Ruth Clayton Windscheffel. Reading Gladstone.
Reading Gladstone raises interesting questions about books, intellectuals, politics and power. With fully certified intellectuals now occupying the White House and Stornoway, the Ottawa residence of the leader of the opposition, and one of the United States' least intellectual presidents busying himself with his memorial library, the case of William E. Gladstone has a certain contemporary resonance.
Although the term "intellectual" had not yet entered the English language, Gladstone was an unapologetic intellectual who served four terms as Britain's prime minister, her greatest prime minister during the century of Britain's greatest power, before finally retiring from that office at age eighty-four. He devoted his last years to building St. Deiniol's Library, which still exists as a testament to his passion for books and his belief in their power. The very numbers hold a certain fascination: Windscheffel's bibliography lists twenty-eight books and pamphlets written by Gladstone, and twenty-four articles and chapters. Not bad, even for a modern academic career. We also know what Gladstone read, thanks to his published diaries, where he carefully recorded some 17,500 book and pamphlet tides, excluding his newspaper reading. We know, too, that he bought some 35,000 books over the course of his life for his own library. In addition, he was a book selector for the London Library, bought books for the Carlton Club, and was honoured by the National Liberal Club's naming its library after him. It was Gladstone who persuaded Andrew Carnegie to buy the celebrated 60,000-volume library of the great historian Lord Acton to prevent it from being auctioned off.
But the details Windscheffel gives us of Gladstone's own library are of greatest interest. The Temple of Peace, as his library and study was called, was significantly open to others even when he was in it. Users had to remain silent and conventional rules of sociability, particularly that it was rude for a gentleman to ignore a lady in his presence, were suspended. Gladstone simply denied the existence of others in this room when he was there, which made ir exempt from the spatial gendering so prevalent in the Victorian world. This made it easier for women to use his library, which in many houses was considered a male space. The Temple of Peace was also a lending library. The only condition was that users had to enter in the two-volume registry their names, the book's title, and the dates of borrowing and return, which reveal that the majority of borrowers were women, and a significant number were neighbours and non-family members and even lower-class women including household servants.
It was Gladstone's conviction that books were the "bonds and rivets of the race" that led him to build and endow St. Deiniol's Library, which remains unique in Britain as the only such institution created by a prime minister. Unlike the presidential libraries of the United States (and Saskatoon's unique Diefenbaker Canada Centre), self-celebration was not its purpose. Though St. Deiniol's eventually received Gladstone's library, his papers are mostly in the British Library. It seems to have been chiefly intended as a place of religious study for clergymen, in keeping with Gladstone's own deeply religious nature and the content of much of his library. Windscheffel devotes some attention to the contested question of Gladstone's beliefs, arguing persuasively that he did not become an embattled religious conservative, and that St. Deiniol's was not intended as either a bastion of religious defence or a place of unworldly retreat.
Not the least of the merits of Reading Gladstone is that it also tells us how Gladstone read. For instance, he would often make an index for a book, and he was a frequent annotator, annotating in a code (which Windscheffel has unlocked) and to an extent usually in inverse proportion to his approval. He also read three books at a time, rotating light and heavy reading and refreshing his mind with fiction. He read aloud, which was of course a common Victorian family practice, but even on his wedding night Gladstone read aloud to his bride from Walter Scott's Kenilworth and the Bible. He also read Tennyson aloud to prostitutes whom he attempted to rescue. Being highly sexed he may also have found in such situations an opportunity to exercise his will power; this too, perhaps, in his reading (alone) of pornography.
Interesting too is the author's discussion of the political implications of Gladstone as bookworm and of his overcoming some of the negative, feminizing effects that his reputation as a scholar and intellectual had on his career by recasting his public image. The later, more populist Gladstone deliberately turned his hobby of chopping down trees on his estate into a public theatre of virility by staging what we now call photo opportunities in which he posed, axe in hand, without jacket, tie, or even hat. But he never completely abandoned the book in his image-making. Windscheffel provides several illustrations of him reading, the most remarkable of which shows the older Gladstone reading in his library, recumbent on a chaise longue. Despite this traditionally feminine pose, he radiates masculine strength and dynamism. Current intellectuals in politics might well take note of this portrait.
University of Saskatchewan
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|Publication:||Papers of the Bibliographical Society of Canada|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Mar 22, 2009|
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