The Life of William Ewart Gladstone, Vol. 1 (of 3) - 1809-1859
by John Morley
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I must here pause for material affairs of money and business, with which, as a rule, in the case of its heroes the public is considered to have little concern. They can no more be altogether omitted here than the bills, acceptances, renewals, notes of hand, and all the other financial apparatus of his printers and publishers can be left out of the story of Sir Walter Scott. Not many pages will be needed, though this brevity will give the reader little idea of the pre-occupations with which they beset a not inconsiderable proportion of Mr. Gladstone's days. A few sentences in a biography many a time mean long chapters in a life, and what looked like an incident turns out to be an epoch.

Sir Stephen Glynne possessed a small property in Staffordshire of something less than a hundred acres of land, named the Oak Farm, near Stourbridge, and under these acres were valuable seams of coal and ironstone. For this he refused an offer of five-and-thirty thousand pounds in 1835, and under the advice of an energetic and sanguine agent proceeded to its rapid development. On the double marriage in 1839, Sir Stephen associated his two brothers-in-law with himself to the modest extent of one-tenth share each in an enterprise that seemed of high prospective value. Their interests were acquired through their wives, and it is to be presumed that they had no opportunity of making a personal examination of the concern. The adventurous agent, now manager-in-chief of the business, rapidly extended operations, setting up furnaces, forges, rolling-mills, and all the machinery for producing tools and hardware for which he foresaw a roaring foreign market. The agent's confidence and enthusiasm mastered his principal, and large capital was raised solely on the security of the Hawarden fortune and credit. Whether Oak Farm was irrationally inflated or not, we cannot say, though the impression is that it had the material of a sound property if carefully worked; but it was evidently pushed in excess of its realisable capital. The whole basis of its credit was the Hawarden estate, and a forced stoppage of Oak Farm would be the death-blow to Hawarden. As early as 1844 clouds rose on the horizon. The position of Sir Stephen Glynne had become seriously compromised, while under the system of unlimited partnership the liability of his two brothers-in-law extended in proportion. In 1845 the three brothers-in-law by agreement retired, each retaining an equitable mortgage on the concern. Two years later, one of our historic panics shook the money-market, and in its course brought down Oak Farm.[203] A great accountant reported, a meeting was held at Freshfield's, the company was found hopelessly insolvent, and it was determined to wind up. The court directed a sale. In April 1849, at Birmingham, Mr. Gladstone purchased the concern on behalf of himself and his two brothers-in-law, subject to certain existing interests; and in May Sir Stephen Glynne resumed legal possession of the wreck of Oak Farm. The burden on Hawarden was over L250,000, leaving its owner with no margin to live upon.

Into this far-spreading entanglement Mr. Gladstone for several years threw himself with the whole weight of his untiring tenacity and force. He plunged into masses of accounts, mastered the coil of interests and parties, studied legal intricacies, did daily battle with human unreason, and year after year carried on a voluminous correspondence.


There are a hundred and forty of his letters to Mr. Freshfield on Oak Farm alone. Let us note in passing what is, I think, a not unimportant biographic fact. These circumstances brought him into close and responsible contact with a side of the material interests of the country that was new to him. At home he had been bred in the atmosphere of commerce. At the board of trade, in the reform of the tariff, in connection with the Bank act and in the growth of the railway system, he had been well trained in high economics. Now he came to serve an arduous apprenticeship in the motions and machinery of industrial life. The labour was immense, prolonged, uncongenial; but it completed his knowledge of the customs, rules, maxims, and currents of trade and it bore good fruit in future days at the exchequer. He manfully and deliberately took up the burden as if the errors had been his own, and as if the financial sacrifice that he was called to make both now and later were matter of direct and inexorable obligation. These, indeed, are the things in life that test whether a man be made of gold or clay. 'The weight,' he writes to his father (June 16, 1849), 'of the private demands upon my mind has been such, since the Oak Farm broke down, as frequently to disqualify me for my duties in the House of Commons.' The load even tempted him, along with the working of other considerations, to think of total withdrawal from parliament and public life. Yet without a trace of the frozen stoicism or cynical apathy that sometimes passes muster for true resignation, he kept himself nobly free from vexation, murmur, repining, and complaint. Here is a moving passage from a letter of the time to Mrs. Gladstone:—

Fasque, Jan. 20, 1849.—Do not suppose for a moment that if I could by waving my hand strike out for ever from my cares and occupations those which relate to the Oak Farm and Stephen's affairs, I would do so; I have never felt that, have never asked it; and if my language seems to look that way, it is the mere impatience of weakness comforting itself by finding a vent. It has evidently come to me by the ordinance of God; and I am rather frightened to think how light my lot would be, were it removed, so light that something else would surely come in its place. I do not confound it with visitations and afflictions; it is merely a drain on strength and a peculiar one, because it asks for a kind of strength and skill and habits which I have not, but it falls altogether short of the category of high trials. Least of all suppose that the subject can ever associate itself painfully with the idea of you. No persons who have been in contact with it can be so absolutely blameless as you and Mary, nor can our relation together be rendered in the very smallest degree less or more a blessing by the addition or the subtraction of worldly wealth. I have abundant comfort now in the thought that at any rate I am the means of keeping a load off the minds of others; and I shall have much more hereafter when Stephen is brought through, and once more firmly planted in the place of his fathers, provided I can conscientiously feel that the restoration of his affairs has at any rate not been impeded by indolence, obstinacy, or blunders on my part. Nor can anything be more generous than the confidence placed in me by all concerned. Indeed, I can only regret that it is too free and absolute.


I may as well now tell the story to the end, though in anticipation of remote dates, for in truth it held a marked place in Mr. Gladstone's whole life, and made a standing background amid the vast throng of varying interests and transient commotions of his great career. Here is his own narrative as told in a letter written to his eldest son for a definite purpose in 1885:—

To W. H. Gladstone.

Hawarden, Oct. 3, 1885.—Down to the latter part of that year (1847), your uncle Stephen was regarded by all as a wealthy country gentleman with say L10,000 a year or more (subject, however, to his mother's jointure) to spend, and great prospects from iron in a Midland estate. In the bank crisis of that year the whole truth was revealed; and it came out that his agent at the Oak Farm (and formerly also at Hawarden) had involved him to the extent of L250,000; to say nothing of minor blows to your uncle Lyttelton and myself.

At a conversation in the library of 13 Carlton House Terrace, it was considered whether Hawarden should be sold. Every obvious argument was in favour of it, for example the comparison between the income and the liabilities I have named. How was Lady Glynne's jointure (L2500) to be paid? How was Sir Stephen to be supported? There was no income, even less than none. Oak Farm, the iron property, was under lease to an insolvent company, and could not be relied on. Your grandfather, who had in some degree surveyed the state of affairs, thought the case was hopeless. But the family were unanimously set upon making any and every effort and sacrifice to avoid the necessity of sale. Mr. Barker, their lawyer, and Mr. Burnett, the land agent, entirely sympathised; and it was resolved to persevere. But the first effect was that Sir Stephen had to close the house (which it was hoped, but hoped in vain, to let); to give up carriages, horses, and I think for several years his personal servant; and to take an allowance of L700 a year out of which, I believe, he continued to pay the heavy subvention of the family to the schools of the parish, which was certainly counted by hundreds. Had the estate been sold, it was estimated that he would have come out a wealthy bachelor, possessed of from a hundred to a hundred and twenty thousands pounds free from all encumbrance but the jointure.

In order to give effect to the nearly hopeless resolution thus taken at the meeting in London, it was determined to clip the estate by selling L200,000 worth of land. Of this, nearly one-half was to be taken by your uncle Lyttelton and myself, in the proportion of about two parts for me and one for him. Neither of us had the power to buy this, but my father enabled me, and Lord Spencer took over his portion. The rest of the sales were effected, a number of fortunate secondary incidents occurred, and the great business of recovering and realising from the Oak Farm was laboriously set about.

Considerable relief was obtained by these and other measures. By 1852, there was a partial but perceptible improvement in the position. The house was reopened in a very quiet way by arrangement, and the allowance for Sir Stephen's expenditure was rather more than doubled. But there was nothing like ease for him until the purchase of the reversion was effected by me in 1865. I paid L57,000 for the bulk of the property, subject to debts not exceeding L150,000, and after the lives of the two brothers, the table value of which was, I think, twenty-two and a-half years. From this time your uncle had an income to spend of, I think, L2200, or not more than half what he probably would have had since 1847 had the estate been sold, which it would only have been through the grievous fault of others.

The full process of recovery was still incomplete, but the means of carrying it forward were now comparatively simple. Since the reversion came in, I have, as you know, forwarded that process; but it has been retarded by agricultural depression and by the disastrous condition through so many years of coal-mining; so that there still remains a considerable work to be done before the end can be attained, which I hope will never be lost sight of, namely, that of extinguishing the debt upon the property, though for family purposes the estate may still remain subject to charges in the way of annuity.

The full history of the Hawarden estate from 1847 would run to a volume. For some years after 1847, it and the Oak Farm supplied my principal employment[204]; but I was amply repaid by the value of it a little later on as a home, and by the unbroken domestic happiness there enjoyed. What I think you will see, as clearly resulting from this narrative, is the high obligation not only to keep the estate in the family, and as I trust in its natural course of descent, but to raise it to the best condition by thrift and care, and to promote by all reasonable means the aim of diminishing and finally extinguishing its debt.

This I found partly on a high estimate of the general duty to promote the permanence of families having estates in land, but very specially on the sacrifices made, through his remaining twenty-seven years of life, by your uncle Stephen, without a murmur, and with the concurrence of us all....

Before closing I will repair one omission. When I concurred in the decision to struggle for the retention of Hawarden, I had not the least idea that my children would have an interest in the succession. In 1847 your uncle Stephen was only forty; your uncle Henry, at thirty-seven, was married, and had a child almost every year. It was not until 1865 that I had any title to look forward to your becoming at a future time the proprietor.—Ever your affectionate father.


The upshot is this, that Mr. Gladstone, with his father's consent and support, threw the bulk of his own fortune into the assets of Hawarden. By this, and the wise realisation of everything convertible to advantage, including, in 1865, the reversion after the lives of Sir Stephen Glynne and his brother, he succeeded in making what was left of Hawarden solvent. His own expenditure from first to last upon the Hawarden estate as now existing, he noted at L267,000. 'It has been for thirty-five years,' he wrote to W. H. Gladstone in 1882, 'i.e., since the breakdown in 1847, a great object of my life, in conjunction with your mother and your uncle Stephen, to keep the Hawarden estate together (or replace what was alienated), to keep it in the family, and to relieve it from debt with which it was ruinously loaded.'

In 1867 a settlement was made, to which Sir Stephen Glynne and his brother, and Mr. Gladstone and his wife, were the parties, by which the estate was conveyed in trust for one or more of the Gladstone children as Mr. Gladstone might appoint.[205] This was subject to a power of determining the settlement by either of the Glynne brothers, on repaying with interest the sum paid for the reversion. As the transaction touched matters in which he might be supposed liable to bias, Mr. Gladstone required that its terms should be referred to two men of perfect competence and probity—Lord Devon and Sir Robert Phillimore—for their judgment and approval. Phillimore visited Hawarden (August 19-26, 1865) to meet Lord Devon, and to confer with him upon Sir Stephen Glynne's affairs. Here are a couple of entries from his diary:—

Aug. 26.—The whole morning was occupied with the investigation of S. G.'s affairs by Lord Devon and myself. We examined at some length the solicitor and the agent. Lord D. and I perfectly agreed in the opinion expressed in a memorandum signed by us both. Gladstone, as might have been expected, has behaved very well. Sept. 19 [London].—Correspondence between Lyttelton and Gladstone, contained in Lord Devon's letter. Same subject as that which Lord D. and I came to consult upon at Hawarden. Sept. 24.—I wrote to Stephen Glynne to the effect that Henry entirely approved of the scheme agreed upon by Lord D. and myself, after a new consideration of all the circumstances, and after reading the Lyttelton-Gladstone correspondence. I showed Henry Glynne the letter, of which he entirely approved.

In 1874 the death of Sir Stephen Glynne, following that of his brother two years before, made Mr. Gladstone owner in possession of the Hawarden estate, under the transaction of 1865. With as little delay as possible (April 1875) he took the necessary steps to make his eldest son the owner in fee, and seven years after that (October 1882) he further transferred to the same son his own lands in the county, acquired by purchase, as we have seen, after the crash in 1847. By agreement, the possession and control of the castle and its contents remained with Mrs. Gladstone for life, as if she were taking a life-interest in it under settlement or will.


Although, therefore, for a few months the legal owner of the whole Hawarden estate, Mr. Gladstone divested himself of that quality as soon as he could, and at no time did he assume to be its master. The letters written by him on these matters to his son are both too interesting as the expression of his views on high articles of social policy, and too characteristic of his ideas of personal duty, for me to omit them here, though much out of their strict chronological place. The first is written after the death of Sir Stephen, and the falling in of the reversion:—

To W. H. Gladstone.

11 Carlton House Terrace, April 5, 1875.—There are several matters which I have to mention to you, and for which the present moment is suitable; while they embrace the future in several of its aspects.

1. I have given instructions to Messrs. Barker and Hignett to convert your life interest under the Hawarden settlement into a fee simple. Reflection and experience have brought me to favour this latter method of holding landed property as on the whole the best, though the arguments may not be all on one side. In the present case, they are to my mind entirely conclusive. First, because I am able thoroughly to repose in you an entire confidence as to your use of the estate during your lifetime, and your capacity to provide wisely for its future destination. Secondly, because you have, delivered over to you with the estate, the duty and office of progressively emancipating it from the once ruinous debt; and it is almost necessary towards the satisfactory prosecution of this purpose, which it may still take very many years to complete, that you should be entire master of the property, and should feel the full benefit of the steady care and attention which it ought to receive from you.

2. I hope that with it you will inherit the several conterminous properties belonging to me, and that you will receive these in such a condition as to enjoy a large proportion of the income they yield. Taking the two estates together, they form the most considerable estate in the county, and give what may be termed the first social position there. The importance of this position is enhanced by the large population which inhabits them. You will, I hope, familiarise your mind with this truth, that you can no more become the proprietor of such a body of property, or of the portion of it now accruing, than your brother Stephen could become rector of the parish, without recognising the serious moral and social responsibilities which belong to it. They are full of interest and rich in pleasure, but they demand (in the absence of special cause) residence on the spot, and a good share of time, and especially a free and ungrudging discharge of them. Nowhere in the world is the position of the landed proprietor so high as in this country, and this in great part for the reason that nowhere else is the possession of landed property so closely associated with definite duty.

3. In truth, with this and your seat in parliament, which I hope (whether Whitby supply it, or whether you migrate) will continue, you will, I trust, have a well-charged, though not an over-charged, life, and will, like professional and other thoroughly employed men, have to regard the bulk of your time as forestalled on behalf of duty, while a liberal residue may be available for your special pursuits and tastes, and for recreations. This is really the sound basis of life, which never can be honourable or satisfactory without adequate guarantees against frittering away, even in part, the precious gift of time.

While touching on the subject I would remind you of an old recommendation of mine, that you should choose some parliamentary branch or subject, to which to give special attention. The House of Commons has always heard your voice with pleasure, and ought not to be allowed to forget it. I say this the more freely, because I think it is, in your case, the virtue of a real modesty, which rather too much indisposes you to put yourself forward.

Yet another word. As years gather upon me, I naturally look forward to what is to be after I am gone; and although I should indeed be sorry to do or say anything having a tendency to force the action of your mind beyond its natural course, it will indeed be a great pleasure to me to see you well settled in life by marriage. Well settled, I feel confident, you will be, if settled at all. In your position at Hawarden, there would then be at once increased ease and increased attraction in the performance of your duties; nor can I overlook the fact that the life of the unmarried man, in this age particularly, is under peculiar and insidious temptations to selfishness, unless his celibacy arise from a very strong and definite course of self-devotion to the service of God and his fellow creatures.

The great and sad change of Hawarden [by the death of Sir Stephen] which has forced upon us the consideration of so many subjects, gave at the same time an opening for others, and it seemed to me to be best to put together the few remarks I had to make. I hope the announcement with which I began will show that I write in the spirit of confidence as well as of affection. It is on this footing that we have ever stood, and I trust ever shall stand. You have acted towards me at all times up to the standard of all I could desire. May you have the help of the Almighty to embrace as justly, and fulfil as cheerfully, the whole conception of your duties in the position to which it has pleased Him to call you, and which perhaps has come upon you with somewhat the effect of a surprise; that may, however, have the healthy influence of a stimulus to action, and a help towards excellence. Believe me ever, my dear son, your affectionate father.


In the second letter Mr. Gladstone informed W. H. Gladstone that he had at Chester that morning (Oct. 23, 1882), along with Mrs. Gladstone, executed the deeds that made his son the proprietor of Mr. Gladstone's lands in Flintshire, subject to the payment of annuities specified in the instrument of transfer; and he proceeds:—

I earnestly entreat that you will never, under any circumstances, mortgage any of your land. I consider that our law has offered to proprietors of land, under a narrow and mistaken notion of promoting their interests, dangerous facilities and inducements to this practice; and that its mischievous consequences have been so terribly felt (the word is strong, but hardly too strong) in the case of Hawarden, that they ought to operate powerfully as a warning for the future.

You are not the son of very wealthy parents; but the income of the estates (the Hawarden estates and mine jointly), with your prudence and diligence, will enable you to go steadily forward in the work I have had in hand, and after a time will in the course of nature give considerable means for the purpose.

I have much confidence in your prudence and intelligence; I have not the smallest fear that the rather unusual step I have taken will in any way weaken the happy union and harmony of our family; and I am sure you will always bear in mind the duties which attach to you as the head of those among whom you receive a preference, and as the landlord of a numerous tenantry, prepared to give you their confidence and affection.

A third letter on the same topics followed three years after, and contains a narrative of the Hawarden transactions already given in an earlier page of this chapter.

To W. H. Gladstone.

Oct. 3, 1885.—When you first made known to me that you thought of retiring from the general election of this year, I received the intimation with mixed feelings. The question of money no doubt deserves, under existing circumstances, to be kept in view; still I must think twice before regarding this as the conclusive question. I conceive the balance has to be struck mainly between these two things; on the one hand, the duty of persons connected with the proprietorship of considerable estates in land, to assume freely the burden and responsibility of serving in parliament. On the other hand, the peculiar position of this combined estate, which in the first place is of a nature to demand from the proprietor an unusual degree of care and supervision, and which in the second place has been hit severely by recent depressions in corn and coal, which may be termed its two pillars.

On the first point it may fairly be taken into view that in serving for twenty years you have stood four contested elections, a number I think decidedly beyond the average.... I will assume, for the present, that the election has passed without bringing you back to parliament. I should then consider that you had thus relieved yourself, at any rate for a period, from a serious call upon your time and mind, mainly with a view to the estate; and on this account, and because I have constituted you its legal master, I write this letter in order to place clearly before you some of the circumstances which invest your relation to it with a rather peculiar character.

I premise a few words of a general nature. An enemy to entails, principally though not exclusively on social and domestic grounds, I nevertheless regard it as a very high duty to labour for the conservation of estates, and the permanence of the families in possession of them, as a principal source of our social strength, and as a large part of true conservatism, from the time when Aeschylus wrote

[Greek: archaioplouton despoton polle charis].[206]

But if their possession is to be prolonged by conduct, not by factitious arrangements, we must recognise this consequence, that conduct becomes subject to fresh demands and liabilities.

In condemning laws which tie up the corpus, I say nothing against powers of charge, either by marriage settlement or otherwise, for wife and children, although questions of degree and circumstance may always have to be considered. But to mortgages I am greatly opposed. Whether they ought or ought not to be restrained by law, I do not now inquire. But I am confident that few and rare causes only will warrant them, and that as a general rule they are mischievous, and in many cases, as to their consequences, anti-social and immoral. Wherever they exist they ought to be looked upon as evils, which are to be warred upon and got rid of. One of our financial follies has been to give them encouragement by an excessively low tax; and one of the better effects of the income-tax is that it is a fine upon mortgaging.


[203] For an account of the creditors' meeting held at Birmingham on Dec. 2, 1847, see the Times of Dec. 3, 1847.

[204] To Lord Lyttelton, July 29, 1874: 'I could not devote my entire life to it; and after 1852 my attention was only occasional.'

[205] This settlement followed the lines of a will made by Sir Stephen in 1855, devising the estate to his brother for life, with the remainder to his brother's sons in tail male; and next to W. H. Gladstone and his sons in tail male, and then to W. E. Gladstone's other sons; and in default of male issue of W. E. Gladstone, then to the eldest and other sons of Lord Lyttelton, and so forth in the ordinary form of an entailed estate.

[206] Agam. 1043, 'A great blessing are masters with, ancient riches.'




I shall ever thankfully rejoice to have lived in a period when so blessed a change in our colonial policy was brought about; a change which is full of promise and profit to a country having such claims on mankind as England, but also a change of system, in which we have done no more than make a transition from misfortune and from evil, back to the rules of justice, of reason, of nature, and of common sense.—GLADSTONE (1856).

The fall of Peel and the break up of the conservative party in 1846 led to a long train of public inconveniences. When Lord John Russell was forming his government, he saw Peel, and proposed to include any of his party. Peel thought such a junction under existing circumstances unadvisable, but said he should have no ground of complaint if Lord John made offers to any of his friends; and he should not attempt to influence them either way.[207] The action ended in a proposal of office to Dalhousie, Lincoln, and Sidney Herbert. Nothing came of it, and the whigs were left to go on as they best could upon the narrow base of their own party. The protectionists gave them to understand that before Bentinck and his friends made up their minds to turn Peel out, they had decided that it would not be fair to put the whigs in merely to punish the betrayer, and then to turn round upon them. On the contrary, fair and candid support was what they intended. The conservative government had carried liberal measures; the liberal government subsisted on conservative declarations. Such was this singular situation.


The Peelites, according to a memorandum of Mr. Gladstone's, from a number approaching 120 in the corn law crisis of 1846, were reduced at once by the election of 1847 to less than half. This number, added to the liberal force, gave free trade a very large majority: added to the protectionists it just turned the balance in their favour. So long as Sir Robert Peel lived (down to June 1850) the entire body never voted with the protectionists. From the first a distinction arose among Peel's adherents that widened, as time went on, and led to a long series of doubts, perturbations, manoeuvres. These perplexities lasted down to 1859, and they constitute a vital chapter in Mr. Gladstone's political story. The distinction was in the nature of political things. Many of those who had stood by Peel's side in the day of battle, and who still stood by him in the curious morrow that combined victorious policy with personal defeat, were in more or less latent sympathy with the severed protectionists in everything except protection.[208] Differing from these, says Mr. Gladstone, others of the Peelites 'whose opinions were more akin to those of the liberals, cherished, nevertheless, personal sympathies and lingering wishes which made them tardy, perhaps unduly tardy, in drawing towards that party. I think that this description applied in some degree to Mr. Sidney Herbert, and in the same or a greater degree to myself.'[209]

Shortly described, the Peelites were all free trade conservatives, drawn by under-currents, according to temperament, circumstances, and all the other things that turn the balance of men's opinions, to antipodean poles of the political compass. 'We have no party,' Mr. Gladstone tells his father in June 1849, 'no organisation, no whipper-in; and under these circumstances we cannot exercise any considerable degree of permanent influence as a body.' The leading sentiment that guided the proceedings of the whole body of Peelites alike was a desire to give to protection its final quietus. While the younger members of the Peel cabinet held that this could only be done in one way, namely, by forcing the protectionists into office where they must put their professions to the proof, Peel himself, and Graham with him, took a directly opposite view, and adopted as the leading principle of their action the vital necessity of keeping the protectionists out. This broad difference led to no diminution of personal intercourse or political attachment.

Certainly this was not due, says Mr. Gladstone, to any desire (at least in Sir R. Peel's mind) for, or contemplation of, coalition with the liberal party. It sprang entirely from a belief on his part that the chiefs of the protectionists would on their accession to power endeavour to establish a policy in accordance with the designation of their party, and would in so doing probably convulse the country. As long as Lord George Bentinck lived, with his iron will and strong convictions, this was a contingency that could not be overlooked. But he died in 1848, and with his death it became a visionary dream. Yet I remember well Sir Robert Peel saying to me, when I was endeavouring to stir him up on some great fault (as I thought it), in the colonial policy of the ministers, 'I foresee a tremendous struggle in this country for the restoration of protection.' He would sometimes even threaten us with the possibility of being 'sent for' if a crisis should occur, which was a thing far enough from our limited conceptions. We were flatly at issue with him on this opinion. We even considered that as long as the protectionists had no responsibilities but those of opposition, and as there were two hundred and fifty seats in parliament to be won by chanting the woes of the land and promising redress, there would be protectionists in plenty to fill the left hand benches on those terms.


The question what it was that finally converted the country to free trade is not easy to answer. Not the arguments of Cobden, for in the summer of 1845 even his buoyant spirit perceived that some precipitating event, and not reasoning, would decide. His appeals had become, as Disraeli wrote, both to nation and parliament a wearisome iteration, and he knew it. Those arguments, it is true, had laid the foundations of the case in all their solidity and breadth. But until the emergency in Ireland presented itself, and until prosperity had justified the experiment, Peel was hardly wrong in reckoning on the possibility of a protectionist reaction. Even the new prosperity and contentment of the country were capable of being explained by the extraordinary employment found in the creation of railways. As Mr. Gladstone said to a correspondent in the autumn of 1846, 'The liberal proceedings of conservative governments, and the conservative proceedings of the new liberal administration, unite in pointing to the propriety of an abstinence from high-pitched opinions.' This was a euphemism. What it really meant was that outside of protection no high-pitched opinions on any other subject were available. The tenets of party throughout this embarrassed period from 1846 to 1852 were shifting, equivocal, and fluid. Nor even in the period that followed did they very rapidly consolidate.

Mr. Gladstone writes to his father (June 30, 1849):—

I will only add a few words about your desire that I should withdraw my confidence from Peel. My feelings of admiration, attachment, and gratitude to him I do not expect to lose; and I agree with Graham that he has done more and suffered more than any other living statesman for the good of the people. But still I must confess with sorrow that the present course of events tends to separate and disorganise the small troop of the late government and their adherents. On the West Indian question last year I, with others, spoke and voted against Peel. On the Navigation law this year I was saved from it only by the shipowners and their friends, who would not adopt a plan upon the basis I proposed. Upon Canada—a vital question—I again spoke and voted against him.[210] And upon other colonial questions, yet most important to the government, I fear even this year the same thing may happen again. However painful, then, it may be to me to differ from him, it is plain that my conduct is not placed in his hands to govern.

We find an illustration of the distractions of this long day of party metamorphosis, as well as an example of what was regarded as Mr. Gladstone's over-ingenuity, in one among other passing divergences between him and his chief. Mr. Disraeli brought forward a motion (Feb. 19, 1850) of a very familiar kind, on the distress of the agricultural classes and the insecurity of relief of rural burdens. Bright bluntly denied that there was a case in which the fee of land had been depreciated or rent been permanently lowered. Graham said the mover's policy was simply a transfer of the entire poor rate to the consolidated fund, violating the principles of local control and inviting prodigal expenditure. Fortune then, in Mr. Disraeli's own language, sent him an unexpected champion, by whom, according to him, Graham was fairly unhorsed. The reader will hardly think so, for though the unexpected champion was Mr. Gladstone, he found no better reason for supporting the motion, than that its adoption would weaken the case for restoring protection. As if the landlords and farmers were likely to be satisfied with a small admission of a great claim, while all the rest of their claim was to be as bitterly contested as ever; with the transfer of a shabby couple of millions from their own shoulders to the consolidated fund, when they were clamouring that fourteen millions would hardly be enough. Peel rose later, promptly took this plain point against his ingenious lieutenant, and then proceeded to one more of his elaborate defences, both of free trade and of his own motives and character. For the last time, as it was to happen, Peel declared that for Mr. Gladstone he had 'the greatest respect and admiration.' 'I was associated with him in the preparation and conduct of those measures, to the desire of maintaining which he partly attributes the conclusion at which he has arrived. I derived from him the most zealous, the most effective assistance, and it is no small consolation to me to hear from him, although in this particular motion we arrive at different conclusions, that his confidence in the justice of those principles for which we in common contended remains entirely unshaken.'[211]


On this particular battle, as well as on more general matter, a letter from Mr. Gladstone to his wife (Feb. 22,1850) sheds some light:—:

To Mrs. Gladstone.

Indeed you do rise to very daring flights to-day, and suggest many things that flow from your own deep affection which, perhaps, disguises from you some things that are nevertheless real. I cannot form to myself any other conception of my duty in parliament except the simple one of acting independently, without faction, and without subserviency, on all questions as they arise. To the formation of a party, or even of the nucleus of a party, there are in my circumstances many obstacles. I have been talking over these matters with Manning this morning, and I found him to be of the opinion which is deliberately mine, namely, that it is better that I should not be the head or leader even of my own contemporaries; that there are others of them whose position is less embarrassed, and more favourable and powerful, particularly from birth or wealth or both. Three or four years ago, before I had much considered the matter, and while we still felt as if Peel were our actual chief in politics, I did not think so, but perhaps thought or assumed that as, up to the then present time, I had discharged some prominent duties in office and in parliament, the first place might naturally fall to me when the other men were no longer in the van. But since we have become more disorganised, and I have had little sense of union except with the men of my own standing, and I have felt more of the actual state of things, and how this or that would work in the House of Commons, I have come to be satisfied in my own mind that, if there were a question whether there should be a leader and who it should be, it would be much better that either Lincoln or Herbert should assume that post, whatever share of the mere work might fall on me. I have viewed the matter very drily, and so perhaps you will think I have written on it.

To turn then to what is more amusing, the battle of last night. After much consideration and conference with Herbert (who has had an attack of bilious fever and could not come down, though much better, and soon, I hope, to be out again, but who agreed with me), I determined that I ought to vote last night with Disraeli; and made up my mind accordingly, which involved saying why, at some period of the night. I was anxious to do it early, as I knew Graham would speak on the other side, and did not wish any conflict even of reasoning with him. But he found I was going to speak, and I suppose may have had some similar wish. At any rate, he had the opportunity of following Stafford who began the debate, as he was to take the other side. Then there was an amusing scene between him and Peel. Both rose and stood in competition for the Speaker's eye. The Speaker had seen Graham first, and he got it. But when he was speaking I felt I had no choice but to follow him. He made so very able a speech that this was no pleasant prospect; but I acquired the courage that proceeds from fear, according to a line from Ariosto: Chi per virtu, chi per paura vale [one from valour, another from fear, is strong], and made my plunge when he sat down. But the Speaker was not dreaming of me, and called a certain Mr. Scott who had risen at the same time. Upon this I sat down again, and there was a great uproar because the House always anticipating more or less interest when men speak on opposite sides and in succession, who are usually together, called for me. So I was up again, and the Speaker deserted Scott and called me, and I had to make the best I could after Graham. That is the end of the story, for there is nothing else worth saying. It was at the dinner hour from 7 to 73/4, and then I went home for a little quiet. Peel again replied upon me, but I did not hear that part of him; and Disraeli showed the marvellous talent that he has, for summing up with brilliancy, buoyancy, and comprehensiveness at the close of a debate. You have heard me speak of that talent before when I have been wholly against him; but never, last night or at any other time, would I go to him for conviction, but for the delight of the ear and the fancy. What a long story!


During the parliament that sat from 1847 to 1852, Mr. Gladstone's political life was in partial abeyance. The whole burden of conducting the affairs of the Hawarden estate fell upon him. For five years, he said, 'it constituted my daily and continuing care, while parliamentary action was only occasional. It supplied in fact my education for the office of finance minister.' The demands of church matters were anxious and at times absorbing. He warmly favoured and spoke copiously for the repeal of the navigation laws. He desired, however, to accept a recent overture from America which offered everything, even their vast coasting trade, upon a footing of absolute reciprocity. 'I gave notice,' he says, 'of a motion to that effect. But the government declined to accept it. I accordingly withdrew it. At this the tories were much put about. I, who had thought of things only and not taken persons into view, was surprised at their surprise. It did not occur to me that by my public notification I had given to the opposition generally something like a vested interest in my proposal. I certainly should have done better never to have given my notice. This is one of the cases illustrating the extreme slowness of my political education.' The sentence about thinking of things only and leaving persons out, indicates a turn of mind that partly for great good, partly for some evil, never wholly disappeared.

Yet partially withdrawn as he was from active life in the House of Commons, Mr. Gladstone was far too acute an observer to have any leanings to the delusive self-indulgence of temporary retirements. To his intimate friend, Sir Walter James, who seems to have nursed some such intention, he wrote at this very time (Feb. 13, 1847):—

The way to make parliament profitable is to deal with it as a calling, and if it be a calling it can rarely be advantageous to suspend the pursuit of it for years together with an uncertainty, too, as to its resumption. You have not settled in the country, nor got your other vocation open and your line clear before you. The purchase of an estate is a very serious matter, which you may not be able to accomplish to your satisfaction except after the lapse of years. It would be more satisfactory to drop parliament with another path open to you already, than in order to seek about for one.... I think with you that the change in the position of the conservative party makes public life still more painful where it was painful before, and less enjoyable, where it was enjoyable; but I do not think it remains less a duty to work through the tornado and to influence for good according to our means the new forms into which, political combination may be cast.

In 1848 Northcote speaks of Mr. Gladstone as the 'patron saint' of the coal-whippers, who, as a manifestation of their gratitude for the Act which he had induced parliament to pass for them, offered their services to put down the chartist mob. Both Mr. Gladstone and his brother John served as special constables during the troubled days of April. In his diary he records on April 10, 'On duty from 2 to 33/4 P.M.'



When Mr. Gladstone became colonial secretary at the end of 1845, he was described as a strong accession to the progressive or theorising section of the cabinet—the men, that is to say, who applied to the routine of government, as they found it, critical principles and improved ideals. If the church had been the first of Mr. Gladstone's commanding interests and free trade the second, the turn of the colonies came next. He had not held the seals of the colonial department for more than a few months, but to any business, whatever it might be, that happened to kindle his imagination or work on his reflection, he never failed to bend his whole strength. He had sat upon a committee in 1835-6 on native affairs at the Cape, and there he had come into full view of the costly and sanguinary nature of that important side of the colonial question. Molesworth mentions the 'prominent and valuable' part taken by him in the committee on Waste Lands (1836). He served on committees upon military expenditure in the colonies, and upon colonial accounts. He was a member of the important committee of 1840 on the colonisation of New Zealand, and voted in the minority for the draft report of the chairman, containing among other things the principle of the reservation of all unoccupied lands to the crown.[212] Between 1837 and 1841 he spoke frequently on colonial affairs. When he was secretary of state in 1846, questions arose upon the legal status of colonial clergy, full of knotty points as to which he wrote minutes; questions upon education in penal settlements, and so forth, in which he interested himself, not seldom differing from Stephen, the chief of the staff in the office. He composed an argumentative despatch on the commercial relations between Canada and the mother country, endeavouring to wean the Canadian assembly from its economic delusions. It was in effect little better than if written in water. He made the mistake of sending out despatches in favour of resuming on a limited scale the transportation of convicts to Australia, a practice effectually condemned by the terrible committee eight years before. Opinion in Australia was divided, Robert Lowe leading the opposition,[213] and the experiment was vetoed by Mr. Gladstone's successor at the colonial office. He exposed himself to criticism and abuse by recalling a colonial governor for inefficiency in his post; imprudently in the simplicity of his heart he added to the recall a private letter stating rumours against the governor's personal character. These he had taken on trust from the bishop of the diocese and others. The bishop left him in the lurch; the recall was one affair, the personal rumours were another; nimble partizanship confused the two, to the disadvantage of the secretary of state; the usual clatter that attends any important personage in a trivial scrape ensued; Mr. Gladstone's explanations, simple and veracious as the sunlight in their substance, were over-skilful in form, and half a dozen blunt, sound sentences would have stood him in far better stead. 'There was on my part in this matter,' he says in a fugitive scrap upon it, 'a singular absence of worldly wisdom.'[214] To colonial policy at this stage I discern no particular contribution, and the matters that I have named are now well covered with the moss of kindly time.

Almost from the first he was convinced that some leading maxims of Downing Street were erroneous. He had, from his earliest parliamentary days, regarded our colonial connection as one of duty rather than as one of advantage. When he had only been four years in the House he took a firm stand against pretensions in Canada to set their assembly on an equal footing with the imperial parliament at home.[215] On the other hand, while he should always be glad to see parliament inclined to make large sacrifices for the purpose of maintaining the colonies, he conceived that nothing could be more ridiculous, or more mistaken, than to suppose that Great Britain had anything to gain by maintaining that union in opposition to the deliberate and permanent conviction of the people of the colonies themselves.[216]

He did not at all undervalue what he called the mere political connection, but he urged that the root of such a connection lay in the natural affection of the colonies for the land from which they sprang, and their spontaneous desire to reproduce its laws and the spirit of its institutions. From first to last he always declared the really valuable tie with a colony to be the moral and the social tie.[217] The master key with him was local freedom, and he was never weary of protest against the fallacy of what was called 'preparing' these new communities for freedom: teaching a colony, like an infant, by slow degrees to walk, first putting it into long clothes, then into short clothes. A governing class was reared up for the purposes which the colony ought to fulfil itself; and, as the climax of the evil, a great military expenditure was maintained, which became a premium on war. Our modern colonists, he said, after quitting the mother country, instead of keeping their hereditary liberties, go out to Australia or New Zealand to be deprived of these liberties, and then perhaps, after fifteen or twenty or thirty years' waiting, have a portion given back to them, with magnificent language about the liberality of parliament in conceding free institutions. During the whole of that interval they are condemned to hear all the miserable jargon about fitting them for the privileges thus conferred; while, in point of fact, every year and every month during which they are retained under the administration of a despotic government, renders them less fit for free institutions. 'No consideration of money ought to induce parliament to sever the connection between any one of the colonies and the mother country,' though it was certain that the cost of the existing system was both large and unnecessary. But the real mischief was not here, he said. Our error lay in the attempt to hold the colonies by the mere exercise of power.[218] Even for the church in the colonies he rejected the boon of civil preference as being undoubtedly a fatal gift,—'nothing but a source of weakness to the church herself and of discord and difficulty to the colonial communities, in the soil of which I am anxious to see the church of England take a strong and healthy root.'[219] He acknowledged how much he had learned from Molesworth's speeches,[220] and neither of them sympathised with the opinion expressed by Mr. Disraeli in those days, 'These wretched colonies will all be independent too in a few years, and are a millstone round our necks.'[221] Nor did Mr. Gladstone share any such sentiments as those of Molesworth who, in the Canadian revolt of the winter of 1837, actually invoked disaster upon the British arms.[222]


In their views of colonial policy Mr. Gladstone was in substantial accord with radicals of the school of Cobden, Hume, and Molesworth. He does not seem to have joined a reforming association founded by these eminent men among others in 1850, but its principles coincided with his own:—local independence, an end of rule from Downing Street, the relief of the mother country from the whole expense of the local government of the colonies, save for defence from aggression by a foreign power. Parliament was, as a rule, so little moved by colonial concerns that, according to Mr. Gladstone, in nine cases out of ten it was impossible for the minister to secure parliamentary attention, and in the tenth case it was only obtained by the casual operations of party spirit. Lord Glenelg's case showed that colonial secretaries were punished when they got into bad messes, and his passion for messes was punished, in the language of the journals of the day, by the life of a toad under a harrow until he was worried out of office. There was, however, no force in public opinion to prevent the minister from going wrong if he liked; still less to prevent him from going right if he liked. Popular feeling was coloured by no wish to give up the colonies, but people doubted whether the sum of three millions sterling a year for colonial defence and half a million more for civil charges, was not excessive, and they thought the return by no means commensurate with the outlay.[223] In discussions on bills effecting the enlargement of Australian constitutions, Mr. Gladstone's views came out in clear contrast with the old school. 'Spoke 11/2 hours on the Australian Colonies bill,' he records (May 13,1850), 'to an indifferent, inattentive House. But it is necessary to speak these truths of colonial policy even to unwilling ears.' In the proceedings on the constitution for New Zealand, he delivered a speech justly described as a pattern of close argument and classic oratory.[224] Lord John Russell, adverting to the concession of an elective chamber and responsible government, said that one by one in this manner, all the shields of our authority were thrown away, and the monarchy was left exposed in the colonies to the assaults of democracy. 'Now I confess,' said Mr. Gladstone, in a counter minute, 'that the nominated council and the independent executive were, not shields of authority, but sources of weakness, disorder, disunion, and disloyalty.'[225]


His whole view he set out at Chester[226] a little later than the time at which we now stand:—

... Experience has proved that if you want to strengthen the connection between the colonies and this country—if you want to see British law held in respect and British institutions adopted and beloved in the colonies, never associate with them the hated name of force and coercion exercised by us, at a distance, over their rising fortunes. Govern them upon a principle of freedom. Defend them against aggression from without. Regulate their foreign relations. These things belong to the colonial connection. But of the duration of that connection let them be the judges, and I predict that if you leave them the freedom of judgment it is hard to say when the day will come when they will wish to separate from the great name of England. Depend upon it, they covet a share in that great name. You will find in that feeling of theirs the greatest security for the connection. Make the name of England yet more and more an object of desire to the colonies. Their natural disposition is to love and revere the name of England, and this reverence is by far the best security you can have for their continuing, not only to be subjects of the crown, not only to render it allegiance, but to render it that allegiance which is the most precious of all—the allegiance which proceeds from the depths of the heart of man. You have seen various colonies, some of them lying at the antipodes, offering to you their contributions to assist in supporting the wives and families of your soldiers, the heroes that have fallen in the war. This, I venture to say, may be said, without exaggeration, to be among the first fruits of that system upon which, within the last twelve or fifteen years, you have founded a rational mode of administering the affairs of your colonies without gratuitous interference.

As I turn over these old minutes, memoranda, despatches, speeches, one feels a curious irony in the charge engendered by party heat or malice, studiously and scandalously careless of facts, that Mr. Gladstone's policy aimed at getting rid of the colonies. As if any other policy than that which he so ardently enforced could possibly have saved them.



In 1849 Mr. Gladstone was concerned in a painful incident that befel one of his nearest friends. Nobody of humane feeling would now willingly choose either to speak or hear of it, but it finds a place in books even to this day; it has been often misrepresented; and it is so characteristic of Mr. Gladstone, and so entirely to his honour, that it cannot be wholly passed over. Fortunately a few sentences will suffice. His friend's wife had been for some time travelling abroad, and rumours by and by reached England of movements that might be no more than indiscreet, but might be worse. In consequence of these rumours, and after anxious consultations between the husband and three or four important members of his circle, it was thought best that some one should seek access to the lady, and try to induce her to place herself in a position of security. The further conclusion reached was that Mr. Gladstone and Manning were the two persons best qualified by character and friendship for this critical mission. Manning was unable to go, but Mr. Gladstone at the earnest solicitation of his friend, and also of his own wife who had long been much attached to the person missing, set off alone for a purpose, as he conscientiously believed, alike friendly to both parties and in the interests of both. I have called the proceeding characteristic, for it was in fact exactly like him to be ready at the call of friendship, and in the hope of preventing a terrible disaster, cheerfully to undertake a duty detestable to anybody and especially detestable to him; and again, it was like him to regard the affair with an optimistic simplicity that made him hopeful of success, where to ninety-nine men of a hundred the thought of success would have seemed absurd. To no one was it a greater shock than to him when, after a journey across half Europe, he suddenly found himself the discoverer of what it was inevitable that he should report to his friend at home. In the course of the subsequent proceedings on the bill for a divorce brought into the House of Lords, he was called as a witness to show that in this case the person claiming the bill had omitted no means that duty or affection could suggest for averting the calamity with which his hearth was threatened. It was quite untrue, as he had occasion to tell the House of Commons in 1857, that he had anything whatever to do with the collection of evidence, or that the evidence given by him was the evidence, or any part of it, on which the divorce was founded. The only thing to be added is the judgment of Sir Robert Peel upon a transaction, with all the details of which he was particularly well acquainted:—

Aug. 26, 1849.

MY DEAR GLADSTONE,—I am deeply concerned to hear the result of that mission which, with unparalleled kindness and generosity, you undertook in the hope of mitigating the affliction of a friend, and conducing possibly to the salvation of a wife and mother. Your errand has not been a fruitless one, for it affords the conclusive proof that everything that the forbearance and tender consideration of a husband and the devotion of a friend could suggest as the means of averting the necessity for appealing to the Law for such protection as it can afford, had been essayed and essayed with the utmost delicacy. This proof is valuable so far as the world and the world's opinion is concerned—much more valuable as it respects the heart and conscience of those who have been the active agents in a work of charity. I can offer you nothing in return for that which you undertook with the promptitude of affectionate friendship, under circumstances which few would not have considered a valid excuse if not a superior obligation, but the expression of my sincere admiration for truly virtuous and generous conduct.—Ever, my dear Gladstone, most faithfully yours,


[207] The Halifax Papers.

[208] Among them were such men as Wilson Patten, General Peel, Mr. Corry, Lord Stanhope, Lord Hardinge, most of whom in days to come took their places in conservative administrations.

[209] Memo, of 1876.

[210] A bill to indemnify the inhabitants of Lower Canada, many of whom had taken part in the rebellion of 1837-8, for the destruction and injury of their property. Mr. Gladstone strongly opposed any compensation being given to Canadian, rebels.—Hansard, June 14, 1849.

[211] Hansard, Feb. 21, 1850, p. 1233.

[212] Garnett's Edward Gibbon Wakefield, p. 248. See also p. 232.

[213] See The Gladstone Colony by J. F. Hogan, M.P., with prefatory note by Mr. Gladstone, April 20, 1897, and the chapter in Lord Sherbrooke's Life, 'Mr. Gladstone's Penal Colony.'

[214] Stafford Northcote published an effective vindication in a 'Letter to a Friend,' 1847.

[215] Speech on affairs of Lower Canada, Mar. 8, 1837.

[216] On Government of Canada bill, May 29, 1840.

[217] See his evidence before a Select Committee on Colonial Military Expenditure, June 6, 1861.

[218] See speech on Australian Colonies bill, June 26, 1849, Colonial Administration, April 16, 1849, on the Australian Colonies, Feb. 8, 1850, March 22, 1850, and May 13, 1850. On the Kaffir War, April 5, 1852. On the New Zealand Government bill, May 21, 1852. Also speech on Scientific Colonisation before the St. Martin in the Fields Association for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts, March 27, 1849.

[219] On the Colonial Bishops bill, April 28, 1852.

[220] Wakefield was their common teacher. In a letter as secretary of state to Sir George Grey, then governor of New Zealand (March 27), 1846, he states how the signal ability of Wakefield and his devotion to every subject connected with the foundation of colonies has influenced him.

[221] To Lord Malmesbury, Aug. 13, 1852. Memoirs of an Ex-Minister, by the Earl of Malmesbury, i. p. 344.

[222] 'Should a war take place, I must declare that I should more deplore success on the part of this country than defeat; and though as an English citizen I could not but lament the disasters of my countrymen, still it would be to me a less poignant matter of regret than a success which would offer to the world the disastrous and disgraceful spectacle of a free and mighty nation succeeding by force of arms in putting down and tyrannising over a free though feebler community struggling in defence of its just rights.... That our dominion in America should now be brought to a conclusion, I for one most sincerely desire, but I desire it should terminate in peace and friendship. Great would be the advantages of an amicable separation of the two countries, and great would be the honour this country would reap in consenting to such a step.' Mr. Gladstone spoke the same evening in an opposite sense.—Hans. 39, p. 1466, Dec. 22, 1837. Walpole, Hist. Eng., iii. p. 425.

[223] See, for instance, Spectator, Jan. 17, 1845; Times, June 8, 1849. In 1861 it was estimated that colonial military expenditure was between three and four millions a year, about nine-tenths of which was borne by British taxpayers, and one-tenth by colonial contribution.

[224] Edward Gibbon Wakefield, p. 331. The reader will find an extract in the Appendix. 'The New Zealand Government bill of 1852, with all its errors and complications, was a grand step in the recovery of our old colonial policy; but perhaps its chief contribution to the re-establishment of constitutional views was Mr. Gladstone's speech on its second reading.'—Right Hon. C. B. Adderley, Review of Earl Grey's Colonial Policy of Lord John Russell's Administration, p. 135.

[225] See Mr. Gladstone's speech on introducing the Government of Ireland bill, April 8, 1886.

[226] Nov. 12, 1855. See also two speeches of extraordinary fervour and exaltation, one at Mold (Sept. 29, 1856), and the other at Liverpool the same evening, both in support of the claims of societies for foreign missions.




Famous men—whose merit it is to have joined their name to events that were brought onwards by the course of things.—PAUL-LOUIS COURIER.


It was now that Lord Palmerston strode to a front place—one of the two conspicuous statesmen with whom, at successive epochs in his career, Mr. Gladstone found himself in different degrees of energetic antagonism. This was all the stiffer and more deeply rooted, for being in both cases as much a moral antagonism as it was political. After a long spell of peace, earnestness, and political economy, the nation was for a time in a mood for change, and Palmerston convinced it that he was the man for its mood. He had his full share of shrewd common sense, yet was capable of infinite recklessness. He was good-tempered and a man of bluff cheerful humour. But to lose the game was intolerable, and it was noticed that with him the next best thing to success was quick retaliation on a victorious adversary—a trait of which he was before long to give the world an example that amused it. Yet he had no capacity for deep and long resentments. Like so many of his class, he united passion for public business to sympathy with social gaiety and pleasure. Diplomatists found him firm, prompt, clean-cut, but apt to be narrow, teasing, obstinate, a prisoner to his own arguments, and wanting in the statesman's first quality of seeing the whole and not merely the half. Metternich described him as an audacious and passionate marksman, ready to make arrows out of any wood. He was a sanguine man who always believed what he desired; a confident man who was sure that he must be right in whatever he chose to fear. On the economic or the moral side of national life, in the things that make a nation rich and the things that make it scrupulous and just, he had only limited perception and moderate faith. Where Peel was strong and penetrating, Palmerston was weak and purblind. He regarded Bright and Cobden as displeasing mixtures of the bagman and the preacher. In 1840 he had brought us within an ace of war with France. Disputes about an American frontier were bringing us at the same period within an ace of war with the United States. When Peel and Aberdeen got this quarrel into more promising shape, Palmerston characteristically taunted them with capitulation. Lord Grey refused help in manufacturing a whig government in December 1845, because he was convinced that at that moment Palmerston at the foreign office meant an American war. When he was dismissed by Lord John Russell in 1852 a foreign ruler on an insecure throne observed to an Englishman, 'This is a blow to me, for so long as Lord Palmerston remained at the foreign office, it was certain that you could not procure a single ally in Europe.'

Yet all this policy of high spirits and careless dictatorial temper had its fine side. With none of the grandeur of the highest heroes of his school—of Chatham, Carteret, Pitt—without a spark of their heroic fire or their brilliant and steadfast glow, Palmerston represented, not always in their best form, some of the most generous instincts of his countrymen. A follower of Canning, he was the enemy of tyrants and foreign misrule. He had a healthy hatred of the absolutism and reaction that were supreme at Vienna in 1815; and if he meddled in many affairs that were no affairs of ours, at least he intervened for freedom. The action that made him hated at Vienna and Petersburg won the confidence of his countrymen. They saw him in Belgium and Holland, Spain, Italy, Greece, Portugal, the fearless champion of constitutions and nationality. Of Aberdeen, who had been Peel's foreign minister, it was said that at home he was a liberal without being an enthusiast; abroad he was a zealot, in the sense most opposed to Palmerston. So, of Palmerston it could be said that he was conservative at home and revolutionist abroad. If such a word can ever be applied to such a thing, his patriotism was sometimes not without a tinge of vulgarity, but it was always genuine and sincere.

This masterful and expert personage was the ruling member of the weak whig government now in office, and he made sensible men tremble. Still, said Graham to Peel, 'it is a choice of dangers and evils, and I am disposed to think that Palmerston and his foreign policy are less to be dreaded than Stanley and a new corn law.'[227] In a debate of extraordinary force and range in the summer of 1850, the two schools of foreign policy found themselves face to face. Palmerston defended his various proceedings with remarkable amplitude, power, moderation, and sincerity. He had arrayed against him, besides Mr. Gladstone, the greatest men in the House—Peel, Disraeli, Cobden, Graham, Bright—but in his last sentence the undaunted minister struck a note that made triumph in the division lobbies sure. For five hours a crowded house hung upon his lips, and he then wound up with a fearless challenge of a verdict on the question, 'Whether, as the Roman in days of old held himself free from indignity when he could say Civis Romanus sum, so also a British subject, in whatever land he may be, shall feel confident that the watchful eye and the strong arm of England will protect him against injustice and wrong?'


The Roman citizen was in this instance a Mediterranean Jew who chanced to be a British subject. His house at Athens had for some reason or other been sacked by the mob; he presented a demand for compensation absurdly fraudulent on the face of it. The Greek government refused to pay. England despatched the fleet to collect this and some other petty accounts outstanding. Russia and France proposed their good offices; the mediation of France was accepted; then a number of Greek vessels were peremptorily seized, and France in umbrage recalled her ambassador from London. Well might Peel, in the last speech ever delivered by him in the House of Commons, describe such a course of action as consistent neither with the dignity nor the honour of England. The debate travelled far beyond Don Pacifico, and it stands to this day as a grand classic exposition in parliament of the contending views as to the temper and the principles on which nations in our modern era should conduct their dealings with one another.

It was in the Greek debate of 1850, which involved the censure or acquittal of Lord Palmerston, that I first meddled in speech with foreign affairs, to which I had heretofore paid the slightest possible attention. Lord Palmerston's speech was a marvel for physical strength, for memory, and for lucid and precise exposition of his policy as a whole. A very curious incident on this occasion evinced the extreme reluctance of Sir R. Peel to appear in any ostensible relation with Disraeli. Voting with him was disagreeable enough, but this with his strong aversion to the Palmerstonian policy Peel could not avoid; besides which, it was known that Lord Palmerston would carry the division. Disraeli, not yet fully recognised as leader of the protectionists, was working hard for that position, and assumed the manners of it, with Beresford, a kind of whipper-in, for his right-hand man. After the Palmerston speech he asked me on the next night whether I would undertake to answer it. I said that I was incompetent to do it, from want of knowledge and otherwise. He answered that in that case he must do it. As the debate was not to close that evening, this left another night free for Peel when he might speak and not be in Disraeli's neighbourhood. I told Peel what Disraeli had arranged. He was very well satisfied. But, shortly afterwards, I received from Disraeli a message through Beresford, that he had changed his mind, and would not speak until the next and closing night, when Peel would have to speak also. I had to make known to Peel this alteration. He received the tidings with extreme annoyance: thinking, I suppose, that if the two spoke on the same side and in the late hours just before the division it would convey the idea of some concert or co-operation between them, which it was evident that he was most anxious to avoid. But he could not help himself. Disraeli's speech was a very poor one, almost like a 'cross,' and Peel's was prudent but otherwise not one of his best.[228]

Mr. Gladstone had not in 1850 at all acquired such full parliamentary ascendency as belonged to the hardy veteran confronting him; still less had he such authority as the dethroned leader who sat by his side. Yet the House felt that, in the image of an ancient critic, here was no cistern of carefully collected rain-water, but the bounteous flow of a living spring. It felt all the noble elevation of an orator who transported them apart from the chicane of diplomatic chanceries, above the narrow expediencies of the particular case, though of these too he proved himself a thoroughly well-armed master, into a full view of the state system of Europe and of the principles and relations on which the fabric is founded. Now for the first time he made the appeal, so often repeated by him, to the common sentiment of the civilised world, to the general and fixed convictions of mankind, to the principles of brotherhood among nations, to their sacred independence, to the equality in their rights of the weak with the strong. Such was his language. 'When we are asking for the maintenance of the rights that belong to our fellow-subjects resident in Greece,' he said, 'let us do as we would be done by; let us pay all respect to a feeble state and to the infancy of free institutions, which we should desire and should exact from others towards their authority and strength.' Mr. Gladstone had not read history for nothing, he was not a Christian for nothing. He knew the evils that followed in Europe the breakdown of the great spiritual power—once, though with so many defects, a controlling force over violence, anarchy, and brute wrong. He knew the necessity for some substitute, even a substitute so imperfect as the law of nations. 'You may call the rule of nations vague and untrustworthy,' he exclaimed; 'I find in it, on the contrary, a great and noble monument of human wisdom, founded on the combined dictates of sound experience, a precious inheritance bequeathed to us by the generations that have gone before us, and a firm foundation on which we must take care to build whatever it may be our part to add to their acquisitions, if indeed we wish to promote the peace and welfare of the world.'


The government triumphed by a handsome majority, and Mr. Gladstone, as was his wont, consoled himself for present disappointment by hopes for a better future. 'The majority of the House of Commons, I am convinced,' he wrote to Guizot, then in permanent exile from power, 'was with us in heart and in conviction; but fear of inconveniences attending the removal of a ministry which there is no regularly organised opposition ready to succeed, carried the day beyond all authoritative doubt, against the merits of the particular question. It remains to hope that the demonstration which has been made may not be without its effect upon the tone of Lord Palmerston's future proceedings.'

The conflict thus opened between Mr. Gladstone and Lord Palmerston in 1850 went on in many changing phases, with some curious vicissitudes and inversions. They were sometimes frank foes, occasionally partners in opposition, and for a long while colleagues in office. Never at any time were they in thought or feeling congenial.[229]

On the afternoon of the day following this debate, Peel was thrown from his horse and received injuries from which he died three days later (July 2), in the sixty-third year of his age, and after forty-one years of parliamentary life. When the House met the next day, Hume, as one of its oldest members, at once moved the adjournment, and it fell to Mr. Gladstone to second him. He was content with a few words of sorrow and with the quotation of Scott's moving lines to the memory of Pitt:—

'Now is the stately column broke, The beacon-light is quench'd in smoke, The trumpet's silver sound is still, The warder silent on the hill!'

These beautiful words were addressed, said Mr. Gladstone, 'to a man great indeed, but not greater than Sir Robert Peel.'

'Great as he was to the last,' wrote Mr. Gladstone in one of his notes in 1851, 'I must consider the closing years of his life as beneath those that had preceded them. His enormous energies were in truth so lavishly spent upon the gigantic work of government, which he conducted after a fashion quite different,—I mean as to the work done in the workshop of his own brain,—from preceding and succeeding prime ministers, that their root was enfeebled, though in its feebleness it had more strength probably remaining than fell to the lot of any other public man.'

Peel may at least divide with Walpole the laurels of our greatest peace minister to that date—the man who presided over beneficent and necessary changes in national polity, that in hands less strong and less skilful might easily have opened the sluices of civil confusion. And when we think of Walpole's closing days, and of the melancholy end of most other ruling spirits in our political history—of the mortifications and disappointments in which, from Chatham and Pitt down to Canning and O'Connell, they have quitted the glorious field—Peel must seem happy in the manner and moment of his death. Daring and prosperous legislative exploits had marked his path. His authority in parliament never stood higher, his honour in the country never stood so high. His last words had been a commanding appeal for temperance in national action and language, a solemn plea for peace as the true aim to set before a powerful people.

To his father Mr. Gladstone wrote:—

July 2, 1850.—I thought Sir R. Peel looked extremely feeble during the debate last week. I mean as compared with what he usually is. I observed that he slept during much of Lord Palmerston's speech, that he spoke with little physical energy, and next day, Saturday, in the forenoon I thought he looked very ill at a meeting which, in common with him, I had to attend. This is all that I know and that is worth telling on a subject which is one of deep interest to all classes, from the Queen downwards. I was at the palace last night and she spoke to me with great earnestness about it. As to the division I shall say little; it is an unsatisfactory subject. The majority of the government was made up out of our ranks, partly by people staying away and partly by some twenty who actually voted with the government. By far the greater portion, I am sorry to say, of both sets of persons were what are called Peelites, and not protectionists. The fact is, that if all calling themselves liberal be put on one side, and all calling themselves conservatives on the other, the House of Commons is as nearly as possible equally divided.


I have already described how Mr. Gladstone thought it a great mistake in Peel to resist any step that might put upon the protectionists the responsibilities of office. In a note composed a quarter of a century later (1876), he says: 'This I think was not only a safe experiment (after 1848) but a vital necessity. I do not, therefore, think, and I did not think, that the death of Sir R. Peel at the time when it occurred was a great calamity so far as the chief question of our internal politics was concerned. In other respects it was indeed great; in some of them it may almost be called immeasurable. The moral atmosphere of the House of Commons has never since his death been quite the same, and is now widely different. He had a kind of authority there that was possessed by no one else. Lord John might in some respects compete with, in some even excel, him; but to him, as leader of the liberals, the loss of such an opponent was immense. It is sad to think what, with his high mental force and noble moral sense, he might have done for us in after years. Even the afterthought of knowledge of such a man and of intercourse with him, is a high privilege and a precious possession.'

An interesting word or two upon his own position at this season occur in a letter to his father (July 9, 1850):—

The letter in which you expressed a desire to be informed by me, so far as I might be able to speak, whether there was anything in the rumours circulated with regard to my becoming the leader in parliament of the conservative party, did not come to my hands until yesterday. The fact is, that there is nothing whatever in those rumours beyond mere speculation on things supposed probable or possible, and they must pass for what they are worth in that character only. People feel, I suppose, that Sir Robert Peel's life and continuance in parliament were of themselves powerful obstacles to the general reorganisation of the conservative party, and as there is great annoyance and dissatisfaction with the present state of things, and a widely spread feeling that it is not conducive to the public interests, there arises in men's minds an expectation that the party will be in some manner reconstituted. I share in the feeling that it is desirable; but I see very great difficulties in the way, and do not at present see how they are to be effectually overcome. The House of Commons is almost equally divided, indeed, between those professing liberal and those professing conservative politics; but the late division [Don Pacifico] showed how ill the latter could hang together, even when all those who had any prominent station among them in any sense were united....

Cornewall Lewis wrote,'Upon Gladstone the death of Peel will have the effect of removing a weight from a spring—he will come forward more and take more part in discussion. The general opinion is that Gladstone will renounce his free trade opinions, and become leader of the protectionists. I expect neither the one event nor the other.'[230] More interesting still is something told by the Duke of Buccleuch. 'Very shortly,' said the duke in 1851, 'before Sir Robert Peel's death, he expressed to me his belief that Sidney Herbert or Gladstone would one day be premier; but Peel said with sarcasm, If the hour comes, Disraeli must be made governor-general of India. He will be a second Ellenborough.'[231]

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