Intellectuals of the 1920's delighted in belittling the leaders of the Victorian Era. To "debunk" the great men of the nineteenth century became a popular pastime. But fashions change. The world-wide catastrophes of our own time have chastened at least some of the critics. They now understand that the Victorian age was one of real progress. In that period governments in the western world grew more democratic and sought to function for the people; respect for law and human rights became widely accepted; and for the first time in history it was generally believed that peace rather than war was the normal state of international relations.
By the middle of our own century many people realized that the earlier concept of Victorianism was based on only half-truths. Consequently, the needed re-evaluation cries out today for a comprehensive knowledge of Victorian achievements, ideas, and beliefs.
Fortunately, the Victorians were diligent letter writers whose correspondence was commonly preserved. This was true in the case of the Gladstone-Gordon correspondence which extended over a period of forty- five years (1851-1896). During most of that time Gladstone was a dominant figure in British public affairs and in international relations. Affectionately called "the People's William" and the "Grand Old Man," he was the greatest liberal statesman of the nineteenth century. When his long (1809-1898) and active life ended, the whole world mourned.
For thirty of the years covered by this correspondence, Arthur Hamilton-Gordon (Lord Stanmore in 1893), youngest son of the fourth Earl of Aberdeen, served as governor in various parts of the British Empire. Though he was cast in a much smaller mold than Gladstone, Gordon won marked distinction as a colonial governor. He strove hard to protect the natives against rapacious white settlers and traders; he promoted education; he applied the principle of a British trusteeship for native races; and as the first governor of the Fiji Islands, he introduced the system of indirect rule (in which the tribal organization was used as an instrument of government), a system later extended by Lord Lugard to several African dependencies.
The letters--Gladstone to Gordon and Gordon to Gladstone--included in this selection have been transcribed from microfilmed copies of manuscripts in the Gladstone Papers at the British Museum, Add. Mss., 44319-44322; 44745, ff., 95, 168. In 1932 Gordon's son, Lord Stanmore, deposited in the British Museum letters from the Gladstones to his father. These letters are included with the Gladstone Papers. Unless otherwise stated . . .