Page:Dictionary of National Biography. Sup. Vol II (1901).djvu/339

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Gladstone
Gladstone
327

time, would make anybody laugh. One is his satirical description of Lord Palmerston's attitude to reform in 1859. The other is his reply to Mr. Chaplin's personal attack in 1877. Gladstone's favourite form of recreation was turning from one kind of mental employment to another. He was an omnivorous reader of ancient and modern languages, prose and poetry, history and biography, sermons and novels. In the 'Temple of Peace,' as he called his ample library at Hawarden, he was always happy. As a young man he rode and shot, though he never became a sportsman. He cared little for games. Chess he thought too serious for an amusement, but he sometimes played whist with concentration. His favourite pastime of cutting down trees was begun in the woods of Clumber, which he inspected as the Duke of Newcastle's trustee. Till after seventy he was a great walker, and no stretch, however long, seemed to tire him. Wordsworth's plain living and high thinking was Gladstone's standard. His father left him a sufficient fortune, which exempted him from the necessity of adopting any other profession than politics. Hawarden Castle, his Welsh home, belonged to his wife's brother, Sir Stephen Richard Glynne, and, after Sir Stephen died unmarried in 1874, to Mrs. Gladstone for her life. His habits were simple and domestic. He was a regular church-goer, even on weekdays, and on Sundays he usually read the lessons. He was frugal without being abstemious, but against luxury and ostentation he set his face. He spent a large proportion of his income on books, and gave away a still larger one in charity. But he had enough of the commercial spirit to drive a good bargain, and was in all respects an excellent man of business. He was not, however, in the ordinary sense, a man of the world. He approached moral questions rather as a clergyman than as a layman, and in dealing with individuals he wanted the tact which he displayed in dealing with assemblies. He had a bad memory for faces, and he did not always pay the personal attention which political followers of the less elevated kind expect. His power was over masses ; and no one quite knows what he was who has not heard him address a great public meeting. Even in the House of Commons,though he almost always delighted it, and at times roused it to such enthusiasm as no one else could elicit, he often provoked antagonism which he might have avoided. He could not, as Disraeli said that Peel could, play upon the house like an old fiddle. Having entered public life a tory, and left it a radical, Gladstone was naturally accused of being an 'opportunist,' or, in plain English, a time-server. Such an accusation is inconsistent with his character, except on the hypothesis that he was a conscious and deliberate hypocrite. It has been rather more plausibly contended that he had no fixed principles in politics. But, independently of other considerations, this theory ignores economy and finance, in which he never substantially changed. He was always in favour of peace and retrenchment. He had to be converted to reform. The great plunge of his life, the sudden, or seemingly sudden, adoption of home rule, he himself explained. By arguments which to him were satisfactory, but which drew upon him the shaft of Lowell's wit ('lifelong convictions to extemporise'), he showed that his opinions forced him to become a home-ruler when five-sixths of the Irish people were so, and home rule could be given to Ireland without endangering the unity of the empire. Whether it would endanger that unity was the great question, and there can be no doubt that Gladstone sincerely held it would not. The charge of precipitation is, from his point of view, not a charge at all. Lord Randolph Churchill's phrase, 'an old man in a hurry,' was rough and rude in form, but in substance it was neither unfair nor untrue. Gladstone himself confessed that he had been in a hurry for forty years. Gladstone thought that a great national emergency calling for prompt action had arisen, and that he at seventy-six must cope with it. He could not have expected that he would live to be eighty-eight. There was at least one sphere in which Gladstone's mind did not fluctuate. From the straight line of orthodox Christianity he never swerved by the breadth of a hair. The Christian religion guided every day and every act of his life. He was, as Lord Salisbury said after his death, 'a great Christian man.' As an orator Gladstone's only contemporary rival was John Bright. But it is difficult to compare them. Gladstone was always speaking, and usually had to speak, whether he liked it or not. Bright could choose his own subject and his own time. Bright's style was simpler, and his English purer, than Gladstone's ; but his range was much narrower, he seldom argued, and he never debated. Gladstone was great in parliament, great on a platform, great even in those occasional addresses on miscellaneous topics which are apt to drive the most paradoxical into platitude. There was no audience which he could not charm, none to which he did not instinctively adapt himself. His fault as an orator was a tendency to diffusive-