Meantime the Liberal Government had got into trouble about the British occupation of Egypt.
It was but a month after the Phœnix Park murders that there was an uprising in Egypt against the Khedive, under the leadership of Arabi Pasha. The British Government took the side of the Khedive, and the British fleet bombarded Alexandria. Events followed quickly. Arabi was defeated at the battle of Tel-el-Kebir, and Egypt was occupied by the British.
In 1883 troubles in Egypt thickened. The Mandi was a growing power out in the Soudan, and must be checked. General Gordon, whose name has become a household word, was sent off to Khartoum in January. He had entered his old capital on February 18, 1884, received with every expression of joy by the natives. His proceedings had been watched with an ever-increasing interest by all England. The striking personality of the man had raised him into a popular hero in the public imagination.
How intense became the situation at Khartoum, how pitiful Gordon's prayers for help, how loud the popular cry for troops to be sent, how the long-delayed expedition arrived too late—all these are matters of very recent history.
The news of Gordon's death aroused an outburst of indignation against the government, which was held responsible for it. Events told heavily against Mr. Gladstone. The Prime Minister was abused on all sides. The public clamoured for a change; the Queen wrote of the "stain left upon England."
It was the last misfortune of the Liberal Ministry; the once magnificent majority declined.
On Friday, the 5th of June, we hear of Mr. Gladstone "pale and worried." Two of his Ministry had resigned, and he nervously toyed with a sheet of notepaper which contained the terms in which he must announce this fact to the House. Rising at eleven, he delivered one of his most remarkable speeches. He looked ashen-grey, and there was a lassitude in his manner as if he were weary of incessant labour and gasping for the holiday near at hand. Yet, though he seemed in the last stage of physical exhaustion, there was no sign of failing power in the skill and force with which he met the battery arrayed against him.
It was on June 8, 1885, that the government was beaten. Great was the excitement in the House when the numbers were announced. One member, Lord Randolph Churchill, celebrated the occasion by jumping on to the bench where he had been sitting, and, standing there, or rather dancing there, he waved his hat madly round and round his head, and cheered in tones of wild exultation. Some of his friends caught at him and tried to drag him down, but his enthusiasm was irrepressible.
"I have tried every form of excitement in my time," he said afterwards, "from tip-cat to tiger-shooting, but I have never been in at anything so exciting as last night."
When comparative silence had been restored, Mr. Gladstone rose and moved the adjournment of the House.
The following day he placed his resignation in the hands of the Queen. The five years of his second Premiership were over.
The work had indeed been peculiarly trying. Mr. Gladstone, with his threescore and ten years, bore more than his full burden of the day's work. He had been in his place early and late; his dinner hour had been reduced to just half an hour. He was often at his post between two and three in the morning, after a turbulent night. Rest was badly needed.
The Queen thought that this defeat of Mr. Gladstone marked his final retirement. Others shared her opinion that his fighting days were over. He was offered an earldom, but he refused. He had made his name famous, and he would keep it—
Neither had he any thoughts of retiring at this time. Justice, he considered, had not yet been done to Ireland.
An appeal was made to the country, and Mr. Gladstone issued an address to the electors of Midlothian. His address closed with these emphatic words: History will consign to disgrace the name of every man who, having it in his power, does not aid, or presents or retards, an equitable settlement between Ireland and Great Britain."
Mr. Gladstone was elected for Midlothian by an immense and overwhelming majority. His programme of trying to pacify Ireland had received the consent of the British nation. He had failed again and again but they were yet confident that he would succeed in bringing peace and happiness to that unhappy country