Page:Dictionary of National Biography. Sup. Vol II (1901).djvu/301

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Gladstone
Gladstone
289

the board and the first secretary of state for India. He declined it, however, and this was the last offer he received from the tories.

Gladstone had now been more than three years out of office, and the fruits of his comparative leisure appeared in his 'Studies on Homer and the Homeric age' (Oxford, 3 vols. 1858). Although Gladstone never attained, nor deserved, the same celebrity as a writer which he enjoyed as an orator, he was indefatigable with his pen, and had been for some years a pretty regular contributor to the 'Quarterly Review,' as he became long afterwards to the 'Contemporary Review,' the 'Nineteenth Century,' and other periodicals. It was in the 'Quarterly' that he first wrote on the subject of Homer, being induced to do so by the destructive criticisms of Lachmann upon the integrity of Homer's text. The book on Homer is one of the most extraordinary that have ever been composed by a man of affairs. It is a monument of erudition, of eloquence, of literary criticism, of poetic taste, and of speculations the most fantastic in which a student could indulge. Gladstone was a thorough scholar in the old-fashioned sense of the term. He knew the Greek and Latin classics as well as they could be known by any one who had not devoted his life to their study — as well as Pitt, or Fox, or Peel, or Macaulay, or Lord Derby. In his accurate and minute acquaintance with Homer he was unsurpassed. He was not, however, content with expounding the Homeric poems. He made a whole series of assumptions, and from them he deduced inferences subtle and unsubstantial. He assumed that Homer was an actual person, that he was the sole author both of the 'Iliad ' and of the 'Odyssey,' and that the whole text of those poems is equally genuine. He put into Homer's mind, or into the minds of the ballad-mongers who, as some think, are called by that collective name, ideas which were utterly alien to the Greek mind. He saw in Zeus, Poseidon, and Hades an analogue of the Trinity. He connected the Homeric Ate with the devil, and he regarded Apollo as a 'representative of the Messianic tradition that the seed of the woman should crush the serpent's head.' To the comparative philologist, to the scientific mythologist, and to the merely secular scholar, these ideas are meaningless. But the work remains a marvellous example of deep and even sublime meditation upon all that is contained or is suggested by the greatest epic poems of the world.

It was said to be partly in consequence of this book, and of the enthusiasm for modern Greece expressed in it, that, in November 1858, Sir Edward Lytton, secretary for the colonies, entrusted Gladstone with a special mission to the Ionian Islands. These seven islands, of which Corfu is the chief, had been under a British protectorate since the peace of 1815. That they were well administered was not denied; but they had a strong desire for union with Greece, and their discontent became so serious that the government felt it necessary to make inquiry into its origin. Gladstone visited the islands, and did his best to discourage the agitation by promising them a larger measure of self-government under English rule. But there was only one thing they wanted, and a proposal for incorporation with the Greek kingdom was carried unanimously by the legislative assembly at Corfu. Gladstone left Corfu on 19 Feb. 1859 and duly reported what he had seen. But it was not till 1864, when King Otho abdicated and was succeeded by King George, that the islands finally became Greek.

On 28 Feb. 1859 Disraeli, now for the second time chancellor of the exchequer and leader of the House of Commons, brought in his first reform bill, which was of the mildest possible character. It extended the 10l. franchise from boroughs to counties, and it introduced the first form of the lodger vote. But it ignored the working classes, while it proposed some new and fancy franchises. On the second reading of the bill (20 March) Lord John Russell proposed a hostile amendment, against which Gladstone spoke. He did not approve of the bill, which he considered totally inadequate. But he defended with unexpected vigour the maintenance of pocket boroughs, and he expressly declined to give a vote which might have the effect of turning out Lord Derby's administration. His advocacy of the government was, however, unsuccessful. On 1 April the house divided, and the second reading of the bill was rejected by a majority of thirty-nine. On 20 April Lord Derby and Disraeli announced the dissolution of parliament. The policy of this dissolution was severely criticised, and Gladstone was among the critics. But though he himself was again returned without opposition for Oxford, the government gained a considerable number of seats. They did not, however, gain enough. The liberal party, after the election, had a small but a sufficient majority, and they all agreed to act together. The new parliament met on 31 May, the queen's speech was read on 7 June, and a vote of no confidence in the government, moved as an amendment to the address by Lord Hartington (afterwards