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Gladstone's Eulogy on John Bright., Issue 7913, 22 May 1889
Gladstone's Eulogy on John Bright.
The rumor that Mr Gladstone would pronounce what may perhaps be called a funeral oration on Mr Bright naturally attracted an unusually large number of members to the House on March 29. The rush of strangers to the outer lobby was also very great, and members had to repeat over and over again the old explanation that they have no power to give orders for admission. The Liberal benches rapidly filled up, and it was soon to be noticed that every man on that side wore a black necktie. There was not a vacant seat to be seen, and indeed three leading Liberal Unionists—Hartington, Chamberlain, and James—were crowded into a very uncomfortable space. The Irish party were not present in any strength, but among them were the two M'Carthys, Mr Sexton, and ebout a dozen more. The Ministerial bench was also crowded, and just behind it, in his usual corner, sat Lord Randolph Ghurchhill. Mr Gladstone came in at a quarter to four, looking wonderfully fresh and vigorous, and he at once entered into conversation with Harcourt. No nervous fumbling for notes, no signs of intense preoccupation are ever visible when Gladstone has to speak. One moment he is talking in a lively manner to the person nearest him, and the next ho is standing at the table rolling forth his mellow periods. The miseries of public speaking have long since passed out of his recollection, even if he ever experienced them. Questions to Ministers were tedious and dull, as they generally are, the Irish contingent being obstinately pertinacious about certain reverend fathers whom the wicked Balfour appears to be persecuting. Considering that the House was packed and ready for a special purpose, it was generally felt that we were hearing something too much of the Irish priesthood. At last even the irrepressible Mr Gill ceased from troubling, and Mr W. H. Smith rose to address the House, every head being instantly uncovered. At the outßet the Conservative leader made an unfortunate slip! by referring to the death of the member for Weet Birmingham, who happens to be Mr Chamberlain, and who was at that moment favoring Mr Smith with a stony British stare through the medium of an eyeglass. This caused Mr Smith a moment's confusion, but he soon recovered and delivered a very appropriate and sympathetic speech, in which there was not a word calculated to excite party feeling or to revive the memories of old hostilities, except in a manner that was favorable to the great man who bas just been taken from us. Mr Gladstone immediately followed, and his first few sentences showed that be was rather hoarse, as well he might be, considering the exposure to the bitter Scotch weather which he has had to go through this week. But whether his voice be hoarse or clear, his style is always immeasurably superior to that of any other man in the House, as we were well able to judge before the proceedings were over. The comparison must have convinced the most confirmed opponent of Mr Gladstone that there is no one who can distantly approach him in eloquence. He brought into prominence with equal skill and feeling the marked features of Mr Bright'a public life, dwelling much upon the moral elevation of his character. Full of generosity, too, was his eulogium, for it gave the heartiest praise to Mr Bright for those very passages in his career in which he had been opposed by Mr Gladstone the Crimean War, the War of Secession, and so forth. Mr Gladstone and Mr .Bright held conflicting views on these events, and now the venerable leader of the Liberal party admitted that Mr Bright had shown true foresight. All through, the address was couched in that elevated strain which alone is tolerable on such an occasion, and in which Mr Gladstone is absolutely without a rival. He came to an end much too soon, to the general regret of the House, which had listened to every word with admiration.
Lord Hartington spoke next, briefly, and in bis usual manly and unaffected manner. It was impossible to keep the tone exactly where Mr Gladstone had left it, but Lord Hartington at least did not disturb the effect which the eloquent old man's mueie had created.
Then, to the general surprise of the House, Mr Justin M'Carthy rose and paid a very warm tribute to the memory of Mr Bright on the part of the Irish party. This, too, was good and seemly in every way, and perhaps it had been well if here the House had returned to its ordinary business; but Mr Chamberlain got up and made what people called a characteristic speech. That is, ha quickly brought things down to the level of these prosaic days. We could now compare the new school with the old, Chamberlain with Gladstone. Broad and deep, indeed, is the chasm which divides them. Mr Gladstone talked of Mr Bright'a exalted purity and noble aims, Mr Chamberlain began to tell of his pecuniary relations with his constituents. I have heard or read some strange funeral orations, bnt that a gentleman should rise up on such an occasion and say in effect " Our organisation which I called into existence was perfect, and we never let the deceased pay his own election expenses "; this, I think, is something new in necrological literature. Thus it came to pass that smiles might have been seen on the lips of many members as they left the House in spite of the sadness and solemnity of the occasion.
Gladstone's Eulogy on John Bright., Issue 7913, 22 May 1889
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