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The life of William Ewart Gladstone, Volume 2 online

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session, differences of mental habit, and differences of fundamental
tendency, between the House of Lords and the House of Commons,
appear to have reached a development in the present year such as
to create a state of things of which we are compelled to say that,
in our judgment, it cannot continue. Sir, I do not wish to use
hard words, which are easily employed and as easily retorted — it
is a game that two can play at — but without using hard words,
without presuming to judge of motives, without desiring or ventur-
ing to allege imputations, I have felt it a duty to state what
appeared to me to be indisputable facts. The issue which is raised
between a deliberative assembly, elected by the votes of more than
6,000,000 people, and a deliberative assembly occupied by many
men of virtue, by many men of talent, of course with considerable
diversities and varieties, is a controversy which, when once raised,
must go forward to an issue.

Men did not know that they were listening to his last
speech, but his words fell in with the eager humour of his
followers around him, and he sat down amid vehement
plaudits. Then when the business was at an end, he rose,
and for the last time walked away from the House of
Commons. He had first addressed it sixty-one years before,

hi

The following day (March 2) he busied himself in packing
his papers, and working at intervals on his translation of
Horace. He told me that he had now reason to suppose
that the Queen might ask him for advice as to his successor.
After some talk, he said that if asked he should advise her
to send for Lord Spencer. As it happened, his advice was
not sought. That evening he went to Windsor to dine and



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LAST AUDIENCE 753

sleep. The next day was to be the council. Here is his CHAP,
memorandum of the last audience on Saturday, March 3 l : — * ^

As I crossed the quadrangle at 10.20 on my way to St. George's
Chapel, I met Sir H. Ponsonby, who said he was anxious to speak
to me about the future. He was much impressed with the move-
ment among a body of members of parliament against having any
peer for prime minister. I signified briefly that I did not think
there should be too ready a submission to such a movement. There
was not time to say a great deal, and I had something serious to
say, so we adjourned the conversation till half past eleven, when I
should return from St. George's.

He came at that time and opened on the same lines, desiring to
obtain from me whatever I thought proper to say as to persons in
the arrangements for the future. I replied to him that this was
in my view a most serious matter. All my thoughts on it were
absolutely at the command of the Queen. And I should be equally
at his command, if he inquired of me from her and in her name ;
but that otherwise my lips must be sealed. I knew from him that
he was in search of information to report to the Queen, but this
was a totally different matter.

I entered, however, freely on the general question of the move-
ment among a section of the House of Commons. I thought it
impossible to say at the moment, but I should not take for granted
that it would be formidable or regard it as in limine disposing of
the question. Up to a certain point, I thought it a duty to
strengthen the hands of our small minority and little knot of
ministers in the Lords, by providing these ministers with such '
weight as attaches to high office. All this, or rather all that
touched the main point, namely the point of a peer prime minister,
he without doubt reported.

The council train came down and I joined the ministers in the
drawing-room. I received various messages as to the time when I
was to see the Queen, and when it would be most convenient to
me. I interpret this variety as showing that she was nervous. It
ended in fixing the time after the council and before luncheon, I
carried with me a box containing my resignation, and, the council
being over, handed it to her immediately, and told her that it con-
i Written down, March 5.

VOL. IL 3 B



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754 RETIREMENT FROM PUBLIC LIFE

BOOK tained my tender of resignation. She asked whether she ought
*/ then to read it. I said there was nothing in the letter to require it.
1894. jj. repeated my former letter of notice, with the requisite additions.
I must notice what, though slight, supplied the only incident of
any interest in this perhaps rather memorable audience, which
closed a service that would reach to fifty-three years on September
3, when I was sworn privy councillor before the Queen at Claremont
When I came into the room and came near to take the seat she
has now for some time courteously commanded, I did think she
was going to ' break down.' If I was not mistaken, at any rate
she rallied herself, as I thought, by a prompt effort, and remained
collected and at her ease. Then came the conversation, which may
be called neither here nor there. Its only material feature was nega-
tive. There was not one syllable on the past, except a repetition,
an emphatic repetition, of the thanks she had long ago amply
rendered for what I had done, a service of no great merit, in the
matter of the Duke of Coburg, and which I assured her would
not now escape my notice if occasion should arise. There was the
question of eyes and ears, of German versus English oculists, she
believing in the German as decidedly superior. Some reference
to my wife, with whom she had had an interview and had ended it
affectionately, — and various nothings. No touch on the subject of
the last Ponsonby conversation. Was I wrong in not tendering
orally my best wishes ? I was afraid that anything said by me
should have the appearance of touting. A departing servant has
some title to offer his hopes and prayers for the future ; but a
servant is one who has done, or tried to do, service in the past
There is in all this a great sincerity. There also seems to be some
little mystery as to my own case with her. I saw no sign of
embarrassment or preoccupation. The Empress Frederick was
outside in the corridor. She bade me a most kind and warm fare-
well, which I had done nothing to deserve.

The letter tendered to the Queen in the box was this : —
Mr. Gladstone presents his most humble duty to your Majesty.
The close of the session and the approach of a new one have
offered Mr. Gladstone a suitable opportunity for considering the
- condition of his sight and hearing, both of them impaired, in rela-
tion to his official obligations. As they now place serious and
also growing obstacles in the way of the efficient discharge of



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LETTEB OF RESIGNATION 755

*

those obligations, the result has been that he has found it his CHAP,
duty humbly to tender to your Majesty his resignation of the '

high offices which your Majesty has been pleased to intrust to ^ Srs * ^
him. His desire to make this surrender is accompanied with a
grateful sense of the condescending kindnesses, which your
Majesty has graciously shown him on so many occasions . during
the various periods for which he has had the honour to serve your
Majesty. Mr. Gladstone will not needlessly burden your Majesty
with a recital of particulars. He may, however, say that although
at eighty-four years of age he is sensible of a diminished capacity
for prolonged labour, this is not of itself such as would justify his
praying to be relieved from the restraints and exigencies of official
life. But his deafness has become in parliament, and even in the
cabinet, a serious inconvenience, of which he must reckon on more
progressive increase. More grave than this, and more rapid in
its growth, is the obstruction of vision which arises from cataract
in both his eyes. It has 'cut him off in substance from the news-
papers, and from all except the best types in the best lights, while
even as to these he cannot master them with that ordinary facility N
and despatch which he deems absolutely required for the due
despatch of his public duties. In other respects than reading
the operation of the complaint is not as yet so serious, but this
one he deems to be vital. Accordingly he brings together these
two facts, the condition of his sight and hearing, and the break in
the course of public affairs brought about in the ordinary way
by the close of the session. He has therefore felt that this is the
fitting opportunity for the resignation which by this letter he
humbly prays your Majesty to accept.

In the course of the day the Queen wrote what I take to
be her last letter to him : —

Windsor Castle, March 3, 1894. — Though the Queen has already
accepted Mr. Gladstone's resignation, and has taken leave of him,
she does not like to leave his letter tendering his resignation
unanswered. She therefore writes these few lines to say that she
thinks that after so many years of arduous labour and responsibility
he is right in wishing to be relieved at his age of these arduous
duties. And she trusts he will be able to enjoy peace and quiet
with his excellent and devoted wife in health and happiness, and
that his eyesight may improve.



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1894.



756 RETIREMENT FROM PUBLIC LIFE

The Queen would gladly have conferred a peerage on Mr. Glad-
stone, but she knows he would not accept it.

His last act in relation to this closing scene of the great
official drama was a letter to General Ponsonby (March 5) : —

The first entrance of a man to Windsor Castle in a responsible
character, is a great event in his life; and his last departure
from it is not less moving. But in and during the process
which led up to this transaction on Saturday, my action has
been in the strictest sense sole, and it has required me in
circumstances partly known to harden my heart into a flint.
However, it is not even now so hard, but that I can feel
what you have most kindly written; nor do I fail to observe
with pleasure that you do not speak absolutely in the singular.
If there were feelings that made the occasion sad, such feelings do
not die with the occasion. But this letter must not be wholly one
of egotism. I have known and have liked and admired all the
men who have served the Queen in your delicate and responsible
office ; and have liked most, probably because I knew him most,
the last of them, that most true-hearted man, General Grey.
But forgive me for saying you are 'to the manner 00™!*; and
such a combination of tact and temper with loyalty, intelligence,
and truth I cannot expect to see again. Pray remember these
are words which can only pass from an old man to one much
younger, though trained in a long experience.

It is hardly in human nature, in spite of Charles v., Sulla,
and some other historic persons, to lay down power beyond
recall, without a secret pang. . In Prior's lines that came to
the mind of brave Sir Walter Scott, as he saw the curtain
falling on his days, —

The man in graver tragic known,
(Though his best part long since was done,)
Still on the stage desires to tarry . . .
Unwilling to retire, though weary.

Whether the departing minister had a lingering thought
that in the dispensations of the world, purposes and services
would still arise to which even yet he might one day be
summoned, we do not know. Those who were nearest to
him believe not, and assuredly he made no outer sign.



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CHAPTER IX

THE CLOSE

{1894-1898)

Natural death is as it were a haven and a rest to us after long navi-
gation. And the noble Soul is like a good mariner ; for he, when
he draws near the port, lowers his sails and enters it softly with
gentle steerage. . . . And herein we have from our own nature a
great lesson of suavity ; for in such a death as this there is no grief
nor any bitterness : but as a ripe apple U lightly and without violence
loosened from its branch, so our soul without grieving departs from
the body in which it hath been. — Dante, Convito. 1

After the first wrench was over, and an end had come to chap.
the demands, pursuits, duties, glories, of powerful and active , **- t
station held for a long lifetime, Mr. Gladstone soon settled ^- *&>
to the new conditions of his existence, knowing that for him
all that could be left was, in the figure of his great Italian poet,
* to lower sails and gather in his ropes.' 2 He was not much
in London, and when he came he stayed in the pleasant
retreat to which his affectionate and ever-attached friends,
Lord and Lady Aberdeen, so often invited him at Dollis Hill.
Much against his will, he did not resign his seat in the
House, and he held it until the dissolution of 1895. 8 In
June (1895) he took a final cruise in one of Sir Donald Currie's
ships, visiting Hamburg, the new North Sea canal, and
Copenhagen once more. His injured sight was a far deadlier
breach in the habit of his days than withdrawal from office
or from parliament His own tranquil words written in the
year in which he laid down his part in the shows of the
world's huge stage, tell the story : —
July 25, 1894. — For the first time in my life there has been given

1 Dr. Carlyle's translation. his formal withdrawal in a letter to

2 Inferno, xxvii. 81. Sir John Cowan, so long the loyal
* On July 1, 1895, he announced chairman of his electoral committee.

757



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1894.



758 * THE CLOSE

to me by the providence of God a period of comparative leisure,
reckoning at the present date to four and a half months. Such a
period drives the mind in upon itself, and invites, almost constrains,
to recollection, and the rendering at least internally an account of
life ; further it lays the basis of a habit of meditation, to the forma-
tion of which the course of my existence, packed and crammed
with occupation outwards, never stagnant, oft-times overdriven, has
been extremely hostile. As there is no life which in its detail
does not seem to afford intervals of brief leisure, or what is termed
( waiting' for others engaged with us in some common action,
these are commonly spent in murmurs and in petulant desire for
their termination. But in reality they supply excellent oppor-
tunities for brief or ejaculatory prayer.

As this new period of my life has brought with it my retirement
from active business in the world, it affords a good opportunity
for breaking off the commonly dry daily journal, or ledger as it
might almost be called, in which for seventy years I have recorded
the chief details of my outward life. If life be continued I propose
to note in it henceforward only principal events or occupations.
This first breach since the latter part of May in this year has been
involuntary. When the operation on my eye for cataract came, it
was necessary for a time to suspend all use of vision. Before
that, from the beginning of March, it was only my out-of-door
activity or intercourse that had been paralysed . . . For my
own part, suave mart magno steals upon me ; or at any rate, an in-
expressible sense of relief from an exhausting life of incessant
contention. A great revolution has been operated in my corre-
spondence, which had for many years been a serious burden, and
at times one almost intolerable. During the last months of partial
incapacity I have not written with my own hand probably so
much as one letter per day. Few people have had a smaller
number of otiose conversations probably than I in the last fifty
years; but I have of late seen more friends and more freely,
though without practical objects in view. Many kind friends
have read books tome; I must place Lady Sarah Spencer at the
head of the proficients in that difficult art; in distinctness of
articulation, with low clear voice, she is supreme. Dearest
Catherine has been my chaplain from morning to morning. My



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MEDITATIONS 759

church-going has been almost confined to mid-day communions,
which have not required my abandonment of the reclining posture v
for long periods of time. Authorship has not been quite in ^ Et * 85#
abeyance ; I have been able to write what I was not allowed to
read, and have composed two theological articles 'for the Nineteenth
Century of August and September respectively. 1

Independently of the days of blindness after the operation, the
visits of doctors have become a noticeable item of demand upon
time. Of physic I incline to believe I have had as much in
1894 as in my whole previous life. I have learned for the first
time the extraordinary comfort of the aid which the attendance of
a nurse can give. My health will now be matter of little interest
except to myself. But I have not yet abandoned the hope that I
may be permitted to grapple with that considerable armful of
work, which had been long marked out for my old age ; the ques-
tion of my recovering sight being for the present in abeyance.

Sept. 13. — I am not yet thoroughly accustomed to my new stage
of existence, in part because the remains of my influenza have not
yet allowed me wholly to resume the habits of health. But I am
thoroughly content with my retirement; and I cast no longing,
lingering look behind. I pass onward from it oculo irretorto.
There is plenty of work before me, peaceful work and work
directed to the supreme, i.e. the spiritual cultivation of mankind,
if it pleases God to give me time and vision to perform it.

Oct. 1. — As far as I can at present judge, all the signs of the eye
being favourable, the new form of vision will enable me to get
through in a given time about half the amount of work which
would have been practicable under the old. I speak of reading
and writing work, which have been principal with me when I had
the option. In conversation there is no difference, although there
are various drawbacks in what we call society. On the 20th of
last month when I had gone through my crises of trials, Mr.
Nettleship, [the oculist], at once declared that any further operation
would be superfluous.

I am unable to continue attendance at the daily morning service,
not on account of the eyesight but because I may not rise before

1 « The Place of Heresy and Schism < The True and False Conception of
in the Modern Christian Church ' and the Atonement. '



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760 THE CLOSE

ten at the earliest. And so a Hawarden practice of over fifty
years is interrupted ; not without some degree of hope that it
1806. mav k e resumed. Two evening services, one at 5 P.M. and the
other at 7, afford me a limited consolation. I drive almost every
day, and thus grow to my dissatisfaction more burdensome. My
walking powers are limited ; once I have exceeded two miles by a
little. A large part of the day remains available at my table;
daylight is especially precious ; my correspondence is still a weary
weight, though I have admirable help from children. Upon the
whole the change is considerable. In early and mature life a man
walks to his daily work with a sense of the duty and capacity of
self-provision, a certain avrdpKcta [independence] (which the
Greeks carried into the moral world). Now that sense is re-
versed ; it seems as if I must, God knows how reluctantly, lay
burdens upon others ; and as if capacity were, so to speak, dealt
out to me mercifully — but by qrmfuls.

Old age until the very end brought no grave changes in
physical conditions. He missed sorely his devoted friend,
Sir Andrew Clark, to whose worth as man and skill as
healer he had borne public testimony in May 1894. But
for physician's service there was no special need. His
ordinary life, though of diminished power, suffered little
interruption. * The attitude/ he wrote, ' in which I endea-
voured to fix myself was that of a soldier on parade, in a
line of men drawn up ready to march and waiting for the
word of command. I sought to be in preparation for prompt
obedience, feeling no desire to go, but on the other hand
without reluctance, because firmly convinced that whatever
He ordains for us is best, best both for us and for all'

He worked with all his old zest at his edition of Bishop*
Butler, and his volume of studies subsidiary to Butler. He
wrote to the Duke of Argyll (Dec. 5, 1895) :—

I find my Butler a weighty undertaking, but I hope it will be
useful at least for the important improvements of form which I am
making.

It is very difficult to keep one's temper in dealing with M.
Arnold when he touches on religious matters. His patronage of a
Christianity fashioned by himself is to me more offensive and



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PURSUITS 761

trying than rank unbelief. But I try, or seem to myself to try, to
shrink from controversy of which I have had so much. Organic ,
evolution sounds to me a Butlerish idea, but I doubt if he ever iET# 86 -
employed either term, certainly he has not the phrase, and I
cannot as yet identify the passage to which you may refer.

Dec. 9. — Many thanks for your letter. The idea of evolution is
without doubt deeply ingrained in Butler. The case of the animal
creation had a charm for him, and in his first chapter he opens,
without committing himself, the idea of their possible elevation to
a much higher state. I have always been struck by the glee with
which negative writers strive to get rid of ' special creation,' as if
by that method they got the idea of God out of their way, whereas
I know not what right they have to say that the small increments
effected by the divine workman are not as truly special as the
large. It is remarkable that Butler has taken such hold both on
nonconformists in England and outside of England, especially on
those bodies in America which are descended from English non-
conformists.

He made progress with his writings on the Olympian
Religion, without regard to Acton's warnings and exhorta-
tions to read a score of volumes by learned explorers with
uncouth names. He collected a new series of his Gleanings.
By 1896 he had got his cherished project of hostel and
library at St. Deiniors in Hawarden village, near to its
launch. He was drawn into a discussion on the validity of
anglican orders, and even wrote a letter to Cardinal Ram-
polla, in his effort to realise the dream of Christian unity.
The Vatican replied in such language as might have been
expected by anybody with less than Mr. Gladstone's in-
extinguishable faith in the virtues of argumentative per-
suasion. Soon he saw the effects of Christian disunion
upon a bloodier stage. In the autumn of this year he was
roused to one more vehement protest like that twenty years
before against the abominations of Turkish rule, this time
in Armenia. He had been induced to address a meeting in
Chester in August 1895, and now a year later he travelled to
Liverpool (Sept. 24) to a non-party gathering at Hengler's
Circus. He always described this as the place most agreeable
to the speaker of all those with which he was acquainted.



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762 THE CLOSE

' Had I the years of 1876 upon me/ he said to one of his sons,
'gladly would I start another campaign, even if as long as that/
1896. To discuss, almost even to describe, the course of his
policy and proceedings in the matter of Armenia, would
bring us into a mixed controversy affecting statesmen now
living r who played an unexpected part, and that controversy
may well stand over for another, and let us hope a very
distant, day. Whether we had a right to interfere single-
handed; whether we were bound as a duty to interfere
under the Cyprus Convention; whether our intervention
would provoke hostilities on the part of other Powers and
even kindle a general conflagration in Europe ; whether our
severance of diplomatic relations with the Sultan or our
withdrawal from the concert of Europe would do any good ;
what possible form armed intervention could take — all
these are questions on which both liberals and (ories
vehemently differed from one another then, and will
vehemently differ again. Mr. Gladstone was bold and firm
in his replies. As to the idea, he said, that all independent
action on the part of this great country was to be made
chargeable for producing war in Europe, 'that is in my
opinion a mistake almost more deplorable than almost any
committed in the history of diplomacy/ We had a right
under the convention. We had a duty under the responsi-
bilities incurred at Paris in 1856, at Berlin in 1878. The
upshot of his arguments at Liverpool was that we should
break off relations with the Sultan ; that we should under-
take not to turn hostilities to our private advantage ; that
we should limit our proceedings to the suppression of
mischief in its aggravated form ; and if Europe threatened



Online LibraryJohn MorleyThe life of William Ewart Gladstone, Volume 2 → online text (page 69 of 91)