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- William Ewart Gladstone - 5/8 -

imagination of the audience and held it spellbound, lifting for a moment the whole subject of debate into a region far above party conflicts. Spoken by any one else, the passage culminating in these Lucretian lines might have produced little effect. It was the voice and manner, above all the voice, with its marvelous modulations, that made the speech majestic.

Yet one must not forget to add that with him, as with some other famous statesmen, the impression made by a speech was in a measure due to the admiring curiosity and wonder which his personality inspired. He was so much the most interesting human being in the House of Commons that, when he withdrew, many members said that the place had lost half its attraction for them, and that the chamber seemed empty because he was not in it. Plenty of able men remained. But even the ablest seemed ordinary, perhaps even commonplace, when compared with the figure that had vanished, a figure in whom were combined, as in no other man of his time, an unrivaled experience, an extraordinary activity and versatility of intellect, a fervid imagination, and an indomitable will.


Though Mr. Gladstone's oratory was a main source of his power, both in Parliament and over the people, the effort of his enemies to represent him as a mere rhetorician will seem absurd to the historian who reviews his whole career. The mere rhetorician adorns and popularizes the ideas which have originated with others, he advocates policies which others have devised; he follows and expresses the sentiments which already prevail in his party. He may help to destroy; he does not construct. Mr. Gladstone was himself a source of new ideas and new policies; he evoked new sentiments or turned sentiments into new channels. He was a constructive statesman not less conspicuously than Pitt, Canning, and Peel. If the memory of his oratorical triumphs were to pass completely away, he would deserve to be remembered in respect of the mark he left upon the British statute-book and of the changes he wrought both in the constitution of his country and in her European policy. To describe the acts he carried would almost be to write the history of recent British legislation; to pass a judgment upon their merits would be foreign to the scope of this sketch: it is only to three remarkable groups of measures that reference can here be made.

The first of these three groups includes the financial reforms embodied in a series of fourteen budgets between the years 1853 and 1882, the most famous of which were the budgets of 1853 and 1860. In the former Mr. Gladstone continued the work begun by Peel by reducing and simplifying the customs duties. The deficiency in revenue thus caused was supplied by the enactment of less oppressive imposts, and particularly by resettling the income tax, and by the introduction of a succession duty on real estate. The preparation and passing of this very technical and intricate Succession Duty Act was a most laborious enterprise, of which Mr. Gladstone used to speak as the severest mental strain he had ever undergone.

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The budget of 1860, among other changes, abolished the paper duty, an immense service to the press, which excited the hostility of the House of Lords. They threw out the measure, but in the following year Mr. Gladstone forced them to submit. His achievements in the field of finance equal, if they do not surpass, those of Peel, and are not tarnished, as in the case of Pitt, by the recollection of burdensome wars. To no minister can so large a share in promoting the commercial and industrial prosperity of modern England, and in the reduction of her national debt, be ascribed.

The second group includes the two great parliamentary reform bills of 1866 and 1884 and the Redistribution Bill of 1885. The first of these was defeated in the House of Commons, but it led to the passing next year of an even more comprehensive bill--a bill which, though passed by Mr. Disraeli, was to some extent dictated by Mr. Gladstone, as leader of the opposition. Of these three statutes taken together, it may be said that they have turned Britain into a democratic country, changing the character of her government almost as profoundly as did the Reform Act of 1832.

The third group consists of a series of Irish measures, beginning with the Church Disestablishment Act of 1869, and including the Land Act of 1870, the University Education Bill of 1873 (defeated in the House of Commons), the Land Act of 1881, and the home-rule bills of 1886 and 1893. All these were in a special manner Mr. Gladstone's handiwork, prepared as well as brought in and advocated by him. All were highly complicated, and of one--the Land Act of 1881, which it took three months to carry through the House of Commons--it was said that so great was its intricacy that only three men understood it-- Mr. Gladstone himself, his Attorney-General for Ireland, and Mr. T. M. Healy. So far from shrinking from, he seemed to revel in, the toil of mastering an infinitude of technical details. Yet neither did he want boldness and largeness of conception. The Home-Rule Bill of 1886 was nothing less than a new constitution for Ireland, and in all but one of its most essential features had been practically worked out by himself more than four months before it was presented to Parliament.

Of the other important measures passed while he was prime minister, two deserve special mention, the Education Act of 1870 and the Local-Government Act of 1894. Neither of these, however, was directly his work, though he took a leading part in piloting the former through the House of Commons.

His action in the field of foreign policy, though it was felt only at intervals, was on several occasions momentous, and has left abiding results in European history. In 1851, he being then still a Tory, his powerful pamphlet against the Bourbon government of Naples, and the sympathy he subsequently avowed with the national movement in Italy, gave that movement a new standing in Europe by powerfully recommending it to English opinion. In 1870 the prompt action of his government, in concluding a treaty for the neutrality of Belgium on the outbreak of the war between France and Germany, saved Belgium from being drawn into the strife. In 1871, by concluding the treaty of Washington, which provided for the settlement of the Alabama claims, he not only asserted a principle of the utmost value, but delivered England from what would have been, in case of her being at war with any European power, a danger fatal to her ocean commerce. And, in 1876, the vigorous attack he made on the Turks after the Bulgarian massacre roused an intense feeling in England, so turned the current of opinion that Disraeli's ministry were forced to leave the Sultan to his fate, and thus became the cause of the deliverance of Bulgaria, Eastern Rumelia, Bosnia, and Thessaly from Mussulman tyranny. Few English statesmen have equally earned the gratitude of the oppressed.

Nothing lay nearer to his heart than the protection of the Eastern Christians. His sense of personal duty to them was partly due to the feeling that the Crimean War had prolonged the rule of the Turk, and had thus imposed a special responsibility on Britain, and on the statesmen who formed the cabinet which undertook that war. Twenty years after the agitation of 1876, and when he had finally retired from Parliament and political life, the massacres perpetrated by the Sultan on his Armenian subjects brought him once more into the field, and his last speech in public (delivered at Liverpool in the autumn of 1896) was a powerful argument in favor of British intervention to rescue the Eastern Christians. In the following spring he followed this up by a spirited pamphlet on behalf of the freedom of Crete. In neither of these two cases did success crown his efforts, for the government, commanding a large majority in Parliament, pursued the course it had already entered on. Many poignant regrets were expressed in England that Mr. Gladstone was no longer able to take practical action in the cause of humanity; yet it was a consolation to have the assurance that his sympathies with that cause had been nowise dulled by age and physical infirmity.

That he was right in the view he took of the Turks and British policy in 1876-78 has been now virtually admitted even by his opponents. That he was also right in 1896 and 1897, when urging action to protect the Eastern Christians, will probably be admitted ten years hence, when partizan passion has cooled. In both cases it was not merely religious sympathy, but also a far-sighted view of policy that governed his judgment. The only charge that can fairly be brought against his conduct in foreign, and especially in Eastern, affairs is, that he did not keep a sufficiently watchful eye upon them at all times, but frequently allowed himself to be so engrossed by British domestic questions as to lose the opportunity which his tenure of power from time to time gave him of averting approaching dangers. Those who know how tremendous is the strain which the headship of a cabinet and the leadership of the House of Commons impose will understand, though they will not cease to regret, this omission.

Such a record is the best proof of the capacity for initiative which belonged to him and in which men of high oratorical gifts have often been wanting. In the Neapolitan case, in the Alabama case, in the Bulgarian case, no less than in the adoption of the policy of a separate legislature and executive for Ireland, he acted from his own convictions, with no suggestion of encouragement from his party; and in the last instances--those of Ireland and of Bulgaria--he took a course which seemed to the English political world so novel and even startling that no ordinary statesman would have ventured on it.

His courage was indeed one of the most striking parts of his character. It was not the rashness of an impetuous nature, for, impetuous as he was when stirred by some sudden excitement, he was wary and cautious whenever he took a deliberate survey of the conditions that surrounded him. It was the proud self-confidence of a strong character, which was willing to risk fame and fortune in pursuing a course it had once resolved upon; a character which had faith in its own conclusions, and in the success of a cause consecrated by principle; a character which obstacles did not affright or deter, but rather roused to a higher combative energy. Few English statesmen have done anything so bold as was Mr. Gladstone's declaration for Irish home rule in 1886. He took not only his political power but the fame and credit of his whole past life in his hand when he set out on this new journey at seventy- seven years of age; for it was quite possible that the great bulk of his party might refuse to follow him, and he be left exposed to derision as the chief of an insignificant group. It turned out that the great bulk of the party did follow him, though many of the most influential and socially important refused to do so. But neither Mr. Gladstone nor any one else could have foretold this when his intentions were first announced.

Two faults natural to a strong man and an excitable man were commonly charged on him--an overbearing disposition and an irritable temper. Neither charge was well founded. Masterful he certainly was, both in speech and in action. His ardent manner, the intensity of his look, the dialectical vigor with which he pressed an

William Ewart Gladstone - 5/8

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