Copyright
John Morley.

The life of William Ewart Gladstone, Volume 2 online

. (page 65 of 91)
Online LibraryJohn MorleyThe life of William Ewart Gladstone, Volume 2 → online text (page 65 of 91)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


But as a leader, I think ill of him ; you had a conversation ;
he saw the reason of your case; and when he left, you
supposed all was right. But at the second interview, you
always found that he had been unable to persuade his
friends. What could be weaker than his conduct on the
Bradlaugh affair! You could not wonder that the rank
and file of his men should be caught by the proposition

vol. n« 2 Y



Digitized by



Google



706 BIARRITZ

that an atheist ought not to sit in parliament But what
is a leader good for, if he dare not tell his party that in
1891. a ma tter like this they are wrong, and of course nobody
knew better than N. that they were wrong. A clever, quick
man with fine temper. By the way how is it that we have
no word, no respectable word for backbone ? '

J. ^.—Character ?

Mr. 0. — Well, character; yes; but that's vague. It
means will, I suppose. (I ought to have thought of
Novalis's well-known definition of character as € a completely
fashioned will.').

J. M. — Our inferiority to the Greeks in discriminations
of language shown by our lack of precise equivalents for
<f>p6vr)<Ti<;, <ro<f>ia, aco<f>poavvr), etc., of which we used to hear
so much when coached in the Ethics.

Mr. G. went on to argue that because the Greeks drew
these fine distinctions in words, they were superior in
conduct 'You cannot beat the 'Greeks in noble qualities.'

Mr. 0. — I admit there is no Greek word of good credit
for the virtue of humility.

J. M. — Taireivorrfs ? !But that has an association of
meanness.

Mr. 0. — Yes; a shabby sort of humility. Humility as a
sovereign grace is the creation of Christianity.

Friday, December 18. — Brilliant sunshine, but bitterly
cold ; an east wind blowing straight from the Maritime Alps.
Walking, reading, talking. Mr. G. after breakfast took me
into his room, where he is reading Heine, Butcher on
Greek genius, and Marbot Thought Thiers's well-known
remark on Heine's death capital, — 'To-day the wittiest
Frenchman alive has died.'

Mr. 0. — We have talked about the best line in poetry, etc.
How do you answer this question — Which century of English
history produced the greatest men ?

J. M. — What do you say to the sixteenth ?

Mr. G. — Yes, I think so. Gardiner was a great man.
Henry vm. was great. But bad. Poor Cranmer. like
Northcote, he'd no backbone. Do you remember Jeremy
Collier's sentence about his bravery at the stake, which



Digitized by



Google



TABLE-TALK 707

I count one of the grandest in English prose — ' He seemed chap.
to repel the force of the fire and to overlook the torture, > VL
by strength of thought' 1 Thucydides could not beat ^ T -82.
that.

The old man twice declaimed the sentence with deep
sonorous voice, and his usual incomparable modulation.

Mr. G. talked of a certain General . He was thought

to be a first-rate man ; neglected nothing, looked to things
himself, conceived admirable plans, and at last got an
important command. Then to the # universal surprise,

nothing came of it ; they said, ' could do everything that

a commander should do, except say, Quick march.' There
are plenty of politicians of that stamp, but Mr. G. decidedly
not one of them. I mentioned a farewell dinner given to

in the spring, by some rich man or other. It cost

£560 for forty-eight guests! Flowers alone £150. Mr. G.
on this enormity, recalled a dinner to Talfourd about copy-
right at the old Clarendon Hotel in Bond Street, and the
price was £2, 17s. 6d. a head. The old East India Company
used to give dinners at a cost of seven guineas a head. He
has a wonderfully lively interest for these matters, and his
curiosity as to the prices of things in the shop- windows is
inexhaustible. We got round to Goethe. Goethe, he said,
never gave prominence to duty.

J. M. — Surely, surely in that fine psalm of life, Das
GoMiche ?

Mr. O. — Dollinger used to confront me with the Iphigenie
as a great drama of duty.

He wished that I had known Dollinger — ' a man thoroughly
from beginning to end of his life purged of self.' Mistook
the nature of the Irish questions, from the erroneous view
that Irish Catholicism is ultramontane, which it certainly
is not.

Saturday, Dec. 19.—* * * * *

What is extraordinary is that all Mr. G.'s versatility,
buoyancy, and the rest goes with the most profound accuracy
and intense concentration when any point of public business

1 On some other occasion he set this in Barrow mentioned above, ii. p.
against Macaulay's praise of a passage 144.



Digitized by



Google



708 BIARRITZ

BOOK is raised. Something was said of the salaries of bishops.
* ^ He was ready in an instant with every figure and detail, and
1891. every circumstance of the history of the foundation of the
Ecclesiastical Commission in 1835-6. Then his savoirfavre
and wisdom of parliamentary conduct. ' I always made it
a rule in the H. of C. to allow nobody to suppose that I did
not like him, and to say as little as I could to prevent any-
body from liking me. Considering the intense friction and
contention of public life, it is a saving of wear and tear that
as many as possible even among opponents should think
well of one.'

Swnday, Dec. 20. — At table, a little discussion as to the
happiness and misery of animal creation. Outside of man
Mr. G. argued against Tennyson's description of Nature as
red in tooth and claw. Apart from man, he said, and the
action of man, sentient beings are happy and not miserable.
But Fear ? we said. No ; they are unaware of impending
doom; when hawk or kite pounces on its prey, the small
bird has little or no apprehension ; 'tis death, but death by
appointed and unforeseen lot.

J. M. — There is Hunger. Is not the probability that most
creatures are always hungry, not excepting Man ?

To this he rather assented. Of course optimism like this
is indispensable as the basis of natural theology.

Talked to Mr. G. about Michelet's Tableau de la France,
which I had just finished in vol. 2 of the history. A
brilliant tour de force, but strains the relations of soil to
character ; compels words and facts to be the slaves of his
phantasy; the modicum of reality overlaid with violent
paradox and foregone conclusion. Mr. G. not very much inter-
ested — seems only to care for political and church history.

Monday, Dec. 21. — Mr. G. did not appear at table to-day,
suffering from a surfeit* of wild strawberries the day before.
But he dined in his dressing gown, and I had some chat
with him in his room after lunch.

Mr. 0. — ' 'Tis a hard law of political things that if a man
shows special competence in a department, that is the very
thing most likely to keep him there, and prevent his
promotion/



Digitized by



Google



TABLE-TALK 709

Mr. 0. — I consider Burke a tripartite man: America,
France, Ireland — right as to two, wrong in one.

J. if.— Must you not add home affairs and India ? His iEr * 82 '
Thoughts on the Discontents is a masterpiece of civil wisdom,
and the right defence in a great constitutional struggle.
Then he gave fourteen years of industry to Warren Hastings,
and teaching England the rights of the natives, princes and
people, and her own duties. So he was right in four out of
five.

Mr. 0. — Yes, yes — quite true. Those two ought to be
added to my three. There is a saying of Burke's from
which I must utterly dissent. 'Property is sluggish and
inert/ Quite the contrary. Property is vigilant, active,
sleepless; if ever it seems to slumber, be sure that one
eye is open.

Marie Antoinette. I once read the three volumes of letters
from Mercy d'Argenteau to Maria Theresa. He seems to
have performed the duty imposed upon him with fidelity.

J. M. — Don't you think the Empress comes out well in
the correspondence ?

Mr. 0. — Yes, she shows always judgment and sagacity.

J. M. — Ah, but besides sagacity, worth and as much
integrity as those slippery times allowed.

Mr. 0. — Yes (but rather reluctantly, I thought). As for
Marie Antoinette, she was not a striking character in any
sense ; she was horribly frivolous ; and, I suppose, we must
say she was, what shall I call it — a very considerable flirt ?

J. M. — The only case with real foundation seems to be
that of the beau Fersen, the Swedish secretary. He too
came to as tragic an end as the Queen.

Tuesday, Dec. 22. — Mr/ G. still somewhat indisposed —
but reading away all day long. Full of Marbot. Delighted
with the story of the battle of Castiglione: how when
Napoleon held a council of war, and they all said they were
hemmed in, and that their only chance was to back out,
Augereau roughly cried that they might all do what they
liked, but he would attack the enemy cost what it might.
'Exactly like a place in the Iliad ; when Agamemnon and
the rest sit sorrowful in the assembly arguing that it was



Digitized by



Google



X.

"l891~



710 BIARRITZ

BOOK useless to withstand the sovereign will of Zeus, and that
^ they had better flee into their ships, Diomed bursts out that
whatever others think, in any event he and Sthenelus, his
squire, will hold firm, and never desist from the onslaught
until they have laid waste the walls of Troy/ 1 A large
dose of Diomed in Mr. G. himself

Talk about the dangerous isolation in which the monarchy
will find itself in England if the hereditary principle goes
down in the House of Lords ; ' it will stand bare, naked, with
no shelter or shield, only endured as the better of two
evils/ ' I once asked/ he said, ' who besides myself in the
party cares for the hereditary principle ? The answer was,

That perhaps cared for it!!' — naming a member of

the party supposed to be rather sapient than sage.

News in the paper that the Comte de Paris in his dis-
couragement was about to renounce his claims, and break
up his party. Somehow this brought us round to Tocque-
ville, of whom Mr. G. spoke as the nearest French approach
to Burke.

J. M. — But pale and without passion. Who was it that
said of him that he was an aristocrat who accepted his
defeat ? That is, he knew democracy to be the conqueror,
but he doubted how far it would be an improvement, he saw
its perils, etc.

Mr. G. — I have not much faith in these estimates, whether
in favour of progress or against it. I don't believe in com-
parisons of age with age. ' How can a man strike a balance
between one government and another ? How can he place
himself in such an attitude, and with such comprehensive
sureness of vision, as to say that the thirteenth century was
better or higher or worse or lower than the nineteenth ?

Thursday , Dec. 24. — At lunch we had the news of the
Parnellite victory at Waterford. A disagreeable reverse for
us. Mr. G. did not say many words about it, only that it
would give heart to the mischief makers — only too certain.
But we said no more about it. He and I took a walk on
the sands in the afternoon, and had a curious talk (consider-
ing), about the prospects of the church of England. He was

1 Iliad, ix. 32.



Digitized by



Google



ECCLESIASTICAL 711

anxious to know about my talk some time ago with the

Bishop of whom I had met at a feast at Lincoln's Inn.

I gave him as good an account as I could of what had ^ 82 -
passed. Mr. G. doubted that this prelate was fundamentally
an Erastian, as Tait was. Mr. G. is eager to read the signs of
the times as to the prospects of anglican Christianity, to
which his heart is given; and he fears the peril of Eras-
tianism to the spiritual life of the church, which is naturally
the only thing worth caring about. Hence, he talked with
much interest of the question whether the clever fellows at
Oxford and Cambridge now take orders. He wants to know
what kind of defenders his church is likely to have in days
to come. Said that for the first time interest has moved
away both from politics and theology, towards the vague
something which they call social reform; and he thinks
they won't make much out of that in the way of permanent
results. The establishment he considers safer than it has
been for a long time.

As to Welsh disestablishment, he said it was a pity that
where the national sentiment was so unanimous as it was
in Wales, the operation itself should not be as simple as
in Scotland. In Scotland sentiment is not unanimous, but
the operation is easy. In Wales sentiment is all one way,
but the operation difficult — a good deal more difficult than
people suppose, as they will find out when they come to
tackle it.

[Perhaps it may be mentioned here that, though we
always talked freely and abundantly together upon ecclesi-
astical affairs and persons, we never once exchanged a word
upon theology or religious creed, either at Biarritz or any-
where else.]

Pitt. — A strong denunciation of Pitt for the French war.
People don't realise what the French war meant. In 1812
wheat at Liverpool was 20s. (?) the imperial bushel of
65 pounds (?)! Think of that, when you bring it into
figures of the cost of a loaf. And that was the time when
Eaton, Eastnor, and other great palaces were built by the
landlords out of the high rents which the war and war
prices enabled them to exact.



Digitized by



Google



712 BIARRITZ

Wished we knew more of Melbourne. He was in many
ways a very fine fellow. ' In two of the most important of all
1891. the relations of a prime minister, he was perfect; I mean
first, his relations to the Queen, second to his colleagues/

Somebody at dinner quoted a capital description of the
perverse fashion of talking that prevailed at Oxford soon
after my time, and prevails there now, I fancy — ' hunting for

epigrammatic ways of saying what you don't think.'

was the father of this pestilent mode.

Rather puzzled him by repeating a saying of mine that
used to amuse Fitzjames Stephen, that Love of Truth is more
often than we think only a fine name for Temper. I think
Mr. G. has a thorough dislike for anything that has a
cynical or sardonic flavour about it. I wish I had thought,
by the way, of asking him what he had to say of that piece of
Swift's, about all objects being insipid that do not come by
delusion, and everything being shrunken as it appears in the
glass of nature, so that if it were not for artificial mediums,
refracted angles, false lights, varnish and tinsel, there would
be pretty much of a level in the felicity of mortal man.

Am always feeling how strong is his aversion to seeing
more than he can help of what is sordid, mean, ignoble.
He has not been in public life all these years without rubbing
shoulders with plenty of baseness on every scale, and plenty
of pettiness in every hue, but he has always kept his eyes
well above it Never was a man more wholly free of the
starch of the censor, more ready to make allowance, nor
more indulgent even; he enters into human nature in all
its compass. But he won't linger a minute longer than he
must in the dingy places of life and character.

Christmas Day, 1891. — A divine day, brilliant sunshine,
and mild spring air. Mr. G. heard what he called an ad-
mirable sermon from an English preacher, 'with a great
command of his art.' A quietish day, Mr. G. no doubt
engaged in <f>povelv ra oaa.

Saturday, Dec. 26. — Once more a noble day. We started
in a couple of carriages for the Negress station, a couple
of miles away or more, I with the G.'s. Occasion pro-
duced the Greek epitaph of the nameless drowned sailor



Digitized by



Google



FCTENTARABIA 7l«3

who wished for others kinder seas. 1 Mr. G. felt its pathos
and its noble charm — so direct and simple, such benignity, <
such a good lesson to men to forget their own misdeeds and JETm 82 -
mischance, and to pray for the passer-by a happier star.
He repaid me by two epigrams of a different vein, and one
admirable translation into Greek, of Tennyson on Sir John
Franklin, which I do not carry in my mind ; another on a
boisterous Eton fellow —

Didactic, dry, declamatory, dull,
The bursar bellows like a bull.

Just in the tone of Greek epigram, a sort of point, but not
too much point.

Parliamentary Wit — Thought Disraeli had never been
surpassed, nor even equalled, in this line. He had a contest
with General Grey, who stood upon the general merits of
the whig government, after both Lord Grey and Stanley had
left it. D. drew a picture of a circus man who advertised
his show with its incomparable team of six grey horses.
One died, he replaced it by a mule. Another died, and he
put in a donkey, still he went on advertising his team of
greys all the same. Canning's wit not to be found con-
spicuously in his speeches, but highlj^agreeable pleasantries,
though many of them in a vein which would jar horribly on
modern taste.

Some English redcoats and a pack of hounds passed us
as we neared the station. They saluted Mr. G. with a
politeness that astonished him, but was pleasant. Took the
train for Irun, the fields and mountain slopes delightful
in the sun, and the sea on our right a superb blue such
as we never see in English waters. At Irun we found
carriages waiting to take us on to Fuentarabia. From the
balcony of the church had a beautiful view over the scene
of Wellington's operations when he crossed the Bidassoa, in
the presence of the astonished Soult. A lovely picture, made
none the worse by this excellent historic association. The

1 ravrfXc, yd) we^Bov tIwo* 4p$d8e rv/xfios 68* elfd,
dXX airrbs itbvrov rirfXflv^ xP r l <rrvr 4pov.

'Ask not, mariner, whose tomb I am here, but be thine own fortune
a kinder sea.'— Mack ail.



Digitized by



Google



714 BIABRITZ

alcalde was extremely polite and intelligent. The consul
who was with us showed a board on the old tower, in which
1891. v ^ some words was 6, and I noted that the alcalde spoke
of Viarritz. I reminded Mr. G. of Scaliger's epigram —

Hand temere antiquas mutat Yasconia voces,
Cui nihil est aliud vivere quarn bibere.

Pretty cold driving home, but Mr. G. seemed not to care.
He found both the churches at St. Jean and at Fuentarabia
very noteworthy, though the latter very popish, but both
he felt, ' had a certain association with grandeur/

Sunday, Dec. 27. — After some quarter of an hour of
travellers' topics, we plunged into one of the most interest-
ing talks we have yet had. Apropos of I do not know
what, Mr. G. said that he had not advised his son to enter
public life. ' No doubt there are some men to whom station,
wealth, and family traditions make it a duty. But I have
never advised any individual, as to whom I have been con-
sulted, to enter the H. of C

J. M. — But isn't that rather to encourage self-indulgence ?
Nobody who cares for ease or mental composure would seek



?







public life

Mr. 0. — Ah, I don't know that Surely politics open up
a great field for the natural man. Self-seeking, pride,
domination, power — all these passions are gratified in
politics.

J. M. — You cannot be sure of achievement in politics,
whether personal or public ?

Mr. 0. — No ; to use Bacon's pregnant phrase, they are too
itnmersed in matter. Then as new matter, that is, new
details and particulars, come into view, men change their
judgment.

J. M. — You have spoken just now of somebody as a
thorough good tory. You know the saying that nobody is
worth much who has not been a bit of a radical in his
youth, and a kit of a tory in his fuller age.

Mr. 0. (laughing) — Ah, I'm afraid that hits me rather
hard. But for myself, I think I can truly put up all the
change that has come into my politics into a sentence; I



Digitized by



Google



DISENCHANTMENT A MISTAKE 715

was brought up to distrust and dislike liberty, I learned to
believe in it. That is the key to all my changes.

J. M. — According to my observation, the change in my &*• 82 *
own generation is different. They have ceased either to
trust or to distrust liberty, and have come to the mind that
it matters little either way. Men are disenchanted. They
have got what they wanted in the days of their youth, yet
what of it, they ask ? France has thrown off the Empire,
but the statesmen of the republic are not a great breed.
Italy has gained her unity, yet unity has not been followed
by thrift, wisdom, or large increase of public virtue or
happiness. America has purged herself of slavery, yet life
in America is material, prosaic, — so say some of her own
rarest sons. Don't think that I say all these things. But
I know able and high-minded men who suffer from this
disenchantment.

Mr. G. — Italy would have been very different if Cavour
had only lived — and even Ricasoli. Men ought not to
suffer from disenchantment. They ought to know that
ideals in politics are never realised. And don't let us
forget in eastern Europe the rescue in our time of
some ten millions of men from the harrowing domination of
the Turk. (On this he expatiated, and very justly, with
much energy.)

We turned to our own country. Here he insisted that
democracy had certainly not saved us from a distinct

decline in the standard of public men Look at the

whole conduct of opposition from '80 to '85 — every principle
was flung overboard, if they could manufacture a combination
against the government For all this deterioration one man
and one man alone is responsible, Disraeli. He is the grand
corrupter. He it was who sowed the seed.

J. M. — Ought not Palmerston to bear some share in this ?

Mr. G. — No, no ; Pam. had many strong and liberal con-
victions. On one subject Dizzy had them too — the Jews.
There he was much more than rational, he was fanatical.
He said once that Providence would deal good or ill fortune
to nations, according as they dealt well or ill by the Jews.
I remember once sitting next to John Russell when D. was



Digitized by



Google



1891.



716 BIARRITZ

BOOK making a speech on Jewish emancipation. ' Look at him/
• said J. R, ' how manfully he sticks to it, tho' he knows that
every word he says is gall and wormwood to every man who
sits around him and behind him.' A curious irony, was it
not, that it should have fallen to me to propose a motion
for a memorial both to Pam. and Dizzy ?

A superb scene upon the ocean, with a grand wind from
the west. Mr. G. and I walked on the shore; he has a
passion for tumultuous seas. I have never seen such huge
masses of water, shattering themselves among the rocks.

In the evening Mr. G. remarked on our debt to Macaulay,
for guarding the purity of the English tongue. I recalled
a favourite passage from Milton, that next to the man
who gives wise and intrepid counsels of government, he
places the man who cares for the purity of his mother
tongue. Mr. G. liked this. Said he only knew Bright once
slip into an error in this respect, when he used * transpire '
for ' happen.' Macaulay of good example also in rigorously
abstaining from the inclusion of matter in footnotes.
Hallam an offender in this respect. I pointed out that he
offended in company with Gibbon.

Monday, Dec. 28. — We had an animated hour at breakfast

Oxford and Carrvbridge. — Curious how, like two buckets,
whenever one was up, the other was down. Cambridge has
never produced four such men of action in successive ages
as Wolsey, Laud, Wesley, and Newman.

J. M. — In the region of thought Cambridge has produced
the greatest of all names, Newton.

Mr. Q. — In the earlier times Oxford has it — with Wycliff,
Occam, above all Roger Bacon. And then ip. the eighteenth
century, Butler.

J. M. — But why not Locke, too, in the century before ?

This brought on a tremendous tussle, for Mr. G. was of
the same mind, and perhaps for the same sort of reason, as
Joseph de Maistre, that contempt for Locke is the beginning
of knowledge. All very well for De Maistre, but not for a
man in line with European liberalism. I pressed the very
obvious point that you must take into account not only a
man's intellectual product or his general stature, but also



Digitized by



Google



TABLE-TALK 7 17

#

his influence as a historic force. From the point of view of CHAP,
influence Locke was the origin of the emancipatory move- f ' -
ment of the eighteenth century abroad, and laid the philo- uEt * 82 -
sophic foundations of liberalism in civil government at home.
Mr. G. insisted on a passage of Hume's which he believed
to be in the history, disparaging Locke as a metaphysical
thinker. 1 'That may be/ said I, 'though Hume in his
Essay 8 is not above paying many compliments to "the
great reasoner," etc., to whom, for that matter, I fancy that



Online LibraryJohn MorleyThe life of William Ewart Gladstone, Volume 2 → online text (page 65 of 91)