The Life of William Ewart Gladstone, Vol. 1 (of 3) - 1809-1859
by John Morley
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The explanation of what was assailed as inconsistency is perhaps a double one. In the first place he started on his journey with an intellectual chart of ideas and principles not adequate or well fitted for the voyage traced for him by the spirit of his age. If he held to the inadequate ideas with which Oxford and Canning and his father and even Peel had furnished him, he would have been left helpless and useless in the days stretching before him. The second point is that the orator of Mr. Gladstone's commanding school exists by virtue of large and intense expression; then if circumstances make him as vehement for one opinion to-day as he was vehement for what the world regards as a conflicting opinion yesterday, his intellectual self-respect naturally prompts him to insist that the opinions do not really clash, but are in fact identical. You may call this a weakness if you choose, and it certainly involved Mr. Gladstone in much unfruitful and not very edifying exertion; but it is at any rate better than the front of brass that takes any change of opinion for matter-of-course expedient, as to which the least said will be soonest mended. And it is better still than the disastrous self-consciousness that makes a man persist in a foolish thing to-day, because he chanced to say or do a foolish thing yesterday.



In this period of his life, with the battle of the world still to come, Mr. Gladstone to whose grave temperament everything, little or great, was matter of deliberate reflection, of duty and scruple, took early note of minor morals as well as major. Characteristically he found some fault with a sermon of Dr. Wordsworth's upon Saint Barnabas, for

hardly pushing the argument for the connection of good manners with Christianity to the full extent of which it is fairly capable. The whole system of legitimate courtesy, politeness, and refinement is surely nothing less than one of the genuine though minor and often unacknowledged results of the gospel scheme. All the great moral qualities or graces, which in their large sphere determine the formation and habits of the Christian soul as before God, do also on a smaller scale apply to the very same principles in the common intercourse of life, and pervade its innumerable and separately inappreciable particulars; and the result of this application is that good breeding which distinguishes Christian civilisation. (March 31, 1844.)

It is not for us to discuss whether the breeding of Plato or Cicero or the Arabs of Cordova was better or worse than the breeding of the eastern bishops at Nicaea or Ephesus. Good manners, we may be sure, hardly have a single master-key, unless it be simplicity, or freedom from the curse of affectation. What is certain is that nobody of his time was a finer example of high good manners and genuine courtesy than Mr. Gladstone himself. He has left a little sheaf of random jottings which, without being subtle or recondite, show how he looked on this side of human things. Here is an example or two:—

There are a class of passages in Mr. Wilberforce's Journals, e.g., some of those recording his successful speeches, which might in many men be set down to vanity, but in him are more fairly I should think ascribable to a singlemindedness which did not inflate. Surely with most men it is the safest rule, to make scanty records of success achieved, and yet more rarely to notice praise, which should pass us like the breeze, enjoyed but not arrested. There must indeed be some sign, a stone as it were set up, to remind us that such and such were occasions for thankfulness; but should not the memorials be restricted wholly and expressly for this purpose? For the fumes of praise are rapidly and fearfully intoxicating; it comes like a spark to the tow if once we give it, as it were, admission within us. (1838.)

There are those to whom vanity brings more of pain than of pleasure; there are also those whom it oftener keeps in the background, than thrusts forward. The same man who to-day volunteers for that which he is not called upon to do, may to-morrow flinch from his obvious duty from one and the same cause,—vanity, or regard to the appearance he is to make, for its own sake, and perhaps that vanity which shrinks is a more subtle and far-sighted, a more ethereal, a more profound vanity than that which presumes. (1842.)

A question of immense importance meets us in ethical inquiries, as follows: is there a sense in which it is needful, right, and praiseworthy, that man should be much habituated to look back upon himself and keep his eye upon himself; a self-regard, and even a self-respect, which are compatible with the self-renunciation and self-distrust which belong to Christianity? In the observance of a single distinction we shall find, perhaps, a secure and sufficient answer. We are to respect our responsibilities, not ourselves. We are to respect the duties of which we are capable, but not our capabilities simply considered. There is to be no complacent self-contemplation, beruminating upon self. When self is viewed, it must always be in the most intimate connection with its purposes. How well were it if persons would be more careful, or rather, more conscientious, in paying compliments. How often do we delude another, in subject matter small or great, into the belief that he has done well what we know he has done ill, either by silence, or by so giving him praise on a particular point as to imply approbation of the whole. Now it is undoubtedly difficult to observe politeness in all cases compatibly with truth; and politeness though a minor duty is a duty still. (1838.)

If truth permits you to praise, but binds you to praise with a qualification, observe how much more acceptably you will speak, if you put the qualification first, than if you postpone it. For example: 'this is a good likeness; but it is a hard painting,' is surely much less pleasing, than 'this is a hard painting; but it is a good likeness.' The qualification is generally taken to be more genuinely the sentiment of the speaker's mind, than the main proposition; and it carries ostensible honesty and manliness to propose first what is the less acceptable. (1835-6.)



To go back to Fenelon's question about his own foundation. 'The great work of religion,' as Mr. Gladstone conceived it, was set out in some sentences of a letter written by him to Mrs. Gladstone in 1844, five years after they were married. In these sentences we see that under all the agitated surface of a life of turmoil and contention, there flowed a deep composing stream of faith, obedience, and resignation, that gave him, in face of a thousand buffets, the free mastery of all his resources of heart and brain:—

To Mrs. Gladstone.

13 C.H. Terrace, Sunday evening, Jan. 21, 1844.—Although I have carelessly left at the board of trade with your other letters that on which I wished to have said something, yet I am going to end this day of peace by a few words to show that what you said did not lightly pass away from my mind. There is a beautiful little sentence in the works of Charles Lamb concerning one who had been afflicted: 'he gave his heart to the Purifier, and his will to the Sovereign Will of the Universe.'[134] But there is a speech in the third canto of the Paradiso of Dante, spoken by a certain Piccarda, which is a rare gem. I will only quote this one line:

In la sua volontade e nostra pace.[135]

The words are few and simple, and yet they appear to me to have an inexpressible majesty of truth about them, to be almost as if they were spoken from the very mouth of God. It so happened that (unless my memory much deceives me) I first read that speech on a morning early in the year 1836, which was one of trial. I was profoundly impressed and powerfully sustained, almost absorbed, by these words. They cannot be too deeply graven upon the heart. In short, what we all want is that they should not come to us as an admonition from without, but as an instinct from within. They should not be adopted by effort or upon a process of proof, but they should be simply the translation into speech of the habitual tone to which all tempers, affections, emotions, are set. In the Christian mood, which ought never to be intermitted, the sense of this conviction should recur spontaneously; it should be the foundation of all mental thoughts and acts, and the measure to which the whole experience of life, inward and outward, is referred. The final state which we are to contemplate with hope, and to seek by discipline, is that in which our will shall be one with the will of God; not merely shall submit to it, not merely shall follow after it, but shall live and move with it, even as the pulse of the blood in the extremities acts with the central movement of the heart. And this is to be obtained through a double process; the first, that of checking, repressing, quelling the inclination of the will to act with reference to self as a centre; this is to mortify it. The second, to cherish, exercise, and expand its new and heavenly power of acting according to the will of God, first, perhaps, by painful effort in great feebleness and with many inconsistencies, but with continually augmenting regularity and force, until obedience become a necessity of second nature....

Resignation is too often conceived to be merely a submission not unattended with complaint to what we have no power to avoid. But it is less than the whole of a work of a Christian. Your full triumph as far as that particular occasion of duty is concerned will be to find that you not merely repress inward tendencies to murmur—but that you would not if you could alter what in any matter God has plainly willed.... Here is the great work of religion; here is the path through which sanctity is attained, the highest sanctity; and yet it is a path evidently to be traced in the course of our daily duties....

When we are thwarted in the exercise of some innocent, laudable, and almost sacred affection, as in the case, though its scale be small, out of which all of this has grown, Satan has us at an advantage, because when the obstacle occurs, we have a sentiment that the feeling baffled is a right one, and in indulging a rebellious temper we flatter ourselves that we are merely as it were indulgent on behalf, not of ourselves, but of a duty which we have been interrupted in performing. But our duties can take care of themselves when God calls us away from any of them.... To be able to relinquish a duty upon command shows a higher grace than to be able to give up a mere pleasure for a duty....


The resignation thus described with all this power and deep feeling is, of course, in one form of thoughts and words, of symbol and synthesis, or another, the foundation of all the great systems of life. A summary of Mr. Gladstone's interpretation of it is perhaps found in a few words used by him of Blanco White, a heterodox writer whose strange spiritual fortunes painfully interested and perplexed him. 'He cherished,' says Mr. Gladstone, 'with whatever associations, the love of God, and maintained resignation to His will, even when it appears almost impossible to see how he could have had a dogmatic belief in the existence of a divine will at all. There was, in short [in Blanco White], a disposition to resist the tyranny of self; to recognise the rule of duty; to maintain the supremacy of the higher over the lower parts of our nature.'[136] This very disposition might with truth no less assured have been assigned to the writer himself. These three bright crystal laws of life were to him like pointer stars guiding a traveller's eye to the celestial pole by which he steers.

When all has been said of a man's gifts, the critical question still stands over, how he regards his responsibility for using them. Once in a conversation with Mr. Gladstone, some fifty years from the epoch of this present chapter, we fell upon the topic of ambition. 'Well,' he said, 'I do not think that I can tax myself in my own life with ever having been much moved by ambition.' The remark so astonished me that, as he afterwards playfully reported to a friend, I almost jumped up from my chair. We soon shall reach a stage in his career when both remark and surprise may explain themselves. We shall see that if ambition means love of power or fame for the sake of glitter, decoration, external renown, or even dominion and authority on their own account—and all these are common passions enough in strong natures as well as weak—then his view of himself was just. I think he had none of it. Ambition in a better sense, the motion of a resolute and potent genius to use strength for the purposes of strength, to clear the path, dash obstacles aside, force good causes forward—such a quality as that is the very law of the being of a personality so vigorous, intrepid, confident, and capable as his.


[112] Hawarden Grammar School, Sept. 19, 1877.

[113] Mr. Gladstone on Lord Houghton's Life; Speaker, Nov. 29, 1890.

[114] Gleanings, vii. p. 133.

[115] Homeric Studies, vol. iii.

[116] Book ii. Sec. 89, 363.

[117] Non enim solum acuenda nobis neque procudenda lingua est, sed onerandum complendumque pectus maximarum rerum et plurimarum suavitate, copia, varietate. Cicero, De Orat., iii. Sec. 30.

[118] The British Senate, by James Grant, vol. ii. pp. 88-92.

[119] Anatomy of Parliament, November 1840. 'Contemporary Orators,' in Fraser's Magazine.

[120] Lord Lansdowne to Senior (1855), in Mrs. Simpson's Many Memories, p. 226.

[121] Malmesbury, Memoirs of an Ex-Minister, i. p. 155.

[122] Life of Archbishop Benson, ii. p. 11.

[123] The noble anti-slavery movement must be excepted, for it was very directly connected with evangelicalism.

[124] Paruta, i. p. 64.

[125] 'Blest statesman he, whose mind's unselfish will' (1838).—Knight's Wordsworth, viii. p. 101.

[126] The first chapter in Sir Henry Taylor's Notes from Life (1847).

[127] Marcus Aurelius, ix. p. 29.

[128] Aristotle, Augustine, Dante, Butler. 'My four "doctors,"' he tells Manning, 'are doctors to the speculative man; would they were such to the practical too!'

[129] See below, p. 323.

[130] Glanville's Vanity of Dogmatising.

[131] See Shaftesbury's Life, iii. p. 495. He refused to be on a committee for a memorial to Thirlwall. (1875.)

[132] First Sermon, Upon Compassion.

[133] Gleanings, vii. p. 100, 1868.

[134] Rosamund Gray, chap. xi.

[135] Mr. Gladstone's rendering of the speech of Piccarda (Paradiso, iii. 70) is in the volume of collected translations (p. 165), under the date of 1835:

'In His Will is our peace. To this all things By Him created, or by Nature made, As to a central Sea, self-motion brings.'

[136] Gleanings, ii. p. 20, 1845.




What are great gifts but the correlative of great work? We are not born for ourselves, but for our kind, for our neighbours, for our country: it is but selfishness, indolence, a perverse fastidiousness, an unmanliness, and no virtue or praise, to bury our talent in a napkin.—CARDINAL NEWMAN.

Along with his domestic and parliamentary concerns, we are to recognise the ferment that was proceeding in Mr. Gladstone's mind upon new veins of theology; but it was an interior working of feeling and reflection, and went forward without much visible relation to the outer acts and facts of his life during this period. As to those, one entry in the diary (Feb. 1st, 1839) tells a sufficient tale for the next two years. 'I find I have, besides family and parliamentary concerns and those of study, ten committees on hand: Milbank, Society for Propagation of the Gospel, Church Building Metropolis, Church Commercial School, National Schools inquiry and correspondence, Upper Canada, Clergy, Additional Curates' Fund, Carlton Library, Oxford and Cambridge Club. These things distract and dissipate my mind.' Well they might; for in any man with less than Mr. Gladstone's amazing faculty of rapid and powerful concentration, such dispersion must have been disastrous both to effectiveness and to mental progress. As it is, I find little in the way of central facts to remark in either mental history or public action. He strayed away occasionally from the Fathers and their pastures and dipped into the new literature of the hour, associated with names of dawning popularity. Carlyle he found hard to lay down. Some of Emerson, too, he became acquainted with, as we have already seen; but his mind was far too closely filled with transcendentalisms of his own to offer much hospitality to the serene and beautiful transcendentalism of Emerson. He read Oliver Twist and Nicholas Nickleby, and on the latter he makes a characteristic comment—'the tone is very human; it is most happy in touches of natural pathos. No church in the book, and the motives are not those of religion.' So with Hallam's History of Literature, 'Finished (Oct. 10, 1839) his theological chapter, in which I am sorry to find amidst such merits, what is even far more grievous than his anti-church sarcasms, such notions on original sin as in iv. p. 161.' He found Chillingworth's Religion of Protestants 'a work of the most mixed merits,' an ambiguous phrase which I take to mean not that its merits were various, but that they were much mixed with those demerits for which the puritan Cheynell baited the unlucky latitudinarian to death. About this time also he first began Father Paul's famous history of the Council of Trent, a work that always stood as high in his esteem as in Macaulay's, who liked Sarpi the best of all modern historians.

To the great veteran poet of the time Mr. Gladstone's fidelity was unchanging, even down to compositions that the ordinary Wordsworthian gives up:—

Read aloud Wordsworth's Cumberland Beggar and Peter Bell. The former is generally acknowledged to be a noble poem. The same justice is not done to the latter; I was more than ever struck with the vivid power of the descriptions, the strong touches of feeling, the skill and order with which the plot upon Peter's conscience is arranged, and the depth of interest which is made to attach to the humblest of quadrupeds. It must have cost great labour, and is an extraordinary poem, both as a whole and in detail.

Let not the scorner forget that Matthew Arnold, that admirable critic and fine poet, confesses to reading Peter Bell with pleasure and edification.

In the political field he moved steadily on. Sir R. Peel spoke to him (April 19, 1839) in the House about the debate and wished him to speak after Sheil, if Graham, who was to speak about 8 or 9, could bring him up. Peel showed him several points with regard to the committee which he thought might be urged. 'This is very kind in him as a mark of confidence; and assures me that if, as I suspect, he considers my book as likely to bring me into some embarrassment individually, yet he is willing to let me still act under him, and fight my own battles in that matter as best with God's help I may, which is thoroughly fair. It imposes, however, a great responsibility. I was not presumptuous enough to dream of following Sheil; not that his speech is formidable, but the impression it leaves on the House is. I meant to provoke him. A mean man may fire at a tiger, but it requires a strong and bold one to stand his charge; and the longer I live, the more I feel my own (intrinsically) utter powerlessness in the House of Commons. But my principle is this—not to shrink from any such responsibility when laid upon me by a competent person. Sheil, however, did not speak, so I am reserved and may fulfil my own idea, please God, to-night.'


We come now to one of the memorable episodes in this vexed decade of our political history. The sullen demon of slavery died hard. The negro still wore about his neck galling links of the broken chain. The transitory stage of apprenticeship was in some respects even harsher than the bondage from which it was to bring deliverance, and the old iniquity only worked in new ways. The pity and energy of the humane at home drove a perplexed and sluggish government to pass an act for dealing with the abominations of the prisons to which the unhappy blacks were committed in Jamaica. The assembly of that island, a planter oligarchy, resented the new law from the mother country as an invasion of their constitutional rights, and stubbornly refused in their exasperation, even after a local dissolution, to perform duties that were indispensable for working the machinery of administration. The cabinet in consequence asked parliament (April 9th) to suspend the constitution of Jamaica for a term of five years. The tory opposition, led by Peel with all his force, aided by the aversion of a section of the liberals to a measure in which they detected a flavour of dictatorship, ran the ministers (May 6th) within five votes of defeat on a cardinal stage.

'I was amused,' says Mr. Gladstone, 'with observing yesterday the differences of countenance and manner in the ministers whom I met on my ride. Ellice (their friend) would not look at me at all. Charles Wood looked but askance and with the hat over the brow. Grey shouted, "Wish you joy!" Lord Howick gave a remarkably civil and smiling nod; and Morpeth a hand salute with all his might, as we crossed in riding. On Monday night after the division, Peel said just as it was known and about to be announced, "Jamaica was a good horse to start."' Of his own share in the performance, Mr. Gladstone only says that he spoke a dry speech to a somewhat reluctant House. 'I cannot work up my matter at all in such a plight. However, considering what it was, they behaved very well. A loud cheer on the announcement of the numbers from our people, in which I did not join.'

To have won the race by so narrow a majority as five seemed to the whigs, wearied of their own impotence and just discredit, a good plea for getting out of office. Peel proceeded to begin the formation of a government, but the operation broke down upon an affair of the bedchamber. He supposed the Queen to object to the removal of any of the ladies of her household, and the Queen supposed him to insist on the removal of them all. The situation was unedifying and nonsensical, but the Queen was not yet twenty, and Lord Melbourne had for once failed to teach a prudent lesson. A few days saw Melbourne back in office, and in office he remained for two years longer.[137]



In June 1839 the understanding arrived at with Miss Catherine Glynne during the previous winter in Sicily, ripened into a definite engagement, and on the 25th of the following July their marriage took place amid much rejoicing and festivity at Hawarden. At the same time and place, Mary Glynne, the younger sister, was married to Lord Lyttelton. Sir Stephen Glynne, their brother, was the ninth, and as was to happen, the last baronet. Their mother, born Mary Neville, was the daughter of the second Lord Braybrooke and Mary Grenville his wife, sister of the first Marquis of Buckingham. Hence Lady Glynne was one of a historic clan, granddaughter of George Grenville, the minister of American taxation, and niece of William, Lord Grenville, head of the cabinet of All the Talents in 1806. She was first cousin therefore of the younger Pitt, and the Glynnes could boast of a family connection with three prime ministers, or if we choose to add Lord Chatham who married Hester Grenville, with four.[138] 'I told her,' Mr. Gladstone recorded on this occasion of their engagement (June 8th), 'what was my original destination and desire in life; in what sense and manner I remained in connection with politics.... I have given her (led by her questions) these passages for canons of our living:—

'Le fronde, onde s'infronda tutto l'orto Dell' Ortolano eterno, am' io cotanto, Quanto da lui a lor di bene e porto.'[139]

And Dante again—

'In la sua volontade e nostra pace: Ella e quel mare, al qual tutto si muove.'[140]

In few human unions have the good hopes and fond wishes of a bridal day been better fulfilled or brought deeper and more lasting content. Sixty long years after, Mr. Gladstone said, 'It would not be possible to unfold in words the value of the gifts which the bounty of Providence has conferred upon me through her.' And the blessing remained radiant and unclouded to the distant end.

At the close of August, after posting across Scotland from Greenock by a route better known now than then to every tourist, the young couple made their way to Fasque, where the new bride found an auspicious approach and the kindest of welcomes. Her 'entrance into her adoptive family was much more formidable than it would be to those who had been less loved, or less influential, or less needed and leant upon, in the home where she was so long a queen.' At Fasque all went as usual. Soon after his arrival, his father communicated that he meant actually to transfer to his sons his Demerara properties—Robertson to have the management. 'This increased wealth, so much beyond my needs, with its attendant responsibility is very burdensome, however on his part the act be beautiful.'


The parliamentary session of 1840 was unimportant and dreary. The government was tottering, the conservative leaders were in no hurry to pluck the pear before it was ripe, and the only men with any animating principle of active public policy in them were Cobden and the League against the Corn Law. The attention of the House of Commons was mainly centred in the case of Stockdale and the publication of debates. But Mr. Gladstone's most earnest thoughts were still far away from what he found to be the dry sawdust of the daily politics, as the following lines may show:—

March 16th, 1849.—Manning dined with us. He kindly undertook to revise my manuscript on 'Church Principles.'

March 18th.—Yesterday I had a long conversation with James Hope. He came to tell me, with great generosity, that he would always respond to any call, according to the best of his power, which I might make on him for the behalf of the common cause—he had given up all views of advancement in his profession—he had about L400 a year, and this, which includes his fellowship, was quite sufficient for his wants; his time would be devoted to church objects; in the intermediate region he considered himself as having the first tonsure.

Hope urged strongly the principle, 'Let every man abide in the calling ——' I thought even over strongly. My belief is that he foregoes the ministry from deeming himself unworthy.... The object of my letter to Hope was in part to record on paper my abhorrence of party in the church, whether Oxford party or any other.

March 18th.—To-day a meeting at Peel's on the China question; considered in the view of censure upon the conduct of the administration, and a motion will accordingly be made objecting to the attempts to force the Chinese to modify their old relations with us, and to the leaving the superintendent without military force. It was decided not to move simultaneously in the Lords—particularly because the radicals would, if there were a double motion, act not on the merits but for the ministry. Otherwise, it seemed to be thought we should carry a motion. The Duke of Wellington said, 'God! if it is carried, they will go,' that they were as near as possible to resignation on the last defeat, and would not stand it again. Peel said, he understood four ministers were then strongly for resigning. The duke also said, our footing in China could not be re-established, unless under some considerable naval and military demonstration, now that matters had gone so far. He appeared pale and shaken, but spoke loud and a good deal, much to the point and with considerable gesticulation. The mind's life I never saw more vigorous.


The Chinese question was of the simplest. British subjects insisted on smuggling opium into China in the teeth of Chinese law. The British agent on the spot began war against China for protecting herself against these malpractices. There was no pretence that China was in the wrong, for in fact the British government had sent out orders that the opium-smugglers should not be shielded; but the orders arrived too late, and war having begun, Great Britain felt bound to see it through, with the result that China was compelled to open four ports, to cede Hong Kong, and to pay an indemnity of six hundred thousand pounds. So true is it that statesmen have no concern with pater nosters, the Sermon on the Mount, or the vade mecum of the moralist. We shall soon see that this transaction began to make Mr. Gladstone uneasy, as was indeed to be expected in anybody who held that a state should have a conscience.[141] On April 8, 1840, his journal says: 'Read on China. House.... Spoke heavily; strongly against the trade and the war, having previously asked whether my speaking out on them would do harm, and having been authorised.' An unguarded expression brought him into a debating scrape, but his speech abounded in the pure milk of what was to be the Gladstonian word:—

I do not know how it can be urged as a crime against the Chinese that they refused provisions to those who refused obedience to their laws whilst residing within their territory. I am not competent to judge how long this war may last, nor how protracted may be its operations, but this I can say, that a war more unjust in its origin, a war more calculated in its progress to cover this country with disgrace, I do not know and I have not read of. Mr. Macaulay spoke last night in eloquent terms of the British flag waving in glory at Canton, and of the animating effect produced upon the minds of our sailors by the knowledge that in no country under heaven was it permitted to be insulted. But how comes it to pass that the sight of that flag always raises the spirits of Englishmen? It is because it has always been associated with the cause of justice, with opposition to oppression, with respect for national rights, with honourable commercial enterprise, but now under the auspices of the noble lord [Palmerston] that flag is hoisted to protect an infamous contraband traffic, and if it were never to be hoisted except as it is now hoisted on the coast of China, we should recoil from its sight with horror, and should never again feel our hearts thrill, as they now thrill, with emotion when it floats magnificently and in pride upon the breeze.... Although the Chinese were undoubtedly guilty of much absurd phraseology, of no little ostentatious pride, and of some excess, justice in my opinion is with them, and whilst they the pagans and semi-civilised barbarians have it, we the enlightened and civilised Christians are pursuing objects at variance both with justice and with religion.[142]

May 14th.—Consulted [various persons] on opium. All but Sir R. Inglis were on grounds of prudence against its [a motion against the compensation demanded from China] being brought forward. To this majority of friendly and competent persons I have given way, I hope not wrongfully; but I am in dread of the judgment of God upon England for our national iniquity towards China. It has been to me matter of most painful and anxious consideration. I yielded specifically to this; the majority of the persons most trustworthy feel that to make the motion would, our leaders being in such a position and disposition with respect to it, injure the cause. June 1st.—Meeting of the Society for Suppression of the Slave Trade. [This was the occasion of a speech from Prince Albert, who presided.] Exeter Hall crammed is really a grand spectacle. Samuel Wilberforce a beautiful speaker; in some points resembles Macaulay. Peel excellent. June 12th.—This evening I voted for the Irish education grant; on the ground that in its principle, according to Lord Stanley's letter, it is identical practically with the English grant of '33-8, and I might have added with the Kildare Place grant. To exclude doctrine from exposition is in my judgment as truly a mutilation of scripture, as to omit bodily portions of the sacred volume.


His first child and eldest son was born (June 3), and Manning and Hope became his godfathers; these two were Mr. Gladstone's most intimate friends at this period. Social diversions were never wanting. One June afternoon he went down to Greenwich, 'Grillion's fish dinner to the Speaker. Great merriment; and an excellent speech from Stanley, "good sense and good nonsense." A modest one from Morpeth. But though we dined at six, these expeditions do not suit me. I am ashamed of paying L2, 10s. for a dinner. But on this occasion the object was to do honour to a dignified and impartial Speaker.' He had been not at all grateful, by the way, for the high honour of admission to Grillion's dining club this year,—'a thing quite alien to my temperament, which requires more soothing and domestic appliances after the feverish and consuming excitements of party life; but the rules of society oblige me to submit.' As it happened, so narrow is man's foreknowledge, Grillion's down to the very end of his life, nearly sixty years ahead, had no more faithful or congenial member.

July 1st.—Last evening at Lambeth Palace I had a good deal of conversation with Colonel Gurwood about the Duke of Wellington and about Canada. He told me an anecdote of Lord Seaton which throws light upon his peculiar reserve, and shows it to be a modesty of character, combined no doubt with military habits and notions. When Captain Colborne, and senior officer of his rank in the 21st foot, he [Lord Seaton] was military secretary to General Fox during the war. A majority in his regiment fell vacant, Gen. Fox desired him to ascertain who was the senior captain on the command. 'Captain So-and-so of the 80th [I think].' 'Write to Colonel Gordon and recommend him to his royal highness for the vacant majority.' He did it. The answer came to this effect: 'The recommendation will not be refused, but we are surprised to see that it comes in the handwriting of Captain Colborne, the very man who, according to the rules of the service, ought to have this majority.' General Fox had forgotten it, and Captain Colborne had not reminded him! The error was corrected. He (Gurwood) said he had never known the Duke of Wellington speak on the subject of religion but once, when he quoted the story of Oliver Cromwell on his death-bed, and said: 'That state of grace, in my opinion, is a state or habit of doing right, of persevering in duty, and to fall from it is to cease from acting right.' He always attends the service at 8 A.M. in the Chapel Royal, and says it is a duty which ought to be done, and the earlier in the day it is discharged the better. July 24th. Heard [James] Hope in the House of Lords against the Chapters bill; and he spoke with such eloquence, learning, lofty sentiment, clear and piercing diction, continuity of argument, just order, sagacious tact, and comprehensive method, as one would say would have required the longest experience as well as the greatest natural gifts. Yet he never acted before, save as counsel for the Edinburgh and Glasgow railway. If hearts are to be moved, it must be by this speech.[143] July 27th.—Again went over and got up the subject of opium compensation as it respects the Chinese. I spoke thereon 11/2 hours for the liberation of my conscience, and to afford the friends of peace opposite an opportunity, of which they would not avail themselves.

In August he tells Mrs. Gladstone how he has been to dine with 'such an odd party at the Guizots'; Austin, radical lawyer; John Mill, radical reviewer; M. Gaskell, Monckton Milnes, Thirlwall, new Bishop of St. David's, George Lewis, poor law commissioner. Not very ill mixed, however. The host is extremely nice.' An odd party indeed; it comprised four at least of the strongest heads in England, and two of the most illustrious names of all the century in Europe.


In March (1840) Mr. Gladstone and Lord Lyttelton went to Eton together to fulfil the ambitious functions of examiner for the Newcastle scholarship. In thanking Mr. Gladstone for his services, Hawtrey speaks of the advantage of public men of his stamp undertaking such duties in the good cause of the established system of education, 'as against the nonsense of utilitarians and radicals.' The questions ran in the familiar mould in divinity, niceties of ancient grammar, obscurities of classical construction, caprices of vocabulary, and all the other points of the old learning. The general merit Mr. Gladstone found 'beyond anything possible or conceivable' when he was a boy at Eton a dozen years before:—

We sit with the boys (39 in number) and make about ten hours a day in looking over papers with great minuteness.... Although it is in quantity hard work, it is lightened by a warm interest, and the refreshment of early love upon a return to this sweet place. It is work apart from human passion, and is felt as a moral relaxation, though it is not one in any other sense.... This is a curious experience to me, of jaded body and mind refreshed. I propose for Latin theme a little sentence of Burke's which runs to this effect, 'Flattery corrupts both the receiver and the giver; and adulation is not of more service to the people than to kings.' April 2nd.—The statistics become excessively interesting. Henry Hallam gained, and now stands second [the brother of his dead friend]. April 3rd.—In, 6 hours; out, from 4 to 5 hours more upon the papers. Vinegar, thank God, carries my eyes through so much MS., and the occupation is deeply interesting, especially on Hallam's account. Our labours were at one time anxious and critical, the two leaders being 1388 and 1390 respectively. At night, however, all was decided. April 4th. 12.2.—Viva voce for fourteen select. At 21/2 Seymour was announced scholar to the boys, and chaired forthwith. Hallam, medallist. It was quite overpowering.

Henry Hallam was the second son of the historian, the junior of Arthur by some fourteen or fifteen years. Mr. Gladstone more than a generation later described a touching supplement to his Eton story. 'In 1850 Henry Hallam had attained an age exceeding only by some four years the limit of his brother's life. During that autumn I was travelling post between Turin and Genoa, upon my road to Naples. A family coach met us on the road, and the glance of a moment at the inside showed me the familiar face of Mr. Hallam. I immediately stopped my carriage, descended, and ran after his. On overtaking it, I found the dark clouds accumulated on his brow, and learned with indescribable pain that he was on his way home from Florence, where he had just lost his second and only remaining son, from an attack corresponding in its suddenness and its devastating rapidity with that which had struck down his eldest born son seventeen years before.'

At Fasque, where his autumn sojourn began in September, he threw himself with special ardour into his design for a college for Scotch episcopalians, especially for the training of clergy. He wrote to Manning (Aug. 31, 1840):—

Hope and I have been talking and writing upon a scheme for raising money to found in Scotland a college akin in structure to the Romish seminaries in England; that is to say, partly for training the clergy, partly for affording an education to the children of the gentry and others who now go chiefly to presbyterian schools or are tended at home by presbyterian tutors. I think L25,000 would do it, and that it might be got. I must have my father's sanction before committing myself to it. Hope's intended absence for the winter is a great blow. Were he to be at home I do not doubt that great progress might be made. In the kirk toil and trouble, double, double, the fires burn and cauldrons bubble: and though I am not sanguine as to very speedy or extensive resumption by the church of her spiritual rights, she may have a great part to play. At present she is very weakly manned, and this is the way I think to strengthen the crew.


The scheme expanded as time went on. His father threw himself into it with characteristic energy and generosity, contributing many thousand pounds, for the sum required greatly exceeded the modest figure above mentioned. Mr. Gladstone conducted a laborious and sometimes vexatious correspondence in the midst of more important public cares. Plans were mature, and adequate funds were forthcoming, and in the autumn of 1842 Hope and the two Gladstones made what they found an agreeable tour, examining the various localities for a site, and finally deciding on a spot 'on a mountain-stream, ten miles from Perth, at the very gate of the highlands.' It was 1846 before the college at Glenalmond was opened for its destined purposes.[144] We all know examples of men holding opinions with trenchancy, decision, and even a kind of fervour, and yet with no strong desire to spread them. Mr. Gladstone was at all times of very different temper; consumed with missionary energy and the fire of ardent propagandism.


He laboured hard at the fourth edition of his book, sometimes getting eleven hours of work, 'a good day as times go,'—Montesquieu, Burke, Bacon, Clarendon, and others of the masters of civil and historic wisdom being laid under ample contribution. By Christmas he was at Hawarden. In January he made a speech at a meeting held in Liverpool for the foundation of a church union, and a few days later he hurried off to Walsall to help his brother John, then the tory candidate, and a curious incident happened:—

I either provided myself, or I was furnished from headquarters, with a packet of pamphlets in favour of the corn laws. These I read, and I extracted from them the chief material of my speeches. I dare say it was sad stuff, furbished up at a moment's notice. We carried the election. Cobden sent me a challenge to attend a public discussion of the subject. Whether this was quite fair, I am not certain, for I was young, made no pretension to be an expert, and had never opened my lips in parliament on the subject. But it afforded me an excellent opportunity to decline with modesty and with courtesy as well as reason. I am sorry to say that, to the best of my recollection, I did far otherwise, and the pith of my answer was made to be that I regarded the Anti-Corn Law League as no better than a big borough-mongering association. Such was my first capital offence in the matter of protection; redeemed from public condemnation only by obscurity.

The letters are preserved, but a sentence or two from Mr. Gladstone's to Cobden are enough. 'The phrases which you quote from a report in the Times have reference, not to the corn law, but to the Anti-Corn Law League and its operations in Walsall. Complaining apparently of these, you desire me to meet you in discussion, not upon the League but upon the corn law. I cannot conceive two subjects more distinct. I admit the question of the repeal of the corn laws to be a subject fairly open to discussion, although I have a strong opinion against it. But as to the Anti-Corn Law League, I do not admit that any equitable doubt can be entertained as to the character of its present proceedings; and, excepting a casual familiarity of phrase, I adhere rigidly to the substance of the sentiments which I have expressed. I know not who may be answerable for these measures, nor was your name known to me, or in my recollection at the time when I spoke.' Time soon changed all this, and showed who was teacher and who the learner.

By and by the session of 1841 opened, the whigs moving steadily towards their fall, and Mr. Gladstone almost overwhelmed with floods of domestic business. He settled in the pleasant region which is to the metropolis what Delphi was to the habitable earth, and where, if we include in it Downing Street, he passed all the most important years of his life in London.[145] Though he speaks of being overwhelmed by domestic business, and he was undoubtedly hard beset by all the demands of early housekeeping, yet he very speedily recovered his balance. He resisted now and always as jealously as he could those promiscuous claims on time and attention by which men of less strenuous purpose suffer the effectiveness of their lives to be mutilated. 'I well know,' he writes to his young wife who was expecting him to join her at Hagley, 'you would not have me come on any conditions with which one's sense of duty could not be quieted, and would (I hope) send me back by the next train. These delays are to you a practical exemplification of the difficulty of reconciling domestic and political engagements. The case is one that scarcely admits of compromise; the least that is required in order to the fulfilment of one's duty is constant bodily presence in London until the fag-end of the session is fairly reached.'

Here are a few examples of the passing days:—

March 12th, 1841.—Tracts for the Times, No. 90; ominous. March 13th.—Went to see Reform Club. Sat to Bradley 21/2-4. London Library committee. Carlton Library committee. Corrected two proof-sheets. Conversed an hour and a half with Mr. Richmond, who came to tea, chiefly on my plan for a picture-life of Christ. Chess with C. [his wife]. March 14th (Sunday).—Communion (St. James's), St. Margaret's afternoon. Wrote on Ephes. v. 1, and read it aloud to servants. March 20th.—City to see Freshfield. Afternoon service in Saint Paul's. What an image, what a crowd of images! Amidst the unceasing din, and the tumult of men hurrying this way and that for gold, or pleasure, or some self-desire, the vast fabric thrusts itself up to heaven and firmly plants itself on soil begrudged to an occupant that yields no lucre. But the city cannot thrust forth its cathedral; and from thence arises the harmonious measured voice of intercession from day to day. The church praying and deprecating continually for the living mass that are dead while they live, from out of the very centre of that mass; silent and lonesome is her shrine, amidst the noise, the thunder of multitudes. Silent, lonesome, motionless, yet full of life; for were we not more dead than the stones, which built into that sublime structure witness continually to what is great and everlasting,—did priest or chorister, or the casual worshipper but apprehend the grandeur of his function in that spot,—the very heart must burst with the tide of emotions gathering within it. Oh for speed, speed to the wings of that day when this glorious unfulfilled outline of a church shall be charged as a hive with the operations of the Spirit of God and of His war against the world; when the intervals of space and time within its walls, now untenanted by any functions of that holy work, shall be thickly occupied; and when the glorious sights and sounds which shall arrest the passenger in his haste that he may sanctify his purposes by worship, shall be symbols still failing to express the fulness of the power of God developed among His people.

March 21.—Wrote on 1 Thess. v. 17, and read it to servants. Read The Young Communicants; Bishop Hall's Life. It seems as if at this time the number and close succession of occupations without any great present reward of love or joy, and chiefly belonging to an earthly and narrow range, were my special trial and discipline. Other I seem hardly to have any of daily pressure. Health in myself and those nearest me; (comparative) wealth and success; no strokes from God; no opportunity of pardoning others, for none offend me.

April 3.—Two or three nights ago Mrs. Wilbraham told Catherine that Stanley was extremely surprised to find, after his speech on the Tarmworth and Rugby railway bill, that Peel had been very much annoyed with the expression he had used: 'that his right hon. friend had in pleading for the bill made use of all that art and ingenuity with which he so well knew how to dress up a statement for that House,' and that he showed his annoyance very much by his manner to him, S., afterwards. He, upon reflecting that this was the probable cause, wrote a note to Peel to set matters to rights, in which he succeeded; but he thought Peel very thin-skinned. Wm. Cowper told me the other day at Milnes's that Lord John Russell is remarkable among his colleagues for his anxiety during the recess for the renewal of the session of parliament; that he always argues for fixing an early day of meeting, and finds pleas for it, and finds the time long until it recommences.

A visit to Nuneham (April 12) and thence to Oxford brought him into the centre of the tractarians. He saw much of Hamilton, went to afternoon service at Littlemore, breakfasted in company with Newman at Merton, had a long conversation with Pusey on Tract 90, and gathered that Newman thought differently of the Council of Trent from what he had thought a year or two back, and that he differed from Pusey in thinking the English reformation uncatholic. Mr. Gladstone replied that No. 90 had the appearance to his mind of being written by a man, if in, not of, the church of England; and would be interpreted as exhibiting the Tridentine system for the ideal, the anglican for a mutilated and just tolerable actual. Then in the same month he 'finished Palmer on the Articles, deep, earnest, and generally trustworthy. Worked upon a notion of private eucharistical devotions, to be chiefly compiled; and attended a meeting about colonial bishoprics,' where he spoke but indifferently.



In 1841 the whigs in the expiring hours of their reign launched parliament and parties upon what was to be the grand marking controversy of the era. To remedy the disorder into which expenditure, mainly due to highhanded foreign policy, had brought the national finance, they proposed to reconstruct the fiscal system by reducing the duties on foreign sugar and timber, and substituting for Wellington's corn law a fixed eight shilling duty on imported wheat. The wiser heads, like Lord Spencer, were aware that as an electioneering expedient the new policy would bring them little luck, but their position in any case was desperate. The handling of their proposals was curiously maladroit; and even if it had been otherwise, ministerial repute alike for competency and for sincerity was so damaged both, in the House of Commons and the country, that their doom was certain. The reduction of the duty on slave-grown sugar from foreign countries was as obnoxious to the abolitionist as it was disadvantageous to the West Indian proprietors, and both of these powerful sections were joined by the corn-grower, well aware that his turn would come next. Many meetings took place at Sir Robert Peel's upon the sugar resolutions, and Mr. Gladstone worked up the papers and figures so as to be ready to speak if necessary. At one of these meetings, by the way, he thought it worth while to write down that Peel had the tradesmen's household books upon his desk—a circumstance that he mentioned also to the present writer, when by chance we found ourselves together in the same room fifty years later.

On May 10th, his speech on the sugar duties came off in due course. In this speech he took the sound point that the new arrangement must act as an encouragement to the slave trade, 'that monster which, while war, pestilence, and famine were slaying their thousands, slew from year to year with unceasing operation its tens of thousands.' As he went on, he fell upon Macaulay for being member of a cabinet that was thus deserting a cause in which Macaulay's father had been the unseen ally of Wilberforce, and the pillar of his strength,—'a man of profound benevolence, of acute understanding, of indefatigable industry, and of that self-denying temper which is content to work in secret, and to seek for its reward beyond the grave.' Macaulay was the last man to suffer rebuke in silence, and he made a sharp reply on the following day, followed by a magnanimous peace-making behind the Speaker's chair.


Meanwhile the air was thick and loud with rumours. Lord Eliot told Mr. Gladstone in the middle of the debate that there had been a stormy cabinet that morning, and that ministers had at last made up their minds to follow Lord Spencer's advice, to resign and not to dissolve. When the division on the sugar duties was taken, ministers were beaten (May 19) by a majority of 36, after fine performances from Sir Robert, and a good one from Palmerston on the other side. The cabinet, with, a tenacity incredible in our own day, were still for holding on until their whole scheme, with the popular element of cheap bread in it, was fully before the country. Peel immediately countered them by a vote of want of confidence, and this was carried (June 4) by a majority of one:—

On Saturday morning the division in the House of Commons presented a scene of the most extraordinary excitement. While we were in our lobby we were told that we were 312 and the government either 311 or 312. It was also known that they had brought down Lord —— who was reported to be in a state of total idiocy. After returning to the House I went to sit near the bar, where the other party were coming in. We had all been counted, 312, and the tellers at the government end had counted to 308; there remained behind this unfortunate man, reclining in a chair, evidently in total unconsciousness of what was proceeding. Loud cries had been raised from our own side, when it was seen that he was being brought up, to clear the bar that the whole House might witness the scene, and every one stood up in intense curiosity. There were now only this figure, less human even than an automaton, and two persons, R. Stuart and E. Ellice, pushing the chair in which he lay. A loud cry of 'Shame, Shame,' burst from our side; those opposite were silent. Those three were counted without passing the tellers, and the moment after we saw that our tellers were on the right in walking to the table, indicating that we had won. Fremantle gave out the numbers, and then the intense excitement raised by the sight we had witnessed found vent in our enthusiastic (quite irregular) hurrah with great waving of hats. Upon looking back I am sorry to think how much I partook in the excitement that prevailed; but how could it be otherwise in so extraordinary a case? I thought Lord John's a great speech—it was delivered too under the pressure of great indisposition. He has risen with adversity. He seemed rather below par as a leader in 1835 when he had a clear majority, and the ball nearly at his foot; in each successive year the strength of his government has sunk and his own has risen.

Then came the dissolution, and an election memorable in the history of party. Thinking quite as much of the Scotch college, the colonial bishoprics, and Tract Ninety, as of sugar duties or the corn law, Mr. Gladstone hastened to Newark. He was delighted with the new colleague who had been provided for him. 'As a candidate,' he writes to his wife, 'Lord John Manners is excellent; his speaking is popular and effective, and he is a good canvasser, by virtue not I think of effort, but of a general kindliness and warmth of disposition which naturally shows itself to every one. Nothing can be more satisfactory than to have such a partner.' In his address Mr. Gladstone only touched on the poor law and the corn law. On the first he would desire liberal treatment for aged, sick, and widowed poor, and reasonable discretion to the local administrators of the law. As to the second, the protection of native agriculture is an object of the first economical and national importance, and should be secured by a graduated scale of duties on foreign grain. 'Manners and I,' he says, 'were returned as protectionists. My speeches were of absolute dulness, but I have no doubt they were sound in the sense of my leaders Peel and Graham and others of the party.' The election offered no new incidents. One old lady reproached him for not being content with keeping bread and sugar from the people, but likewise by a new faith, the mysterious monster of Puseyism, stealing away from them the bread of life. He found the wesleyans shaky, partly because they disliked his book and were afraid of the Oxford Tracts, and partly from his refusal to subscribe to their school. Otherwise, flags, bands, suppers, processions, all went on in high ceremonial order as before. Day after day passed with nothing worse than the threat of a blue candidate, but one Sunday morning (June 26) as people came out of church, they found an address on the walls and a dark rumour got afloat that the new man had brought heavy bags of money. For this rumour there was no foundation, but it inspired annoying fears in the good and cheerful hopes in the bad. The time was in any case too short, and at four o'clock on June 29 the poll was found to be, Gladstone 633, Manners 630, Hobhouse 391. His own election safely over, Mr. Gladstone turned to take part in a fierce contest in which Sir Stephen Glynne was candidate for the representation of Flintshire, but 'bribery, faggotry, abduction, personation, riot, factious delays, landlord's intimidations, partiality of authorities,' carried the day, and to the bitter dismay of Hawarden, Sir Stephen was narrowly beaten. One ancient dame, overwhelmed by the defeat of the family that for eighty years she had idolised, cried aloud to Mrs. Gladstone, 'I am a great woman for thinking of the Lord, but O, my dear lady, this has put it all out of my head.' The election involved him in what would now be thought a whimsical correspondence with one of the Grosvenor family, who complained of Mr. Gladstone for violating the sacred canons of electioneering etiquette by canvassing Lord Westminster's tenants. 'I did think,' says the wounded patrician, 'that interference between a landlord with whose opinions you were acquainted and his tenants was not justifiable according to those laws of delicacy and propriety which I considered binding in such cases.'


At last he was able to snatch a holiday with his wife and child by the seaside at Hoylake, which rather oddly struck him as being like Paestum without the temples. He read away at Gibbon and Dante until he went to Hawarden, partly to consider the state of its financial affairs; as to these something is to be said later. 'Walked alone in the Hawarden grounds,' he says one day during his stay; 'ruminated on the last-named subject [accounts], also on anticipated changes [in government]. I can digest the crippled religious action of the state; but I cannot be a party to exacting by blood opium compensation from the Chinese.' Then to London (Aug. 18). He attended the select party meetings at Sir Robert Peel's and Lord Aberdeen's. Dining at Grillion's he heard Stanley, speaking of the new parliament, express a high opinion of Roebuck as an able man and clear speaker, likely to make a figure; and also of Cobden as a resolute perspicacious man, familiar with all the turns of his subject; and when the new House assembled, he had made up his mind for himself that 'Cobden will be a worrying man on corn.' This was Cobden's first entry into the House. At last the whigs were put out of office by a majority of 91, and Peel undertook to form a government.

Aug. 31/41.—In consequence of a note received this morning from Sir Robert Peel I went to him at half-past eleven. The following is the substance of a quarter of an hour's conversation. He said: 'In this great struggle, in which we have been and are to be engaged, the chief importance will attach to questions of finance. It would not be in my power to undertake the business of chancellor of the exchequer in detail; I therefore have asked Goulburn to fill that office, and I shall be simply first lord. I think we shall be very strong in the House of Commons if as a part of this arrangement you will accept the post of vice-president of the board of trade, and conduct the business of that department in the House of Commons, with Lord Ripon as president. I consider it an office of the highest importance, and you will have my unbounded confidence in it.'[146]

I said, 'of the importance and responsibility of that office at the present time I am well aware; but it is right that I should say as strongly as I can, that I really am not fit for it. I have no general knowledge of trade whatever; with a few questions I am acquainted, but they are such as have come across me incidentally.' He said, 'The satisfactory conduct of an office of that kind must after all depend more upon the intrinsic qualities of the man, than upon the precise amount of his previous knowledge. I also think you will find Lord Ripon a perfect master of these subjects, and depend upon it with these appointments at the board of trade we shall carry the whole commercial interests of the country with us.'


He resumed, 'If there be any other arrangement that you would prefer, my value and "affectionate regard" for you would make me most desirous to effect it so far as the claims of others would permit. To be perfectly frank and unreserved, I should tell you, that there are many reasons which would have made me wish to send you to Ireland; but upon the whole I think that had better not be done. Some considerations connected with the presbyterians of Ireland make me prefer on the whole that we should adopt a different plan.[147] Then, if I had had the exchequer, I should have asked you to be financial secretary to the treasury; but under the circumstances I have mentioned, that would be an office of secondary importance and I am sure you will not estimate that I now propose to you by the mere name which it bears.' He also made an allusion to the admiralty of which I do not retain the exact form. But I rather interposed and said, 'My objection on the score of fitness would certainly apply with even increased force to anything connected with the military and naval services of the country, for of them I know nothing. Nor have I any other object in view; there is no office to which I could designate myself. I think it my duty to act upon your judgment as to my qualifications. If it be your deliberate wish to make me vice-president of the board of trade, I will not decline it; I will endeavour to put myself into harness, and to prepare myself for the place in the best manner I can; but it really is an apprenticeship.' He said, 'I hope you will be content to act upon the sense which others entertain of your suitableness for this office in particular, and I think it will be a good arrangement both with a view to the present conduct of business and to the brilliant destinies which I trust are in store for you.' I answered, that I was deeply grateful for his many acts of confidence and kindness; and that I would at once assent to the plan he had proposed, only begging him to observe that I had mentioned my unfitness under a very strong sense of duty and of the facts, and not by any means as a mere matter of ceremony. I then added that I thought I should but ill respond to his confidence if I did not mention to him a subject connected with his policy which might raise a difficulty in my mind. 'I cannot,' I said, 'reconcile it to my sense of right to exact from China, as a term of peace, compensation for the opium surrendered to her.'... He agreed that it was best to mention it; observed that in consequence of the shape in which the Chinese affair came into the hands of the new government, they would not be wholly unfettered; seemed to hint that under any other circumstances the vice-president of board of trade need not so much mind what was done in the other departments, but remarked that at present every question of foreign relations and many more would be very apt to mix themselves with the department of trade. He thought I had better leave the question suspended.

I hesitated a moment before coming away and said it was only from my anxiety to review what I had said, and to be sure that I had made a clean breast on the subject of my unfitness for the department of trade. Nothing could be more friendly and warm than his whole language and demeanour. It has always been my hope, that I might be able to avoid this class of public employment. On this account I have not endeavoured to train myself for them. The place is very distasteful to me, and what is of more importance, I fear I may hereafter demonstrate the unfitness I have to-day only stated. However, it comes to me, I think, as a matter of plain duty; it may be all the better for not being according to my own bent and leaning; I must forthwith go to work, as a reluctant schoolboy meaning well.

Sept. 3.—This day I went to Claremont to be sworn in. When the council was constructed, the Duke of Buckingham and Lord Liverpool were first called in to take their oaths and seats; then the remaining four followed, Lincoln, Eliot, Ernest Bruce, and I. The Queen sat at the head of the table, composed but dejected—one could not but feel for her, all through the ceremonial. We knelt down to take the oaths of allegiance and supremacy and stood up to take (I think) the councillor's oath, then kissed the Queen's hand, then went round the table shaking hands with each member, beginning from Prince Albert who sat on the Queen's right, and ending with Lord Wharncliffe on her left. We then sat at the lower end of the table, excepting Lord E. Bruce, who went to his place behind the Queen as vice-chamberlain. Then the chancellor first and next the Duke of Buckingham were sworn to their respective offices. C. Greville forgot the duke's privy seal and sent him off without it; the Queen corrected him and gave it.... Then were read and approved several orders in council; among which was one assigning a district to a church and another appointing Lord Ripon and me to act in matters of trade. These were read aloud by the Queen in a very clear though subdued voice; and she repeated 'Approved' after each. Upon that relating to Lord R. and myself we were called up and kissed hands again. Then the Queen rose, as did all the members of the council, and retired bowing. We had luncheon in the same room half an hour later and went off. The Duke of Wellington went in an open carriage with a pair; all our other grand people with four. Peel looked shy all through. I visited Claremont once before, 27 years ago I think, as a child, to see the place, soon after the Princess Charlotte's death. It corresponded pretty much with my impressions.


He secured his re-election at Newark on September 14 without opposition, and without trouble, beyond the pressure of a notion rooted in the genial mind of his constituency that as master of the mint he would have an unlimited command of public coin for all purposes whether general or particular. His reflections upon his ministerial position are of much biographic interest. He had evidently expected inclusion in the cabinet:—

Sept. 16.—Upon quietly reviewing past times, and the degree of confidence which Sir Robert Peel had for years, habitually I may say, reposed in me, and especially considering its climax, in my being summoned to the meetings immediately preceding the debate on the address in August, I am inclined to think, after allowing for the delusions of self love, that there is not a perfect correspondence between the tenor of the past on the one hand, and my present appointment and the relations in which it places me to the administration on the other. He may have made up his mind at those meetings that I was not qualified for the consultations of a government, nor would there be anything strange in this, except the supposition that he had not seen it before. Having however taken the alarm (so to speak) upon the invitation at that time, and been impressed with the idea that it savoured of cabinet office, I considered and consulted on the Chinese question, which I regarded as a serious impediment to office of that description, and I had provisionally contemplated saying to Peel in case he should offer me Ireland with the cabinet, to reply that I would gladly serve his government in the secretaryship, but that I feared his Chinese measures would hardly admit of my acting in the cabinet. I am very sorry now to think that I may have been guilty of an altogether absurd presumption, in dreaming of the cabinet. But it was wholly suggested by that invitation. And I still think that there must have been some consultation and decision relating to me in the interval between the meetings and the formation of the new ministry, which produced some alteration.... In confirmation of the notion I have recorded above, I am distinct in the recollection that there was a shyness in Peel's manner and a downward eye, when he opened the conversation and made the offer, not usual with him in speaking to me.

In after years, he thus described his position when he went to the board of trade:—

I was totally ignorant both of political economy and of the commerce of the country. I might have said, as I believe was said by a former holder of the vice-presidency, that my mind was in regard to all those matters a 'sheet of white paper,' except that it was doubtless coloured by a traditional prejudice of protection, which had then quite recently become a distinctive mark of conservatism. In a spirit of ignorant mortification I said to myself at the moment: the science of politics deals with the government of men, but I am set to govern packages. In my journal for Aug. 2 I find this recorded: 'Since the address meetings' (which were quasi-cabinets) 'the idea of the Irish secretaryship had nestled imperceptibly in my mind.'[148]

The vice-presidency was the post, by the way, impudently proposed four years later by the whigs to Gobden, after he had taught both whigs and tories their business. Mr. Gladstone, at least, was quick to learn the share of 'packages' in the government of men.


Sept. 30.—Closing the month, and a period of two years comprehended within this book, I add a few words. My position is changed by office. In opposition I was frequently called, or sometimes at least, to the confidential councils of the party on a variety of subjects. In office, I shall of course have to do with the department of trade and with little or nothing beyond. There is some point in the query of the Westminster Review: Whether my appointments are a covet satire? But they bring great advantages; much less responsibility, much less anxiety. I could not have made myself answerable for what I expect the cabinet will do in China. It must be admitted that it presents an odd appearance, when a person whose mind and efforts have chiefly ranged within the circle of subjects connected with the church, is put into office of the most different description. It looks as if the first object were to neutralise his mischievous tendencies. But I am in doubt whether to entertain this supposition would be really a compliment to the discernment of my superiors, or a breach of charity; therefore it is best not entertained.

Paragraphs appeared in newspapers imputing to Mr. Gladstone a strong reprobation of the prime minister's opinions upon church affairs, and he thought it worth while to write to Sir Robert a strong (and most excessively lengthy) disclaimer of being, among other things, an object of hope to unbending tories as against their moderate and cautious leader.[149] 'Should party spirit,' he went on, 'run very high against your commercial measures, I have no doubt that the venom of my religious opinions will be plentifully alleged to have infused itself into your policy even in that direction, ... and more than ever will be heard of your culpability in taking into office a person of my bigoted and extreme sentiments.' Peel replied (October 19, 1841) with kindness and good sense. He had not taken the trouble to read the paragraph; he had read the works from which a mischievous industry had tried to collect means of defaming their author; he found nothing in them in the most distant manner to affect political co-operation; and he signed his name to the letter, 'with an esteem and regard, which are proof against evil-minded attempts to sow jealousy and discord.'[150]


[137] For Mr. Gladstone's later view of this transaction, see Gleanings, i. p. 39. He composed a letter on the subject, which, he says, 'will probably never see the light.'

[138] Mr. Gladstone compiled this list of the statesmen in the maternal ancestry of his children:—

Right Hon. George Grenville, Great, great grandfather. Sir W. Wyndham, Great, great, great grandfather. Lord Chatham, Great, great granduncle-in-law. Mr. Pitt, First cousin thrice removed. Lord Grenville, Great granduncle. Mr. Grenville, Great granduncle.

[139] Paradiso, xxvi. 64-6—

'Love for each plant that in the garden grows, Of the Eternal Gardener, I prove, Proportioned to the goodness he bestows.'—WRIGHT.

[140] Ibid. iii. 85. See above, p. 215.

[141] See Lord Palmerston's speech, Aug. 10, 1842.

[142] Hansard, 3 S. vol. 53, p. 819.

[143] 'It was the common talk of Oxford how the most distinguished lawyer of the day, a literary man and a critic, on hearing the speech in question, pronounced his prompt verdict on him in the words, "That young man's fortune is made."'—Newman's Funeral Sermon on J. R. Hope-Scott in Sermons preached on Various Occasions, p. 269.

[144] The reader who cares for further particulars may consult the Memoirs of J. R. Hope-Scott, i. pp. 248, 281-8; and ii. p. 291.

[145] His first house was 13 Carlton House Terrace, then his father gave him 6 Carlton Gardens. In 1856 he purchased 11 Carlton House Terrace, which was his London home until 1875. From 1876 to 1880 he occupied 73 Harley Street.

[146] 'At that period the board of trade was the department which administered to a great extent the functions that have since passed principally into the hands of the treasury, connected with the fiscal laws of the country.'—Mr. Gladstone at Leeds, Oct. 8, 1881. In 1880, writing to Mr. Chamberlain, then president, he says: 'If you were to look back to the records of your department thirty-five and forty years ago, you would find how much of the public trade business was transacted in it. Revenue was then largely involved: and hence, I imagine, it came about that this business was taken over in a great degree by the treasury. I myself have drawn up new tariffs in both, at the B. of T. in 1842 and 1844-5, and at the treasury in 1853 and 1860. Why and how the old B. of T. functions also passed in part to the F.O. I do not so well know.'

[147] I suppose this points to incompatibility in the fevers of the hour between protestant Ulster and a Puseyite chief secretary.

[148] Autobiographic note.

[149] It would appear from the manuscript at the British Museum, that Macaulay's sentence about Mr. Gladstone as the rising hope of the stern and unbending tories, which later events made long so famous and so tiresome, was a happy afterthought, written in along the margin.

[150] Parker's Peel, ii. pp. 514-17.




In many of the most important rules of public policy Sir R. Peel's government surpassed generally the governments which have succeeded it, whether liberal or conservative. Among them I would mention 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.—MR. GLADSTONE (1880).[151]

Of the four or five most memorable administrations of the century, the great conservative government of Sir Robert Peel was undoubtedly one. It laid the groundwork of our solid commercial policy, it established our railway system, it settled the currency, and, by no means least, it gave us a good national character in Europe as lovers of moderation, equity, and peace. Little as most members of the new cabinet saw it, their advent definitely marked the rising dawn of an economic era. If you had to constitute new societies, Peel said to Croker, then you might on moral and social grounds prefer cornfields to cotton factories, and you might like an agricultural population better than a manufacturing; as it was, the national lot was cast, and statesmen were powerless to turn back the tide. The food of the people, their clothing, the raw material for their industry, their education, the conditions under which women and children were suffered to toil, markets for the products of loom and forge and furnace and mechanic's shop,—these were slowly making their way into the central field of political vision, and taking the place of fantastic follies about foreign dynasties and the balance of power as the true business of the British statesman. On the eve of entering parliament (September 17, 1832), Mr. Gladstone recounts some articles of his creed at the time to his friend Gaskell, and to modern eyes a curious list it is. The first place is given to his views on the relative merits of Pedro, Miguel, Donna Maria, in respect of the throne of Portugal. The second goes to Poland. The third to the affairs of Lombardy. Free trade comes last. This was still the lingering fashion of the moment, and it died hard.

The new ministry contained an unusual number of men of mark and capacity, and they were destined to form a striking group. At their head was a statesman whose fame grows more impressive with time, not the author or inspirer of large creative ideas, but with what is at any rate next best—a mind open and accessible to those ideas, and endowed with such gifts of skill, vigilance, caution, and courage as were needed for the government of a community rapidly passing into a new stage of its social growth. One day in February 1842, he sent for Mr. Gladstone on some occasion of business. Peel happened not to be well, and in the course of the conversation his doctor called. Sir James Graham who had come in, said to his junior in Peel's absence with the physician, 'The pressure upon him is immense. We never had a minister who was so truly a first minister as he is. He makes himself felt in every department, and is really cognisant of the affairs of each. Lord Grey could not master such an amount of business. Canning could not do it. Now he is an actual minister, and is indeed capax imperii.' Next to Peel as parliamentary leaders stood Graham himself and Stanley. They had both of them sat in the cabinet of Lord Grey, and now found themselves the colleagues of the bitterest foes of Grey's administration. As we have seen, Mr. Gladstone pronounces Graham to have known more about economic subjects than all the rest of the government put together. Such things had hitherto been left to men below the first rank in the hierarchy of public office, like Huskisson. Pedro and Miguel held the field.


Mr. Gladstone's own position is described in an autobiographic fragment of his last years:—

When I entered parliament in 1832, the great controversy between protection or artificial restraint and free trade, of which Cobden was the leading figure, did not enter into the popular controversies of the day, and was still in the hands of the philosophers. My father was an active and effective local politician, and the protectionism which I inherited from him and from all my youthful associations was qualified by a thorough acceptance of the important preliminary measures of Mr. Huskisson, of whom he was the first among the local supporters. Moreover, for the first six years or so of my parliamentary life free trade was in no way a party question, and it only became strictly such in 1841 at, and somewhat before, the general election, when the whig government, in extremis, proposed a fixed duty upon corn. My mind was in regard to it a sheet of white paper, but I accepted the established conditions in the lump, and could hardly do otherwise. In 1833 only, the question was debated in the House of Commons, and the speech of the mover against the corn laws made me uncomfortable. But the reply of Sir James Graham restored my peace of mind. I followed the others with a languid interest. Yet I remember being struck with the essential unsoundness of the argument of Mr. Villiers. It was this. Under the present corn law our trade, on which we depend, is doomed, for our manufacturers cannot possibly contend with the manufacturers of the continent if they have to pay wages regulated by the protection price of food, while their rivals pay according to the natural or free trade price. The answer was obvious. 'Thank you. We quite understand you. Your object is to get down the wages of your workpeople.' It was Cobden who really set the argument on its legs; and it is futile to compare any other man with him as the father of our system of free trade.

I had in 1840 to dabble in this question, and on the wrong side of it[152].... The matter passed from my mind, full of churches and church matters, in which I was now gradually acquiring knowledge. In 1841 the necessities of the whig government led to a further development of the great controversy; but I interfered only in the colonial part of it in connection with the colonies and the slave trade to Porto Rico and Brazil. We West Indians were now great philanthropists! When Sir Robert Peel assumed the government he had become deeply committed to protection, which in the last two or three years had become the subject of a commanding controversy. I suppose that at Newark I followed suit, but I have no records. On the change of government Peel, with much judgment, offered me the vice-presidentship of the board of trade. On sound principles of party discipline, I took the office at once; and having taken it I set to work with all my might as a worker. In a very short time I came to form a low estimate of the knowledge and information of Lord Ripon; and of the cabinet Sir James Graham, I think, knew most. And now the stones of which my protectionism was built up began to get uncomfortably loose. When we came to the question of the tariff, we were all nearly on a par in ignorance, and we had a very bad adviser in Macgregor, secretary to the board of trade. But I had the advantage of being able to apply myself with an undivided attention. My assumption of office at the board of trade was followed by hard, steady, and honest work; and every day so spent beat like a battering ram on the unsure fabric of my official protectionism. By the end of the year I was far gone in the opposite sense. I had to speak much on these questions in the session of 1842, but it was always done with great moderation.



The case on the accession of the new ministers was difficult. Peel himself has drawn the picture. By incompetent finance, by reckless colonial expenditure, by solving political difficulties through gifts or promises of cash from the British treasury, by war and foreign relations hovering on the verge of war and necessitating extended preparations, the whigs had brought the national resources into an embarrassment that was extreme. The accumulated deficits of five years had become a heavy incubus, and the deficit of 1842-3 was likely to be not less than two and a half millions more. Commerce and manufactures were languishing. Distress was terrible. Poor-rates were mounting, and grants-in-aid would extend impoverishment from the factory districts to the rural. 'Judge then,' said Peel, 'whether we can with safety retrograde in manufactures.'[153]

So grave a crisis could only be met by daring remedies. With the highest courage, moral courage no less than political, Peel resolved to ask parliament to let him raise four or five millions a year by income-tax, in order to lower the duties on the great articles of consumption, and by reforming the tariff both to relieve trade, and to stimulate and replenish the reciprocal flow of export and import. That he at this time, or perhaps in truth at any time, had acquired complete mastery of those deeper principles and wider aspects of free trade of which Adam Smith had been the great exponent—principles afterwards enforced by the genius of Cobden with such admirable still, persistency, and patriotic spirit—there was nothing to show. Such a scheme had no originality in it. Huskisson, and men of less conspicuous name, had ten years earlier urged the necessity of a new general system of taxation, based upon remission of duty on raw materials and on articles of consumption, and upon the imposition of an income-tax. The famous report of the committee on import duties of 1840, often rightly called the charter of free trade, and of which Peel, not much to his credit, had at this moment not read a word,[154] laid the foundations of the great policy of tariff reform with which the names of Peel and Gladstone are associated in history. The policy advocated in 1830 in the admirable treatise of Sir Henry Parnell is exactly the policy of Peel in 1842, as he acknowledged. After all it is an idle quarrel between the closet strategist and the victorious commander; between the man who first discerns some great truth of government, and the man who gets the thing, or even a part of the thing, actually done.


Mr. Gladstone has left on record some particulars of his own share as subordinate minister not in the cabinet, in this first invasion upon the old tory corn law of 1827. Peel from the beginning appreciated the powers of his keen and zealous lieutenant, and even in the autumn of 1841 he had taken him into confidential counsel.[155] Besides a letter of observations on the general scheme of commercial freedom, Mr. Gladstone prepared for the prime minister a special paper on the corn laws.

The ordinary business of the department soon fell into my hands to transact with the secretaries, one of them Macgregor, a loose-minded free trader, and the other Lefevre, a clear and scientific one. In that autumn I became possessed with the desire to relax the corn law, which formed, I believe, the chief subject of my meditations. Hence followed an important consequence. Very slow in acquiring relative and secondary knowledge and honestly absorbed in my work, I simply thought on and on as to what was right and fair under the circumstances.

In January 1842, as the session approached, they came to close quarters. The details of all the mysteries of protectionist iniquity we may well spare ourselves. Peel, feeling the pulse of his agricultural folk, thought it would never do to give them less than a ten-shilling duty, when the price of wheat was at sixty-two shillings the quarter; while Mr. Gladstone thought a twelve-shilling duty at a price of sixty far too low a relief to the consumer. His eyes were beginning to be opened.

Feb. 2.—I placed in Sir R. Peel's hands a long paper on the corn law in the month of November, which, on wishing to refer to it, he could not find; and he requested me to write out afresh my argument upon the value of a rest or dead level, and the part of the scale of price at which it should arrive; this I did.

On Monday I wrote another paper arguing for a rest between 60/ and 70/ or thereabouts; and yesterday a third intended to show that the present law has been in practice fully equivalent to a prohibition up to 70/. Lord Ripon then told me the cabinet had adopted Peel's scale as it originally stood—and seemed to doubt whether any alteration could be made. On his announcing the adoption, I said in a marked manner, 'I am very sorry for it'—believing that it would be virtual prohibition up to 65/ or 66/ and often beyond, to the minimum; and not being able, in spite of all the good which the government is about to do with respect to commerce, to make up my mind to support such a protection. I see, from conversations with them to-day, that Lord Ripon, Peel, and Graham, are all aware the protection is greater than is necessary.


This mood soon carried the vice-president terribly far. On Feb. 5 he met most of the members of the cabinet at Peel's house. He argued his point that the scale would operate as virtual protection up to seventy shillings, and in a private interview with Peel afterwards hinted at retirement. Peel declared himself so taken by surprise that he hardly knew what to say; 'he was thunderstruck;' and he told his young colleague that 'the retirement of a person holding his office, on this question, immediately before his introducing it, would endanger the existence of the administration, and that he much doubted whether in such a case he could bring it on.'

I fear Peel was much annoyed and displeased, for he would not give me a word of help or of favourable supposition as to my own motives and belief. He used nothing like an angry or unkind word, but the negative character of the conversation had a chilling effect on my mind. I came home sick at heart in the evening and told all to Catherine, my lips being to every one else, as I said to Sir R. Peel, absolutely sealed.

'He might have gained me more easily, I think,' Mr. Gladstone wrote years afterwards, 'by a more open and supple method of expostulation. But he was not skilful, I think, in the management of personal or sectional dilemmas, as he showed later on with respect to two important questions, the Factory acts and the crisis on the sugar duties in 1844.' This sharp and unnecessary corner safely turned, Mr. Gladstone learned the lesson how to admire a great master overcoming a legislator's difficulties.

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