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The life of William Ewart Gladstone, Volume 2 online

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the constitution, and aggravated the evil tendencies of
democracy. 1 Talk of this kind did not really impose for an
instant on any man or woman of common sense.

Oratory ever since the days of Socrates, and perhaps long
before, has been suspected as one of the black arts ; and both
at the time and afterwards Mr. Gladstone's speeches in his
first Midlothian campaign were disparaged, as I have just
said, as sentiment rather than politics, as sophistry not
sound reason, as illusory enchantment not solid and sub-
sisting truth. We are challenged to show passages destined
to immortality. With all admiration for the effulgent cata-
logue of British orators, and not forgetting Pitt on the slave
trade, or Fox on the Westminster scrutiny, or Sheridan on
the begums of Oude, or Plunket on the catholic question,
or Grattan, or Canning, or Brougham, we may perhaps ask
whether all the passages that have arrived at this degree of
fame and grandeur, with the exception of Burke, may not be
comprised in an extremely slender volume. The statesman
who makes or dominates a crisis, who has to rouse and
mould the mind of senate or nation, has something else to
think about than the production of literary masterpieces.
The great political speech, which for that matter is a sort
of drama, is not made by passages for elegant extract or
anthologies, but by personality, movement, climax, spectacle,

1 Saturday Review, November 29, 1870.

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BOOK and the action of the time. All these elements Midlothian
7* > witnessed to perfection.

1879 - It was my fortune to be present at one whole day of these
performances. ' An overpowering day,' Mr. Gladstone calls it
in his diary (December 5, 1879). 'After a breakfast-party/
he says, ' I put my notes in order for the afternoon. At
twelve delivered the inaugural address as lord rector of
the university' [Glasgow]. This discourse lasted an hour
and a half, and themes, familiar but never outworn nor
extinct, were handled with vigour, energy, and onward flow
that made them sound as good as novel, and even where
they did not instruct or did not edify, the noble music
pleased. The great salient feature of the age was described as
on its material side the constant discovery of the secrets of
nature, and the progressive subjugation of her forces to the
purposes and will of man. On the moral side, if these con-
quests had done much for industry, they had done more
for capital; if much for labour, more for luxury; they had
variously and vastly multiplied the stimulants to gain, the
avenues of excitement, the solicitations to pleasure. The
universities were in some sort to check all this ; the habits
of mind formed by universities are founded in sobriety and
tranquillity; they help to settle the spirit of a man firmly
upon the centre of gravity; they tend to self-command,
self-government, and that genuine self-respect which has in
it nothing of mere self- worship, for it is the reverence which
each man ought to feel for the nature that God has given
him, and for the laws of that nature. Then came an appeal,
into which the speaker's whole heart was thrown, for the
intellectual dignity of the Christian ministry. If argument
foiled to the great Christian tradition, he would set small
value on the multitude of uninstructed numerical adhesions,
or upon the integrity of institutions and the unbroken con-
tinuity of rite. ' Thought/ he exclaimed, — ' thmvglit is the
citadel' There is a steeplechase philosophy in vogue — some-
times specialism making short cuts to the honours of uni-
versal knowledge; sometimes by the strangest of solecisms,
the knowledge of external nature being thought to convey
a supreme capacity for judging within the sphere of moral

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action and of moral needs. The thing to do is to put CHAP,
scepticism on its trial, and rigorously to cross-examine it:

allow none of its assumptions ; compel it to expound its ^ 70 -
formulae ; do not let it move a step except with proof in its
hand; bring it front to front with history; even demand that
it shall show the positive elements with which it proposes to
replace the mainstays it seems bent on withdrawing from
the fabric of modern society. The present assault, far from
being destined to final triumph, is a sign of a mental move-
ment, unsteady, though of extreme rapidity, but destined,
perhaps, to elevate and strengthen the religion that it
sought to overthrow. ' In the meantime, 9 he said, in closing
this branch of his address, ' 2" would recommend to you as
guides in this controversy, truth, charity, diligence, a/ad
reverence, which indeed may be called the four cardinal
virtues of all controversies, be they what they may' This
was followed by an ever-salutary reminder that man is the
crown of the visible creation, and that studies upon man —
studies in the largest sense of humanity, studies conversant
with his nature, his works, his duties and his destinies — these
are the highest of all studies. As the human form is the
groundwork of the highest training in art, so those mental
pursuits are the highest which have man, considered at
large, for their object. Some excellent admonitions upon
history and a simple, moving benediction, brought the
oration to an end.

Blue caps as well as red cheered fervently at the close,
and some even of those who had no direct interest in the
main topics, and were not much or not at all refreshed
by his treatment of them, yet confessed themselves sorry
when the stream of fascinating melody ceased to flow.
Then followed luncheon in the university hall, where the
principal in proposing the lord rector's health, expressed the
hope that he had not grudged the time given to the serene,
if dull, seclusion of academic things. ' I only quarrel with
your word dull/ said Mr. Gladstone in reply. ' Let me assure
you, gentlemen, nothing is so dull as political agitation'
By this time it was four o'clock. Before six he was at St.
Andrew's Hall, confronting an audience of some six thousand

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BOOK persons, as eager to hear as he was eager to speak ; and not
/ many minutes had elapsed before they were as much aflame
as he, with the enormities of the Anglo-Turkish convention,
the spurious harbour in Cyprus, the wrongful laws about the
press in India, the heavy and unjust charges thrown upon
the peoples of India, the baseless quarrel picked with Shere
Ali in Afghanistan, the record of ten thousand Zulus slain for
no other offence than their attempt to defend against our
artillery with their naked bodies their hearths and homes.

Once mentioning a well-known member of parliament
who always showed fine mettle on the platform, Mr. Glad-
stone said of him in a homely image, that he never saw
a man who could so quickly make the kettle boiL This
was certainly his own art here. For an hour and a half thus
he held them, with the irresistible spell of what is in truth
the groundwork of every political orator's strongest appeal
— from Athenians down to.Girondins, from Pericles to Web-
ster, from Cicero to Gambetta — appeal to public law and civil
right and the conscience of a free and high-minded people.
This high-wrought achievement over, he was carried off to
dine, and that same night he wound up what a man of
seventy hard-spent years might well call * an overpowering
day/ by one more address to an immense audience
assembled by the Glasgow corporation in the city hall, to
whom he expressed his satisfaction at the proof given by his
reception in Glasgow that day, that her citizens had seen no
reason to repent the kindness which had conferred the
freedom of their city upon him fourteen years befora

The audience in St. Andrew's Hall at Glasgow was, we
may presume, like his audiences elsewhere, and the sources
of his overwhelming power were not hard to analyse, if one
were in analytic humour. For one thing, the speeches were
rallying battle-cries, not sermons, and everybody knew the
great invisible antagonist with whom the orator before
them was with all his might contending. It was a gleaming
array of the political facts of a political indictment, not an
aerial fabric of moral abstractions. Nor, again, had the
fashion in which Mr. Gladstone seized opinion and feeling and
personal allegiance in Scotland, anything in common with

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the violent if splendid improvisations that made O'Connell CHAP,
the idol and the master of passionate Ireland. One of the <

most telling speeches of them all was the exposure of the Mt ' 70 -
government finance in the Edinburgh corn-exchange, where
for an hour and a half or more, he held to his figures of
surplus and deficit, of the yield of bushels to the acre in good
seasons and bad, of the burden of the income-tax, of the
comparative burden per head of new financial systems and
old, with all the rigour of an expert accountant He
enveloped the whole with a playful irony, such as a good-
humoured master uses to the work of clumsy apprentices,
but of the paraphernalia of rhetoric there is not a period
nor a sentence nor a phrase. Fire is suppressed. So far from
being saturated with colour, the hue is almost drab. Yet
his audience were interested and delighted, and not for a
moment did he lose hold, — not even, as one observer puts it,
'in the midst of his most formidable statistics, nor at any
point in the labyrinthine evolution of his longest sentences/
Let the conclusion be good or let it be bad, all was in
groundwork and in essence strictly on the plane and in the
tongue of statesmanship, and conformable to Don Pedro's
rule, ' What need the bridge much broader than the flood V 1
It was Demosthenes, not Isocrates. It was the orator of
concrete detail, of inductive instances, of energetic and im-
mediate object; the orator confidently and by sure touch
startling into watchfulness the whole spirit of civil duty in
a man ; elastic and supple, pressing fact and figure with a
fervid insistence that was known from his career and char-
acter to be neither forced nor feigned, but to be himself In
a word, it was a man — a man impressing himself upon the
kindled throngs by the breadth of his survey of great affairs
of life and nations, by the depth of his vision, by the power
of his stroke. Physical resources had much to do with the
effect ; his overflowing vivacity, the fine voice and flashing
eye and a whole frame in free, ceaseless, natural and spon-
taneous motion. So he bore his hearers through long
chains of strenuous periods, calling up by the marvellous
transformations of his mien a strange succession of images —
1 Much Ado, Act i. So. i.

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as if he were now a keen hunter, now some eager bird of
prey, now a charioteer of fiery steeds kept well in hand, and
1879 - now and again we seemed to hear the pity or dark wrath of
a prophet, with the mighty rushing wind and the fire running
along the ground.

All this was Mr. Gladstone in Midlothian. To think of the
campaign without the scene, is as who should read a play by
candle-light among the ghosts of an empty theatre. When
the climax came, it was found that Mr. Gladstone's tremendous
projectiles had pounded the ministerial citadel to the ground,
and that he had a nation at his back. What had been vague
misgiving about Lord Beaconsfield grew into sharp cer-
tainty ; shadows of doubt upon policy at Constantinople or
Cabul or the Cape* became substantive condemnation ; un-
easiness as to the national finances turned to active resent-
ment; and above all, the people of this realm, who are a
people with rather more than their share of conscience at
bottom, were led to consider whether when all is said, there
is not still £ difference between right and wrong even in the
relations of states and the problems of empire. It was this
last trait that made the atmosphere in which both speaker
and his hearers drew their inspiration. It may be true, if we
will, that, as a great critic sardonically hints, 'eloquence,
without being precisely a defect, is one of the worst dangers
that can beset a man.' 1 Yet after all, to disparage eloquence
is to depreciate mankind ; and when men say that Mr. Glad-
stone and Midlothian were no better than a resplendent
mistake, they forget how many objects of our reverence
stand condemned by implication in their verdict; they have
not thought out how many of the faiths and principles
that have been the brightest lamps in the track of human
advance they are extinguishing by the same unkind and
freezing breath. One should take care lest in quenching
the spirit of Midlothian, we leave sovereign mastery of the
world to MachiavellL

I need not here go through the long list of topics. As
an attack upon ministers Mr. Gladstone made out the upshot
to be finance in confusion, legislation in arrear, honour com-

i Faguet

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promised by breach of public law, Russia aggrandized and CHAP,
yet estranged, Turkey befriended, as they say, but sinking v
every year, Europe restless and disturbed; in Africa the
memory of enormous bloodshed in Zululand, and the in-
vasion of a free people in the Transvaal; Afghanistan
•broken ; India thrown back He disclaimed all fellowship
with those who believe that the present state of society
permits us to make any vow of universal peace, and of re-
nouncing in all cases the policy of war. He enumerated
the six principles that he thought to be the right principles
for us : to foster the strength of the empire by just laws and
by economy ; to seek to preserve the world's peace ; to strive
to the uttermost to cultivate and maintain the principle
of concert in Europe ; to avoid needless and entangling
engagements ; to see that our foreign policy shall be inspired
by such love of freedom as had marked Canning, Palmer-
ston, Russell ; to acknowledge the equal right of all nations.
He denounced ' the policy of denying to others the rights
that we claim ourselves* as untrue, arrogant, and danger-
ous. The revival of the analogy of imperial Rome for the
guidance of British policy he held up as fundamentally
unsound and practically ruinous. For have not modern
times established a sisterhood of nations, equal, independent,
each of them built up under the legitimate defence which
public law affords to every nation living within its own
borders, and seeking to perform its own affairs? He
insisted that we should ever 'remember the rights of
the savage, as we call him.' ' Remember,' he exclaimed,
' that the sanctity of life in the hill villages of Afghanistan,
among the winter snows, is as inviolable in the eye of
Almighty God as can be your own. Remember that He
who has united you as human beings in the same flesh and
blood, has bound you by the law of mutual love ; that that
mutual love is not limited by the shores of this island, is not
limited by the boundaries of Christian civilisation; that it
passes over the whole surface of the earth, and embraces the
meanest along with the greatest in its unmeasured scope.'

It was this free movement and pure- air that gave to the
campaign its marking character. The campaign had a soul

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in it. Men were recalled to moral forces that they had for-
r gotten. In his last speech at Edinburgh, Mr. Gladstone's
18 * 9 - closing words were these : —

I am sustained and encouraged, and I may almost say driven on
in public life, by the sentiment believed and entertained by me*
most sincerely, whether erroneously or not, that the principles at
issue are much broader than those of ordinary contention. ... I
humbly ask for confidence when I state my own belief that the
objects we have in view at the present time are objects connected
with the welfare of mankind upon the widest scale. . . . Whatever
we may say amidst the clash of arms and amidst the din of pre-
paration for warfare in time of peace — amidst all this yet there is
going on a profound mysterious movement, that, whether we will
or not, is bringing the nations of the civilised world, as well as the
uncivilised, morally as well as physically nearer to one another, and
making them more and more responsible before God for one
another's welfare. ... I do most heartily thank you for having
given me the credit of being actuated by the desire to consider in
public transactions the wider interests of mankind, and I venture to
assure you that so far as my objects and intentions are concerned,
objects of that nature, and nothing meaner or narrower, will ever
be taken as the pole-star of my life.


Two days after a departure from Glasgow which he calls
royal, the unwearied warrior made his way through scenes
of endless stir all along the journey, back to his temple of
peace at Hawarden (December 8). There he at once re-
sumed his habits of daily industry, revising proofs of speeches
'reaching 255 pages!' placing books and reading them —
Catullus, Hodgson's Twrgot, somebody on Colour Sense,
somebody else on Indian finance, Jenkins on Atheism, Bun-
bury's Geography — and so forth. Also, * wrote on mythology
and on economics; together rather too much. I am not
very fit for composition after 5 p.m.' Meanwhile Christmas
arrived, and then the eve of his birthday, with its reflec-
tions—reflections of one

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' Who though thai endued as with a sense
And faculty for storm and turbulence,
Is yet-a Soul whose, master-bias leans .... JSr! 70.

Where what he most doth value must be won.'

December 28. . . . And now I am writing in the last minutes of the
seventh decade of my life. This closing is a great event. The
days of our life are three score years and ten. It is hardly possible
that I should complete another decade. How much or how little of
this will God give me for the purposes dear to my heart? Ah! what
need have I of what I may term spiritual leisure, to be out of the
dust and heat and blast and strain, before I pass into the unseen
world. But perhaps this is a form of self-love. For the last three
and a half years I have been passing through a political experience
which is, I believe, without example in our parliamentary history.
I profess to believe it has been an occasion when the battle to
be fought was a battle of justice, humanity, freedom, law, all in
their first elements from the very root, and all on a gigantic scale.
The word spoken was a word for millions, and for millions who for
themselves cannot speak. If I really believe this, then I should
regard my having been morally forced into this work as a great
and high election of God. And certainly I cannot but believe that
He has given me special gifts of strength on the late occasion,
especially in Scotland. .. . . Three things I would ask of God over
and above all the bounty which surrounds me. This first,
that I may escape into retirement. This second, that I may
speedily be enabled to divest myself of everything resembling
wealth. And the third — if I may — that. when God calls me He
may call me speedily. To die in church appears to be a great
euthanasia, but not at a time to disturb worshippers. Such are
some of an old man's thoughts, in whom there is still something
that consents not to be old.

Among the other books that he had been reading was the
biography of one of the closest of his friends, and in the last
hours of this annus wArabUAs he writes : —

Read the Life of Bishop JPilberforce. It is indeed an edifying
book. I knew him, admired him, loved him living. But the
laying out of his full character from early days onwards tells me
much I did not know, and lifts upwards my conception of him
both in greatness and in goodness.

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Perhaps no man has ever had a mighty inflnenoe over hia fellows
without having the innate need to dominate, and this need usually
becomes the more imperious in proportion as the complications of
life make Self inseparable from a purpose which is not selfish.—
Gbobge Eliot.

BOOK It is interesting to get what light we may on Mr. Gladstone's
* frame of mind between his first astounding triumph in Mid-
lothian and the crowning mercy of the general election. In
October he had written to his son Henry in India as to the
probable date of the dissolution, that the government had
in his opinion ' to choose between a minor or a less smashing
defeat now, or probably a more smashing one after the dis-
closure and real presentation of their most discreditable
finance, which can hardly be delayed beyond the spring/
They had a chance of better trade, but the likelihood also of
worse revenue. The great reason against dissolution was
that they were in possession, and every day's delay was
another day's exercise of power. He then proceeds to
mention his personal position : —

They are beginning to ask who is to succeed if Beaconsfield is
displaced. Voices are coming up here and there, some of them
very confident, that the people will call for me. Nothing, how-
ever, but a very general, a nearly unanimous, call from the liberals,
with the appearance of a sort of national will, could bring this
demand to a form in which it could or ought to be obeyed. The
reasons against my coming forward are of immense force ; those
against my indicating any shadow of desire or willingness to come
forward are conclusive. Nor do I at present see any indication of
a state of things which would bring it about.


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Before leaving Dalmeny at the end of his campaign, CHAP.
Mr. Gladstone wrote a letter to Mr. Bright, a copy of which, »

along with the reply, and two letters from Lord Wolverton, ^ 70#
he left tied up in a separate packet

To Mr. Bright

Nov. 28, 1879. — You will probably recollect that during your
last visit to Ha warden you suggested to me in a walk the expecta-
tion or the possibility that when the return of liberals to power
seemed probable, there might be a popular call for my resuming
the leadership of the party, and that I stated to you what I
believed, and you I think admitted, to be the reasons against it.
These, if I remember right, were four, and I attached to them
differing degrees of weight.

The first was that my health and strength would be unequal to
the strain at my time of life.

The second, that the work to be done was so formidable that
hardly any amount of courage availed to look it in the face.

The third, weightier than these, was that a liberal government
under me would be the object from the first of an amount and kind
of hostility, such as materially to prejudice its acts and weaken or,
in given circumstances, neutralise its power for good.

The fourth, that I was absolutely precluded under present cir-
cumstances, being bound by the clearest considerations of honour
and duty to render a loyal allegiance to Granville as leader of
the party, and to Hartington as leader in the Commons, and was
entirely disabled from so much as entertaining any proposition that
could directly or indirectly tend to their displacement.

There is a fifth consideration that now presses me, of which the
grounds had hardly emerged in regard to myself personally at the
time when we conversed together. Nothing could be so painful,
I may almost say so odious to me, as to force myself, or to be
forced, upon the Queen, under circumstances where the choice of
another from the ranks of the same party would save her from
being placed in a difficulty of that peculiar kind. This, it may be
said, belongs to the same category as my first and second objec-
tions; but there it is.

The enthusiasm of Scotland is something wonderful As to the

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BOOK county of Midlothian, I doubt whether the well informed tones
^ themselves in the least expect to win. We go to Taymouth on

1879. Monday. I hope you are well and hearty and see cause to be con-
tented with the progress of opinion. The more I think about the
matter, the more strange and mysterious does it seem to me that
any party in this free nation should be found to sanction and
uphold policy and proceedings like those of the last two years
in particular. I have written this because I am desirous you
should have clearly before you the matter of my conversation
with you, and the means of verifying it.

Online LibraryJohn MorleyThe life of William Ewart Gladstone, Volume 2 → online text (page 19 of 91)