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Gladstone, William Ewart

Category: Business and political leaders

Gladstone in 1879, painted by John Everett Millais

William Ewart Gladstone, FRS, FSS (29 December 1809 – 19 May 1898) was a British statesman and politician, in a career which lasted over sixty years.

He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society (FRS) in 1881.

His importance to British politics can be judged by the fact the NPG have 315 portraits of him!

National Portrait Gallery
The grand old man of British politics; leader of the Liberal Party and prime minister in four governments from 1868 to 1894. Gladstone was responsible for major reforms in every sphere of national life, and for the development of imperial foreign policy. He divided the party on the issue of the Irish Home Rule and stamped his moral authority on the politics of his time. He was a considerable scholar and author in his own right.

Gladstone was born in Liverpool to Scottish parents. He first entered the House of Commons in 1832, beginning his political career in the Conservative Party. Gladstone served as a minister in both of Robert Peel's governments, and in 1846 joined the breakaway Peelite faction, which eventually merged into the new Liberal Party in 1859. He was Chancellor under Lord Aberdeen (1852–55), Lord Palmerston (1859–65), and Lord Russell (1865–66). His popularity amongst the working-class earned him the sobriquet "The People's William".

Gladstone formed his last government in 1892, at the age of 82 and left office in March 1894, aged 84, as both the oldest person to serve as Prime Minister and the only Prime Minister to have served four terms. He left parliament in 1895 and died three years later.

Wikipedia has a 44 page entry on Gladstone that details his entire political career.  It is exceptionally comprehensive in this respect, as such if you are more interested in politics than spirituality we suggest you search Wikipedia.  But what has been totally excluded from this description is Gladstone’s views on religion, the occult and psychical research, which are indeed of great interest.

 The Lobby of the House of Commons, 1886

Religion and spiritual views

by Harry Furniss

Gladstone's intensely religious mother was an evangelical of Scottish Episcopal origins.  His father joined the Church of England, having been a Presbyterian when he first settled in Liverpool.

As a boy, William was baptised into the Church of England, but he aligned his politics with the evangelical faith for reasons which will become apparent shortly.  The question of ethics and morals filled his politics and his approach to life and its problems.

He also wrote on the subject, which given his Scottish background is of especial interest if you study what we have discovered about the Picts

His book The State in its Relations with the Church attempted to discuss the question that consumed him -  to what extent should religion and state be separate or closely entwined? 

It is not an easy question, as when no brake from religion is present within the state machine one gets the sort of state seen in Stalin’s Russia where upwards of 60 million people were slaughtered by the state in the name of power.  On the other hand, too close an association can result in religion being the main political force, and the state suddenly becoming a weak and almost ineffective servant of fanatical politicised religion.  And we have seen the results of this often enough as well, especially in the Middle East.

 

A very fine balance thus had to be created, he believed initially, where the state was the driver and the church[es] the brake. 

Indeed this is why at one time the so called House of Lords in the UK had bishops and other church leaders within it.   The legislature was the House of Commons, but the combined wisdom of former statesmen, as well as church leaders could place the necessary checks on the legislation created.

This balance, incidentally, was destroyed by Blair’s UK government and allowed him to go to war with Iraq despite almost wholescale opposition from the country.  It was never present in the USA, and we may all be reaping the effects of this lack of ethical brake in the USA, even now.

Gladstone also tackled the tricky issue of whether Churches should be state funded by taxes [as they are in Germany], coming to the conclusion that it does not much matter where the money comes from, once money enters the equation, morals and ethics may leave, you no longer have a brake, as the institution ceases to be 'religion' in its correct sense:

The State in its Relations with the Church

But, upon looking coolly at the question, we find that the abuses themselves attach to the practice of endowment in general, not to that of state endowment in particular. Undoubtedly, wherever there is considerable property devoted to a particular purpose, it holds out temptation to worldly men to step in, with a view of enjoying the property and neglecting the purpose.


Speech, Hawarden (28 May 1890) - Selfishness is the greatest
curse of the human race

In other words, there has to be a way of providing a brake that is free from an institutionalised Church that isn’t riddled with people who are in reality politicians and business people.  This problem is infinitely more complex, and after considerable observation and discussion Gladstone concluded that the answer lay in the evangelical teachings of his boyhood, with its reliance upon direct spiritual experience

If people in general become more spiritually minded and have direct contact with ‘God’, then it is automatic that they move to a more ethical and moral stance. 

In other words the better solution in the long run, is to ensure everyone had a conscience via spiritual experience.  That view of the individual conscience affected his political outlook throughout his whole life.

Despite the ramblings of commentators on his theories, Gladstone was not interested which organisation helped them to get that experience only that there was some means available to help them do so – that they were not denied the ‘right’ to be spiritual.

Speech, Foresters' Hall, Dalkeith, Scotland (26 November 1879) as part of the Midlothian campaign; published in "Mr Gladstone's visit to Mid-Lothian: Meeting at the Foresters' Hall" (27 November 1879), The Scotsman, p. 6; also quoted in Life of Gladstone (1903) by John Morley, II, (p. 595)

 

Remember the rights of the ‘savage’, as we call him. Remember that the happiness of his humble home, remember that the sanctity of life in the hill villages of Afghanistan among the winter snows, are as sacred in the eye of Almighty God as are your own.

Remember that He who has united you together as human beings in the same flesh and blood, has bound you by the law of mutual love, that that mutual love is not limited by the shores of this island, is not limited by the boundaries of Christian civilisation, that it passes over the whole surface of the earth, and embraces the meanest along with the greatest in its wide scope.

He was not a missionary for any Church, he saw the answer lay in spirituality.  This said, he did help to establish Glenalmond College, in 1847, then The Holy and Undivided Trinity College at Glenalmond. The school was set up as an episcopal foundation to spread spiritual ideas.

When Gladstone died it was made public that he had become interested in psychic research and the search for methods of achieving spiritual experience.  In an obituary notice, written in 1898, F. W. H. Myers said

Quoted in Journal S.P.R., Vol. viii, p. 260

 “Mr. Gladstone's broad intellectual purview-aided, perhaps, in this instance by something of the practical foresight of the statesman-placed him in quite a different attitude towards our-quest [psychical research].

'It is the most important work which is being done in the world,' he said in a conversation in 1885.

'By far the most important,' he repeated with a grave emphasis which suggested previous trains of thought. . . .

He . . . ended by saying: 'If you will accept sympathy without service, I shall be glad to join your ranks.'

He became an Honorary Member and followed with attention the successive issues of our Proceedings.

Drugs

 

Gladstone was a passionate emotional speaker,
his biographer John Morley described him as:
"a highlander in the custody of a lowlander,"
and an adversary as:
"an ardent Italian in the custody of a Scotsman."

Given that there are those who claim that drugs provide spiritual experience, it may be of interest to know Gladstone’s views on the subject.  Gladstone was against the use of drugs, both from a moral and a personal standpoint. 

“He spoke in Parliament as one who had mastered the subject, yet with an undertone of passion… Indian opium cast a shadow over his as well as over many other Victorian homes”.

And the reason he condemned it with such passion is because he had seen first hand what it could do to someone, and the someone in question was his sister Helen, who became an addict.

Helen Gladstone (1814–80) was the younger sister of William Ewart Gladstone, and her life was an unhappy series of rebellions against Victorian patriarchy.  Her namesake – the daughter of William Gladstone, Helen Gladstone (1849–1925) became Vice-Principal of Newnham College, Cambridge, as such we can imagine what it must have been like for a highly intelligent young woman in a Victorian society that simply refused to believe women could do anything other than keep house and bear children.

 “Of her life's many low points, the period in her early thirties was perhaps the most profoundly shocking. Unrequited in love, lacking any useful occupation, … she was depressed and drug-dependent”.

The opium trade in particular was roundly condemned by Gladstone, who called it "most infamous and atrocious".  He opposed both the opium trade and the Opium Wars Britain waged in China, both the First Opium War initiated in 1840 and the Second Opium War initiated in 1857, lambasting it as "Palmerston's Opium War".  He said that he felt "in dread of the judgements of God upon England for our national iniquity towards China".

No, drugs were definitely NOT the answer, spiritual experience needed to be obtained by other means.


 

Other activities

Gladstone appears to have had an exceptionally clear view of how Government policy changes can provide an environment conducive to the objective of ‘conscience from spirituality’. 

Once one realises that his involvement in the SPR was over a long period, at a time when some of its most talented and far seeing luminaries were active, it becomes clear that the insights of the SPR members must have influenced many of his policies.

We have explored his key policies by cross relating them to the activities for obtaining spiritual experience in the Suppression/actions section.  Some actions in this list have nothing to do with the governance of the nation, but there are a number that do


Gladstone at Hawarden with his grandchild
Dorothy Drew, daughter of Mary Gladstone

Henry Labouchere, quoted in Hesketh Pearson, Lives of the Wits (1962)

 I don't object to Gladstone always having the ace of trumps up his sleeve, but merely to his belief that the Almighty put it there.

Death

The Bishop of St Andrews, Dunkeld and Dunblane George Wilkinson recorded when he ministered to him along with Stephen Gladstone:

Shall I ever forget the last Friday in Passion Week, when I gave him the last Holy Communion that I was allowed to administer to him? It was early in the morning. He was obliged to be in bed, and he was ordered to remain there, but … out of his bed he came. Alone he knelt in the presence of his God till the absolution has been spoken, and the sacred elements received.

Gladstone died on 19 May 1898 at Hawarden Castle, Hawarden, aged 88. He had been cared for by his daughter Helen who had resigned her job to care for her father and mother.

 The cause of death is officially recorded as "Syncope, Senility". "Syncope" meant failure of the heart and "senility" in the nineteenth century was an infirmity of advanced old age, rather than a loss of mental faculties.

The House of Commons adjourned on the afternoon of Gladstone's death, and Herbert Gladstone accepted a public funeral on behalf of the Gladstone family. The funeral was held at  Westminster Abbey, and the Prince of Wales (the future King Edward VII) and the Duke of York (the future King George V) acted as pallbearers. His wife, Catherine Gladstone (née Glynne), died two years later on 14 June 1900; and was buried next to him.

George Holyoake 1865:

When Mr Gladstone visited the North, you well remember when word passed from the newspaper to the workman that it circulated through mines and mills, factories and workshops, and they came out to greet the only British minister who ever gave the English people a right because it was just they should have it ... and when he went down the Tyne, all the country heard how twenty miles of banks were lined with people who came to greet him.

 

Men stood in the blaze of chimneys; the roofs of factories were crowded; colliers came up from the mines; women held up their children on the banks that it might be said in after life that they had seen the Chancellor of the People go by. The river was covered like the land. Every man who could ply an oar pulled up to give Mr Gladstone a cheer.
When Lord Palmerston went to Bradford the streets were still, and working men imposed silence upon themselves. When Mr Gladstone appeared on the Tyne he heard cheer no other English minister ever heard ... the people were grateful to him, and rough pitmen who never approached a public man before, pressed round his carriage by thousands ... and thousands of arms were stretched out at once, to shake hands with Mr Gladstone as one of themselves.

 

References

Works

  • Gladstone, William Ewart (1841). The State in its relations with the Church
  • Gladstone, William Ewart (1858). Studies on Homer and the Homeric Age.
  • Gladstone, William Ewart (1868). A Chapter of Autobiography.
  • Gladstone, William Ewart (1870). Juventus Mundi: The Gods and Men of the Heroic Age
  • Gladstone, William Ewart (1890). The impregnable rock of Holy Scripture
  • Gladstone, William Ewart (1874). The Vatican Decrees in their Bearing on Civil Allegiance: A Political Expostulation  –The First Vatican Council dogmatised Papal Infallibility in 1870, this had outraged Gladstone and not a few others, as it threatened to create divisions in the UK, where divisions did not exist before.  The pamphlet sold 150,000 copies by the end of 1874.   He described the Catholic Church as "nothing but one giddy height of despotism " and said that the Pope threatened the sovereign rule of UK law, replacing an expanding democracy with dictatorship, hiding this attack on liberty, " beneath a suffocating cloud of incense".

Other primary sources

  •  Gladstone, William Ewart -  Midlothian Speeches. 1879.
  • Viscount Gladstone, After Thirty Years (1928).
  • Tollemache, Lionel A. (1898). Talks with Mr. Gladstone
  •  Gladstone Diaries. With Cabinet Minutes & Prime-Ministerial Correspondence (13 vol; vol 14 is the index; 1968-1994) - Matthew, H. C. G. and M. R. D. Foot, eds.; includes diaries, important selections from cabinet minutes and key political correspondence.

Observations

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