Some Personal Characteristics
"Truth, for truth is truth, he worshipped, being true as he was brave; Good, for good is good, he followed, yet he looked beyond the grave." —Tennyson.
Mr. Gladstone was now a conspicuous figure, not only in the House of Commons, but conspicuous as a scholar, author, and man of society. The author of "Uncle Tom's Cabin" met him one night at dinner about this time, and, describing the party, she says:—
"Mr. Gladstone was also there, one of the ablest and best men is the kingdom. For a gentleman who has attained to such celebrity, both in theology and polities, he looks remarkably young. He is tall, with dark eyes and hair, a thoughtful cast of countenance, and is easy and agreeable in conversation."
We have seen him steadily mounting the ladder of success rung by rung as a boy, successful by reason of his unceasing industry; as a man, adding to thus a determination to do right regardless of results. The spirit in which he rebuked his school-fellows for bullying the pig, was the same which moved him to plead for the political prisoners in Italy, and, later, for the Bulgarians in their misery.
Like Tennyson's knight, his "glory was, redressing human wrong." From his Oxford days, when he had refused to see even his best friends till two o'clock in the afternoon, giving up his morning to study, to the days when he retired to Hawarden, and the evening of his life came upon him, he gave up part of every day to solid reading whenever it was possible. He felt his time as a sacred trust, not to be wasted and frittered away in useless amusements and pursuits, but to be spent in some fine and manly way for the good of all mankind.
Even in the trivial concerns of everyday life he felt always responsible to an Invisible Judge. He was haunted by this responsibility with regard to his time, his talents, and his opportunities for influence and power responsibility for reading and writing and speaking, responsibility for the people committed to his charge in the country.
To the Church of England he clung with an ever-increasing firmness; he always felt that herein lay England's strength. He loved her services, and made a point of going to church every morning at eight o'clock, and this though he hated getting up early.
"I hate getting up in the morning, and hate it the same every morning," he used to say. "But one can do everything by habit, and when I have had my seven hours' sleep my habit is to get up."
He had a wonderful power of sleeping, even after the most exciting debates in the House, or at the time of some crisis in the world's history. It is said that the only time in his whole life when sleep forsook him was during the terrible suspense preceding the death of General Gordon at Khartoum.
His observance of Sunday as a day of rest was another principle which he adhered to religiously.
It is timidity, I am convinced, that has kept me alive and well, even to a marvel, in times of considerable labour," he used to say.
Even during the height of the session, when work pressed on him, any one entering his room in Downing Street on a Sunday could not fail to be impressed be the deserted writing-table, the absence of papers and newspapers, and the atmosphere of rest that pervaded all. From Saturday night to Monday morning he put away all business, refused all dinner parties and expeditions that involved travelling.
And being a man of habit, he never relaxed these customs of his youth. A man of habit, indeed, he was. There was something very pathetic in the words he said the very year he was dying, as an old man of eighty-nine, when the doctor at last prevailed on him to take opiates to soothe his pain.
"I am so afraid," he said, half playfully, half seriously, to his wife, "so afraid of falling into bad habits."