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- William Ewart Gladstone - 6/8 -


argument, were apt to awe people who knew him but slightly, and make them abandon resistance even when they were unconvinced. A gifted though somewhat erratic politician used to tell how he once fared when he had risen in the House of Commons to censure some act of the ministry. "I had not gone on three minutes when Gladstone turned round and gazed at me so that I had to sit down in the middle of a sentence. I could not help it. There was no standing his eye." But he neither meant nor wished to beat down his opponents by mere authority. One of the ablest of his private secretaries, who knew him as few people did, once observed: "When you are arguing with Mr. Gladstone, you must never let him think he has convinced you unless you are really convinced. Persist in repeating your view, and if you are unable to cope with him in skill of fence, say bluntly that for all his ingenuity and authority you think he is wrong, and you retain your own opinion. If he respects you as a man who knows something of the subject, he will be impressed by your opinion, and it will afterward have due weight with him." In his own cabinet he was willing to listen patiently to everybody's views, and, indeed, in the judgment of some of his colleagues, was not, at least in his later years, sufficiently strenuous in asserting and holding to his own. It is no secret that some of the most important decisions of the ministry of 1880-85 were taken against his judgment, though when they had been adopted he, of course, defended them in Parliament as if they had received his individual approval. Nor, although he was extremely resolute and tenacious, did he bear malice against those who foiled his plans. He would exert his full force to get his own way, but if he could not get it, he accepted the position with dignity and good temper. He was too proud to be vindictive, too completely master of himself to be betrayed, even when excited, into angry words. Whether he was unforgiving and overmindful of injuries, it was less easy to determine, but those who had watched him most closely held that mere opposition or even insult did not leave a permanent sting, and that the only thing he could not forget or forgive was faithlessness or disloyalty. Like his favorite poet, he put the traditori in the lowest pit, although, like all practical statesmen, he often found himself obliged to work with those whom he distrusted. His attitude toward his two chief opponents well illustrates this feature of his character. He heartily despised Disraeli, not because Disraeli had been in the habit of attacking him, as one could easily perceive from the way he talked of those attacks, but because he thought Disraeli habitually untruthful, and considered him to have behaved with incomparable meanness to Peel. Yet he never attacked Disraeli personally, as Disraeli often attacked him. There was another of his opponents of whom he entertained an especially bad opinion, but no one could have told from his speeches what that opinion was. For Lord Salisbury he seemed to have no dislike at all, though Lord Salisbury had more than once insulted him. On one occasion (in 1890) he remarked to a colleague who had said something about the prime minister's offensive language: "I have never felt angry at what Salisbury has said about me. His mother was very kind to me when I was quite a young man, and I remember Salisbury as a little fellow in a red frock rolling about on the ottoman." His leniency toward another violent tongue which frequently assailed him, that of Lord Randolph Churchill, was not less noteworthy.

That his temper was naturally hot, no one who looked at him could doubt. But he had it in such tight control, and it was so free from anything acrid or malignant, that it had become a good temper, worthy of a large and strong nature. With whatever vehemence he might express himself, there was nothing wounding or humiliating to others in this vehemence, the proof of which might be found in the fact that those younger men who had to deal with him were never afraid of a sharp answer or an impatient repulse. A distinguished man (the late Lord Chief Justice Coleridge), some ten years his junior, used to say that he had never feared but two persons, Mr. Gladstone and Cardinal Newman; but it was awe of their character that inspired this fear, for no one could cite an instance in which either of them had forgotten his dignity or been betrayed into a discourteous word. Of Mr. Gladstone especially it might be said that he was cast in too large a mold to have the pettiness of ruffled vanity or to abuse his predominance by treating any one else as an inferior. His manners were the manners of the old time, easy but stately. Like his oratory, they were in what Matthew Arnold used to call the grand style; and the contrast in this respect between him and most of those who crossed swords with him in literary or theological controversy was apparent. His intellectual generosity was a part of the same largeness of nature. He always cordially acknowledged his indebtedness to those who helped him in any piece of work; received their suggestions candidly, even when opposed to his own preconceived notions; did not hesitate to own a mistake if he had made one. Those who have abundant mental resources, and have conquered fame, can doubtless afford to be generous. Julius Caesar was, and George Washington, and so, in a different sphere, were Newton and Darwin. But the instances to the contrary are so numerous that one may say of magnanimity that it is among the rarest as well as the finest ornaments of character.

The essential dignity of his nature was never better seen than during the last few years of his life, after he had retired (in 1894) from Parliament and public life. He indulged in no vain regrets, nor was there any foundation for the rumors, so often circulated, that he thought of reentering the arena of strife. He spoke with no bitterness of those who had opposed, and sometimes foiled, him in the past. He gave vent to no disparaging criticisms on those who from time to time filled the place that had been his in the government of the country or the leadership of his party. Although his opinion on current questions was frequently solicited, he scarcely ever allowed it to be known, and never himself addressed the nation, except (as already mentioned) on behalf of what he deemed a sacred cause, altogether above party--the discharge by Britain of her duty to the victims of the Turk. As soon as an operation for cataract had enabled him to read or write for seven hours a day, he devoted himself with his old ardor to the preparation of an edition of Bishop Butler's works, resumed his multifarious reading, and filled up the interstices of his working- time with studies on Homer which he had been previously unable to complete. No trace of the moroseness of old age appeared in his manners or his conversation, nor did he, though profoundly grieved at some of the events which he witnessed, and owning himself disappointed at the slow advance made by some causes dear to him, appear less hopeful than in earlier days of the general progress of the world, or less confident in the beneficent power of freedom to promote the happiness of his country. The stately simplicity which had been the note of his private life seemed more beautiful than ever in this quiet evening of a long and sultry day. His intellectual powers were unimpaired, his thirst for knowledge undiminished. But a placid stillness had fallen upon him and his household; and in seeing the tide of his life begin slowly to ebb, one thought of the lines of his illustrious contemporary and friend:

such a tide as moving seems asleep, Too full for sound or foam, When that which drew from out the boundless deep Turns again home.

CHAPTER VI: SOCIAL QUALITIES

Adding these charms of manner to a memory of extraordinary strength and quickness and to an amazing vivacity and variety of mental force, any one can understand how fascinating Mr. Gladstone was in society. He enjoyed it to the last, talking as earnestly and joyously at eighty-five as he had done at twenty on every topic that came up, and exerting himself with equal zest, whether his interlocutor was an arch-bishop or a young curate. Though his party used to think that he overvalued the political influence of the great Whig houses and gave them more than their fair share of honors and appointments, no one was personally more free from that taint of snobbishness which is so frequently charged upon Englishmen. He gave the best he had to everybody alike, paying to men of learning and letters a respect which they seldom receive from English politicians or social magnates. And although he was scrupulously observant of all the rules of precedence and conventions of social life, it was easy to see that neither rank nor wealth had that importance in his eyes which the latter, especially nowadays, commands in London. Dispensing titles and decorations with a liberal hand, his pride always refused such so-called honors for himself. When Mr. Disraeli became Earl of Beaconsfield, his smile had a touch of contempt in it as he observed, "I cannot forgive him for not having made himself a duke."

It was often said of him that he lacked humor; but this was only so far true that he was apt to throw into small matters a force and moral earnestness which ordinary people thought needless, and to treat seriously opponents whom a little light sarcasm would have better reduced to their insignificance. In private he was wont both to tell and enjoy good stories; while in Parliament, though his tone was generally earnest, he would occasionally display such effective powers of banter and ridicule as to make people wonder why they were so rarely put forth. A great deal of what passes in London for humor is mere cynicism, and he hated cynicism so heartily as to dislike even humor when it had a touch of cynical flavor. Wit he enjoyed, but did not produce. The turn of his mind was not to brevity and point and condensation. He sometimes struck off a telling phrase, but never polished an epigram. His conversation was luminous rather than sparkling; you were interested and instructed while you listened, but the words seldom dwelt in your memory.

After the death of Thomas Carlyle he was beyond dispute the best talker in London, and a talker far more agreeable than either Carlyle or Macaulay, inasmuch as he was no less ready to listen than to speak, and never wearied the dinner-table by a monologue. His simplicity, his spontaneity, his genial courtesy, as well as the vast fund of knowledge and of personal recollections at his command, made him extremely popular in society, so that his opponents used to say that it was dangerous to meet him, because one might be forced to leave off hating him. He was, perhaps, too prone to go on talking upon one subject which happened to fill his mind at the moment; nor was it easy to divert his attention to something else which others might deem more important. Those who stayed with him in the same country house sometimes complained that the perpetual display of force and eagerness fatigued them, as one tires of watching the rush of Niagara. His guests, however, did not feel this, for his own home life was quiet and smooth. He read and wrote a good many hours daily, but never sat up late, almost always slept soundly, never missed early morning service at the parish church, never seemed oppressed or driven to strain his strength. With all his impetuosity, he was remarkably regular, systematic, and deliberate in his habits and ways of doing business. A swift reader and a surprisingly swift writer, he was always occupied, and was skilful in using even the scraps and fragments of his time. No pressure of work made him fussy or fidgety, nor could any one remember to have seen him in a hurry.


William Ewart Gladstone - 6/8

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