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prosperity to regions ruined by long misgovern-
ment, while constituting an effective barrier to
the advance of Russia, The jealousies of the
Powers throw obstacles in the way of this policy,
but it is a safe policy for England, and offers the
best hope for the peoples of the East,

The facts just noted prove that he possessed

William Ewart Gladstone 447

and exerted a capacity for initiative in foreign as
well as in domestic affairs. In the Neapolitan case,
in the Alabama case, in the Bulgarian case, he
acted from his own convictions, with no previous
suggestion of encouragement from his party ; and
in the last-mentioned instance he took a course
which did not at the moment promise any political
gain, and which seemed to the English political
world so novel and even startling that no ordinary
statesman would have ventured on it.

His courage was indeed one of the most
striking parts of the man.^ It was not the rash-
ness of an impetuous nature, for, impetuous as
he was when stirred by some sudden excitement,
he showed an Ulyssean caution whenever he took a
deliberate survey of the conditions that surrounded
him. It was the proud self-confidence of a strong
character, which was willing to risk fame and
fortune in pursuing a course it had once resolved
upon ; a character which had faith in its own
conclusions, and in the success of a cause conse-
crated by principle ; a character which obstacles
did not affright, but rather roused to a higher
combative energy, b'ew English statesmen have
done anything so bold as was Mr. ("dadstonc^'s

' His physical courage \va> im less evident than hi- nuTal. I'nr two
or three years his life was tl'.reaieiied, and j"ilicenuii were idd i>tt lo
guard him wherever he went. He di>liivtd this pri'iectiMU -.1 nuicli
(though the Home Ot'tire thought it iiei-es^ary 1 that he us<-d toescajie ti..m
the House of Commons l.y a little-Ire juented exit, give ilie ['li>-(Mnen the
slip, and stroll home to his residence along the Thame- I'ml'ankinent in
the small hours of the morning. l''ear was not in liis Tiature,

44 8 Biographical Studies

declaration for Irish Home Rule in 1886. He
took not only his political power but the fame
and credit of his whole past life in his hand when
he set out on this new journey at seventy-seven
years of age ; for it was quite possible that the
great bulk of his party might refuse to follow
him, and he be left exposed to derision as the
chief of an insignificant group. As it happened,
the bulk of the party did follow him, though
many of the most influential refused to do so.
But neither he nor any one else could have fore-
told this when his intentions were first announced.

We may now, before passing away from the
public side of Mr. Gladstone's career, return
for a moment to the opposite views of his
character which were indicated some pages back.
He was accused of sophistry, of unwisdom, of
want of patriotism, of lust for power. Though it
is difficult to sift these charges without discussing
the conduct which gave rise to them, a task impos-
sible here, each of them must be briefly examined.

The first charge is the most plausible. His in-
genuity in discovering arguments and stating fine
verbal distinctions, his subtlety in discriminating
between views or courses apparently similar, were
excessive, and invited misconstruction. He had a
tendency to persuade himself, quite unconsciously,
that the course he desired to take was a course
which the public interest required. His acuteness
soon found reasons for that course ; the warmth

William Ewart Gladstone 449

of his emotions c:n forced the reasons. It was a
dangerous tendency, but it does not impeach his
honesty of purpose, for the intluence which his
predilections unconsciously exerted upon his
judgment appeared also in his theological and
literary inquiries. I can recall no instance; in
which he wilfully misstated a fact, or simulated a
feeling, or used an argument which he knew to be
unsound, or resorted to that familiar device of the
common sort of debaters, the wilful misrepresenta-
tion of an opponent's words. He did not, as does
the sophist, attempt " to m^ike the worse appear
the better reason."

His wisdom will be differently judged by
those who condemn or approve the chief acts of
his policy. But it deserves to be noted that all
the legislation he passed, even the measures
which, like the Irish Church Disestablishment
Bill, exposed him to angry attacks at the time,
have now been approved by the all but unani-
mous judgment of iMiglishmen.' The same
may be said of two acts which brought much
invective upon him his settlement ot the
Alabania claims, one of the wisest strok(;s ot
foreign policy ever accomplished by a i5riiish
minister, and his protest against a support ot the
Turks in and afte,r 1876. I i)ass by Irish 1 lome

' Thr laU' I'n tc^tant Arclil.ishop <A Dulilin ^.li.l ni>osM! li>iinKtU
had proval a hlc^siii- io his Church ; ;'.nd ihis wduKl sccin to ho now the
general \icw of \x\^\\ l'r()tc>tanl>.

2 c;

45 o Biographical Studies

Rule, because the wisdom of the course he took
must be tested by results that are yet unborn,
as I pass by his Egyptian policy in 1882-85,
because it cannot be fairly judged till the facts
have been fully made public. He may be open
to blame for his participation in the Crimean War,
for his mistaken view of the American Civil War,
for his neglect of the Transvaal question when
he took office in 1880, and for his omission during
his earlier career to recognise the gravity of Irish
disaffection and to study its causes. I have heard
him lament that he had not twenty years earlier
given the same attention to that abiding source of
the difficulties of England which he gave from 1866
onwards. If in these instances he erred, it must be
remembered that he erred in company with nine-
tenths of British statesmen in both political parties.
Their admiration did not prevent his friends
from noting tendencies which sometimes led him
to miscalculate the forces he had to deal with.
Being, like the younger Pitt, extremely sanguine,
he was prone to underrate difficulties. Hopeful-
ness is a splendid quality. It is both the child
and the parent of faith. Without it neither Mr.
Pitt nor Mr. Gladstone could have done what they
did. But it disposes its possessor not sufficiently
to allow for the dulness or the prejudice of others.
So too the intensity of Mr, Gladstone's own feeling
made him fail to realise how many of his fellow-
countrymen did not know of, or were not shocked

William Ewart Gladstone 45 i

by, acts of cruelty and injustice which had roused
his indignation. If his hatred of ostentation
suffered him to perceive that a nation, how-
ever well assured of the reality of its power
and influence in the world, may also desire that
this power and influence should be asserted and
proclaimed to other nations, he refused to humour
that desire. He had a contempt for what is
called " playing to the gallery," with a deep sense
of the danger of stimulating the passions which
lead to aggression and w^ar. To national honour,
as he conceived it, national righteousness was vital.
His spirit was that of Lowell's lines

I love my country so as only tiiey

Who love a mother fit to die for may.

I love her old renown, her ancient fame :

What better proof than that I loathe her shame r

It was this attitude that brought on him the
charge of wanting patriotism, a charge; first. I think,
insinuated at the time of the .4laba))ia arl)itraiion,
renewed when in 1876 he was accused of l)t:fri(,-nd-
ing Russia and neglecting '' British interests," and
sedulously repeated thereafter, akhotigh in those
two instances the result had prov(xl him right.
There was this much to give a kind of colour to
the charge, that he had scruptilously, j)erhaps too
scrupulotisly, refrained fVom extolling the material
power of England, preferring to insist upon her
responsibilities ; that he was known to regret the
constant increaseof naval and military expenditure.

452 Biographical Studies

and that he had several times taken a course
which honour and prudence seemed to him to
recommend, but which had offended the patriots
of the music-halls. But it was an unjust charge,
for no man had a warmer pride in England, a
higher sense of her greatness and her mission.

Was he too fond of power ? Like other
strong men, he enjoyed it.^ That to secure it
he ever either adopted or renounced an opinion,
those who understood and watched the workings
of his mind could not believe. He was not only
too conscientious, but too proud to forego any of
his convictions, and there were not a few occasions
when he took a course which considerations of
personal interest would have forbidden. He did
not love office, feeling himself happier without its
cares, and when he accepted it did so, I think, in
the belief that there was work to be done which
it was laid upon him individually to do. His
changes sprang naturally from the development of
his own ideas or (as in the case of his Irish policy)
from the teaching of facts. He sometimes so far
yielded to his colleagues as to sanction steps which
he thought not the best, and may in this have
sometimes erred ; yet compromises are unavoid-
able, for no Cabinet could be kept together if its

1 His abdication of leadership in 1875 was meant to be final, though
when the urgency of Eastern affairs had drawn him back into strife, the
old ardour revived, and he resumed the place of I'rime Minister in iSSo.
It has been often said that he would have done better to retire from public
life in 1880, or in 18S5, yet the most striking pi'oofs both of his C(.)urage
and of his physical energy were given in the latest part of his career.

William Ewart Gladstone 453

members did not now and then, in matters not
essential, yield to one another. When all the facts
of his life come to be known, instances may be dis-
closed in which he was the victim of his own casu-
istry or of his deference to l^eel's maxim that a
minister should not avow a change of \-iew until
the time has come to give effect to it. Pnit it will
also be made clear that he strove to obey his con-
science, that he acted with an ever-present sense
of his responsibility to the Almighty, and th;u he
was animated by an unselfish enthusiasm for
humanity, enlightenment, and freedom.

Whether he was a good judge of men was
a question much discussed among his friends.
With all his astuteness, he was in some ways
curiously simple ; with all his caution, he was by
nature unsuspicious, disposed to treat all men as
honest till they gave him strong reasons for think-
ing otherwise. Those who [)rotessed sympathy
with his views and aims sometimes succ<*(-ded
in inspiring more confidence than tht'y deserved.
But where this perturbing intluenc(; was absent
he showed plenty of insight, and would pass
shrewd judgments on the politicians around him.
permitting neither their b(,:ha\iour towards him-
self nor his opinion of th<Mr moral character to
affect his estimat(^ of th(Mr talents. in making
appointments in the Civil Service, or in tlu;
Established Church, he rose to a far higher
standard of public duty than rahnersti)n (ir

454 Biographical Studies

Disraeli had reached or cared to reach, taking
great pains to find the fittest men, and giving
little weight to political considerations/

His public demeanour, and especially his
excitability and vehemence of speech, made
people attribute to him an overbearing disposi-
tion and an irritable temper. In private one did
not find these faults. Masterful he certainly
was, both in speech and in action. His ardent
manner, the intensity of his look, the dialectical
vigour with which he pressed an argument, were
apt to awe people who knew him but slightly,
and make them abandon resistance. A gifted
though somewhat erratic politician of long bygone
days told me how he once fared when he had risen
in the House of Commons to censure some act of
his leader. " I had not gone on three minutes
when Gladstone turned round and gazed at me
so that I had to sit down in the middle of a
sentence. I could not help it. There was no
standing his eye." But he neither meant nor
wished to beat down his opponents by mere
authority. One who knew him as few people
did observed to me, " When you are arguing
with Mr. Gladstone, you must never let him
think he has convinced you unless you are really
convinced. Persist in repeating your view, and
if you are unable to cope with him in skill of

^ For instance, he recommended Dr. Stubbs for a bishopric and Sir
John liolker for a lord justiceship, knowing both of tliem to be Tories.

William Ewart Gladstone 455

fence, say bluntly that for all his ingenuity and
authority you think he is wrong, and you retain
your own opinion. If he respects you as a man
who knows something of the subject, lu; will be
impressed by your opinion, and it will afterwards
have due weight w-ith him." In his own Cabinet
he was willing to listen patiently to everybody's
views, and, indeed, in the judgment of some of
his colleagues, was not, at least in his later
years, sufficiently strenuous in asserting and
holding to his own. It is no secret that some
of the most important decisions of the ministry
of 1880-85 were taken against his judgment,
though, when they had been adopted, he was, of
course, bound to defend them in Parliament as if
they had received his individual approval. Nor,
though tenacious, did he bear malice against those
who had baftled him. He would exert his full
force to get his c^wn way, but ii he could not
get it, accepted the position with good tempeT.^
He w'as too proud to be vindiciix'e. to(^ com-
pletely master of himself to be betrayc;d into
angry words. Impatient he might sometimes
be imder n. nervous strain, but nc^ver rude' or
rough. It was less easy to detc^rmine whether
he was overmindful of injuries, but those \\h()
had watched him most clos(;lv held that me-re

' His respect and rcL;aril l^r Mr. l'>iii;hi wen- ciitiu-ly un.itlntcil tiy tl.c
fact thai Mr. ]'.ri_L;ht"s opposiiiun to the Il..nic Kule Hiil ><( iSSi, ha.j 1 rvv.
the chief cause of its defeat.

45 6 Biographical Studies

opposition or even insult did not leave a per-
manent sting, and that the only thing he could
not forget or forgive was faithlessness. Himself
a model of loyalty to his colleagues, he followed
his favourite poet in consigning the traditori
to the lowest pit, although, like all statesmen,
he often found himself obliged to work with
those whom he distrusted.

He was less sensitive than Peel, as appeared
from his attitude toward his two chief opponents.
Disraeli's attacks did not seem to gall him,
perhaps because, although he recognised the
ability and admired the courage of his adversary,
he did not respect Disraeli's character, remem-
bering his behaviour to Peel, and thinking him
habitually untruthful. Yet he never attacked
Disraeli personally. There was another of his
opponents of whom he entertained a specially
unfavourable opinion, but no one could have
told from his speeches what that opinion was.
Against Lord Salisbury, his chief antagonist
from 1 88 1 onwards, he showed no resentment,
though Lord Salisbury had more than once
spoken discourteously of him. In 1890 he re-
marked to me apropos of some attack, " I have
never felt angry at what Salisbury has said about
me. His mother was very kind to me when I
was quite a young man, and I remember Salis-
bury as a little fellow in a red frock rolling about
on the ottoman."

William Ewart Gladstone 457

That his temper was naturally hot. no one
who looked at him could doubt. But he had it
in such tight control, and it was so free from
anything acrid or malignant, that it had become
a good temper, worthy of a fme nature. However
vehement his expressions, they did not wound
or humiliate, and those younger men who had to
deal with him were not afraid of a sharj) answer or
an impatient repulse. He was cast in too large
a mould to have the pettiness of rufiled vanity
or to abuse his predominance by treating any
one as an inferior. His manners were the
manners of the old time, easy but stately. Like
his oratory, they were in what ^Matthew Arnold
used to call the grand style ; and the contrast in
this respect between hini and some ot thi^se
who crossed swords with him in literary or
theological controversy was a[)parent. His in-
tellectual generosity was a ])art of the same
largeness of nature. He cordially acknowledged
his indebtedness to those who helped him in
any piece of work, receiv(,;d their suggestions
candidly, even when opposed to his own precon-
ceived notions, did not hesitate to con less a
mistake. Those who know the abundance ol
their resources, and have coiKjuercd tame, can
doubtless afford to be g(MU'roiis. Julius Crsar
was, and George WashingKMi, and so, in a
different sphere, were Isaac Xcwton and Charles
Darwin. ])Ut the instances to the contrary are

45 8 Biographical Studies

so numerous that one may say of magnanimity
that it is among the rarest as well as the finest
ornaments of character.

The essential dignity of Mr. Gladstone's nature
was never better seen than during the last few
years of his life, after he had finally retired
(in 1894) from public life. He indulged in no
vain regrets, nor was there any foundation for
the rumours, so often circulated, that he thought
of re-entering the arena of strife. He spoke
with no bitterness of those who had opposed,
and sometimes foiled, him in the past. He
gave vent to no criticisms of those who from
time to time filled the place that had been
his in the government of the country or the
leadership of his party. Although his opinion
on current questions was frequently solicited, he
scarcely ever allowed it to be known, lest it
should embarrass his successors in the leadership
of the party, and never himself addressed the
nation, except (as already mentioned) on behalf
of what he deemed a sacred cause, altogether
above party -the discharge by Britain of her
duty to the victims of the Turk. As soon as an
operation for cataract had enabled him to resume
his habit of working for seven hours a day, he
devoted himself with his old ardour to the pre-
paration of an edition of Bishop Butler's works,
resumed his multifarious reading, planned (as
he told me in 1896) a treatise on the Olympian

William Evvart Gladstone 4.59

religion, and filled up the interstices of his work-
ing-time with studies on Homer which he had been
previously unable to complete. No trace of the
moroseness of old age appeared in his manners or
his conversation, nor did he, though profoundly
grieved at some of the events which he witnessed,
and owning himself disappointed at the slow ad-
vance made by a cause dear to him, appear less
hopeful than in earlier days of the general pro-
gress of the world, or less confident in the bene-
ficent power of freedom to promote the happiness
of his country. The stately simplicity which had
always charmed those who saw him in private,
seemed more beautiful than ever in this quiet
evening of a long and sultry day. His intellec-
tual powers were unimpaired, his thirst for know-
ledge undiminished. But a placid stillness had
fallen upon him and his household ; and in seeing
the tide of his life begin slowl\" to ebb, one
thought of the lines of his illustrious cont('m[)orary
and friend :

Such a lidc as movin^^ sccnis aslocii.
Too full for soutul aud loam,
When that which drew from out the 1i()uih11css d.eej)
Turns again home.

Adding to his grace of manner a memory
of extraordinary strength and cpnckness and an
amazing vivacity and variety of mental iorce, any
one can understand how fascinating Mr. ( dad-
stone was in society. He enjoyed ii to the last.

460 Biographical Studies

talking as earnestly and joyously at eighty-seven as
he had done at twenty on every topic that came
up, and exerting himself with equal zest whether
his interlocutor was an archbishop or a youthful
curate. Though his party used to think that he
overvalued the political influence of the great
families, allotting them rather more than their share
of honours and appointments, no one was person-
ally more free from that taint of snobbishness
which is frequently charged upon Englishmen.
He gave the best he had to everybody alike,
paying to men of learning and letters a respect
which in England they seldom receive from the
magnates who lead society. And although he
was scrupulously observant of the rules of pre-
cedence and conventions of social life, it was
easy to see that neither rank nor wealth had
that importance in his eyes which the latter
nowadays commands. Dispensing titles and
decorations with a liberal hand, his pride always
refused such so-called honours for himself.

It was often said of him that he lacked
humour ; but this was only so far true that he
was apt to throw into small matters more force
and moral earnestness than were needed, and to
honour with a refutation opponents whom a
little light sarcasm would have better reduced
to their insignificance.^ In private he was wont

1 Usually over-anxious to vindicate his own consistency, he showed on
one occasion a capacity for recognising the humorous side of a position

William Ewart Gladstone 461

both to ttill and to enjoy good stories ; while
in ParHament, though his tone was g(;nerally
earnest, he could display such effective powers
of banter and ridicule as to make people
wonder why they were so rarely put forth.
Much of what passes in London for humour
is mere cynicism, and he hated cynicism so
heartily as to dislike even humour when it
had a cynical tlavour. Wit he enjoyed, but
did not produce. The turn of his mind was
not to brevity, point, and condensation. Me
sometimes struck off a telling phrase, but seldom
polished an epigram. His conversation was
luminous rather than sparkling ; you were
interested and instructed v/hile you listened,
but it was not so much the phrases as the
general effect that dwelt in your nu-mory.
An acute observer once said to me that Mr.
Gladstone showed in argument a knack ot hitting
the nail not quite on the h(;ad. The criticism
was so far just that he was less certain to go
straip-ht to the vital issue in a c()nlro\-ersv than
one expected from his force and keenness.

After the tleath of Thomas CarlyK- he- was

intM whic!; lie had ln-cii l)i..u_L;in. In a ^!^l^^;< uhi^li ,.i - r m iSoi
frcquciU references lia.l been made li> a :^ .naer -ju eel; in ui.ieli he li.ui
lironniuice.l a hit^hly-cwloine.l iane.;yric w.nw l!;e ('!i;:i,l! d 1 j::-.! uai n.
Wales, the (li.-.estali!i-hnienl nt whiiii lif had -.ih-e>;:a'n! iy ieii-nic wilhr.-
tn Mippi.n. lie replied, " Many irleren-e. iia\e i.<eii ii.adr M a !;
speech of mine "U ihi^Mihied, ;uai 1 am :. : pi'-; ': ; : d- ny ;1'. !'. \v. ih.-.i
speech, when closely srriinn;M-d, there may appe u t.i i>e : i.-,en- m .m<
element of exa-i;" Tiie ll<ni^e d.i^vdve: in l.i::-!iiei, .mi ;.
farther reference \va> ma le to the i.ldi -jieecii.

462 Biographical Studies

probably the best talker in London, and a talker
in one respect more agreeable than either Carlyle
or Macaulay, inasmuch as he was no less ready
to listen than to speak, and never wearied the
dinner- table by a monologue. His simplicity,
his spontaneity, his geniality and courtesy, as well
as the fund of knowledge and of personal recol-
lections at his command, made him so popular
in society that his opponents used to say it was
dangerous to meet him, because one might be
forced to leave off hating him. He was, per-
haps, too prone to go on talking upon the
subject which filled his mind at the moment ;
nor was it easy to divert his attention to some-
thing else which others might deem more im-
portant.-^ Those who stayed with him in the
same country house sometimes complained that
the perpetual display of force and eagerness
tired them, as one tires of watching the rush
of Niagara. His guests, however, did not feel
this, for his own home life was quiet and smooth.
He read and wrote a good many hours daily, but
never sat up late, almost always slept soundly,
never seemed oppressed or driven to strain
his strength. With all his impetuosity, he

^ Ilis Oxford contemporarj' and friend, the late Mr. Milnes Gaskell, told
me that when Mr. Gladstone was undergoing his viva voce examination for
his degree, the examiner, satisfied with the candidate's answers on a par-

Online LibraryJames Bryce BryceStudies in contemporary biography → online text (page 27 of 29)