"A splendid image built of man has flown;
His deeds inspired of God outstep a Past.
Ours the great privilege to have had one
Among us who celestial tasks has done."
—G. Meredith on Gladstone.
Mr. Gladstone has passed away, and the whole civilized world is the poorer—how much the poorer none can say.
"You will never know," said Canon Liddon, "none of us will ever know, how great Mr. Gladstone is. We shall never be able to measure him until he is gone."
These words were prophetic; now they are true.
It is impossible even to foreshadow the place that history shall allot to Mr. Gladstone.
"I sometimes think," said Mr. Chamberlain in 1885, "that great men are like great mountains, and that we do not appreciate their magnitude while we are still close to them. You have to go to a distance to see which peak it is that towers above its fellows; and it may be that we shall have to put between us and Mr. Gladstone a space of time before we shall know how much greater he was than any of his competitors for fame and power. I am certain that justice will be done to him in the future; and I am not less certain that there will be a signal condemnation of the men who, moved by motives of party spite, in their eagerness for office, have not hesitated to load with insult and indignity the greatest statesman of our time." And he adds these words, to which recent events have added untold pathos: "He, with his great magnanimity, can afford to forget and forgive these things."
It is impossible to believe that a man who was thirteen times Chancellor of the Exchequer—who found the gross annual national expenditure at fifty-five and a half millions a year, and left it at eighty-five millions—who found the Customs Tariff loaded with nearly five hundred duties, and left it with less than fifty—should not, on this alone, take a high place among financiers of the world.
It is impossible to believe that a man who was four times Prime Minister of England—under whom such tremendous reforms as the Irish Land Act, the Elementary Education Act, the Abolition of the Paper Duty, the Franchise and Local Government Acts, were prominent—should not rank with the highest of the world's statesmen.
It is impossible to believe that, as a man alone, in his strong individuality, God-fearing, justice-loving, serious-minded, he should not live long in the hearts of those Englishmen who shall yet succeed William Ewart Gladstone.
His loss to the nation is well described in these lines, which compare him to an old oak in the forest:—
"His feet laid hold of the marl and earth, his head was in the sky;
He had seen a thousand bulb and burst, he had seen a thousand die;
And none knew when he began to be—of trees that grew on the ground—
Lord of the wood, King of the oaks, Monarch of all around.
"And towering so high over others, the wind in his branches roared;
Yet never a limb did the tempest break, or shatter a bough that soared;
Only the ripe young acorns it flung to the earth at his knees,
And they sprang up themselves in their season, a belt of protecting trees.
"But at length, when the storms were over, and still was the forest dell,
Unbattered, unbeaten, unbroken, he bowed himself and fell;
And the breadth of that mighty clearing, when the giant had gone from his place,
was like to the scene of a hundred oaks in the waste of its empty space."
—Mr. Hall Caine.