"On whose burning tongue truth, peace, and freedom hung."
"Far off the promise of his coming shone."
Leaving Oxford, Gladstone hurried off to Italy, where he spent six happy months, learning to love his Dante, studying art, and delighting in the natural beauties of the land, whose stanch friend he was to become in after years.
It was with mingled feelings that he hurried back to England, in response to an invitation from the Duke of Newcastle, to contest the town of Newark in the Tory interest; for at this time Mr. Gladstone was the stanchest of Tories.
The Duke had heard great things of the young undergraduate from his son, who had been his school-fellow at Eton and his friend at Oxford.
"Who is this Mr. Gladstone?" asked those whose votes were asked for him.
"He is the son of the friend of Mr. Canning, the great Liverpool merchant," was the answer; "but he has won golden opinions from all sorts of people, and promises to be an ornament to the House of Commons."
"I shall be very glad if he gets in—the old W. E. G." wrote his friend Arthur Hallam not long before his death; "we want such men as that."
The contest was fought out with great spirit, and when it closed, Mr. Gladstone was returned at the head of the poll. There was great rejoicing, for his character was well known, and even a political opponent was moved to write of him,—
"His was no tongue which meanly stooped to wear
The guise of virtue, while his heart was hare
But all he thought through ev'ry action ran;
God's noblest work—I've known one honest man!"
It was on January 20, 1833, that the young Member for Newark took his seat for the first time in that House which he was destined to delight and astonish through more than half a century.
He was at this time a tall, vigorous-looking young man, with strongly-marked features, pale complexion, abundance of almost black hair, and piercing, dark eyes. These were, perhaps, his most remarkable feature: age turned the thick, black hair to a silvery white, the pale complexion became yet paler, but age never seemed to dim the "silent, splendid anger of his eyes"
It was four months before he made his first speech in the House. It was looked forward to with unfeigned interest by the members. Accustomed to riding, it was Gladstone's habit to ride in the Park every morning when he was in London. This was the seventeenth of May, and the young than made a noticeable figure on his grey Arab mare, his "hat, narrow-brimmed, high upon the centre of his head, sustained by a crop of thick, curly hair."
"A noticable figure on his grey Arab mare."
"That is Gladstone," said a passerby to a young member. "He is to make his maiden speech to-night. It will be worth hearing."
Curiously enough this speech was against any sudden abolition of slavery. The management of his father's sugar plantations in the West Indies had been attacked. Mr. Gladstone informed the House that his father's manager was the kindest of men, and the slaves under his charge were the happiest, healthiest, and most contented of their race. He argued, therefore, that the slaves should be educated to see their responsibilities before they were set free.
Earnest in his manner, and eloquent in his speech, he at once commanded the respect and attention of his fellow-members. And so it happened that when, two years later, a new Ministry was formed under Sir Robert Peel, for whom Mr. Gladstone had the most supreme admiration, a post in the government was found for this promising young Tory, who had shown himself so capable, and moreover, who was possessed of a safe seat and a high character.
He was returned unopposed for Newark. After the election came the old custom of chairing the Member, when a most animated scene took place. Young Gladstone, now Junior Lord of the Treasury, was placed in a splendid chair, which stood on the springs of a four-wheeled carriage drawn by six beautiful grey horses, the outriders dressed in grey silk jackets. As the procession wended its way through the streets of Newark, crowds turned out to look at their distinguished young member, whose speech was greeted with "deafening cheers."
He was very soon made Under Secretary for the Colonies, and he was still but a young man of six-and-twenty.
He was as well known at this time in society as in the House. He dined out constantly; he was very musical, and delighted his hearers with the richness of his tenor voice. Perhaps this beautiful letter from Wilberforce, afterwards Bishop of Oxford, gives the best idea of the importance of his position at this time.
"The old custom of chairing the Member."
"It would be an affectation in you, which you are above," he says, "not to know that few young then have the weight you have in the House of Commons, and are gaining rapidly throughout the country. . . . What I want to urge upon you is, that you should calmly look far before you, see the degree of weight and influence to which you may fairly look forward in future years, and thus act now with a view to then. There is no height to which you may not fairly rise in this country. You may at a future day wield the whole government of this land; and if this should be so, of what extreme moment will your past steps then be to the real usefulness of your high station. If there has been any compromise of principle before, you will not then be able to rise above it; but if all your steps have been equal, you will not then be expected to descend below them. I would have you view yourself as one who may become the head of all the better feelings of this country, the maintainer of its church and of its liberties, and who must now be fitting himself for this high vocation."