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The life of William Ewart Gladstone, Volume 2 online

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' I had grown to the house ' he says (April 15), ' having lived
more time in it than in any other since I was born, and
mainly by reason of all that was done in it.' To Mrs. Glad-
stone he wrote (Feb. 28) : —

I do not wonder that you feel parting from the house will be a
blow and a pang. It is nothing less than this to me, but it must
be faced and you will face it gallantly. So much has occurred
there ; and thus it is leaving not the house only but the neigh-
bourhood, where I have been with you for more than thirty-five
years, and altogether nearly forty. The truth is that innocently
and from special causes we have on the whole been housed better
than according to our circumstances. All along Carlton House



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CHANGE OF ABODE 131

Terrace I think you would not find any one with less than £20,000 CHAP,
a year, and most of them with much more.

He sold his collection of china and his Wedgwood wara 1
He despatched his books to Hawarden. He can hardly have
resolved on retirement that should be effective and complete,
or else he must have arranged to quit the House of Commons,
In his diary he entered (March 30, 1875) : —

Views about the future and remaining section of my life.
In outline they are undefined but in substance definite. The
main point is this: that setting aside exceptional circumstances
which would have to provide for themselves, my prospective work
is not parliamentary. My ties will be slight to an assembly with
whose tendencies I am little in harmony at the present time ; nor
can I flatter myself that what is called the public out of doors is
more sympathetic. But there is much to be done with the pen,
all bearing much on high and sacred ends, for even Homeric study
as I view it, is in this very sense of high importance ; and what
lies beyond this is concerned directly with the great subject of
belief.

To Mrs. Gladstone he wrote (May 19, 1875) : — ' I am feeling
as it were my way towards the purposes of the rest of my
life. It will I dare say clear by degrees. For the general
business of the country, my ideas and temper are thoroughly
out of harmony with the ideas and temper of the day, especi-
ally as they are represented in London/

The movement of negation had been in full swing for a
dozen years before the force and weight of it had, amid the
stress and absorption of daily business, reached his inner
mind. In May 1872, in a speech as member of the council
of King's College — c averse from, and little used to platform
speaking/ as he described himself to Manning — he used some
strong language about those who promulgate as science what
is not science and as religion what is not religion ; but he
took care to sever himself from the recent Roman decrees,
which 'seemed much to resemble the proclamation of a

1 For a detailed description of this collection, see Times, June 21, 26,
1875. His London house for the next five years was 73 Harley Street.



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132 VATICANISM

BOOK perpetual war against the progress and the movement of the
, ' /human mind.' 1 In December 1872, he caused a marked

1876 - sensation by an address at Liverpool, in which he spoke of
Strauss's book on New and Old Belief. 2 He had become a
member of the metaphysical society, where eminent repre-
sentatives of every faith and of no faith discussed every
aspect of the foundations of human creeds. He was of too
masculine and energetic a cast of mind to feel mere shock as
he listened to Huxley, Tyndall, Clifford, Harrison, firmly
arguing materialism or positivism or agnosticism or other
unhistoric forms. That his whole soul was energetically
oppugnant, I need not say. His reverence for freedom never
wavered. He wrote to an editor who had criticised his
Liverpool address (Jan. 3, 1873) : —

In the interest of my address, I wish to say that not a word to
my knowledge fell from me limiting the range of free inquiry, nor
have I ever supposed St. Paul to say anything so silly as * Prove
all things: but some you must not prove.' Doubtless some
obscurity of mine, I know not what, has led to an error into
which the able writer of the article has fallen, not alone.

To the Duke of Argyll he wrote : —

Dec. 28, 72. — I have been touching upon deep and dangerous
subjects at Liverpool. Whether I went beyond my province many
may doubt. But of the extent of the mischief I do not doubt any
more than of its virulence. All that I hear from day to day con-
vinces me of the extension of this strange epidemic, for it is not,
considering how it comes, worthy of being called a rational or
scientific process. Be it however, what it may, we politicians are
children playing with toys in comparison to that great work of
and for manhood, which has to be done, and will yet be done, in
restoring belief.

1 Guardian, May 22, 1872. might learn how the true gentleman

2 In the preface to his fourth speaks of one whom he cannot but
edition StrausB said, ' My country- admit to have devoted a long life to
men might learn from the foreigner the search of truth, and allow to have
how the earnest conscientious states- sacrificed every personal prospect to
man recognises a similar quality in an the promulgation of that which ap-
author whose influence he neverthe- peared to him as such.'

less considers to be dangerous. They



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LITERATURE OF NEGATION 133

Sir Robert Morier sent him from Munich Frohscham-
mer's reply to Strauss. ' If I understand him aright/ said <
Mr. Gladstone, ' he is a unitarian, minus Miracle and In- JB " m ^
spiration/ The whole book seemed to him able, honest, .
and diligent : —

But, he adds, I am one of those who think the Christianity of
Frohschammer (as I have described it) is like a tall tree scientifi-
cally prepared for the saw by the preliminary process, well known
to wood-cutters, of clearing away with the axe all projecting
roots, which as long as they remained rendered the final operation
impossible. This first process leaves the tree standing in a very
trim condition, much more mathematical in form, as it is more near
a cylinder, than in its native state. The business of the saw, when
the horse and the man arrive, is soon accomplished.

To his article on ritualism he prefixed as motto two short
lines of Pindar, about days that are to come being wisest
witnesses. 1 In spite of retreat, it was impossible that he
should forget the vast responsibility imposed upon him,
both by his gifts and by the popular ascendency into which
they had brought him. His was not the retreat of self-
indulgence, and the days that were to come speedily brought
him duties that were to bear him far into regions of storm
and conflict now unforeseen. Meanwhile, with occasional
visits to Westminster, he lived even and industrious days at
Hawarden, felling trees, working at Oreek mythology and
ethnology, delighting in the woods and glades of the park,
above all delighting in the tranquillity of his * temple of
peace/ Besides being the bookroom of a student, this was
still a far-shining beacon in the popular eye. If sages,
scholars, heroes, saints, with time's serene and hallowed
gravity looked upon him from their shelves, yet loud echoes
sounded in his ear from roaring surges of an outer world —
from turbid ebb and flow of all the struggle and clamorous
hopes and half-blind tnysterious instincts of the nations.

1 Olymp. i. 53.



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CHAPTER III

THE OCTAGON

It is easy in the world to live after the world's opinion ; it is easy
in solitude to live after our own ; but the great man is he who in
the midst of the crowd keeps with perfect sweetness the indepen-
dence of solitude. — Emerson.

^^ K Near the end of the eighties,

Mr. Gladstone built for him-
self a fire-proof room at the
north-western corner of his
temple of peace. In this
Octagon — ' a necessity of my
profession and history* — he
stored the letters and papers
of his crowded lifetima He
estimated the 'selected letters'
addressed to himself at sixty
thousand, and the mass of
other letters that found their
way into the Octagon without
selection, along with more
than a score of large folios
containing copies of his own
to other people, run to several
tens of thousands more. There are between five and six
hundred holographs from the Queen, afterward designated
by him in his will to be an heirloom. ' It may amuse you/
he told Lord Granville, who always wrote the shortest letters
that ever were known, 'to learn that your letters to me
weigh fifteen pounds and a-half/ Probably no single human
being ever received sixty thousand letters worth keeping, and
of these it is safe to say that three-fourths of them might

134



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CORRESPONDENCE 135

as well have been destroyed as soon as read, including a CHAP,
certain portion that might just as well never have h*«™ *
either written or read. This slightly improvident thrift
recalls the jealous persons who will not suffer the British
Museum to burn its rubbish, on the curious principle that
what was never worth producing must always be worth
preserving.

As for Mr. Gladstone's own share, he explains his case in
what he says (1865) to the widow of Mr. Cobden : — ' Of the
kind of correspondence properly called private and personal,
I have none : indeed for many long long years it has been
out of my power, except in very few instances, to keep up
this kind of correspondence.' The exceptions are few
indeed. Half of the contents of this crowded little chamber
are papers of business, — nightly letters to the Queen,
telling her what had gone on in the House and what sort
of figure had been cut by its debaters, reports of meetings
of the cabinet, memoranda for such meetings, notes for
speeches, endless correspondence with colleagues, and all the
other operations incident to the laborious machinery of
government in the charge of a master engineer. In this
region of his true calling, all is order, precision, persistency,
and the firmness and ease of the strong. For many years in
that department all was action, strength, success. Church
leaders again contribute considerable piles, but these, too,
mainly concern church business for the hour, and the
business has now even for adherents naturally fallen out
of memory. The more miscellaneous papers are different.
There a long and strange procession flits before our eye —
dreams, 'little bustling passions/ trivialities, floating like a
myriad motes into the dim Octagon. We are reminded how
vast a space in our ever-dwindling days is consumed by
social invitations and the discovery of polite reasons for
evading them. 'Bona verba' is a significant docket prompt-
ing the secretary's reply. It is borne in upon us how
grievously the burden of man's lot is aggravated by slovenly
dates, illegible signatures, and forgetfulness that writing is
something meant to be read. There is a mountain of letters
from one correspondent so mercilessly written, that the



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136 THE OCTAGON

BOOK labour of deciphering them would hardly be justified, even
* , if one could hope to recover traces of the second decade of
Livy or the missing books of the Annals of Tacitus. Foreign
rulers, Indian potentates, American citizens, all write to the
most conspicuous Englishman of the time. In an unformed
hand a little princess thanks him for a photograph, and says,
' I am so glad to have seen you at Windsor, and will try and
remember you all my life.' There are bushels of letters whose
writers ' say all that they conscientiously can ' for applicants,
nominees, and candidates in every line where a minister is
supposed to be able to lend a helping hand if he likes.
Actors send him boxes, queens of song press on him lozenges
infallible for the vocal cords, fine ladies dabbling in Italian
seek counsel, and not far off, what is more to the point, are
letters from young men thanking him for his generosity in
aiding them to go to Oxford with a view to taking orders.
Charles Eean, a popular tragedian of those times, and son
of one more famous still, thanks Mr. Gladstone for his speech
at a complimentary dinner to him (March 1862), and says
how proud he is to remember that they were boys at Eton
together. Then there are the erudite but unfruitful corre-
spondents, with the melancholy docket, ' Learning thrown
away'\ and charming professors of poetry — as though the
alto should insist on singing the basso part — impressively
assure him how dreadfully uneasy they are about the
weakness of our army, and how horribly low upon the
security of our Indian* Empire.

Some have said that to peruse the papers of a prime
minister must lower one's view of human nature. Perhaps
this may partly depend upon the prime minister, partly on
the height of our expectations from our fellow-creatures. If
such a survey is in any degree depressing, there can be no
reason why it should be more so than any other large
inspection of human life. In the Octagon as in any similar
repository we come upon plenty of baffled hopes, chagrin in
finding a career really ended, absurd over-estimates of self,
over-estimates of the good chances of the world, vexation
of those who have chosen the wrong path at the unfair good
luck of those who have chosen the right. We may smile,



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VARIETY OF CORRESPONDENCE 137

but surely in good-natured sympathy, at the zeal of poor CHAP
ladies for a post for husbands of unrecognised merit, or at -
the importunity of younger sons with large families but
inadequate meana Harmless things of this sort need not
turn us into satirists or cynics.

All the riddles of the great public world are there — why
one man becomes prime minister, while another who ran
him close at school and college ends with a pension from the
civil list ; why the same stable and same pedigree produce
a Derby winner and the poor cab-hack ; why one falls back
almost from the start, while another runs famously until the
corner, and then his vaulting ambition dwindles to anyplace
of ' moderate work and decent emolument ' ; how new com-
petitors swim into the field of vision ; how suns rise and set
with no return, and vanish as if they had never been suns
but only ghosts or bubbles ; how in these time-worn papers
successive generations of active men run chequered courses,
group following group, names blazing into the fame of a day,
then like the spangles of a rocket expiring. Men write
accepting posts, all excitement, full of hope and assurance
of good work, and then we remember how quickly clouds
came and the office ended in failure and torment. In the
next pigeon-hole just in the same way is the radiant author's
gift of his book that after all fell still-born. One need not
be prime minister to know the eternal tale of the vanity of
human wishes, or how men move,

Thundering like ramping hosts of warrior horse
To throw that faint thin line upon the shore. 1

Nor are things all one way. If we find Mr. Gladstone
writing to the Queen of ' the excellent parliamentary open-
ing' of this man or that, who made the worst possible
parliamontary close, there is the set-off of dull unmarked
beginnings to careers that proved brilliant or weighty. If
there are a thousand absurdities in the form of claims for
place ajid honours and steps in the peerage, all the way up the
ladder; from a branch post-office to the coveted blue riband
of the garter, 'with no infernal nonsense of merit about it/

, l George Meredith.



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138 N THE OCTAGON

BOOK there are, on the other hand, not a few modest and con-
v ~ ,gi'dAi»fttft refusals, and we who have reasonable views of
human nature, may set in the balance against a score of the
begging tribe, the man of just pride who will not exchange
his earldom for a marquisate, and the honest peer who to the
proffer of the garter says, with gratitude evidently sincere,
' I regret, however, that I cannot conscientiously accept an
honour which is beyond my deserts.' Then the Octagon con-
tains abundant material for any student of the lessons of a
parliamentary crisis, though perhaps the student knew before
how even goodish people begin to waver in great causes, when
they first seriously suspect the horrid truth that they may
not after all be in a majority. Many squibs, caricatures,
and malicious diatribes, dated in Mr. Gladstone's own hand,
find shelter. But then compensation for faintheartedness
or spite abounds in the letters of the staunch. And these
not from the party politicians merely. Mr. Gladstone stirred
different and deeper waters. The famous fighting bishop,
Phillpotts of Exeter, then drawing on towards ninety and the
realms of silence, writes to him on the Christmas Day of
1863 : — ' A Christian statesman is a rare object of reverence
and honour. Such I entirely believe are you. I often
remember the early days of my first intercourse with you.
Your high principles gave an early dignity to your youth,
and promised the splendid earthly career which you are
fulfilling. I shall not live to witness that fulfilment/ A whole
generation later, General Booth wrote: — 'Throughout the
world no people will pray more fervently and believingly
for your continued life and happiness than the officers and
soldiers of the salvation army.' Here is Mr. Spurgeon, the
most popular and effective of the nonconforming preachers
and workers of the time, writing : —

I felt ready to weep when you were treated with so much con-
tumely by your opponent in your former struggle; and yet I
rejoiced that you were educating this nation to believe in conscience
and truth. ... I wish I could brush away the gadflies, but I
suppose by this time you have been stung so often that the system
has become invulnerable. . . . You are loved by hosts of us as
intensely as you are hated by certain of the savage party. ,



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PHILLPOTTS — BOOTH — SPURGEON 139

And when Mr. Gladstone was to visit Spurgeon's tabernacle CHAP.
(Jan. 1882):— m

I feel like a boy who is to preach with his father to listen to
him. I shall try not to know that you are there at all, but just
preach to my poor people the simple word which has held them
by their thousands these twenty-eight years. You do not know
how those of us regard you, who feel it a joy to live when a
premier believes in righteousness. We believe in no man's infalli-
bility, but it is restful to be sure of one man's integrity.

That admirable sentence marks the secret.

All the religious agitations of the time come before us.
Eminent foreign converts from the Roman church still find
comfort in warning this most unshaken of believers against
' a superficial and sceptical liberalism.' Others, again, con-
demned for heresy hail him as 'dear and illustrious master'
— with no cordial response, we may surmise. Relying on
Mr. Gladstone's character for human-heartedness and love
of justice, people submit to him some of the hard domestic
problems then and so often forced upon the world by the
quarrels of the churches. One lady lays before him (1879)
with superabundant detail a case where guardians insisted
on the child of a mixed marriage being brought up as a
protestant, against the fervid wishes of the surviving parent,
a catholic. Mr. Gladstone masters the circumstances, forms
his judgment, elaborates it in a closely argued memorandum,
and does not evade the responsibility of advising. In
another of these instances the tragedy is reversed; the
horrid oppression is perpetrated on the protestant mother
by the catholic father, and here too it is Mr. Gladstone to
whom the sufferer appeals for intercession.

His correspondents have not always so much substance in
them. One lady of evangelical strain, well known in her
time, writes to him about turbulence in Ireland on the last
day of 1880. The private secretary dockets : — 'Wishes you
a blessed new year ; but goes on in a very impertinent strain
attributing your " inaction " in Ireland to unprincipled col-
leagues, and to want of heavenly guidance. Encloses sugges-
tions for prayer.' In such instances, even when the appeal



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140 THE OCTAGON

BOOK came near to raving, Mr. Gladstone whenever he thought the

/ writer's motives sincere, seems to have replied with patience,

and at a length very different from the pithy brevity of the

Iron Duke upon the like occasions. Sometimes we may

assume that the secretary's phlegmatic docket sufficed, as on

an epistle thus described : — ' 1. Sends review in on his

book. 2. Would like you to read and (his poems).

3. Will send you soon his prose on . 4. Hopes you will

not overwork yourselt 5. His children call you St. William/
Sometimes we know not whether it is simplicity or irony
that inspires the grave politeness of his replies. He seems
to be in all sincerity surprised at the view taken by somebody
'of the reluctance of public men to hold interviews for
unexplained and indefinite purposes, and their preference for
written communications/ Somebody writes a pamphlet on
points of the ministerial policy, and suggests that each
member of the government might order and distribute a
competent number of copies. Mr. Gladstone immediately
indicates two serious difficulties, first that the 'ministers
would then make themselves responsible for the writers
opinion in detail no less than in mass, and second their
intervention would greatly detract from its weight Even
importunity for a subscription never makes him curt : — ' I
am sure you will not misconstrue me, when I beg respectfully
to state that your efforts will stand better without my
personal co-operation.'

The correspondence is polyglot. In one little bundle,
Cavour writes in Italian and French; the Archbishop of
Cephalonia congratulates him in Greek on the first Irish
Land bill ;. and in the same tongue the Archbishop of Chios
gives him a book on the union of the Armenian with the
Anatolian communion ; Huber regales him with the luxury
of German cwr&ivschrift. The archimandrite Myrianthes
forwards him objects from the Holy Land. The patriarch
of Constantinople (1896) sends greetings and blessings, and
testifies to the bonds of fellowship between the eastern and
anglican churches undisturbed since the days of Cyril
Lukaris. Dupanloup, the famous Bishop of Orleans (1869),
applauds the plan of Inventus Mundi, its grandeur, its



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POLYGLOT AND ENCYCLOPAEDIC 141

beauty, its moral elevation; and proceeds to ask how he CHAP,
can procure copies of the articles on Ecce Homo, as tn* ™*
which his curiosity has been aroused. A couple of notes
(1864 and 1871) from Garibaldi, the great revolutionist, are
neighbours to letters (1851-74) from Guizot, the great
conservative. Three or four lines in French from Garibaldi
were given to Mr. Gladstone the day before leaving Clive-
den and England (April 24, 1864) : ' In leaving you pray
accept a word of recognition for all the kindness you have
heaped upon me, and for the generous interest you have at
all times shown for the cause of my country. — Your devoted
G. Garibaldi/ The other shorter still (1871) begs him to
do something for a French refugee. Minghetti, Ricasoli,
and others of that celebrated group commemorate his
faithful and effective good will to Italy. Daniel Manin
the Venetian thanks him in admirable English for some
books, as well as for his energetic and courageous act in
drawing a perfidious king (Naples) before the bar of public
opinion. Manzoni gives to a friend a letter of introduction
(1845), and with Italian warmth of phrase expresses his
lively recollection of the day on which he made Mr.
Gladstone's acquaintance, and the admiration with which
his name is followed. M6rim6e, the polished and fastidious
genius, presents to him a French consul at Corfu (1858)
who in his quality of philhellene and hellenist desires
ardently to make the acquaintance of Homer's learned
and eloquent commentator. Lesseps, whose hand gave so
tremendous and impressive a turn to forces, policies,
currents of trade, promises (1870) to keep an appoint-
ment, when he will have the double honour of being pre-
sented to the Princess Louise by a man so universally
respected for the high services he has rendered to the
Queen, to his country, and to,the progress of the world.

If the language is polyglot, the topics are encyclopaedic.
Bishops send him their charges; if a divine translates a
hymn, he submits it ; if he hits upon an argument on the
mysteries of the faith, or the vexed themes of theological



Online LibraryJohn MorleyThe life of William Ewart Gladstone, Volume 2 → online text (page 13 of 91)