Monday, May 30, 2011

Roy Jenkins, Gladstone: Chapters 3 and 4, "A Clumsy Suitor" and "Peel's Apprentice"

Gladstone rose quickly under the mentorship of the tragedy-struck future prime minister, Lord Aberdeen, becoming a cabinet minister for the first time at just 33.

After a brief spell in power in the minority Tory government of 1835, Gladstone was without office until 1841. He spent most of the intervening years seeking a wife and stirring up religious controversy.

Gladstone spent a couple of years in vigorous and heavy-handed pursuit of two young women of rank who showed no interest in him: first Caroline Farquhar (the sister of an Eton schoolmate) and then Lady Frances Douglas. In time, he came around to wooing Catherine Glynne, the sister of another Eton schoolmate, Sir Stephen Glynne. Gladstone had become used to staying at the Glynne family's Welsh estate at Hawarden for some years, and had become fast friends with the whole family, before he hit upon this more fortunate course. He proposed while on vacation with the Glynnes in Rome just a few days into the new year in 1839, and she finally accepted half a year later in London. Gladstone made Hawarden his primary home for the duration of his life.

In the meantime, Gladstone published his first book, The State in its Relations with the Church, an extremist polemic against religious toleration (with the ironic assistance of several future Catholic converts) and spoke in parliament against renewal of the government grant to the Catholic Irish seminary of Maynooth. Such lapses in judgment put Gladstone on the wrong side of the Tory leadership, including his new mentor William Peel.

In April ,1840, Gladstone delivered his first foreign policy speech to parliament. He spoke in opposition to the Palmerston government's war against China (the Opium War). This was an early sign of Gladstone's tense relationship with Palmerston, whom Gladstone never got on with (seeing him in particular as too decadent) even though he was later to become his political ally.

When Peel became prime minister at the head of a new Conservative majority in 1841, Gladstone ended up with a less prestigious post than he had hoped, the vice-presidency of the Board of Trade. He nevertheless threw himself into his work with energy and intelligence and became a sometimes inconveniently eager advocate of free trade as a result. (He had also had responsibility for railroad regulation, appropriately for an avid if critical early railroad traveller.) He became full minister of the Board in 1843, but soon made characteristically fussy difficulties over increased government support for the Maynooth seminary. Gladstone felt obliged to resign his cabinet post over the issue because of his earlier vocal opposition to support, even though he had changed his mind and would in fact vote for bill when it came up.

Gladstone seemed strangely unmoved by Peel's death in 1850. Jenkins argues that Gladstone may have found Peel uncomfortably close in background and age, and that in light of this he found the space for his own career was limited by Peel's presence.

No comments: