Gladstone and the Irish Nation

By J. L. Hammond | Go to book overview

CHAPTER. VIII
GLADSTONE'S FIRST GOVERNMENT. ECLIPSE

Gladstone's combination of strength of body and strength of mind looks so impressive that the effect of strain on his health has often been under-estimated. Everybody knows about him that when he was over seventy he could fell the stoutest tree in the park, or walk twenty miles in the mountains, and that when he was over eighty he could speak for three or four hours in the House of Commons, meeting and defeating every opponent in turn, whether what was wanted at the moment was subtle and winding argument, or hot and overpowering passion. It has generally been supposed that he was always well and vigorous. Yet a study of his diaries shows how often he was ill, and ill at critical moments. He was in bed when Gordon was sent to the Sudan; in bed when Gordon's request for Zobeir was refused. During the 1880 Government he spent months at Cannes, sending commands and remonstrances as embarrassing to his colleagues as those sent by Tiberius to the Senate from Capri.

Let anybody consider what he had done in the first two years of office. His Government was a strong team-- perhaps the strongest team to be found in the history of Cabinets--but in its fiercest struggles he had been single- handed. So far as the internal conflict over Irish land was concerned, Gladstone would have had an easier time if that team had been as weak as it was strong. Those two Bills alone would have exhausted the strength of most men. But Gladstone had in addition the cares of a Prime Minister occupied with two great problems: the problem of the Education Bill of 1870 and the civil war it excited in the Liberal party, the problem presented by the outbreak of war between France and Germany, and its first consequences to

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