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Bygones Worth Remembering, Vol. 2 (of 2)   By:

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By George Jacob Holyoake

"Look backward only to correct an error of conduct for the next attempt"

George Meredith

Volume II


Were I to edit a new journal again I should call it Open Thought . I know no characteristic of man so wise, so useful, so full of promise of progress as this. The great volume of Nature, of Man and of Society opens a new page every day, and Mr. Gladstone read it. It was this which gave him that richness of information in which he excited the admiration of all who conversed with him.

Were Plutarch at hand to write Historical Parallels of famous men of our time, he might compare Voltaire and Gladstone. Dissimilar as they were in nature, their points of resemblance were notable. Voltaire was the most conspicuous man in Europe in the eighteenth century, as Mr. Gladstone became in the nineteenth. Both were men of wide knowledge beyond all their contemporaries. Each wrote more letters than any other man was ever known to write. Every Court in Europe was concerned about the movements of each, in his day. Both were deliverers of the oppressed, where no one else moved on their behalf. Both attained great age, and were ceaselessly active to the last In decision of conviction they were also alike. Voltaire was as determinedly Theistic as Mr. Gladstone was Christian. They were alike also in the risks they undertook in defence of the right. Voltaire risked his life and Gladstone his reputation to save others. Mr. Morley relates of the Philosopher of Ferney, that when he made his triumphal journey through Paris, some one asked a woman in the street "why do so many people follow this man?" "Don't you know?" was the reply. "He was the deliverer of the Calas." No applause went to Voltaire's heart like that Mr. Gladstone had also golden memories of deliverance no one else moved hand or foot to effect, and multitudes, even nations, followed him because of that.

On the first occasion of my going to breakfast with him he was living in Harley Street, in the house in which Sir Charles Lyell died. As Mr. Gladstone entered the room, he apologised for not greeting me earlier, as his servant had indistinctly given him my name. He asked me to sit next to him at breakfast. There were seven or eight guests. The only one I knew was Mr. Walter. H. James, M.P., since Lord Northbourne probably present from consideration for me. One was the editor of the Jewish World a journal opposed to Mr. Gladstone's anti Turkish policy. Others were military officers and travellers of contemporary renown. It was a breakfast to remember Mr. Gladstone displayed such a bright, unembarrassed vivacity. He told amusing anecdotes of the experiences of the wife of the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, whose charm he said he could only describe by the use of the English rural term "buxom." On making a time bargain with a cabman, he observed to her ladyship that "he wished the engagement was for life." Mr. Gladstone thought no English cabman would have said that. Another pleasantry was of one of Lord Lyttelton's sons, who was very tall and lank. He being in Birmingham and wishful to know the distance to a place he sought, asked a boy in the street who was passing, "how far it was." "Oh, not far," was the assuring but indefinite answer. "But can you not give me some better idea of the distance?" Mr. Lyttelton inquired. "Well, sir," said the lad, looking up at the obelisk like interrogator before him, "if you was to fall down, you would be half way there."

These incidents were not new to me, but I was glad to hear what was probably the origin of them. From Mr. Gladstone's lips they had a sort of historic reality which was interesting to me.

Afterwards he spoke of the singular beauty of the "Dream of Gerontius" by Cardinal Newman, and turning to me asked if I knew of it, as though he thought it unlikely my reading lay in that direction... Continue reading book >>

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