Sunday, September 25, 2011

Roy Jenkins, Gladstone: Chapters 7 and 8, "Ladies of the Night" and "The Tremendous Projectile"

After much foreshadowing of Gladstone's sexual vices, they turn out to have been disappointingly tame. His so-called pornographic tastes amounted to little more than a fondness for suggestive passages in classical and modern literature. He got a thrill out of mingling with prostitutes for the supposed purpose of reforming them, but there was no actual sexual consummation. In any case, Gladstone was plagued with guilt about these things in the mid-century years, and even tried to overcome his habits by flogging himself.

Gladstone's opposition to Palmerston's blockade of Greece (in response to claims arising from the Don Pacifico affair) reflected a cautious internationalism that united All branches of Tory opposition. His contribution to the parliamentary debate in 1850 was significant and effective, but the opposition motion was defeated with most of the Radicals joining the Whigs.

Gladstone next became much involved during a visit to Naples with the battle to free the Neapolitan political prisoner Baron Poerio, though his eagerness for British pressure in this case cut against the principles he enunciated during the Don Pacifico incident. He issued two pamphlets to make his case against the Neapolitan government. These made Gladstone's name among liberals in Europe, although they did discomfit the conservative leader, Lord Aberdeen.

Late in 1850, in response to the Pope's decision to authorize naming Catholic bishops in England, the Whig government cynically introduced the Ecclesiastical Titles Bill. The bill made accepting such titles from a Pope a crime -- a measure at variance with traditional Whig support for religious liberty. Gladstone, in another sign of his turn away from theological absolutism towards liberalism, opposed the bill. Gladstone produced another massive, learned oration, but again in vain. The measure passed comfortably, although Gladstone's opposition does not seem to have done him much harm even in his theologically conservative Oxford constituency.

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.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Hans Blumenberg, Paradigms for a Metaphorology: Ch 5, "Terra Incognita and 'Incomplete Universe' as Metaphors of the Modern Relationship to the World"

Blumenberg explores how the terra incognita and unfinished universe metaphors shape the modern attitude towards the world. Terra incognita (along with its metaphorical substitutes America and even Africa) refers back to the discovery of unknown and even unsuspected geography early in the modern age and the subsequent exploration of previously uncharted continents. Taking this as the metaphorical model of knowledge meant being prepared to see every advance of knowledge as just a preliminary to making a much greater discovery. This expectation encouraged a disposition to expect and labor for new knowledge, and brought along with it a positive reappraisal of the new and novel, of curiosity, of infinity, and of imagination.

The metaphor of the incomplete universe suggested not only that the world was still evolving, but that it had no fixed end -- so that human beings were free to shape it. The classical conception of the cosmos, with its assumption that all change amounted to the completion of already established forms, proved particularly resilient. Cartesian cosmogony remained wedded to a fixed teleology, which saw the world as it already existed as its end state. Even Kant's conception of a universe in an unending process of change doesn't quite shake free from earlier cosmological ideas -- the worlds in his universe still have a fixed pattern of development and decay, and man plays no active part in it.

Friedrich Schlegel first gives the incomplete universe a pragmatic turn -- an incomplete universe means that life is not futile, that there are tasks for humans to accomplish. Schlegel's insistence on organic metaphor for the incomplete world actually suggests greater resistance to human action than a purely mechanical interpretation.

Schlegel also puts forth the metaphor of "almighty man" as an aggregated force that brings order to the incomplete universe. This raises the question of how the fragmentary forces of individuals are integrated into the task of completing the universe. Modern thought throws up two concepts which answer this question, method and collective. Method is a way of unifying generations of human beings into a single subject of knowledge. Collective is a way of conceptualizing the aggregate of labor that is ready to be deployed to reshape an unfinished world -- and thus, in communist thought, it provides the background assumption of a force that needs an unfinished world to be created by revolution, which liberates society from stasis, in order to be put to use.