English statesman and author
Born 1838 Died 1923
John Morley was born at Blackburn on the 24th of December 1838, being the son of Jonathan Morley, surgeon. He matriculated at Lincoln College, Oxford, in 1856, and after taking his degree in 1859 came up to London with the determination of seeking distinction by literature. He almost immediately became editor of the moribund Literary Gazette, which not all his ability could preserve from extinction. Gradually, however, he became known as a philosopher and a radical, and as one of the ablest and most incisive contributors to the literary and political press of the day. His sympathies as a thinker seem to have been at this time chiefly with Positivism, though he never embraced Comte's doctrine in its hierarchical aspects; but he acquired a reputation as an agnostic, which became confirmed in the popular mind when he somewhat aggressively spelt God in one of his essays with a small 'g'.
In 1868 he was editor for a short time of the daily Morning Star, which came to an end in 1870. In 1867 he succeeded G. H. Lewes in the editorship of the Fortnightly Review, which he conducted with brilliant success until 1883, when he was elected to parliament; he then assumed in exchange, but not for long, the lighter duties of the editorship of Macmillan's Magazine. He had been connected with Messrs Macmillan since the commencement under his editorship, in 1878, of the English Men of Letters series, a collection of biographies of various merit, in which nothing is better than the editor's own contribution in his Life of Edmund Burke, itself an extension of his article in the 9th edition of this encyclopaedia (1876). Since 1880 he had also been editor of the Pall Mall Gazette, which had been turned into a Liberal paper.
In 1883 Mr Morley, who had twice unsuccessfully attempted to enter parliament, was returned for Newcastle-upon-Tyne at a by-election. The prestige thus acquired led to his presiding over a great Liberal congress at Leeds in the same year; and, although the platform never seemed his natural element, the literary finish of his style and the transparent honesty of his reasoning rapidly gained him a prominent position in the House of Commons. When, in February 1886, Mr Gladstone returned to office as a Home Ruler, Mr Morley, who had never before held any public appointment, filled one of the most important posts in the cabinet as Secretary for Ireland. He had always expressed his sympathy with the Irish Nationalist movement. He had no opinions to recant, no pledges to explain away. He is credited with an especial influence over Mr Gladstone in the matter of Home Rule, and in particular with having kept him steady in the Bill of 1886 to his original purpose of entirely separating the Irish from the British legislature, a provision which pressure from their own party afterwards compelled both of them to abandon.
After the severe defeat of the Gladstonian party at the general election of 1886, Mr Morley led a life divided between politics and letters until Mr Gladstone's return to power in 1892, when he resumed his former office. He had been re-elected for Newcastle in circumstances entirely honourable to himself, a determined attempt having been made to exclude him in consequence of his resistance to an Eight Hours' Labour Bill, of which he disapproved as an undue interference in principle with the rights of adult labour. His constituents showed their appreciation of his integrity by returning him with a majority of 1,739; but the resistance to his views on the labour question went on in his constituency, and was assisted by Joseph Cowen's persistent campaign in the principal Newcastle newspaper against the general lines of Mr Morley's somewhat doctrinaire and anti-Imperialistic views on politics. The result was that at the election of 1895 he lost his seat, but soon found another in Scotland, for the Montrose Burghs. He had during the interval taken a leading part in parliament, but his tenure of the chief secretaryship of Ireland was hardly a success. The Irish gentry, of course, made things as difficult for him as possible, and the path of an avowed Home Ruler installed in office at Dublin Castle was beset with pitfalls. In the intestine disputes which agitated the Liberal party during Lord Rosebery's administration, and afterwards, Mr Morley sided with Sir William Harcourt, and was the recipient and practically co-signatory of his letter resigning the Liberal leadership in December 1898.
Mr Morley's activities were now again turned to literature, the political views most characteristic of him, on the Boer war in particular, being practically swamped by the overwhelming predominance of Unionism and Imperialism. His occasional speeches, however, denouncing the Government policy towards the Boers and towards the war, though not representing the popular side, always elicited a respectful hearing, if only for the eloquence of their language and the undoubted sincerity of the speaker.
As a man of letters his work was practically concluded at this period, and may briefly be characterized. His position as a leading English writer had early been determined by his monographs on Voltaire (1872), Rousseau (1873), Diderot and the Encyclopaedists (1878), Burke (1879), and Walpole (1889). Burke as the champion of sound policy in America and (as Mr Morley deems) of justice in India, Walpole as the pacific minister understanding the true interests of his country, fired his imagination. His Life of Oliver Cromwell (1900) revises Gardiner as Gardiner revised Carlyle. The Life of Cobden (1881) is an able defence of that statesman's views rather than a critical biography or a real picture of the period. Mr Morley's contributions to political journalism and to literary, ethical and philosophical criticism were numerous and valuable. They show great individuality of character, and recall the personality of John Stuart Mill, with whose mode of thought he had many affinities. As in letters, so in politics. A philosophical Radical of a somewhat mid-l9th century type, and highly suspicious of the later opportunistic reaction (in all its forms) against Cobdenite principles, he yet retained the respect of the majority whom it was his usual fate to find against him in English politics by the indomitable consistency of his principles and by sheer force of character and honesty of conviction and utterance.
After the death of Mr Gladstone, Mr Morley was principally engaged upon his biography, until it was published in 1903. Representing as it does so competent a writer's sifting of a mass of material, the Life of Gladstone was a masterly account of the career of the great Liberal statesman; traces of Liberal bias were inevitable but are rarely manifest; and in spite of the a priori unlikelihood of a full appreciation of Mr Gladstone's powerful religious interests from such a quarter, the whole treatment is characterized by sympathy and judgment. Among the coronation honours of 1902, Mr Morley was nominated an original member of the new Order of Merit; and in July 1902 he was presented by Mr Carnegie with the late Lord Acton's valuable library, which, on the 10th of October, he in turn gave to the University of Cambridge.
When Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman formed his cabinet at the end of 1905 he was made Secretary of State for India. In this position he was conspicuous in May 1907 and afterwards for his firmness in sanctioning extreme measures for dealing with the outbreak in India of alarming symptoms of sedition. Though he was bitterly attacked by some of the more extreme members of the Radical party, on the ground of belying his democratic principles in dealing with India, his action was generally recognized as combining statesmanship with patience; and, though uncompromising in his attitude towards revolutionary propaganda, he showed his popular sympathies by appointing two distinguished native Indians to the council, and taking steps for a decentralization of the administrative government.
When Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman resigned in 1908 and Mr Asquith became prime minister, Mr Morley retained his post in the new cabinet; but it was thought advisable to relieve him of the burden imposed by a seat in the House of Commons, and he was transferred to the upper house, being created a peer with the title of Viscount Morley of Blackburn. His subsequent career at the India office will always be associated with his extensive remodelling (1908-1909) of the system of government in India so as to introduce more fully the representative element. Whatever might be the outcome of this crucial reform, the preparation and execution of Lord Morley's scheme were carried through by him with a statesmanlike and philosophic detachment, and in a spirit of balanced reason, which earned for him the increased respect of all parties in the state. (H.C.H.)
John Morley died in 1923. (Ed.)
Being the entry for MORLEY OF BLACKBURN, JOHN MORLEY, VISCOUNT in the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica, the text of which lies within the public domain.