. Gladstone had interviewed him.

Mr. William Dalrymple, a member of the House of Keys, became sponsor to a deputation with the request that Mr. Gladstone should assent to a formal address of welcome. Making the condition that the address should be politically colourless, and bear no reference to the eternal Eastern Question, Mr. Gladstone agreed to receive the formal welcome shortly before setting out for the Governor's dinner-party.

Strenuous at work or play, Mr. Gladstone was up betimes on Wednesday morning, and left by train, in the company of the Lieutenant-Governor, for Castletown. Here the party was met by Sir James Gell, for many years Attorney-General, afterwards Clerk of the Rolls, and for a spell Acting Governor, Mr. J. M. Jeffcott, H. B., and others.

Mr. Gladstone first paid a visit to King William's College, rendered familiar to many generations of schoolboys through the pages of ' Eric.' Dean Farrar, the author, was a former pupil, and his name appears in several ' Honours Lists' of the early fifties; in that of 1854 alongside that of our great poet, the Rev. T. E. Brown.

After the usual outburst of hearty cheers from the boys assembled in the big schoolroom, Mr. Gladstone ascended the vice-principal's desk. The Rev. Canon Kewley, now Vicar of Arbory, but then only a schoolboy, seized the opportunity of recording in shorthand the almost unreported speech of the distinguished visitor.

' I have prepared no homily or discourse on which to engage your attention,' said Mr. Gladstone, by way of relieving the tension and alarm, 'but Dr. Jones, with pleasing and generous instinct, has suggested to me that you will expect a lecture on Homer. The theme, the place, and the surrounding circumstances may be suitable, but though I welcome the suggestion no less than the cordiality of your approval, as an unmistakable evidence of appreciation of the great poet, I feel I cannot do more on an occasion like this than make you this offer: that I will endeavour to answer any question that you may care to put forward; otherwise I should not know when to leave off.

Meanwhile, let me say that it has been a source of great pleasure to me to hear such good accounts of King William's College. I have long since realized that the main cause of success in schools is to be found in the teachers, and that the mainspring of the teacher's varied activities lies in the mind and heart of the head-master. The whole aspect of education has changed since the days of my youth, and the teacher's requirements, in all their wider scope and variety, have extended with the higher standard of education to be found among the whole community. And remembering that, I would ask you boys to bear in mind that it lies in every one of you, by leading a life of willing diligence, to be a help to your masters, to cheer them in their labours, and sweeten their lives.

'Avail yourself of your present advantages; let not opportunity slip through your hands; give to every hour that devotion and self-absorption which shall produce the fruit of an enduring character. Cricket, football, and other games require no advocate. Let the same be said of your books. Give to your indoor work the same earnest effort you give to your play. Be resolute and manly in all that God has set you to do. And, finally, as one closing on the allotted span of human life, as one who has been a witness of different activities of the world of affairs, let me exhort you on the threshold of life, with your careers still unformed, to remember that the principles of courage, duty, and perseverance are among the highest requisites of mankind.

' I wish King William's College a long continuance of prosperity, and I pray that God will grant to each of you the blessing of a life of usefulness, health, and happiness.'

The boys formed a line on each side of the roadway, down which Mr. Gladstone passed amid ringing cheers. The cordial send-off was not unnatural: the unexpected visit had secured for them an extra half-holiday, in which, presumably, they were to digest the essence of the homily - diligent study.

Thereafter Mr. Gladstone made a tour of the sombre apartments of Castle Rushen, and then inspected the caves on the rugged coast. He lunched with Sir James and Lady Gell at The Green, Castletown, meeting, at a rather hasty repast, only the members of the Attorney-General's own family, including Mr. James Stowell Gell, now High Bailiff of Douglas and Castletown, Mr. Hugh Stowell Gell (who died in 1898, leaving many sweet memories among his friends), and, I think, the present Archdeacon Gill-a mere difference in the spelling of a surname does not on the Isle of Man necessarily indicate a separate family.


 

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