John Morley.

The life of William Ewart Gladstone, Volume 2 online

. (page 66 of 91)
Online LibraryJohn MorleyThe life of William Ewart Gladstone, Volume 2 → online text (page 66 of 91)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

he stood in pretty direct relation. But far be it from me to
deny that Hume saw deeper than Locke into the meta-
physical millstone. That is not the point. I'm only
thinking of his historic place, and, after all, the history of
philosophy is itself a philosophy/ To minds nursed in
dogmatic schools, all this is both unpalatable and incredible.

Somehow we slid into the freedom of the will and
Jonathan Edwards. I told him that Mill had often told
us how Edwards argued the necessarian or determinist case
as keenly as any modern.

Tuesday, Dec. 29. — Mr. G. 82 to-day. I gave him MackaiPs
Greek Epigrams, and if it affords him half as much pleasure
as it has given me, he will be very grateful. Various people
brought Mr. G. bouquets and addresses. Mr. G. went to
church in the morning, and in the afternoon took a walk
with me. . . . Land Question. As you go through France
you see the soil cultivated by the population. In our little
dash into Spain the other day, we saw again the soil culti-
vated by the population. In England it is cultivated by
the capitalist, for the farmer is capitalist. Some astonishing
views recently propounded by D. of Argyll on this matter.
Unearned increment — so terribly difficult to catch it.
Perhaps best try to get at it through the death duties.
Physical condition of our people — always a subject of great
anxiety — their stature, colour, and so on. Feared the
atmosphere of cotton factories, etc., very deleterious. As
against bad air, I said, you must set good food ; the Lanca-
shire operative in decent times lives uncommonly well, as he
deserves to do. He agreed there might be something in this.

1 I have not succeeded in hitting on the passage in the History.

Digitized by



The day was humid and muggy, but the tumult of the sea
was most majestic. Mr. G. delighted in it. He has a passion
1891. f or fa e soun( i f the sea ; would like to have it in his ear all
day and all night. Again and again he recurred to this.

After dinner, long talk about Mazzini, of whom Mr. G.
thought poorly in comparison with Poerio and the others
who for freedom sacrificed their lives. I stood up for
Mazzini, as one of the most morally impressive men I had
ever known, or that his age knew ; he breathed a soul into

Then we fell into a discussion as to the eastern and
western churches. He thought the western popes by their
proffered alliance with the mahometans, etc., had betrayed
Christianity in the east. I offered De Maistre's view.

Mr. G. strongly assented to old Chatham's dictum that
vacancy is worse than even the most anxious work. He has
less to reproach himself with than most men under that head.

He repeated an observation that I have heard him make
before, that he thought politicians are more -rapid than other
people. I told him that Bowen once said to me on this that
he did not agree ; that he thought rapidity the mark of all
successful men in the practical line of life, merchants and
stockbrokers, etc.

Wednesday t Dec. 30. — A very muggy day. A divine
sunset, with the loveliest pink and opal tints in the sky.
Mr. G. reading Gleig's Subaltern. Not a very entertaining
book in itself, but the incidents belong to Wellington's
Pyrenean campaign, and, for my own part, I rather enjoyed
it on the principle on which one likes reading Romola at
Florence, Transformation at Rome, Sylvia's Lovers at
Whitby, and Hurrish on the northern edge of Clare.

Thursday, Dec. 31. — Down to the pier, and found all the
party watching the breakers, and superb they were. Mr. G.
exulting in the huge force of the Atlantic swell and the beat
of the rollers on the shore, like a Titanic pulse.

After dinner Mr. G. raised the question of payment
of members. He had been asked by somebody whether
he meant at Newcastle to indicate that everybody should
be paid, or only those who chose to take it or to ask

Digitized by



for it. He produced the same extraordinary plan as he
had described to me on the morning of his Newcastle
speech — i.e. that the Inland Revenue should ascertain from ^ T - 82 -
their own books the income of every M.P., and if they
found any below the limit of exemption, should notify the
same to the Speaker, and the Speaker should thereupon
send to the said M.P. below the limit an annual cheque for,
say, £300, the name to appear in an annual return to Parlia-
ment of all the M.P/s in receipt of public money on any
grounds whatever. I demurred to this altogether, as
drawing an invidious distinction between paid and unpaid
members ; said it was idle to ignore the theory on which the
demand for paid members is based, namely, that it is desir-
able in the public interest that poor men should have access
to the H. of C. ; and that the poor man should stand there on
the same footing as anybody else.

Friday, Jan. 1, 1892. — After breakfast Mrs. Gladstone
came to my room and said how glad she was that I had not
scrupled to put unpleasant points ; that Mr. G. must not be
shielded and sheltered as some great people are, who hear
all the pleasant things and none of the unpleasant ; that the
perturbation from what is disagreeable only lasts an hour. I
said I hoped that I was faithful with him, but of course
I could not be always putting myself in an attitude of
perpetual controversy. She said, ' He is never made angry

by what you say.' And so she went away, and and

I had a good and most useful set-to about Irish finance.

At luncheon Mr. G. asked what we had made out of our
morning's work. When we told him, he showed a good deal
of impatience and vehemence, and, to my dismay, he came
upon union finance and the general subject of the treat-
ment of Ireland by England. . . .

In the afternoon we took a walk, he and I, afterwards
joined by the rest. He was as delighted as ever with the
swell of the waves, as they bounded over one another, with
every variety of grace and tumultuous power. He wondered
if we had not more and better words for the sea than the
French — ' breaker/ ' billow/ ' roller/ as against ' flot/ ' vague/
'onde/ 'lame/ etc.

Digitized by



At dinner he asked me whether I had made up my mind
on the burning question of compulsory Greek for a univer-
sity degree. I said, No, that as then advised I was half in-
clined to be against compulsory Greek, but it is so important
that I would not decide before I was obliged. 'So with
me/ he said, 'the question is one with many subtle and
deep-reaching consequences.' He dwelt on the folly of
striking Italian out of the course of modern education,
thus cutting European history in two, and setting an arti-
ficial gulf between the ancient and modern worlds.

Saturday, Jan. 2. — Superb morning, and all the better
for being much cooler. At breakfast somebody started the
idle topic of quill pens. When they came to the length of
time that so-and-so made a quill serve, 'De Ketz,' said I,
' made up his mind that Cardinal Chigi was a poor creature,
maaimus in minimis, because at their first interview Chigi
boasted that he had used one pen for three years.' That
recalled another saying of Retz's about Cromwell's famous
dictum, that nobody goes so far as the man who does not
know where he is going. Mr. G. gave his deep and eager
Ah! to this. He could not recall that Cromwell had
produced many dicta of such quality. 'I don't love him,
but he was a mighty big fellow. But he was intolerant.
He was intolerant of the episcopalians.'

Mr. G. — Do you know whom I find the most tolerant
churchman of that time ? Laud ! Laud got Davenant made
Bishop of Salisbury, and he zealously befriended Chilling-
worth and Hales. (There was some other case, which I forget.)

The execution of Charles. — I told him of Gardiner's new
volume which I had just been reading. 'Charles,' he
said, ' was no doubt a dreadful liar ; Cromwell perhaps did
not always tell the truth; Elizabeth was a tremendous

J. M. — Charles was not wholly inexcusable, being what he
was, for thinking that he had a good game in his hands, by
playing off the parliament against the army, etc.

Mr. 0. — There was less excuse for cutting off his head than
in the case of poor Louis xvi., for Louis was the excuse for
foreign invasion.

Digitized by



J. M. — Could you call foreign invasion the intervention
of the Scotch ?

Mr. 0. — Well, not quite. I suppose it is certain that it was ^ Et# 83 *
Cromwell who cut off Charles's head ? Not one in a hundred
in the nation desired it.

J. M. — No, nor one in twenty in the parliament. But then,
ninety-nine in a hundred in the army.

In the afternoon we all drove towards Bayonne to watch
the ships struggle over the bar at high water. As it
happened we only saw one pass out, a countryman for
Cardiff. A string of others were waiting to go, but a little
steamer from Nantes came first, and having secured her
station, found she had not force enough to make the bar,
and the others remained swearing impatiently behind her.
The Nantes steamer was like Ireland. The scene was very
fresh and fine, and the cold most exhilarating after the
mugginess of the last two or three days. Mr. G., who has
a dizzy head, did not venture on the jetty, but watched
things from the sands. He and I drove home together,
at a good pace. 'I am inclined/ he said laughingly, 'to
agree with Dr. Johnson that there is no pleasure greater than
sitting behind four fast-going horses.' x Talking of John-
son generally, ' I suppose we may take him as the best pro-
duct of the eighteenth century.' Perhaps so, but is he its
most characteristic product ?

Wellington, — Curious that there should be no general
estimate of W.'s character; his character not merely as a
general but as a mail No love of freedom. His sense of
duty very strong, but military rather than civil.

Mmtalembert. — Had often come into contact with him. A
very amiable and attractive man. But less remarkable
than Bio.

Latin Poets. — Would you place Virgil first ?

J. M. — Oh, no, Lucretius much the first for the greatest
and sublimest of poetic qualities. Mr. G. seemed to assent to
this, though disposed to make a fight for the second Aeneid
as equal to anything. He expressed his admiration for

1 Boewell, March 21, 1776. Re- fication, Sept. 19, 1777. Birkbeck
peated, with a very remarkable quali- Hill's edition, iii. p. 162.

VOL. IL. 2 Z

Digitized by



BOOK Catullus, and then he was strong that Horace would run
^ anybody else very hard, breaking out with the lines about

1892 - Regulus—

* Atqui sciebat quae sibi barbarus
Tortor paraiet ; ' etc. 1

Blunders in Government — How right Napoleon was when
he said, reflecting on all the vast complexities of govern-
ment, that the best to be said of a statesman is that he has
avoided the biggest blunders.

It is not easy to define the charm of these conversations.
Is charm the right word ? They are in the highest degree
stimulating, bracing, widening. That is certain. I return
to my room with the sensations of a man who has taken
delightful exercise in fresh air. He is so wholly free from the
ergoteur. There's all the difference between the ergotewr
and the great debater. He fits his tone to the thing ; he can
be as playful as anybody. In truth I have many a time
seen him in London and at Hawarden not far from trivial
But here at Biarritz all is appropriate, and though, as I
say, he can be playful and gay as youth, he cannot resist
rising in an instant to the general point of view — to grasp
the elemental considerations of character, history, belief,
conduct, affairs. There he is at home, there he is most
himself. I never knew anybody less guilty of the tiresome
sin of arguing for victory. It is not his knowledge that
attracts ; it is not his ethical tests and standards ; it is not
that dialectical strength of arm which, as Mark Pattison
said of him, could twist a bar of iroi* to its purpose. It is
the combination of these with elevation, with true sincerity,
with extraordinary mental force.

Sunday, Jan. 3. — Vauvenargues is right when he says
that to carry through great undertakings, one must act as
though one could never die. My wonderful companion is
a wonderful illustration. He is like M. Angelo, who, just
before he died on the very edge of ninety, made an allegori-
cal figure, and inscribed upon it, ancora impara, 'still

At dinner he showed in full force.

1 Oarm. iii. 5.

Digitized by



Heroes of the Old Testament — He could not honestly say
that he thought there was any figure in the O. T. comparable
to the heroes of Homer. Moses was a fine fellow. But the ^ Et - 83#
others were of secondary quality — not great high personages,
of commanding nature.

Thinkers. — Rather an absurd word — to call a man a
thinker (and he repeated the word with gay mockery in his
tone). When did it come into use? Not until quite our
own times, eh ? I said, I believed both Hobbes and Locke
spoke of thinkers, and was pretty sure that penseur, as in
libre penseur, had established itself in the last century.
[Quite true ; Voltaire used it, but it was not common.]

Dr. Arnold. — A high, large, impressive figure — perhaps
more important by his character and personality than his
actual work. I mentioned M. A.'s poem on his father, Rugby
Chapel, with admiration. Rather to my surprise, Mr. G.
knew the poem well, and shared my admiration to the full
This brought us on to poetry generally, and he expatiated
with much eloquence and sincerity for the rest of the talk.
The wonderful continuity of fine poetry in England for
five whole centuries, stretching from Chaucer to Tennyson,
always a proof to his mind of the soundness, the sap, and
the vitality of our nation and its character. What people,
beginning with such a poet as Chaucer 500 years ago, could
have burst forth into such astonishing production of poetry
as marked the first quarter of the century, Byron, Words-
worth, Shelley, etc.

J. M. — It is true that Germany has nothing, save Goethe,
Schiller, Heine, that 's her whole list. But I should say a
word for the poetic movement in France: Hugo, Gautier,
etc. Mr. G. evidently knew but little, or even nothing, of
modern French poetry. He spoke up for Leopardi, on whom
he had written an article first introducing him to the British
public, ever so many years ago — in the Quarterly.

Mr. G. — Wordsworth used occasionally to dine with me
when I lived in the Albany. A most agreeable man. I
always found him amiable, polite, and sympathetic, Only
once did he jar upon me, when he spoke slightingly of
Tennyson's first performance.

Digitized by



BOOK J. M. — But he was not so wrong as he would be now.

/ - Tennyson's Juvenilia are terribly artificial.
1892. j£ r q — yes, perhaps. Tennyson has himself withdrawn
some of them. I remember W., when he dined with me,
used on leaving to change his silk stockings in the ante-
room and put on grey worsted.

J. M. — I once said to M. Arnold that I 'd rather have been
Wordsworth than anybody [not exactly a modest ambition] ;
and Arnold, who knew him well in the Grasmere country,
said, 'Oh no, you would not; you would wish you were
dining with me at the Athenaeum. He was too much of
the peasant for you/

Mr. 0. — No, I never felt that; I always thought him a
polite and an amiable man.

Mentioned Macaulay's strange judgment in a note in the
History, that Dryden's famous lines,

* . . . FooPd with hope, men favour the deceit ;
Trust on, and think to-morrow will repay.
To-morrow 's falser than the former day ;
Lies worse, and while it says we shall be blest
With some new joys, cuts off what we possest.
Strange cozenage ! . . .'

are as fine as any eight lines in Lucretius. Told him of

an excellent remark of on this, that Dryden's passage

wholly lacks the mystery and great superhuman air of
Lucretius. Mr. G. warmly agreed.

He regards it as a remarkable sign of the closeness of the
church of England to the roots of life and feeling in the
country, that so many clergymen should have written so
much good poetry. Who, for instance? I asked. He
named Heber, Moultrie, Newman (Dream of Oerontius), and
Faber in at least one good poem, 'The poor Labourer' (or
some such title), Charles Tennyson. I doubt if this thesis
has much body in it. He was for Shelley as the most
musical of all our poets. I told him that I had once asked
M. to get Tennyson to write an autograph line for a friend of
mine, and Tennyson had sent this : —

* Coldly on the dead volcano sleeps the gleam of dying day.'
So I suppose the poet must think well of it himsel£ 'Tis

Digitized by



from the second LocksLey Hall, and describes a man after CHAP,
passions have gone cooL ^ ^

Mr. G. — Yes, in melody, in the picturesque, and as apt ^ T - 83 -
simile, a fine line.

Had been trying his hand at a translation of his favourite
lines of Penelope about Odysseus. Said that, of course, you
could translate similes and set passages, but to translate
Homer as a whole, impossible. He was inclined, when
all is said, to think Scott the nearest approach to a

Monday, Jan. 4. — At luncheon, Mr. Gladstone recalled the
well-known story of Talleyrand on the death of Napoleon.
The news was brought when T. chanced to be dining
with Wellington. 'Quel 6v6nement^ they all cried.
'Non, ce n'est pas un 6v6nement/ said Talleyrand, 'c'est
une nouvelle ' — 'Tis no event, 'tis a piece of news. ' Imagine
such a way/ said Mr. G., ' of taking the disappearance of
that colossal man! Compare it with the opening of
Manzoni's ode, which makes the whole earth stand still.
Yet both points of view are right. In one sense, the giant's
death was only news; in another, when we think of his
history, it was enough to shake the world/ At the moment,
he could not recall Manzoni's words, but at dinner he told
me that he had succeeded in piecing them together, and
after dinner he went to his room and wrote them down for
me on a piece of paper. Curiously enough, he could not
recall the passage in his own splendid translation. 1

Talk about handsome men of the past ; Sidney Herbert
one of the handsomest and most attractive. But the
Duke of Hamilton bore away the palm, as glorious as a
Greek god. 'One day in Rotten Row, I said this to the
Duchess of C. She set up James Hope-Scott against my
Duke. No doubt he had an intellectual element which the
Duke lacked/ Then we discussed the best-looking man in
the H. of C. to-day. . . .

Duke of Wellington. — Somebody was expatiating on
the incomparable position of the Duke; his popularity
with kings, with nobles, with common people. Mr. G.

1 Translations by LytUUon and Gladstone, p. 166.

Digitized by



remembered that immediately after the formation of
Canning's government in 1827, when it was generally
1892. thought that he had been most unfairly and factiously
treated (as Mr. G. still thinks, always saving Peel)
by the Duke and his friends, the Duke made an expedition
to the north of England, and had an overwhelming reception.
Of course, he was then only twelve years from Waterloo,
and yet only four or five years later he had to put up his
iron shutters.

Approved a remark that a friend of ours was not simple
enough, not ready enough to take things as they come.

Mr. 0. — Unless a man has a considerable gift for taking
things as they come, he may make up his mind that
political life will be sheer torment to him. He must meet
fortune in all its moods.

Tuesday, Jan. 5. — After dinner to-day, Mr. G. extraordin-
arily gay. He had bought a present of silver for his wifa
She tried to guess the price, and after the manner of wives
in such a case, put the figure provokingly low. Mr. G. then
put on the deprecating air of the tradesman with wounded
feelings — and it was as capital fun as we could desire. That
over, he fell to his backgammon with our host.

Wednesday, Jan. 6. — Mrs. Gladstone eighty to-day ! What
a marvel. . . .

L£on Say called to see Mr. G. Long and most interesting
conversation about all sorts of aspects of French politics, the
concordat, the schools, and all the rest of it.

He illustrated the ignorance of French peasantry as to
current affairs. Thiers, long after he had become famous,
went on a visit to his native region ; and there met a friend
of his youth. 'Eh bien,' said his friend, c tu as fait ton
chemin.' 'Mais oui,j'ai fait un peu mon chemin. J'ai 6t6
ministre mSme.* ' Ah, tiens ! je ne savais pas que tu 6tais

I am constantly struck by his solicitude for the well-being
and right doing of Oxford and Cambridge — ' the two eyes of
the country/ This connection between the higher education
and the general movement of the national mind engages his
profound attention, and no doubt deserves such attention

Digitized by


JEt. 83.


in any statesman who looks beyond the mere surface pro- CHAP,
blems of the day. To perceive the bearings of such matters v
as these, makes Mr. G. a statesman of the highest class, as
distinguished from men of clever expedients.

Mr. G. had been reading the Greek epigrams on religion
in Mackail; quoted the last of them as illustrating the
description of the dead as the inhabitants of the more
populous world : —

TCOV OTTO KT)V faoicTlV OX^dc'd, K^T* h.V IKfJOl

cV 7r\<6va>p, c£ t iff OvfjLov iXa<f>p6T€pov. 1

A more impressive epigram contains the same thought,
where the old man, leaning on his staff, likens himself to the
withered vine on its dry pole, and goes on to ask himself what
advantage it would be to warm himself for three or four more
years in the sun ; and on that reflection without heroics put
off his life, and changed his home to the greater company,

All the rest of the evening he kept us alive by a stock of
infinite drolleries. A scene of a dish of over-boiled tea at
West Calder after a meeting, would have made the fortune
of a comedian.

I said that in the all-important quality of co-operation,

was only good on condition of being in front. Mr. G.

read him in the same sense. Reminded of a mare he once
had — admirable, provided you kept off spur, curb, or whip ;
show her one of these things, and she would do nothing.
Mr. G. more of a judge of men than is commonly thought.

Told us of a Chinese despatch which came under his notice
when he was at the board of trade, and gave him food for
reflection. A ship laden with grain came to Canton. The
administrator wrote to the central government at Pekin to
know whether the ship was to pay duty and land its cargo.
The answer was to the effect that the central government of
the Flowery Land was quite indifferent as a rule to the goings
and comings of the Barbarians ; whether they brought a cargo
or brought no cargo was a thing of supreme unconcern. ' But
this cargo, you say, is food for the people. There ought to be

1 Thou shalt possess thy soul with- when thou goest to the place where
out care among the living, and lighter most are.

Digitized by



no obstacle to the entry of food for the people. So let it in.
Your Younger Brother commends himself to you, etc. etc.'
1892, Friday, Jan. 8. — A quiet evening. We were all rather
piano at the end of an episode which had been thoroughly
delightful. When Mr. G. bade me good-night, he said with
real feeling, ' More sorry than I can say that this is our last
evening together at Biarritz.' He is painfully grieved to
lose the sound of the sea in his ears.

Saturday, Jan. 9. — Strolled about all the forenoon. ' What
a time of blessed composure it has been/ said Mr. G. with a
heavy sigh. The distant hills covered with snow, and the
voice of the storm gradually swelling. Still the savage fury
of the sea was yet some hours off, so we had to leave Biarritz
without the spectacle of Atlantic rage at its fiercest.

Found comfortable saloon awaiting us at Bayonne, and so
under weeping skies we made our way to Pau. The land-
scape must be pretty, weather permitting. As it was, we
saw but little. Mr. G. dozed and read Max Mtiller's book on
Anthropological Religions.

Arrived at Pau towards 5.30 ; drenching rain : nothing to
be seen.

At tea time, a good little discussion raised by a protest
against Dante's being praised for a complete survey of human
nature and the many phases of human lot. Intensity he
has, but insight over the whole field of character and life ?

Online LibraryJohn MorleyThe life of William Ewart Gladstone, Volume 2 → online text (page 66 of 91)