Front Page Titles (by Subject) OXFORD AND MR. GLADSTONE. ( From The Economist, 22 nd July, 1865.) - The Works and Life of Walter Bagehot, vol. 9 (Essays from the Economist, the Saturday Review)
Return to Title Page for The Works and Life of Walter Bagehot, vol. 9 (Essays from the Economist, the Saturday Review)
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
OXFORD AND MR. GLADSTONE. ( From “ The Economist, ” 22 nd July, 1865.) - Walter Bagehot, The Works and Life of Walter Bagehot, vol. 9 (Essays from the Economist, the Saturday Review) 
The Works and Life of Walter Bagehot, ed. Mrs. Russell Barrington. The Works in Nine Volumes. The Life in One Volume. (London: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1915). Vol. 9.
About Liberty Fund:
Liberty Fund, Inc. is a private, educational foundation established to encourage the study of the ideal of a society of free and responsible individuals.
The text is in the public domain.
Fair use statement:
This material is put online to further the educational goals of Liberty Fund, Inc. Unless otherwise stated in the Copyright Information section above, this material may be used freely for educational and academic purposes. It may not be used in any way for profit.
OXFORD AND MR. GLADSTONE.
Forty years ago Mr. Canning said, in a speech on Catholic Emancipation, “I was warned when the question first crossed my path that I must relinquish the most cherished object of my life—the representation of the University of Oxford. I made my choice. The occasion is past. I will speak of it no more.” Oxford has been curiously consistent. When Mr. Canning so spoke, her voice in Parliament was a peculiar voice. It was a conspicuous advantage,—a “blue ribbon” in the speech of those aristocratic days when visible symbols had a meaning, that the mere largeness of the cultivated world prevent their having now. To sit then for Oxford gave then of itself an unequalled prestige both in the House and out of it. The political world of that day, mostly educated at two Universities, recognised in the most fascinating and aristocratic of these Universities an inherent charm. All this is now gone. Parliament has been reformed, and a race of men educated “nowhere,” as would have been said once, but quite able intellectually to hold their own, throng the lower House. And Oxford has herself to blame. It is she that has dissolved the charm which she inherited. The new race of members were deeply susceptible of cultivated influence, or why did Mr. Gladstone’s words so fascinate Liverpool and Manchester? But Oxford will choose her worst men and will not choose her best. The cause lies deep in her teaching and that of the public schools. She gives, as Eton gives, a splendid teaching to the few, and a contemptible teaching to the many. Consequently, the products of her teaching in no way represent her teachers. The mass of men who, for the sake of orders, or for any other reason, take a common degree, no more represent Oxford than a common Eton fag represented the knowledge of Dr. Hawtrey. You cannot make a good University constituency where the necessary attainments of a graduate represent a feeble and irregular culture. To create great men is not enough; Oxford has quite done her share of that in this generation. To cite but one case, she has trained both Newman and Jowett, the greatest leader of Anglican anti-liberalism and the greatest leader of Anglican liberalism which the age has produced. But Oxford has produced (as we have heard a tutor regret) a “stupid average,” and it is this average which rules the poll. It is this average which excluded Mr. Canning, which rejected Sir R. Peel, which rejected Mr. Gladstone,—which, in a word, refused to elect the three statesmen who were in their generations the best products of her teaching, and who were alike in this—that they each at least tried to combine the true Conservatism and the true Liberalism—the inheritance of the past and the necessities of the present. Everybody understands the errors of their fathers, but it is not every Oxford man who sees that in rejecting Mr. Gladstone he has repeated the error of those who rejected Sir R. Peel and excluded Mr. Canning.
It is better, however, for England that Oxford has decided as she has. It is of great importance that the statesmen of England should sit for constituencies of a proper class. There are two sorts of seats, one of which we may call special and peculiar, and the other of which we may call neutral and judicial. The first have particular opinions and interests; they have singular wants and notions, and their representatives are sent to express them. Accordingly, these representatives assume almost inevitably the character of advocates. They have a case which they wish to bring before the House; they have a lesson to teach it foreign to the experience and different from the notions of ordinary educated men. There ought to be some special constituencies in Parliament for every such special type of thought—some for the shipowner, some for the manufacturer, some for the landlord, some for the clergy; but there ought to be a vastly greater number of constituencies of no aberrant type, no eccentric idiosyncrasy, which simply represent the common voice of educated men, which must hear what the commissioned advocates of classes allege, weigh their arguments, estimate their often conflicting assertions, and in the last resort decide. Oxford is, as will be admitted both by her admirers and by her critics, a special constituency, and therefore she ought not to be represented by a ruling statesman. She must enforce upon him special notions, singular ideas, unusual thoughts; she must, if she does her duty, press upon him the advocacy of her characteristic creed. But a great statesman cannot be a class advocate. He should sit for a constituency which is the judge of other constituencies—which can hear and listen—which represents the general voice of all England, not the special dialect of any bit of England.
South Lancashire is, upon the whole, and subject to some exceptions, such a constituency. There was an idea in some not very instructed quarters, that if Mr. Gladstone were returned for South Lancashire, he would be pressed into Radicalism by his constituents. We will not discuss the personal compliment to Mr. Gladstone, but look at the constituency. South Lancashire returns two Conservatives, Liverpool two more, and Manchester excludes Mr. Bright’s brother because he is Mr. Bright’s brother. South Lancashire is a constituency which will wish its representative to coincide in judgment with the entire people of England.
Oxford could have done Mr. Gladstone no greater service than by compelling him to make these speeches at this critical moment. They are statesmanlike speeches. The words in the Manchester speech on reform will remove many misconceptions:—“I have ever been, and I still am, opposed to every sudden and violent change. Never have I spoken a word which, fairly interpreted, gave the smallest countenance to the schemes—if such schemes there be—of any who might view with indifference the passing of precipitate and extensive measures that might endanger by their very suddenness the true and just balance of the powers of the constitution; but this I say, that the true and just balance of those powers would not be destroyed, but improved, by a fair and liberal and sensible—not a sweeping nor overwhelming—admission of our brethren of the labouring community to the privileges of the suffrage.” And the whole of these speeches advertise his genius. No other man could make one such oration at three o’clock in the afternoon, and another great oration at eight o’clock in the evening. The impression of his facility in Manchester is wonderful. They say, “He goes down to make a great speech at the Free Trade Hall just as another man goes to eat his lunch”. So much effectual, telling, producible power has not been exhibited in England for many a long day. One fact is very significant. The practical question now is, Shall Mr. Disraeli or Mr. Gladstone lead the next House of Commons? In Mr. Gladstone’s case, there has been vehement criticism and eager admiration. He has, to quote again a phrase of Schiller which he himself once quoted, “been much hated and also much beloved”. But of Mr. Disraeli there has been no affectionate word. No one has ventured to say that he wishes to have any confidence in him, or that he wishes to be led by him.