Gladstone, 1809-1874

Gladstone, 1809-1874

Gladstone, 1809-1874

Gladstone, 1809-1874


William Ewart Gladstone (1809-1898) has been hailed as the most characteristic and extraordinary of Victorians. His expansive public career--in and out of office from 1834 to 1894 and four times Prime Minister--was consistently controversial and dramatic. This work, by a highly acclaimed Gladstone scholar, makes available in a single volume the story of one of the most powerful political personalities in British history. The book describes Gladstone's education, his political career from the early years as a Tory to his spectacular first administration from 1868 to 1874 and the remarkable private drama of sexual temptation and moral crisis, which from the 1840s underlay Gladstone's public life. Illuminating the keen ways in which Gladstone managed to keep himself at the "top of the greasy pole" and become one of the most successful political figures in Britain, the work shows how Gladstone's career and views helped shape parliamentary politics of the Victorian age.


William Ewart Gladstone was elected to the Commons in 1832, was first in office in 1834, ended his fourth term as Prime Minister in 1894 and retired from the Commons in 1895. It is as if, in our own times, a man first in office in Ramsay Mac Donald's National Government had been fairly constantly in Cabinet since 1941 and was still, in late 1985, to serve a further two separate terms as Prime Minister and another decade in the Commons. Throughout this huge career, Gladstone spoke constantly, wrote books and articles copiously, and kept most of his enormous correspondence, as well as writing almost 26,000 daily entries in his diary. Consequently, it would not have been difficult, indeed it would have been much easier, to have made this book twice or five times its present length.

The book is an introduction to Gladstone, an extended biographical essay; it makes no claim to be exhaustive or definitive. Indeed, such a claim with respect to so Protean a person as Gladstone would be silly. All but two of the book's chapters have been available for some years in the form of the Introductions I have written to those volumes of The Gladstone Diaries with Cabinet Minutes and Prime-Ministerial Correspondence which cover the years from 1840 onwards. the first two chapters have been written for this book. the Diaries' Introductions have been extensively used by scholars, but they have, hitherto, been printed together with the diary text in volumes only affordable by libraries. I hope it may be convenient to general readers and to students of the nineteenth century to have them available first hand, and in a gathered form. Some alterations and additions have been made to suit them for this book. Details of the correlation between the chapters of this book and the printed Introductions are given at the back of this volume.

I have chosen to stop for the time being at 1874. This is a natural break in Gladstone's career, for by the end of that year, following his first government's defeat in the General Election of 1874 and his resignation as Prime Minister, he had retired from leadership of the Liberal Party and was preparing for the sale of his London house. This was the end of what was, in retrospect, his first political career. His, return to politics in 1876 and his remaining three premierships will be dealt with later as the editing of the Diaries reaches its conclusion (the period to the end of 1880 is already available: as Volume ix, with an Introduction).

It is a pleasure to have this opportunity to acknowledge debts and to express gratitude. My family has now lived with Gladstone for some time and my children--David, Lucy, and Oliver--have grown up with him. On the whole, like me, they have grown rather to like him. I am obliged to them . . .

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