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The life of William Ewart Gladstone, Volume 2 online

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debate, he despatches pages and pages to Hawarden, and
receives page upon page in reply. Young authors, and



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142 THE OCTAGON

BOOK especially young authoresses, pester him to review their

v ^- . hnnka though his patience and good nature make 'pester*

seem an inapplicable word. A Scotch professor for some

reason or another copies out and forwards to him one of

Goethe's reflections and maxims : —

How may a man attain to self-knowledge? By Contempla-
tion t certainly not : but by Action. Try to do your Duty and you
will find what you are fit for. But what is your Dutyt The
Demand of the Hour.

As if of all men then living on our planet, Mr. Gladstone
were not he to whom such counsel was most superfluous.
He replies (Oct. 9, 1880), 'I feel the immense, the over-
mastering power of Goethe, but with such limited knowledge
as I have of his works, I am unable to answer the question
whether he has or has not been an evil genius of humanity. 9
In 1839 Spedding, the Baconian, to whom years later the
prime minister proposed that he should fill the chair of
history at Cambridge, wrote to him that John Sterling, of
whom Mr. Gladstone already knew something, was prevented
by health from living in London, and so by way of meeting
his friends on his occasional visits, had proposed that cer-
tain of them should agree to dine together cheaply once a
month at some stated place. As yet Sterling had only spoken
to Carlyle, John Mill, Maurice, and Bingham Baring. ' I hope/
says Spedding, 'that your devotion to the more general
interests of mankind will not prevent your assisting in
this little job/ Mr. Gladstone seems not to have assisted,
though his friend Bishop Wilberforce did, and fell into
some hot water in consequence. A veteran and proclaimed
freethinker sets out to Mr. Gladstone his own recognition
of what ought to be a truism, that he is for every man being
faithful to his faith; that his aggressive denial of the in-
spiration of the Bible did not prevent him from sending a
copy in large type to his old mother to read when her eyes
were dim ; that he respected consolations congenial to the
conscience. ' I hope/ he says to Mr. Gladstone, ' there is a
future life, and if so, my not being sure of it will not prevent
it, and I know of no better way of deserving it than by



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SPIRIT OP TOLERANCE 143

conscious service of humanity. The Universe never filled CHAP

TIT

me with such wonder and awe as when I knew I could not > ■ t
account for it / admit ignorance is a privation. But to
submit not to know where knowledge is withheld, seems but
one of the sacrifices that reverence for truth imposes on us. 9
The same correspondent speaks (1881) of ' the noble tolera-
tion which you have personally shown me, notwithstanding
what you must think seriously erroneous views of mine, and
upon which I do not keep silence/ Mr. Gladstone had
written to him six years before (1875) : — ' Differing from you,
I do not believe that secular motives are adequate either to
propel or to restrain the children of our race, but I earnestly
desire to hear the other side, and I appreciate the advan-
tage of having it stated by sincere and high-minded men.'
There is a letter too from the son of another conspicuous
preacher of negation, replying to some words of Mr. Gladstone
which he took to be disparaging of his parent, and begging
him, 'a lifelong idealist yourself/ to think more worthily
and sympathetically of one whom if he had known he would
have appreciated and admired.

A considerable correspondence is here from the learned
Bishop Stubbs (1888) on the character of Bishop Fisher of
Rochester, the fellow-sufferer of More ; on the Convocation
Act of 1531 and the other Convocation Acts of Elizabeth ;
on Father Walsh's letters, and other matters of the sixteenth
century. In fact, it is safe to assume that Mr. Gladstone has
always some ecclesiastical, historical, theological controversy
running alongside of the political and party business of the
day. Nobody that ever lived tried to ride so many horses
abreast. Another prelate puts a point that is worth remem-
bering by every English school of foreign policy. 'In 1879/
writes Bishop Creighton (Feb. 15, 1887) ' when foreign affairs
were much before the public, I suggested to a publisher a
series of books dealing quite shortly and clearly with the
political history and constitution of the chief states of
Europe from 1815. I designed them for popular instruc-
tion, thinking it of great importance that people in general
should know what they were talking about, when they
spoke of France or Russia. . . . The result of my attempt



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144 THE OCTAGON

BOOK was to convince me that our ignorance of the last sixty
, years is colossal'

Lord Stanhope has been reading (1858) the 'Tusculan
Questions/ and confides to Mr. Gladstone's sympathetic
ear Cicero's shockingly faulty recollection of Homer, —
mistaking Euryclea for Anticlea, the nurse for the mother,
and giving to Polyphemus a speech that Polyphemus never
spoke. A bishop says Macaulay told him that one of the
most eloquent passages in the English language is in
Barrow's Seventy-Fifth Sermon, on the Nativity — 'Let us
consider that the Nativity doth import the completion of
many ancient promises. . . Z 1 Letters abound and over-
abound on that most movable of topics — ' the present state
of the Homeric controversy.' Scott, the lexicographer, sends
him Greek epigrams on events too fugitive to be now worth
recalling — discusses Homeric points, and while not sur-
rendering at discretion, admits, them worthy of much con*
sideration. There are many pages from Thirlwall, that
great scholar and enlightened man, upon points of Homeric
ethnology, Homeric geography, and such questions as whether
a line in the Iliad (xiv. 321) makes the mother of Minos to be
a Phoenician damsel or the daughter of Phoenix, or whether it
is possible to attach a meaning to ipvi&po? that would repre-
sent Minos as beginning his reign when nine years old — a
thing, the grave bishop adds, even more strange than the
passion of Dante fer Beatrice at the same age.

Huxley sends him titles of books on the origin of the
domestic horse ; Sir Joseph Hooker supplies figures of the
girth of giant trees; the number of annual rings in a fallen
stump which would seem to give it 6420 years ; tells him
how the wood of another was as sound after 380 years as if
just felled. Somebody else interests him in Helmholtz's
experiments on the progression of the vibrations of the true
vowel sounds. Letters pass between him and Darwin (1879)
on colours and names for colours. Darwin suggests the
question whether savages have names for shades of colours:
' I should expect that they have not, and this would be re-
markable, for the Indians of Chili and Tierra del Fuego

1 Barrow's Works, iv. p. 107 (ed. 1830).



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DARWIN — HOOKER — HUXLEY 145

have names for every slight promontory and hill to a mar- CHAP,
vellous degree/ Mr. Gladstone proposes to nominate him * , *■■
a trustee of the British Museum (April 1881), and Darwin
replies, 'I would gladly have accepted, had my strength
been sufficient for anything like regular attendance at the
meetings/ Professor Owen thanks him for the honour of
Knight of the Bath, and expresses his true sense of the aid
and encouragement that he has uniformly received from Mr.
Gladstone throughout the course of the labours from which
he is now retiring.

He corresponds with a learned French statesman, not on
the insoluble Newfoundland problem, turning so much on
the nice issue whether a lobster is a fish, and not on the
vexed Egyptian question, but on the curious prohibition of
pork as an article of food — a strange contradiction between
the probable practice of the Phoenicians and that of the
Jews, perpetuated in our times through all Musulman
countries, and a prohibition not to be explained on sanitary
grounds, because to the present day Christians in the East
all indulge in pork and are none the worse for it. A young
member of parliament one night fell into conversation with
him, as a branch from the subject of the eating of bovine
flesh by the Greeks, on the eating of horseflesh, and the next
day writes to mention to him that at a council in 785 with
the Bishop of Ostia as president, it was decreed, 'Many
among you eat horses, which is not done by any Christians
in the East : avoid this' ; and he asks Mr. Gladstone whether
he believed that by reason of the high estimation in which
the Greeks held the horse, they abstained from his flesh.
Mr. Gladstone (August 1889) replies that while on his
guard against speaking with confidence about the historic
period, he thought he was safe in saying that the Greeks
did not eat the horse in the heroic period, and he refers to
passages in this book and the other. ' It was only a con-
jecture, however, on my part that the near relation of the
horse to human feeling and life may probably have been the
cause that prevented the consumption of horse-flesh/ In a
further letter he refers his correspondent to the closing part
of the Englishman in Paris for some curious particulars on
VOL. II. K



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146 THE OCTAGON

BOOK hippophagy. Then he seems to have interested himself in a
, * delicate question as to the personal claims of Socrates in the
light of a moral reformer, and the sage's accommodation of
moral sentiment to certain existing fashions in Athenian
manners. But as I have not his side of the correspondence,
I can only guess that his point was the inferiority of the
moral ideals of Socrates to those of Christ Gustavo
d'Eichthal, one of the celebrated group of Saint-Simonians
who mingled so much of what was chimerical with much
that was practical and fruitful, draws the attention of
Mr. Gladstone, statesman, philosopher, and hellenist to
writings of his own on the practical use of Greek, as destined
to be the great national language of humanity, perhaps even
within the space of two or three generations. Guizot begs
him to accept his book on Peel ; and thanking him for his
article on the ' Royal Supremacy ' (Feb. 9, 1864), says further
what must have given Mr. Gladstone lively satisfaction : —

Like you, I could wish that the anglican church had more
independence and self-government ; but such as it is, and taking
all its history into account, I believe that of all the Christian
churches, it is that in which the spiritual regime is best reconciled
with the political, and the rights of divine tradition with those of
human liberty. ... I shall probably send you in the course of this
year some meditations on the essence and history of the Christian
religion. Europe is in an anti-Christian crisis ; and having come
near the term of life, I have it much at heart to mark my place in
this struggle.

For some reason Henry Taylor encloses him (April 5, 1837),
' a letter written by Southey the other day to a wild girl
who sent him some rhapsodies of her writing, and told him
she should be in an agony till she should receive his opinion
of them.' This recalls a curious literary incident, for the
' wild girl ' was Charlotte Bronte, and Southey warned her
that 'literature cannot be the business of a woman's life
and ought not to be/ and yet his letter was both sensible
and kind, though as time showed it was a bad shot. 1
Thackeray has been asked to breakfast but 'I only got

1 See Southey 'b Life, vi. p. 327-



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MEN OP LETTERS 147

your note at 2 o'clock this afternoon, when the tea would CHAP,
have been quite cold ; and next Thursday am engaged to <
lecture at Exeter, so that I can't hope to breakfast with you.
I shall be absent from town some three weeks, and hope
Mrs. Gladstone will permit me to come to see her on my
return/ Froude, who was often at his breakfasts, gives him
a book (year doubtful) : — ' I took the liberty of sending it you
merely as an expression of the respect and admiration that
I have felt towards you for many years/ — sentiments that
hardly stood the wear and tear of time and circumstance.

In 1850 what Macaulay styles a most absurd committee
was appointed to devise inscriptions for medals to be given
to the exhibitors at the great world-show of next year. Its
members were, besides Macaulay himself and Gladstone,
Milman, Liddell, Lyttelton, Charles Merivale. Milman be-
thought him of looking into Claudian, and sent to Mr.
Gladstone three or four alternative lines fished out from the
last of the poets of Roman paganism. Macaulay had another
idea; —

My dear Gladstone, — I am afraid that we must wait till

Thursday. I do not much like taking words from a passage

certainly obscure and probably corrupt. Could we not do better

ourselves 1 I have made no Latin verses these many years. But

I will venture. I send you three attempts : —

Pulcher et ille labor, pulchros ornare labores.
Pulchrum etiam, pulchros palma donare labores.
Pulchrum etiam, pulchris meritam decernere palmam.

You will easily make better. If we can produce a tolerable line

among us, we may pretend, as Lauder did, that it is in Staphorstius

or Masenius. — Yours ever, T. B. Macaulay.

Francis Newman, the cardinal's high-minded and accom-
plished brother, writes to Mr. Gladstone (1878) in a strain
of exalted recognition of his services to the nation, and
quotes (a little oddly perhaps) the beautiful lines in Euripides,
foretelling tlfe approaching triumph of Dionysus over his
mortal foe. 1

i etidalpvw fib to 4k OaK&ffaas floods has fled the storm and found

bfnrye X"pa, Xt/ulra VUix**' the haven ; happy too is he who has

evdalfuav tfto faepde i*b%$w surmounted toil and trouble.
Jytfref* — Bacchae, 902-5,

* Happy the man who from out the



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148 THE OCTAGON

BOOK The poets are not absent. Wordsworth, as we have
t already seen (i. p. 269 n.) sends to him at the board of trade
his remonstrance and his sonnet on the railway into Win-
dermere. Tennyson addresses to him for his personal
behoof the sonnet upon the Redistribution bill of 1884 —

' Steersman, be not precipitate in thine act
Of steering . . .'

and on a sheet of note-paper at a later date when Irish
self-government was the theme, he copies the Greek lines
from Pindar, ' how easy a thing it is even for men of light
weight to shake a state, how hard to build it up again.' 1
Rogers (1844) insists that, 'if one may judge from ex-
perience, perhaps the best vehicle in our language for a
translator of verse is prose. He who doubts it has only to
open his Bible. . . . Who could wish' the stories of Joseph
and of Ruth to be otherwise than they are. Or who but
would rejoice if the Iliad and the Odyssey were so trans-
lated. I once asked Porson to attempt it, and he seemed to
like the idea, but said that it would be a labour of ten or
twelve years.'

There was one true poet, and not only a poet but a man,
as we now see, with far truer insight into the intellectual
needs of his countrymen than any other writer of the closing
quarter of the century, who is sometimes supposed to have
been overlooked by Mr. Gladstone. And here in the
Octagon is Matthew Arnold's letter soliciting his recom-
mendation (1867) for the strictly prosaic post of librarian of
the House of Commons, which happily he did not obtain.
The year before, Arnold had wished to be made a commis-
sioner under the Endowed Schools Act, but a lawyer was
rightly thought necessary by Lord Russell or his advisers,
and there is no good reason to suppose that Mr. Gladstone
meddled either way. He was responsible in 1882 for a third
disappointment, but here again it has been truly said that
to appoint to the charity commission a man of sixty, who
had no intimate knowledge of charity law, and who had

1 Pyth. iv. 485 ; L\ft of Tennyson, Tennyson is described in Mr. Parker's
ii. pp. 332, 308. Mr. Gladstone's share Pee/, iii. pp. 437-442.
in the pensions to Wordsworth and



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MATTHEW ARNOLD WATTS 149

recently in his articles irritated all the nonconformists in
England by his ironical references to dissent and dissenters, <
would not have been conducive to the efficient transaction
of public business. A year later Mr. Gladstone proffered
him, and his friends made him accept, a civil list pension of
two hundred and fifty pounds a year, ' in public recognition
of service to the poetry and literature of England.' Arnold
in a letter here tries to soften Mr. Gladstone's heart on the
subject of copyright, on which, as I often made bold to tell
him, he held some rather flagrant heresies. Here the poet
begs the minister to consider whether an English author ought
not to have property in his work for a longer time than he has
now. ' For many books the sale begins late, the author has
to create, as Wordsworth said, the taste by which he is to be
enjoyed. Such an author is surely the very man one
would wish to protect/ I fear he made no convert.

Another poet, with no eye on patronage or pension, hopes
to be permitted to say (1869), 'how very many of your
countrymen whom you have forgotten or never saw, follow
your noble and courageous development of legislation with the
same personal devotion, gratitude, and gladness that I feel/
Then five years later he still assure^ him that among
men of letters he may have antagonists but he cannot have
enemies — rather a fine distinction, with painfully little truth
in it as things happened.

To Miss Martineau, who had done hard work in more than
one good cause, he proposes a pension, which she honourably
declines: — 'The work of my busy years has supplied the
needs of a quiet old age. On the former occasions of my
declining a pension I was poor, and it was a case of scruple
(possibly cowardice). Now I have a competence, and there
would be no excuse for my touching the public money. You
will need no assurance that I am as grateful for your con-
siderate offer, as if it had relieved me of a wearing anxiety/

In 1885 he wrote to Mr. Watts, the illustrious painter, to
request, with the sanction of the Queen, that he would allow
himself to be enrolled among the baronets of the United
Kingdom. ' It gives me lively pleasure/ he said, ' to have
the means of thus doing honour to art in the person of so



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150 THE OCTAGON

BOOK distinguished a representative of the noble pursuit' Mr.
t Watts, in words that I am permitted to transcribe, declined;
as he did also a second time in 1894 when the proposal was
repeated.

While I feel very strongly, and acknowledge with sincere
gratitude, that you have honoured in my person, making me a
sort of standard bearer, the pursuit of art for its own sake, and
have so afforded an enduring encouragement to those who, like
myself, may be willing to relinquish many good and tangible
things for purposes believed to be good, but not likely to meet
with general sympathy, still, I feel it would be something like
a real disgrace to accept for work merely attempted, reward and
payment only due to work achieved. ... I should have the ghost
of the Lycian chief reproaching me in my dreams! Also the
objects to which I wish to dedicate the rest of my life will best be
carried out in quiet and obscurity, so please do not be vexed with
me if I again beg respectfully and gratefully to decline. . . .
Sarpedon's words 1 always ring in my ears, and so I think you
will understand the things I cannot attempt to say. ... I am so
far from undervaluing distinctions that I should like to be a Duke,
and deserve the title. . . . Still, it is true that, living mainly in a
world of my own, my views are narrowed (I hope I may also say
simplified), till a sense of the four great conditions which to my
mind comprise all that can be demonstrated of our existence, Life
and Death, Light and Darkness, so dominate my mental vision
that they almost become material entities and take material forms,
dwarfing and casting into shadow ordinary considerations. Over
the two first, human efforts broadly speaking avail nothing ; but
we have it in our power to modify the two last (of course I include
in the terms all that belongs to good and bad, beauty and ugliness).
Labouring by the side of the poet and the statesman, the artist
may deal with those great issues, and here I think the art of Eng-
land has been at fault. . . . Your overestimate of my work has
hastened the execution of an intention I have long had, and which
indeed amounts to retirement from the ranks of professional men.

1 The glorious lines of the Lycian as he lay dying, and the very essence
chief in Iliad, xii. 322-8, valiantly and spirit of the minister to whom
repeated, by the way, by Carteret, Mr. Watts was writing.



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DEATH OF MILL 151

I have concluded, dating from June, to undertake no portraits and CHAP,
accept no commissions, but, contented with the little I have to live * ^*
upon, work only with the idea of making my efforts worthy, at
least as efforts, of the nation's acceptance alike before and after
my death.

' You have adopted a resolution/ said Mr. Gladstone in his
reply, ' of the kind that makes the nineteenth century stare
or blink, as those blink who stand in a great brightness and
have not eyes for it. The course that you purpose is indeed
a self-denying, an unworldly, and a noble one/

One packet touches a. matter that at the moment did Mr.
Gladstone some harm in the judgment of men whose good
opinion was worth having. In 1873 John Stuart Mill died,
and a public memorial was proposed. Mr. Gladstone in-
timated that he was willing to co-operate. Then a liberal
clergyman attacked the obituary notice in the Times as too
frigid, and the author of the notice retorted by tales of
Mill's early views on the question of population. He was
well acquainted with Mr. Gladstone, and set busily to work
to persuade him that Mill in his book on political economy
advocated obnoxious checks, that he was vaguely associated
with American publications on the matter, and that he did
not believe in God, which was not to the point. Mr. Gladstone
passed on this tissue of innuendo to the Duke of Argyll. The
Duke reported that he had consulted men thoroughly con-
versant both with Mill and his writings ; that he was assured
no passage could bear the construction imputed, and that
the places which he had himself looked into, clearly referred
to prudential restraints on marriage. Certainly a school of
social economy that deals only with foreign exchanges and
rent and values and the virtues of direct taxes and indirect,
and draws the curtain around the question of population,
must be a singularly shallow affair. The Duke of Argyll
manfully brushed wasps aside, and sent his subscription.
So did men as orthodox as Lord Salisbury, and as cautious
as Lord Derby. Mr. Gladstone on the other hand wrote to
the promoters of the memorial : ' In my view this painful
controversy still exists. I feel that it is not possible for me,



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152 THE OCTAGON

BOOK situated as I am at the present time, to decide it or to
7* - examine it with a view to decision. The only course open
to me is to do no act involving a judgment either way, and,
therefore, while I desire to avoid any public step whatever, I
withdraw from co-operation, and request that my name may
be no further mentioned.' Unfortunately, the withdrawal
of such a name could not be other than a public step. To
say, moreover, that the controversy still existed, was to go
a longish way in public opinion towards deciding it The
curious thing is that Mr. Gladstone had known Mill so well
— his singleminded love of truth, his humanity, his passion
for justice — as to call him by the excellent name of ' the
Saint of Rationalism/ A saint of any sort is surely un-
common enough in our fallen world, to claim an equity that
is not refused to sinners. Yet fifteen years later he wrote
a letter doing Mill more justice. ' Of all the motives, stings,
and stimulants/ he wrote, 'that reach men through their
egoism in parliament, no part could move or even touch him.
His conduct and his language were in this respect a sermon.
Again, though he was a philosopher he was not, I think, a
man of crotchets. He had the good sense and practical tact
of politics, together with the high independent thought of a
recluse/ l

A learned unitarian (Beard) sends him a volume of
Hibbert lectures. 'All systems/ Mr. Gladstone writes in
acknowledging it, 'have their slang, but what I find in



Online LibraryJohn MorleyThe life of William Ewart Gladstone, Volume 2 → online text (page 14 of 91)