1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Gladstone, William Ewart
GLADSTONE, WILLIAM EWART (1809–1898), British statesman, was born on the 29th of December 1809 at No. 62 Rodney Street, Liverpool. His forefathers were Gledstanes of Gledstanes, in the upper ward of Lanarkshire; or in Scottish phrase, Gledstanes of that Ilk. As years went on their estates dwindled, and by the beginning of the 17th century Gledstanes was sold. The adjacent property of Arthurshiel remained in the hands of the family for nearly a hundred years longer. Then the son of the last Gledstanes of Arthurshiel removed to Biggar, where he opened the business of a maltster. His grandson, Thomas Gladstone (for so the name was modified), became a corn-merchant at Leith. He happened to send his eldest son, John, to Liverpool to sell a cargo of grain there, and the energy and aptitude of the young man attracted the favourable notice of a leading corn-merchant of Liverpool, who recommended him to settle in that city. Beginning his commercial career as a clerk in his patron’s house, John Gladstone lived to become one of the merchant-princes of Liverpool, a baronet and a member of parliament. He died in 1851 at the age of eighty-seven. Sir John Gladstone was a pure Scotsman, a Lowlander by birth and descent. He married Anne, daughter of Andrew Robertson of Stornoway, sometime provost of Dingwall. Provost Robertson belonged to the Clan Donachie, and by this marriage the robust and business-like qualities of the Lowlander were blended with the poetic imagination, the sensibility and fire of the Gael.
John and Anne Gladstone had six children. The fourth son, William Ewart, was named after a merchant of Liverpool who was his father’s friend. He seems to have been a remarkably good child, and much beloved at home. In 1818 or 1819 Mrs Gladstone, who belonged to the Childhood and education. Evangelical school, said in a letter to a friend, that she believed her son William had been “truly converted to God.” After some tuition at the vicarage of Seaforth, a watering-place near Liverpool, the boy went to Eton in 1821. His tutor was the Rev. Henry Hartopp Knapp. His brothers, Thomas and Robertson Gladstone, were already at Eton. Thomas was in the fifth form, and William, who was placed in the middle remove of the fourth form, became his eldest brother’s fag. He worked hard at his classical lessons, and supplemented the ordinary business of the school by studying mathematics in the holidays. Mr Hawtrey, afterwards headmaster, commended a copy of his Latin verses, and “sent him up for good”; and this experience first led the young student to associate intellectual work with the ideas of ambition and success. He was not a fine scholar, in that restricted sense of the term which implies a special aptitude for turning English into Greek and Latin, or for original versification in the classical languages. “His composition,” we read, “was stiff,” but he was imbued with the substance of his authors; and a contemporary who was in the sixth form with him recorded that “when there were thrilling passages of Virgil or Homer, or difficult passages in the Scriptores Graeci, to translate, he or Lord Arthur Hervey was generally called up to edify the class with quotation or translation.” By common consent he was pre-eminently God-fearing, orderly and conscientious. “At Eton,” said Bishop Hamilton of Salisbury, “I was a thoroughly idle boy, but I was saved from some worse things by getting to know Gladstone.” His most intimate friend was Arthur Hallam, by universal acknowledgment the most remarkable Etonian of his day; but he was not generally popular or even widely known. He was seen to the greatest advantage, and was most thoroughly at home, in the debates of the Eton Society, learnedly called “The Literati,” and vulgarly “Pop,” and in the editorship of the Eton Miscellany. He left Eton at Christmas 1827. He read for six months with private tutors, and in October 1828 went up to Christ Church, where, in the following year, he was nominated to a studentship.
At Oxford Gladstone read steadily, but not laboriously, till he neared his final schools. During the latter part of his undergraduate career he took a brief but brilliant share in the proceedings of the Union, of which he was successively secretary and president. He made his first speech on the 11th of February 1830. Brought up in the nurture and admonition of Canning, he defended Roman Catholic emancipation, and thought the duke of Wellington’s government unworthy of national confidence. He opposed the removal of Jewish disabilities, arguing, we are told by a contemporary, “on the part of the Evangelicals,” and pleaded for the gradual extinction, in preference to the immediate abolition, of slavery. But his great achievement was a speech against the Whig Reform Bill. One who heard this famous discourse says: “Most of the speakers rose, more or less, above their usual level, but when Mr Gladstone sat down we all of us felt that an epoch in our lives had occurred. It certainly was the finest speech of his that I ever heard.” Bishop Charles Wordsworth said that his experience of Gladstone at this time “made me (and I doubt not others also) feel no less sure than of my own existence that Gladstone, our then Christ Church undergraduate, would one day rise to be prime minister of England.” In December 1831 Gladstone crowned his career by taking a double first-class. Lord Halifax (1800–1885) used to say, with reference to the increase in the amount of reading requisite for the highest honours: “My double-first must have been a better thing than Peel’s; Gladstone’s must have been better than mine.”
Now came the choice of a profession. Deeply anxious to make the best use of his life, Gladstone turned his thoughts to holy orders. But his father had determined to make him a politician. Quitting Oxford in the spring of 1832, Gladstone spent six months in Italy, learning theEntry into parliament. language and studying art. In the following September he was suddenly recalled to England, to undertake his first parliamentary campaign. The fifth duke of Newcastle was one of the chief potentates of the High Tory party. His frank claim to “do what he liked with his own” in the representation of Newark has given him a place in political history. But that claim had been rudely disputed by the return of a Radical lawyer at the election of 1831. The Duke was anxious to obtain a capable candidate to aid him in regaining his ascendancy over the rebellious borough. His son, Lord Lincoln, had heard Gladstone’s speech against the Reform Bill delivered in the Oxford Union, and had written home that “a man had uprisen in Israel.” At his suggestion the duke invited Gladstone to stand for Newark in the Tory interest against Mr Serjeant Wilde, afterwards Lord Chancellor Truro. The last of the Unreformed parliaments was dissolved on the 3rd of December 1832. Gladstone, addressing the electors of Newark, said that he was bound by the opinions of no man and no party, but felt it a duty to watch and resist that growing desire for change which threatened to produce “along with partial good a melancholy preponderance of mischief.” The first principle to which he looked for national salvation was, that the “duties of governors are strictly and peculiarly religious, and that legislatures, like individuals, are bound to carry throughout their acts the spirit of the high truths they have acknowledged.” The condition of the poor demanded special attention; labour should receive adequate remuneration; and he thought favourably of the “allotment of cottage grounds.” He regarded slavery as sanctioned by Holy Scripture, but the slaves ought to be educated and gradually emancipated. The contest resulted in his return at the head of the poll.
The first Reformed parliament met on the 29th of January 1833, and the young member for Newark took his seat for the first time in an assembly which he was destined to adorn, delight and astonish for more than half a century. His maiden speech was delivered on the 3rd of June in reply to what wasThe question of slavery. almost a personal challenge. The colonial secretary, Mr Stanley, afterwards Lord Derby, brought forward a series of resolutions in favour of the extinction of slavery in the British colonies. On the first night of the debate Lord Howick, afterwards Lord Grey, who had been under-secretary for the Colonies, and who opposed the resolutions as proceeding too gradually towards abolition, cited certain occurrences on Sir John Gladstone’s plantation in Demerara to illustrate his contention that the system of slave-labour in the West Indies was attended by great mortality among the slaves. Gladstone in his reply—his first speech in the House—avowed that he had a pecuniary interest in the question, “and, if he might say so much without exciting suspicion, a still deeper interest in it as a question of justice, of humanity and of religion.” If there had recently been a high mortality on his father’s plantation, it was due to the age of the slaves rather than to any peculiar hardship in their lot. It was true that the particular system of cultivation practised in Demerara was more trying than some others; but then it might be said that no two trades were equally conducive to health. Steel-grinding was notoriously unhealthy, and manufacturing processes generally were less favourable to life than agricultural. While strongly condemning cruelty, he declared himself an advocate of emancipation, but held that it should be effected gradually, and after due preparation. The slaves must be religiously educated, and stimulated to profitable industry. The owners of emancipated slaves were entitled to receive compensation from parliament, because it was parliament that had established this description of property. “I do not,” said Gladstone, “view property as an abstract thing; it is the creature of civil society. By the legislature it is granted, and by the legislature it is destroyed.” On the following day King William IV. wrote to Lord Althorp: “The king rejoices that a young member has come forward in so promising a manner as Viscount Althorp states Mr W. E. Gladstone to have done.” In the same session Gladstone spoke on the question of bribery and corruption at Liverpool, and on the temporalities of the Irish Church. In the session of 1834 his most important performance was a speech in opposition to Hume’s proposal to throw the universities open to Dissenters.
On the 10th of November 1834 Lord Althorp succeeded to his father’s peerage, and thereby vacated the leadership of the House of Commons. The prime minister, Lord Melbourne, submitted to the king a choice of names for the chancellorship of the exchequer and leadership of the House of Commons; but his majesty announced that, having lost the services of Lord Althorp as leader of the House of Commons, he could feel no confidence in the stability of Lord Melbourne’s government, and that it was his intention to send for the duke of Wellington. The duke took temporary charge of affairs, but Peel was felt to be indispensable. He had gone abroad after the session, and was now in Rome. As soon as he could be brought back he formed an administration, and appointed Gladstone to a junior lordship of the treasury. Parliament was dissolved on the 29th of December. Gladstone was returned unopposed, this time in conjunction with the Liberal lawyer whom he had beaten at the last election. The new parliament met on the 19th of February 1835. The elections had given the Liberals a considerable majority. Immediately after the meeting of parliament Gladstone was promoted to the under-secretaryship for the colonies, where his official chief was Lord Aberdeen. The administration was not long-lived. On the 30th of March Lord John Russell moved a resolution in favour of an inquiry into the temporalities of the Irish Church, with the intention of applying the surplus to general education without distinction of religious creed. This was carried against ministers by a majority of thirty-three. On the 8th of April Sir Robert Peel resigned, and the under-secretary for the colonies of course followed his chief into private life.
Released from the labours of office, Gladstone, living in chambers in the Albany, practically divided his time between his parliamentary duties and study. Then, as always, his constant companions were Homer and Dante, and it is recorded that he read the whole of St Augustine,Literary work. in twenty-two octavo volumes. He used to frequent the services at St James’s, Piccadilly, and Margaret chapel, since better known as All Saints’, Margaret Street. On the 20th of June 1837 King William IV. died, and Parliament, having been prorogued by the young queen in person, was dissolved on the 17th of the following month. Simply on the strength of his parliamentary reputation Gladstone was nominated, without his consent, for Manchester, and was placed at the bottom of the poll; but, having been at the same time nominated at Newark, was again returned. The year 1838 claims special note in a record of Gladstone’s life, because it witnessed the appearance of his famous work on The State in its Relations with the Church. He had left Oxford just before the beginning of that Catholic revival which has transfigured both the inner spirit and the outward aspect of the Church of England. But the revival was now in full strength. The Tracts for the Times were saturating England with new influences. The movement counted no more enthusiastic or more valuable disciple than Gladstone. Its influence had reached him through his friendships, notably with two Fellows of Merton—Mr James Hope, who became Mr Hope-Scott of Abbotsford, and the Rev. H. E. Manning, afterwards cardinal archbishop. The State in its Relations with the Church was his practical contribution to a controversy in which his deepest convictions were involved. He contended that the Church, as established by law, was to be “maintained for its truth,” and that this principle, if good for England, was good also for Ireland.
On the 25th of July 1839 Gladstone was married at Hawarden to Miss Catherine Glynne, sister, and in her issue heir, of Sir Stephen Glynne, ninth and last baronet of that name. In 1840 he published Church Principles considered in their Results.
Parliament was dissolved in June 1841. Gladstone was again returned for Newark. The general election resulted in a Tory majority of eighty. Sir Robert Peel became prime minister, and made the member for Newark vice-president of the Board of Trade. An inevitable Enters the cabinet. change is from this time to be traced in the topics of Gladstone’s parliamentary speaking. Instead of discoursing on the corporate conscience of the state and the endowments of the Church, the importance of Christian education, and the theological unfitness of the Jews to sit in parliament, he is solving business-like problems about foreign tariffs and the exportation of machinery; waxing eloquent over the regulation of railways, and a graduated tax on corn; subtle on the monetary merits of half-farthings, and great in the mysterious lore of quassia and cocculus indicus. In 1842 he had a principal hand in the preparation of the revised tariff, by which duties were abolished or sensibly diminished in the case of 1200 duty-paying articles. In defending the new scheme he spoke incessantly, and amazed the House by his mastery of detail, his intimate acquaintance with the commercial needs of the country, and his inexhaustible power of exposition. In 1843 Gladstone, succeeding Lord Ripon as president of the Board of Trade, became a member of the cabinet at the age of thirty-three. He has recorded the fact that “the very first opinion which he ever was called upon to give in cabinet” was an opinion in favour of withdrawing the bill providing education for children in factories, to which vehement opposition was offered by the Dissenters, on the ground that it was too favourable to the Established Church.
At the opening of the session of 1845 the government, in pursuance of a promise made to Irish members that they would deal with the question of academical education in Ireland, proposed to establish non-sectarian colleges in that country and to make a large addition to the Maynooth grant: resignation. grant to the Roman Catholic College of Maynooth. Gladstone resigned office, in order, as he announced in the debate on the address, to form “not only an honest, but likewise an independent and an unsuspected judgment,” on the plan to be submitted by the government with respect to Maynooth. His subsequent defence of the proposed grant, on the ground that it would be improper and unjust to exclude the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland from a “more indiscriminating support” which the state might give to various religious beliefs, was regarded by men of less sensitive conscience as only proving that there had been no adequate cause for his resignation. Before he resigned he completed a second revised tariff, carrying considerably further the principles on which he had acted in the earlier revision of 1842.
In the autumn of 1845 the failure of the potato crop in Ireland threatened a famine, and convinced Sir Robert Peel that all restrictions on the importation of food must be at once suspended. He was supported by only three members of the cabinet, and resigned on the 5th of Free trade. December. Lord John Russell, who had just announced his conversion to total and immediate repeal of the Corn Laws, declined the task of forming an administration, and on the 20th of December Sir Robert Peel resumed office. Lord Stanley refused to re-enter the government, and his place as secretary of state for the colonies was offered to and accepted by Gladstone. He did not offer himself for re-election at Newark, and remained outside the House of Commons during the great struggle of the coming year. It was a curious irony of fate which excluded him from parliament at this crisis, for it seems unquestionable that he was the most advanced Free Trader in Sir Robert Peel’s Cabinet. The Corn Bill passed the House of Lords on the 28th of June 1846, and on the same day the government were beaten in the House of Commons on an Irish Coercion Bill. Lord John Russell became prime minister, and Gladstone retired for a season into private life. Early in 1847 it was announced that one of the two members for the university of Oxford intended to retire at the general election, and Gladstone was proposed for the vacant seat. The representation of the university had been pronounced by Canning to be the most coveted prize of public life, and Gladstone himself confessed that he “desired it with an almost passionate fondness.” Parliament was dissolved on the 23rd of July 1847. The nomination at Oxford took place on the 29th of July, and at the close of the poll Sir Robert Inglis stood at the head, with Gladstone as his colleague.
The three years 1847, 1848, 1849 were for Gladstone a period of mental growth, of transition, of development. A change was silently proceeding, which was not completed for twenty years. “There have been,” he wrote in later days to Bishop Wilberforce, “two great deaths, or Naple prisons. transmigrations of spirit, in my political existence—one, very slow, the breaking of ties with my original party.” This was now in progress. In the winter of 1850–1851 Gladstone spent between three and four months at Naples, where he learned that more than half the chamber of deputies, who had followed the party of Opposition, had been banished or imprisoned; that a large number, probably not less than 20,000, of the citizens had been imprisoned on charges of political disaffection, and that in prison they were subjected to the grossest cruelties. Having made careful investigations, Gladstone, on the 7th of April 1851, addressed an open letter to Lord Aberdeen, bringing an elaborate, detailed and horrible indictment against the rulers of Naples, especially as regards the arrangements of their prisons and the treatment of persons confined in them for political offences. The publication of this letter caused a wide sensation in England and abroad, and profoundly agitated the court of Naples. In reply to a question in the House of Commons, Lord Palmerston accepted and adopted Gladstone’s statement, expressed keen sympathy with the cause which he had espoused, and sent a copy of his letter to the queen’s representative at every court of Europe. A second letter and a third followed, and their effect, though for a while retarded, was unmistakably felt in the subsequent revolution which created a free and united Italy.
In February 1852 the Whig government was defeated on a Militia Bill, and Lord John Russell was succeeded by Lord Derby, formerly Lord Stanley, with Mr Disraeli, who now
entered office for the first time, as chancellor of the exchequer
and leader of the House of Commons. Mr Disraeli introduced
and carried a makeshift budget,Gladstone and
Disraeli. and the government tided over the session, and dissolved parliament on the 1st of July 1852. There was some talk of inducing Gladstone to join the Tory government, and on the 29th of November Lord Malmesbury dubiously remarked, “I cannot make out Gladstone, who seems to me a dark horse.” In the following month the chancellor of the exchequer produced his second budget. The government redeemed their pledge to do something for the relief of the agricultural interest by reducing the duty on malt. This created a deficit, which they repaired by doubling the duty on inhabited houses. The voices of criticism were heard simultaneously on every side. The debate waxed fast and furious. In defending his proposals Mr Disraeli gave full scope to his most characteristic gifts; he pelted his opponents right and left with sarcasms, taunts and epigrams. Gladstone delivered an unpremeditated reply, which has ever since been celebrated. Tradition says that he “foamed at the mouth.” The speech of the chancellor of the exchequer, he said, must be answered “on the moment.” It must be “tried by the laws of decency and propriety.” He indignantly rebuked his rival’s language and demeanour. He tore his financial scheme to ribbons. It was the beginning of a duel which lasted till death removed one of the combatants from the political arena. “Those who had thought it impossible that any impression could be made upon the House after the speech of Mr Disraeli had to acknowledge that a yet greater impression was produced by the unprepared reply of Mr Gladstone.” The House divided, and the government were left in a minority of nineteen. Lord Derby resigned.
The new government was a coalition of Whigs and Peelites.
Lord Aberdeen became prime minister, and Gladstone chancellor
of the exchequer. Having been returned again for
the university of Oxford, he entered on the active
duties of a great office for which he was pre-eminently
of the exchequer. fitted by an unique combination of financial, administrative and rhetorical gifts. His first budget was introduced on the 18th of April 1853. It tended to make life easier and cheaper for large and numerous classes; it promised wholesale remissions of taxation; it lessened the charges on common processes of business, on locomotion, on postal communication, and on several articles of general consumption. The deficiency thus created was to be met by a “succession-duty,” or application of the legacy-duty to real property; by an increase of the duty on spirits; and by the extension of the income-tax, at 5d. in the pound, to all incomes between £100 and £150. The speech in which these proposals were introduced held the House spellbound. Here was an orator who could apply all the resources of a burnished rhetoric to the elucidation of figures; who could sweep the widest horizon of the financial future, and yet stoop to bestow the minutest attention on the microcosm of penny stamps and post-horses. Above all, the chancellor’s mode of handling the income-tax attracted interest and admiration. It was a searching analysis of the financial and moral grounds on which the impost rested, and a historical justification and eulogy of it. Yet, great as had been the services of the tax at a time of national danger, Gladstone could not consent to retain it as a part of the permanent and ordinary finances of the country. It was objectionable on account of its unequal incidence, of the harassing investigation into private affairs which it entailed, and of the frauds to which it inevitably led. Therefore, having served its turn, it was to be extinguished in 1860. The scheme astonished, interested and attracted the country. The queen and Prince Albert wrote to congratulate the chancellor of the exchequer. Public authorities and private friends joined in the chorus of eulogy. The budget demonstrated at once its author’s absolute mastery over figures and the persuasive force of his expository gift. It established the chancellor of the exchequer as the paramount financier of his day, and it was only the first of a long series of similar performances, different, of course, in detail, but alike in their bold outlines and brilliant handling. Looking back on a long life of strenuous exertion, Gladstone declared that the work of preparing his proposals about the succession-duty and carrying them through Parliament was by far the most laborious task which he ever performed.
War between Great Britain and Russia was declared on the 27th of March 1854, and it thus fell to the lot of the most pacific of ministers, the devotee of retrenchment, and the anxious cultivator of all industrial arts, to prepare a war budget, and to meet as well as he might the exigencies of a conflict which had so cruelly dislocated all the ingenious devices of financial optimism. No amount of skill in the manipulation of figures, no ingenuity in shifting fiscal burdens, could prevent the addition of forty-one millions to the national debt, or could countervail the appalling mismanagement at the seat of war. Gladstone declared that the state of the army in the Crimea was a “matter for weeping all day and praying all night.” As soon as parliament met in January 1855 J. A. Roebuck, the Radical member for Sheffield, gave notice that he would move for a select committee “to inquire into the condition of our army before Sevastopol, and into the conduct of those departments of the government whose duty it has been to minister to the wants of that army.” On the same day Lord John Russell, without announcing his intention to his colleagues, resigned his office as president of the council sooner than attempt the defence of the government. Gladstone, in defending the government against Roebuck, rebuked in dignified and significant terms the conduct of men who, “hoping to escape from punishment, ran away from duty.” On the division on Mr Roebuck’s motion the government was beaten by the unexpected majority of 157.
Lord Palmerston became prime minister. The Peelites joined him, and Gladstone resumed office as chancellor of the exchequer. A shrewd observer at the time pronounced him indispensable. “Any other chancellor of the exchequer would be torn in bits by him.” The government was formed on the understanding that Mr Roebuck’s proposed committee was to be resisted. Lord Palmerston soon saw that further resistance was useless; his Peelite colleagues stuck to their text, and, within three weeks after resuming office, Gladstone, Sir James Graham and Mr Sidney Herbert resigned. Gladstone once said of himself and his Peelite colleagues, during the period of political isolation, that they were like roving icebergs on which men could not land with safety, but with which ships might come into perilous collision. He now applied himself specially to financial criticism, and was perpetually in conflict with the chancellor of the exchequer, Sir George Cornewall Lewis.
In 1858 Lord Palmerston was succeeded by Lord Derby at the head of a Conservative administration, and Gladstone accepted the temporary office of high commissioner extraordinary to the Ionian Islands. Returning to England for the session of 1859, he found himself involved in the controversy which arose over a mild Reform Bill introduced by the government. They were defeated on the second reading of the bill, Gladstone voting with them. A dissolution immediately followed, and Gladstone was again returned unopposed for the university of Oxford. As soon as the new parliament met a vote of want of confidence in the ministry was moved in the House of Commons. In the critical division which ensued Gladstone voted with the government, who were left in a minority. Lord Derby resigned. Lord Palmerston became prime minister, and asked Gladstone to join him as chancellor of the exchequer. To vote confidence in an imperilled ministry, and on its defeat to take office with the rivals who have defeated it, is a manœuvre which invites the reproach of tergiversation. But Gladstone risked the reproach, accepted the office and had a sharp tussle for his seat. He emerged from the struggle victorious, and entered on his duties with characteristic zeal. The prince consort wrote: “Gladstone is now the real leader in the House of Commons, and works with an energy and vigour altogether incredible.”
The budget of 1860 was marked by two distinctive features. It asked the sanction of parliament for the commercial treaty which Cobden had privately arranged with the emperor Napoleon, and it proposed to abolish the duty on paper. The French treaty was carried, but the abolition of the paper-duty was defeated in
the House of Lords. Gladstone justly regarded the refusal to
remit a duty as being in effect an act of taxation,Budget
of 1860. and therefore as an infringement of the rights of the House of Commons. The proposal to abolish the paper-duty was revived in the budget of 1861, the chief proposals of which, instead of being divided, as in previous years, into several bills, were included in one. By this device the Lords were obliged to acquiesce in the repeal of the paper-duty.
During Lord Palmerston’s last administration, which lasted from 1859 to 1865, Gladstone was by far the most brilliant and most conspicuous figure in the cabinet. Except in finance, he was not able to accomplish much, for he was met and thwarted at every turn by his chief’s invincible hostility to change; but the more advanced section of the Liberal party began to look upon him as their predestined leader. In 1864, in a debate on a private member’s bill for extending the suffrage, he declared that the burden of proof lay on those “who would exclude forty-nine fiftieths of the working-classes from the franchise.” In 1865, in a debate on the condition of the Irish Church Establishment, he declared that the Irish Church, as it then stood, was in a false position, inasmuch as it ministered only to one-eighth or one-ninth of the whole community. But just in proportion as Gladstone advanced in favour with the Radical party he lost the confidence of his own constituents. Parliament was dissolved in July 1865, and the university elected Mr Gathorne Hardy in his place.
Gladstone at once turned his steps towards South Lancashire, where he was returned with two Tories above him. The result of the general election was to retain Lord Palmerston’s government in power, but on the 18th of October the old prime minister died. He was succeeded by Lord Leader of House of Commons. Russell, and Gladstone, retaining the chancellorship of the exchequer, became for the first time leader of the House of Commons. Lord Russell, backed by Gladstone, persuaded his colleagues to consent to a moderate Reform Bill, and the task of piloting this measure through the House of Commons fell to Gladstone. The speech in which he wound up the debate on the second reading was one of the finest, if not indeed the very finest, which he ever delivered. But it was of no practical avail. The government were defeated on an amendment in committee, and thereupon resigned. Lord Derby became prime minister, with Disraeli as chancellor of the exchequer and leader of the House of Commons. On the 18th of March 1867 the Tory Reform Bill, which ended in establishing Household Suffrage in the boroughs, was introduced, and was read a second time without a division. After undergoing extensive alterations in committee at the hands of the Liberals and Radicals, the bill became law in August.
At Christmas 1867 Lord Russell announced his final retirement from active politics, and Gladstone was recognized by acclamation as leader of the Liberal party. Nominally he was in Opposition; but his party formed the majority of the House of Commons, and could beat the government Leader of Liberal party. whenever they chose to mass their forces. Gladstone seized the opportunity to give effect to convictions which had long been forming in his mind. Early in the session he brought in a bill abolishing compulsory church-rates, and this passed into law. On the 16th of March, in a debate raised by an Irish member, he declared that in his judgment the Irish Church, as a State Church, must cease to exist. Immediately afterwards he embodied this opinion in a series of resolutions concerning the Irish Church Establishment, and carried them against the government. Encouraged by this triumph, he brought in a Bill to prevent any fresh appointments in the Irish Church, and this also passed the Commons, though it was defeated in the Lords. Parliament was dissolved on the 11th of November. A single issue was placed before the country—Was the Irish Church to be, or not to be, disestablished? The response was an overwhelming affirmative. Gladstone, who had been doubly nominated, was defeated in Lancashire, but was returned for Greenwich. He chose this moment for publishing a Chapter of Autobiography, in which he explained and justified his change of opinion with regard to the Irish Church.
On the 2nd of December Disraeli, who had succeeded Lord
Derby as premier in the preceding February, announced that
he and his colleagues, recognizing their defeat, had
resigned without waiting for a formal vote of the new
parliament. On the following day Gladstone was Prime Minister: Irish Church disestab-
lishment. summoned to Windsor, and commanded by the queen to form an administration. The great task to which the new prime minister immediately addressed himself was the disestablishment of the Irish Church. The queen wrote to Archbishop Tait that the subject of the Irish Church “made her very anxious,” but that Mr Gladstone “showed the most conciliatory disposition.” “The government can do nothing that would tend to raise a suspicion of their sincerity in proposing to disestablish the Irish Church, and to withdraw all state endowments from all religious communions in Ireland; but, were these conditions accepted, all other matters connected with the question might, the queen thinks, become the subject of discussion and negotiation.” The bill was drawn and piloted on the lines thus indicated, and became law on the 26th of July. In the session of 1870 Gladstone’s principal work was the Irish Land Act, of which the object was to protect the tenant against eviction as long as he paid his rent, and to secure to him the value of any improvements which his own industry had made. In the following session Religious Tests in the universities were abolished, and a bill to establish secret voting was carried through the House of Commons. This was thrown out by the Lords, but became law a year later. The House of Lords threw out a bill to abolish the purchase of commissions in the army. Gladstone found that purchase existed only by royal sanction, and advised the queen to issue a royal warrant cancelling, on and after the 1st of November following, all regulations authorizing the purchase of commissions.
In 1873 Gladstone set his hand to the third of three great Irish reforms to which he had pledged himself. His scheme for the establishment of a university which should satisfy both Roman Catholics and Protestants met with general disapproval. The bill was thrown out by three votes, and Gladstone resigned. The queen sent for Disraeli, who declined to take office in a minority of the House of Commons, so Gladstone was compelled to resume. But he and his colleagues were now, in Disraelitish phrase, “exhausted volcanoes.” Election after election went wrong. The government had lost favour with the public, and was divided against itself. There were resignations and rumours of resignations. When the session of 1873 had come to an end Gladstone took the chancellorship of the exchequer, and, as high authorities contended, vacated his seat by doing so. The point was obviously one of vital importance; and we learn from Lord Selborne, who was lord chancellor at the time, that Gladstone “was sensible of the difficulty of either taking his seat in the usual manner at the opening of the session, or letting ... the necessary arrangements for business in the House of Commons be made in the prime minister’s absence. A dissolution was the only escape.” On the 23rd of January 1874 Gladstone announced the dissolution in an address to his constituents,Dissolution of 1874. declaring that the authority of the government had now “sunk below the point necessary for the due defence and prosecution of the public interest.” He promised that, if he were returned to power, he would repeal the income-tax. This bid for popularity failed, the general election resulting in a Tory majority of forty-six. Gladstone kept his seat for Greenwich, but was only second on the poll. Following the example of Disraeli in 1868, he resigned without meeting parliament.
For some years he had alluded to his impending retirement from public life, saying that he was “strong against going on in politics to the end.” He was now sixty-four, and his life had been a continuous experience of exhausting labour. On the 12th of March 1874 he informed Temporary retirement. Lord Granville that he could give only occasional attendance in the House of Commons during the current session, and that he must “reserve his entire freedom to divest himself of all the responsibilities of leadership at no distant date.” His most important intervention in the debates of 1874 was when he opposed Archbishop Tait’s Public Worship Bill. This was read a second time without a division, but in committee Gladstone enjoyed some signal triumphs over his late solicitor-general, Sir William Harcourt, who had warmly espoused the cause of the government and the bill. At the beginning of 1875 Gladstone carried into effect the resolution which he had announced a year before, and formally resigned the leadership of the Liberal party. He was succeeded by Lord Hartington, afterwards duke of Devonshire. The learned leisure which Gladstone had promised himself when released from official responsibility was not of long duration. In the autumn of 1875 an insurrection broke out in Bulgaria, and the suppression of it by the Turks was marked by massacres and outrages. Public indignation was aroused by what were known as the “Bulgarian atrocities,” and Gladstone flung himself into the agitation against Turkey with characteristic zeal. At public meetings, in the press, and in parliament he denounced the Turkish government and its champion, Disraeli, who had now become Lord Beaconsfield. Lord Hartington soon found himself pushed aside from his position of titular leadership. For four years, from 1876 to 1880, Gladstone maintained the strife with a courage, a persistence and a versatility which raised the enthusiasm of his followers to the highest pitch. The county of Edinburgh, or Midlothian, which he contested against the dominant influence of the duke of Buccleuch,Midlothian campaign. was the scene of the most astonishing exertions. As the general election approached the only question submitted to the electors was—Do you approve or condemn Lord Beaconsfield’s foreign policy? The answer was given at Easter 1880, when the Liberals were returned by an overwhelming majority over Tories and Home Rulers combined. Gladstone was now member for Midlothian, having retired from Greenwich at the dissolution.
When Lord Beaconsfield resigned, the queen sent for Lord Hartington, the titular leader of the Liberals, but he and Lord Granville assured her that no other chief than Gladstone would satisfy the party. Accordingly, on the 23rd of April he became prime minister for the second time. His second administration, of which the main achievement was the extension of the suffrage to the agricultural labourers, was harassed by two controversies, relating to Ireland and Egypt, which proved disastrous to the Liberal party. Gladstone alienated considerable masses of English opinion by his efforts to reform the tenure of Irish land, and provoked the Irish people by his attempts to establish social order and to repress crime. A bill to provide compensation for tenants who had been evicted by Irish landlords passed the Commons, but was shipwrecked in the Lords, and a ghastly record of outrage and murder stained the following winter. A Coercion Bill and a Land Bill passed in 1881 proved unsuccessful. On the 6th of May 1882 the newly appointed chief secretary for Ireland, Lord Frederick Cavendish, and his under-secretary, Mr Burke, were stabbed to death in the Phoenix Park at Dublin. A new Crimes Act, courageously administered by Lord Spencer and Sir George Trevelyan, abolished exceptional crime in Ireland, but completed the breach between the British government and the Irish party in parliament.
The bombardment of the forts at Alexandria and the occupation of Egypt in 1882 were viewed with great disfavour by the bulk of the Liberal party, and were but little congenial to Gladstone himself. The circumstances of General Gordon’s untimely death awoke an outburst of indignation against those who were, or seemed to be, responsible for it. Frequent votes of censure were proposed by the Opposition, and on the 8th of June 1885 the government were beaten on the budget. Gladstone resigned. The queen offered him the dignity of an earldom, which he declined. He was succeeded by Lord Salisbury.
The general election took place in the following November. When it was over the Liberal party was just short of the numerical strength which was requisite to defeat the combination of Tories and Parnellites. A startling surprise was at hand. Gladstone had for some time been convinced of the expediency of conceding Home Rule to Ireland in the event of the Irish constituencies giving unequivocal proof that they desired it.First Home Rule Bill. His intentions were made known only to a privileged few, and these, curiously, were not his colleagues. The general election of 1885 showed that Ireland, outside Ulster, was practically unanimous for Home Rule. On the 17th of December an anonymous paragraph was published, stating that if Mr Gladstone returned to office he was prepared to “deal in a liberal spirit with the demand for Home Rule.” It was clear that if Gladstone meant what he appeared to mean, the Parnellites would support him, and the Tories must leave office. The government seemed to accept the situation. When parliament met they executed, for form’s sake, some confused manœuvres, and then they were beaten on an amendment to the address in favour of Municipal Allotments. On the 1st of February 1886 Gladstone became, for the third time, prime minister. Several of his former colleagues declined to join him, on the ground of their absolute hostility to the policy of Home Rule; others joined on the express understanding that they were only pledged to consider the policy, and did not fetter their further liberty of action. On the 8th of April Gladstone brought in his bill for establishing Home Rule, and eight days later the bill for buying out the Irish landlords. Meanwhile two members of his cabinet, feeling themselves unable to support these measures, resigned. Hostility to the bills grew apace. Gladstone was implored to withdraw them, or substitute a resolution in favour of Irish autonomy; but he resolved to press at least the Home Rule Bill to a second reading. In the early morning of the 8th of June the bill was thrown out by thirty. Gladstone immediately advised the queen to dissolve parliament. Her Majesty strongly demurred to a second general election within seven months; but Gladstone persisted, and she yielded. Parliament was dissolved on the 26th of June. In spite of Gladstone’s skilful appeal to the constituencies to sanction the principle of Home Rule, as distinct from the practical provisions of his late bill, the general election resulted in a majority of considerably over 100 against his policy, and Lord Salisbury resumed office. Throughout the existence of the new parliament Gladstone never relaxed his extraordinary efforts, though now nearer eighty than seventy, on behalf of the cause of self-government for Ireland. The fertility of argumentative resource, the copiousness of rhetoric, and the physical energy which he threw into the enterprise, would have been remarkable at any stage of his public life; continued into his eighty-fifth year they were little less than miraculous. Two incidents of domestic interest, one happy and the other sad, belong to that period of political storm and stress. On the 25th of July 1889 Gladstone celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of his marriage, and on the 4th of July 1891 his eldest son, William Henry, a man of fine character and accomplishments, died, after a lingering illness, in his fifty-second year.
The crowning struggle of Gladstone’s political career was now approaching its climax. Parliament was dissolved on the 28th of June 1892. The general election resulted in a majority of forty for Home Rule, heterogeneously composed of Liberals, Labour members and Irish. Second Home Rule Bill. As soon as the new parliament met a vote of want of confidence in Lord Salisbury’s government was moved and carried. Lord Salisbury resigned, and on the 15th of August 1892 Gladstone kissed hands as first lord of the treasury. He was the first English statesman that had been four times prime minister. Parliament reassembled in January 1893. Gladstone brought in his new Home Rule Bill on the 13th of February. It passed the House of Commons, but was thrown out by the House of Lords on the second reading on the 8th of September 1893. Gladstone’s political work was now, in his own judgment, ended. He made his last speech in the House of Commons on the 1st of March 1894, acquiescing in some amendments introduced by the Lords into the Parish Councils Bill; and on the 3rd of March he placed his resignation in the queen’s hands. He never set foot again in the House of Commons, though he remained a member of it till the dissolution of 1895. He paid occasional visits to friends in London, Scotland and the south of France; but the remainder of his life was spent for the most part at Hawarden. He occupied his leisure by writing a rhymed translation of the Odes of Horace, and preparing an elaborately annotated edition of Butler’s Analogy and Sermons. He had also contemplated some addition to the Homeric studies which he had always loved, but this design was never carried into effect, for he was summoned once again from his quiet life of study and devotion to the field of public controversy. The Armenian massacres in 1894 and 1895 revived all his ancient hostility to “the governing Turk.” He denounced the massacres and their perpetrators at public meetings held at Chester on the 6th of August 1895, and at Liverpool on the 24th of September 1896. In March 1897 he recapitulated the hideous history in an open letter to the duke of Westminster.
But the end, though not yet apprehended, was at hand. Since his retirement from office Gladstone’s physical vigour, up to that time unequalled, had shown signs of impairment. Towards the end of the summer of 1897 he began to suffer from an acute pain, which was attributed to facial neuralgia, and in November he went to Cannes. In February 1898 he returned to England and went to Bournemouth. There he was informed that the pain had its origin in a disease which must soon prove fatal. He received the information with simple thankfulness, and only asked that he might die at home.Death. On the 22nd of March he returned to Hawarden, and there he died on the 19th of May 1898. During the night of the 25th of May his body was conveyed from Hawarden to London and the coffin was placed on a bier in Westminster Hall. Throughout the 26th and 27th a vast train of people, officially estimated at 250,000, and drawn from every rank and class, moved in unbroken procession past the bier. On the 28th of May the coffin, preceded by the two Houses of Parliament and escorted by the chief magnates of the realm, was carried from Westminster Hall to Westminster Abbey. The heir-apparent and his son, the prime minister and the leader of the House of Commons, were among those who bore the pall. The body was buried in the north transept of the abbey, where, on the 19th of June 1900, Mrs Gladstone’s body was laid beside it.
Mr and Mrs Gladstone had four sons and four daughters, of whom one died in infancy. The eldest son, W. H. Gladstone (1840–1891), was a member of parliament for many years, and married the daughter of Lord Blantyre, his son William (b. 1885) inheriting the family estates. The fourth Family. son, Herbert John (b. 1854), sat in parliament for Leeds from 1880 to 1910, and filled various offices, being home secretary 1905–1910; in 1910 he was created Viscount Gladstone, on being appointed governor-general of united South Africa. The eldest daughter, Agnes, married the Rev. E. C. Wickham, headmaster of Wellington, 1873–1893, and later Dean of Lincoln. Another daughter married the Rev. Harry Drew, rector of Hawarden. The youngest, Helen, was for some years vice-principal of Newnham College, Cambridge.
After a careful survey of Mr Gladstone’s life, enlightened by personal observation, it is inevitable to attempt some analysis of his character. First among his moral attributes must be placed his religiousness. From those early days when a fond mother wrote of him as having been “truly Character. converted to God,” down to the verge of ninety years, he lived in the habitual contemplation of the unseen world, and regulated his private and public action by reference to a code higher than that of mere prudence or worldly wisdom. A second characteristic, scarcely less prominent than the first, was his love of power. His ambition had nothing in common with the vulgar eagerness for place and pay and social standing. Rather it was a resolute determination to possess that control over the machine of state which should enable him to fulfil without let or hindrance the political mission with which he believed that Providence had charged him. The love of power was supported by a splendid fearlessness. No dangers were too threatening for him to face, no obstacles too formidable, no tasks too laborious, no heights too steep. The love of power and the supporting courage were allied with a marked imperiousness. Of this quality there was no trace in his manner, which was courteous, conciliatory and even deferential; nor in his speech, which breathed an almost exaggerated humility. But the imperiousness showed itself in the more effectual form of action; in his sudden resolves, his invincible insistence, his recklessness of consequences to himself and his friends, his habitual assumption that the civilized world and all its units must agree with him, his indignant astonishment at the bare thought of dissent or resistance, his incapacity to believe that an overruling Providence would permit him to be frustrated or defeated. He had by nature what he himself called a “vulnerable temper and impetuous moods.” But so absolute was his lifelong self-mastery that he was hardly ever betrayed into saying that which, on cooler reflection, needed to be recalled. It was easy enough to see the “vulnerable temper” as it worked within, but it was never suffered to find audible expression. It may seem paradoxical, but it is true, to say that Mr Gladstone was by nature conservative. His natural bias was to respect things as they were. In his eyes, institutions, customs, systems, so long as they had not become actively mischievous, were good because they were old. It is true that he was sometimes forced by conviction or fate or political necessity to be a revolutionist on a large scale; to destroy an established Church; to add two millions of voters to the electorate; to attack the parliamentary union of the kingdoms. But these changes were, in their inception, distasteful to their author. His whole life was spent in unlearning the prejudices in which he was educated. His love of freedom steadily developed, and he applied its principles more and more courageously to the problems of government. But it makes some difference to the future of a democratic state whether its leading men are eagerly on the look-out for something to revolutionize, or approach a constitutional change by the gradual processes of conviction and conversion.
Great as were his eloquence, his knowledge and his financial skill, Gladstone was accustomed to say of himself that the only quality in which, so far as he knew, he was distinguished from his fellow-men was his faculty of concentration. Whatever were the matter in hand, he so concentrated himself on it, and absorbed himself in it, that nothing else seemed to exist for him.
A word must be said about physical characteristics. In his prime Gladstone was just six feet high, but his inches diminished as his years increased, and in old age the unusual size of his head and breadth of his shoulders gave him a slightly top-heavy appearance. His features were strongly marked; the nose trenchant and hawk-like, and the mouth severely lined. His flashing eyes were deep-set, and in colour resembled the onyx with its double band of brown and grey. His complexion was of an extreme pallor, and, combined with his jet-black hair, gave in earlier life something of an Italian aspect to his face. His dark eyebrows were singularly flexible, and they perpetually expanded and contracted in harmony with what he was saying. He held himself remarkably upright, and even from his school-days at Eton had been remarked for the rapid pace at which he habitually walked. His voice was a baritone, singularly clear and far-reaching. In the Waverley Market at Edinburgh, which is said to hold 20,000 people, he could be heard without difficulty; and as late as 1895 he said to the present writer: “What difference does it make to me whether I speak to 400 or 4000 people?” His physical vigour in old age earned him the popular nickname of the Grand Old Man.
Lord Morley of Blackburn’s Life of Gladstone was published in 1903. (G. W. E. R.)