A Short Biographical Dictionary of English Literature/Gladstone, William Ewart

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search

Gladstone, William Ewart (1809-1898). -- Statesman, scholar, and man of letters, fourth s. of Sir John G., a merchant in Liverpool, was of Scottish ancestry. He was ed. at Eton and Christ Church, Oxf. From his youth he was deeply interested in religious and ecclesiastical questions, and at one time thought of entering the Church. In 1832 he entered Parliament as a Tory, and from the first gave evidence of the splendid talents for debate and statesmanship, especially in the department of finance, which raised him to the position of power and influence which he afterwards attained. After holding the offices of Pres. of the Board of Trade, Colonial Sec., and Chancellor of the Exchequer, he attained the position of Prime Minister, which he held four times 1868-74, 1880-85, 1885-86, and 1892-93. His political career was one of intense energy and activity in every department of government, especially after he became Prime Minister, and while it gained him the enthusiastic page 159applause and devotion of a large portion of the nation, it exposed him to a correspondingly intense opposition on the part of another. The questions which involved him in the greatest conflicts of his life and evoked his chief efforts of intellect were the disestablishment of the Irish Church, the foreign policy of his great rival Disraeli, and Home Rule for Ireland, on the last of which the old Liberal party was finally broken up. In the midst of political labours which might have been sufficient to absorb even his tireless energy, he found time to follow out and write upon various subjects which possessed a life-long interest for him. His first book was The State in its Relations with the Church (1839), which formed the subject of one of Macaulay's essays. Studies on Homer and the Homeric Age (1858), Juventus Mundi (1869), and Homeric Synchronism (1876), The Impregnable Rock of Holy Scripture (1890), The Vatican Decrees and Vaticanism (1874-75), and Gleanings of Past Years (1897), 8 vols., were his other principal contributions to literature. G.'s scholarship, though sound and even brilliant, was of an old-fashioned kind, and his conclusions on Homeric questions have not received much support from contemporary scholars. In his controversies with Huxley and others his want of scientific knowledge and of sympathy with modern scientific tendencies placed him at a disadvantage. His character was a singularly complex one, and his intellect possessed a plasticity which made it possible to say of him that he never was anything, but was always becoming something. His life was a singularly noble and stainless one, and he must probably ever remain one of the great figures in the history of his country.

Life by J. Morley (3 vols.), others by J. M'Carthy, Sir Wemyss Reid, and many others.