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Life of Gladstone by  M. B. Synge


 

 

A LIBERAL

"Not in vain the distance beacons. Forward, forward let us range;

Let the great world spin for ever down the ringing grooves of change."

—TENNYSON.

"To live is to change, and to be perfect is to have changed often."

—NEWMAN.

A TURNING-POINT in Mr. Gladstone's career had now been reached. In 1859, Lord Palmerston formed a Ministry, and under him for the second time, Gladstone became Chancellor of the Exchequer.

[56] It was no sudden change this. As has been seen, he had long been tending toward Liberal principles; now he separated himself entirely from his old party. "His hand was fairly set to the plough, and there was no more looking back." He had taken service with the Liberals, and henceforth his growth in the idea of freedom and progress was to he very rapid.

His Budget of 1860 was as ingenious as that of 1853. It is interesting to the world at large as having been the means of introducing the now well-known penny newspaper to the British public. Up to this time the tax on paper had been high, and hence newspapers cost sixpence, a price which placed them out of the reach of the poor.

Liverpool, Mr. Gladstone's birthplace, started the first penny daily paper ever published in Great Britain; this was soon followed by The Daily Telegraph, The Morning Star, and The Daily News. It was the first step towards spreading popular education, for it multiplied cheap newspapers, which brought the daily story of the world to the cottages and garrets of the poor.

This was, the first reform Mr. Gladstone carried as a Liberal; the day was to come whet his reforming work would carry him yet further—when he would materially add to the freedom and liberties of the English people.

The Budget speech was a magnificent and masterly performance. The war, and they exhaustion following on war, were fatal to progress. To most Chancellors of the Exchequer the financial outlook in 1860 would have been gloomy enough. To Mr. Gladstone, to grapple with financial difficulties was an intellectual pleasure. Nothing daunted, and notwithstanding a large deficit, he had spoken in his Budget of a proposed commercial [57] treaty with France, itself necessitating a reduction of duties on wines. On the other hand, the repeal of the duty on paper, and the reduction of various other duties, made the increase of the income tax inevitable.

Again his mastery over detail was astounding.

Here is a story, which, if it be true, shows how well he remembered the merest details of his Budgets.

Some one told him, not many years ago, the story of a very deaf old lady who had been heard protesting vehemently to the Custom House officials at Dover that she had no contraband articles with her, while, at the same time, a musical-box was heard plaintively performing "Home. Sweet Home," beneath the flounces of her dress.

Mr. Gladstone heard the story with compressed lips and flashing eyes.

"And this occurred, you say, last year? It is impossible, monstrously impossible!' he cried. "I myself abolished the duty on musical-boxes in the year 1860."

It was becoming more and more evident that Gladstone was by far the ablest man in the House of Commons; all saw that he was destined to be the leader of the people of England.

"Gladstone must rise," said Bishop Wilberforce; he is young, he is by far the ablest man in the House of Commons, and in it, in the long run, the ablest man must lead."

He was now the hope of the reform-loving Liberals, and looked on as the advocate for freedom and progress.

Here is a story of him about this time, when Chancellor of the Exchequer, which shows his characteristic love of power and his absolute determination to be master of every situation:—

He was taking his usual ride in Hyde Park on a [58] very spirited and even wild young horse, when the animal suddenly plunged and ran away, got off the ordinary track of riders, and making for a little light iron gateway, went straight over it. Mr. Gladstone was determined to be master. The moment the horse had leaped the gate the rider turned him round and put him at the gate again. Again he jumped it, and again his rider turned him to it and made him jump. So it went on until the horse was fairly conquered and his rider had gained the victory.

The story got into the papers. "It would take a very reckless horse or a very reckless political opponent to get the better of Mr. Gladstone," said one. "He has made his party face many a stiff fence since the far-off days of that little event in Hyde Park"

Another illustration of the way Mr. Gladstone had broken free from all traditions of his early Parliamentary career lay in his support of popular suffrage. In April 1864 he spoke vehemently in favour of allowing the labouring man to vote.

"We are told," he said in the course of a brilliant speech, "we are told that the working classes do not agitate for the suffrage; but is it well that we should wait until they do agitate? An agitation by the working classes is not like an agitation by the classes above them having leisure. The agitation of the classes having leisure is easily conducted. Every hour of their time has not a money value; their wives and children are not dependent on the application of these hours of labour.

But when a working man finds himself in such a condition that he must abandon that daily labour on which he is strictly dependent for his daily bread, it is only because then, inn railway language, the danger- [59] signal is turned on, and because he his a strong necessity for action, and a distrust in the rulers who have driven him to that necessity."


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