BRIGHT began to recover strength and confidence in 1875 and to take a more continuous and vigorous part in public affairs. It was the year of Gladstone's retirement from the leadership of the Liberal Party and the selection of Lord Hartington to fill his place. Bright found himself among many colleagues who deplored Gladstone's decision and doubted a future which placed even a man so generally loved and trusted as Lord Hartington at the head of the team while it still included the real leader. He wrote to Gladstone in January:
If I could have foreseen either the result of the election of last year or of your retirement from the conduct of the Party, I should certainly have withdrawn from Parliament, where now I seem to have quite as little of a duty or of a mission as you have. The Front Opposition Bench is full of discord, and when you are not there full of jealousy, and I find myself without any particular attraction to any particular part of the House. However, I will not complain. Some door of escape may open for me, and I can become a spectator as you are proposing to be.
One of the chief reasons why Bright regretted the step Gladstone had taken was the promise it held out of personal separation from the warrior-comrade of the biggest fights of his later life. "I have had so much pleasure in your friendship, and have gained so much from it, that I would fain hope it need not cease now, when our association will necessarily be less frequent than it has been of late years."
His mood of disillusionment and disappointment reflected the feeling of the Liberal Party in the country. But Gladstone was, for the time, set upon his own emancipation; both Bright and the country had to accept it with what grace they could muster. Bright, indeed, took the chair at the Reform Club meeting of the Party which elected Lord Hartington, and remained loyal to him when the quidnuncs were busy spreading the noise of dissension. He had supported the claims of the aristocrat Hartington against those of the democrat Forster when the two names were under discussion, being unable to forgive Forster for