John Morley.

The life of William Ewart Gladstone, Volume 2 online

. (page 70 of 91)
Online LibraryJohn MorleyThe life of William Ewart Gladstone, Volume 2 → online text (page 70 of 91)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

us with war it might be necessary to recede, as France had
receded under parallel circumstances from her individual
policy on the eastern question in 1840, — receded without
loss either of honour or power, believing that she had been
right and wise and others wrong and unwise.

If Mr. Gladstone had still had, as he puts it, ' the years of
1876/ he might have made as deep a mark. As it was, his
speech at Liverpool was his last great deliverance to a public
audience. As the year ended this was his birthday entry: —

Digitized by



Dec. 29, 1896. — My long and tangled life this day concludes its CHAP.
87th year. My father died four days short of that term. I know *
of no other life so long in the Gladstone family, and my profession ^ T# **'•
has been that of politician, or, more strictly, minister of state, an
extremely short-lived race when their scene of action has been in
the House of Commons, Lord Palmerston being the only complete
exception. In the last twelve months eyes and ears may have
declined, but not materially. The occasional contraction of the
chest is the only inconvenience that can be called new. I am not
without hope that Cannes may have a [illegible] to act upon it
The blessings of family life continue to be poured in the largest
measure upon my unworthy head. Even my temporal affairs have
thriven. Still old age is appointed for the gradual loosening and
succeeding snapping of the threads. I visited Lord Stratford
when he was, say, 90 or 91 or thereabouts. He said to me, 'It is
not a blessing.' As to politics, I think the basis of my mind is
laid principally in finance and philanthropy. The prospects of the
first are darker than I have ever known them. Those of the
second are black also, but with more hope of some early dawn. I
do not enter on interior matters. It is so easy to write, but to
write honestly nearly impossible. Lady Grosvenor gave me
to-day a delightful present of a small crucifix. I am rather too
independent of symbol.

This is the last entry in the diaries of seventy years.

At the end of January 1897, the Gladstones betook them-
selves once more to Lord Rondel's palazzetto, as they called
it, at Cannes.

I had hoped during this excursion, he journalises, to make
much way with my autobiographica. But this was in a large
degree frustrated, first by invalidism, next by the eastern
question", on which I was finally obliged to write something. 1
Lastly, and not least, by a growing sense of decline* in my daily
amount of brain force available for serious work. My power to
read (but to read very slowly indeed since the cataract came) for a
considerable number of hours daily, thank God, continues. This
is a great mercy. While on my outing, I may have read of one
kind and another, twenty volumes. Novels enter into this list
1 Letter to the Dukt of Westminster.

Digitized by




rather considerably. I have begun seriously to ask myself
whether I shall ever be able to face * The Olympian Religion.'

The Queen happened to be resident at Cimiez at this time,
and Mr. Gladstone wrote about their last meeting : —

A message came down to us inviting us to go into the hotel and
take tea with the Princess Louise. We repaired to the hotel, and
had our tea with Miss Paget, who was in attendance. The
Princess soon came in, and after a short delay we were summoned
into the Queen's presence. No other English people were on the
ground. We were shown into a room tolerably, but not brilliantly,
lighted, much of which was populated by a copious supply of
Hanoverian royalties. The Queen was in the inner part of the
room, and behind her stood the Prince of Wales and the Duke of
Cambridge. Notwithstanding my enfeebled sight, my vision is not
much impaired for practical purposes in cases such as this, where I
am thoroughly familiar with the countenance and whole contour
of any person to be seen. My wife preceded, and Mary followed
me. The Queen's manner did not show the old and usual vitality.
It was still, but at the same time very decidedly kind, such as I
had not seen it for a good while before my final resignation. She
gave me her hand, a thing which is, I apprehended, rather rare
with men, and which had never happened with me during all my
life, though that life, be it remembered, had included some periods
of rather decided favour. Catherine sat down near her, and I at a
little distance. For a good many years she had habitually asked
me to sit My wife spoke freely and a good deal to the Queen,
but the answers appeared to me to be very slight. As to myself, I
expressed satisfaction at the favourable accounts I had heard of
the accommodation at Cimiez, and perhaps a few more words of
routine. To speak frankly, it seemed to me that the* Queen's
peculiar facuky and habit of conversation had disappeared. It was
a faculty, not so much the free offspring of a rich and powerful
mind, as the fruit of assiduous care with long practice and much
opportunity* After about ten minutes, it was signified to us that
we had to be presented to all the other royalties, and so passed
the remainder of this meeting.

In the early autumn of 1897 he found himself affected by

Digitized by



what was supposed to be a peculiar form of catarrh. He
went to stay with Mr. Armitstead at Butterstone in Perth- ,
shire. I saw him on several occasions afterwards, but this JErSm ^
was the last time when I found him with all the freedom,
full self-possession, and kind geniality of old days. He was
keenly interested at my telling him that I had seen James
Martineau a few days before, in his cottage further north in
Inverness-shire ; that Martineau, though he had now passed
his ninety-second milestone on life's road, was able to walk
five or six hundred feet up his hillside every day, was at his
desk at eight each morning, and read theology a good many
hours before he went to bed at night. Mr. Gladstone's con-
versation was varied, glowing, full of reminiscence. He had
written me in the previous May, hoping among other kind
things that ' we may live more and more in sympathy and
communion.' I never saw him more attractive than in the
short pleasant talks of these three or four days. He discussed
some of the sixty or seventy men with whom he had been
associated in cabinet life, 1 freely but charitably, though he
named two whom he thought to have behaved worse to him
than others. He repeated his expression of enormous admira-
tion for Graham. Talked about his own voice. After he had
made his long budget speech in 1860, a certain member, sup-
posed to be an operatic expert, came to him and said, ' You
must take great care, or else you will destroy the colour in
your voice.' He had kept a watch on general affairs. The
speech of a foreign ruler upon divine right much incensed him.
He thought that Lord Salisbury had managed to set the Turk
up higher than he had reached since the Crimean war ; and
his policy had weakened Greece, the most liberal of the
eastern communities. We fought over again some old
battles of 1886 and 1892-4. Mr. Armitstead had said to
him — ' Oh, sir, you '11 live ten years to come.' ' I do trust/
he answered as he told me this, ' that God in his mercy
will spare me that/


Then came months of distress. The facial annoyance
grew into acute and continued pain, and to pain he proved

1 For the list see Appendix.

Digitized by



DOOK to be exceedingly sensitive. It did not master him, but
x - , there were moments that seemed almost of collapse and
1893. defeat. At last the night was gathering

About the burning crest
Of the old, feeble, and day- wearied sun. 1

They took him at the end of November (1897) to Cannes,
to the house of Lord RendeL

Sometimes at dinner he talked with his host, with Lord
Welby, or Lord Acton, with his usual force, but most of the
time he lay in extreme suffering and weariness, only glad
when they soothed him with music. It was decided that he
had better return, and in hope that change of air might even
yet be some palliative, he went to Bournemouth which he
reached on February 22. For weeks past he had not written
nor read, save one letter that he wrote in his journey home to
Lady Salisbury upon a rather narrow escape of her husband's
in a carriage accident. On March 18 his malady was pro-
nounced incurable, and he learned that it was likely to end
in a few weeks. He received the verdict with perfect
serenity and with a sense of unutterable relief, for his suffer-
ings had been crueL Four days later he started home to
die. On leaving Bournemouth before stepping into the
train, he turned round and to those who were waiting on the
platform to see him off, he said with quiet gravity, ' God
bless you and this place, and the land you love.' At
Hawarden he bore the dreadful burden of his pain with
fortitude, supported by the ritual ordinances of his church
and faith. Music soothed him, the old composers being
those he liked best to hear. Messages of sympathy were
read to him, and he listened silently or with a word of

' The might of the whole world's good wishes ' flowed to
the ' large upper chamber looking to the sunrising, where the
aged pilgrim lay.' Men and women of every communion
offered up earnest prayers for him. Those who were of no
communion thought with pity, sympathy, and sorrow of

A Power passing from the earth
To breathless Nature's dark abyss.

1 King John*

Digitized by



From every rank in social life came outpourings in every
key of reverence and admiration. People appeared — as<
is the way when death comes — to see his life and char- " Et# 89#
acter as a whole, and to gather up in his personality
thus transfigured by the descending shades, all the best
hopes and aspirations of their own best hours. A certain
grandeur overspread the moving scene. Nothing was there
for tears. It was 'no importunate and heavy load.' The
force was spent, but it had been nobly spent in devoted and
effective service for his country and his fellow-men.

From the Prince of the Black Mountain came a telegram :
'Many years ago, when Montenegro, my beloved country,
was in difficulties and in danger, your eloquent voice and
powerful pen successfully pleaded and worked on her behalf.
At this time vigorous and prosperous, with a bright future
before her, she turns with sympathetic eye to the great
English statesman to whom she owes so much, and for whose
present sufferings she feels so deeply.' And he answered by
a message that ' his interest in Montenegro had always been
profound, and he prayed that it might prosper and be blessed
in all its undertakings.'

Of the thousand salutations of pity and hope none went
so much to his heart as one from Oxford — an expression of
true feeling, in language worthy of her fame : —

At yesterday's meeting of the hebdomadal council, wrote the
vice-chancellor, an unanimous wish was expressed that I should
convey to you the message of our profound sorrow and affection at
the sore trouble and distress which you are called upon to endure.
While we join in the universal regret with which the nation
watches the dark cloud which has fallen upon the evening of a
great and impressive life, we believe that Oxford may lay claim to
a deeper and more intimate share in this sorrow. Your brilliant
career in our university, your long political connection with it,
and your fine scholarship, kindled in this place of ancient learning,
have linked you to Oxford by no ordinary bond, and we cannot
but hope that you will receive with satisfaction this expression of
deep-seated kindliness and sympathy from us.

We pray that the Almighty may support you and those near

Digitized by CjOOQIC



and dear to you in this trial, and may lighten the load of suffering
* which you bear with such heroic resignation.

To this he listened most attentively and over it he brooded
long, then he dictated to his youngest daughter sentence by
sentence at intervals his reply : —

There is no expression of Christian sympathy that I value more
than that of the ancient university of Oxford, the God-fearing and
God-sustaining university of Oxford. I served her, perhaps mis-
takenly, but to the best of my ability. My most earnest prayers
are hers to the uttermost and to the last.

When May opened, it was evident that the end was draw-
ing near. On the 13th he was allowed to receive visits of
farewell from Lord Rosebery and from myself, the last
persons beyond his household to see him. He was hardly
conscious. On the early morning of the 19 th, his family
all kneeling around the bed on which he lay in the stupor
of coming death, without a struggle he ceased to breathe.
Nature outside — wood and wide lawn and cloudless far-off
sky — shone at her fairest.


On the day after his death, in each of the two Houses the
leader made the motion, identical in language in both cases
save the few final words about financial provision in the
resolution of the Commons : —

That an humble Address be presented to her Majesty praying
that her Majesty will be graciously pleased to give directions that
the remains of the Right Hon. William Ewart Gladstone be in-
terred at the public charge, and that a monument be erected in
the Collegiate Church of St. Peter, Westminster, with an inscrip-
tion expressive of the public admiration and attachment and of
the high sense entertained of his rare and splendid gifts, and of
his devoted labours in parliament and in great offices of state,
and to assure her Majesty that this House will make good the
expenses attending the same.

The language of the movers was worthy of the British
parliament at its best, worthy of the station of those who

Digitized by



used it, and worthy of the figure commemorated. Lord

Salisbury was thought by most to go nearest to the core of,

the solemnity :— -^ T - 89 -

What is the cause of this unanimous feeling? Of course, he
had qualities that distinguished him from all other men; and
you may say that it was his transcendent intellect, his astonish-
ing power of attaching men to him, and the great influence he
was able to exert upon the thought and convictions of his con-
temporaries. But these things, which explain the attachment, the
adoration of those whose ideas he represented, would not explain
why it is that sentiments almost as fervent are felt and expressed
by those whose ideas were not carried out by his policy. My
Lords, I do not think the reason is to be found in anything so
far removed from the common feelings of mankind as the abstruse
and controversial questions of the policy of the day. TRey had
nothing to do with it. Whether he was right, or whether he
was wrong, in all the measures, or in most of the measures
which he proposed — those are matters of which the discussion
has passed by, and would certainly be singularly inappropriate
here ; they are really remitted to the judgment of future genera-
tions, who will securely judge from experience what we can only
decide by forecast. It was on account of considerations more
common to the masses of human beings, to the general working
of the human mind, than any controversial questions of policy
that men recognised in him a man guided — whether under mis-
taken impressions or not, it matters not — but guided in all the
steps he took, in all the efforts that he made, by a high moral
ideal. What he sought were the attainments of great ideals,
and, whether they were based on sound convictions or not, they
could have issued from nothing but the greatest and the purest
moral aspirations; and he is honoured by his countrymen, be-
cause through so many years, across so many vicissitudes and
conflicts, they had recognised this one characteristic of his action,
which has never ceased to be felt. He will leave behind him,
especially to those who have followed with deep interest the
history of the later years — I might almost say the later months
of his life — he will leave behind him the memory of a great
Christian statesman. Set up necessarily on high — the sight of

VOL. II. 3 c

Digitized by



BOOK his character, his motives, and his intentions would strike all the
* world. They will have left a deep and most salutary influence

1898. on tne political thought and the social thought of the genera-
tion in which he lived, and he will be long remembered not so
much for the causes in which he was engaged or the political
projects which he favoured, but as a great example, to which
history hardly furnishes a parallel, of a great Christian man.

Mr. Balfour, the leader in the Commons, specially spoke
of him as ' the greatest member of the greatest deliberative
assembly that the world has seen/ and most aptly pointed
to Mr. Gladstone's special service in respect of that
assembly : —

One service he did, in my opinion incalculable, which is alto-
gether apart from the judgment that we may be disposed to pass
upon particular opinions, or particular lines of policy which Mr.
Gladstone may from time to time have advocated. Sir, he added
a dignity, as he added a weight, to the deliberations of this House
by his genius, which I think it is impossible adequately to replace.
It is not enough for us to keep up simply a level, though it be a
high level, of probity and of patriotism. The mere average of
civic virtue is not sufficient to preserve this Assembly from the fate
that has overcome so many other Assemblies, products of demo-
cratic forces. More than this is required; more than this was
given to us by Mr. Gladstone. He brought to our debates a
genius which compelled attention, he raised in the public estima-
tion the whole level of our proceedings, and they will be most
ready to admit the infinite value of his service who realise how
much of public prosperity is involved in the maintenance of the
worth of public life, and how perilously difficult most democracies
apparently feel it to be to avoid the opposite dangers into which
so many of them have fallen.

Sir William Harcourt spoke of him as friend and official
colleague: —

I have heard men who knew him not at all, who have asserted
that the supremacy of his genius and the weight of his authority
oppressed and overbore those who lived with him and those who
worked under him. Nothing could be more untrue. Of all

Digitized by



chiefs he was the least exacting. He was the most kind, the most CHAP,
tolerant, he was the most placable. How seldom in this House -

was the voice of personal anger heard from his lips. These are the & T * 89,
true marks of greatness.

Lord Rosebery described his gifts and powers, his con-
centration, the multiplicity of his interests, his labour of
every day, and almost of every hour of every day, in fashion-
ing an intellect that was mighty by nature. And besides
this panegyric on the departed warrior, he touched with
felicity and sincerity a note of true feeling in recalling to his

the solitary and pathetic figure, who for sixty years, shared all
the sorrows and all the joys of Mr. Gladstone's life, who received
his confidence and every aspiration, who shared his triumphs with
him and cheered him under his defeats; who by her tender
vigilance, I firmly believe, sustained and prolonged his years.

When the memorial speeches were over the House
of Commons adjourned. The Queen, when the day of
the funeral came, telegraphed to Mrs. Gladstone from
Balmoral : —

My thoughts ( are much with you to-day, when your dear
husband is laid to rest. To-day's ceremony will be most trying
and painful for you, but it will be at the same time gratifying
to you to see the respect and regret evinced by the nation for the
memory of one whose character and intellectual abilities marked
him as one of the most distinguished statesmen of my reign. I
shall ever gratefully remember his devotion and zeal in all that
concerned my personal welfare and that of my family.


It was not at Westminster only that his praise went forth.
Famous men, in the immortal words of Pericles to his
Athenians, have the whole world for their tomb ; they are
commemorated not only by columns and inscriptions in their
own land ; in foreign lands too a memorial of them is graven
in the hearts of men. So it was here. No other statesman
on our glorious roll has touched the imagination of so wide
a world.

Digitized by



The colonies through their officers or more directly, sent
to Mrs. Gladstone their expression of trust that the world-
1898. w j ( j e admiration and esteem of her honoured and illustrious
husband would help her to sustain her burden of sorrow. The
ambassador of the United States reverently congratulated
her and the English race everywhere, upon the glorious
completion of a life filled with splendid achievements and
consecrated to the noblest purposes. The President followed
in the same vein, and in Congress words were found to
celebrate a splendid life and character. The President of
the French republic wished to be among the first to associate
himself with Mrs. Gladstone's grief: — ' By the high liberality
of his character/ he said, c and by the nobility of his political
ideal, Mr. Gladstone had worthily served his country and
humanity.' The entire French government requested the
British ambassador in Paris to convey the expression of their
sympathy and assurance of their appreciation, admiration,
and respect for the character of the illustrious departed.
The Czar of Russia telegraphed to Mrs. Gladstone: — 'I
have just received the painful news of Mr. Gladstone's
decease, and consider it my duty to express to you my feel-
ings of sincere sympathy on the occasion of the cruel and
irreparable bereavement which has befallen you, as well as
the deep regret which this sad event has given ma The
whole of the civilised world will beweep the loss of a great
statesman, whose political views were so widely humane and

In Italy the sensation was said to be as great as when
Victor Emmanuel or Garibaldi died. The Italian parliament
and the prime minister telegraphed to the effect that c the
cruel loss which had just struck England, was a grief
sincerely shared by all who are devoted to liberty. Italy
has not forgotten, and will never forget, the interest and
sympathy of Mr. Gladstone in events that led to its inde-
pendence.' In the same key, Greece: the King, the first
minister, the university, the chamber, declared that he was
entitled to the gratitude of the Greek people, and his name
would be by them for ever venerated. From Roumania,
Macedonia, Norway, Denmark tributes came ' to the great

Digitized by



memory of Gladstone, one of the glories of mankind/ Never
has so wide and honourable a pomp all over the globe followed
an English statesman to the grave.


On May 25, the remains were brought from Hawarden,
and in the middle of the night the sealed coffin was placed
in Westminster Hall, watched until the funeral by the piety
of relays of friends. For long hours each day great multi-
tudes filed past the bier. It was a striking demonstration
of national feeling, for the procession contained every rank,
and contingents came from every part of the kingdom. On
Saturday, May 28, the body was committed to the grave in
Westminster Abbey. No sign of high honour was absent
The heir to the throne and his son were among those who
bore the palL So were the prime minister and the other
leaders of both parties in both Houses. Pall-bearers besides
these were Lord Rosebery who had succeeded him as prime
minister, the Duke of Rutland who had half a century
before been Mr. Gladstone's colleague at Newark, and Mr.
Armitstead and Lord Rendel, who were his private friends.
Foreign sovereigns sent their representatives, the Speaker of
the House of Commons was there in state, and those were
there who had done stout battle against him for long years ;
those also who had sat with him in council and stood by
his side in frowning hours. At the head of the grave was
'the solitary and pathetic figure' of his wife. Even men
most averse to all pomps and shows on the occasions and
scenes that declare so audibly their nothingness, here were
only conscious of a deep and moving simplicity, befitting a
great citizen now laid among the kings and heroes. Two

Online LibraryJohn MorleyThe life of William Ewart Gladstone, Volume 2 → online text (page 70 of 91)