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William Ewart Gladstone (1809-1898)), four times Prime Minister and and MP for sixty-three years, was one of the greatest British statesmen. He was remarkable not only for the political impact he had on Victorian England but also for his complex personality. His astonishing energy, command of detail and intellectual curiosity were matched by active involvement in many different areas of life and in and out of politics. These essays by leading historians, demonstrate the many different angles from which this extraordinary and idiosyncratic man can be seen.
Gladstone's hold over his contemporaries was based on the power of his oratory and on his appeal to a wide, and changing, political constituency. He had learnt the technique of public speaking at Eton and was the most celebrated orator of the period, both inside and outside Parliament: his Midlothian campaign speeches of 1879 were addressed to huge audiences but also reported verbatim in the press.
His career ended in the defeat of Irish Home Rule, and he is best remembered for his courageous attempt to solve the Irish question, but his attitudes to Wales and America also illuminate his political outlook. His long career brought him in contact with many notable men: not only his rival Disraeli but also figures as diverse as Garibaldi and Ruskin. In many ways, he was happiest in his library (it is possible to list over 20,000 books that he read), which he left to become the foundation of St Deiniol's Library at Hawarden. Gladstone constitutes a composite portrait of Victorian England's most dominant figure.