Intro Book XIII

BOOK XIII
NOVEMBER 1874 – OCTOBER 1880

Introduction to Book XIII
IN these later years the Diary is generally written, not day by day, but a whole week at a time, which is never an advantage. For the essence of a diary is to be what its name implies : a record of a day as seen and judged before that day is over. Even a summary made within a week loses something of the freshness of an immediate impression. Then, too, when the business is to give the retrospect of a week, the facts and doings it includes crowd in and take up so much space that brain and pen are too weary to give the anticipations and regrets which went before or after them, the pleasures and pains, joys and sorrows, which accompanied them ; and without these the facts are very apt to be so close-packed as to be invisible or else so bare and dry as to have no more life than a table of the events and dates in a Sovereign’s reign.

Still, in this closely written and crowded volume there are a good many events and subjects which moved Lady Frederick too much to allow of her passing them over with a bare record. She gets even more absorbed in politics, Church questions, and her various good works. Social doings occupy less space than in the first ten years of her marriage. She no longer goes to balls, for she has no one to take to them. Her sister Lavinia was now married ; her younger sister, May, died, to the great sorrow of all her family and of many outside it, early in 1875 ; and in the same year her cousin Gertrude Glynne, whom she had often chap¬eroned, married George Pennant, afterwards Lord Penrhyn. And of course she was herself getting older ; and, between the political preoccupations of all the families with which she was most closely connected, the ecclesiastical activities of most of them, and her own eager interest in both, she had ever less and less time for social engagements pure and simple.

In one way, of course, her politics were in the background when this volume opens. She is now so passionately Liberal that it is difficult to think of her as having been a Conservative a few years before. And Liberalism is under a cloud in 1875, and remains so till 1880. Disraeli is the master of England, and the Liberal party is, at any rate up to 1878, more or less divided and altogether discredited and unpopular. But Lady Frederick’s personal connection with the party is closer than ever. For Gladstone’s resignation of the leadership in 1875 and Hartington’s election to it, Gladstone’s return to the political arena in order to agitate about the Eastern Question, his Midlothian campaign which was the first considerable recourse to the popular platform by a man who had held high office, and, finally, the delicate question of who was to become Prime Minister when the victory was won, were all, for her, matters, not merely of public and party importance, but of an intense private interest. They are old stories now and well known from several biographies, especially the Life of Gladstone. But those who care about the personal side of political history may like seeing them again, as it were from the inside, in Lady Frederick’s pages.

She evidently believed, what has often been doubted, the sincerity of Gladstone’s wish to retire in 1875. Probably Gladstone believed it himself. But all men deceive themselves as to their real motives and desires ; and, noble as Gladstone’s character was, he was, even less than most men, exempt from this weakness. He wrote in his diary about this time that his three desires were to be free of the leadership, of the House of Commons itself, and of the burden of wealth and property. He resumed the leadership in a few years, never left the House of Commons till he was dying, and died rich. No doubt in 1875 he was a tired man after the enormous labours of 1868-74, and a disappointed man after the reward they had received. So the devotional, and even monastic, side, which was in him, and very real, from the beginning to the end, honestly believed that he desired to spend his remaining years in prayer and study and seclusion. He did go so far towards cutting himself loose from politics as to refuse to take in any newspaper except the Echo ! But it was characteristic of the unconscious insincerity, or at least double-mindedness, which was also one of his striking qualities, that he would not take the only step that would have given such a life as he thought he desired a chance of being possible. He had himself seen quite clearly the entire impossibility of Peel’s plan of remaining in the House of Commons as a mere private member with no responsibility of leadership ; yet when he told the Queen after his defeat in 1874 that it was his wish to retire altogether because he felt that ” wrangling discussions ” were ” not a fit thing for people in old age,” she showed, as usual, that she was as superior to him in common sense as he was to her in higher intellectual gifts. ” I answered,” she says, ” that this was all very well, but that for a person in his position to decide this beforehand was almost impossible.” She probably felt, as he had felt in Peel’s case, and as his brother-in-law Lyttelton now felt in his, that if he did not mean to lead he ought not to remain in the House of Commons. But to perceive an inexorable alternative of that kind was a facing of the facts such as was never in Gladstone’s nature. And so even Lady Frederick, who loved and worshipped him, sees at times that his refusal either to lead or to be silent was cruelly unfair to his loyal successor who was bearing the thankless burden to which he had refused to submit. So one occasionally finds in her journal what are probably echoes of Cavendish criticism, as when she talks of his ” ill-judged ” speech at Oxford in 1878 which only served to increase the difficulties of Parliamentary Opposition. And it is interesting to see that she can on one occasion describe a House of Commons speech of his as ” dull and a failure.” But of course her common attitude is one of devoted and affectionate admiration ; and she records with delighted sympathy the exhibitions which she herself witnessed of the extraordinary popular enthusiasm which he now began to arouse in the great masses of the people as he transferred his main activities from the House of Commons to the platform—a new departure in English politics of which the succeeding fifty years have shown us some, but probably by no means all, of the consequences.

But political as Lady Frederick’s interests had now become—how much so may be seen in the odd fact that when she and her husband go to Cannes, the first thing they do is to buy an ” electoral map of France in Departments coloured according to politics “—yet there is much else in this volume : much, for instance, about ” Vaticanism ” abroad and Ritualism and other Church questions at home. There is an interesting account of Cardinal Newman’s visit to Keble College in November 1879. And a great deal of space is given to a few private events which touched her very closely. There is a day-to-day account of the long illness of her sister May who died in March 1875. Perhaps the thing that now most strikes a reader of this story of a great sorrow is the extraordinary devotion of Mrs. Gladstone, who remained for weeks at Hagley in command of the sick-room of her slowly-dying niece. And, one may add, the generosity of Mr. Gladstone, who was always so dependent on her that Lady Frederick describes him as ” quite lost and bewildered without her,” and yet spared her for several consecutive weeks to Hagley although he was in all the uncomfortable confusion of moving out of No. 11 Carlton House Terrace.

A still greater sorrow to Lady Frederick was the death of her father in April 1876. Indeed her sister Meriel used to say that she sometimes thought not even the shock of her husband’s murder had overwhelmed Lady Frederick quite so much as the suicide—for so it was—of her father did, for a time. No doubt it was that fact, and the thought of the misery of the continually descending clouds of depression which had brought it about, which she found it so hard to bear or to forget. He and all his children had always been united in the closest and most unbroken affection ; the marriages of his daughters had all been everything he wished ; his sons were a source of constant pride, pleasure, and well-founded hope ; his own second marriage was one of perfect happiness and brought him baby daughters in whom he took great delight ; his work in the House of Lords, and in public life as Chief Commissioner of Endowed Schools, had made all recognise his character and ability, even those who did not accept his policy ; he had played a considerable part in the colonisation of New Zealand ; in his own county he was the best of Lord-Lieutenants, the mainspring of all public movements and, as is recorded in the Dictionary of National Biography, ” the centre of the intellectual life of Worcestershire.” Besides all these things he had the surest of all sources of private pleasure in his great love of reading : was recognised as one of the very finest classical scholars of his day, and would take a Homer or a Horace with him when he went to Lord’s to console him in the dull moments which occurred even in the livelier cricket of those days, and when hunting, if foxes failed, would amuse himself with turning Milton into Greek. Yet, with all these happinesses and busy activities, private and public, he suffered for years before his death from recurring fits of acute melancholia, and in one of these in April 1876 he put an end to his life. It is touching to see how Lady Frederick so often afterwards, when any success is achieved by one of her brothers, thinks at once of her father and passionately wishes she could tell it to him and see the delight in his face.

As against these two great sorrows must be set the first two marriages among her brothers, which are recorded in this volume and gave her great pleasure. Of the small items of curiosity which I have noticed in previous Introductions I have space only for two. One marks the then growing severity of the standard of clerical decorum. We hear that a young clergyman arrived to stay at Holker and was ” liked, in spite of shooting, whist, and shirt-studs.” What possible impropriety can lurk in shirt-studs I am unable to explain. The other exhibits the difficulties of the new science of anesthetics. Lady Frederick relates of young Bishop Copleston in 1876 that he ” has lately been half killed by laughing-gas which the dentist insisted on giving him for a tooth operation ; and which has upset all the nerves governing the circulation, producing returns of the state it reduced him to on every recurring day and hour of the administration of it.”