Wednesday, December 19, 2012

The Health of Mr. Gladstone.... and Privacy Issues

by Debra Brown

William Ewart Gladstone:Wikipedia Villafanuk {{PD}}
Mr. William Gladstone, of Scottish blood and born in Liverpool, served four times as Prime Minister of England and was the leading statesman of the century--though he was disliked by Queen Victoria. She once complained about Gladstone, "He always addresses me as if I were a public meeting." He entered politics as a Tory, but became the leader of the Liberal party. He focused on reforms which were to reduce the power of privilege and opened certain institutions such as the military and civil service up to the common man. He doggedly pursued the vote for working class men, and added about six million to the ranks of Parliamentary voters.

As a young man in 1832 he was recruited by the Duke of Newcastle and voted into Parliament as a Conservative. At the time he opposed the abolition of slavery and factory legislation. In 1833 he entered Lincoln's Inn to become a barrister, though he continued also in Parliament. He gave up the career direction of barrister in 1839.

Gladstone married Catherine Glynne that same year. His marriage was happy, and he and Catherine had eight children. Catherine was not interested in entertaining as a politician's wife was expected to do, and at age thirty-three his daughter Mary, for the most part, took over the role of hostess. Mary was politically minded, and some saw her as a way to reach her father.

Gladstone walked the streets of London beginning in 1840 and even decades later as Prime Minister trying to talk prostitutes into giving up their careers. He offered them shelter and a way to make another life. As a result, some questioned his sanity or because he would enter their houses, even his motives.

During his first term as PM, Gladstone became very interested in "the Irish question", and he worked toward improving conditions for the Irish peasantry. Though it was considered to be quite radical, he worked toward Irish "home rule" on into the later part of the century.

His nemesis was Benjamin Disraeli, who was the other leading politician of the time, and who was in Victoria's favor. They intensely disliked each other and fought each other's policies--Gladstone being effective in his efforts. When Disraeli died, Gladstone refused to attend his funeral. Despite such controversial ways, he remained popular with the voters and continued to be returned to power.

He resigned as Prime Minister for the last time in March 1894 and left Parliament in 1895. There is much more to be said about those 60 years in public service, but for now... I thought I might pry into personal matters of his health as this blog is media and that is what media is wont to do.

Gladstone lost a finger in an accident with a gun in 1842.

He was obsessed with physical fitness and to that end would fell trees with an axe.

In 1892 William Stead wrote that: "Mr. Gladstone ... must somewhere have discovered the elixir of life or have been bathed by some beneficent fairy in the well of perpetual youth. Gladly would many a man of fifty exchange physique with this hale and hearty octogenarian. Only in one respect does he show any trace of advancing years. His hearing is not quite so good as it was, but still it is far better than that of Cardinal Manning, who became very deaf in the closing years. Otherwise Mr. Gladstone is hale and hearty. His eye is not dim, neither is his natural force abated...."

On Friday, December 11, 1896, the Daily Graphic printed an article:

The Health of Mr. Gladstone

Some uneasiness has been felt owing to the reported indisposition of Mr. Gladstone during the week, but the authentic facts are of a reassuring character. On the early morning of Thursday, December 3rd, after a rather longer walk than usual on the previous damp and chilly afternoon, Mr. Gladstone felt some oppression of the chest and difficulty in drawing a deep breath, which disturbed his usually tranquil sleep. These symptoms, however, passed off the next day under very slight treatment, and on the afternoons of Friday and Saturday he felt well. On the Sunday evening, which was very wet, he drove to church in a close carriage. During the night he had a return of the uneasiness with some disturbance of sleep, but to a lesser degree. A careful examination of the chest disclosed nothing wrong beyond a few dry crepitations. The heart sounds were free from bruit and under simple remedies he has practically been restored to good health. There has been no angina, and the symptoms appear to have been due to chill of the intercostal muscles. Mr. Gladstone is strongly advised by Dr. Dobie to go to Cannes after Christmas. -British Medical Journal


Apparently, privacy issues were not what they are today and quite intimate details could be shared. It sounds like the journal practically had a copy of the patient's chart! He went on to live till 19 May 1898, nearly a year and a half longer, when finally his heart gave out. Or, as a different source states, he died of cancer.

After his death, his son opened a letter Gladstone had written that stated: "With reference to rumours which I believe were at one time afloat, though I know not with what degree of currency: and also with reference to the times when I shall not be here to answer for myself, I desire to record my solemn declaration and assurance, as in the sight of God and before His Judgment Seat, that at no period of my life have I been guilty of the act which is known as that of infidelity to the marriage bed."

This was no doubt written for those who questioned his morals in the matter of the prostitutes.


Debra Brown is the author of a Victorian novel, The Companion of Lady Holmeshire, now available as an audiobook on Amazon, Audible.com and iTunes (should you be traveling in the next few days), a paperback or a Kindle ebook on Amazon. For further information about Debra's books, see her website.

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