J. Ewing (James Ewing) Ritchie.

The real Gladstone. An anecdotal biography online

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^2IN this little work I have aimed to write, not a history
'^or a biography, not a criticism or a eulogy, but merely
5 to give a few scattered notes, gathered - frb«i^^£i5iy
S quarters, for the general public, rather than for the
professional politician. Lord Rosebery is reported to
have said that it will require many writers to give a
complete biography of Mr, Gladstone. He may be
right ; but the evil of it will be, the work, if exhaustive,
Q will be exhausting. Especially will it be so in these
22 busy times, when yesterday's biographies become stale
^to a public forgetful of the past, caring only for the
^present, oblivious of the morrow. It is almost an
impertinence to speak of the many claims Mr. Glad-
stone has on a people whom he has served so long.
All I claim to do is to give a few data which may
help them to estimate the

;2 ' Heroic mind

S Expressed in action, in endurance proved '—

•in short, more or less imperfectly, ' The Real Glad-


May, 1898.











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Many, many years ago England's foremost statesman,
as George Canning then was, distrusted by the multi-
tude, feared by his colleagues, regarded with suspicion by
the First Gentleman of the Age — as it was the fashion
to term George the Magnificent, who was then seated
on the British throne — wearied of the strife and turmoil
of party, spent a short time at Seaforth House, bidding
what he deemed his farewell to his Liverpool corre-
spondents. His custom, we are told, was to sit for
hours gazing on the wide expanse of waters before him.
His had been a marvellous career. Born out of the
circle of the ruling classes, by his indomitable energy,
the greatness of his intellectual gifts, his brilliant
eloquence, he had lifted himself up above his con-
temporaries, and had become their leader ; and here he
was about to quit the scene of his triumphs — to reign
as Viceroy in a far-off land. Canning, however, did not
retire from the Parliamentary arena, but stopped at



home to be Premier of Great Britain and Ireland, and
to let all Europe know that this country had done with
the Holy Alliance ; that a new and better spirit was
walking the earth ; that the dark night of bigotry was
past, and that the dawn of a better day had come. As
he sat there looking out over the waters, a little one
was to be seen playing below upon the sand. That
little lad was the son of Canning's host and friend, and
his name was William Ewart Gladstone. Does it not
seem as if the little one playing on the sand had uncon-
sciously caught something of the genius, of the indi-
viduality, of the eloquence, of the loftiness of aim, of
the statesman who sat above him overlooking the sea ?
Circumstances have much to do with the formation
of character. To the youthful Gladstone, Canning was
a light, a glory, and a star.

William Ewart Gladstone was born on December 29,
1809, at a house which may still be seen, 62, Rodney
Street, Liverpool. He was of Scotch extraction, his
father, a Liverpool merchant, having an estate in Scot-
land. Mr. Gladstone senior lived to become one of the
merchant princes of Great Britain, a Baronet, and a
Member of Parliament. He died, at the advanced age
of eighty-seven, in 185 1. His wife was Anne, daughter
of Andrew Robertson, of Stornoway. They had six
children; William Ewart Gladstone was the third. The
family were all brought up as debate rs. The children
and their parents are said to have argued upon every-
thing. They would debate whether the meat should
be boiled or broiled, whether a window should be shut
or opened, and whether it was likely to be fine or wet
next day.

As a little boy, Gladstone went to school at Seaforth,


where the late Dean Stanley was a pupil. The latter is
responsible for the following : * There is a small school
near Liverpool at which Mr. Gladstone was brought
up before he went to Eton. A few years ago, another
little boy who was sent to this school, and whose name
I will not mention, called upon the old clergyman who
was the headmaster. The boy was now a young man,
and he said to the old clergyman : " There is one thing
in which I have never in the least degree improved since
I was at school — the casting up of figures." "Well,"
replied the master, " it is very extraordinary that it
should be so, because certainly no one could be a more
incapable arithmetician at school than you were ; but I
will tell you a curious thing. When Mr. Gladstone was
at the school, he was just as incapable at addition and
subtraction as you were ; now you see what he has
become — he is one of the greatest of our financiers." '

William Gladstone left home for Eton after the
summer holidays of 1821, the headmaster being Dr
Keate. Sir Roderick Murchison describes him as * the
prettiest little boy that ever went to Eton.' From the
first he was a hard student and well behaved, and exer-
cised a good influence over his schoolfellows. ' I was a
thoroughly idle boy,' said the late Bishop Hamilton of
Salisbury, ' but I was saved from worse things by getting
to know Gladstone.' Another schoolfellow remembered
how he turned his glass upside down, and refused to
drink a coarse toast proposed according to custom at an
election dinner. His most intimate friend was Arthur
Hallam, of whom he wrote an article in the Daily
Telegraph, which created universal admiration. He had
the courage of his opinions, and when bantered by
some of his associates for his interfering on behalf of

I — 2


some ill-used pigs, he offered to write his reply ' in good
round hand upon their faces.' He took no delight in
games, but kept a private boat for his own use, and was
a great walker with his select friends. He was accus-
tomed on holidays to go as far as Salt Hall, to bully the
fat waiter, eat toasted cheese, and drink egg-wine —
hence he seems to have been familiarly known as Mr.
Tipple. But he soon became especially distinguished
by his editing the Eto7i Miscellany, and for his skill
in debate at what was commonly called the Pop. Its
meetings were generally held over a cook-shop, and its
politics were intensely Tory, though current politics
were forbidden subjects. His maiden speech was in
favour of education. Eton at that time was not a
good school, writes Sir Francis Doyle; but he testifies
strongly to the virtues of the debating society. He
continues : * In the debating society Mr. Gladstone
soon distinguished himself. I had the privilege of
listening to his maiden speech. It began, I recollect,
with these words : "Sir, in this age of increasing and
still increasing civilization . . ." After Mr. Gladstone's
arrival, the debating society doubled and trebled itself
in point of numbers, and the discussions became much
fuller of interest and animation. Hallam and Mr.
Gladstone took the lead.' Not content with the
regular debating society, Mr. Gladstone and a iQv^
others, such as Miles Gaskell and Canning, established
an inner one, held on certain summer afternoons in
the garden of one Trotman. Sir Francis continues :
' It happened that my tutor, Mr. Okes, rented a
small garden at the rear of Trotman's, and by some
chance found himself there on the occasion of one of
these debates. To his surprise, he heard three or


four boys on the other side of the wall sneering,
shoutmg, and boohooing in the most unaccountable
manner. There seemed but one conclusion to him
as an experienced Eton tutor — viz., that they were
what we at the Custom-House used somewhat euphem-
istically to term under the influence of liquor. He
thereupon summoned Mr. Gladstone to his study,
listened gloomily and reluctantly to his explanations
and excuses, and all but handed over our illustrious
Premier, with his subordinate orators, to be flogged for

Dr. Wilkinson, in his ' Reminiscences of Eton,' gives
a couplet and its translation by Mr. Gladstone, when a
boy at Eton :

' Ne sis O cera mollior,
Grandiloquus et vanus ;
Heus bone non es gigas tu,
Et non sum eyo nanus.'


' Don't tip me now, you lad of wax,
Your blarney and locution ;
You're not a giant yet, I hope,
Nor I a Liliputian.'

As to the Miscellany, with which Mr. Gladstone had
so much to do, Sir Francis continues : ' It would have
fallen to the ground but for Mr. Gladstone's energy,
perseverance, and tact. I may as well remark here that
my father — as I have said elsewhere, a man of great
ability as well as of great experience in life — predicted
Mr. Gladstone's future eminence from the manner in
which he handled this somewhat tiresome business.
"It is not," he remarked, "that I think his papers
better than yours or Hallam's — that is not my meaning
at all ; but the force of character he has shown in
managing his subordinates (insubordinates I should


rather call them), and the combination of ability and
power that he has made evident, convince me that
such a young man cannot fail to distinguish himself
hereafter." ' Further, Sir Francis Doyle writes : ' I
cannot take leave of Mr. Gladstone's Eton career with-
out recording a joke of his which, even in this distance
of time, seems calculated to thrill the heart of Mid-
lothian with horror and dismay. He was then, I must
remind my hearers, a high Tory, and, moreover, used to
criticise my passion for the turf. One day I was steadily
comp\iting the odds for the Derby, as they stood in a
morning newspaper. Now, it happened that the Duke
of Grafton owned a colt called Hampden, who figured
in the aforesaid Hst. " Well," cried Mr. Gladstone,
reading off the odds, " Hampden, at any rate, I see, is
in his proper place between Zeal and Lunacy /" '

The impression Gladstone made on his schoolfellows
at Eton is clearly shown in a letter of Miles Gaskell to
his mother, pleading for his going to Oxford rather than
Cambridge : ' Gladstone is no ordinary individual. . . .
If you finally decide in favour of Cambridge, my separa-
tion from Gladstone will be a source of great sorrow to
me.' And Arthur Hallam wrote : ' Whatever may be
our lot, I am very confident that he is a bud that will
blossom with a richer fragrance than almost any whose
early promise I have witnessed.'

Gladstone, as has already been shown, was one of the
principal members of the staff of the Eton Miscellany.
He was then seventeen, and in one of the articles signed
by him he expressed his fear that he would not be able
to direct public opinion into the right channel. He
was aware that merit was always rewarded, but he
asked himself if he possessed that merit. He dared not


presume that he did possess it, though he felt within
him a something which made him hope to be able,
without much hindrance, to gain public favour, and, as
Virgil said, ' celerare viam rumore secundo.' We find
Gladstone the Etonian expressing similar hopes in an
article on ' Eloquence.' The young author shows us
himself and his school-colleagues fascinated by the
resounding debates in the House of Commons, and
dreaming, boy-like, of making a successful Parliamentary
debut, perhaps being offered a Government berth — a
Secretaryship of State, even the post of Prime Minister.
While entertaining these ambitious views Mr. Gladstone
calmed his mind by ' taking to poetry.' Several poetical
pieces, including some verses on ' Richard Cceur-de-
Lion,' and an ode to ' The Shade of Wat Tyler,' date
from this period.

As a pendant to this fragmentary sketch of Mr.
Gladstone's schooldays, we may quote the lively
description of the young editor given by Sir Francis
Doyle in ' A Familiar Epistle to W. E. Gladstone, Esq.,
M.P.,' published in 1841. Sir Francis paints a de-
lightful picture of the re dacteur -en-chef :

'Who, in his editorial den,
Clenched grimly an eradicating pen,
Confronting frantic poets with calm eye,
And dooming hardened metaphors to die.
Who, if he found his young adherents fail,
The ode unfinished, uncommenced the tale,
With the next number bawling to be fed,
And its false feeders latitant or lied,
Sat down unflinchingly to write it all,
And kept the staggering project from a fall'

Dr. Furnivall, president of the Maurice Rowing Club,
lately sent Mr. Gladstone a copy of his letter on ' Sculls
or Oars.' The ex-Prime Minister, in returning his


thanks for the letter, says : ' When I was at Eton, and
during the season, I sculled constantly, more than almost
any other boy in the school. Our boats then were
not so light as they now are, but they went along
merrily, with no fear of getting them under water.'



After spending six months with private tutors, in
October, 1828, he went up to Christ Church, Oxford,
and the following year was nominated to a studentship,
'As for Gladstone,' writes Sir Francis Doyle, 'in the earlier
part of his undergraduateship he read steadily, and did
not exert himself to shine as a speaker; in point of fact,
he did not attempt to distinguish himself in the Debating
Society till he had pretty well made sure of his distinc-
tion in the Schools. I used often to walk with him in
the afternoon, but I never recollect riding or boating in
his company, and I believe that he was seldom diverted
from his normal constitutional between two and five
along one of the Oxford roads. The most adventurous
thing I ever did at Oxford in Mr. Gladstone's company,
if it really were as adventurous as I find he still asserts
it to have been, was when I allowed myself to be taken
to Dissenting chapels. We were rewarded by hearing
Dr. Chalmers preach on two occasions, and Rowland
Hill at another time.'

Gladstone seems to have delighted in these escapades.
His mother was an occasional attendant on the ministra-
tions of the celebrated Dissenting preacher Dr. Raffles,


of Liverpool, and possibly might have taken the future
Premier with her. His attendance at church w^as very
regular. ' He used rather to mount guard over my
religious observances,' writes Sir Francis Doyle, * and
habitually marched me off after luncheon to the Univer-
sity sermon at two o'clock. Now, I have not the gift of
snoring comfortably under a dull preacher ; instead of
a narcotic he acts on my nerves as an irritant, but with
Mr. Gladstone the case was different. One afternoon I
looked up, and discovered, not without a glow of
triumph, that although the reverend gentleman above
me had not yet arrived at his "Thirdly," my Mentor was
sleeping the sleep of the just. " Hullo !" said I to myself,
" no more two-o'clock sermons for me." Accordingly,
on the very next occasion when he came to carry
me off, my answer was ready : " No, thank you, not
to-day. I can sleep just as well in my arm-chair
as at St. Mary's." The great man was discomfited,
and retired, shaking his head, but he acknowledged
his defeat by troubling me no more in that matter.'

Cardinal Manning had been the principal leader in
the Oxford Debating Society till Mr. Gladstone ap-
peared upon the scene. At once he and Gaskell became
the leading Christ Church orators, and the great ora-
torical event of the time was Mr. Gladstone's speech
against the first Reform Bill. * Most of the speakers,'
writes Sir Francis Doyle, who was present on the
occasion, ' rose more or less above their ordinary level,
but when Mr. Gladstone sat down we all of us felt that
an epoch in our lives had arrived. It was certainly the
finest speech of his that I ever heard. The effect
produced by that great speech led to his being returned
to Parliament as M.P. for Newark by the Tory Duke of


Newcastle, who is remembered for his question, " May I
not do what I like with my own ?" '

To return to Mr. Gladstone's career at the University.
In 1 83 1 he took a double first-class, and would easily
have attained a Fellowship in any college where Fellow-
ships depended upon a competitive examination. He
held with Scott, the foremost scholar of the day, the
second place in the Ireland for 1829. In that year a
deputation from the Union of Cambridge went to Oxford
to take part in a debate on the respective merits of Byron
and Shelley. One of the Cambridge party was Monckton
Milnes, afterwards Lord Houghton. He writes : ' The
man that took me most was the youngest Gladstone, of
Liverpool — I am sure a very superior person.' On all
he seems to have exercised a beneficial influence. He
deprecated the example of the gentlemen commoners,
and did much to check the pernicious habit prevalent at
that time in the University, of over-indulgence in wine.
His tutor was the Rev. Robert Briscoe. He also
attended the lectures of the Rev. Dr. Benton on divinity
and Dr. Pusey on Hebrew. He read classics privately
with a tutor of the Bishop of St. Andrews. In 1830 he
was at Cuddesdon Vicarage with a small reading-party,
where he seems to have mastered Hooker's ' Ecclesias-
tical Polity.' He founded and presided over an essay
society called after his name, of which he was suc-
cessively secretary and president. In his maiden speech ""^
p-at the Union in 1830 he defended Catholic emancipa-
tion ; declared the Duke of Wellington's Government
unworthy of the confidence of the nation ; opposed the
removal of Jewish disabilities ; and argued for the
gradual emancipation of slavery rather than immediate




It is evident that all the time of his University career
Mr. Gladstone had a profoundly religious bias, and at one
time seems to have contemplated taking Holy Orders.
Bishop Wordsworth declared that no man of his standing
read the Bible more or knew it better. One of his fellow-
students writes : ' Poor Gladstone mixed himself up with
the St. Mary Hall and Oriel set, who are really for the
most part only fit to live with maiden aunts and keep tame
rabbits.' At this time Mr. Gladstone's High Churchman-
ship does not seem to have been so pronounced as it
afterwards became. He was a disciple of Canning, and
rejoiced at Catholic emancipation. ' When in Scotland,
staying at his father's house in Kincardineshire, he
attended the Presbyterian Kirk zealously and con-
tentedly, and took me with him,' writes Sir Francis
Doyle, ' to what they call the " fencing of the tables,"
an operation lasting five or six hours.'

One of Gladstone's college acquaintances was Martin
Tupper, whose ' Proverbial Philosophy ' had a sale out
of all proportion to its merits, in 1864. He wrote —

' Orator, statesman, scholar, and sage,
The Crichton-more, the Gladstone of his age.'

* My first acquaintance with Gladstone,' Martin Tupper
writes, 'was a memorable event. It was at that time
not so common a thing for undergraduates to go to the
Communion at Christ Church Cathedral, that holy
celebration being supposed to be for the particular
benefit of Deans and Canons and Masters of Arts ; so
when two undergraduates went out of the chancel together
after Communion, which they had both attended, it is
small wonder that they addressed each other genially,
in defiance of Oxford etiquette, nor that a friendship so
well begun has continued to this hour.' He testifies


how Gladstone was the foremost man — warm-hearted,
earnest, hard working, and religious, and had a following
even in his teens.

The following anecdote is amusing. Tupper writes :
* I had the honour at Christ Church of being prize-taker
of Dr. Benton's theological essay, " The Reconciliation
of Matthew and John," when Gladstone, who had also
contested it, stood second, and when Dr. Benton had
me before him to give me the twenty-five pounds' worth
of books, he requested me to allow Mr. Gladstone to
have five pounds' worth, as he was so good a second.'
Alas ! Mr. Tupper in after-life was led to think that
the man to whom at one time he looked up, had
deviated from the proper path. In his ' Three Hundred
Sonnets,' he kindly undertook, in the reference to
Gladstone, to warn the public to

' Beware of mere delusive eloquence.'

And again he wrote of a

' Glozing tongue whom none can trust.'

Still, it is well to quote in this connection how Tupper
considered Gladstone the central figure at Oxford Uni-
versity. He writes : ' Fifty years ago Briscoe's Aristotle
class at Christ Church was comprised almost wholly of
men who have since become celebrated, some in a re-
markable degree ; and as we believe that so many names
afterwards attaining to great distinction have rarely
been associated at one lecture board, either at Oxford
or elsewhere, it may be allowed to one who counts him-
self the least and lowest of the company to pen this
brief note of those old Aristotelians. In this class was
Gladstone, ever from youth up the beloved and admired
of many personal intimates.'


Miss Clough's character of Gladstone, solely from his
handwriting, is thus recorded by Lord Houghton : ' A
well-judging person ; a good classic ; considerate ; apt
to mistrust himself ; undecided ; if to choose a profession,
would prefer the Church ; has much application ; a good
reasoner ; very affectionate and tender in his domestic
relations ; has a good deal of pride and determination,
or rather obstinacy; is very fond of society, particularly
ladies' ; is neat, and fond of reading.'

Bishop Wordsworth writes : ' My cousin William
Wordsworth, then living at Eton, was dining at Liverpool
at the house of a great Liverpool merchant just after
Gladstone had taken his degree. Amongst the com-
pany were Wordsworth, the poet, and Mr. John Glad-
stone, the father of the future Premier. After dinner,
the poet congratulated the father on the success of his
distinguished son. " Yes, sir," replied the father, " I
thank you. My son has greatly distinguished himself
at the University, and I trust he will continue to do so
when he enters public life, for there is no doubt that he
is a man of great ability, but he has no stability," '

Sir Francis Doyle describes a visit he paid to Glad-
stone at his father's house. ' Whilst there,' he writes, ' I
was very much struck with the remarkable acuteness
and great natural powers of Mr. Gladstone the father.
Under his influence, apparently, nothing was taken for
granted between the father and his sons. A succession
of arguments on great topics and small topics alike —
arguments conducted with perfect good humour, but
also with the most implacable logic — formed the staple
of the family conversations. Hence, it was easy to see
from what foundations Mr. Gladstone's skill as a debater
was built up.' Further illustrative traits are supplied.


For instance, one of the amusements of the place was
shooting with bows and arrows. The arrows were lost
in the long grass ; Sir Francis would have left them to

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