[from W Ralph Hall Caine Isle of Man]
MR. GLADSTONE received the promised address of welcome at Douglas that same evening.
'We have a particular and special reason for welcoming you to our shores,' said the address. 'We remember with gratitude the ready and willing service you rendered to the island when, in the year 1853, certain fiscal regulations, materially and unjustly affecting our insular revenue, were sought to be enforced against us. When appealed to by a deputation from the Legislature of this island, your sense of justice and public right, the animating principles of your political career, availed to protect the Manx people from oppression and ruin, and your name has, in consequence, been ever since treasured in our memories.'
Mr. Gladstone's reply contained a repudiation of the idea that his visit had any political motive. 'The people of the Isle of Man cherish the tradition of liberty.... and you may rely upon it that no rational Government or rational party in England will ever attempt to apply to you constraint or coercion' (prolonged cheering). ' Your freedom will be respected as much as our own' (cheers).
The words are significant as showing the bent of Mr. Gladstone's mind in the solution of the Irish problem long before it had become a pressing question in Parliament, and, by obstructive tactics, so serious an impediment to the transaction of all other business.
' I beg you believe that your local institutions are a matter of deep and profound interest to me. . . . I do not believe myself that any institutions can be thoroughly or entirely satisfactory unless they rest upon principles of freedom. There are times in the life of nations when the human intelligence has been so little developed that a despotic Government can be regarded without dissatisfaction. But here we have inherited from ancient times the principles of freedom' (cheers).
' We cannot abandon them. They are at the root of all our ideas and all our affections. . . . The throne itself has its paramount place in our hearts, because it is connected with all our associations of freedom. It does not bring to us recollections of power exercised with violence and against the will of the people. Here, also, you have institutions of antiquity.'
And then, by way of prophetic anticipation of a speech on Dublin Castle rule many years later, he said
' There is no greater danger to a country than to have its political force incorporated in one single organ, working from the centre. It is an immense danger.'
The meeting at the beginning included persons who were critical almost to chilliness. I cannot think that a speaker of Mr. Gladstone's experience and keen sensibility was for many moments unconscious of a strong divergent element. It was here in force.
Nothing ever aroused Mr. Gladstone's anger like querulous opposition, and his tongue was capable of scathing rebuke, which could leave a noisy opponent crushed, if not convinced. A few years before, there was the memorable instance on the hustings at Liverpool, where, in the election for South-West Lancashire, he did not hesitate to humble to the very dust a local brewer who was acting as ringleader to a senseless and persistent interruption. That voice, so far as public affairs were concerned, was silenced for ever.
Mr. Gladstone's attitude in the Isle of Man was throughout a revelation of the more conciliatory side of his nature. On this occasion it was the height of courtesy to those friends who had planned the public greeting, and the incident, which, as an islander, I regret for its studied inhospitality, if not positive indelicacy, is worthy of recall now only because it serves to reveal to a later age one aspect of the many-sided explanation of that remarkable magnetic grip-a grip intensified rather than weakened by the passage of time-which Mr. Gladstone possessed over a large mass of his fellow-countrymen.
Douglas, it should be remembered, is wholly given over to the business of catering for visitors. There are many hotels at which visitors lodge, and still more licensed victuallers on whose premises visitors do not lodge. Mr. Gladstone's record in England towards the industry of the publican of either grade was regarded as bad. What better opportunity could be provided by a merciful Providence for showing sympathy with colleagues in England than by turning the public welcome of the island into ridicule and contempt? Besides, Mr. Gladstone's injunction to avoid political bias was not strictly maintained.
There are on the island still those who can testify to the wholly indefensible campaign of that evening.
It was an opposition animated with but one object -that of converting the proceedings into a beargarden. The ringleader was to give the sign, and then the bellowing, catcalling, and all the rest of the humiliating insult, was to begin in earnest.
An appearance of fair dealing was to be preserved; Mr. Gladstone was not to be interrupted byirrelevant questioning until the moment he had reached the substance of his discourse. Therein the opposition committed itself to one fatal error: they took no count of the subtlety of Mr. Gladstone's mind and speech.
Mr. Gladstone never got beyond the Isle of Man. It was all Isle of Man-an island fair and beautiful, and endeared to our eyes by a thousand memories; a Government whose aloofness and independence we must, despite its shortcomings, jealously guard against encroachment from that great nation that had grown up across a narrow stretch of sea.
What Manxman could cavil at sentiments like these ? An opposition that was dumb became appreciative, and soon broke out in unmeasured applause !
Truly they who had come to damn had remained to bless.
An inconspicuous incident admittedly, but I trust I am not straining the perspective unduly when I rank it as great a triumph of skilful speech as Mr. Gladstone ever attained in his long life on the floor of the House of Commons. And it does not detract from its significance because Mr. Gladstone was addressing an audience so widely separated from him in mind, outlook, and occupation.
Thereafter Mr. Gladstone addressed a large crowd gathered outside the hotel. Later in the evening he met, according to arrangement, certain distinguished visitors at dinner at Government House.
Regarding the incidents of that evening, and of the visit generally, I am told that Mr. Gladstone's visit produced a good deal of apprehension among his friends on the island.
' Everybody was afraid of it, as Mr. Gladstone was not popular on the island. But he won over everyone with whom he came into personal contact, and everyone who heard him speak in praise of the island, the people, and its ancient Government.
' In the north of the island, where it was thought he would have a cold reception, he made an excellent speech. They took the horses out of the carriage, and were most enthusiastic.
'Mr. Gladstone made some inquiry about Onchan Church. He proposed to attend twice.
' " I am afraid, Mr. Gladstone," said my informant, " wc must rather apologize beforehand for the sermons to which you must submit. You must be familiar to words of inspiration from the most eloquent lips."
Mr. Gladstone's reply was characteristic.
" No earnest preacher," he said, " stands in need of excuse or apology. I have never heard a sermon in my long life without deriving some good from it."'
On Friday afternoon Mr. Gladstone, accompanied by the Governor, drove to Laxey by a route along the sea-coast. From Laxey, Mr. Gladstone and his son started out on foot for Ramsey ; but they had barely passed the Hibernian Inn at Kirk Maughold, when they were met by a carriage belonging to Dr. Clucas, sent on by Mr. Arthur Kayll, a member of the House of Keys for one of the northern sheadings.
Ramsey was at this moment suffering bitterly from the fall of the City of Glasgow Bank, of which the Bank of Mona was a branch. Mr. Hardy Summers, then editor of the Isle of Man Telegraph, who was the moving factor in the visit, tells me how, hearing of the advent of the ex-Premier, he made off late at night to Milntown to interrogate the member for Ramsey, the Rev. William Bell Christian.
' I am a Liberal in Imperial politics,' said Mr. Christian, ' but I cannot countenance the man who has so unpatriotically opposed Lord Beaconsfield's foreign policy. Have you the slightest idea what the assets of the City of Glasgow Bank will prove?'
Mr. Summers found ready help from Mr. Robert Teare, the member for Ayre, who, without liking Mr. Gladstone too much, loved opposition to Mr. Christian still more. Significant, too, is the remembrance that Mr. Alured Dumbell, then High Bailiff, and later Clerk of the Rolls, identified by name and interest with Dumbell's Bank, whose failure on February 3, 1900, was the worst disaster the island has ever suffered, also repudiated all concern in a welcome. He ` disapproved' of Mr. Gladstone, and refused the promoters the use of the Court House. The whirligig of time was destined to bring some strange variations of fate and fortune.
Mr. Teare and Mr. Summers had got from Mr. Gladstone, at Peel, his promise to visit Ramsey. They returned from Douglas with Mr. J. C.
LaMothe and Mr. C. B. Nelson, mightily pleased with the success of their mission, rivalry to the larger town entering, admittedly, into their joy.
By some oversight, Mr. Arthur Kayll, M.H.K., was deputed to fill the chair, instead of Mr. J. C. LaMothe, who, besides being a strong politician of views different from those of their guest, was, as member for Garff, , more entitled to the honour.
After dining at the Mitre Hotel, Mr. Gladstone spoke to a densely packed and enthusiastic throng assembled in the Skating Rink. No non-partisan gathering of his own countrymen ever formed a more cheering and excited audience. Again the interest of the speech lies in the freedom with which he spoke to Manxmen on the merits and advantages of self-government, 'so freely and convincingly,' as one of his supporters on the platform has told me, ` that from that moment to this I have been certain that the so-called conversion of Mr. Gladstone to the principle of Home Rule was an almost unconscious incident of his visit to the Isle of Man, and at least seven years before the political world of England was aware of the settled drift of his convictions.'
On Saturday morning Mr. Gladstone walked out to Kirk Maughold. Here a local ' character,' named James Crellin, but known as ` Jim Jairg ' (Red Jim; or was it Jim Jeeagh, Godly Jim?) entertained the distinguished visitor with many stories and legends. To his amusement and surprise, Crellin was rewarded with the gift of a threepenny-piece.
Mr. Gladstone had more than once in speech and conversation urged Manxmen in the administration of their insular affairs to practise economy, without any fear of the taunt of ` cheese-paring' or ` candleends 'policy. Mr. Crellin, whatever his appearance, was in reality a farmer, and sufficiently prosperous to preserve on his watch-chain the tiny coin as a humorous evidence of Gladstonian thriftiness.
The return journey was by way of Sulby Glen. The weather was too misty for the ascent of Snaefell. On Sunday Mr. Gladstone was a pattern visitor, attending church twice-at St. Thomas's in the morning, Onchan in the evening. In the afternoon, according to wider convention, the weather being magnificent, he walked on the Douglas headland.
On Monday, having declined a special steamer which the Isle of Man Steam Packet Company had whispered a desire to place at his disposal, Mr. Gladstone left by the Snaefell, the regular morning mail-boat. Crowds gathered to see him off; still greater crowds gathered at Liverpool to see him disembark. He was prevailed upon to speak a few words from the paddle-box-of thanks, of the beauty and invigorating air of the island he had left behind, and of the cordial welcome he had everywhere experienced.
A homely touch was not wanting from the scene. Mr. Gladstone's flowing periods were easily surpassed by the gastronomic tribute to Mona he bore under one arm-a box of Manx kippers!
Mr. Gladstone sought refuge from the throng in the Bank of Messrs. Arthur Heywood and Sons, and later proceeded to Hawarden, whence came the next day a letter to the Isle of Man Times, extending his acknowledgments ` to the people at large, from whom I received in every quarter a welcome alike exceeding my expectations and my deserts.'
'In conclusion, I must express the concern with which I have read, when in the island, the failure of the bank at Glasgow, in which the Manx deposits were of so large an amount. I sincerely trust that they may be found to be abundantly covered by the assets and responsibilities of the bank, and that no like event may hereafter impede, even ,for a moment, the progress of trade and industry, or cast a gloom over society in the island.'
` The like event,' with greatly accentuated severity, came twenty-two years later.