Gladstone, William Ewart (1809–1898), prime minister and author, was the fifth child and fourth and youngest son of Sir John Gladstone, first baronet (1764–1851), and his second wife, Anne, née Robertson (1771/2–1835). His parents named him William Ewart after their radical friend of that name, who, like them, was part of the Scottish commercial community in Liverpool. John Gladstones (he dropped the ‘s’ informally in 1787 and by letters patent in 1835) had established himself as a leading member of that community and it was at the fashionable address of 62 (formerly 1) Rodney Street, Liverpool, that his fourth son was born on 29 December 1809.
Gladstone was born into an evangelical family, his mother and his sister Anne (who was his godmother) both combining prolonged illnesses with intense evangelical pietism. His mother was of Scottish Episcopal origins, and his father joined the Church of England, having been a Presbyterian when he first settled in Liverpool. William was thus baptized into the Church of England, in St Peter's Church, Liverpool. But the Scottish ties of the family remained strong: William probably first visited that country in 1814, aged four, recalling in old age having heard the guns of Edinburgh Castle fired, probably to celebrate the abdication of Napoleon that spring. Gladstone's upbringing in the Liverpool area rooted him in northern England, midway between the metropolitan south, which was to be the centre of his political and intellectual life, Scotland, whither his father retired in 1830, Ireland just across the sea, and Wales, where his family home was to be from 1839. Gladstone recalled, ‘I was not a devotional child’ (Morley, 1.13), but this may have been a self-deprecation arising from the reverence in which he held the religiosity of his mother and sister Anne. From an early age he read copiously—he later recalled the ‘great and fascinating hold’ (ibid.) that Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress took upon him and remembered weeping profusely at the description of the life and death of William Wallace in Jane Porter's Scottish Chiefs.
By the 1810s the Gladstones were a rich family, their fortune based on transatlantic corn and tobacco trade and on the slave-labour sugar plantations they owned in the West Indies. William attended the small school at Bootle near Liverpool kept by William Rawson, a moderate evangelical, previously private tutor in the Gladstone household. He thought he learned little from Rawson. In 1821 John Gladstone sent his son to Eton College, where the eldest son, Thomas, was already a pupil. John Gladstone was determined that at least one of his children should succeed in the political world, and he saw an education at Eton and Christ Church, Oxford, as the best preparation for that success. William, who was an oppidan, roomed with Thomas, their ‘dame’ being Mrs Shurley. Already well exposed to tory politics, for his father was George Canning's chief supporter and political organizer in Liverpool, Gladstone at Eton also met whigs, notably Arthur Henry Hallam [see under Hallam, Henry], for whom in 1824 he formed a close affection. For Gladstone, Hallam, and others such as Francis Doyle and James Milnes-Gaskell, the chief focus of their Eton life was the Eton Society (later ‘Pop’) which they ran as an intellectual and debating club, and from whose coterie was published the Eton Miscellany (1827), edited by Gladstone (writing as Bartholomew Bouverie) and George Selwyn (later the noted bishop). In the Eton Society, Gladstone learned that readiness of public speaking which never left him. Gladstone's tutor at Eton was the whiggish H. H. Knapp, but E. C. Hawtrey was the master whose intellectual encouragement Gladstone especially valued. He was flogged at least once by John Keate; he occasionally played cricket and was a competent sculler. Gladstone left Eton at Christmas 1827, proficient in Greek and Latin, competent in French, barely adequate in mathematics, and largely ignorant of the sciences. Yet his self-education in English literature, history, and theology was already considerable, and the school had achieved his father's objective of grafting him onto the metropolitan political élite. However, Gladstone had privately maintained his evangelical religion; this was a subject he rarely discussed with his friends. He found Eton's religion arid, though he was confirmed there by Bishop Pelham on 1 February 1827. He quickly became a regular communicant, a practice he maintained for the rest of his life, and he also broadened his evangelicalism by an unusual interest in Roman Catholicism.
While a boy at Eton, Gladstone became a diarist. The first entry, dated 16 July 1825 and written during a heatwave while on holiday at Gloucester, begins: ‘Read Ovid …’. He maintained his diary daily and almost unbroken until 1894, then spasmodically until 29 December 1896 (about 25,200 entries). Its terse first entry established its usual format: lists of reading, correspondence, and activities both religious and secular, only exceptionally fleshed out with reflections or comments, and these usually telegraphic in form. It was, Gladstone told his son Herbert in 1872, ‘an account-book of the all-precious gift of Time’ (Morley, 1.205). We are, therefore, exceptionally well informed about Gladstone's day-to-day activities.
Gladstone matriculated from Christ Church, Oxford, on 28 January 1828: his father's plan (from 1824) was that he should take a degree at Oxford's chief political college, then read for the bar, and subsequently enter politics.
By the end of his Eton days Gladstone was clearly promising; by the end of his time at Christ Church he was a rising star of British public life. He prepared for Oxford by being crammed in mathematics at Wilmslow by J. M. Turner (another moderate evangelical), for he hoped to take a double first. At Christ Church he helped to found an Essay Club—intended to match the Cambridge Apostles of which Arthur Hallam was a member—which became known as the WEG, meeting in his rooms in Canterbury quadrangle. His ability was recognized by Dean Smith, who got him elected a ‘student’ of Christ Church in 1829. In the university he was active in the newly formed Oxford Union Society, of which he was president in 1830.
As well as enlarging his contacts and standing with the future political class which was being educated with him, Gladstone tried to maintain his evangelical religion. He dabbled in the extreme Calvinism of H. B. Bulteel and the St Edmund Hall set and reacted strongly against it. He never experienced an identifiable moment of religious conversion, and at Oxford, like many of his generation, began to feel that evangelicalism offered an inadequate ecclesiology. However, he found Christ Church Cathedral almost as arid in its religion as Eton chapel. After he became its ‘prickbill’ (recorder of compulsory attendance) he was beaten up in his rooms on 23 March 1830, probably for excessive and officious zeal in his duties: some contemporaries found Gladstone something of a prig. In August that year, while attending a reading party at Cuddesdon, near Oxford, Gladstone decided to tell his father that he felt a duty to ask his permission to offer himself for ordination. He wrote knowing his father would attempt to dissuade him. The strength of his determination is hard to assess. Certainly, he relied considerably on John Gladstone's judgement, which was decisively hostile to the idea. Gladstone lacked a clear call and may have been relieved to be persuaded into politics. He told his father: ‘I do not now see my own view can or ought to stand for a moment in the way of your desires’ (Matthew, Gladstone, 1809–1874, 28). No lingering regret attended this decisive moment, and Gladstone did not subsequently refer much to it.
Gladstone also followed his father politically. On 29 December 1831 he noted in his diary: ‘This has been my debating society year, now, I fancy, done with. Politics are fascinating to me; perhaps too fascinating.’ He was a Canningite in supporting Catholic emancipation and opposing parliamentary reform, though on the latter question his position during the crisis of 1830–32 had some ambivalence. On 11 November 1830 he dramatically carried in the Oxford Union a motion of no confidence in Wellington's government. His speech was partly opposed to aspects of reform, but it was also opposed to Wellington's total rejection of it. Gladstone wanted modest change co-ordinated by tories. Lord John Russell's sweeping bill frustrated that objective, Gladstone recalling: ‘the Reform bill frightened me in 1831, and drove me off my natural and previous bias. Burke and Canning misled many on that subject, and they misled me’ (Morley, 1.70). Gladstone's speech caught the attention of Lord Lincoln, son of the fourth duke of Newcastle, and many others: it was the first of thousands of his speeches to achieve national comment and it set him aside in his generation.
There remained the matter of examinations. After coaching from Charles Wordsworth, which failed to gain him the Dean Ireland scholarship (Gladstone failed to win any of the university prizes for which he entered), his finals results in 1831 became famous. Like Peel twenty-three years earlier, he obtained first classes in literae humaniores (in November) and in mathematics and physics (in December). Gladstone characteristically complained that the examination had been insufficiently wide-ranging. When during the viva voce part the examiner attempted to change the subject, Gladstone declared, ‘No, sir; if you please, we will not leave it yet’ and declaimed further upon it (Morley, 1.79).
Gladstone left Oxford on 15 December 1831, and stayed at Trinity College, Cambridge (Christ Church's sister college), meeting its master, William Whewell, through Christopher Wordsworth, father of his coach, and visiting Arthur Hallam, by then closer to Alfred Tennyson than to Gladstone and soon to be the subject of the latter's In Memoriam. John Gladstone's plans had been realized as much as he could have wished and perhaps more than he expected.
On 1 February 1832 Gladstone and his brother John left for a continental tour, visiting Belgium, France, Savoy, Italy, and Austria. He was struck by the stamina and stoicism rather than by the distinction of the protestant Waldensians, but the chief import of the tour was his first extended experience of Roman Catholicism, which both attracted and repelled him. He as yet knew no Roman Catholics in Britain, and he elaborately examined and annotated the habits of continental Catholics. He at once distinguished between the illegitimacy of the pope's temporal power and the mystique of Catholicism. Entering St Peter's, he noted: ‘most deeply does one feel the pain and schism which separates us from Rome—whose guilt … rests … upon Rome itself’ (Gladstone, Diaries, 31 March 1832).
While abroad (in Milan), Gladstone received an invitation from the duke of Newcastle (prompted by his son, Lord Lincoln) to stand as member of parliament for Newark, which the duke, a strong tory and protectionist, largely controlled. Despite his father's plans for him to read for the bar, Gladstone quickly accepted, and was elected after a smart contest at the head of the poll with 887 votes at the general election following the Reform Act in December 1832. He took his seat on 29 January 1833 (as an insurance he ate the required dinners at Lincoln's Inn, but was never called to the bar). In March he moved into L2, Albany, Piccadilly—his home until his marriage.
Although he had made an earlier intervention in the Commons, Gladstone's maiden speech was given on 3 June 1833 on the terms of the emancipation of slaves in the West Indies, where his father was a substantial slave owner. He became a prominent spokesman for the West Indian interest, which was trying to extract better terms of reparation for emancipation, though he did not defend the principle of slavery. He also became known as a defender of the Anglican establishment in Ireland and a pronounced opponent of the whigs' plan for concurrent endowment (indiscriminate state financial support for religious denominations). Opposition to concurrent endowment was his most consistently held political position. In Peel's short minority government in 1834–5 he was briefly a commissioner of the Treasury—that is, a whip—(December 1834 – January 1835) and then under-secretary for war and the colonies (January 1835 – April 1835). Lord Aberdeen being his chief, he handled colonial business in the Commons. He was returned unopposed for Newark at the general election in January 1835.
This apparently easy political start was not mirrored in Gladstone's personal or intellectual life, though when Benjamin Disraeli met him at dinner at the lord chancellor's on 17 January 1835, he (Disraeli) reported: ‘we had a swan very white and tender, and stuffed with truffles, the best company there’ (Lord Beaconsfield's Correspondence with his Sister, 1886, 30). Even so, for Gladstone London political society was a series of awkward religious hurdles. The young bachelor with strong religious principles found himself ill at ease in London society. Moreover, like many Oxonians in his generation, he found that the Canningite Conservatism learned in his youth only partially equipped him to answer the vital questions of the organization of civil and religious society which the march of events and the reforms of the whig governments of the 1830s posed. In opposition from 1835 to 1841, Gladstone had time to try to work out his own response, which was published in two books, The State in its Relations with the Church (1838) and Church Principles Considered in their Results (1841). The first sought to define the role of the state as the agent of religious principle: the state necessarily had a moral role as the agent in secular affairs of the established church. Influenced especially by Plato, Coleridge, and the idealist school, it attempted an awkward combination of thoroughgoing theocratic argument leavened with English practicality. The second was a more comfortable statement of how Gladstone saw the role of the church. Taken together, the books offered an interesting reassertion of theocratic Anglicanism in a period when religious pluralism was fast gaining ground.
Gladstone prepared for writing The State while at Fasque, the Scottish house in the Mearns, in Kincardineshire, bought by his father, where he spent many parliamentary recesses until his father's death in 1851. He discussed the contents and proofs of the book with his two closest friends at that time, Henry Edward Manning and James Hope (later Hope-Scott), both of them, like Gladstone, broadening an evangelical youth into a high-church early manhood. Gladstone knew many of those involved in the Tractarian movement, and was strongly influenced by it. He attended church daily when possible and communicated frequently. He drew up plans in 1838 for a Third Order (a lay brotherhood of persons in public life). He was closely involved in Bishop C. J. Blomfield's Metropolitan Churches Fund from 1836, and in 1838, on Blomfield's suggestion, joined the National Society for the Education of the Poor. He was active in the founding of the Additional Curates Society in 1837. As an MP in the 1830s, Gladstone was principally interested, and involved, in a variety of aspects of Anglicanism. Stays in Scotland increased his interest, shared by many involved in the Tractarian movement, in the non-established Episcopal Church in Scotland. Gladstone's interest had a practical outcome, for his contacts with Scottish gentry convinced him of the need for provision for Anglican education in Scotland; from this sprang Trinity College, Glenalmond, planned in detail with Hope from 1840, and in part financed by Gladstone's father.
In 1838 Gladstone again made a continental tour, spending much time in Italy, especially Rome, Naples, and Sicily, visiting the latter with Arthur Kinnaird (Gladstone's diary account was later incorporated in Murray's Handbook to Sicily). In Milan, Gladstone met Alessandro Manzoni, author of I promessi sposi. In Rome he met Manning, who with Hope helped him with the proofs of The State, which was published in December 1838 while he was abroad.
Equally importantly, Gladstone fell in love in Rome with Catherine Glynne (1812–1900) [see Gladstone, Catherine]. His awkwardness with respect to women had shown itself earlier in two inept attempts at marriage. In 1835–6 he courted—mainly by letter—Caroline Farquhar, a well-known society beauty, the sister of Walter Farquhar, one of his political friends at Christ Church. His epistolary barrage met with no success. He then rather suddenly, and with an even more rapid rejection (in January 1838), courted Lady Frances Douglas, daughter of the earl of Morton. Catherine Glynne responded more favourably, but with caution, to meetings in the moonlight in the Colosseum. Once back in England, she agreed to an engagement on 8 June 1839 and they were married on 25 July 1839 in Hawarden parish church, with Francis Doyle as best man; it was a double wedding, Catherine's sister Mary being married at the same ceremony to George Lyttelton. The marriage linked Gladstone to the Hawarden estate in north Wales and to a minor aristocratic family, well established in that area and embodying Pittite political values, represented by Sir Stephen Glynne, Gladstone's brother-in-law.
The end of the period of Conservative opposition in 1841 thus found Gladstone apparently more settled. But the publication of The State had led to puzzlement among Peelite Conservatives (it was said that Sir Robert crossed the street so as to avoid having to speak to Gladstone about the book), enthusiasm among high-churchmen and Tractarians (who looked to Gladstone as the political leader of intransigent Anglicanism), and fury among the whigs. Macaulay memorably denounced the book in the Edinburgh Review (April 1839), famously dubbing its author ‘the rising hope of those stern and unbending Tories’. J. S. Mill, with some alarm, thought Gladstone ‘the man who will probably succeed Peel as the Tory leader, unless [Gladstone's connection with the Oxford Movement] prevents him’ (Matthew, Gladstone, 1809–1874, 45). But the toryism of which Gladstone was seen as the rising hope was a creed of whose absolute character Gladstone himself was becoming increasingly uncertain. Moreover, his marriage unleashed Gladstone's sexuality rather than containing the difficulties he already felt about it.
When Peel formed his government in September 1841, Gladstone hoped to be Irish secretary, so as to buttress the position of Anglicanism in Ireland. This was by no means Peel's view of how to improve the political situation in Ireland, and he made Gladstone vice-president of the Board of Trade. In June 1843 Peel appointed him to succeed Lord Ripon as the board's president, with a seat in the cabinet; as president he was also master of the Royal Mint. Gladstone was thus the central figure in the department vitally involved in fiscal policy, the most controversial subject in a controversial government. He had not previously been associated with the free-trade question, despite his family's business background. In the 1830s he was, following his father, a moderate tariff reformer, and he was not sympathetic to the Anti-Corn Law League, for the tory party in the 1841 election did not support repeal of the corn laws (in that election, Gladstone declined a public debate at Walsall with Richard Cobden). John Gladstone increasingly defended protection, but his son, once at the Board of Trade, moved rapidly in the other direction as he assisted Peel, who acted almost as his own chancellor of the exchequer, in the preparation of budgets.
Gladstone quickly showed that command of fiscal detail which was to be an anchor and a hallmark of his political character for the rest of his career. He provided the figures and the detailed arguments for the tariff-reform budgets of 1842 and 1845. Increasingly persuaded of the case for free trade, Gladstone favoured a step-by-step approach, gradually reducing tariffs across the board (he explained his view in his anonymous article ‘The course of commercial policy at home and abroad’, Foreign and Quarterly Review, January 1843). His gradualist approach was thus the opposite of that of the Anti-Corn Law League, which attacked the corn laws as a chief bastion of protectionism whose fall would mean a general surrender to free trade. The railway boom of the late 1830s and early 1840s produced unmanageable quantities of private bill legislation. Gladstone's Railway Act of 1844 tidied up the process and, though the railway network remained largely unplanned, introduced the social safeguard of the ‘parliamentary train’ (one train to run daily on each route at 1d. per mile) and provided, under certain stated terms of compensation, for the ultimate acquisition of the railways by the state should the national interest be felt to require it—a remarkably far-seeing and unprecedented provision.
Experience at the Board of Trade persuaded Gladstone that the future of Conservatism lay in an increased acceptance of commercial and industrial progress in a free market. His religious writings of the 1830s had implied a civil society organized according to very different criteria. The conflict between the two began to close like a pincer movement on the tory party, with Gladstone caught between the groups. Peel's Irish policy implied an integration of the Roman Catholic propertied class as a means towards political stability in Ireland. Gladstone's writings had defended Anglican exclusivity in Ireland. When Peel proposed an extended grant and a sum to endow the Roman Catholic seminary at Maynooth, Gladstone felt he must resign from the government. He did so, after about a year of attempting to have the proposal reconsidered, on 3 February 1845, but voted for Peel's policy soon after, thus further puzzling those of his colleagues without theological interests. He had, he told J. H. Newman, ‘clung to the notion of a conscience, in the state, until that idea has become in the general mind so feeble as to be absolutely inappreciable in the movement of public affairs’ (Matthew, Gladstone, 1809–1874, 69). Slow to take up the question of free trade, Gladstone found himself during the 1841–6 government emerging as one of its chief exponents; quick to spot a deviation from right church and state relations and initially eager to instruct the party leadership in correct ecclesiastical arrangements, he found himself during that government following rather than leading the prime minister.
1845 was a very unsettling year for Gladstone. Soon after his resignation, he became involved in the Engagement, a secret lay religious group—mostly composed of Tractarian Oxonians living in London—which was the context of the start of his lifetime's ‘rescue’ work with prostitutes. He underwent severe sexual temptation, which was compounded by a visit to Germany in October 1845 to his sister Helen [see Gladstone, Helen Jane], who, having been exiled by her family (and especially by her brother William) following her conversion to Roman Catholicism, was suffering a nervous illness and opium addiction. The visit prompted her brother to further nervous difficulties of his own. Gladstone steadied himself by publishing Remarks upon Recent Commercial Legislation (1845) and A Manual of Prayers from the Liturgy, Arranged for Family Use (1845).
Even so, when Peel reconstructed his government in December 1845 on the understanding that the corn laws would be repealed, Gladstone became secretary of state for war and the colonies. As such, he had to stand for re-election, but the strong protectionism of the duke of Newcastle, his patron in Newark, meant that he could not stand there and no other seat was available. Throughout the corn law crisis of 1846, therefore, Gladstone was in the highly anomalous and possibly unique position of being a secretary of state without a seat in either house and thus unanswerable to parliament. As colonial secretary, succeeding Lord Stanley, Gladstone encouraged—as he had done in earlier speeches in the 1830s on the Canada question—the development and where possible exercise of local colonial opinion as the best base for the settled empire, particularly in Canada and New Zealand. He controversially recalled J. Eardley Wilmot, governor of Van Diemen's Land, and suspended convict transportation thither, but he encouraged the employment of convicts for public and private service in New South Wales, Canada, Gibraltar, and elsewhere. He developed an abiding interest in the colonial church, planned new bishoprics for Australia and the Cape, and was later treasurer of the Colonial Bishoprics Fund. He opposed the occupation of Labuan. Gladstone left office in June 1846 when Peel's government resigned, the Conservative Party split on the corn laws and the ministry defeated on Ireland.
Opposition in the 1830s had produced books and an emerging if somewhat puzzling reputation. Opposition in the 1840s encouraged a further search for political identity, but in a context which was intellectually clearer if politically more complex. Most of Gladstone's policy positions and most of his votes pointed away from traditional Conservatism. He himself saw the experience of governing in 1841–6 as decisive, and the identification of experience rather than theory as the basis for action—a major change of view from the 1830s—led to his abiding interest in the theology of Joseph Butler, the eighteenth-century theologian and bishop of Durham, on whom he began serious study in 1845. At the general election of December 1847 Gladstone was elected one of the two burgesses (MPs) for Oxford University, supported especially by the Anglo-Catholics and by the Liberals of the university (the electorate comprised all Oxford MAs who turned up to vote). In certain respects the university seat seemed natural for Gladstone, but it was a fairly constant source of difficulty to him, for a burgess from Christ Church could not neglect tory opinion in the university, and the crisis of Conservatism affected Anglican Oxford as much as it did Gladstone. From December 1847 Gladstone supported the removal of Jewish civil disabilities (which he had previously opposed); when given an honorary degree at Oxford on 5 July 1848, he was greeted in the Sheldonian Theatre by shouts of ‘Gladstone & the Jew Bill’ (Gladstone, Diaries, 5 July 1848).
The period was personally unsettling in several respects. In 1847 a company partly owned by the Glynne family—the Oak Farm brick and iron works near Stourbridge—went bankrupt in the crash of that year. The Glynnes nearly went under also, and were forced for a time to leave Hawarden Castle. John Gladstone provided enough capital to avoid complete catastrophe, though William Gladstone was examined in the Birmingham court of bankruptcy in 1848. For thirty years after, Gladstone spent considerable time—in and out of office—on the mortgaged Hawarden estates, many of which were held in his name.
Gladstone's sexual difficulties increased. Catherine Gladstone had nine pregnancies between 1839 and 1854 (including one miscarriage). Their children were: William Henry (1840–1891); Agnes (1842–1932), who married Edward Charles Wickham (1834–1910) in 1873; Stephen Edward (1844–1920), rector of Hawarden from 1872; Catherine Jessy (1845–1850); Mary (1847–1927), who married the Revd Harry Drew in 1885 [see Drew, Mary]; Helen Gladstone (1849–1925), educationist; Henry Neville Gladstone (1852–1935), businessman; and Herbert John Gladstone (1854–1930), Liberal politician. Happy though Gladstone was with his family, his wife's pregnancies and her frequent absences to help her sister Mary through her own fourteen childbirths led to severe sexual frustration for her husband, who was also greatly affected by the death of their daughter Jessy, aged five, in April 1850. Tempted by pornography and the prostitutes whom he began attempting to redeem under the terms of the Engagement, he began to flagellate himself as a spiritual and physical punishment. He recorded many instances of flagellation in his diary between October 1845 and May 1859, almost all inflicted after an encounter with a prostitute. As he noted, he ‘courted evil’ (Gladstone, Diaries, 19 July 1848).
The frustrations of the public and private crises of the 1840s were sharply elided on the occasion of the Gorham case, which racked the Church of England from 1847 to 1850. Gladstone published Remarks on the Royal Supremacy (1850; reissued 1865, and 1877 with new preface) on the case, opposing the view that the judicial committee could adjudicate on an ecclesiastical case which seemed to turn on theology (the validity of infant baptism). Several members of the Oxford Movement, including his friends Manning and Hope, joined the Roman Catholic church following the judgment. Gladstone, though not tempted to do likewise, was ‘unmanned’ by this episode—he briefly lost his moral sense—for, ever since his sister Helen's conversion, Roman Catholicism had repelled him emotionally despite his high-Anglican and strong apostolic theological position. He removed Hope from the list of executors of his will.
This crisis coincided with Gladstone's return from a visit to Naples, made between October 1850 and February 1851 for the health of his daughter Mary. While there he met Italian liberals and made a brief visit to the notorious prison, the Vicaria. On his return to London he published two letters to Lord Aberdeen (April and July 1851) on the conditions in Naples, the first describing the kingdom of the Two Sicilies as ‘the negation of God erected into a system of government’. He answered his critics in An Examination of the Official Reply of the Neapolitan Government (1852). Gladstone also translated (as The Roman State, 4 vols., 1851) L. C. Farini's Lo stato Romano, a liberal Catholic work critical of the pope's temporal authority. He was helped in the translating by his cousin Anne Ramsden, who later converted to Catholicism. Gladstone's writing on Neapolitan politics gained him a European reputation and associated him, more than was then really the case, with European liberalism.
In September 1851 Gladstone returned to Scotland for his autumnal attendance on his father—his last visit, as it turned out, to Fasque as a home, for his father died that December with William at his bedside (‘I thrice kissed my Father's cheek & forehead before & after his death: the only kisses that I can remember’; Gladstone, Diaries, 13 Dec 1851). While awaiting that event he wrote A Letter to … William Skinner … on Functions of Laymen in the Church (published in 1852), an interesting advocacy of the importance of the laity in an episcopal church. Fasque became the property of William's eldest brother, Sir Thomas Gladstone, a staunch tory, and visits there were subsequently infrequent.
The years 1850–51 were thus a time of adjustment, unease, sometimes even of despondency for Gladstone. He mourned ‘The rending & sapping of the Church, the loss of its gems, the darkening of its prospects; as well as the ill fruit this has meant for me individually’ (Gladstone, Diaries, 31 Dec 1851). The uncertainty of his political position was further emphasized by the formation of Derby's government in February 1852, which, with the other Peelites, he declined to join. In the general election of that year he was re-elected at Oxford after a sharp campaign by his followers, in which by convention he did not himself participate. When parliament reassembled in November 1852, Disraeli, Derby's chancellor of the exchequer, presented an innovative budget which included a controversial proposal to differentiate income tax. At the end of the debate on 16 December, when Disraeli had, as he thought, rounded off the discussion, Gladstone leapt to his feet and, in a brilliant speech while a thunderstorm shook the windows of the new House of Commons, denounced Disraeli's budget, and especially income tax differentiation, as irresponsible and socially divisive. His speech was followed by the defeat of the tory government and the formation of Aberdeen's Peelite–whig–Liberal coalition. Gladstone had thus prominently participated in the moment that united the various progressive forces in British politics and consequently left the tories isolated. His reputation as the man who slew the tories exaggerated his association with progressive politics, but it pointed to what was to be a vital aspect of his popular appeal: an ability at certain critical political moments to promote himself—only partly self-consciously—as the champion of liberal causes.
When Lord Aberdeen discussed his possible cabinet with the queen, he mentioned Gladstone for the exchequer or the Colonial Office; crown influence, according to Prince Albert, tipped the balance towards the exchequer. Gladstone began the first of his four chancellorships on 28 December 1852. Both his predecessors, the whig Wood and the tory Disraeli, were held to have failed in that office: politically they left a major opportunity to whomsoever could grasp it. Gladstone appreciated this and set out to use the exchequer (as Disraeli had tried to do) as the co-ordinating domestic office of the ministry.
Politically, the presentation and passing of a budget were vital to the coalition as well as to Gladstone. His first budget was presented on 18 April 1853, in a speech of four and three-quarter hours. It was ambitious and successful. Gladstone made the reduction of tariffs, and hence the furtherance of the free-trade cause, the central feature, abolishing 123 tariffs and reducing 133. The future of the income tax—introduced as a peacetime tax for the first time by Peel for three years in 1842 and subsequently periodically renewed, but never for more than three years—was a nettle the chancellor had to grasp. Gladstone did so with apparent boldness: he continued income tax, which he characterized as ‘an engine of gigantic power for great national purposes’, for seven years to finance the tariff abolitions and reductions (and, following Disraeli's proposal, extended it to Ireland). But he accompanied this with a plan for step-by-step reduction and then abolition on 5 April 1860. He reduced the starting level of its payment from £150 to £100, thus increasing its yield, broadening its base, and making its value to any government greater. Planned abolition of income tax made its differentiation, which was an important issue for the professional class, unnecessary. Gladstone thus created a fiscal and administrative context in which the deviation from Peelite orthodoxy of which he had accused Disraeli in 1852 became subsidiary. He further softened the blow by extending succession duty, another cause favoured by J. S. Mill and the differentiationists. His speech ‘not only obtained universal applause from his audience at the time, but changed the convictions of a large part of the nation’ (Northcote, 185). Gladstone's budget speech of 1853 set the tone for many of his subsequent performances: the presentation of the annual account of the nation's financial health was like one of Charles Dickens's readings of his novels, a dramatic rendering of an intriguing plot. Gladstone made the annual financial budget report and reckoning a central occasion of the British parliamentary year: his battered dispatch box was symbolically used by the chancellor of the exchequer on budget day for most of the twentieth century.
A quite different question also preoccupied Gladstone in 1852–4—the reform of Oxford and Cambridge universities, in which his constituents expected him to take a close interest; he was himself fascinated by the task, not least as a way of keeping the legislation out of the hands of whigs and secularist Liberals. The Oxford and Cambridge bills of 1854 secured moderate reform; Liberal plans for professorially directed universities were set aside; the collegiate structure was retained but reformed by provision for adequate statutes, with the colleges represented through elected university boards. Gladstone worked closely on the legislation with Benjamin Jowett, then a tutor at Balliol College. Allied to these reforms and prompted by Jowett and Frederick Temple, Gladstone asked Stafford Northcote (formerly his secretary) and C. P. Trevelyan to report on recruitment to the civil service, thus eliciting the Northcote–Trevelyan report, which gradually led to a university-dominated civil service with an administrative grade largely composed of classically educated Oxford and Cambridge men. Gladstone, who described the seventeenth century as an age of rule by prerogative and the eighteenth century as one of rule by patronage, believed the nineteenth century to be one of rule by virtue. His fiscal and institutional reforms were intended to provide the context in which such virtue could flourish.
The Crimean War was an important set-back to Gladstonian finance, though a fillip to administrative reform. Gladstone did not play a prominent role in the process by which diplomacy slipped into combat in 1854 but he responded to it boldly. His intention was to pay for the war out of current taxation. His second budget on 6 March 1854 anticipated war and raised income tax to a new height of 1s. 2d.; on 8 May a further budget increased indirect taxes. The attempt to finance a European war without increasing the national debt was unprecedented and unsuccessful, but it showed both the confidence of the Treasury in Britain's dominance in the world economy and Gladstone's determination that voters should know through the weight of taxes the consequences of war; if war taxation was deflationary to the economy, the citizens should be aware of the results of their government's actions. Gladstone's mentor, Aberdeen, and his closest political friend, the fifth duke of Newcastle (as Lord Lincoln had become), were the cabinet members especially blamed for the mishandling of the war. Condemned by a vote in the Commons on J. A. Roebuck's hostile motion—Gladstone being the chief defender of the government—Aberdeen and his ministers resigned on 30 January 1855. Gladstone, the Peelites, and Palmerston (acting in concert) declined to join a government led by Lord Derby; Gladstone also declined to serve in the whiggish Lord Lansdowne's proposed government, which refusal he later considered ‘a serious and even gross error of judgment’ (Morley, 1.529). On 6 February, encouraged by Aberdeen, Gladstone joined Palmerston's government as chancellor of the exchequer but soon—on 21 February 1855—resigned from it with most of the Peelites (some, such as Gladstone's friend Argyll, remaining in office). It was an inconclusive end to a period of ministerial office which began so brightly with the budget of April 1853.
Unexpected opposition led to a return to the unease of the 1846–52 years, although the Peelites without Peel lacked the cohesion of that period. Gladstone disliked Palmerston's tone but was uneasy with the whigs: he had quite often differed with them during the Aberdeen coalition, and these differences were exacerbated by a personal row involving T. F. Kennedy (1788–1879) and Lord John Russell. He sympathized with aspects of some of the radicals' case against the war, but did not forswear his support for its chief objective, the maintenance of Turkish integrity against Russia (though Turkey he already felt ‘full of anomaly, full of misery and full of difficulty … a political solecism of the Mahomedan faith’ (speech made in Manchester, 11 Oct 1853; Hirst, 156)). He criticized Palmerstonian finance (though Lewis's budget of 1855 was largely prepared by Gladstone before leaving office) and, in ‘The declining efficiency of Parliament’, an unfinished article for the Quarterly Review (BL, Add. MS 44745), he deplored the condition of parliament and of the party system. To contemporaries he seemed tetchy and unpredictable. His filibustering opposition to the Divorce Bill in 1857 was a contrast to the accommodating adaptability to religious questions which he had come to show since the early 1840s and provided a cheerful point of reference for tories and Irish home-rulers when they filibustered Gladstonian bills in the 1880s.
Unsettled in his role in British politics, Gladstone turned to classical studies. He felt that the moral role of the classics in a Christian education had been poorly developed both at Eton and Oxford, as he showed in ‘On the place of Homer in classical education and in historical inquiry’ (Oxford Essays for 1857, 1857). He had studied Homer at Oxford, but not compulsively. He read the Iliad and the Odyssey occasionally in the 1830s and 1840s, but regularly from August 1855 onwards; in November 1886 he was reading the Iliad for, he thought, the thirty-fifth time (his diary records him reading it once more after that). His first instalment of Homeric publication in 1857 culminated in Studies on Homer and the Homeric Age, published by Macmillan for the Clarendon Press, Oxford, in three volumes in 1858 (its total royalties were £58). The proofs were checked by Connop Thirlwall, the broad-church bishop of St David's, and the book was translated into German by Dr A. Schuster in 1863. These volumes diverged sharply from contemporary scholarship. They asserted the Homeric poems to be a single body of work (probably by a single author) which offered a glimpse of human society at the unspoilt dawn of its existence. Subsequent Greek experience had, in Gladstone's view, been a gradual corruption rather than—as his contemporaries mostly thought—an evolution towards the higher civilization of Aristotelian Athens. Gladstone saw ‘a relative parallel between the oldest Holy Scripture and the works of Homer’, the latter constituting and offering ‘an original similitude’ with ‘the best ideas of our European and our British ancestry’—an interpretation that many mid-Victorians, who looked to Anglo-Saxon origins, would hardly have shared.
This interest in Homer was followed up in two ways. Gladstone for the rest of his life regularly contributed articles on Homeric subjects to the serious popular journals, such as theFortnightly and Contemporary reviews. He did not publish in scholarly journals—though many of his articles on Homeric grammar and epithet might appropriately have been placed in them—because he believed his articles, however technical, maintained public interest in an essential text of European citizenship and public life. He published several books popularizing and developing the arguments of Studies on Homer—Juventus mundi: the Gods and Men of the Heroic Age (1869), Homeric Synchronism: an Enquiry into the Time and Place of Homer (1876), Homer (1878) for J. R. Green's Literature Primers (a series published by Macmillan), and Landmarks of Homeric study, together with an essay on the Assyrian tablets and the Homeric text (1890). From 1861 he worked at a trochaic translation of the Iliad, sufficiently full to be shown to Alfred Tennyson in July 1862, but never published; and from 1867 he compiled a Homeric thesaurus (never sufficiently completed for publication in full, though sections were published as articles). A good translator, he published, with his brother-in-law, Lord Lyttelton, Translations (1861), from Homer, Dante, Horace, and other authors; he became preoccupied with Horace in later life, publishing various translations including The Odes of Horace (1894). Classical scholarship in its various forms became for Gladstone almost as ingrained into his routines as churchgoing. He recognized its value as a balance to restlessness (Gladstone, Diaries, 31 Dec 1861) and, in the great struggle for self-control in which the Manichaean forces in Gladstone's personality were countered by hard work and the deliberate assertion of virtue, Homer and allied intellectual activities were important. But Gladstone took more from Homeric work than the acquisition of self-control: ‘along with an outline of sovereignty and public institutions highly patriarchal, we find the full, constant and effective use, of two great instruments of government, since and still so extensively in abeyance among mankind; namely, publicity and persuasion’ (Studies on Homer, 3.7). Gladstone was not to leave them much in abeyance after 1859.
Soon after the publication of Studies on Homer, Lord Derby, briefly prime minister of a minority tory government, invited Gladstone to go to the Ionian Islands (a British protectorate since 1815) as commissioner-extraordinary. To the surprise of the political world and the alarm of his friends, Gladstone accepted, and arrived in November 1858 with his family, via Dresden, Prague, Vienna, and HMS Terrible. He toured the islands and visited Albania and Greece (attracting approbation for kissing the ring of the Orthodox bishop of Athens—his piety was unintentionally balanced by his catching the prelate's chin with his head as he stood up). Gladstone ran a semi-Ruritanian court on Corfu and addressed the Ionian assembly in classical Greek, perfectly orated but incomprehensible to his Italian-speaking audience. But he learned valuable lessons in dealing with the enosis (freedom) movement, for his elaborate attempt to counter the movement for union with Greece was unsuccessful.
At the beginning of 1859, on Gladstone's recommendation, Sir John Young, lord high commissioner of the Ionian Islands, was recalled to Britain, Gladstone temporarily taking his place. By holding the lord high commissionership Gladstone vacated his Commons seat. Most Peelites saw the whole Ionian episode as a Disraelian plot to draw Gladstone into a by-election in Oxford which he might lose, and consequently they expedited the arrival of Sir Henry Storks, Gladstone's successor as lord high commissioner. By the time the writ for the by-election was moved, Storks was in post, and Gladstone was no longer lord high commissioner. He was unopposed when re-elected for the university seat in February 1859.
The Gladstones returned to Britain on 8 March 1859, visiting Venetia and Piedmont en route, William Gladstone twice meeting Cavour and other Risorgimentist leaders for discussions of the rapidly shifting situation in northern Italy. Immediately on his return he met with Antonio Panizzi to assist the recently liberated Neapolitan liberals. His immediate action, however, removed him from this liberal context, for, speaking from the government's side of the house, he opposed Lord John Russell's resolution on reform on 29 March, and on 31 March voted with the tory government when its Reform Bill was defeated. Unopposed at Oxford in the ensuing general election—though his induction with Acton as the first honorary fellows of All Souls on 11 May reminded his constituents of his tory credentials—Gladstone republished his Neapolitan letters of 1852 and wrote ‘Foreign affairs: war in Italy’ for the Quarterly Review (April 1859), which drew on his Italian meetings; it showed a moderate sympathy for an enlarged Piedmont in northern Italy and his abiding dislike of the pope's temporal power.
Unlike his close political friend and fellow Peelite Sidney Herbert, Gladstone did not attend the famous meeting of progressive forces in Willis's Rooms on 6 June and on 10 June he voted with the tories in the confidence debate. But three days later and with apparent paradox he wrote: ‘Went to Ld P[almerston] by his desire at night: I accepted my old office’ (Gladstone, Diaries, 13 June 1859). Palmerston would have preferred to continue with Lewis, his previous chancellor, and make Gladstone colonial or Indian secretary. Gladstone saw Palmerston, knowing that Lewis would cede the exchequer, and insisted on it. He told Herbert that he would have accepted nothing but the exchequer. It was Gladstone's lingering and over-punctilious support for the tories which was out of place. Unless he anticipated a career spent permanently on the back benches—and few people in public life were more naturally executive politicians—membership of Palmerston's government, whose chances looked fair with or without Gladstone, was at the least the natural consequence of the elimination of alternatives and, better, an opportunity to put through the extensive and remarkable programme of exchequer-led financial and administrative reform which he had drawn up in 1856 in the post-Crimean doldrums.
John Morley's classic analysis of Gladstone's behaviour at this time still has merit:
It seems a mistake to treat the acceptance of office under Lord Palmerston as a chief landmark of Mr. Gladstone's protracted journey from tory to liberal … I am far from denying the enormous significance of the party wrench, but it was not a conversion. Mr. Gladstone was at this time in his politics a liberal reformer of Turgot's type, a born lover of government. (Morley, 1.631)
As Gladstone told Samuel Wilberforce in 1857, ‘I greatly felt being turned out of office, I saw great things to do. I am losing the best years of my life out of my natural service’ (Matthew, Gladstone, 1809–1874, 106). As in 1853, his acceptance of the chancellorship ended years of political and personal uncertainty.
Army and navy expenditure had spoiled the plan of 1853 for step-by-step abolition of income tax. Gladstone was determined that foreign and military affairs should not again disrupt the establishment of a fiscal order whose well-being he thought central to the health of the body politic: ‘Finance is, as it were, the stomach of the country, from which all the other organs take their tone’, he wrote in 1858 (Matthew, Gladstone, 1809–1874, 113).
In February 1856 Gladstone had set out in a memorandum of twenty-one points the reforms which the chancellor might introduce (Gladstone, Diaries, 16 and 20 Feb 1856). Such programmatic initiative was very rare in Victorian politics, and provided Gladstone with a plan of action for his chancellorship. Central to it was ‘to complete the construction of a real department of Finance’. This he did through encouraging the energetic scrutiny by the Treasury of all aspects of domestic and defence expenditure through Treasury control of the civil service; the better co-ordination, presentation, and audit of estimates of finance; and, at the constitutional level, through the committee of public accounts which he established in 1864, and the Exchequer and Audit Act of 1866, which had been the first point on his memorandum of 1856. ‘To bring all really public accounts under the control of the Treasury’ was an objective remarkably achieved, and one which placed free-trade probity, balanced budgets, and retrenchment at the heart of British public finance. Dramatically presented to parliament, the ethos and principles of Gladstonian finance were to endure despite the changing needs of a very different economy. The application of this ethos of finance was contested as to some of its details, but it built upon, received, and developed a wide inter-party agreement in the mid-Victorian years. Strict retrenchment and the absence of governmentally provided welfare would be balanced by welfare provision through voluntary associations of a variety of sorts, whose financial probity would be safeguarded by a system of state registration and public checking of their accounts.
The Gladstonian system of finance and welfare presupposed the existence of the active citizen and a strong general sense of public duty. Gladstone practised what he preached about charitable financial transfers: he normally gave 12–14 per cent of his income in charitable bequests. He maintained a priority for retrenchment with what Morley called ‘a boldness sometimes bordering on improvidence’ (Morley, 2.54). The chancellor should, he remarked in 1879,
boldly uphold economy in detail; and it is the mark of … a chicken-hearted Chancellor of the Exchequer, when he shrinks from upholding economy in detail … He is ridiculed, no doubt, for what is called saving candle-ends and cheese-parings. No Chancellor of the Exchequer is worth his salt who is not ready to save what are meant by candle-ends and cheese-parings in the cause of the country. (W. E. Gladstone, Political Speeches in Scotland, 1879, 148)
These cheese-parings took the form of reused envelopes and labels and suchlike, the detailed probing of the need for every appointment and post, and the nurturing of a ‘Treasury mind’, focused on the details of expenditure rather than on its overall pattern and with no interest whatsoever in investment, whose habits of thought continued throughout much of the subsequent century. On the other hand, when there was a large and exceptional undertaking to be faced—such as the votes of credit in the 1880s and the land-purchase scheme of 1886—Gladstone was bold in the scale of his proposals.
Gladstone succeeded in his financial measures in embodying the aspirations of both the income-tax paying propertied classes of his time, and the non-voters whose contribution through indirect taxation was proportionately markedly lower than any of their European contemporaries. He articulated in an attractive, even beguiling way, the details of taxation and associated them with a general, thoroughgoing conception of good government and social as well as economic progress, claiming for them a world as well as a national significance. Joseph Schumpeter, the great Austrian economist, identified the British public finance of this period as the epitome of a particular form of state organization: ‘Gladstonian finance … translated a social, political, and economic vision which was comprehensive as well as historically correct, into clauses of a set of co-ordinated fiscal measures’ (J. A. Schumpeter, History of Economic Analysis, 1954, 403).
When Gladstone took up his chancellorship in 1859, he was opposed at the consequent by-election by Lord Chandos, who was beaten on 1 July by 1050 votes to 859. Gladstone quickly prepared a holding budget, presented on 18 July, which raised income tax from 5d. to 9d. to meet the deficit of £5 million left by Disraeli and the Second Opium War. He then began to plan the financial settlement of 1860. It had two parts: the budget, and a treaty with France. On 12–13 September 1859 Richard Cobden visited Hawarden to discuss the idea of a tariff treaty with France. Gladstone noted that they discussed ‘Tariffs and relations with France. We are closely & warmly agreed’ (Gladstone, Diaries, 13 Sept 1859). Gladstone thus formed a notable public partnership with a leading radical. Cobden negotiated the treaty in Paris; Gladstone handled its cabinet and parliamentary presentation. The purpose of the treaty—criticized by some free-traders because it was a treaty of reciprocity—was not primarily a trading gain, but the ‘desired fruit in binding the two countries together by interest and affection’ (Matthew, Gladstone, 1809–1874, 113): military and naval rivalry and the need for defence against France were to be diminished by commercial harmony.
The treaty was signed on 23 January 1860 and presented to parliament together with Gladstone's budget (delayed by several days because of his cold) on 10 February. He spoke from 5.00 until 9.00 p.m. ‘without great exhaustion: aided by a great stock of egg & wine’ (Gladstone, Diaries, 10 Feb 1860). ‘He came forth’, Charles Greville recorded, ‘and consensu omnium achieved one of the greatest triumphs that the House of Commons ever witnessed’ (Hirst, 182). Abolishing all protective tariffs except the shilling duty on corn, Gladstone removed duties from 371 articles, substantially reduced indirect taxation, and left only fifteen indirect taxes of importance, almost all on food. This simplification, a central objective of Peel–Gladstone finance, created an intentional political difficulty to those wishing to increase central government expenditure, because any increase of indirect taxation would be almost as obvious as an increase of direct. Income tax was raised in the 1860 budget to 10d. to balance the books. Gladstone had proposed the paper duty for abolition—the remaining ‘tax on knowledge’: the tories in the Lords, surreptitiously encouraged by Palmerston, threw out the proposal. This advantaged Gladstone in the party in the country, but it drew him into a series of cabinet rows with Palmerston and various of the whigs. He was also in dispute with the prime minister, the army, and the navy on military fortifications against France, which he believed had been made less urgent by the 1860 treaty. The abolition of the paper duty was got through the Lords by reviving it in the 1861 budget (presented on 15 April) and by making it part of a consolidated Finance Bill (the first such). But many of Palmerston's forts were built and naval expenditure increased. Gladstone several times threatened resignation, and his day-to-day opponent was his close friend Sidney Herbert, who died under the strain. In 1863–4 increased yield and a reduction in expenditure growth enabled income tax to be reduced, reaching 4d. in the budget just before the 1865 general election.
Gladstone's relations with the gradually consolidating Liberal Party were straightforward on the principle of free trade, less easy on a wide range of other issues. Even his proposals as chancellor were quite often challenged and defeated, and he felt his campaign for the reduction of central government spending had been frustrated (though in fact central government expenditure declined from £70 million (10 per cent of gross national product) in 1860 to £67.1 million (7.9 per cent) in 1865). His Savings Bank Monies Bill was defeated in 1860 and in 1863 his budgetary proposal to make charities subject to income tax had to be dropped (Gladstone regarded charitable exemption as a gift from the taxpayer to bodies which were mostly poorly run and often corrupt). In 1864 his bill establishing Post Office Savings Banks was much opposed by trustee savings banks and friendly societies, which feared state invasion of their territory; however, the bill passed and the idea of using post offices for services other than postal was one of Gladstone's enduring legacies. Although his initiatives as chancellor did not all come to fruition, the tour of Tyneside by William and Catherine Gladstone in October 1862 was a great success, exemplifying the alliance of free trade, industrialism, and popular Liberalism. In Newcastle, Gladstone made a famous speech, in which he said:
We may have our own opinions about slavery; we may be for or against the South; but there is no doubt that Jefferson Davis and other leaders of the South have made an army; they are making, it appears, a navy; and they have made what is more than either, they have made a nation. (Morley, 2.79)
Gladstone's remarks were less out of line with British opinion than was subsequently claimed, but they caused a furore. In 1896 he noted that he had made a mistake ‘of incredible grossness’ (ibid., 2.82); his public comments probably made British mediation for an agreed partition between the North and the South—already under cabinet consideration—more rather than less difficult, and they certainly encouraged the Americaphilia which was a pronounced feature of the later Gladstone, though, despite various invitations from Harvard University and elsewhere, he never crossed the Atlantic.
Religion remained politically problematic for Gladstone; he differed from many Liberals in supporting church rates and his high-Anglicanism sharply distinguished him from the nonconformists. From 1864 he developed links with London nonconformists through meetings organized by C. Newman Hall and he began to modify his opposition to the abolition of church rates. He was also prominent in the celebrations attending Garibaldi's visit to England in April 1864 (though behind the scenes he worked to limit it). Gladstone's gathering association with political Liberalism and radicalism was exemplified by his reply for the government on 11 May 1864 on Baines's private member's Reform Bill, which electrified the political world and infuriated Palmerston:
I venture to say that every man who is not presently incapacitated by some consideration of personal unfitness or of political danger, is morally entitled to come within the pale of the constitution. Of course, in giving utterance to such a proposition, I do not recede from the protest I have made against sudden, or violent, or excessive, or intoxicating change. (Morley, 2.126)
Gladstone hoped that such persons, many of them nonconformists, would elect parliaments serious about retrenchment—so strong was his belief in the anti-state views of the ‘labour aristocracy’ whose enfranchisement he was coming to support and whom he courted (though he denied that he so did) in a tour of Lancashire in October 1864.
At the general election of 1865 Gladstone was defeated at Oxford University, coming a poor third in the poll to his friend Sir William Heathcote and G. Gathorne-Hardy. Gladstone was the last Liberal—and in 1865 he was not fully that—to hold one of the Oxbridge seats and his defeat was no surprise; he had been quite strongly opposed at the by-election following his appointment to office in 1859 and new legislation had allowed the non-resident MAs a postal vote. Charles Dodgson's anagrams of Gladstone's names caught the tone of rejection: ‘A wild man will go at trees; Wild agitator! Means well; Wilt tear down all images?’ (M. Cohen, Lewis Carroll, 1995, 251). However, Gladstone was returned instead for South Lancashire, where he launched his candidacy on 18 July in Manchester's Free Trade Hall, famously announcing: ‘At last, my friends, I am come among you “unmuzzled”’ (Morley, 2.146). In the three-member, notoriously protestant constituency he scraped in, third in the poll behind two tories. When John Russell succeeded Palmerston on the latter's death in October 1865, just after a great general election victory, Gladstone worked with the new prime minister on a Reform Bill intended to produce a modest extension of the urban electorate by enfranchising, Gladstone intended, artisans of probity who would further the cause of retrenchment and broaden the base of anti-militarism in the Commons. The bill failed in 1866 amid extensive division and recrimination in the Liberal Party, part of which wanted more than Gladstone and Russell offered, and a larger part less; redistribution of seats was, controversially, to be separately dealt with. Gladstone was leader of the house as well as chancellor of the exchequer and bore the brunt of the unpopularity caused by the bill's failure. The government resigned following its defeat on 18 June 1866 and his long chancellorship thus ended almost as bathetically as that of 1852–5.
Gladstone's unpopularity among Westminster Liberals was probably not reflected in the country, where, strongly supported by the Daily Telegraph, which he sedulously briefed, he was becoming known as ‘The People's William’ (the phrase was its editor's, Levy Lawson). This was despite the fact that until 1870 he described himself in Dod's Parliamentary Companion as a ‘liberal conservative’. The Gladstones wintered in Rome in 1866–7, where he had an important audience with Pope Pius IX on 22 October 1866.
On his return, Gladstone was the Liberal Party's opposition leader in the Commons (the only other time he was in this position was in 1886–92) against the Reform Bill proposed by the minority tory government in 1867. The Derby–Disraeli Reform Bill initially trapped Gladstone, as Disraeli had intended. Accustomed to instigating rather than opposing legislation, and with the Liberals still divided on franchise reform, Gladstone failed to carry his party with him when he moved an amendment on rating, the government surviving by 310 votes to 289. He thought it ‘A smash perhaps without example’ (Gladstone, Diaries, 12 April 1867) and considered resigning the party leadership in the Commons. He did not resign, though further defeats followed and he felt unable to speak on the third reading of the bill for fear of provoking a reaction from his own side. The 1867 Reform Act in fact liberated Gladstone in the longer term: it created the extended but still limited electorate within which his later career flourished.
Gladstone quickly escaped from the imbroglio of 1867. While the minority government was entangled in the complexities of redistribution and Irish and Scottish reform, Gladstone opened an attack from a different angle, encouraged by Lord Russell's statement at Christmas 1867 that he would not again take office, and thus, despite the difficulties, leaving the way clear for Gladstone if he could show a capacity to lead the party. In February 1868, just as Disraeli succeeded Derby as prime minister, Gladstone moved and carried a bill to abolish compulsory church rates, an issue which consolidated radicals, libertarians, nonconformists, and those quite numerous Anglicans keen to abandon undefendable outposts of what had come to be seen as privilege. He followed this by carrying with a majority of sixty-five votes the first of three resolutions to abolish the Anglican establishment in Ireland, and then by passing a suspensory bill through the Commons (in 1866 he had favoured action over Irish land rather than the church). The Liberal Party, so fractured over parliamentary reform, reunited over changes in church–state relations as the majority party and, with Gladstone in the Commons often seeming more the prime minister than the leader of the opposition, the party under his leadership faced the general election on the new franchise with confidence and enthusiasm.
Gladstone defended what seemed to some a bouleversement on Irish establishment in A Chapter of Autobiography, published just after the 1868 election. He claimed in that pamphlet a long-term, private, and principled hostility to Irish disestablishment dating from his political self-reorientation in the mid- and late 1840s. He came to see his decision publicly to advocate Irish disestablishment as an example of ‘a striking gift’ endowed on him by Providence, which enabled him to identify a question whose moment for public discussion and action had come. This quality occasioned Henry Labouchere's famous mot: he ‘did not object to the old man always having a card up his sleeve, but he did object to his insinuating that the Almighty had placed it there’ (Lord Curzon, Parliamentary Eloquence, 1913, 25).
The Liberals won the general election in November–December 1868 with a majority of 112. Gladstone was, as anticipated, defeated in South-West Lancashire, largely by a powerful anti-popery reaction to the proposal for Irish disestablishment, but he had already been returned for Greenwich. On 1 December, while tree-felling with Evelyn Ashley in Hawarden Park, he was brought a telegram from the queen announcing the impending arrival of her secretary with her commission to form a government. Gladstone read the telegram and continued tree-felling. A few minutes later, he stopped, ‘looked up, and with deep earnestness in his voice, and great intensity in his face, exclaimed: “My mission is to pacify Ireland.” He then resumed his task, and never said another word till the tree was down’ (Ashley's obituary of Gladstone, quoted in Matthew, Gladstone, 1809–1874, 147). His means of pacification was to be primarily legislative: he intended to show that there was no reasonable Irish demand which the Westminster parliament could not fulfil.
On 3 December 1868 Gladstone kissed hands as first lord of the Treasury and prime minister for the first (and he expected the last) time. He was also by convention leader of the House of Commons. A distinctive characteristic of all his premierships was quickly apparent: Gladstone led his government from the front by taking personal responsibility for bills which would usually be seen as departmental. He believed that ‘big bills’, as he called them, kept the party together and, more generally, legitimized parliament and its procedures to the nation.
In 1869 he played the chief part in drawing up the Irish Church Bill, a measure bristling with technical complexities which could easily go wrong, for the bill disendowed as well as disestablished the Anglican church in Ireland. He declined to use the Church of Ireland's property to fund the concurrent endowment of all churches in Ireland, the proceeds (after various existing interests had been provided for) instead going to a poor relief fund. He got the bill through the cabinet early in February 1869 and through the Commons in the spring with majorities of over 100. The tories in the Lords resisted the bill, forcing a compromise on the financial terms but without rejecting it in principle. Exhausted by his efforts, Gladstone left the final negotiations to Lord Granville, who from the 1860s to the 1880s eased Gladstone's way in many a difficulty with the Lords and the court. Just as Disraeli's 1867Reform Bill aided Gladstone long term, so Irish establishment was, ironically, a convenience to English tory establishmentarians. Disestablishment in Ireland removed a major religious and civil grievance of Irish Roman Catholics and Presbyterians.
Disestablishment was followed by an Irish Land Bill in 1870 prepared from August 1869, in which Gladstone took an equally prominent role. His hope was to use the Ulster tradition of tenant right as a way of recognizing customary rather than contractual land relationships in Ireland generally, and thus establishing a more settled set of rural relationships. In approaching the land question in this way he acknowledged the importance of a sense of custom and history in social relationships, something of a shift from the a-temporal approach of free-market contract. Opposed by the whigs in the cabinet Gladstone backtracked, and the bill as published offered tenant right for Ulster, compensation for disturbance for the rest of Ireland. The fact of the passing of the bill was important, but its complexity bewildered as much as appealed; it alarmed the propertied classes but did not gain the sort of enthusiastic Irish response of the church bill a year earlier.
1870 also saw Gladstone in dispute with sections of his party on the religious provisions of the Elementary Education Bill, whose drafting by Earl de Grey and W. E. Forster he commissioned in October 1869. From the start Gladstone favoured the maintenance of the existing church schools, with the state providing ancillary board schools; though a fateful decision for English education, the retention of church schools was necessary if a bill was to pass the Lords. But, as with concurrent endowment, he bitterly opposed a state-funded compromise on the teaching of religious truth in the classroom. He preferred state provision of secular teaching, and the funding of religious teaching by the various churches. The Cowper-Temple amendment, with its ill-defined compromise providing for latitudinarian religious instruction in all schools, was thus a major disappointment for Gladstone, though its implications were not immediately publicly apparent. Even so, the passing of the act was notable; no government since the 1832 Reform Bill had succeeded in carrying a thoroughgoing reform of English education. The bill was matched with a statute passed for Scotland in 1872.
Gladstone believed in a system of states relating to each other through diplomacy and in the context of congresses: he did not, as did some free-traders such as Richard Cobden, see such arrangements as unnatural, second-best, or corrupt. In 1869 he began to encourage the idea of international arbitration as a means of settling the claim of the United States for damages caused during the civil war to Northern shipping by the Southern gunboat the Alabama, built on the Mersey and permitted by the British government to be sold to the Confederacy. That Hamilton Fish, the American secretary of state, proposed as recompense the annexation of Canada to the USA, showed the degree of American injury. Gladstone encouraged his foreign secretaries Lord Clarendon and Lord Granville (who succeeded Clarendon on the latter's death in June 1870) towards arbitration, the preliminary treaty of Washington being signed in 1871. Gladstone cut through delays caused by the extent of new American claims, by directly and personally negotiating with Robert Schenck, the American minister in London from 1872, and the case went forward to successful arbitration at Geneva, Britain paying out after various modifications £3,200,000 in 1873. Gladstone's huge exculpatory letter to Schenck—for the whole episode was to an extent an atonement for his speech of 1862—was published in Harper's New Monthly Magazine in 1876.
Strong political will and money enabled Gladstone to make a fresh start to Anglo-American relations. Continental Europe was less straightforward. Gladstone did not oppose German unification, indeed he saw the naturalness of the union of ‘our Teutonic cousins’. He recognized the role of military and naval force in right circumstances. In 1869–70 the ‘rightness’ of both French and German action was, as Bismarck intended, peculiarly difficult to gauge. Gladstone and his cabinet initiated various moves to maintain European peace in June–July 1870 but, beyond Gladstone's preparation of an expeditionary force of 30,000 men to defend Belgian neutrality, made no attempt to go beyond diplomatic means of influence. He arranged a treaty, finally signed on 9 August 1870, with France and Prussia by which Britain would co-operate with either if the other invaded Belgium. His statement on it to the Commons on 8 August 1870 was the basis for Britain's declaration of war in August 1914. He took the extraordinary step of writing an anonymous article ‘Germany, France, and England’, in the Edinburgh Review (October 1870), asserting the primacy of international law and right; his authorship was quickly revealed. He strongly opposed Germany's annexation of Alsace-Lorraine, but was prevented by his cabinet on 30 September from organizing a campaign by neutral European states against annexation by mere military force and without a plebiscite. Almost as great a blow against ‘civic individuality’, Gladstone thought, was the declaration of papal infallibility made at the Vatican Council of 1870, whose proceedings were brought to a rapid conclusion as French troops maintaining the integrity of the Vatican state were withdrawn to fight at home and the Italian army occupied the city. Gladstone energetically encouraged European action to prevent the declaration, but without success, the leader of ‘the madmen of the Council’, as he dubbed the ultramontanists, being his former close friend H. E. Manning. Gladstone's dismay at the declaration was suppressed but not forgotten, as we shall see. However, he provided a warship to rescue the pope should he have to flee Rome.
Gladstone and his cabinet pressed forward, though not perhaps as energetically as they might, on the question of meritocratic and egalitarian reform. In 1870 open competition by examination for entrance to the civil service, begun in 1854, was achieved for all departments except the Foreign Office; university religious tests were largely abolished in 1871; and in 1872 (after earlier rejections by the Lords) voting by ballot throughout the United Kingdom was established, though Gladstone was personally cautious about both the abolition of tests and the introduction of the ballot. Following the Franco-Prussian War, he advocated ‘complete and definite’ reform of the British, Indian, and colonial army and militia, but Cardwell's Army Regulation Bill of 1871, abolishing promotion by purchase, was as far as Gladstone could get the court and the War Office to go. The bill was bitterly opposed, and wrecked the government's programme in the Commons. Gladstone cut the knot by a royal warrant which withdrew the exceptions to an act of 1809 by which almost all commissions were purchased; officers thus risked losing the compensation which the 1871 bill offered and it was then quickly passed. Gladstone's action seemed high-handed, even bullying, and, though the abolition of purchase was quickly recognized as desirable, he confirmed the enmity towards Liberalism of the majority of the officer class.
The episode reflected a growing distrust between Gladstone and the court. Quite a close friend of Victoria and Albert (especially the latter) in the 1850s, in his first government Gladstone found himself in frequent dispute with the queen. His plan, persistently proposed, to employ the prince of Wales in Ireland was rejected by Victoria, who also objected to some of the choices for membership of his cabinet. Gladstone was determined to counter incipient republicanism within the Liberal Party (and not least in his own constituency of Greenwich) by getting the near-reclusive Victoria to resume official duties. He had little success, except in persuading her to attend the service of thanksgiving at St Paul's in 1871 for the recovery of the prince of Wales from typhoid. The queen resented Gladstone's tone, which she found hectoring but which he intended as persuasion by exhaustive argument. ‘He speaks to me as if I was a public meeting’ was the queen's famous comment, probably enunciated at this time (reported in G. W. E. Russell, Collections and Recollections, 1898, chap. 14), Russell noting that Gladstone paid ‘to everyone, and not least to ladies, the compliment of assuming they are on his own intellectual level’.
By the end of 1872 the government was faltering. Bruce's bold Licensing Bill of 1871—the government's response to considerable pressure for temperance reform within the Liberal Party and to a longer-term bipartisan requirement—had to be dropped, for the Liberals were split between reformers and abolitionists. Bruce's more modest proposal of 1872 was enacted, infuriating the drink trade without satisfying the reformers. From 1871 the drink trade, hitherto by no means anti-Liberal, saw a Liberal victory as dangerous. Even topics that seemed disposed of, such as the trade union legislation of 1871, reappeared, the latter in the gas stokers' judgment of December 1872 and the failure quickly to counter it, which earned the Liberals extensive trade union hostility. A series of small episodes gave the opposition opportunity to exploit the prime minister's reputation for sharp practice in the use of detail (‘Jesuitical’ was a frequent tory epithet). Gladstone in December 1871 appointed William Wigan Harvey (1810–1883), an Eton contemporary who had gone to King's College, Cambridge, to the crown living of Ewelme, whose incumbent had to be an Oxford MA (Harvey became one by incorporation before being appointed); Gladstone was accused of evading the spirit of the act and the Commons debated the affair on 14 March 1872. Gladstone was also accused of evasion when he appointed his attorney-general, Robert Porrett Collier (1817–1886), to a vacancy on the judicial committee of the privy council which had to be held by a former judge. Collier was made a judge and became an ex-judge in only three days, a manoeuvre which only just escaped condemnation in debates in both houses in February 1872. Disraeli's speech in Manchester on 3 April 1872 contained one of the great similes of political invective, as prophetic of his own fate as it was devastating about the Liberal front bench:
Ministers reminded me of one of those marine landscapes not very unusual on the coasts of South America. You behold a range of exhausted volcanoes. Not a flame flickers on a single pallid crest. But the situation is still dangerous. There are occasional earthquakes, and ever and anon the dark rumbling of the sea. (W. F. Monypenny and G. E. Buckle, The Life of Benjamin Disraeli, 1910–20, 5.191)
In 1873 the third of Gladstone's Irish bills, a bill to reform Irish universities by broadening the basis of Roman Catholic attendance, was opposed both by Liberal secularists such as Henry Fawcett and by many of the Irish MPs, encouraged by the Roman Catholic bishops. Like many of the Liberal government's proposals, it did too much for some and too little for others. On 11 March 1873 the bill, which Gladstone had made a point of asserting as a measure of government confidence, was defeated by three votes. An Irish demand had not been adequately met by the Westminster parliament. He offered his resignation to the queen on 13 March, who accepted it and summoned Disraeli. The latter's policy was to let the Liberals swing in the wind; he coolly declined to form yet another tory minority government (this was the last occasion in British politics on which the opposition has declined office when it was offered). Gladstone carried on, resuming office on 16 March (as seals were not returned, his period of office is treated as uninterrupted). The government was further weakened by a variety of sleazy scandals in the summer of 1873.
Even Liberal finance came adrift and on 9 August 1873 Gladstone replaced Robert Lowe and became his own chancellor of the exchequer. This provoked a further embarrassing episode—a prolonged and unresolved dispute as to whether he had vacated his seat by taking office, in which case he would have to be re-elected at a by-election. Gladstone sought to regain the political initiative by a daring and dramatic financial plan: ‘abolition of Income Tax and Sugar Duties with partial compensation from Spirits and Death Duties. This onlymight give a chance’ (Matthew, Gladstone, 1809–1874, 220). The exchequer's surpluses resulting from the inflationary boom of the early 1870s opened a unique window, to be propped open by some new property tax. Gladstone intended income tax abolition to consolidate retrenchment, which he thought the income tax endangered by its quick and certain revenues. To balance the books for income tax abolition, he needed some defence savings, which the army and navy cabinet ministers would not yield. He therefore, on 21 January 1874, wrote to the queen requesting a dissolution, informing his cabinet of this two days later. The row with the defence departments being secret, many assumed Gladstone was escaping from the prospect of having to fight a by-election in Greenwich. It was the first dissolution in the recess without prior announcement since 1780. His manifesto published on 24 January revealed his financial plan, Disraeli immediately responding by supporting income tax abolition.
The Liberals lost the general election after a short campaign in which Gladstone made only three speeches. Gladstone held his Greenwich seat but came second in the poll behind a tory, a brewer, the other Liberal candidate being defeated. ‘We have been borne down in a torrent of gin and beer’, Gladstone wrote to his brother Robertson on 6 February, in a phrase that later became famous; ‘Next to this’, he added, ‘has been the action of the Education Act of 1870, and the subsequent controversies’ (Morley, 2.495). On 17 February 1874 he resigned without meeting parliament, the first leader of the party of progress to lose a general election since 1841, and the first since that year to cede office to a majority tory government. Like 1855 and 1866 the early months of 1874 were a curious conclusion to a notable start.
Whatever the causes of Liberal defeat in 1874—and they ranged from Gladstone's impetuous dissolution and personal unpopularity through immediate issues such as drink and education to much wider, long-term shifts in British voting patterns—he himself felt liberated, but estranged from his party and politically drained. He had been in high office almost continually since 1859 and he had led his government in as physically demanding a way as could be imagined, for as well as being prime minister and chancellor of the exchequer he was leader of the Commons and thus responsible for the details and day-to-day business of the welter of Liberal legislation which his approach to party management encouraged.
Gladstone was sixty-four when he startled the ex-cabinet by telling it on 16 February 1874 that he would ‘no longer retain the leadership of the liberal party, nor resume it, unless the party had settled its difficulties’, a resignation publicly confirmed in December 1874 (Gladstone, Diaries, 16 Feb 1874). It would be wrong to suggest, however, that Gladstone was in any sense played out. He was fit, spare, and sprightly. He stood 5 feet 10½ inches and had an abnormally large head, with eagle-like eyes. He had accidentally shot off his left forefinger while shooting in September 1842 and always wore a fingerstall. A trim 11 stone 11 pounds, he ate and drank moderately, and did not smoke. Remarkable physical resilience made him, despite his occasional illnesses (some of them diplomatic), one of the fittest of prime ministers. Tree-felling, begun in 1852 and maintained until 1891, was a demanding and invigorating activity; it kept him fit and spry. In September 1873 he walked 33 miles in the rain through the Cairngorm mountains from Balmoral to Kingussie (a dramatic escape from the longeurs of court attendance!).
His relentless energy meant that the life of ‘mental repose’ which Gladstone planned for himself was never likely to be sufficient, sincerely though the retirement of 1874 was intended. Restlessness, interest, and perhaps something more, had led Gladstone into an amitié curieuse with an ex-courtesan, Laura Thistlethwayte, whom he had met, probably through the duke of Newcastle, in 1865. Unlike the prostitutes whom Gladstone energetically continued throughout his premiership to attempt to redeem, Laura Thistlethwayte was already saved from sin and was converted. Gladstone was at first intrigued and soon obsessed with her tale. In 1869 and 1870, especially, he was constantly in touch, by letter and visits, even visiting her at her home near Boveridge in December 1869. His intense letters to her are printed as appendices to volumes 7 and 13 of The Gladstone Diaries. This was in effect a platonic extra-marital affair, Catherine Gladstone knowing of Mrs Thistlethwayte but not meeting her until 1887. By 1874 the most intense phase of their relationship had passed, and the repose Gladstone sought was perhaps personal as well as political. On the third finger of his right hand he often wore a ring given him by Laura Thistlethwayte (shown in many of his later portraits).
Repose was not to last long. The Gladstones prepared to sell their London house, 11 Carlton House Terrace, and moved wholly to Hawarden, where William had built a study–library known as the Temple of Peace; it had two desks, one for Homeric and one for other work. Retirement did not prevent him during 1874 from intervening by speech and pen on theScottish Church Patronage Bill and from vigorously opposing Archbishop Tait's anti-ritualist Public Worship Regulation Bill.
In September 1874 Gladstone visited in Bavaria his old friend J. J. I. von Döllinger, excommunicated for opposition to papal infallibility. Papal infallibility had encouraged Gladstone, like many high Anglicans at that time, to closer association with other apostolical churches such as the Old Catholics (with which Döllinger was associated) and the various Orthodox churches: Gladstone had contacts in both the Greek and the Russian varieties. Incensed by Rome's handling of Döllinger, Gladstone added to the proof of his article ‘Ritualism and ritual’ in the Contemporary Review (October 1874), a stinging attack on British Roman Catholics for their supine reaction to the Vatican decrees, and followed it up by a pamphlet,The Vatican Decrees in their Bearing on Civil Allegiance: a Political Expostulation, published in November 1874. The pamphlet, which sold over 100,000 copies, attacked the implications of the infallible rulings of a universalist pope for the civil allegiance of British citizens. It elicited replies from H. E. Manning, J. H. Newman, and many others, to which Gladstone replied in Vaticanism: an Answer to ‘Reproofs and Replies’ (1875).
In February 1876, at the same time as attacking Disraeli's purchase of the Suez Canal shares and the Royal Titles Bill which made the queen empress of India, Gladstone bought 73 Harley Street, London, a harbinger of political return. Deep in Homeric and ecumenical theological studies and publications at Hawarden in the summer of 1876, he was a little slow to see the full implications of the rising protest against Turkish massacres of Orthodox Christians in the Balkans, but on 6 September 1876 he published the most famous of his pamphlets, The Bulgarian Horrors and the Question of the East, whose call for Turkish withdrawal ‘bag and baggage’ quickly entered the language (the pamphlet was translated into Russian by K. P. Pobedonostsev, later the fervent apologist for tsarist rule). As Lord Derby, the foreign secretary, immediately noticed, Gladstone's vehement invective in fact had a tame conclusion, a ‘simple recommendation of autonomy for the disturbed provinces’ (A Selection from the Diaries of Edward Henry Stanley … between September 1869 and March 1878, ed. J. R. Vincent, CS, 5th ser., 4, 1994, 324). A speech at Blackheath on 9 September, a tour of the north-east, and further meetings and publications made Gladstone the leader of a popular front of moral outrage. The man who had been a special constable during the Chartist meeting in 1848 was now the chief speaker at huge gatherings attempting to change government policy. Granville and Hartington, leaders of the party in the Lords and Commons respectively, tried to carry on the normal business of opposition while Gladstone developed a new form of evangelical mass politics. Co-operation with the party in the Commons was difficult, for moderate Liberals disapproved of Gladstone's policy on the Eastern question and disliked his extra-parliamentary activities. When on 7 May 1877 he gave notice to the house of five resolutions on the Eastern question, moderate Liberal MPs rebelled, and only the first resolution was moved.
Gladstone addressed the inaugural meeting of the National Liberal Federation (NLF) in Birmingham in May 1877 but the politics he was developing was based much more on a relationship between a charismatic oratorical leader and the extended electorate than on the caucus organization which Joseph Chamberlain's NLF represented. The tory response to the Gladstonian campaign on the Eastern question was bitter, especially in London, where the Gladstones' windows in Harley Street were broken by a Jingo mob on a Sunday evening; ‘This is not very sabbatical’ was Gladstone's comment (Gladstone, Diaries, 24 Feb 1878). The hostility earlier evident towards Gladstone in military circles became explicit, the duke of Cambridge (the commander-in-chief) now refusing to shake his hand on meeting. What began as a campaign on a particular question of Eastern policy broadened into a personalized and general indictment of ‘Beaconsfieldism’, carried out in a remarkable series of journal articles (especially ‘Aggression on Egypt and freedom in the East’, ‘The peace to come’, ‘The paths of honour and of shame’, and ‘England's mission’, published in the Nineteenth Century in 1877 and 1878). These attacked imperialism and warned of the dangers of a bloated empire with worldwide responsibilities which in the long run would become unsustainable.
From 17 October to 12 November 1877 Gladstone made his only substantial visit to Ireland (he had planned one in 1845, and made a very brief stop, during a sea voyage, on 29 August 1880). Staying with wealthy Anglo-Irish families in co. Wicklow, he was prevented from visiting the west—‘But not enough of Ireland’, he noted (Gladstone, Diaries, 20 Oct 1877); but he visited Maynooth and received the freedom of Dublin on 7 November.
A growing anti-metropolitanism was reflected in Gladstone's announcement in March 1878 that he would not again stand for Greenwich—a decision long contemplated. Negotiations with the Liberals of Midlothian, eased by Lord Rosebery and by Gladstone's comfortable victory in an election for the lord rectorship of Glasgow University in November 1877, led to a decision in January 1879 to contest the tory seat of Midlothian (whose incumbent, Lord Dalkeith, was son of Gladstone's colleague in 1841–5, the duke of Buccleuch). He had been much in the city as first lord rector of Edinburgh University in 1859–65.
In 1879 and 1880 Gladstone's Midlothian campaigns captured the seat and astonished the political world. (It was from them that Max Weber derived his analysis of the charismatic in popular politics: Weber saw ‘Ein cäsaristisch-plebiszitäres Element’ in Gladstone's behaviour (Matthew, Gladstone, 1875–1898, 50)). In the 1879 campaign he noted giving thirty substantial speeches, heard, he estimated, by 86,930 persons, and in the 1880 campaign, eighteen speeches. The verbatim reporting of Gladstone's speeches ensured that they were available to every newspaper-reading household the next morning. The Midlothian campaigns were thus campaigns both for and from the constituency. The constituency itself was a rather corrupt country seat with proportionately far fewer electors than the new borough seats: Buccleuch made generous creations of faggot votes, which the Liberals matched. Gladstone defeated Dalkeith on 5 April 1880 by 1579 votes to 1368 (just the margin his advisers had forecast eighteen months earlier). He was also elected for Leeds, topping the poll with 24,622 votes (his son Herbert was unopposed at its subsequent by-election).
Gladstone's Midlothian speeches attempted to articulate principles of foreign policy as well as a critique of Beaconsfieldism. They engaged popular political opinion in a wide range of complex questions and thus, in Gladstone's view, restored a harmony between popular opinion and the Commons which Disraeli had endangered. But much propertied opinion took alarm: ‘In a word, everything is overdone’ remarked The Times (29 Nov 1879), a view shared not only by the tories but also by a proportion of the Liberal intelligentsia.
The queen unsuccessfully sought to avoid the obvious consequence of the election: another Gladstonian premiership. He responded by requiring the two party leaders whom she had consulted—Granville and Hartington—to agree that they had ‘unitedly advised the Sovereign that it was most for the public advantage to send for me’ (Matthew, Gladstone, 1875–1898, 101). This they did. Gladstone thus kissed hands on 23 April 1880 with the whigs acknowledging his supremacy and the public good of his premiership. Gladstone had become something of a loose cannon in the Liberal Party. In some respects he was an essential link between factions within it which were otherwise irreconcilable. But he had also begun the process by which Liberalism and Gladstonianism became fused into a political movement, which could be seen both as awkwardly over-personalized and as a unique and beneficent political crusade whose character derived from one person's remarkable capacity to absorb and resolve within himself the self-contradictions of the Liberal movement.
The Midlothian campaigns gave Gladstone a strong start to his second government. Yet from the beginning he stressed the short-term character of his leadership of it. He had protested since 1876 that his return to politics was temporary: once the detritus of Beaconsfieldism—the problems of the Near East, Afghanistan, South Africa, the national finances—had been swept up, he would retire from the premiership and from the chancellorship of the exchequer (which office he took up in 1880). Gladstone seriously considered so acting in the autumn of 1881, in the summer of 1882, in 1883, and in the spring of 1885; but on each occasion outstanding problems, and the protests of his colleagues, obliged him, he felt, to remain in office. His personal position was thus the opposite of a normal politician's: he stayed in office as the servant of events and of his colleagues. The latter had little option but to want him to soldier on, for he had made the party unleadable during his active lifetime save by himself, and the whigs, despite their complaints at aspects of his politics and policies, looked to him for protection against the radicals. The result was a rather unsettled cabinet. But the achievements of the 1880 government, though falling short of the sweeping expectations of some radicals, were more substantial than is often allowed. In foreign and colonial matters, however, the 1880–85 cabinet required Gladstone with striking frequency to agree to policies which he had initially opposed. He had a non-expansionist view of empire, approving of the empire of settlement, but very cautious about any further expansion of it, and opposing quite consistently the view that Britain needed to occupy non-settlement territories to keep other European powers out. On the other hand, his long experience of cabinet government accustomed him to accept cabinet responsibility for frequent wars, interventions, and occupations, and to defend them vigorously in the Commons. Unlike John Bright, the policy changes imposed upon him never, in his first and second governments, made him think of resignation. Moreover, unlike Bright, Gladstone was by no means opposed to using foreign policy for interventionist purposes, and he attempted to articulate principles on which such intervention might be undertaken.
Gladstone's six principles of correct international behaviour, based on nations reconciling differences through the Concert system, avoiding secret alliances (‘needless and entangling alliances’), and acknowledging the ‘equal rights of all nations’, were stated in Midlothian on 27 November 1879. They seemed of general application, but were directed ‘especially to the Christian nations of the world’. But it was in the Islamic area of the Near and Middle East that Gladstone's chief difficulties lay. The removal of Beaconsfield's government by no means meant the end of foreign and imperial problems. The government had considerable success in establishing sufficient stability in Afghanistan. Negotiations to partition it were ended and internal order secured. ‘Mervousness’ (the duke of Argyll's word for anti-Russianists' anxieties) was discounted and Russia was allowed to advance through Merv up to the Afghan border but no further: stopping her there led to the Panjdeh incident of 1885 and the threat of war.
Much less straightforward was the crisis in the Near East. Gladstone in opposition had criticized Turkish brutality, but he had always stopped short of demanding a dissolution of the Ottoman empire. He resolutely used the threat of force to end disputes over the Montenegrin frontier in the autumn of 1880. In Egypt the nationalist movement led by Arabi Pasha initially appealed to him. Encouraged by Wilfrid Scawen Blunt he wrote: ‘“Egypt for the Egyptians” is the sentiment to which I should wish to give scope: and could it prevail it would I think be the best, the only good solution of the “Egyptian question”’ (letter to Granville, 4 Jan 1882, Ramm, Political Correspondence … 1876–1886, 1.326). But in 1882 Gladstone abandoned this view and came to see Egyptian nationalization as a dangerous rather than a stabilizing force in Egyptian affairs. Riots in Alexandria on 11 June 1882 led to the city's bombardment by the British fleet. Gladstone and Granville tried to earn French support for a dual intervention on behalf of the Concert of Europe. When this failed, Gladstone reluctantly agreed with the rest of his cabinet, of whom all—save John Bright, who resigned—were more eager than Gladstone for action to invade Egypt. By September 1882 the country was in British hands, and Gladstone was making the first of the many British attempts between 1882 and 1918 to disengage. Gladstone turned harshly against Arabi, on whom he now heaped blame, and had him imprisoned in Ceylon. From late in 1882 until the spring of 1885, the settlement of Egypt, both politically and financially, was a central preoccupation: ‘the Egyptian flood comes on us again and again, like the sea on the host of Pharaoh’, Gladstone wrote in January 1885 (Matthew, Gladstone, 1875–1898, 141). Regularization was achieved in March 1885, just before the government fell. Egyptians found it hard to see how Gladstone's fifth principle—that the ‘foreign policy of England should always be inspired by the love of freedom’—had been applied to them.
An unanticipated consequence of the invasion of Egypt was responsibility for the Sudan, where a rising against the khedive, the nominal authority, was being led by Muhammad Ahmad, the Mahdi. The sending of Charles George Gordon to evacuate the Sudan was unwisely left by Gladstone to his colleagues departmentally responsible—Hartington, Northbrook, and Granville—and indeed Gladstone warned that Gordon would be difficult to handle. But it was Gladstone who bore the public obloquy of the Gordon débâcle. He delayed agreeing to a relief expedition, and especially one mounted by means of a railway constructed from Suakin on the Red sea, because he feared a strong British military presence would lead, as in 1885 it very nearly did, to permanent occupation rather than withdrawal. Moreover, it was of the Mahdists that Gladstone enunciated one of his most famous sayings: ‘Yes; these people are struggling to be free; and they are struggling rightly to be free’ (Hansard 3, 288, 12 May 1884, col. 55).
Gladstone did not handle the dénouement of the fall of Khartoum and Gordon's probable death in 1885 sensitively, and he survived a censure motion on 27 February 1885 by only fourteen votes. Gladstone's failure to rescue the maverick and flagrantly disobedient Gordon entered British folk memory and M. O. G. (Murderer of Gordon) became the tory response to the Liberals' G. O. M. (Grand Old Man), the acronym coined by Henry Labouchere in April 1881.
In the rest of Africa, likewise, Gladstone's objective was to avoid imperial expansion. He was successful in this in east Africa, but elsewhere found himself superintending significant British expansion. In southern Africa (and in the Pacific) he favoured a German presence, partly as he had no objection to other nations' colonial enterprises, partly because he saw a German presence as a useful way of keeping increasingly truculent white colonists in order. British–Boer relations were at a critical stage when he took office. Gladstone initially hoped to maintain the confederate objective of the outgoing tory government; this plan collapsed in June 1880 and Bartle Frere, the governor, with whom Gladstone was already publicly at odds, was recalled. The Transvaal declared its secession and began an armed rebellion. On 27 February 1881 news reached London of the death of Sir George Colley and ninety-two British troops at Majuba Hill (‘Sad Sad news from South Africa: is it the Hand of Judgment?’, Gladstone noted; Gladstone, Diaries, 28 Feb 1881); this was a public relations disaster, though the military consequences were quickly quashed, and an accommodation reached by the convention of Pretoria in August 1881 (later renegotiated by the convention of London in 1884). Gladstone was unable to prevent his cabinet dispatching Sir Charles Warren's expedition to declare a protectorate over Bechuanaland in 1884.
In foreign and imperial policy for 1880 to 1885, Gladstone confirmed the forecast that he had made in opposition before 1880, that Britain was being drawn into ever wider imperial responsibilities with long-term strategic and economic consequences whose future form and cost could only be guessed at. These obligations, in his view, were a deflection from Britain's true mission and interest, which was the nurturing of the domestic economic base and of a self-sufficient, settled empire. He deplored all these further responsibilities, but, even as prime minister, he found he could do no more than occasionally slow their growth.
Unlike 1868, Gladstone became prime minister in 1880 with no great programme of legislative reform, though various Liberal groups had different ideas about how the large parliamentary majority should be used, and there was a general assumption, shared by Gladstone, that local government legislation was necessary and that the county franchise would need reform towards the end of the parliament. His fury against ‘Beaconsfieldism’ produced no general constitutional reform proposals to prevent its repetition. As his own chancellor of the exchequer, Gladstone had immediate departmental obligations: these he discharged effectively if fairly conservatively. In 1880 he successfully abolished the malt tax, a long-standing farming grievance, the removal of which was a technically complicated operation. In 1881 he increased spirits duties, reformed the probate and legacy duties, and lowered income tax. In 1882, in his final budget, he ironically had to increase income tax; on 12 December 1882, under severe strain and suffering from insomnia, he ceded the chancellorship to H. C. E. Childers.
The parliament opened with an unusual controversy, in May 1880, as the secularist Charles Bradlaugh claimed the right to make an affirmation rather than to swear the oath of allegiance, and when the former was not permitted, to take the oath itself. Gladstone, as leader of the house, was at once involved in what became a prolonged dispute of the sort of theological church–state wrangling which Victorians of all forms of belief especially valued. Gladstone's own position was simple and consistent: he intensely deplored Bradlaugh's atheism and its public consequences, but parliament was no longer legally an exclusively Christian assembly; it was not for the Commons to judge whether those swearing the oath were sincere or not; it was not possible to draw distinctions between pantheists and atheists; if Bradlaugh had broken the law, that was a matter for the law courts. This position was not popular with the opposition and despite the introduction of several Affirmation bills and Bradlaugh's victory in several by-elections, the matter was resolved only in January 1886, when the new speaker (A. W. Peel), proposed by Gladstone after winning the general election, took Gladstone's position, ignored the previous debates and resolutions, and allowed Bradlaugh to take the oath. Gladstone was active in 1891 in getting the original resolution of June 1880 repealed as Bradlaugh lay dying. Gladstone's Liberalism sometimes seems ambivalent; on no question was his position more classically Liberal than on the Bradlaugh affair.
Gladstone in 1880 was surprised to find himself dealing with a major crisis of public and social order in Ireland as the Land League's campaign spread rapidly. Here, as in 1868–74, he intervened firmly, although his Irish secretary, W. E. Forster, was a stronger character than Chichester Fortescue had been in the earlier government. Gladstone at once set up, in June 1880, the Bessborough royal commission to inquire into the working of the 1870 Land Act. The tories in the House of Lords threw out the government's Compensation for Disturbance Bill in August 1880. On 30 September 1880 Parnell and the other home-rule MPs were imprisoned, their prosecutions failing in January 1881. As the home-rule and Land League movement burgeoned, Gladstone's initial reaction was to meet it by some form of local government devolution, for he always believed that self-responsibility was the key to social and political order. However, the exigencies of the land crisis in Ireland persuaded him to agree with Forster that another Land Act was needed to achieve social order more quickly than self-government could do. The league's objective of tenant right and the three Fs (fair rent, fixity of tenure, and free sale) was profoundly conservative, however revolutionary its methods.
The Irish Land Bill of 1881, hammered out in cabinet over the winter of 1880–81, readjusted social and financial relationships by court arbitrations. But it left the landowner still technically owning the land: Gladstone disliked government-financed programmes of land purchase. The duke of Argyll resigned from the government on 31 March 1881, but the bill passed with less whiggish outrage than might have been expected, though its passage in the Commons was a major battle, with Gladstone handling most of the prolonged committee stage. The bill successfully undercut the league and Gladstone drove home his advantage by goading Parnell, telling him in a great speech in Leeds on 7 October 1881 that ‘the resources of civilization are not yet exhausted’ (Matthew, Gladstone, 1875–1898, 197). Parnell was incarcerated in Kilmainham gaol on 12 October and the Land League proscribed on 20 October. Thus far Gladstone had balanced various forms of conciliation with a determined use of state force. With the league broken, he was intent on a longer-term political reconciliation. Parnell was to be the focus of constitutionalism in Irish politics, and was released on 6 May 1882 after what became called the Kilmainham treaty (though Gladstone's cabinet minute of 1 May read: ‘There has been no negotiation. But we have obtained information. The moment is golden’ (Gladstone, Diaries, 1 May 1882)). Gladstone refused to be deflected by the Phoenix Park murders on 6 May, and an Arrears Bill was passed as planned. Later in May, Katharine O'Shea [see Parnell, Katharine] began to act as go-between for Gladstone and her lover, Parnell.
Gladstone continued to favour a devolution and democratization of government in the United Kingdom generally, through the introduction of elected local government. The lack of success of the many plans and bills which his cabinet considered was the chief failure of his second government. Even the plan for administrative devolution to Scotland through the re-creation of the Scottish secretaryship of state was left to the tories to introduce in 1885. In 1871 in a speech at Aberdeen Gladstone had declared: ‘There is nothing that Ireland has asked and which this country and this Parliament have refused’ (Matthew, Gladstone, 1809–1874, 201); the course of the second government, during which home rule became more and more a clear, though as yet (as Gladstone pointed out) still rather unspecific Irish demand, showed that that claim was increasingly hard to sustain. Not long before making his new assumptions about Parnell, Gladstone noted: ‘Conversation with H.J.G[ladstone] on “Home Rule” & my speech: for the subject has probably a future’ (Gladstone, Diaries, 10 Feb 1882).
In the autumn of 1883 Gladstone changed the cabinet's tack, as he began planning a package of political reform, though one which would have vital consequences for Ireland. As in 1866, redistribution of seats was to follow rather than accompany franchise reform, and as in 1866 this was a chief focus of hostility to the proposals, though in 1884 the bill passed in the Commons without a Liberal split.
Gladstone focused rigorously on a Franchise Extension Bill. The bill's chief change was to extend the 1867 household suffrage to the counties, thus considerably increasing the electorate (though still leaving over 40 per cent of adult males unfranchised). Gladstone refused to accept a female suffrage amendment. For the first time England, Wales, Scotland, and Ireland were all included in a single franchise bill, with the large franchise increase for Ireland's largely rural population consequently tacked onto the proportionately less dramatic increase for the mainland. Gladstone moved the bill's introduction on 28 February 1884 and saw it through the Commons. On 8 July the Lords summarily rejected it. In September Gladstone made a spectacular tour of Scotland, which proved to be both the apogee and the last hurrah of nineteenth-century constitutional Liberalism. Back in London, a compromise between the two houses was arranged in a series of meetings in November 1884, Gladstone and Sir Charles Dilke representing the Liberals, and Lord Salisbury and Stafford Northcote the tories; the Liberals agreed to many of the tories' demands on redistribution, the tories agreed to the franchise changes. Gladstone and Dilke both seem to have underestimated the advantage to the tories of the ending of most of the two-member constituencies.
The spring of 1885 was taken up with the legislative enactment of the reform compromise. It was punctuated by the public disaster of the death of Gordon, the Panjdeh incident in Afghanistan, the vote of credit on 21 April of £11 million to deal with the Sudan and with Russia, and the disintegration of the cabinet over proposals for local government legislation for Ireland.
Gladstone's second government is usually seen as a disappointment after the legislative achievements of the first; even so, the Liberal Party held together better in the second than in the first. By 1885 the cabinet was riven by threats of resignation, but apart from Argyll in 1881, and Forster and Bright in 1882, none occurred. The extended crisis over reform kept the party together in 1884 and in the first four months of 1885, and the home-rulers in tow. With the passing of the Redistribution Bill on 11 May the need for unity ceased, and on 8 June the home-rulers voted with the tories to defeat the government on Hicks Beach's amendment to the budget on indirect taxation, seventy Liberals abstaining or absent. As in 1873 Gladstone resigned but, unlike Disraeli in 1873, Lord Salisbury accepted office and formed a minority tory government (dependent on home-rule votes). Gladstone left office on 24 June 1885, but continued as leader of the Liberal Party, a general election on the new franchise and distribution being imminent, though control of the exact timetable was now in Salisbury's hands.
The wide spectrum which the Gladstonian Liberal Party covered was becoming wider still, as the ‘radical programme’ of 1885 broadened its objectives. Gladstone, aged seventy-five, retained a remarkable capacity for innovation and surprise, but he was unlikely to move in the direction of the radical programme, for he saw it as representing in the Liberal Party that ‘leaning of both parties to Socialism which I radically disapprove’ (letter to Argyll, Gladstone, Diaries, 30 Sept 1885). He now saw the Irish problem as his reason for staying in active political life, but leading a united party into the election was his immediate duty. He took action on several different fronts, studying colonial legislative precedents for devolved authority and asking Parnell to define what he wanted in an Irish constitutional settlement. Suffering from a serious throat condition which prevented him from making speeches, Gladstone took a cruise to Norway on Thomas Brassey's yacht, the Sunbeam; while on board he drafted a lengthy party election manifesto which tried to unify the party on parliamentary procedure, land reform, electoral registration reform, and local government reform. In September 1885 he noted: ‘I have long suspected the [Irish] Union of 1800 … this was like Pitt's Revolutionary war, a gigantic though excusable mistake’ (ibid., 19 Sept 1885). On 1 November Gladstone received from Parnell the latter's ‘Proposed Constitution for Ireland’ which linked the home-rulers to a stated objective. On 14 November, staying at Dalmeny House for the Midlothian election campaign, Gladstone drafted the structure of an Irish Home Rule Bill which closely followed the paper Parnell had sent a fortnight earlier (itself based on colonial, chiefly Canadian, precedents).
Gladstone and the Liberals won the general election of November 1885, their second in a row, with a majority of seventy-two over the tories, unless the eighty-six home-rulers voted with the latter. Gladstone comfortably beat C. Dalrymple for the Midlothian seat.
Gladstone believed a home-rule solution would best come through a bipartisan measure promoted from the right (thus solving the difficulty of a rejection by the Lords of a bill approved by the Commons). On 15 December he met Arthur Balfour and floated this idea, confirming it in a letter of 20 December. On 17 December Herbert Gladstone's announcement of his father's home-rule views was published in the press (the ‘Hawarden kite’, as it became known); the initiative of a bipartisan solution came to nothing and the political world was ablaze with excitement.
In the early morning of 27 January 1886 the Liberals and the home-rulers voted together to defeat the government and on 30 January 1886 Gladstone received the queen's commission to form his third government (Victoria having first tried G. J. Goschen). He was unopposed for Midlothian at the ensuing by-election. He formed his government with no formal commitment to home rule, and he formed his cabinet on the understanding that it would inquire into a home-rule solution. He had prepared neither the party nor the country for the dramatic legislation which he introduced in the spring of 1886, and he paid a high price for that. On the other hand the character of the party and the nature of the political timetable of 1885–6 would have made it impossible for him to lead a united party into the election on a home-rule programme. Gladstone's technique of using ‘big bills’ to unite the Liberal Party through legislative action offered a chance of retaining the whiggish wing of his party, though when Lord Hartington declined to join the new cabinet that chance was already slim.
Gladstone's plan was bold and broad. He drafted, with the help of Treasury officials and Sir Robert Hamilton, the home-rule permanent under-secretary in Dublin, a third Land Bill; unlike the first two, it was based on a transfer of land enabled by state funds, initially costed at £120 million (that is, more than the annual budget) but reduced to £50 million in the published bill. By this measure the landlord class could leave Ireland and social order in the countryside could be established as the preliminary to a stable political settlement. He next planned a Government of Ireland Bill establishing a legislative body of two houses in Dublin; the bill was to include a financial settlement (which was negotiated with Parnell). Irish MPs were no longer to sit at Westminster. Gladstone saw this proposed settlement as the best way to conserve a degree of union; he wished to impose responsibility on the Irish, who since 1800 had had representation with no prospect of power.
On 13 March 1886 the Land Bill was explained to the cabinet; on 26 March Joseph Chamberlain and G. O. Trevelyan walked out of the cabinet room, resigning. On 8 April Gladstone introduced the Government of Ireland Bill to the Commons. It was soon in difficulties and the accompanying Land Bill was introduced by Gladstone on 16 April but taken no further. Gladstone offered to withdraw, reconstruct, and reintroduce in the autumn the Government of Ireland Bill if it passed its second reading. He concluded his speech early on the morning of 8 June with a prophetic commendation:
This, if I understand it, is one of those golden moments of our history; one of those opportunities which may come and may go, but which rarely return, or, if they return, return at long intervals, and under circumstances which no man can forecast. (W. E. Gladstone, Speeches on the Irish Question in 1886, ed. P. W. Clayden, 1886, 165)
The bill was beaten by 341 votes to 311, and that afternoon Gladstone drove through an uncertain cabinet a decision to dissolve parliament rather than resign. In a confused general election, he tried to lead a disorganized party by an outpouring of public letters and telegrams in addition to his usual speeches. So dedicated was Gladstone to the campaign that he agreed to break the habit of the previous forty years and cease his attempts to convert prostitutes, for fear, for the first time, of causing a scandal (Liberal agents had heard that the Unionists were monitoring Gladstone's nocturnal movements in London with a view to a press exposé). In the election the number of Liberal MPs fell from 333 in 1885 to 196, though no party gained an overall majority. The Liberal Party was divided, with the whiggish section seriously and probably permanently disrupted. Gladstone was unopposed in Midlothian and was also returned unopposed for Leith burghs (for which he stood at the last minute on the request of local Liberals; the position on home rule of the former Liberal MP, William Jacks, was uncertain and he withdrew when Gladstone stood). Gladstone chose Midlothian. On 20 July the cabinet decided to resign without meeting parliament to be voted out, Gladstone formally ceasing to be prime minister on 30 July. The queen thought him ‘pale and nervous’ at his final audience (Letters of Queen Victoria, ed. A. C. Benson and Lord Esher, and G. E. Buckle, 3rd ser., 1930–32, 1.168).
Gladstone had pursued his plan for an Irish settlement with exceptional energy (even for him) and with what seemed to many of his largely unprepared colleagues mulish obstinacy. Gladstone's third government hardly lasted long enough for any substantial legislative achievements, though the Crofters' Act was a notable and long-lasting innovation in Scottish land tenure. ‘An old man in a hurry’ was Lord Randolph Churchill's jibe as he ‘played the Orange card’ in Ulster (it was soon seen that it was Lord Randolph who was really hurried). Incomprehension at Westminster did not necessarily mean rejection in the country. For every tory who thought Gladstone mad there was a Liberal who thought him great. Certainly Gladstone felt that part of his mission was to represent the ‘masses against the classes’ on the Irish question as on others, and the extent of support for home rule was probably much more extensive than the organs of Unionism and a disaffected Liberal intelligentsia made out. In the United States and the empire (and especially in Australia and India) home rule was a popular and populist movement (Swaraj—the name of Gandhi's movement—being a direct translation of ‘home rule’).
Gladstone retained many of the intellectual characteristics of his earlier life, but he applied them in striking new ways. His study of Bishop Butler, which he renewed in opposition, was intended to give those in public life a philosophy based on probability and experience; that is, to permit adaptation and to allow change, though change in politics as a second order activity which could only dimly reflect the certainties of theology. His intellectual friends were persons such as Lord Acton, whom he had boldly ennobled in 1869 and who especially prized liberal individualism in public life. Gladstone moved also among political economists, as a member of the Political Economy Club, at which he gave the address at the celebrations marking the centenary of Smith's The Wealth of Nations on 31 May 1876, and he had many contacts in the Victorian coterie of the Metaphysical Society. Like a number of his scholarly contemporaries, he dabbled in spiritualism, in his case in the mid-1880s; in 1885 he agreed to become an honorary member of the Society for Psychical Research. He engaged in intellectual disputes (mostly good-humoured) with a wide range of Victorian opinion through his many articles in the Nineteenth Century, and the Contemporary,Fortnightly, and other reviews, most of which were written for his friend the journal editor and owner J. T. Knowles. Some of these, such as ‘The evangelical movement, its parentage, progress, and issues’ (British Quarterly Review, July 1879) and ‘“Locksley Hall” and the jubilee’ (Nineteenth Century, January 1887), a powerful attack on Tennysonian pessimism, were important contributions to the historiography of the century. He was a strong defender of moderate Christian Darwinism, publishing his views in articles, including a dispute with T. H. Huxley in 1890, and in The Impregnable Rock of Holy Scripture (1890; 2nd edn, 1892). He was always willing to help a new journal get started (for example, the English Historical Review in 1886) with an article or a book review. He wrote the substance (though he did not take the credit) for the articles on his father, E. C. Hawtrey, and Sir Stephen Glynne in the Dictionary of National Biography. His long book reviews, notably those of Tennyson's Maud and Idylls of the King, J. R. Seeley's Ecce homo, G. Cornewall Lewis'sInfluence of Authority on Matters of Opinion, G. O. Trevelyan's Macaulay, Lecky's History of England, and Mary Ward's Robert Elsmere, are important texts of Victorian cultural history.
Tennyson stayed several times at Hawarden, Gladstone and the family politely listening to the poet reading his unactable plays. Gladstone got Tennyson the first poetic peerage, in 1883, and was rewarded by a sonnet published in The Times calling on the Lords to reject the Franchise Bill. Ruskin also visited Hawarden, in 1878, Gladstone's daughter Mary noting that ‘the experienced Ch. of Ex. and [the] visionary idealist came in to conflict’ (L. Masterman, Mary Gladstone, 1930, 142). Ruskin, in his campaign to succeed Gladstone as lord rector of Glasgow University, remarked that he cared for Disraeli and Gladstone no more than he did for two old bagpipes. Gladstone's artistic tastes were pronouncedly pre-Raphaelite; he was a modest but significant patron of their works, and supported the Grosvenor Gallery from 1879. Burne-Jones's memorial window to Gladstone in Hawarden church was based on personal knowledge, and G. F. Watts and J. E. Millais both painted more than one portrait of him (see below). Gladstone was professor of ancient history at the Royal Academy in the 1880s, but never seems to have lectured (a rare abstinence); he always attended the opening day of the academy summer show.
Gladstone was always an energetic theatregoer, at home and on the continent. He enjoyed the company of actors and actresses and invited them to 10 Downing Street. He invited Henry Irving to Hawarden, and tried but failed to get him a knighthood in 1883 (it was through Irving that Gladstone met Lillie Langtry, who made a great deal of their brief friendship in 1882–5). He publicly supported a plan for a national theatre (The Theatre, 13 March 1878, 103). He also enjoyed opera, including Wagner. In old age, as his sight and hearing failed, he usually sat on the stage.
Gladstone read widely in European literature. Next to Shakespeare, Molière was his most frequently read dramatist. He worked energetically, if idiosyncratically, on Dante, whom he had first read in the mid-1830s but to whom he specially turned from 1874 onwards. He engaged in extensive correspondence with European scholars on classical, literary, theological, and economic topics, and he read and spoke fluently in Latin, Greek, Italian, French, and German, got by in Spanish, and learned enough Norwegian to say a few words during a visit. His cultural range in the European context was exceptional, exemplified by an honorary degree from Bologna during its eighth centenary celebrations and membership of the Académie des Sciences Morales et Politiques in Paris. He was elected fellow of the Royal Society in 1881 (though election during his first premiership would have been more usual).
Few people in British public life, and certainly no prime minister, succeeded in publicly articulating his opinions or in determining the agenda of public life over such a range of subjects or so long a time. In 1879 Gladstone collected a selection of his articles and addresses in Gleanings of Past Years (7 vols.), which he supplemented by Later Gleanings(1897). His gallimaufrous abilities and his voluminous capacity for general intellectual discussion of all sorts (except on science), were ideally matched by the high journalistic culture of his later life.
To an extent Gladstone wrote for money, for from the 1870s, with many of his adult children still financially dependent on him, he believed himself strapped for cash. In 1896 he calculated his literary earnings at £18,826 (see Matthew, Gladstone, 1875–1898, 374). But he declined an offer of £100,000 in 1887 for his autobiography, which he wrote privately and episodically between 1886 and the end of his life. This remarkable offer was probably engineered by his friend Andrew Carnegie, the Scottish-American steel magnate, who had a penchant for helping British Liberals financially. Carnegie also, using Gladstone as intermediary, saved Acton from bankruptcy by buying his library, and in 1887 offered Gladstone an interest-free loan of any sum, cancellable on death if there were insufficient funds to pay it back (Gladstone politely declined, asking Carnegie to finance home rule instead).
Much of Gladstone's private spending was on books. Up to the 1870s he also collected pictures and china; his collection was partly dispersed by sale in 1875, the remaining china being given to the South Kensington and Liverpool museums. In the course of a lifetime of haunting bookshops, Gladstone built up a large library, cataloguing it in 1845 and on subsequent occasions. In his diaries more than 21,000 works by over 4500 authors are noted as read. Sir Walter Scott was his favourite novelist, Émile Zola the most deplored (though not the least read). From 1886 Gladstone planned to make his books publicly available, especially but not exclusively for the benefit of the clergy. He built an iron hut at Hawarden for this purpose, which in 1889 he decided to name St Deiniol's Library, and endowed it with a trust deed signed on 1 January 1896. He invented a system of rolling-stack bookcases, advising the Bodleian Library in Oxford in 1888 to adopt it; it can be seen as the origin of much modern library design (see his On Books and the Housing of them, 1898, and E. W. Nicholson, Mr. Gladstone and the Bodleian, 1898).
Much though Gladstone enjoyed books and intellectual conversation, he was equally happy with his businessman cronies Stuart Rendel and George Armitstead, who provided the châteaux in France and much of the physical support that the Gladstones enjoyed in their old age, and whose regular duty was to play backgammon with Gladstone each evening. As he aged, tree-felling became too demanding a form of exercise, and regular walks predominated. Gladstone was not interested in sport, and did not attend cricket or football matches, unlike many other political leaders of the 1880s and 1890s. (Under pressure from Granville he once attended the Derby, in 1870.)
The six years after 1886 were Gladstone's only period of what might be called normal opposition leadership. He used them chiefly to assert the primacy of home rule, putting this above the reunification of the party which some expected after the 1886 election defeat. A few whigs and several radicals returned severally, encouraged by Gladstone, but he did not play a leading part in the abortive ‘round table’ talks of 1886–7. Gladstone published widely and combatively on Ireland in these years, gathering some of his articles in The Irish Question (1886) and Special Aspects of the Irish Question (1892); the latter included his article on Daniel O'Connell—an interesting reappraisal of his own as well as O'Connell's views, first published in the Nineteenth Century (January 1889). He spoke at the annual meetings of the National Liberal Federation (NLF) (except in 1890), with the aim of making home rule seem a natural solution, presenting the home-rulers as thoroughgoing constitutionalists. In this he had considerable success, especially as the unionist alternative led to scandals such as the Michelstown shootings in September 1887 and the extraordinary duplicities exposed by the special commission of 1888–9 on the Pigott forgeries. Two meetings with Parnell in March 1888 and December 1889 suggested that the Liberal–home-rule alliance was harmonious, and all seemed set fair for a Liberal majority after the next election.
The divorce of Katharine O'Shea, with Parnell as co-respondent, in November 1890 dramatically altered this expectation. Gladstone, under strong pressure from religious opinion, decided that the cause of home rule must take precedence over Parnell's leadership of the Home Rule Party, but the muddled process by which this information failed to be privately conveyed to the Home Rule Party meeting on 25 November 1890 led to a public demand by Gladstone for Parnell's resignation; the Home Rule Party then split, the majority following Gladstone's lead, the minority Parnell. At the 1891 NLF meeting in Newcastle, Gladstone continued to assert that home rule came first, but added to it a list of reforming measures for the mainland, quickly known as the ‘Newcastle programme’.
As party leader Gladstone paid little attention to the details of organization, relying as always on great speeches to link the electorate directly to good argument and a charismatic leader. He recognized, however, the importance of greater labour representation, met such Labour MPs as there were, and devised a scheme of payment for MPs to promote their increase. His agenda of constitutional reform, home rule, and free trade, was one on which the nascent labour organizations could enthusiastically co-operate with the Liberal Party, and proved the basis for a ‘Lib–Lab’ partnership which subsisted for much of the next century, as Gladstone anticipated in a remarkable article, ‘The rights and responsibilities of labour’ (Lloyd's Weekly Newspaper, 4 May 1890).
Although his physical and mental powers were waning, Gladstone remained a powerful force in politics and intellectual life. When he stayed at All Souls College, Oxford, early in 1890, one of the young tory fellows, Charles Oman, noted: ‘I was far from suspecting, till I had seen him close, what vigour there still was in the old man’ (C. Oman, Things I have Seen, 1937, 77). He attended the centenary celebrations of the French Revolution, making several speeches in French, including one at the top of the Eiffel Tower.
Gladstone traded somewhat on his age, and easily beguiled a new generation of politicians with tales of pre-1832 politics. To have met George Canning and to be still seeking office in 1892 was phenomenal by any standard, though privately he recognized just before his last general election: ‘Frankly: for the condition (now) of my senses, I am no longer fit for public life: yet bidden to walk in it. “Lead thou me on”’ (Gladstone, Diaries, 15 July 1892).
The Liberals won the general election of July 1892, being the largest party with 272 MPs and 49 per cent of the English votes. Gladstone's own vote in Midlothian, where he was opposed by A. G. Wauchope, fell sharply; his majority was only 690 (but he was unopposed at the by-election consequent on his taking office). He was hit on the left eye (his good one) while campaigning in Chester, his sight being affected for several months and his campaigning capacity considerably diminished. Aged eighty-two, he received on 15 August the queen's commission to form a government, a process not aided by a quite severe injury when he was knocked down by a mad cow in Hawarden Park on 29 August. He is the only person in British history to begin a premiership over the age of eighty. Disappointed by the election result, which gave a majority for home rule insufficient to force acceptance on the Lords, Gladstone considered dealing with Ireland by resolution rather than a bill, so as to have more time for British bills. He was dissuaded from this course by Lord Spencer and John Morley. He was initially preoccupied by the inaugural Romanes lecture, which he gave at Oxford on 24 October 1892 on medieval universities, and by a cabinet crisis over Buganda, Gladstone's support for British withdrawal being eventually frustrated by adroit manoeuvring by Lord Rosebery, the foreign secretary, and the appointment of Gerald Porter to write a report.
Gladstone prepared his second Government of Ireland Bill (this time there was no accompanying land bill) and brought it in on 13 February 1893. The financial clauses of the bill were bungled by the Treasury and had to be restructured, but the bill passed the Commons on 1 September 1893 after eighty-two sittings and an extended session. Gladstone personally took the bill through the committee stage in a remarkable feat of physical and mental endurance. In some respects this was a futile gesture—the bill was, as expected, summarily rejected by the Lords—but the passing of the bill, like the existence of the Liberal government itself, was an important reminder that imperial Britain was not inevitably unionist. Gladstone was keenly aware of this contribution, and used his last cabinet to give experience more rapidly than previously to men such as H. H. Asquith and James Bryce. To Gladstone's surprise Salisbury used the tory majority in the Lords not merely against home rule but significantly to alter or reject almost every major Liberal bill in the 1893 session. Gladstone initially hoped to dissolve on the question of the Lords' rejection of the Irish bill, but there was no support in cabinet for this course of action. He fussed more than in previous governments about small matters—the poet laureateship (for which John Ruskin was his somewhat bizarre preferred candidate), a dukedom for Lord Lansdowne—and his relations with the queen were worse than ever, despite his help to her over the royal grants question in 1889. Concern at what he saw as her maltreatment of him became a major Gladstonian preoccupation.
In December 1893 Gladstone was appalled by the draft defence estimates for 1894, which provided for a large expansion of the navy. Very close to resigning because of his inability to persuade the cabinet to reduce the navy estimates, he agreed to withdraw to Biarritz in January 1894, his colleagues hoping that he would there decide to retire. He returned in February without retiring and with no success on the estimates. His eyesight poor, his political position isolated, and the queen refusing to ease his way, Gladstone chaired the last of his 556 cabinets on 1 March 1894. It became known as the ‘blubbering cabinet’ from the tears of his colleagues, but Gladstone, John Morley noted, ‘sat quite composed and still. The emotion of the Cabinet did not gain him for an instant’ (Morley's diary, 1 March 1894; Matthew, Gladstone, 1875–1898, 354). He spoke for the last time in the Commons that afternoon—attacking the Lords—and resigned office on 3 March 1894. The queen did not ask his advice as to his successor. Gladstone declined a peerage, as he had also done in 1874 and 1885, and advised his wife to decline one also, as she did.
Retired at last, Gladstone completed his edition of The Works of Joseph Butler D.C.L. in two volumes, published by the Clarendon Press in 1896 together with his Studies Subsidiary to the Works of Bishop Butler. An unsuccessful operation for cataract in his right eye in May 1894 prevented him having to decide whether to attend Laura Thistlethwayte's funeral. Gladstone's final crusade was on behalf of the Armenians, with a speech in Liverpool on 24 September 1896, which drove Lord Rosebery to resign the leadership of the Liberal Party. At the end of that year Gladstone divided much of his capital between his children, as he had done at several earlier points in his life, for he agreed with Andrew Carnegie that property should be divested not inherited (though he clashed with Carnegie in excepting landed property from this maxim). Having done this, he made a new will and also a written declaration for his children's benefit recording his marital fidelity. He did this so as to deny rumours past and future about himself, Laura Thistlethwayte, and the rescue cases. On his birthday, 29 December 1896, he wrote the final entry of his diary. Suffering from as yet undiagnosed cancer of the palate, he wintered with Catherine Gladstone in Cannes in 1897–8, returning to Britain in March 1898. The cancer being diagnosed and publicly announced, Gladstone began a rather public death at Hawarden. He died there on Ascension day, 19 May 1898. The family accepted the offer of a state funeral and, after Gladstone's body had lain in state for three days in Westminster Hall, he was buried in the statesman's corner of Westminster Abbey on 28 May (Catherine Gladstone was buried in the double grave in 1900), simultaneous services being held in many British and overseas villages, towns, and cities. The ceremonies at Westminster were resolutely religious and civilian, with no imperial echoes. This last great set piece of Victorian Liberalism sent its own echo through the waning Liberal world.
Gladstone had touched Victorian public life at many points. Most important, from his own point of view, was his ownership and stewardship of the advowsons of St Thomas's, Toxteth, and St Thomas's, Seaforth; in 1890 he bought the advowson of Liverpool. He was a trustee of the British Museum from 1853, resigning as a personal trustee in 1881; a trustee of the Colonial Bishoprics Fund, and at times its treasurer, from 1841; a trustee of the Radcliffe Trust from 1855 to 1888, and its chairman from 1861 to 1888 (during which time the trust gave the Radcliffe Camera to the University of Oxford to be part of the Bodleian Library); a trustee of the Dee Embankment Trust from 1857, and of the River Dee Trust from 1856; and one of the two trustees appointed to handle the chaotic affairs of his friend the fifth duke of Newcastle. Gladstone was lord rector (an elected position) of the universities of Edinburgh (1859–65) and Glasgow (1877–80); he was on the council of King's College, London, from 1838, and of Trinity College, Glenalmond, from its foundation in 1845; and he was a governor of the Charterhouse and of Guy's Hospital, London. He was a freeman of Aberdeen (1871), Cardiff (1889), Dingwall (1853), Dublin (1877), Edinburgh (1853), Glasgow (1865), Hamilton (1879), Inverness (1853), Kirkwall (1883), Liverpool (1892), Newcastle (1891), and Perth (1879); as a freeman of the City of London (1876) through membership of the Turners' Company, he could not be an honorary freeman. He wrote the inscription for the Eros statue in Piccadilly and for various other public monuments and he restored the Mercat Cross in Edinburgh in 1885. DNB
Edward Travanyon haynes painted portraits and figurative subjects. He exhibited at the RA from 1865-1885 including portraits and work enitled "Dido" "The Moon shines Bright" and "Calypso deserted by Ulysses" He painted several portraits of Gladstone of which is one of them.