"A matter for weeping all day and praying all night."
Mr. Gladstone had promised much in his Budget of 1853, including the gradual reduction of the income tax by twopence. But times were out of joint, and the promises were not to be fulfilled. The autumn brought a bad harvest, and in the following spring war was declared against Russia in the Crimea.
John Bright, Mr. Gladstone's great friend and ally, was, some years later, walking with his schoolboy son past the Guards' Monument in Waterloo Place. The boy caught sight of the solitary word "Crimea" and asked his father what it meant.
"A crime!" answered Bright emphatically.
Whether this was a fact or not, the country had drifted into war with Russia in 1354, and it fell to the lot of Mr. Gladstone, as Chancellor of the Exchequer, to prepare a War Budget.
All his bright schemes of cultivating industry, of improving the condition of the people, of cutting down the income tax, were swept away, and he—peace-loving man that he was—set himself to his distasteful task.
There is no need to go into the details of that terrible winter—to the mismanagement which caused such distress to our brave soldiers, to the sufferings of our troops, to the deaths of "the multitude of brave men who sleep beside the waters of the Bosphorus or under the rocks of Balaclava," as Mr. Gladstone put it. It is all an old story now.
There was a great outcry in the country against the government which had allowed these things to come to pass, and a motion was passed in Parliament calling for an inquiry into the conduct of those departments of the government whose duty it had been to minister to the wants of the army.
The result of the motion was the defeat of Lord Aberdeen's Government.
Lord Palmerston was called on to form a Ministry, which he did, making Mr. Gladstone once more Chancellor of the Exchequer.
Mr. Gladstone's own definition of a Chancellor of the Exchequer, and what he ought to be, were given years after in one of his Midlothian speeches.
"The Chancellor of the Exchequer," he said, "shall boldly uphold economy in detail; and it is the mark of, I was going to say, a chicken-hearted Chancellor of the Exchequer, when he shrinks from upholding economy in detail. He is ridiculed, no doubt, for what is called saving candle-ends and cheese-parings. No Chancellor of the Exchequer is worth his salt who is not ready to save what are meant by candle-ends and cheese-parings in the cause of his country. No Chancellor of the Exchequer is worth his salt who makes his own popularity either his first consideration or any consideration at all in administering the public purse. You would not like to have a housekeeper or steward who made her or his popularity with the tradesmen the measure of the payments that were to be delivered to them. In my opinion, the Chancellor of the Exchequer is the trusted and confidential steward of the public. He is under a sacred obligation with regard to all that he consents to spend."
This was an important appointment; it marked a distinct step in his career, insomuch as it was the first time that he had consented to take office under a Whig leader. When Mr. Gladstone joined Lord Palmerston's Cabinet, it was clear that, though not yet anything of an advanced Liberal or Radical, he had done for ever with the "stern and unbending Tories," of whom Macaulay had called him the "rising hope."
But he did not serve long under the new government. He had taken office on the understanding that no further inquiry would be made with regard to the Crimean War. Lord Palmerston saw that the country would never be satisfied without some such inquiry, and on his consenting to it, Mr. Gladstone resigned, or, as he tells us, was "driven from offices."
"I greatly felt being turned out of office," he said sadly. "I saw great things to do, and I longed to do them. I am losing the best years out of my natural service."
He was now in a somewhat isolated position. He was out of harmony with his chief, and out of sympathy with others who wanted him to accept office. He could not remain under Lord Palmerston, neither could he oppose him. He held aloof from politics.
"Gladstone hardly ever goes near the House of Commons, and never opens his lips" observed Mr. Greville in 1557.
Mr. Disraeli wished him to join the Tory ranks once more; it is said that he almost went on his knees to Mr. Gladstone to get his promise to join a Tory Cabinet some day.
But Mr. Gladstone was not inclined to play second fiddle to Disraeli, and he was finding himself daily more in sympathy with the Liberals.
His political future was veiled in mystery. His talents had been recognized. Whigs and Tories alike knew that he must one day be Prime Minister. But on which side?
"Gladstone intends to be Prime Minister," said Lord Aberdeen. "He has great qualifications, but some serious
defects—the chief, that when he has convinced himself of some view, he thinks every one else ought at
once to see it as he does, and can make no allowance for difference of opinion."