By H. Pearl Adam
The Double Wedding in Hawarden Church - Life in England when Queen Victoria Came to the Throne - A Daughter of Her Age - Devotion to Gladstone - How Mrs. Gladstone Obtained and Kept Her Influence - The "Loving and Devoted Wife"
Mrs. Gladstone was fitted by nature to be the wife of a great man. She was gifted very largely with appreciation, and very little with the desire or capacity to do things herself. She found her happiness in serving and caring for her husband, whom she adored, and for whose work she had an admiration amounting to reverence. Yet this admiration did not blind her to the fact that he was fallible, and on occasion she could oppose her will to his, quietly and firmly.
When she married him, in 1839, he had made a name for himself in debate at Oxford at the time of the Reform Bill of 1832, and by his strong Churchmanship he had identified himself with the Tory party, of which, in the year of his marriage, he was described by Macaulay as the rising hope. He was married to Catherine, daughter of Sir Stephen Glynne, Bart., on the same day that her younger sister was married to Lord Lyttelton. Lady Lyttelton became the mother of many distinguished sons. The eldest be-came Viscount Cobham; the other children of the marriage were the celebrated soldier Sir Neville Lyt-te11on , Bishop Lyttelton, the Hon. Edward Lyttelton, head-master of Eton, the Right Hon. Alfred Lyttelton, and the Hon. George Lyttelton, who was for some time secretary to Gladstone when he was Prime Minister.
Mrs. Gladstone was fitted by nature to be the wife of a great man. Her admiration for her, husband's work amounted almost to reverence, but in spite of this she was conscious of his faults, and on occasion could oppose his wishes firmly Photo, J. Russell & Sous
The two young couples were married together in Hawarden Church, that church where the great statesman and his wife were to go to matins every day for fifty years when they were at Hawarden. Sir Stephen Glynne had no son to inherit, and consequently, this being before the Married Women's Property Act was even thought of, Gladstone came into possession of the beautiful estate through his wife. In 1839 a young Queen was on the throne; the coun-try had been shaken to its foundations by the Reform Bill agitation, and the Corn Law riots were a further cause of agitation. In this year, Lord Melbourne's Government just escaped defeat in the Commons by five votes, and resigned next day; and Sir Robert Peel refused to take office because the Queen would not change the Ladies of the Bedchamber when the Government went out. Macau-lay entered the Ministry in September, and the Queen's approaching marriage was announced. These were stirring - times, and socially seem separated from us by an impassable gulf.
For instance, it was in this year that Daguerre announced his discovery of sun-pictures. When we remember how old-fashioned and feeble and odd the daguerreotypes appear to us now, it is difficult to realise that this discovery was as thrilling then as radium or wireless telegraphy seemed in later times. The Great Eastern Railway was opened, to the great dismay of quiet country people, and the distrust even of metropolitans.
A Change of Politics
When Gladstone was married, the coaching system was in full swing. London was lighted by sparse oil lamps; and the old watchmen, or "Charlies," had not been replaced by Sir Robert Peel's policemen, known to the man in the street, after their originator, as "Bobbies" and "Peelers." The fourpenny post was introduced, causing a revolution in postal arrangements.
Mrs. Gladstone was a daughter of her age; her tastes were domestic, she believed heartily that men were superior to women, and she would have been both scandalised and embarrassed at the idea that a woman could have a career. Gladstone gained a wonderful helpmate when he married her.
The Corn Law movement, and Cobden's struggle for Free Trade, ended in Gladstone changing sides politically. His first great speech was made in 1852, in reply to Disraeli, with whom for twenty-four years an engrossing Parliamentary duel went on. Gladstone was the best-criticised man in England for many years; four times he was Prime Minister, and he also held other very exalted posts. Through it all Mrs. Gladstone was ever at his side, quiet, confident, entering completely into all his aims.
The home atmosphere was so congenial to him that he preferred, even during great stress of Parliamentary work, to come home for a hurried meal rather than to dine at Westminster. Mrs. Gladstone always had dinner ready for him, no matter whether he was late or early. He would come in hurriedly, with little time to spare; but he always had time to tell her of what was going on. That he took her absolutely and completely into his confidence and life may be seen from his letters to her. In these, not only does he detail social and domestic events, and give intimate analyses of his religious convictions, but also he discusses freely political projects and situations, exactly as though she had been a colleague in the Ministry. The value he placed on her opinion is shown a hundred times, but never more strongly than in one quiet sentence in a letter to a friend. When he went to Oxford to be given the D.c.l. degree, he was doubtful of his reception; but he writes afterwards that all went well, and "Mrs. Gladstone was there, and was well-satisfied with my reception."
Gladstone was irritable, impetuous, sensitive, highly strung, but at home he found complete tranquillity, and he was never heard to speak roughly to a woman. He had so little sense of humour that a joke against himself either made him angry or threw him into morbid self-criticism. He demanded exact verbal accuracy in all those about him, and, in fact, was anything but an easy man to deal with. But Mrs. Gladstone understood him thoroughly, and made his home a refuge and a joy to him.
His courteous treatment of women, his admiration for them, his belief in their intellectual powers are to be traced to the high opinion he held of his wife, and his knowledge that she had helped him enormously. Even in material matters, it was her heritage which set him absolutely free to prosecute his career without thinking of money. Mrs. Gladstone seldom interfered with him, though she did stop him from cutting down too many trees round her old home.
She did not obtain his devotion by subtle flattery or weak acquiescence in his views. Morley tells that one morning, after an overnight discussion, she went to his room and said how glad she was that Morley had not scrupled to put unpleasant points; that Mr. Gladstone must not be shielded and sheltered as some great people are.
A Story Full of Meaning
Mrs. Gladstone was essentially womanly, and womanliness was the characteristic in women admired above all others by Gladstone. Yet she had a clear intelligence, so that she was always his comrade. Richard Doyle wrote to her in a poem on her marriage :
Be thou a breezy balm to him, A fountain at his side.
And that is what she was. Fifty years after their wedding, Lucy describes their working-room : "There are three writing-tables in it. The first Mr. Gladstone uses for political, the second for literary work .... the third is occupied by Mrs. Gladstone."
Her individual work in the world was charitable; she founded several convalescent homes, and, during the epidemic of cholera in 1866, regularly visited the London Hospital. But her real work was in sustaining and helping Gladstone.
She was, in fact, the " loving and devoted wife " of which so many tombstones and so few records speak. She had a simple belief in him which was very touching. There is a delightful story of her in this connection. A lady called to see her at a time of great political crisis. They were talking of the fate of the country, and the visitor said : "Yes, things are in a terrible state; but there is One above to whom we must trust." Mrs. Gladstone responded, in all good faith, and without a thought of irreverence : "Yes, he's just washing his hands, but he'll be down in a minute."