Page:Modern Parliamentary Eloquence.djvu/33

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Modern Parliamentary Eloquence

It was then that one understood Disraeli's bitter phrase about the "sophistical rhetorician inebriated with the exuberance of his own verbosity," or Mr. Forster's sardonic remark, "The right hon. gentleman can persuade other people of almost anything, he can persuade himself of absolutely anything." I recall a phrase of that incorrigible cynic Labouchere, alluding to Mr. Gladstone's frequent appeals to a higher power, that 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. I remember, too, how sensitive he was to attack, how easily drawn, how lacking in proportion in his treatment of smaller men and things. These were the foibles of a great intellect, the antithesis to transcendant powers. But they did not obscure the general impression of a noble personality, aglow with ardour, and magnificent in courage.

His greatest speeches.Among the earlier speeches of Mr. Gladstone, long before my day, I have always thought one of the finest was that delivered on the second reading of the abortive Reform Bill of 1866, when he quoted from the Æneid, as to his reception by the Liberal Party, and concluded with the words:

"The banner which we now carry in this fight, though perhaps at some moment it may droop over our sinking heads, soon again will float in the eye of heaven, and will be borne by the firm hands of the united people of the three kingdoms, perhaps not to an easy, but to a certain and a not far distant victory."

But according to Mr. Balfour and other authorities cited by Lord Morley, the peroration of the speech about Montenegro and Bulgaria in May, 1877, must have been a not inferior deliverance. In the latter part of Mr Gladstone's life the speech to which all who heard it gave the palm was the speech on April 26th, 1880, on the Affirmation Bill, introduced to deal with the case of Mr. Bradlaugh. In this speech occurred the famous quotation from Lucretius to which I have before referred; but the passage in which it was enshrined was one that no other living Parliamentarian could have spoken, and that touched the highest point of exalted sentiment and intellectual reasoning. Few of those who heard it could follow the