The Queen and Mr. Gladstone

Rt. Hon. William Ewart Gladstone

"His friends lived in dread of his virtues," were the words with which, after alluding to the splendour of his eloquence, unaffected piety, and blameless life, one of the most brilliant of his contemporaries summed up Mr. Gladstone's character as it appeared to men nearly half-a-century ago.

Mr. Gladstone, the writer says, was celebrated far and wide for a more than common liveliness of conscience, and "his friends lived in dread of his virtues." This sally, true of him in his political youth, does not inaptly describe the Mr. Gladstone familiar to all who have known him, and contains the secret of his extraordinary influence, of his strength and weakness, and of his successes and failures. After his retirement from office rather than sanction a grant of public funds to a Catholic college, and his subsequent speech in favour of that very measure, men mocked and marvelled; but the key to the riddle was under their hand. Sensitiveness to public criticism there was none. Mr. Gladstone has never regarded the opinion of the world so long as he could justify himself to his own lively conscience. He had held views, and published them, incompatible with a proposal he was now conscious of approving on grounds previously unconsidered. He was, however, a member of the Government, and unlike Lord Althorp, who, every morning he awoke, when in office, wished himself dead, to Mr. Gladstone power and responsibilities were a temptation. Was it certain that he was sincere in his approval of this policy? Was it certain that he was unbiassed by his position in the Government, and his desire to retain it? His lively conscience searched him through, and he answered the question by resigning his office.

When he was found, as an independent member, supporting the policy he had quitted the Ministry rather than sanction, men laughed, and ever after his friends lived in dread of his virtues. At the same time, his uncommon liveliness of conscience became an established article of faith with those classes of his countrymen to whom conscience is the voice of God, and they gathered round this young man with a faith in his integrity of character which for two generations has never wavered. "Everybody detests Gladstone," wrote Charles Greville in 1857, to whom everybody meant the small coterie of clubmen and drawing-room politicians among whom he habitually moved. London Society, headed by Lord Palmerston, mistrusted Mr. Gladstone, and feared his character. Palmerston "rarely spoke severely of any one," Lord Shaftesbury recorded in his journal: "Bright and Gladstone are the only two of whom he uses strong language." It is a curious commentary upon the tone of Lord Palmerston's mind and the state of feeling he represented that the two statesmen he excepted from his universal charity should have been supreme among those who have established a claim on the affection of the Enghsh-speaking world. If more than thirty years ago Society could conceive of no loftier motive to account for Mr. Gladstone's hostility to the Irish Church Establishment than "greed of office," London Society has remained constant to the ideals and judgments of that time, so that Lady Waterford's view, expressed then, would carry to her correspondent no stronger conviction than it would today, when she exclaimed, "I have known Mr. Gladstone all my life, and believe in his particularly tender conscientiousness (Canning always said this), and in his justice and feeling of right. Only trust." It was this demand for "trust" that people accustomed to the parliamentary game, to government based on the corruption of constituencies and parliamentary finesse, found then and have found since so difficult to accord. Yet popular instinct has applied to Mr. Gladstone a very different standard. In early days shrewd observers noted that there never was a man so genuinely admired for his earnestness, his deep popular sympathies, and his unflinching courage, and never a man more deeply hated, both for his good points and for his undeniable defects and failings. These were admitted by those who knew and loved him to be his fierceness, his wrath, his irritability, his want of knowledge of men, and his rashness of speech. They explain how it came to pass that he was "loved much less in the House than out of doors," and why it was that the "heart of all Israel was towards him," beyond and not within the precincts of Westminster and St. James Street. Want of knowledge of men is a defect from which any statesman is bound to suffer much tribulation, and in Mr. Gladstone has never been altogether compensated by his unrivalled knowledge of mankind. The contrast here between him and his great rival was marked, and there seemed an almost curiously providential equalising of forces in "how each was seeing and how each was blind," so that if Lord Beaconsfield "knew not mankind, but keenly knew all men," Mr. Gladstone, if he "knew nought of men, yet knew and loved mankind." If knowledge of men is often little more than a clear perception of their weakness, knowledge of mankind is the capacity to feel and evoke their nobler aspirations. It is this latter power which has given Mr. Gladstone his enormous personal influence over the sober-minded and sincerely religious masses of his countrymen, and which would have prompted them to applaud the late Dean of St. Paul's, who, when some clergyman happened to assert in his presence that Mr. Gladstone was a thoroughly insincere man, rose from his chair, pale with emotion, exclaiming, evidently with the strongest suppression of personal feeling, "Insincere! Sir, I tell you that to my knowledge Mr. Gladstone goes from communion with God to the great aifairs of State."

It is difficult to realise, at this period of the Queen's long reign, that Mr. Gladstone alone among living servants of the Crown can carry memory and experience back before the days of her accession. Of the relatives and courtiers grouped about the throne in 1837 all have passed away; of the Privy Councillors before whom she took the Oath of her high office not one remains. He is the one living man whose political experience stretches beyond that of the Queen. His is the one figure that for a longer period than that of the Queen has filled the political stage. Sixty-three years have passed since King William, writing to the Leader of the House of Commons, rejoiced "that a young member has come forward in so promising a manner, as Viscount Althorp states Mr. W. E. Gladstone to have done." The Queen was then a child of fourteen, but already, in the not unfriendly eyes of a political opponent, the figure of Mr. Gladstone loomed sufficiently large to form a topic of correspondence between the King and his Chancellor of the Exchequer, while during the whole of the intervening period, for two generations, that figure has loomed larger in the eyes of his countrymen, until his personality at last bade fair to destroy the balance of political life. No one, with the exception of George the Third, has ever been for so long a period reckoned a political force in England. Of precedents in government and of experience in administration, the Queen and Mr. Gladstone alone hold the living record. His retirement has left her supreme in these respects. To her authority and recollection no Minister is able now effectually to oppose the weight of his own; and although she may receive their constitutionally tendered advice, the Queen must inevitably in future assume towards her Ministers an attitude not unlike that which a mother assumes towards her children.

In all the manifold changes of her reign Mr. Gladstone has borne a part, and not a few he has himself assisted to promote. Alone, among conspicuous Englishmen, he can accompany the Queen back to days when her subjects wore beaver hats and travelled in post-chaises, when Australia was as bleak as Mashonaland, and the Indian Empire a Chartered Company. Should the suspicion, not altogether groundless, that Mr. Gladstone's desire has been to restrict Imperial growth, and to limit the responsibilities of Englishmen to these islands, ever have penetrated the mind of the Queen, she cannot avoid remembering that for over sixty years he has served the Crown, that he has held high office longer than any statesman of her reign, and that within the margin of his career Great Britain has more than doubled in extent, population, and wealth.

When the Queen stepped from her schoolroom at Kensington to the throne, Mr. Gladstone was not only a tried politician but had already served the Crown as a Minister. He had witnessed the last use of a monarch's prerogative to dismiss and replace Ministers. By that act he himself had profited, and had been initiated into the mysteries of office. By the side of this girl Sovereign he must have felt old and experienced. It seemed to him years since he had walked from the Christopher at Eton to the corner of Keat's Lane, with the hand of Canning resting on his shoulder; for Mr. Canning had been Prime Minister since that time, and for ten years had lain in Westminster Abbey. Arthur Hallam, his friend and Eton messmate, was dead too, and already boyhood seemed far behind. While the Queen was learning the alphabet of statecraft under the kindly tutelage of Lord Melbourne, the young man who was to be for many years her Minister had been already remarked by Bunsen as "the first man in England in intellectual power," had attracted the notice of Carlyle as "a certain Mr. Gladstone, an Oxford prize scholar, Tory M.P., and devout Churchman of great talent and hope," and had been described by Macaulay in words which are familiar to every schoolboy. While the mind of the Queen was broadening under the influence and liberal teaching of Peel and Prince Albert, Mr. Gladstone was rapidly shelling off the Tory husk, with which he had found himself by birth and education encased. Already he had begun to discover that he was moving fast away from the associates of his first youth. His critics noticed that he was allied with men who felt differently, thought differently, and spoke differently from him on questions of the highest moment, and proffered the well-worn explanation that he continued to act with them in order to retain office. "His pubhc life" appeared to Lord Shaftesbury, who was opposed to him on many high questions of politics and dogma, "a prolonged effort to retain his principles and yet not lose his position." The truth was, however, that Mr. Gladstone was coming to see that every sound politician and conscientious thinker must sooner or later subject himself to the imputation of inconsistency; that a statesmanlike mind, as Lowell once said, is like a navigable river, making noble bends of concession, seeking ever the broad levels of opinion, and that "the foolish and the dead alone never change their opinion." The young man, who lived in the Albany, and used to ride in the Row on a gray mare, with a "hat, narrow brimmed, high up in the centre of his head, sustained by a crop of thick curly hair," in appearance, according to Lord Malmesbury, not unlike a Roman ecclesiastic, the public advocate of transcendental Erastianism in a militant form, had much to learn and unlearn." That young man will ruin his fine political career if he persists in writing trash like this," Sir Robert Peel had observed when glancing through Mr. Gladstone's book on Church and State; and it was from Sir Robert Peel that Mr. Gladstone, teachable and progressive, then as since, acquired the prescience of Prince Bismarck's maxim that a statesman should serve his country as circumstances require, and not as his own opinions, which are often prejudices, dictate.

Mr. Gladstone's long political career may be roughly divided into two nearly equal portions. It was said of Canning that he was a statesman of conservative opinions and liberal sympathies; and when Bishop Wilberforce, reversing the epigram, wrote of Mr. Gladstone that his sympathies were with the Conservatives and his opinions with the Liberals, it certainly would seem, as the two halves of his life fall into historical perspective, that for the first thirty years and odd, his opinions were constantly struggling to obtain the mastery of his sympathies, whereas in the latter half his sympathies were allowed their proper function of tempering his opinions. The well-remembered opening phrase of his speech at Manchester, after Oxford had discarded him, "At last I am come among you, and am come among you unmuzzled," seems to mark the point at which Mr. Gladstone ceased to be a Peelite, and attained his completeness as the leader of the Liberal party. At the moment, so severe was the wrench from old associations, his career seemed to him to lie behind rather than before him. He had "followed to the grave almost all the friends abreast of whom he had started from the University," and when he laid stress on the fact that "it was hard to find in our whole history a single man who had been permitted to reach the fortieth year of a course of labour similar to his own within the walls of the House of Commons, he little foresaw that he had still before him thirty years of arduous polemics, the most fruitful and the most distinguished years of his long political life.

It was as a trusted lieutenant of Sir Robert Peel that Mr. Gladstone had first come in contact with the Queen, and he cannot have failed in the early days of her married life to have attracted the attention of both herself and Prince Albert. Half-a-century ago Mr. Gladstone was at Windsor Castle on a visit, and "all the ladies were quarrelling for who would have him as a neighbour," while the lady who noted the fact was "envied when it fell to my lot, by the Queen's kind order." That Prince Albert should have been attracted by Mr. Gladstone's earnest and comprehensive mind was natural, for there was much in common between the two men. "It would be difficult to find," Mr. Gladstone said of the Prince, "anywhere a model of life more highly organised, more thoroughly and compactly ordered." If any such life could be found, it would not improbably be Mr. Gladstone's own, of which not many hours, or even half-hours, have been wasted or lost. Omnivorous earnestness in what to others appeared trivialities was a characteristic they possessed in common.

"There seemed to be no branch of human knowledge, no subject of human interest, on which he did not lay his hand; his life was in truth one sustained and perpetual effort to realise the great law of duty to God, and to discharge the heavy debt which he seemed to feel was laid upon him by his high station," are words which, if they describe the Prince, recall quite as vividly their author. And again, when Mr. Gladstone refers to the "secret reconciling of the discharge of incessant and wearing public duty with the cultivation of the inner and domestic life," and declares that "among happy marriages this marriage was exceptional, so nearly did the union of thought, heart, and action both fulfil the ideal, and bring duality near to the borders of identity," it is difficult to think that in thus describing the married life of the Queen, he was not prompted in his use of language by thoughts of his own. In appreciation of music and art, in love of literature, in "energetic tendency towards social improvement in every form," there was common ground between Mr. Gladstone and the Prince; but there were causes of difference too, and after the death of Sir Robert Peel they assumed larger proportions. Both deeply religious, no two minds could have been theologically further apart. As his intimate friends, the late Cardinal Manning and Mr. Hope Scott, passed over to the Roman faith, a breath of suspicion clung about Mr. Gladstone. Then came the Crimean winter, and the flounderings and fall of Lord Aberdeen's Government. No one knew what course the Peehtes would pursue; and uncertainty of political action is anathema in the eyes of constitutional monarchy. Mr. Gladstone, acknowledged to be the ablest man in Parliament, was a "dark horse" in the view of his contemporaries. No one felt sure, after he quitted Lord Palmerston's Government in 1855, where he would find refuge; whether with Mr. Disraeli and Lord Derby, or in the bosom of the Church of Rome. That for some years the Queen had been prejudiced strongly against him was known, but the prejudice had yielded before the pressure exerted by the common friendship of Lord Aberdeen. He, at any rate, appreciated the qualities of his Chancellor of the Exchequer. That Mr. Gladstone would rise to the first place he did not doubt, though it might be gradually and after an interval, when he had turned the hatred of many into affection. "He will turn it if he has the opportunity given him; but he must get over his obstinacy, for he is too honest, if a man can be too honest; and he must attend more to what men think, and as his brother said of him, he must learn to look out of the window." Still he was even then, and it is forty years ago, supreme in the House of Commons; and Lord Aberdeen added, with the right that his intimacy with the Court gave him to speak — "The Queen has quite got over her feeling against him, and likes him much." It is easy to understand that a constitutional Sovereign who, from a position removed from partisanship, surveys the struggle for power between conflicting factions, sees the good and the bad of both sides, minimising the points of difference in principle between them, should be inclined to side with the Minister whose daily effort to act for the best is vividly brought home to her, rather than with the critic whose opposition appears too constant to be sincere. Mr. Gladstone had tried many a fall with Lord Palmerston, and their points of difference were vividly present to the mind of the Queen. It seemed to her that Mr. Gladstone, opposed as he was to the Palmerstonian "civis Romanus sum," or as it has in later years been vulgarly called, a "Jingo" policy, raising objections, as he did, to panic, expenditure on fortifications and armaments, was in reality opposed to the expansion of England within her proper sphere, and hesitated to secure to her the full advantages of her maritime position. He may have been then, as since, too eager a critic, too grasping a custodian of the public funds. Whether this was the case or not, Lord Palmerston fanned the flame: — Viscount Palmerston hopes to be able to overcome his objections -, but, if that should prove impossible, however great the loss to the Government by the retirement of Mr. Gladstone, it would be better to lose Mr. Gladstone than to run the risk of losing Portsmouth and Plymouth.

And again — Mr. Gladstone told Viscount Palmerston this evening that he wished it to be understood that though acquiescing in the step now taken about the fortifications, he kept himself free to take such course as he may think fit upon that subject next year; to which Viscount Palmerston entirely assented. That course will probably be the same which Mr. Gladstone has taken this year — namely, ineffectual opposition and ultimate acquiescence.

Although Lord Palmerston never stood in the estimation of the Queen in the place of Peel, he was nevertheless Prime Minister, and his words carried weight, and his satire told.

For ten years Mr. Gladstone's position was curious and unique. He was called, in spite of Lord Palmerston's presence and popularity, the first man in Parliament, although he was not the leader of the House. He was acknowledged to be supreme in debate, and to be the highest authority on finance. He was hated by the aristocracy on account of his democratic budgets. He was mistrusted by many because of his High Church sympathies, and even "his friends lived in dread of his virtues." In the eyes of the Sovereign he represented a turbulent and critical element within the Ministry itself, a Ministry upon which the Queen, together with the large majority of her people, relied as the only administration likely to be safe and durable.

He was, in short, an enfant terrible in the world of politics, and as it became clear to every one that a time was rapidly approaching when he must become the Leader of the House of Commons, if not of the Government, no one, from the Queen to the Tadpoles and Tapers of the Liberal Party, looked forward to that time without a feeling of dismay.

With the Oxford election and the death of Lord Palmerston in 1865, the first half of Mr. Gladstone's political career closed, and henceforward he took his place at the head of the Liberal party unfettered, and, as he himself expressed it, unmuzzled. Driven from Oxford — Oxford that he had "loved with a deep and passionate love" — he felt himself free; and from that moment his supremacy over the Party, to which at last, after many years of doubt and hesitation, he finally belonged, was unquestioned. When "old Palmerston was seen to be breaking," it was almost universally believed that his successor would be Mr. Gladstone, although some doubts and fears prevailed that, "having gone a certain way with the Radicals, he would on some Church measure wheel round and break wholly with them."

The Queen had been slowly recovering from the great catastrophe of her life. The Palmerstonian rule, accepted by Parliament and the country as a sort of pax Victoriana, had been of much service to the Queen. Lord Palmerston's great age and long experience soothed the first years of bitter loss. The distrust — to use a mild word — felt by Lord Palmerston for his Chancellor of the Exchequer could not fail to bias the mind of the Queen. That office was one which brought the holder of it into slight contact with the Sovereign, so that the opportunity vouchsafed to Mr. Gladstone of counteracting by personal influence the hostility of the Prime Minister was small. It cannot, therefore, be a matter of surprise that when the long truce came to an end, in view of the pent-up democratic flood at home and lowering clouds abroad, the Queen should have turned, not to Mr. Gladstone, but "to no other than Lord Russell, an old and tried friend of hers, to undertake the arduous duties of Prime Minister, and to carry on the Government."

Mr. Gladstone had anticipated the Queen's decision, and had taken the unusual step of writing to Lord Russell, offering, though sore with conflict, to continue to serve in the capacity of Chancellor of the Exchequer. It was a kindly and thoughtful offer, smoothing the way for an administration, which he felt could not be wholly a continuation, but inevitably a fresh commencement. The centre of gravity in the new Government was misplaced, and it was without the elements of stability. The Prime Minister was a peer, old and frail, while the Leader of the House of Commons was, in the words of the Prime Minister himself, "in eloquence equal to Canning, and in integrity fit to be compared with Lord Althorp," In power of developing the most abstruse proposition, and embracing at once, in his large capacity, the most logical demonstrations, with the most captivating and dazzling rhetoric, Lord Russell's lieutenant had never possessed a superior. If the elder statesman could not then refuse the appeal, pathetic and tempting, once more to take the first place among the Queen's advisers, he knew well that the day was only postponed for a short time when the younger, already the first man in Parliament, would become the First Minister of the Crown.

"I felt", said Lord Russell, "when the time came, that boldness, which, according to Lord Bacon, is the first quality of a statesman, was required as the primary quality for dealing with the Irish Church, and that no man could dispute the pre-eminence in that quality of Mr. Gladstone".

Even so faithful a friend as Bishop Wilberforce believed that Mr. Gladstone had been "drawn into" his attack on the Irish Church by personal hatred of Mr. Disraeli, and desire to eject him from office; yet it should have been obvious to him, at any rate, that Mr. Gladstone's conversion to the whole body of Liberal opinion was no arbitrary act, but, as he himself described it, the "slow and resistless force" of growing conviction. The process had certainly been slow. It was fourteen years from the death of Peel before Mr. Gladstone finally threw in his lot with the party he was destined to lead in triumph and storm for a generation. It is on this very question of the Irish Church that the relation between the Queen and Mr. Gladstone can best be exemplified; an object-lesson in constitutional government to her successors, and to those rulers who preside over constitutions modelled upon ours. Of her own feeling in regard to the Irish Church we have a record in the words of the Queen herself. Bishop Wilberforce had accompanied Mr. Gladstone to Windsor, when he went to kiss hands on his appointment as Prime Minister.

"Mr. Gladstone is a friend of yours," the Queen said to him in colloquial phrase. "I am sorry he has started this about the Irish Church." The great policy on behalf of which her Prime Minister had fought the General Election, and to carry out which he had been given a majority in Parliament by the people, was clearly not a policy which commended itself to the Queen, who — although the most constitutional Sovereign this country has ever known, liberal in sympathy, and loyal to her Ministers, whatever their party — has claimed for herself, and cannot be denied, the human right of private judgment, and has never forgotten that she is the granddaughter of George the Third. Mr. Gladstone, however, fared better than Mr. Pitt. On 1st March 1869 he introduced the first of his great Irish measures to the House of Commons. Already in the early part of February the Queen had been made acquainted with the lines of the Bill. She was aware of the strong and hostile feeling of the English prelates and of the Conservative party in the House of Lords. The Primacy had recently passed under the auspices of Mr. Disraeli into the hands of a statesman endowed with prudence and courage almost as high as those of Mr. Gladstone himself. To Archbishop Tait the Queen appealed in a letter full of care for the lofty interests she had sworn by her coronation oath to guard.

Osborne, 15th February 1869. "The Queen must write a few lines to the Archbishop of Canterbury on the subject of the Irish Church, which makes her very anxious....The Queen has seen Mr. Gladstone, who shows the most conciliatory disposition. He seems to be really moderate in his views, and anxious, so far as he can properly and consistently do so, to meet the objections of those who would maintain the Irish Church. He at once assured the Queen of his readiness — indeed, his anxiety — to meet the Archbishop and to communicate freely with him on the subject of this important question, and the Queen must express her earnest hope that the Archbishop will meet him in the same spirit. The Government can do nothing that would tend to raise a suspicion of their sincerity in proposing to disestablish the Irish Church, and to withdraw all State endowments from all religious communions in Ireland; but, were these conditions accepted, all other matters connected with the question might, the Queen thinks, become the subject of discussion and negotiation. The Archbishop had best now communicate with Mr, Gladstone direct as to when he can see him."

To the Archbishop the request to act as mediator was not unwelcome. He immediately sought an interview with Mr. Gladstone. The Prime Minister explained that he had not felt warranted in approaching the Primate or others of whom he knew nothing, except the adverse opinions declared and acted upon by them in the preceding summer. This lack on his part the Queen had kindly undertaken to remove, and he would call at Lambeth Palace on the morrow. It was a memorable interview between two men, either of whom was well qualified by natural aptitudes and congenial tastes to stand in the place of the other. It led ultimately to the passing of the Irish Church Bill through both Houses of Parliament; although the Queen had yet once again to appeal to the Archbishop for assistance, before the House of Lords yielded an assent to the measure. General Grey wrote by the Queen's command: "Mr. Gladstone is not ignorant (indeed the Queen has never concealed her feelings on the subject) how deeply H.M. deplores the necessity under which he conceived himself to lie of raising the question as he has done, or of the apprehensions, of which she cannot divest herself, as to the possible consequences of the measure which he has introduced."

These apprehensions, H.M. is bound to say, still exist in full force. But considering the circumstances under which the measure has come to the House of Lords, the Queen cannot regard, without the greatest alarm, the probable effect of its absolute rejection in that House.

The Archbishop's task was far from easy. He appealed to Mr. Disraeli, and in the Queen's name expressed a strong hope that the Bill might be read a second time in the House of Lords. Successful at this stage, an embittered controversy over the Lords' amendments threatened to wreck the measure. Once more the Queen intervened.

Windsor Castle, 11th July 1869.
"The Queen thanks the Archbishop very much for his letter. She is very sensible of the prudence and at the same time the anxiety for the welfare of the Irish Establishment which the Archbishop has manifested in his conduct throughout the debates, and she will be very glad if the amendments which have been adopted at his suggestion lead to the settlement of the question; but to effect this, concessions, the Queen believes, will still have to be made on both sides. The Queen must say that she cannot view without alarm the possible consequences of another year of agitation on the Irish Church, and she would ask the Archbishop seriously to consider, in case the concessions to which the Government may agree should not go so far as he may himself wish, whether the postponement of the settlement for another year would not be likely to result in worse rather than in better terms for the Church. The Queen trusts, therefore, that the Archbishop will himself consider, and, as far as he can, endeavour to induce others to consider, any concessions that may be offered by the House of Commons, in the most concillatory spirit..."

The compromise was, however, finally settled, and when the Bill passed, the Primate records with gratitude in his Journal the "great blessing" which the Queen's interest in the welfare of her people ever confers upon the nation; for whatever has been done to secure a fair compromise between conflicting interests, and to avoid a great parliamentary crisis, "thanks to the Queen" are due. The episode depicts in striking colours the bright function of a constitutional Sovereign. The right of private opinion neither denied nor concealed; perfect loyalty to a Minister whose policy is uncongenial; no attempt at intrigue with the Opposition in Parliament; but an open and successful mediation between the Minister and his opponents, smoothing the path of a great measure of popular change, which, although disliked by her, was approved by the majority of the nation. No object-lesson in democratic monarchy could be more conclusive than this, nor a stronger proof given of prudence in a Monarch and of self-control in a Minister.

It is typical too of the relation for many years between the Queen and the first of her subjects in power and authority. The instance could be varied, but the lesson would read in much the same terms. A Greville might in these later years have heard much with which to fill a gossip's record of the chit-chat of the lobby and the Palace. There were moments of storm in Mr. Gladstone's life, when the popular favour seemed as little secured to him as the smiles of the Court. Driven from the University he loved, rejected in Lancashire, humiliated at Greenwich, it required all the manly courage and racial pluck of the best type of Englishman to face on a wild autumn afternoon over 20,000 disaffected constituents on Blackheath, and to beat down by force of earnest eloquence their murmurs and threats; it required also the dignity of character and tradition inherited from a long line of predecessors in office silently to accept the rebuke, possibly not unmerited, conveyed by the Queen to her Minister in the letter published by Miss Gordon at the commencement of her brother's correspondence. If the Queen was reluctant in 1880 to accept as her First Minister the statesman who had been designated, only a few months before, by earnest Liberals as a "comet got loose and dashing about the political firmament," it must be remembered that six years earlier that same statesman, grown old in the service of the people, had been ignominiously driven by them from power. If the Queen ever said in a moment of wrath, "I am no longer Queen; Mr. Gladstone is King," it must not be forgotten that the people for whose sake he had given up the peace of his days broke his windows in Harley Street. If in that hour of upheaval in 1886, the Queen wept at parting from her Tory Ministers, and shrank from the meeting with Mr. Gladstone, she only reflected the feelings of those who a few months afterwards hurled him, as he himself expressed it, with contumely from office.

Loyalty within the lines of the constitution is required from a Sovereign; but even a Queen may be permitted to hold if not to express opinions, and to feel if not to show preferences.

Human nature is weak at times, in Monarchs as well as in Democracies, and if the Queen ultimately parted without poignant regret from the Minister who had served the Crown more effectually than any other statesman of the century, it may be remembered with what a sigh of contentment and relief on the retirement of Mr. Pitt, George the Third threw himself into the arms of Addington.

The personal service rendered by Mr. Gladstone to the Crown has been gratefully credited to him by his opponents as a redeeming virtue, and admitted laughingly as an amiable vice by his friends. Never by word in public or in private has he been known to reflect on the Throne or on the Sovereign. Brought up under the "shadow of the great name" of Canning, he remembered the example of that statesman. Possibly he recalls how on a summer's day nearly seventy years ago Canning rode down to Eton from the Cottage in Windsor Park, where he was staying with the King, found his son Carlo "staying out" and gossiping with Hallam and Gladstone — three notable figures — over a division in "Pop" in which the Morning Chronicle had been retained for that assembly, "in spite of reporting Prize Fights," by the casting vote of Gladstone, and had told the boys that he "could not stay for Ascot races, as he did not think it right that a subject should be cheered in the presence of his Sovereign."

The lesson and the queer punctilio of it may have made an indelible impression, for although ardent in competing for popular favour against political rivals, Mr. Gladstone has never attempted to overshadow the popularity of the Crown. Acting with Peel, by timely concession in the great Corn Law quarrel, Mr. Gladstone saved the Throne from the conflicts, possibly from the disasters, of the year 1848. When in recent years of stress and trouble, a word from him would have rallied all the forces of his party against unpopular grants to the Queen s children and relatives, Mr. Gladstone has been found placing his most fervid and impassioned eloquence at the service of the Crown. His feeling towards the Monarchy is described by himself in a letter which reads with peculiar sadness now, written to Prince Albert Victor on attaining his majority in January 1885. "There lies before your Royal Highness in prospect the occupation, I trust at a distant date, of a throne which, to me at least, appears the most illustrious in the world, from its history and associations, from its legal basis, from the weight of the cares it brings, from the loyal love of the people, and from the unparalleled opportunities it gives, in so many ways and in so many regions, of doing good to the almost countless numbers whom the Almighty has placed beneath the sceptre of England."

Not the most loud-mouthed Imperialism could express in more trenchant and telling words respect for the throne of Elizabeth and the England of Mr. Pitt. As a man but one judgment can be formed by posterity of Mr. Gladstone; as a Minister there may be many. Like Mr. Pitt he was a peace Minister, and war was to both men a cause of disaster and failure. Like Mr. Pitt he conceived a great and noble policy for Ireland; and while Mr. Pitt allowed his complete scheme to be wrecked by the scruples of the crowned King of England, Mr. Gladstone permitted his to be maimed by the frailty of the uncrowned King of Ireland.

Neither concession appears to have been necessary, but it must have required all Mr. Gladstone's Homeric lore and reverence to enable him to bear up against the ill-luck of his failure and the disappointment of his hopes. Pluck, however, is a quality which has never failed him. On the 4th December 1890, in the middle of the crisis that was destined to wreck his great policy, he was seen sitting quietly in the Library of the House of Commons reading the Bride of Lammermoor. To some this might seem the calm of indifference, but not to those who heard the deep pathos with which he said, "For the past five years I have rolled this stone patiently uphill, and it has now rolled to the bottom again; and I am eighty-one years old."

In relation to those who have had personal intercourse with him a peculiarity of his must never be forgotten. There is a certain transcendental aloofness about Mr. Gladstone's manner with individual men, which creates an impression, probably well founded, that he regards the matter of speech as of far more importance than the speaker himself. Very few can have watched him closely without arriving at the unflattering conclusion that, within limits, his opinion equalises more or less all men. If he has been considered an indifferent judge of men's capacities; and, if patronage — which was not ecclesiastical — he has ignored with the lofty coldness of superior minds, to his friends, at any rate to those who had served him, he was loyal; and he never swerved from selecting for office those whom he knew, in preference to those of whom he was personally ignorant. In 1880, when a strong effort was made to induce him to admit into the Cabinet "new blood" as it was called, his reluctance to part with old colleagues was only in one instance with the greatest difficulty overcome. "The next most serious thing to admitting a man into the Cabinet," he said, "is to leave out a man who has once been a member of that body." He had as little idea of cheapening the office as he had of the claims of younger men, because they happened to make clever speeches, or were written up in the Press.

These traits are possibly the leaven of early associations, and the outcome of his Conservative sympathies, but if — as Lord Randolph Churchill said — "Mr. Gladstone is found to be in his prime somewhere about the middle of the next century, he will still without doubt exhibit preferences for old friends rather than for new ones, still lament the laxity of costume in the House of Commons, and denounce Speaker Abercromby for permitting members to dine with him in plain evening dress, and still hold Sir Walter Scott to be the superior of all novelists" Whatever their differences on questions of high policy, Mr. Gladstone's prejudices — if the word describes them — must have met with friendly recognition by the Queen. To the throne of England, the most illustrious throne in the world, as he called it — his Conservative sympathies have clung; and the occupant of that throne would have been false to her own record had she not appreciated the extent of the loss to the Sovereign and to the nation when Mr. Gladstone for the last time left Windsor Castle."

At the final Cabinet at which he presided, after Lord Kimberley and Sir William Harcourt had attempted to express what all present felt, as his colleagues left the room, Mr. Gladstone's last words, "God bless you all," spoken in that strong, deep, well-remembered voice, rang in their ears. That blessing, delivered with all the fervour of a mind accustomed to give to every word a full value, was not, we may believe, limited to the Council he was about to quit, but extended beyond the room in Downing Street, to the poorest of the wretched peasantry in whose interest he had laboured throughout his long public life, as well as to the Sovereign, whose reign he must to the end of time be considered to adorn, by his prolonged and strenuous efforts on behalf of popular happiness, by the unaffected simplicity of his life, by his dazzling and splendid eloquence, and by his unswerving fidelity to conscience and to God.

Source: The Yoke of Empire, Sketches of the Queen's Prime Ministers, by Reginald B. Brett, 1896