London - An Interview with Mr. Gladstone
( Originally Published 1903 )
It occurred to me that the editors of some of the London papers might be interested in hearing about my travels, and that perhaps they would accept from me some articles describing my experiences. So I called one morning at the office of one of the most influential afternoon papers, and when I had given some account of my past adventures and my future plans, the editor said he thought his readers would be very much pleased to read an article from my pen. He said that I might furnish two thousand words, and that probably he would pay me two guineas, or ten dollars, for them. I was delighted to accept his proposition. Ten dollars seemed a good deal of money to me at that time, and I thought it would be easily earned.
Earning More Money
When this first article appeared it caused some discussion among the other newspapers, and was the means of making me many friends. There was one editor who didn't believe that any boy of sixteen could have traveled from Chicago in the way I described, and I immediately called upon him to prove my identity. He was so pleased with what I told him that he, too, ordered some manuscript from me, and I realized that I would probably be able to earn quite a little money in this way. Whenever I had anything interesting to say I took the article to one of my editor friends, and they were usually glad to get it. It was considered very unusual that a boy of my age should be alone in London with such purposes in view, and they were glad to assist me in any way possible.
Amid the many experiences which had occupied me since my arrival in Lon-don I had not for a moment forgotten my determination to seek an interview with Mr. Gladstone, but I thought it best to postpone any effort to obtain an inter-view until after the excitement of the Jubilee. There was no doubt in my mind but that I could obtain an audience with the Grand Old Man without much difficulty, and from what I had read and heard, I gained the impression that he was always glad to see any one who went to the village where he lived.
I had learned to revere Mr. Gladstone, from what I had read of his character and his efforts in behalf of the unfortunate ones of every race and clime. Few English statesmen have equally earned the gratitude of the oppressed. In the fall of 1896, while I was working in Chicago, I read a report of his last speech in public, which was delivered at Liverpool in behalf of the Armenians, and I was thrilled by his courage in the face of opposition. In the spring of 1897 he had issued a pamphlet in behalf of the freedom of Crete, and though both of these efforts were doomed to failure, the world was impressed with these actions by a Christian statesman. Regrets were expressed throughout civilization that Mr. Gladstone was no longer able to take effective action in the cause of humanity ; yet it was a consolation to be assured that age and infirmity had not dulled his sympathies with that cause.
Seeking an Interview with Mr. Gladstone
Soon after the Jubilee celebrations were over I addressed a note to the great man at Hawarden Castle, stating that I was in London, and asking when it would be convenient for him to give me an audience. I expected a favorable reply in a short time, but I waited several days before any reply whatever was received, and then I had only a short note, written in the third person by " Mr. Gladstone's Secretary." It stated that the aged statesman was too unwell to receive strangers, and that it would be of no use for me to visit the castle.
This note was disappointing, but I determined to persevere. I wrote another letter, addressed to " Mr. Gladstone's Secretary," stating how important it was that I have an interview. I said that I had already promised it to the editors in America, and that if I failed to secure it they would hereafter have little faith in my ability. I made the appeal as strong as possible, but I received no second reply.
I was wondering what my next move had better be, when I noticed that there was to be a cheap excursion by rail to Chester, which is not far from Hawarden village, and I determined to go there and see what I could accomplish when I was on the ground. It was a full day's ride to Chester, and I was obliged to change cars several times before I arrived, and I frequently wondered whether it was worth while going all this way when success appeared so doubtful. I arrived about seven o'clock on a Saturday evening, and the first thing I did was to call upon the Rev. Stephen Gladstone, who was serving as rector of the parish church. He received me in a friendly way, and seemed to be really interested in hearing about my trip. He said that he would be glad to take me to the castle if he thought it were any use, but just the day before he had taken an American bishop there, and when he arrived with him, his father had refused to see them. " And I'm afraid," he said, " that he won't see a small boy, when he refused audience to a bishop." I had to confess that it didn't appear likely that he would.
The Rev. Mr. Gladstone suggested that I call to see him again the next morning, and he evidently hoped that something favorable would transpire in the meantime. But when I went to the rectory there was no encouragement for me.
Mr. Gladstone suggested that I call at the castle to see his sister, whom he said was in charge of affairs at that time. He said I mustn't mind if I was coldly received, for there was a procession of strangers there all day long, who wanted to see his father. On the Monday morning, therefore, I visited the castle itself. I walked up through the handsome park which surrounds it, and in a few minutes found myself at the garden gate. I was allowed to pass through without being stopped ; I suppose I was mistaken for some boy from the village. I found Hawarden Castle to be a beautiful structure, the most beautiful of its sort I had ever seen, and I was somewhat overawed when I reached the main entrance and rang the bell. The footman asked me for my name, but I said the family wouldn't know me, and he went off murmuring to himself.
Turned Away at the Door
In a few minutes Miss Gladstone made her appearance. She was attired in a bicycle costume and was evidently about to start for a ride. When I mentioned my business, and said that I was the boy who had written down from London, she made no effort to hide her displeasure. She said that she had written me that it would be of no use to come, and that I should have remained in the city and have saved my carfare. " It is quite out of the question for you to see my father." Then she went indoors and left me standing at the entrance, without affording me an opportunity of explaining why I was so anxious to secure the interview. As she passed out of sight I called after her that I would return the following morning.
These various discouragements made me more determined than ever to succeed. In talking with some of the villagers I learned that when all other means failed, Mrs. Gladstone was often able to arrange audiences for people with her husband, and I thought it would be a good plan to ask for her when I returned to the castle on Tuesday. I was received at once when I sent in a card, and then I was given an opportunity to tell of my ambition to see Mr. Gladstone. The dear old lady listened carefully, and when I showed her a copy of the Evening World of New York, with the story of the trip, and the picture of me seated beside Mr. Gladstone, she was very much amused. " I think if my husband will receive you," she said, " it will at least be a change for him."
Evidently Mr. Gladstone was of the same opinion, for in a few moments I was ushered into the famous library. The great man was seated at the far end of the room in a large armchair. He had a shawl about his shoulders, and many cushions about him in the chair, for the day was cool, and he had been ill for a long time. I was impressed at once with his apparent feebleness, but in spite of that he was very cordial in his manner. He shook hands with me, and asked me to bring my chair close to his, as he was rather deaf, and couldn't hear me if I sat far away. He began the conversation at once. He asked me all sorts of questions about my life at home and my trip, and throughout the audience Mr. Gladstone interviewed me a great deal more than I interviewed him.
A Great Statesman at Close Range
I was impressed with his personality and the wonderful tone of his voice from the moment he began to speak, though I couldn't describe what there was in it so to stir me. One would have to see the gestures and the expression of his face to understand. Mr. Gladstone's voice was naturally rich and resonant. It was a fine singing voice, they say, and certainly it was a pleasant voice to listen to in conversation. Some have said that when he passed his seventy-fifth year it became sensibly inferior in volume and in depth of tone, but its variety and delicacy remained. No trace of the moroseness of old age appeared in his manners or his conversation, and he spoke as vivaciously as if he were a boy of twenty-one.
The stately simplicity which had always charmed those who saw Mr. Glad-stone in private, seemed more beautiful than ever in this, the evening of his life. His intellectual powers were quite unimpaired, his thirst for knowledge undiminished. One could notice, however, that a placid stillness had fallen upon him and his household; and in seeing the tide of his life begin slowly to ebb, one thought of the lines of his illustrious friend, Lord Tennyson:
Such a tide as moving seems asleep,
I had to remind myself continually that this simple gentleman seated beside me had been four times Premier of the British Empire. No one could have been more free from that taint of snobbishness which is frequently charged upon Englishmen, and he was interested in the most minute details of what I had to tell him of my life and ambitions. He even enjoyed hearing about the Junior Christian Endeavor Society of which I had been a member, and carefully inquired about church work as it is conducted in America. I was glad indeed to be able to tell him that I myself was a church member, for I realized that such a fact as that would influence him in my favor.
Mr. Gladstone did not devote himself altogether to questioning me. He told me some interesting incidents of his own boyhood, and gave me a great deal of good advice, which I have ever carried with me. He said I must continue my education when I returned home, and that I must devote some time to Bible study ; and when I left him, I was convinced that the best thing which could happen me would be a course in college.
More Than Repaid for My Effort
I was more delighted with his personality with every minute of my stay. Mr. Gladstone was the kind of great man who seemed to breathe greatness all about him, and I felt that if I didn't do anything else in Europe except see him, that I would be quite repaid for washing dishes, and being seasick, and passing through the other unpleasant experiences which had come to me.
At the time of my visit the great man was far from well, yet he continued his habit of working for about seven hours each day. He carried on his multifarious reading, planned a treatise on the Olympian religion, and filled up the interstices of his time with studies on Homer. He told me that he never sat up late, and always slept soundly. His friends say that he never seemed oppressed or driven to strain his strength. No pressure of work was sufficient to make him fussy, nor can anyone remember to have seen him in a hurry. It has been said that he lived two lives—the life of the statesman and the life of the student, and passed swiftly from one to the other, dismissing when he sat down to his books all the cares of politics. But it is also true that Mr. Gladstone led a third life also, the secret life of the soul. Religion was of all things that which had the strongest hold upon his thoughts and feelings. Nothing but his father's opposition prevented him from becoming a clergyman when he quitted the university. Throughout his long life he took the warmest, interest in everything that affected the Christian Church, and he allowed nothing to interfere with his Christian duties. After an attack of influenza, which left him very weak, in the spring of 1891, he endangered his life by attending a meeting on behalf of the Colonial Bishoprics Fund, for which he had spoken fifty years before.
Mr. Gladstone's religion affected his daily life and his political opinions. His views upon questions of theology filled him with a dislike of the legalization of marriage with a deceased wife's sister; they made him a vehement opponent of the bill which established the English Divorce Court in 1857, and a watchfully hostile critic of all divorce legislation in America afterwards. He had an exceedingly high sense of the duty of purity of life and of the sanctity of domestic relations, and his rigid ideas of decorum inspired so much awe that it used to be said to a person who had told an anecdote with the slightest tinge of impropriety, " How many thousand pounds would you take to tell that to Gladstone?"
While the great man was in residence at Hawarden it was his practice to attend the daily morning service in the parish church, and during my stay in the village I saw him walk down through the castle park each morning and take his place in the family pew. On Sunday he read in church the lessons for the day, but in 1897 he had grown too feeble to render that service. He rarely, if ever, transgressed his rule against Sunday labor, and observed the Lord's day as rigidly in London as in the country, declining to attend the Sunday entertainments of fashionable society, and doing all in his power to discourage them.
A Model Christian
Mr. Gladstone will be remembered as a model Christian gentleman, and what I saw of his daily life and what I heard of it in the village made a deep impression upon my young mind. I couldn't but realize that if a man like Mr. Gladstone found Christianity so necessary to a happy life, there must be something in religion which I hadn't fathomed as yet. It was impressive to know that a man in his position who has so much of the world's honors to make him satisfied, found his only true pleasure in following Christ. Religious feeling was the mainspring of his life, a guiding light in perplexities, a source of strength in adverse fortune, a consolation in sorrow, a beacon of hope beyond the disappointments and failures of this present world.
During my interview, I was obliged to tell what were my plans for the future, and what I expected to do after I left London and when I again reached America. And I told them as if I were talking to an old friend, who would be interested in whatever I intended to do ; for in spite of the dignity of his presence, I felt that Mr. Gladstone was truly interested in me, and that he would like to know all about my desires. He was always fond of conversation, and enjoyed it to the last, talking as earnestly and joyfully at eighty-seven as he had done at twenty upon every topic that came up, and exerting himself with equal zest whether his interlocutor was an archbishop or a boy traveler from America.
When I at last rose to take my departure I felt that I had been with him for only a few minutes, when it had been in reality very nearly an hour. He took my hand, and said that if there was anything at all which he could do to help me while I was in England I must not hesitate to let him know. I thanked him with tears in my eyes, for I felt certain that I would never again look upon the face of the Grand Old Man. I felt, indeed, that I need never expect to see his like again, for such men do not live in every generation. I will remember always his lovely face, his beautiful voice, and his remarkable dignity. Mr. Gladstone had a largeness of soul which would not condescend to anything mean and petty.
His Record Clean
Of how few who have lived' for more than sixty years in the full sight of their countrymen, and have been, as party leaders, exposed to angry and sometimes spiteful criticism, can it be said that there stands on record against them no malignant word and no vindictive act! His wonderful self-control kept his record clean.
As I remember Mr. Gladstone, his dignity is the quality which impressed me most, and this feature of his character dwells most in the minds of those who knew him best, as the outline of some majestic Alp thrills one from afar when all the lesser beauties of glen and wood, of crag and glacier, have faded in the distance.
I left him, feeling that I had been upon the heights, and I walked back to my village lodging feeling well repaid for the effort I had made to gain the interview. When I returned to London, the editors of the papers there seemed surprised that I had been successful. " Why," said one of them, " I have sent a reporter there several times of late, and he was unable to gain admittance." " Probably," said I, " he didn't try in the proper way."