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MY MEMORY OF GLADSTONE ***




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MY MEMORY OF GLADSTONE




AN INTERESTING VOLUME OF CHARACTER SKETCHES:

POLITICAL AND OTHER.

PORTRAITS OF THE SIXTIES.

By JUSTIN MCCARTHY, Author of “A History of our own Time.” With
many Illustrations from Contemporary Photographs. Demy 8vo,
cloth, 15s. net.

LONDON: T. FISHER UNWIN.




[Illustration:

_Photo_] [_Barraud._

W. E. GLADSTONE.]




MY MEMORY OF
GLADSTONE

BY
GOLDWIN SMITH

[Illustration]

_SECOND IMPRESSION_

LONDON
T. FISHER UNWIN
PATERNOSTER SQUARE
1904

_All Rights Reserved_




MY MEMORY OF GLADSTONE


Since the appearance of the first volumes of Macaulay’s History there
has not been such an event in the publishing world as the appearance
of a Life of Gladstone by Mr. Morley. Nor has public expectation been
disappointed.

Though I saw a good deal of Gladstone, both in the way of business and
socially, I never was nor could I have been, like Mr. Morley, his
colleague and a partner of his counsels. On the other hand, I lived in
the closest intimacy with men who were his associates in public life, and
saw him through their eyes.

This man was a wonderful being, physically and mentally, the mental part
being well sustained by the physical. His form bespoke the nervous energy
with which it was surcharged. His eye was intensely bright, though in
the rest of the face there was nothing specially indicative of genius.
His physical and mental force was such that he could speak for more than
four hours at a stretch, and with vigour and freshness so sustained
that George Venables, an extremely fastidious and not over-friendly
critic, after hearing him for four hours, and on a financial subject,
wished that he could go on for four hours more. His powers of work were
enormous. He once called me to him to help in settling the details of a
University Bill. He told me that he had been up over the Bill late at
night. We worked at it together from ten in the morning till six in the
afternoon, saving an hour and a half which he spent at a Privy Council,
leaving me with the Bill. When we parted, he went down to the House,
where he spoke at one o’clock the next morning. Besides his mountain of
business, he was a voluminous writer on other than political subjects,
and did a vast amount of miscellaneous reading. As a proof of his powers
of acquisition, he gained so perfect a mastery of the Italian language
as to be able to make a long speech, in which Professor Villari could
detect only two mistakes, and those merely uses of a poetical instead of
the ordinary word.

Like Pitt, Gladstone was a first-rate sleeper. At the time when he had
exposed himself to great obloquy and violent attacks by his secession
from the Palmerston Government, in the middle of the Crimean War, one of
his intimate friends spoke of him to me as being in so extreme a state of
excitement that he hardly liked to go near him. Next day, I had business
with him. He went out of the room to fetch a letter, leaving me with
Mrs. Gladstone, to whom I said that I feared he must be severely tried
by the attacks. She replied that he was, but that he would come home
from the most exciting debate and fall at once into sound sleep. A bad
night, she said, if ever he had one, upset him. But this was very rare.
He chronicles his good and bad nights, showing how thoroughly he felt
the necessity of sound sleep. In extreme old age he took long walks and
felled trees, conversed with unfailing vivacity, and seemed to be the
last of the party in the evening to wish to go to bed. At the same time
he was doing a good deal of work.

The hero was fond of dwelling on his Scottish extraction. His domicile,
however, was Liverpool, and his father was a West Indian proprietor and
slave-owner; a circumstance perhaps not wholly without influence on one
or two passages of his life. To his Scottish shrewdness and aptitude
for business, Eton and Oxford added the highest English culture. Eton
in those days would teach him only classics. But there was a good deal
of interest in public affairs among the boys, many of whom were scions
of political houses. There was a lively debating club, called “Pop,” of
which Gladstone was the star. At Oxford he added mathematics to classics,
taking the highest honours in both. There, also, he was the star of the
debating club. It was a fine time for budding debaters, being the epoch
of the great struggle about the Reform Bill. Gladstone led vehemently and
gloriously on the Tory side. The result was that his fellow collegian,
Lord Lincoln, introduced him as a most promising recruit to his father
the old Duke of Newcastle, the highest of Tories, and Gladstone was
elected to Parliament for Newark, a borough under the Duke’s influence. I
have been allowed to read the correspondence, and there is nothing in it
derogatory to the young man’s independence.

Oxford was the heart of clericism as well as Toryism, and the advance of
Liberalism threatened the Anglican State Church, as well as the oligarchy
of rotten boroughs. The Tractarian movement of sacerdotal reaction was
already on foot. Gladstone imbibed the ecclesiastical as well as the
political spirit of the place, and formed a friendship, which proved
lasting, with the authors of the mediævalising movement. He published
a defence of the Anglican State Church, which, as we know, was terribly
cut up by Macaulay. The Reviewer, however, ends with a defence of
religious establishments really weaker than anything in Gladstone. The
State, according to Macaulay, though religion is not its proper business,
has some time and energy to spare which it may usefully devote to the
regulation of religion.

Gladstone cast off by degrees his extreme Establishmentarianism. He came
at last to disestablishing the Church in Ireland and pledging himself to
disestablishment in Wales. But he remained firmly attached to the Church
of England, encircled by High Church friends, who were really nearer to
his heart than anybody else, deeply, even passionately, interested in all
their questions, and an assiduous writer on their side. He was suspected
of being a Papist. A Papist he certainly was not. No one could be more
opposed to Papal usurpation. His special sympathy was with anti-Papal
and anti-Infallibilist Catholics, such as Döllinger and Lord Acton. His
religious faith was simple and profound; so simple that he continued in
this sceptical age to believe in the plenary inspiration of the Bible,
and in the Mosaic account of the Creation. He retained unshaken faith
in Providence and in the efficacy of prayer. This in his meditations
constantly and clearly appears. At the same time, he grew tolerant of
free inquiry as a conscientious quest of truth. Many Nonconformists, the
leaders especially, notwithstanding his Anglicanism and his suspected
leanings to Rome, were drawn to him on broad grounds of religious
sympathy, and lent him their political support. Lord Salisbury called him
“a great Christian.” He could not have been more truly described. He had
thought of taking Holy Orders. From this he had been happily deterred,
but he seems to have been fond of officiating in a semi-clerical way by
reading the lessons in Hawarden Church.

Gladstone’s zeal in the service of his nation and humanity, his loyalty
to right and hatred of tyranny and injustice, and his conscientious
industry, were sustained by spiritual influences, and Christianity has a
right to appeal to his character in support, not of its dogmas, but of
its principles.

The first step in emancipation from bondage to the State Church theory
was curious and characteristic. Peel, in whose Government Gladstone
then was, proposed an increase of the grant to Maynooth. Gladstone
paid a tribute to the principle of the “Church in its Relation to the
State” by resigning his office. Then, on the ground that the other
principle had prevailed, he voted for the grant and went back into
the Government. It is thus possible to see how the idea of a certain
tortuosity became connected with his career. Bitter enemies even accused
him of duplicity. He had a habit, of which his biographer seems aware,
of making his words open to a double construction, the consequence,
perhaps, of consciousness that his mind was moving and that his position
might be changed. He had also a dislike of owning change, and a habit of
setting his retroactive imagination at work to prove that there was no
inconsistency, which had a bad effect, especially in such a case as his
sudden coalition with Parnell.

The value of the recruit was at once recognized and the door of office
was presently opened to him by Peel, who was always on the look-out for
youthful promise, and set himself, perhaps more than any other Prime
Minister ever did, to train up a succession of statesmen for the country.
Though himself the least eccentric of mankind, Peel showed in more than
one case that he could overlook a touch of eccentricity where there
was real merit and genuine work. Set, as Vice-President of the Board of
Trade, to deal with a subject entirely new to him, Gladstone at once
justified Peel’s confidence and discernment. Perhaps the office had been
chosen for him as one in which his eccentricity had no play. He served
Peel admirably well, and was perfectly true to his chief. But, from
things that I have heard him say, I rather doubt whether he greatly loved
Peel. Peel detested the Tractarians; the Tractarians hated Peel; and some
of the Tractarians were nearest of all men to Gladstone’s heart.

Peel’s Government having been overthrown on the question of the Corn
Laws by a combination which the Duke of Wellington characterized with
military frankness, of Tory Protectionists, Whigs, Radicals, and Irish
Nationalists, the whole under Semitic influence, its chief, for the
short remainder of his life, held himself aloof from the party fray,
encouraging no new combination, and content with watching over the safety
of his great fiscal reform; though, as Greville says, had the Premiership
been put to the vote, Peel would have been elected by an overwhelming
majority. His personal following, Peelites as they were called, Graham,
Gladstone, Lincoln, Cardwell, Sidney Herbert, and the rest, remained
suspended between the two great parties. When Disraeli had thrown over
protection, as he meant from the beginning to do, the only barrier
of principle between the Peelites and the Conservatives was removed.
Overtures were made by the Conservative leader, Lord Derby, to Gladstone,
whose immense value as a financier was well established, and the common
opinion was that Gladstone would have accepted had Disraeli not been in
the way. But Disraeli, though he offered to waive his claims, was in
the way, and the result was that the Peelites, Gladstone at their head,
coalesced with the Whigs and helped to form the coalition Government of
Lord Aberdeen.

Mr. Morley has said rightly that an impulse in the Liberal direction was
lent to Gladstone’s mind by the crusade into which his humanity impelled
him against the iniquities and cruelties of the Bourbon government
at Naples. Though it was not revolutionary sentiment but zeal for
righteousness and hatred of iniquity that moved him, his heart could not
be closed against the loud and passionate acclaim of the Mazzinians and
all who were struggling against the traditions of the Holy Alliance in
Europe, while all the powers of reaction, political or ecclesiastical,
denounced him, and even the good Lord Aberdeen shrank from anything which
appeared to encourage revolution or to imply that the treaties of Vienna
were effete. The famous letters sent a thrill through Europe and made all
the powers of tyranny and iniquity tremble on their thrones. Seldom, if
ever, has a private manifesto had such effect. Combined with humanity
and zeal for righteousness, in Gladstone’s heart was a strong feeling
in favour of nationality, which he showed in promoting, as he did, the
emancipation of the Ionian Islands and their union with Greece.

Once launched in any career, Gladstone was sure to imbibe the full spirit
of the movement and lead the way. His Liberalism presently outstripped
that of the Whigs. As the most conspicuous seceder from the Tory camp,
he became the special object of antipathy to the Carlton Club, which was
fond of speaking of him as insane. A member of the Carlton was reported
to have said to a member of the Reform Club, “I am much better off for a
leader than you are, my leader is only an unscrupulous intriguer; yours
is a dangerous lunatic.” The story was current that Gladstone had bought
the whole contents of a toyshop and ordered them to be sent to his house.
This came to me once in so circumstantial a form, that I asked Lady
Russell whether she thought it could be true. Her answer was: “I begin to
think it is, for I have heard it every session for ten years.”

It must be owned that Gladstone was impulsive, and that impulsiveness was
the source not only of gibes to his enemies, but sometimes of anxiety
to his friends. “What I fear in Gladstone,” said Archbishop Tait, “is
his levity.” That he could easily throw off responsibility, I think I
have myself seen. But a man on whom so heavy a load of responsibility
rests, if he felt its full weight would be killed by it, and want of
conscientiousness is not to be inferred from lightness of heart.

It must have been, indeed it evidently was, much against the grain that
the great Minister of peace and economy went into the Crimean War. He
seems to have tried to persuade himself that the result, after all,
would be the bringing of Turkey under control. More substantial was his
resolution, as Chancellor of the Exchequer and holder of the purse, to
make the generation which waged the war, as far as possible, pay for
it by taxes, not cast the burden upon posterity by loans. Mr. Morley
is right in pointing to Lord Stratford de Redcliffe, then unhappily
Ambassador at Constantinople, as largely responsible for the war.
Besides his hatred of Russia, the ambassador had a personal grudge
against the Czar. But conspiring with him were Palmerston, intensely
anti-Russian, the father of Jingoism, perhaps not unwilling to replace
the pacific Lord Aberdeen; and the Emperor of the French, who wanted
glory to gild his usurped throne and a better social footing in the
circle of Royalties, which he gained by publicly embracing the British
Queen. In the middle of the war, Gladstone seceded from the Ministry,
reconstructed under Palmerston after its fall under Lord Aberdeen; not,
I suspect, so much because Palmerston failed to oppose Roebuck’s motion
of inquiry, against which it was useless to contend, as because he was
himself thoroughly sick of the war. I happened just then to be with him
one morning on business, at the conclusion of which he began to talk to
me, or rather to himself, about the situation, saying, in his Homeric
way, that if the Trojans would have given back Helen and her treasures,
his Homeric phrase for the Vienna terms, the Greeks would have raised
the siege of Troy. I had not had the advantage of being at the Greek
headquarters; but I could not help seeing in what mood the British people
were, and how hopeless it was then to talk to them about reasonable terms
of peace. Had Gladstone, instead of bolting in the middle of the war,
mustered courage, of which he generally had a superabundance, to oppose
it at the outset, he might have incurred obloquy at the moment, but he
would have found before long that, to use Salisbury’s metaphor reversed,
he had laid his money on the right horse. The grass had hardly grown over
the graves on the heights of Sebastopol before everybody condemned the
war.

After some turns of the political wheel, we find Gladstone Chancellor of
the Exchequer under Palmerston, making the fortune of that Government by
his masterly Budgets and splendid expositions of them in the House. If
Palmerston was the father of Jingoism, Gladstone was its arch-enemy. Of
the two things for which the Prime Minister said he lived, the extinction
of slavery, and the military defence of England, Gladstone looked not
with special zeal upon the first and very cautiously on the second.
Palmerston was a commercial Liberal, and he saw the immense value of such
a Chancellor of the Exchequer to his Government. But he was believed to
have said that, when he was gone, Gladstone would in two years turn their
majority of seventy into a minority, and in four be himself in a lunatic
asylum. It was known that he wanted as his successor in the leadership,
not Gladstone, but Cornewall Lewis. Very pleasant would have been the
situation of that highly respected scholar and statesman, leading the
House with Gladstone on his flank!

One fruit, distinctly Gladstonian, the Palmerston Government bore. That
fruit was the commercial treaty with France, negotiated through Cobden,
who shared, with Bright, Palmerston’s particular dislike. Cobden even
suspected that Palmerston would not have been sorry if the treaty had
miscarried, and that he betrayed his feeling in his bearing and language
towards France while negotiations were going on. There was nothing in the
treaty which could militate against a rational policy of free trade. Some
Liberals were inclined to demur to it, not because it was inconsistent
with free trade, but because it made us to some extent accomplices in
a stretch of prerogative on the part of the Emperor of the French, who
used the treaty-making power to accomplish, without the authority of his
Legislature, a change in the fiscal system of France.

The objections which some might perhaps take to Gladstone’s fiscal system
are, that it retains, though it reduces, the income tax, originally
imposed only for the purpose of shoring up the fiscal edifice while a
great change was taking place, with a promise that when the change should
be effected the tax should cease; and that it rests so much upon the
consumption of a few important articles. Suppose tobacco, for instance,
were to go out of fashion, as some sanitary authorities say it ought,
there would be a serious gap in the Budget.

The great master of finance, while he was dealing with it on the largest
scale, was conscientiously mindful of the public interest in the most
minute details of expenditure. He regarded public money as sacred, and
any waste of it, however trifling, as criminal. His biographer has given
us amusing instances of his conscientious parsimony in small things. In
one case, however, his parsimony was misplaced. He grudged the judges
their large salaries. Public money cannot be better expended than in
taking the best men from the Bar to the Bench. The expedition of business
assured by their command of their courts would in itself be worth the
price, apart from the security for justice.

Among other relics of Gladstone’s Conservatism was his clinging to
his seat in Parliament for the University of Oxford, in which he was
supported by a rather strange and precarious alliance of High Churchmen
voting for the High Churchman and Liberals voting for the progressive
Liberal; a combination the strain upon which became extreme when
Palmerston, in whose Government Gladstone was, made Shaftesbury, the lay
leader of the Evangelicals, his Minister for ecclesiastical affairs, and
allowed him to go on promoting Low Churchmen. But the Tories never made
a greater mistake than the ejection of Gladstone from his Oxford seat.
By sending him from Oxford to Liverpool, they, to use his own phrase,
unmuzzled him. It is true, I believe, that, on the day of his rejection,
the Bible fell out of the hand of the statue of James I. on the gate
tower of the Bodleian, an omen of the separation of the Church from
the State. The stone being very friable, the fall was not miraculous;
although it was curiously apt.

It was a mistake, however, to say that the disestablishment of the Irish
Church had been an issue in the Oxford election. I compared notes on that
point with my friend, Sir John Mowbray, who had been the chairman of
the Tory committee, and agreed with me in saying that the Irish Church
was not an issue. Gladstone took up disestablishment for Ireland, which
had been long on the Liberal programme, when he had been thrown out of
power by Disraeli on the question of extension of the suffrage. He was
ambitious, happily for the country; and he wanted to recover the means of
doing great things. His admirers need not shrink from that avowal. But he
was also sincerely convinced, as well he might be, and as all Liberals
were, that the State Church of Ireland was about the most utterly
indefensible institution in the world. He framed his measure, expounded
it, and carried it through Parliament, in his usual masterly way; and the
Anglican Church in Ireland, it is believed, has felt herself the better
for the operation ever since. Gladstone’s High Church friends in England
forgave him with a sigh. The State Church of Ireland was separate from
that of England, and was Low Church and opposed to everything Catholic
from local antagonism to the Church of Rome.

Before his junction with the Liberals, Gladstone had deprecated the
interference of Parliament with the colleges of Oxford and Cambridge on
the ground that they were private foundations with which Parliament had
no right to interfere; and when he brought on his Oxford Reform Bill he
had to perform one of his feats of retrospective explanation. But, as
usual, he did his work well, though he still left more to be done. By his
legislation, clerical as his sympathies were, the universities were set
free from clericism, reopened to science, and reunited to the nation.
Our Oxford Bill was badly cut up in the Commons, some misguided Liberals
playing into the hands of Disraeli, who of course meant mischief. When
the Bill in its mutilated state went up to the Lords, it appeared that
the Tory leader, Lord Derby, though he felt bound to speak against
the Ministerial measure, was not really prepared to throw it out,
and that consequently there had not been a whip upon his side. It was
then suggested to the Ministers in charge of the Bill that the Commons
amendments might be thrown out in the Lords, and the Bill might be sent
back in its original state to the Commons, where our friends might by
that time be better advised, and the Opposition benches, as it was the
end of the session, might be thinned. Russell, then the leader in the
Commons, condemned the suggestion as most rash and not unlikely to be the
death of the Bill. Gladstone was lying sick of an attack, strange to say,
of the chicken-pox. On appeal to him, the signal for battle was at once
held out, as I felt sure it would be; and the result was just what we
desired.

In connection with this legislative dealing with the endowed colleges of
Oxford and Cambridge, the principle may be said to have been practically
adopted, though not formally laid down, that, after the lapse of fifty
years from the death of a Founder, the Legislature may deal freely with
all his regulations, saving the main object of his foundation. The
assumption that the wills of Founders were for ever inviolable, in spite
of the lapse of ages and the total change of circumstances, had led, as
it must always lead, to a perpetuity of perversion and to the defeat of
the main object of the Founders themselves.

He who in his youth had won the favour of the most bigoted of Tory
patrons and entrance to public life by his rhetorical opposition to the
Reform Bill of 1832, was destined in his maturity to father a Reform
Bill at the thought of which the reformers of 1832 would have shuddered.
The Reform Bill of 1832 had enfranchised the middle-class, but by
abolishing the scot-and-lot borough, had deprived the working-class of
the little representation which it possessed. Moreover, the legislative
preponderance of the landed interest, which had the House of Lords to
itself and a large section of the Commons, was too great for the general


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