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New York: Random House. William Ewart Gladstone knew all about that, and gave the world one of its great surreal moments. To the outside, he was a figure of towering rectitude and shattering omniscience -- four times Prime Minister of Britain in that great British century, the 19th. His moral authority was immense. He spoke for liberalism, and did so in vast, rolling Latinate periods that were reprinted in The Times more or less verbatim. Fathers of families would gather their children and their servants on Sunday evenings, after prayers, and would act out, gestures and all, these great Gladstone speeches.
There was even an Italian Prime Minister who dyed his beard white to acquire Gladstonian authority. And what lay at the very center of this turbine?
Poor old Gladstone was a compulsive fantasizer about whores. Protestant guilt prevented him from doing anything about this, at least horizontally. He would therefore sit in No. These episodes he would record in his diary, in Greek, with a little hook in the margin to indicate the flagellation. Dostoyevsky would have had a field day with all of this.
In ''Notes From the Underground,'' almost contemporaneous with Gladstone's first period as Prime Minister, he somehow guessed at scenes of this kind -- saying that Atlantic liberalism would just warp people's souls. As a work of political philosophy, ''Notes From the Underground'' is not, of course, worth considering. However, Roy Jenkins's rather neon-lit version of Gladstonian enlightenment makes me want to read it again. It is very funny. Gladstone was born in and died in , and he moved through all the phases of the century.
It is something of a surprise that in his youth he was a religious reactionary, but then so were other men who later became prominent radical liberals -- Victor Hugo, for instance, who swooned away about throne and altar in the 's, a time when an archbishop of Paris could inform the faithful that ''Jesus Christ was not only the Son of God; He was also of aristocratic family on His mother's side.