John Morley.

The life of William Ewart Gladstone, Volume 2 online

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mind involuntarily reverts to the sad and solemn conviction that a

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fearfully great portion of the world round me is dying in sin.
This conviction is the result of that same comparison I have men-
tioned before, between the principles and practices it embraces,
and those which the Almighty authoritatively enjoins : and enter-
taining it as I do, how, my beloved parent, can I bear to think of
my own seeking to wanton in the pleasures of life (I mean even its
innocent pleasures), or to give up my heart to its business, while
my fellow-creatures, to whom I am bound by every tie of human
sympathies, of a common sinfulness and a common redemption,
day after day are sinking into death % I mean, not the death of
the body, which is but a gate either to happiness or to misery, but
that of the soul, the true and the only true death. Can I, with
this persuasion engrossing me, be justified in inactivity % or in any
measure short of the most direct and most effective means of
meeting, if in <my degree it be possible, these horrible calamities t
Nor is impotency and incompetency any argument on the other
side : if I saw a man drowning I should hold out my hand to help
him, although I were uncertain whether my strength would prove
sufficient to extricate him or not ; how much more strongly, then, is
this duty incumbent when there are thousands on thousands perish-
ing in sin and ignorance on every side, and where the stake is not
the addition or subtraction of a few short years from a life, which
can but be a span, longer or shorter, but the doom, the irrevocable
doom of spirits made for God, and once like God, but now alienated
and apostate t And the remedy which God has provided for this
portentous evil is not like the ponderous and elaborate contrivances
of men ; its spear is not, like Goliath's, the weaver's beam, but all its
weapons are a few pure and simple elements of truth, ill calculated,
like the arms of David, in the estimation of the world to attain
their object, but yet capable of being wielded by a stripling's
hand, and yet more, ' mighty, through God, to the pulling down
of strongholds.'

What I have said is from the bottom of my heart, and put for-
ward without the smallest reservation of any kind: and I have
said it thus, because in duty bound to do it ; and having, too, the
comfort of the fullest persuasion that even if your judgment should
disallow it, your affection would pardon it. It is possible, indeed,
that the (as it seems to me) awful consideration which I have last
put forward may have been misstated or misapprehended. Would
God it may be so ! happy should I be to find either by reason or
revelation that the principles of this world were other than I have
estimated them to be, and consequently that their fate would be
other likewise. I may be under darkness and delusion, having
consulted with none in this matter ; but till it is shown that I am
so, I am bound by all the most solemn ties, ties not created in this
world nor to be dissolved with it, but eternal and changeless as
our spirits and He who made them, to regulate my actions with
reference to these all-important truths — the apostasy of man on
the one hand, the love of God on the other. Of my duties to men
as a social being, can any be so important as to tell them of the

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danger under which I believe them to lie, of the precipice to which
I fear many are approaching, while thousands have already fallen
headlong, and others again, even while I write, are continuing to
fall in a succession of appalling rapidity ? Of my duties to God as
a rational and responsible being, especially as a being for whom in
common with all men the precious blood of Christ 'has been given,
can any more imperatively and more persuasively demand all the
little I can give than this, the proclaiming that one instance of
God's unfathomable love which alone so transcends as almost to
swallow up all others? while those others thus transcended and
eclipsed are such as would be of themselves by far the highest and
holiest obligations man could know, did we not know this.

Thus I have endeavoured to state these truths, if truths they
are, at least these convictions, to you, dwelling upon them at a
length which may perhaps be tedious and appear affected, simply
as I trust, in order to represent them to your mind as much to the
life as possible, I mean as nearly as possible in the Jight in which
they have again and again appeared, and do habitually appear, to
my own, so as to give you the best means in my power of estimat-
ing the strength or detecting the weakness of those grounds on
which the conclusions above stated rest (I have not mentioned
the benefit I might hope myself to derive from this course of
living compared with others; and yet this consideration, though
here undoubtedly a secondary one, is, I believe, more weighty
than any of those which can be advanced in favour of an opposite

For some time I doubted whether to state reasons at all :
fearing that it might appear presumptuous ; but I resolved to do
it as choosing rather to incur that risk, than the hazarding an
appearance of reserve and desire to conceal my real sentiments
from one who has a right to see into the bottom of my heart.

Yet one trespass more I must make on your patience. It may
perhaps seem that the inducements I have stated are of an unusual
character, unsubstantial, romantic, theoretical and not practical.
Unusual, indeed, they are: because (though it is not without
diffidence that I bring this sweeping charge — indeed, I should not
dare to bring it were it not brought elsewhere) it is a rare thing in
this world even where right actions are performed to ground them
upon right motives. At least, I am convinced that there are
fundamental errors on this subject very prevalent — that they are
in general fixed far too low, and that the neight of our standard of
practice must ever be adapted more or less to that of principle.
God only knows whether this be right. But hence it has been tnat
I have endeavoured, I trust not improperly, to put these motives
forward in the simplicity of that form wherein they seem to me to
come down from the throne of God to the hearts of men ; and to
consider my prospects and obligations, not under all the limitations
which a highly artificial state of society might seem to impose
upon them, but direct and undiluted ; not, in short, as one who
has certain pursuits to follow, certain objects of his own to gain,

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and relations to fulfil, and arrangements to execute— but as a being
destined shortly to stand before the judgment seat of God, and
there give the decisive account of his actions at the tribunal whose
awards admit of no evasion and of no appeal

That I have viewed them in this light I dare not assert ; but I
have wished and striven to view them so, and to weigh them, and
to answer these questions in the same manner as I must answer
them on that day when the trumpet of the archangel shall arouse
the living and the dead, and when it will be demanded of me in
common with all others, how I have kept and how employed that
which was committed to my charge. 1 dare not pretend that I
could act even up to the standard here fixed, but I can eye it
though distant, with longing hope, and look upwards for the power
which I know is all-sumcient, and therefore sufficient to enable
even such an one as myself to reach it.

Viewing, then, these considerations in such a light as this, I can
come to no other conclusion, at least unaided, than that the work
of spreading religion has a claim infinitely transcending all others
in dignity, in solemnity, and in usefulness : destined to continue
in force until the happy moment come wfeen every human being has
been made fully and effectually acquainted with his condition and
its remedies — when too, as it seems to me, it will be soon enough —
of course, I lay down this rule for myself, provided as I am to the
extent of my wants and very far beyond them — to devise other
occupations: now it behoves me to discharge the overwhelming
obligation which summons me to this.

I have scarcely mentioned my beloved mother in the whole of
this letter ; for though little has ever passed between us on this
subject through the medium of language, and nothing whatever,
I believe, since I last spoke with you upon it, yet I have long been
well aware of the tendency of her desires, long indeed before my
own in any degree coincided with them.

I await with deference and interest the communication of your
desires upon this subject : earnestly desiring that if I have said
anything through pride or self-love, it may be forgiven me at your
hands, and by God through his Son ; and that if my statements
be false, or exaggerated, or romantic, or impracticable, I may, by
His mercv and through your instrumentality or that of others, be
brought oack to my right mind, and taught to Hold the truth of
God in all its sobriety as well as in all its force. — And believe me
ever, my beloved and honoured father, your affectionate and
dutiful son, Wm. E. Gladstone.


John Gladstone to his Son

Leamington, 10 Aug. 1830.
My beloved William, — I have read and given my best con-
sideration to your letter, dated the 4th, which I only received
yesterday. I did hope that you would have delayed making up
your mind on a subject so important as your future pursuits in

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life must be to yourself and to us all, until you had completed
those studies connected with the attainment of the honours or
distinctions of which you were so justly ambitious, and on which
your mind seemed so bent when we last communicated respecting
them. You know my opinion to be, that the field for actual useful-
ness to our fellow-creatures, where a disposition to exercise it
actively exists, is more circumscribed and limited in the occupa-
tions and duties of a clergyman, whose sphere of action, unless
pluralities are admitted (as I am sure they would not be advocated
by you) is necessarily in a great degree confined to his parish, than
in those professions or pursuits which lead to a more general
knowledge, as well as a more general intercourse with mankind,
such as the law, taking it as a basis, and introduction to public life,
to which I had looked forward for you, considering you, as I do,
peculiarly well qualified to be made thus eminently useful to
others, with credit and satisfaction to yourself. There is no doubt
but as a clergyman, faithfully and conscientiously discharging the
duties of that office to those whose spiritual interests are entrusted
to your care, should you eventually be placed in that situation,,
that you may have both comfort and satisfaction, with few worldly
responsibilities, but you will allow me to doubt whether the picture
your perhaps too sanguine mind has drawn in your letter before
me, would ever be practically realised. Be this as it may, when-
ever your mind shall be finally made up on this most important
subject, I shall trust to its being eventually for your good, what-
ever that determination may be. In the meantime I am certainly
desirous that those studies with which you have been occupied in
reading for your degree may be followed up, whether the shorter
or longer period may be necessary to prepare you for the results.
You are young and have ample time before you. Let nothing be
done rashly ; be consistent with yourself, ana avail yourself of all
the advantages placed within your reach. If, when that ordeal is
passed, you should continue to think as you now do, I shall not
oppose your then preparing yourself for the church, but I do
hope that your final determination will not until then be taken,
and that whatever events may occur in the interval, you will
give them such weight and consideration as they may appear to
merit. . . . Your mother is much as usual — With our united and
affectionate love, I ever am your affectionate father,

John Gladstone.

CANADA, 1838

Vol. L page 1U

Jan. 20/38. — To-day there was a meeting on Canada at
Sir R Peel's. There were present Duke of Wellington, Lords
Aberdeen, Ripon, Ellenborough, Stanley, Hardinge, and others. . . .
Peel said he did not object to throwing out the government pro-
vided it were done by us on our own principles ; but that to throw
them out on radical principles would be most unwise. He agreed

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that less might have been done, but was not willing to take the
responsibility of refusing what the government asked. He thought
that this rebellion had giyen a most convenient opportunity for
settling the question of the Canadian constitution, which had long
been a thorny one and inaccessible; that if we postponed the
settlement by giving the assembly another trial, the revolt would
be forgotten, and in colder blood the necessary powers might be
refused. He thought that when once you went into a measure of
a despotic character, it was well to err, if at all, on the side of
sufficiency ; Lord Bipon strongly concurred. The duke sat with
his hand to his ear, turning from one towards another round the
circle as they took up the conversation in succession, and said
nothing till directly and pressingly called upon by Peel, a simple
but striking example of the self-forgetfulness of a great man.

Jan. 26/38. — I was myself present at about eight hours \yc on
three occasions] of discussion in Peel's house upon the Canadian
question and bill, and there was one meeting held to which I was
not summoned. The conservative amendments were all adopted
in the thoroughly straightforward view of looking simply at the
bill and not at the government and the position of parties. Peel
used these emphatio words: 'Depend upon it, our course is the
direct one ; don't do anything that is wrong for the sake of putting
them out ; don't avoid anything that is right for the sake of keep-
ing them in.' Every one of these points has now been carried
without limitation or exception. For the opposition party this is,
in familiar language, a feather in its cap. The whole has been
carefully, thoroughly, and effectually done. Nothing since I have
been in parliament — not even the defeat of the Church Rate
measure last year — has been of a kind to tell so strikingly as
regards appearances upon the comparative credit of the two

Vol. I. page 2*7

In the great mountain of Mr. Gladstone's papers I have come across
an unfinished and undated draft of a letter written by him for the
Queen in 1880 on Sir JRobert PeeVs government : —

Mr. Gladstone with his humble duty reverts to the letter which
your Majesty addressed to him a few days back, and in which
your Majesty condescended to recollect and to remind him of the
day now nearly forty years ago, a day he fears not altogether one
of pleasure to your Majesty, when together with others he had
the honour to be sworn of your Majesty's privy council. Your
Majesty is pleased to pronounce upon the government then in-
stalled into office a high eulogy : a eulogy which Mr. Gladstone
would presume, as far as he may, to echo. He values it, and
values the recollection of the men who principally composed it*
because it was, in the first place, a most honourable and high-
minded government; because its legislative acts tended greatly,

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and almost uniformly, to increase the wellbeing of the country,
and to strengthen the attachment of the people to the throne and
the laws ; while it studied in all things to maintain the reverse of
an ambitious or disturbing policy.

It was Mr. Gladstone's good fortune to live on terms of intimacy,
and even affection, with the greater portion of its principal and
more active members until the close of their valued lives; and
although he is far from thinking that they, and he himself with
them, committed no serious errors, yet it is his conviction that in
many of the most important rules of public policy that govern-
ment surpassed generally the governments which have succeeded
it, whether liberal or conservative. Among them he would men-
tion purity in patronage, financial strictness, loyal adherence to
the principle of public economy, jealous regard to the rights of
parliament, a single eye to the public interest, strong aversion to
extension of territorial responsibilities, and a frank admission of
the rights of foreign countries as equal to those of their own.
With these recollections of the political character of Sir R. Peel
and his government Mr. Gladstone has in no way altered his
feelings of regard and respect for them. In all the points he has
mentioned he would desire to tread in their steps, and in many
of them, or at least in some, he has no hope of soon seeing them
equalled. The observance of such principles is in his conviction
the best means of disarming radicalism of whatever is dangerous
in its composition, and he would feel more completely at ease as
to the future prospects of this country could he feel more sure of
their being faithfully observed.

Mr. Gladstone is, and has been, but a learner through his life,
and he can claim no special gift of insight into the future : the
history of his life may not be nattering to his self-love, but he has
great consolation in believing that the great legislative acts of the
last half-century, in most of which he has had some share . . .

And here the fragment doses.

Vol L page £67

In 1841 the whig government raised the question of the sugar
duties, and proposed to substitute a protective duty of 12/ per
cwt. for the actual or virtual prohibition of foreign sugars which
had up to that time subsisted. They were strongly opposed, and
decisively beaten. The argument used against them was, I think,
twofold. There was the protection plea on behalf of the West
Indians whose estates were now worked only by free labour —
and there was the great and popular contention that the measure
not only admitted sugar the product of slave labour, which we
would not allow our own colonies to employ, but that our new
supplies would be derived from Brazil, and above all from Cuba
and Puerto Rico, where the slave trade was rampant, and was

VOL. II. 3 E

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?rosecuted on an enormous scale. The government of Sir It
'eel largely modified our system. Its general professions were
the abolition of prohibition, and the reduction of protective duties
to a moderate rate. In 1844 it was determined to deal with the
sugar duties, and to admit sugar at, I think, a rate of 10/ per
cwt. beyond the rate for British-grown. But we had to bear in
mind the arguments of 1841, and it was determined that the
sugars so to be admitted were to be the product of free labour
only. There was some uncertainty from whence they were to
come. Java produced sugar largely, under a system involving
certain restraints, but as we contended essentially free. The
whole argument, however, was difficult and perplexed, and a
parliamentary combination was formed against the government.
The opposition, with perfect consistency, mustered in full force.
The West Indian interest, which, though much reduced in wealth,
still subsisted as a parliamentary entity, was keenly arrayed on
the same side. There were some votes attracted by dislike,
perhaps, to the argument on our side, which appeared to be com-
plex and over-refined. A meeting of the party was held in order
to confront the crisis. Sir Robert Peel stated his case in a speech
which was thought to be haughty and unconciliatory. I do not
recollect whether there was hostile discussion, or whether silence
and the sulks prevailed. But I remember that when the meeting
of the party broke up, Sir Robert Peel said on quitting the room
that it was the worst meeting he had ever attended. It left
disagreeable anticipations as to the division which was in im-
mediate prospect. . . . The opposition in general had done what
they could to strengthen their momentary association with the
West Indian conservatives. Their hopes of a majority depended
entirely upon conservative votes. Of course, therefore, it was vital
to confine the attack to the merits of the question immediately
before the House, as an attack upon the policy of the government
generally could only strengthen it by awakening the susceptibilities
of party and so reclaiming the stray voters to the administration.
Lord Howick, entering into the debate as the hours of enhanced
interest began, made a speech which attacked the conservative
policy at large, and gave the opening for an effective reply. Lord
Stanley perceived his opportunity and turned it to account with
great force and adroitness. In a strictly retaliatory speech, he
wound up conservative sentiment on behalf of ministers, and
restored tne tone of the House. The clouds of the earlier evening
hours dispersed, and the government was victorious. Two
speeches, one negatively and the other positively, reversed the
prevailing current, and saved the administration. I have never
known a parallel case. The whole honour of the fray, in the
ministerial sense, redounded to Lord Stanley. I doubt whether in
the twenty-six years of his after life he ever struck such a stroke
as this.

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Vol. I. page $62

You have reversed, within the last seventy years, every one
of these salutary principles. Your policy has been this ; you have
retained at home the management of and property in colonial
lands. You have magnificent sums figuring in your estimates for
the ordinary expenses of their governments, instead of allowing
them to bear their own expenses. Instead of suffering them to
judge what are the measures best adapted to secure their peaceful
relations with the aboriginal tribes, and endeavouring to secure
their good conduct — instead of telling them that they must not
look for help from you unless they maintain the principles of
justice, you tell them, 'You must not meddle with the relations
between yourselves and the natives ; that is a matter for parlia-
ment '; a minister sitting in Downing Street must determine how
the local relations between the inhabitants of the colony and the
aboriginal tribes are to be settled, in every point down to the
minutest detail. Nay, even their strictly internal police your
soldiery is often called upon to maintain. Then, again, the idea of
their electing their own officers is, of course, revolutionary in the
extreme — if not invading the royal supremacy, it is something
almost as bad, dismembering the empire; and as to making their
own laws upon their local affairs without interference or control
from us, that is really an innovation so opposed to all ideas of
imperial policy, that I think my honourable friend the member
for Southwark (Sir William Molesworth) has been the first man
in the House bold enough to propose it. Thus, in fact, tho
principles on which our colonial administration was once con-
ducted have been precisely reversed. Our colonies have como
to be looked upon as being, not municipalities endowed with
internal freedom, but petty states. If you had only kept to the
fundamental idea of your forefathers, that these were municipal
bodies founded within the shadow and cincture of your imperial
powers — that it was your business to impose on them such
positive restraints as you thought necessary, and having done so,
to leave them free in everything else — all those principles, instead
of being reversed, would have survived in full vigour — you would
have saved millions, I was going to say countless millions, to
your exchequer; but you would have done something far more
important by planting societies more worthy by far of the source
from which they spring ; for no man can read the history of the
great American Revolution without seeing that a hundred years
ago your colonies, such as they then were, with the institutions
they then possessed, and the political relations in which they then
stood to the mother-country, bred and reared men of mental
stature and power such as far surpassed anything that colonial life
is now commonly considered to be capable of producing. — Speech
■on second reading of the New Zealand Constitution bill, May 21, 1852.

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Online LibraryJohn MorleyThe life of William Ewart Gladstone, Volume 2 → online text (page 73 of 91)