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THE FALL OF PARNELL: HUGH PRICE HUGHES AND THE NONCONFORMIST CONSCIENCE CHRISTOPHER OLDSTONE-MOORE the fall of Charles Stewart Parnell remains one of the most dramatic and controversial events in modern British and Irish history. The terrible tragedy of a great political leader caught up in a ruinous divorce scandal just when he was on the verge of achieving self-government for his people has provided James Joyce, William Butler Yeats, and Sean O’Casey with the stuV of high literature. Indeed, immortalized by the poets and artists of the Irish Revival, Parnell continues to be a romantic and tragic Wgure in the popular imagination. The fall of Parnell also remains a very controversial event. The controversy turns on who was responsible for the fall of the great man. Many have been blamed for the tragedy—Gladstone, the Irish Parliamentary Party, the Irish bishops, Joseph Chamberlain, and even Parnell himself—but none have been blamed more consistently than the English Nonconformists and, especially, their outstanding spokesman in this crisis, Hugh Price Hughes, the Methodist leader.1 In spite of the almost universal condemnation of the Nonconformists in the historical literature, there has been a good deal less agreement about the part played by the celebrated “Nonconformist Conscience” or the motives of Hugh Price Hughes in the crisis. The upper limit in the unsympathetic accounts must certainly be that of John Kent, who has concluded that Hughes treacherously attempted to sabotage Home Rule by destroying Parnell.2 Earlier historians, however, such as Barry O’Brien and J. L. Hammond , have credited the Nonconformist Conscience with being sincere, HUGH PRICE HUGHES AND THE NONCONFORMIST CONSCIENCE 94 1 It was R. Barry O’Brien, Parnell’s original biographer, who in 1898 Wrst identiWed Hugh Price Hughes as the “English hero of the stuggle.” See R. Barry O’Brien, The Life of Charles Stewart Parnell, Vol. 2 (New York: Harper and Bros. 1898), p. 268. 2 John Kent, “Hugh Price Hughes and the Nonconformist Conscience” in Essays in Modern British Church History, ed. G. V. Bennett and J. D. Walsh (New York: Oxford Univeristy Press, 1966), pp. 192–94. but sincerely misguided. Hammond, in particular, lamented the Nonconformists ’ commitment to the novel proposition that public Wgures should be disqualiWed for public oYce for adultery.3 More recently, historians have taken a generally dimmer view of both Hughes and the Nonconformist Conscience. Conor Cruise O’Brien, John F. Glaser, and F. S. L. Lyons have variously criticized them for giving expression to a kind of reactionary or anti-Irish unreasonableness. O’Brien has presented Hughes as the spokesman of the reactionary, lower middle class. “Home Rule,” he has argued, “was not, in England, so popular a cause that its advocates could insult popular emotions about sexual morality .”4 Glaser has reproved Nonconformists both for their defence of a “waning standard” of morality, and also for political irresponsibility: “It is the reckless vehemence of such men as Hughes and Stead which contemporaries did, and posterity can, criticize with justice. Hughes’s Wrst impulsive remarks on the Irish people unquestionably served to exacerbate an already delicate situation.”5 Lyons has faulted Hughes in particular for pushing the crisis past the edge of all reason, and thus making it impossible to salvage either Parnell or Home Rule. He has argued that both the Liberal leadership and the Irish nationalists might have found some kind of compromise had the Nonconformists not been so stubbornly opposed to Parnell, and had Hughes not “injected into the controversy a note of hysterical fanaticism.”6 In the most recent reassessment of the divorce crisis , Frank Callanan has underscored Conor Cruise O’Brien’s idea that the Nonconformists were simply puritanical moralists. Callanan allowed E. W. Hamilton, then a treasury oYcial and former private secretary to Gladstone , to draw the appropriate conclusion: “ . . . however narrow-minded and illiberal people may be, it is impossible to disregard the Puritanical frenzy of the nonconformists who form so important a factor in the Liberal Party.”7 Whether in the form of treachery, misguidedness, recklessness, hysteria , or puritanical narrow-mindedness, both Hugh Price Hughes and the HUGH PRICE HUGHES AND THE NONCONFORMIST CONSCIENCE 95 3 J. L. Hammond, Gladstone...


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