Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Roy Jenkins, Gladstone: Chapters 5 and 6, "Orator, Zealot, and Debtor" and "Mid-Century Frenzy"

Gladstone as orator: the passion, force, and conviction of the delivery was more remarkable than the text -- his arguments were often obscure.

Gladstone suffered a number of personal setbacks in the 1840s. His sister Helen converted to Catholicism in 1842 (bringing out his typical rigid censoriousness on matters of religion). She then succumbed to a deepening opium addition and fled to Germany, where he went to retrieve her back to the family in 1845 (although she took three more years to finally subdue the habit). That same year his religious ally John Henry Newman also became a Catholic. (Jenkins notes Newman's similarities to Gladstone: he was a religious pessimist, an effective, though more delicate, orator, and a resilient public figure.) In 1847, the Hawarden estate's finances were brought low by the failure of his brother-in-law Stephen Glynne's mining and ironworks project at Oak Farm. The Glynne family (including Gladstone) were forced into several years of heroic economy to save the estate.

Peel's decision to take on the issue of Corn Law repeal in 1845 made Gladstone's Newark seat untenable and cost the Conservative party a rupture that was not healed for decades. Gladstone had to resign the seat when he was called into the cabinet, and could not hope for re-election because the local notable who controlled the seat supported protection. (I think this aptly illustrates how British parties of the time were loose, decentralized coalitions rather than true modern parties.)

Gladstone was without another seat until he won election from Oxford in 1847. Since Oxford dons and many Oxford graduates (particularly the clergy) took religious disputes very seriously, this had the effect of deepening Gladstone's entanglement in such issues. It did not cause Gladstone to back down from his increasingly pronounced liberal views on the relation between church and state, however, as he spoke fervently the next year against the exclusion of the Jewish banker Baron Lionel de Rothschild from Parliament.

In 1849, Gladstone spent several weeks in Italy on a characteristically quixotic and futile mission to retrieve Lady Lincoln, who had absconded with her lover.

1850 bought more sorrow for Gladstone with the death of his daughter Jessy. His religious inclinations and affiliations were tested as well when the the Gorham judgment checked the independence of the Church of England. This decision precipitated the conversion of several of his religious allies to Catholicism within the next year.

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