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(Q): MR. GLADSTONE’S RETIREMENT - John Emerich Edward Dalberg, Lord Acton, Selections from the Correspondence of the First Lord Acton, Vol. I (Cardinal Newman, Lady Blennerhassett, W.E. Gladstone) 
Selections from the Correspondence of the First Lord Acton, edited with and Introduction by John Neville Figgis and Renald Vere Laurence. Vol. I Correspondence with Cardinal Newman, Lady Blennerhassett, W.E. Gladstone and Others (London: Longmans, Gree and Co., 1917).
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MR. GLADSTONE’S RETIREMENT
Dear Mr. Gladstone,—
It is among latent Tories that you will obtain accomplices for the conspiracy to ruin the Liberal party, and nobody is bound to resist it more firmly than I am. But I do not adopt the words which were spoken to Nicole1 when he pleaded for rest:—“N’avezvous pas toute l’Eternité pour vous reposer?” I claim no more than the Quinquennium Neronis—that is, the probable duration of this, your own, Parliament, and perhaps a bittock.
When the next General Election has been fought under your flag, when the nation, which last year called you to power, has pronounced on the fulfilment of its mandate, then you will have earned your deliverance. Till then Puissance oblige. I will not allow all that you have done to blind me to the one thing you have left undone. If you have provided for the succession you have not tied up the estate. While leading Liberals, extravagantes, pursue eccentric paths, the party lacks the organisation and discipline that will secure the future. The remaining measure of Reform which will establish Democracy for good, and can hardly pass in the earlier years of a Parliament, will require all your grasp of principle and detail, your ascendancy in the House, and your power over the country to guide it in that arduous transit. Do not confound the definite and temporary motives for continuing with the general reluctance to lose you, or with disregard for your own wishes.
I know you, or rather I know myself, too well to rely on the efficacy of my arguments. But stronger forces are working on my side, and seeing as I do a distinct though not obvious obligation, and a real though not apparent sacrifice, I persist in my opinion and in my hope.—I remain, yours most truly,
Cannes,Dec. 20, 1881.
My dear Mr. Gladstone,—
I venture these lines, not to give trouble in the midst of labour, but as a stirrup cup before you mount for the North.
After giving Mamy a vision of the good things of England, I tried to redress the balance by taking my second daughter to the Styrian mountains—the country where the little blue Forellen grow—and there, at Aussee, I met Strossmayer, whom I had not seen for fourteen years. He came afterwards to pay us a visit at St. Martin, and we had a talk which lasted the better part of twenty-four hours.
The upshot of his conversation was that he entertains for you the sentiments proper to a Midlothian elector, and his greatest wish is to see you before he dies. He asked me how and where he would find you if he comes over to England next year, and I promised that your direction would be No. 10 Downing Street, until peace and order reign all down the Nile, and until a redistribution of the Electoral Map has so broken the evil-minded back of Toryism that the rest may be left to infra-olympian powers.
He hopes that he will be able to come next year, probably in June, and I have promised to introduce him to you, promising also that you would receive him gladly and with all honour.
Minghetti had announced himself here, and I had nearly persuaded the Bishop to come and meet him, when we learnt that he had to go to Bologna for a political meeting. I am here for a few days, alone with Döllinger.
I ought to add, because he wishes it, and not to tinkle the same bell always, that Strossmayer was very much impressed by Liddon.—I remain, most truly yours,
Tegernsee,August 24, 1884.
My dear Acton,—
Your letter touches me in a tender place, for to have a visible and audible knowledge of Bishop Strossmayer is one of my great unfulfilled yearnings, and though I now begin to feel most averse to journeys, I sometimes wonder whether you would take me, when my neck is once fairly out of the yoke, to see him.
In the meantime, the prospect you hold out of his coming to England is delightful, but the address which you have given him is, as I trust, not to be depended on. I am under no bond to finish the Egyptian question, or that of redistribution: my only bonds are a bond to carry the Franchise Bill or end my official life in the attempt, and a bond in the event of carrying the Franchise Bill to make a serious effort to introduce and carry a measure of redistribution.
Is not this enough? And on what possible ground of equity can you maintain that while in other professions, even in the Government of the Church, there is a desire for an interval between the theatre and the grave, those who follow the profession of all others the most contentious, and “the most immersed” as Bacon truly says “in matter,” are to be denied this breathing time, this space for the exercise, in their case more necessary than in any other, for recollection and detachment? You have never explained this to me, and I am disposed to challenge you.
In the innermost cell of my soul I am inclined to believe that the prolongation of my official life (or my parliamentary life) is of very little consequence to this self-governing country, and that if anywhere it is of more value to the Slavs of the Balkan peninsula and their neighbours north and south than to any one else. But they have now tasted freedom, and like other freemen must defend it.
At this moment I am engaged in the serious but interesting task of setting forth the character of the present crisis to a people whose loyalty to the Liberal cause is equalled by their singular intelligence and the practical side of their understanding. They are no whit below the mark of 1879-80: indeed I think they are even more sensitive and keen.—Believe me, ever sincerely yours,
W. E. Gladstone.
10 Downing Street,Whitehall,
My dear Acton,—
Since I received your kind letter, a heavy blow has fallen upon us in the capture of Khartoum, apparently by betrayal from within. The further announcement of the death of Gordon, in papers of to-day, has not up to this time been officially confirmed. The calamity is, in any case, great. As in the case of Hicks,1 our pacific policy was wholly thwarted, so now our confident hope of summary and conclusive action followed by prompt withdrawal has been dashed, and one of those crises created in which, whatever a Cabinet does, it can hardly be sure of doing right.
Now I turn to the polemical part of your letter. Your argument against letting the outworn hack go to grass depends wholly on a certain proposition, namely this, that there is about to be a crisis in the history of the Constitution growing out of the extension of the franchise, and that it is my duty to do what I can in aiding to steer the ship through the boiling waters of this crisis. My answer is simple. There is no crisis at all in view; there is a process of slow modification and development mainly in directions which I view with misgiving. “Tory democracy,” the favourite idea on that side, is no more like the Conservative party in which I was bred than it is like Liberalism. In fact less. It is demagogism, only a demagogism not ennobled by love and appreciation of liberty; but applied in the worst way, to put down the pacific, law-respecting, economic elements which ennobled the old Conservatism; living upon the fermentation of angry passions, and still in secret as obstinately attached as ever to the evil principle of class-interests. The Liberalism of to-day is better in what I have described as ennobling the old Conservatism; nay, much better, yet far from being good. Its pet idea is what they call construction, that is to say, taking into the hands of the State the business of the individual man. Both the one and the other have much to estrange me, and have had for many many years. But, with all this, there is no crisis. I have even the hope that while the coming change may give undue encouragement to “Construction,” it will be favourable to the economic, pacific, law-regarding elements; and the sense of justice which abides tenaciously in the masses will never knowingly join hands with the Fiend of Jingoism. On the whole, I do not abandon the hope that it may mitigate the chronic distemper, and have not the smallest fear of its bringing about an acute or convulsive action. You have me therefore rooted in my evil mind.
I have begun Mr. Cross,1 whom, I see, you generously helped. His work seems to have been executed with great care. I am as wroth as ever with Mary, and with you, for lifting her2 above Walter Scott (even this, I think, your Titanic audacity has attempted), or putting her on his level, yet I freely own she was a great woman. I have not yet got to the bottom of her ethical history.
I am exceedingly soothed and gratified by the praises from all sides of Dr. King as Bishop. He is, I believe, a saint, like Hamilton,3 and is, they say, much besides; not, however, a great man of business, so the rumour runs.—Ever yours,
W. E. Gladstone.
10 St. James’s Square,
My dear Acton,—
I received at Hawarden your two most interesting and simultaneous letters. Every day I have wished to answer them. But the obstacle has been twofold. I had too much to say as well as too much to do. Since I came to London close and constant attention to the course of business in Parliament has weighed upon me, and especially the necessity of making myself master of the Report issued by the Parnell Commission, a task not serious to many, but serious to one of my age, for whom the memory has become sadly irretentive of recent matter. This was all vented in a very long speech last night, of which I have now no remains except in physical fatigue. So I am in a condition to write to you partially, and one special circumstance prompts me to do it without delay.
Just after Dr. Döllinger’s death a man unknown to me wrote to offer me a portrait of him. I allowed him to send it here for inspection. I have failed to obtain any skilled judgment upon it. It is not an agreeable picture. The costume, white and black over it, does not help to give a pleasant tone. I suppose this dress to be that of Stiftsprobst, and the date to be not long before the excommunication. But besides that it is singularly like, the head appears to me to be painted with a power quite extraordinary. The author quite unknown: not, I think, Lenbach.1 I have given the man fifty pounds for it, and I mean to send it to my new building, as yet only an incipient Library, at Hawarden. But your claim to possess a picture of Dr. Döllinger is infinitely beyond mine, though perhaps you prefer your living inward recollections. But if it should be your wish to step into my place and become its owner, you are most welcome to do so.
Next, I send you herewith a separate copy of a paper I have written in the Nineteenth Century on “Books and the Housing of Them.” You are named in it honoris causa.
I also send you a proof of an article on the Old Testament intended for Good Words. I do not feel at all sure that I have been right in undertaking to yield this testimony, though I feel I have something to say if I can only say it. The determining motive is a promise given eighteen months ago, and from which I should find it hard to get released.
In this paper I have endeavoured to state my relation to the negative criticism. Inwardly I am but a half-believer in it: and I suppose that in its larger developments it is much contested among critics. Nay, even in its smaller ones, as I infer from the opinion of Delitzsch given in his book on the Psalms, about the Deutero-Isaiah. But I am fully conscious that I have no title to appear in the field as a disputant against it. I therefore assume provisionally its results: and try to make my argument independently of them.
There will be a series of papers, with some of which I have made progress.
At Oxford my only drawback was missing many who were absent, and among them I was sadly vexed to count your son. I resumed the habits of pure college life, and found the place more intensely interesting than ever. How much of England’s higher future does Oxford carry in her bosom. I gave an address to a large assembly, chiefly of undergraduates, on the points of contact between Assyriology and the Homeric text, which are, I think, neither few nor unimportant.—Ever yours,
W. E. Gladstone.
Windsor Castle,Thursday night.
Dear Mrs. Drew,—
I know Ponsonby has been put off. Both Empress and Queen at dinner, and the Queen in private, after dinner, spoke of your father’s eyesight.
They asked whether there was not incipient cataract—and the Empress said that did not much matter.
They showed they had no real knowledge of the state of things.
The Queen, alone, showed no greater knowledge, but some anxiety about his sight and hearing.
I answered, not apprehensively, and not with detail: but so as to prepare the Queen for very serious news, on that line. There is no danger, as I see, of their looking farther for other explanations.
The statement that has to be made will fall on prepared ground.—I remain, yours truly,
[1 ]Nicole, Pierre (1625-1695), was one of the most celebrated of the Port-Royalists. His best known book is his Essais de Morale.
[1 ]Hicks, William, or Hicks Pasha (1830-83), was betrayed and killed in battle by the army of the Mahdi (November 1883).
[1 ] J. W. Cross, Life of George Eliot.
[2 ] George Eliot.
[3 ]Hamilton, Walter Kerr (1808-69), Bishop of Salisbury (1854-69), was one of the strongest of Tractarians. He developed the organization of the diocese, and wrote important charges on the Eucharistic sacrifice, one of which was attacked in the House of Lords. He was a man of great holiness of life.
[1 ]Lenbach, Franz von (1836-94), the famous Munich painter of portraits. He painted among others Acton, Döllinger, and Gladstone.