Coming, as it did, two days before the introduction of the Government’s Bill, the Balmoral demonstration profoundly influenced opinion in the country. The average Englishman, when his political party is in a minority, damns the Government, shrugs his shoulders, and goes on his way, not rejoicing indeed, but with apathetic resignation till the pendulum swings again. He now awoke to the fact that the Ulstermen meant business. He realised that a political crisis of the first magnitude was visible on the horizon. The vague talk about “civil war” began to look as if it might have something in it, and it was evident that the provisions of the forthcoming Bill, about which there had been so much eager anticipation, would be of quite secondary importance since neither the Cabinet nor the House of Commons would have the last word.
Supporters of the Government in the Press could think of nothing better to do in these circumstances than to pour out abuse, occasionally varied by ridicule, on the Unionist leaders, of which Sir Edward Carson came in for the most generous portion. He was by turns everything that was bad, dangerous, and absurd, from Mephistopheles to a madman. “F.C.G.” summarised the Balmoral meeting pictorially in a Westminster Gazette cartoon as a costermonger’s donkey-cart in which Carson, Londonderry, and Bonar Law, refreshed by “Orangeade,” took “an Easter Jaunt in Ulster,” and other caricaturists used their pencils with less humour and more malice with the same object of belittling the demonstration with ridicule. But ridicule is not so potent a weapon in England or in Ulster as it is said to be in France. It did nothing to weaken the Ulster cause; it even strengthened it in some ways. It was about this time that hostile writers began to refer to “King Carson,” and to represent him as exercising regal sway over his “subjects” in Ulster. Those “subjects” were delighted; they took it as a compliment to their leader’s position and power, and did not in the least resent the role assigned to themselves.
On the other hand, they did resent very hotly the vulgar insolence often levelled at their “Sir Edward.” He himself was always quite indifferent to it, sometimes even amused by it. On one occasion, when something particularly outrageous had appeared with reference to him in some Radical paper, he delighted a public meeting by solemnly reading the passage, and when the angry cries of “Shame, shame” had subsided, saying with a smile: “This sort of thing is only the manure that fertilises my reputation with you who know me.”
And that was true. If Home Rulers, whether in Ireland or in Great Britain, ever seriously thought of conciliating Ulster, as Mr. Redmond professed to desire, they never made a greater mistake than in saying and writing insulting things about Carson. It only endeared him more and more to his followers, and it intensified the bitterness of their feeling against the Nationalists and all their works.