Such persons may be left to the contemplation of their own virtues. But there are many fair-minded men of both political parties, or of neither, who, while acquitting those Liberal members who supported Home Rule in 1886 and opposed Coercion in 1887 of the sordid or spiteful motives with which the virulence of journalism credits them, have nevertheless been surprised at the apparent swiftness and completeness of the change in their opinions. It would be idle to deny that, in startling the minds of steady-going people, this change did, for the moment, weaken the influence and weight of those who had changed. This must be so. A man who says now what he denied six years ago cannot expect to be believed on his ipse dixit. He must set forth the grounds of his conviction. He must explain how his views altered, and why reasons which formerly satisfied him satisfy him no longer. It may be that the Liberal party have omitted to do this as they ought. Occupied by warm and incessant discussions, and conscious, I venture to believe, of their own honesty, few of its members have been at the trouble of showing what were the causes which modified their views, and what the stages of the process which carried them from the position of 1880 to that of 1886.
Of that process I shall attempt in the following pages to give a sketch. Such a sketch, though mainly retrospective, is pertinent to the issues which now divide the country. It will indicate the origin and the strength of the chief reasons by which Liberals are now governed. And, if executed with proper fairness and truth, it may, as a study in contemporary history, be of some little interest to those who in future will attempt to understand our present conflict. The causes which underlie changes of opinion are among the most obscure phenomena in history, because those who undergo, these changes are often only half conscious of them, and do not think of recording that which is imperceptible in its growth, and whose importance is not realized till it already belongs to the past.
The account which follows is based primarily on my own recollection of the phases of opinion and feeling through which I myself, and the friends whom I knew most intimately in the House of Commons, passed during the Parliament which sat from 1880 till 1885. But I should not think of giving it to the public if I did not believe that what happened to our minds happened to many others also, and that the record of our own slow movement from the position of 1880 to that of 1886 is substantially a record of the movement of the Liberal party at large. We were fairly typical members of that party, loyal to our leaders, but placing the principles for which the Liberal party exists above the success of the party itself; with our share of prepossessions and prejudices, yet with reasonably open minds, and (as we believed) inferior to no other section of the House of Commons in patriotism and in attachment to the Constitution. I admit