Gateway to the Classics: Life of Gladstone by M. B. Synge
Life of Gladstone by  M. B. Synge

William Ewart Gladstone

"One who never turned his back, but marched breast forward;

Never doubted clouds would break;

Never dreamed, though right were worsted, wrong would triumph;

Held we fail to rise, are baffled to fight better,

Sleep to wake."


On Ascension Day, 1898 a brave man passed from our midst. He was one of the bravest of the brace—a man of magnificent courage; one, indeed, who never turned his back, but matched breast forward—who did what he thought to be right, absolutely regardless of the consequences.

William Ewart Gladstone was indeed no coward. From the days when, as a little Eton boy, he tried to stop cruelty to the pigs at the annual fair, to the days when he lay "stricken and bruised," with the strength of an old lion, bearing excruciating pain without a murmur, he had faced life with all the courage of his manhood.

"Manhood" was always one of his favourite words. Happy indeed the man of whom Mr. Gladstone could say, "He has the manhood to do this;" unforgettable the utter scorn with which he cried bitterly. "He had not the manhood to do it."

His passion for justice was equal to his courage: he could not bear to see oppression in any form. It was injustice to Bulgaria that roused him from his retirement at Hawarden; it was injustice to Ireland that made him fight his great fight for Home Rule, even through defeat and failure. It was ever his great aim, to use his own well-known words, "to follow the bright star of justice, hemming brightly from the heavens, whithersoever it might lead."

His justice was tempered by mercy and pity; he had that "fierceness that from tenderness is never far," a magnetic power of sympathy which made him feel the sufferings of others as if they were his own. When the unexpected news of Cetewayo's death reached Mr. Gladstone, it was from human sympathy he said at once, "Poor old man, I am very sorry for him!" although his death solved a very complicated situation in the country.

"Well, Mr. Gladstone, you are the only man in England who is  sorry," cried his exasperated informer.

"Do it with all thy might," was ever the principle of his life. He would throw himself as heartily into mastering some apparently unimportant detail of his Budgets as he would to cutting down his trees at Hawarden.

"If a boy run, he ought to run as fast as he can; if he jump, he should jump as far as he can; whatever you do, do it with all your might," he once said, addressing a group of schoolboys. And he not only preached but practised these things.

But perhaps the most striking part of the man was his religion.

"The faith of Mr. Gladstone," said Lord Rosebery, paying his beautiful tribute to his chief in the House of Lords, "pervaded every act and every part of his life. It was the faith, the pure faith of a child, confirmed by the experience and the conviction of manhood." It shaped his conduct, it controlled his thoughts, it guided his life. He made no secret of it, neither did he parade it, but he never forgot it.

He has shown us emphatically, what this nineteenth century is at times slow to acknowledge, that it is possible for a good man to be a great man, a clever man, and a brave man.

Mr. Gladstone had his faults, and they were palpable; but as a modern poet reminds us, "His greatness, not his littleness, concerns mankind." And the "generations still to come through many long years will look for encouragement in labour, for fortitude in adversity, for the example of a splendid Christianity, a constant hope and constant encouragement, to the pure, the splendid, the dauntless figure of William Ewart Gladstone."

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