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24
Modern Parliamentary Eloquence

of being followed by him, in debate. Before I obtained a seat in the House I had frequently listened to him from the Gallery. Although he had nearly reached the age of seventy years at the time of which I speak, and was almost the sole survivor of a generation of giants that had passed away, his strength was not abated nor his eloquence dimmed. I heard him introduce the first Home Rule Bill in a speech three-and-a-half hours in length, I heard all his great speeches on both Home Rule Bills, and every considerable speech during the last decade of his Parliamentary life. I even heard him propose a toast at a wedding breakfast.

While this great and famous figure was in the House of Commons the House had eyes for no other person. His movements on the bench, restless and eager, his demeanour when on his legs, whether engaged in answering a simple question, expounding an intricate Bill, or thundering in vehement declamation, his dramatic gestures, his deep and rolling voice with its wide compass and marked northern accent, his flashing eye, his almost incredible command of ideas and words, made a combination of irresistible fascination and power. We who sat opposite him in his later years saw in him the likeness, now of an old eagle, fearless in his gaze and still exultant in his strength, now of some winged creature of prey, swooping down upon a defenceless victim, now of a tiger, suddenly aroused from his lair and stalking abroad in his anger. Mr. Gladstone seemed to me to be master of every art of eloquence and rhetoric. He could be passionate or calm, solemn or volatile, lucid or involved, grave or humorous (with a heavy sort of banter), persuasive or denunciatory, pathetic or scornful, at will. It is true that his copiousness was sometimes overpowering and his subtlety at moments almost Satanic.[1]

  1. Mr. Gladstone's extreme subtlety was the source of a popular joke at his expense during the visit of Garibaldi to London in 1864. The marked attentions of a noble widow to Garibaldi having suggested that she had matrimonial intentions, it was objected that the Italian patriot was already married, whereupon the ready answer was made, "Oh, he must get Gladstone to explain her away."