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William E. Gladstone
by [?]

I would not complain of this law if it worked both ways; but no wife can demand that the State shall return her “man” willy-nilly. And if she administers reproof to her mate, she does it without the sanction of the Sovereign.

However, in justice to Englishmen, it should be stated that while this unique law still stands on the statute-books, it is very seldom that a man in recent years has stooped to invoke it.

On all the questions I have named, from slavery to divorce, Mr. Gladstone has used the “Bible argument.” But as the years have gone by, his mind has become liberalized, and on many points where he was before zealous he is now silent. In Eighteen Hundred Forty-one, he argued with much skill and ingenuity that Jews were not entitled to full rights of citizenship, but in Eighteen Hundred Forty-seven, acknowledging his error, he took the other side.

During the War of Secession the sympathies of England’s Chancellor of the Exchequer were with the South. Speaking at Newcastle on October Ninth, Eighteen Hundred Sixty-two, he said, “Jefferson Davis has undoubtedly founded a new nation.” But five years passed, and he publicly confessed that he was wrong.

Here is a man who, if he should err deeply, is yet so great that, like Cotton Mather, he might not hesitate to stand uncovered on the street-corners and ask the forgiveness of mankind. Such men are saved by their enemies. Their own good and the good of humanity require that their balance of power shall not be too great. Had the North gone down, Gladstone might never have seen his mistake. In this instance and in many others, he has not been the leader of progress, but its echo: truth has been forced upon him. His passionate earnestness, his intense volition, his insensibility to moral perspective, his blindness to the sense of proportion, might have led him into dangerous excess and frightful fanatical error, if it were not for the fact that such men create an opposition that is their salvation.

To analyze a character so complex as Mr. Gladstone’s requires the grasp of genius. We speak of “the duality of the human mind,” but here are half a dozen spirits in one. They rule in turn, and occasionally several of them struggle for the mastery.

When the Fisk Jubilee Singers visited England, we find Gladstone dropping the affairs of State to hear their music. He invited them to Hawarden, where he sang with them. So impressed was he with the negro melodies that he anticipated that idea which has since been materialized: the founding of a national school of music that would seek to perfect in a scientific way these soul-stirring strains.

He might have made a poet of no mean order; for his devotion to spiritual and physical beauty has made him a lifelong admirer of Homer and Dante. Those who have met him when the mood was upon him have heard him recite by the hour from the “Iliad” in the original. And yet the theology of Homer belongs to the realm of natural religion with which Mr. Gladstone has little patience.

A prominent member of the House of Commons once said, “The only two things that the Prime Minister really cares for are religion and finance.” The statement comes near truth; for the chief element in Mr. Gladstone’s character is his devotion to religion; and his signal successes have been in the line of economics. He believes in Free Trade as the gospel of social salvation. He revels in figures; he has price, value, consumption, distribution, import, export, fluctuation, all at his tongue’s end, ready to hurl at any one who ventures on a hasty generalization.

And it is a significant fact that in his strong appeal for the disestablishment of the Irish Church, the stress of his argument was put on the point that the Irish Church was not in the line of the apostolic succession.