CHAPTER III. THE DEATH OF A LEADER
There is no Irishman who can study the incidents leading up to Parnell's downfall and the wretched controversies connected with it without feelings of shame that such a needless sacrifice of greatness should have been made.
Parnell broke off the Boulogne negotiations ostensibly on the ground that the assurances of Mr Gladstone on the Home Rule Question were not sufficient and that if he was to be "thrown to the English wolves," to use his own term, the Irish people were not getting their price in return. But giving the best thought possible to all the available materials it would seem that Mr Dillon's reflection on Parnell's bona fides was really at the root of the ultimate break-away.
Mr Barry O'Brien, in his Life of Parnell, thus describes the incident:
"Parnell went to Calais and met Mr O'Brien and Mr Dillon. The Liberal assurances were then submitted to him and he considered them unsatisfactory; but this was not the only trouble. Mr O'Brien had looked forward with hope to the meeting between Parnell and Mr Dillon. He believed the meeting would make for peace. He was awfully disappointed. Mr Dillon succeeded completely in getting Parnell's back up, adding seriously to the difficulties of the situation. He seemed specially to have offended Parnell by proposing that he (Mr Dillon) should have the decisive voice in the distribution of the Paris Funds.... Mr Dillon proposed that the funds might be drawn without the intervention of Parnell; that, in fact, Mr Dillon should take the place Parnell had hitherto held. Parnell scornfully brushed aside this proposal and broke off relations with Mr Dillon altogether, though to the end he remained on friendly terms with Mr O'Brien."
It is a vivid memory with me how closely we in Ireland hung upon the varying fortunes and vicissitudes of the Boulogne pourparlers, and how earnest was the hope in every honest Irish heart that a way out might be found which would not involve our incomparable leader in further humiliations. But alas for our hopes! The hemlock had to be drained to the last bitter drop. Meanwhile Parnell never rested day or night. He rushed from one end of the country to the other, addressing meetings, fighting elections, stimulating his followers, answering his defamers and all the time exhausting the scant reserves of strength that were left him.
Considering all the causes of his downfall in the light of later events the alliance of the Irish Party with English Liberalism was, in my judgment, the primary factor. Were it not for this entanglement or obligation - call it what you will - the Gladstone letter would never have been written. And even that letter was no sufficient justification for throwing Parnell overboard. If it were a question of the defeat of the Home Rule cause and the withdrawal of Mr Gladstone from the leadership of the Liberal Party, something may be said for it, but the words actually used by Mr Gladstone were: "The continuance of Parnell's leadership would render my retention of the leadership of the Liberal Party almost a nullity." Be it observed, Gladstone did not say he was going to retire from leadership; nor did he say he was going to abandon Home Rule - to forsake a principle founded on justice and for which he had divided the Liberal Party and risked his own reputation as a statesman.
To think that Gladstone meant this is not alone inconceivable, but preposterous. And, indeed, it has been recently made abundantly clear in Lord Morley's book of personal reminiscences that the Parnell Split need never have taken place at all had steps been taken by any responsible body of intermediaries to obtain Gladstone's real views. We now know it for absolute fact that Gladstone had had actually struck out of his letter as prepared by him for publication the fatal and fateful passage and that it was only reinserted at Mr John Morley's dictation. Mr Morley's own narrative of the circumstances deserves quotation:
"At 8 to dinner in Stratton Street. I sat next to Granville and next to him was Mr G. We were all gay enough and as unlike as possible to a marooned crew. Towards the end of the feast Mr G. handed to me, at the back of Granville's chair, the draft of the famous letter in an unsealed envelope. While he read the Queen's speech to the rest I perused and reperused the letter. Granville also read it. I said to Mr G. across Granville: 'But you have not put in the very thing that would be most likely of all things to move him,' referring to the statement in the original draft, that Parnell's retention would mean the nullity of Gladstone's leadership. Harcourt again regretted that it was addressed to me and not to P. and agreed with me that it ought to be strengthened as I had indicated if it was meant really to affect P.'s mind. Mr G. rose, went to the writing-table and with me standing by wrote, on a sheet of Arnold M.'s grey paper, the important insertion. I marked then and there under his eyes the point at which the insertion was to be made and put the whole into my pocket. Nobody else besides H. was consulted about it, or saw it."
Thus the fate of a great man and, to a very considerable extent also, the destiny of an ancient nation was decided by one of those unaccountable mischances which are the weapons of Fate in an inscrutable world. I think that to-day Ireland generally mourns it that Parnell should ever have been deposed in obedience to a British mandate - or perhaps, as those who conscientiously opposed Mr Parnell at the time might prefer to term it, because of their fidelity to a compact honestly entered into with the Liberal Party - an alliance which they no doubt believed to be essential to the grant of Home Rule.