Sunday, April 22, 2012

Roy Jenkins, Gladstone: Chapters 11 and 12, "Health and Wealth" and "A Short Odyssey for a British Ulysses"

Gladstone was out of office for most of the 1850s, so his genuinely political activity was pretty scant. This gives Jenkins the opportunity to notice that Gladstone got sick rather a lot. He also fills us in on Gladstone's quixotic scholarly effort to cleanse Homer of paganism, and his book and china collecting.

During a visit to Liverpool in 1853, Gladstone made his first essay into political oratory before large public audiences -- an activity that other leading figures viewed with disfavor. His mostly irenic speeches about the outbreak of the Russo-Turkish War -- their advocacy for Turkish cause so hedged with reservations that any impetus for intervention was stopped short -- were well received in a locale where peaceful trade was favored over martial fervor.

Gladstone's March, 1857 parliamentary speech denouncing Palmerston's aggression towards China helped bring down the government. Ironically, this ended up helping Palmerston, since many of advocates for a more pacific foreign policy were defeated in the subsequent elections.

I found it peculiar that the crisis in India in 1857 didn't even merit a mention. Perhaps this simply reflects how remote the concerns of India were to British government at the time, even in extreme circumstances.  If so, it would have been more illuminating if Jenkins had made that point explicitly.

That same year, Gladstone's characteristically priggish opposition to Palmerston's divorce liberalization bill failed to carry the day -- the last of his moralistic crusades.

Early in 1858, Gladstone helped bring down another Liberal Palmerston government with a speech opposing the Conspiracy to Murder Bill (a sort of anti-terrorist measure the government had pushed in order to placate the French in the wake of an attempted assassination of Napoleon III).  But Gladstone and his fellow Peelites proved too precious to serve in the succeeding Conservative Derby government, either.  Somewhat at loose ends (apart from his new avocation of felling trees), Gladstone accepted an appointment as Extraordinary Commissioner to the Ionian Islands in the middle of 1858.  During his half-year there, he obstinately insisted on addressing the (Greek) islanders in Italian, recommended a soon-superseded policy of delaying union with Greece. clashed with and pushed out the already serving High Commissioner, and then quickly removed himself from the office of High Commissioner when he discovered that it conflicted with holding a seat in Parliament.

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