James Stephen on Gladstone, 1846

Between January and September 1846, the distinguished Colonial Office civil servant James Stephen kept a diary in which he recorded reflective and sometimes acerbic comments on events and people. Stephen's brief period as a diarist coincided with William Ewart Gladstone's tenure of office as Secretary of State for the Colonies.

Some carefully chosen extracts were quoted in an admiring biography by his daughter in 1906, while the diary itself was the subject of scholarly discussion by Tom Barron and K.J. Cable in Historical Studies Australia and New Zealand in 1969. Their article remains an authoritative review of Stephen's opinions on a wide range of subjects, both political and religious, but, understandably, its direct quotation tended to focus on Australian issues.[1]

Context As noted above, Stephen's brief period as a diarist coincided with William Ewart Gladstone's even shorter tenure of office as Secretary of State for the Colonies.[2] For both men, the first six months of 1846 were a difficult time. In January 1845, Gladstone had resigned from the cabinet, for reasons that many contemporaries found too complex to understand. Peel's proposal to repeal the Corn Laws gave Gladstone a way back into the cabinet at the end of the year, but his appointment cost him his seat in the House of Commons.[3] Gladstone seriously miscalculated in briefly hoping that he could defy his Protectionist patron, the Duke of Newcastle, and secure re-election for the pocket borough of Newark. Gladstone obviously had not thought through what course might be open to him should the Duke call his bluff, as – predictably – he did within a week of the appointment. On 16 January, he confessed to Peel's principal party organiser, F.R. Bonham, that he was "not exactly aware of the steps that a man in office and out of Parliament should take in order to remove the anomaly by supplying himself with a seat". The unpalatable truth was that Gladstone was not an easily marketable political commodity. He failed to find an alternative route back to Westminster and consequently found himself in the anomalous position of being a cabinet minister without holding a seat in the House of Commons.[4] His limbo-like status could only diminish him in the eyes of his civil servants.

In his own very different way, James Stephen was also a controversial figure: he interpreted an article in The Times on 4 March attacking the Colonial Office as a coded reference to "the noble JS & bird of passage Chief for the time being".[5] A minister who could not defend his department against parliamentary attack could hardly command respect. For  Stephen, the problem of dealing with a politically wounded minister was compounded by what would now be called burn-out. Even the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography overcame its distaste for neologisms to call him a "workaholic" who found it difficult to delegate. For a third of a century he had dominated the administrative routine of the unpretentious building in Downing Street from which, in theory, the British empire was administered.[6] His greatest work, drafting the legislation that carried through the abolition of slavery and its aftermath, was by now complete. Despatches from the West Indies raised no major problems: "How unlike old times!" The Colonial Office agenda was now dominated by issues in which he took little interest, particularly self-government in British North America: "Canada has nearly lasted my time. Would we were well rid of it!"[7] As Barron and Cable pointed out, it was tacitly assumed that Stephen would soon retire, and he was himself meditating schemes for disengagement.[8] His censorious references to Gladstone need to be read in the context of his disillusioned exhaustion.[9]

It was always likely that there would be tensions between the entrenched senior civil servant and his new political master. Stephen was an Evangelical, a member of the celebrated Clapham Sect which had led the Protestant wing of the Church of England. Although never a full member of the Oxford Movement, Gladstone was attracted to ritual, and regularly attended the Margaret Street chapel, soon to be replaced by Butterfield's mysteriously gloomy High Church temple, All Saints, Margaret Street. Furthermore, Stephen was the archetypal textbook Abolitionist, who had famously only once worked on the Sabbath, to meet the deadline for the introduction of the bill to put an end to slavery. Gladstone, by contrast, was the son of a slave-owner. A benign mythology would in due course accept that, as a raw young Tory, he had defended the institution, but that lapse merely proved his innate decency and strength of character as he threw off such errors and moved towards the light of liberalism. This happy scenario overlooks the extent to which the young Gladstone continued to act as a spokesperson for the planters throughout the eighteen-thirties. As late as 1838, he conducted a rearguard action against the early termination of the system of apprenticeship, a euphemism for a transitional continuation of slavery in the Caribbean.[10] The apprenticeship issue was no mere case of two individuals taking different sides on a public question: such divergences were frequent and rarely prevented subsequent co-operation. Rather, the two men were notable champions of deeply opposed points of view. "In the fight to protect [ex-slave] apprentices, Colonial Office generally meant James Stephen."[11]  By contrast, in 1838 Gladstone delivered a notable parliamentary speech rebutting allegations that the planters used apprenticeship as a means of prolonging the evils of slavery. He roundly denied the charge that "we have endeavoured to prolong its existence and its abuses under another appellation", rebutting allegations of planter cruelty in some detail. But he could not resist throwing in the accusation that humanitarians allowed their narrowly focused zeal to blur their awareness of the plight of factory children or Irish peasants.[12] Stephen offered a friendly reprimand. "It seems to me that this part of your speech establishes nothing more than the fact that your opponents are capricious in the distribution of their sympathy, which is, after all, a reproach and nothing more. Now, reproach is not only not your strength, but it is the very thing[,] in the disuse of[,] which your strength consists".[13]

Contrasts in outlook and temperament were not the only elements of sensitivity in the enforced partnership between minister and bureaucrat. In January 1835, Gladstone had received his first ministerial appointment at the Colonial Office, where Peel had made him parliamentary under-secretary.[14] Aged just twenty-five and barely two years in parliament, he was obviously a raw novice at a time when Stephen was at the height of his power and prestige. Since Peel was leading a minority administration, there was little chance for Gladstone to establish a reputation in the House of Commons, the more so as the government fell within three months. Stephen was said to have thought well of the young politician, but to have "doubted if he had pugnacity enough for public life".[15]  

A decade on, their personal standing was in some measure reversed. Gladstone had been appointed precisely because he was the son of a plantation owner, his selection a gesture to reassure the vocal West Indian lobby. But in the years that followed, he set out to broaden his colonial expertise, for instance casting himself as an opposition spokesperson on Canadian issues. As his critical analysis of the 1838 apprenticeship speech showed, Stephen affected to regard himself as a patron and mentor to the young politician, even expressing "the hope that you will one day occupy one of the foremost stations in the House of Commons". But by the time Gladstone returned to the Colonial Office in 1846, this time as its chief, he was an accomplished administrator, capable of an impressive work rate that matched Stephen's own. As Paul Knaplund wrote, the extensive memoranda and correspondence both in Gladstone's private papers and the departmental archives "show that he had not abandoned the habit of doing his own work" during those few short months of 1846.[16]  By contrast, Stephen's standing had suffered from the barrage of criticism to which he had been subjected by the Colonial Reformers, much of it unfair but most of it damaging in an age when civil servants were rarely treated as public figures. As he admitted to himself, "I think my zeal slackens & that my powers abate".[17]

To his credit, Gladstone attempted to cushion the inversion of status. In his very first diary entry, Stephen wrote of a "very kind note from Gladstone my new Chief promising me all manner of worship & homage".[18] No doubt this was well meant, however flowery the language, but it hardly offered a realistic framework for a relationship between a cabinet minister and a civil servant. It also quickly became clear that Gladstone not only had an agenda of his own but could call upon a firepower of research with which to back it up. For instance, the struggling province of South Australia ("my colony" as Stephen called it)[19] was one of the problems confronting the policy-making process. Gladstone had served on the parliamentary committee that had dissected its failures in 1841, and he had his own ideas on the changes needed – an independence of mind which, to Stephen's alarm, was open to consultation with the hated Edward Gibbon Wakefield. In particular, Gladstone proposed to carry through an administrative reorganisation of Office responsibilities, which hinged on the creation of a new post of assistant permanent under-secretary. Stephen gloomily called the Treasury's approval of the necessary expenditure "the doom of my official importance", adding less convincingly "I am very glad of it". But he took his private revenge by dismissing his new colleague, Frederic Rogers, as someone who "will have little life or power in him" – an assessment that no history of Colonial Office administration could remotely endorse.[20]  Since Gladstone's administrative reorganisation envisaged a post-Stephen world, the permanent under-secretary himself was apparently very little consulted about it. Nonetheless, he became caught up in the personnel fall-out that arose from Gladstone's reform. Detractors viewed the Colonial Office staff as gentlemen who were neither efficiently employed nor overworked, but the clerks themselves took a very different view of their employment situation. They regarded the creation of the new post of assistant permanent under-secretary as an additional obstacle to promotion prospects which they regarded as already unsatisfactory, and labour relations at Number 14 Downing Street took on a very modern and confrontational quality. "Heroic clerks" was Stephen's description, but his enthusiasm declined sharply when he received "an idle letter" from his subordinates "calling upon me to account for the information I have given to Mr G[ladstone] about the affairs of the office".[21] This episode may explain an otherwise mysterious complaint by Stephen in March 1846 that he was "virtually without a colleague".[22]

However, there was one member of the Colonial Office team whom Stephen regarded as superfluous. On accepting the post of Colonial Secretary, Gladstone had persuaded Peel to appoint Lord Lyttelton as his parliamentary under-secretary. Aged 28 and the product of a glittering academic career at Cambridge, Lyttelton had spoken occasionally in the House of Lords, mainly on Church matters, but had displayed no obvious aptitude for public life. However, he was married to the sister of Gladstone's wife, and the two couples were close.[23] In the post-Reform Act era, Gladstone should have been cautious in nominating a close family connection, and only obvious ability could have exonerated Lyttelton's elevation from the suspicion of nepotism.[24]

In fact, on his first day in the Office, it became apparent that Lord Lyttelton had no notion of the sheer drudgery involved in a junior ministerial post, and that he lacked the stamina needed to work through the torrent of documents that necessarily crossed his desk.[25] "George was bewildered through diffidence," Gladstone noted of his new deputy on Lyttelton's office debut on 9 January, adding "but he will soon regain his spirits." Stephen did not share his master's confidence: "I think that Lord L. will turn out ill. He wants joyousness, easiness of pace, calmness, self-reliance". After just four hours at his desk, he was "yawning & looking fag[ge]d & out of heart". Having initially assumed that Lyttelton's complaint that he was "breaking down" was a joke, Stephen waited until half past six and sadistically sent in a second box of papers, which "would probably break his back". Three days later, he sardonically recorded that "fatigued with his exertions[26] (of two days) Lord Lyttelton is gone to repose for [a day, deleted] four of five days in the Country! – preliminary[27] I trust to his final departure from us". However, he reappeared after three days. "I wish I could find something to like or admire about him." Lyttelton seems to have returned not out of enthusiasm for the Colonial Office, but because Gladstone had consulted a medical specialist on "poor George's health". However, on 17 January, the Secretary of State recorded that "Lyttelton [he had ceased to be "George"] went off to refresh & recruit himself." The fragile parliamentary under-secretary did not finally settle into the Colonial Office until 4 February. Nine days later, Stephen not only grumbled about "the Lytteltonian weight on my back" but added the complaint that his burden adopted "the air of a lord to a commoner" in their dealings.[28]

When the duo left office in July, Stephen delivered his parting verdict: Lyttelton was "but a great rude boy – but a very clever boy". Unfortunately, his intellect had been of little use to the Colonial Office.[29] No doubt compelled by the length and complexity of his career to engage in selection, Gladstone's biographers have paid little attention to the frustrating interval that he spent at the Colonial Office in 1846. Accordingly, they have failed to notice the massive miscalculation that he made in the selection of his ministerial deputy. Given the closeness of the two sisters, Gladstone ought to have appreciated that Lyttelton was not merely administratively inexperienced, but also emotionally fragile. There were several reasons why he was fortunate to have escaped public censure for his misjudgement. The most basic was that no major colonial problem erupted during the short period that they held office. It helped, too, that Lyttelton sat in the House of Lords, where little attention was given to imperial issues and, in any case, the stability of a ministry would not be undermined if one of its ministers came under pressure. He was called upon to speak on only a handful of occasions, although, on one of the most important, a defence of government policy towards Van Diemen's Land, he was "most imperfectly heard".[30] Civil servants are entitled to expect political overlords who can transact departmental business in parliament and, if necessary, defend the bureaucrats from unfair attack. Gladstone had miscalculated his chances of remaining in the Commons, and had appointed a deputy who could not be relied upon to master a detailed brief in the calmer backwaters of the Lords. It is no wonder that he quickly forfeited James Stephen's respect.

However, we should beware of drawing from Stephen's acerbic comments the conclusion that Gladstone was a headstrong but amateur policy-maker who wilfully ignored the wisdom and experience of his most senior adviser – a position that Barron and Cable came close to embracing.[31] First, there had always been politically sensitive areas, such as Canadian self-government, that ministers had reserved to their own control.[32] Second, Stephen was closely involved in the greatest single blunder of Gladstone's brief term at the Colonial Office, the dismissal of Sir John Eardley Wilmot, the governor of Van Diemen's Land.[33] Of course, it should be stressed that the British government – in practice, the Colonial Office – was fully entitled to change the governors of its overseas dependencies. Recall might not be a vote of confidence in an individual, but it did not necessarily imply censure: a governor might have become too identified with a discredited line of policy, and a new broom was required. Indeed, the key complaint against Sir John Eardley Wilmot was an alleged administrative shortcoming, that he consistently failed to supply sufficient information. As a penal colony, Van Diemen's Land was in effect an extension of the British prison system, and ministers needed to be minutely informed about its affairs. Unfortunately, this relatively straightforward bureaucratic concern became entangled in darker concerns about the state of sexual morality in the colony. Transportation was certainly not conducive to the Victorian ideal of stable married life, while a gender imbalance among the convicts was reported, with lurid allusion to Sodom and Gomorrah, to foster homosexuality, something that horrified both Gladstone and Stephen.  Sir John Eardley Wilmot could hardly be blamed for a situation that was inherent in the penal system but, in London, both minister and bureaucrat came to believe that he had failed to take its abuses seriously. Stephen pressed for the appointment of a new governor, and Gladstone actually went so far as to secure cabinet approval to make the change.[34]

At this point, Gladstone made the mistake of adding a third strand to the indictment, in a letter to Wilmot marked "secret", although it did not remain so for long. Almost half a century later, Gladstone recalled that he had been informed by the bishop of Tasmania, Francis Nixon, that the governor's relations with women constituted a "notorious scandal". It was obviously a minister's responsible duty to ask for evidence in support of these allegations, but Nixon – so Gladstone remembered – assured him that "there was no need more of evidence in such a case than for establishing the existence of the sun on a bright noonday". Fortified by this assurance, Gladstone informed Wilmot that the rumours about private life meant that he would never be employed in the colonial service again. Although Sir John was devastated by his condemnation, he fought back against "the most extraordinary conspiracy that ever succeeded in defaming the character of a Public Servant", successfully rallying the respectable Van Diemonians to his defence. Worse still, certainly in public relations terms, he fell ill and died early in 1847, to be given a funeral that took the form of a massive protest by the people of Hobart against his detractors. Forced to justify his censure, Gladstone appealed to Bishop Nixon for support, but he "entirely disclaimed any concern in the matter", leaving no alternative but to retreat, humiliating to Gladstone but, sadly, too late to offer redress to his victim. "There was on my part in this matter a singular absence of worldly wisdom," he mildly reflected.

It is not clear how far Stephen was implicated in this third prong of the assault against the beleaguered governor. As a lawyer, he had warned his superior that hearsay evidence against Wilmot could not be upheld in a court of law, but governments often have to act on a balance of probabilities that would not satisfy the judicial process. Certainly one of his last administrative interventions at the Colonial Office before his retirement in 1847, Stephen expressed the curmudgeonly hope that Eardley-Wilmot's funeral costs had not been paid from the public purse.[35] In his final private denunciation of Gladstone and all his works, he had found just one point in the outgoing minister's favour: "he recalled Sir Eardley Wilmot: & for that act let him be held in homage".[36] James Stephen sat in censorious judgment upon William Ewart Gladstone, but that did not mean that he drew upon superior qualities of goodness or wisdom.

Comments When the diary began, on 1 January 1846, Gladstone had already met with Stephen and the outgoing parliamentary under-secretary, G.W. Hope, to ensure a smooth handover of responsibilities.[37] On 3 January, Stephen noted, "I saw Mr Gladstone who looked into my room to tell me of Lord Cathcart[']s nomination to the Govt of Canada." The selection of a governor-general for so senior and sensitive a post was an entirely political decision, and it is doubtful whether Stephen would have been expected, or, indeed – given his pessimism about the durability of the imperial connection – would have wished to be involved. Four alternative candidates had been considered for the Canada post, but all turned out to be unavailable, unsuitable or unwilling. Cathcart, the commander of the colonial garrison, was the man on the spot. With war with the United States over the Oregon country all too likely, temporary recourse to a military governor seemed the only available solution. Gladstone's gesture in dropping into Stephen's room to tell him the news, instead of summoning him to his own office, was a thoughtful act of deference towards the veteran bureaucrat, and he was obviously keen to make his permanent under-secretary feel part of the process: at Gladstone's invitation, Stephen offered "some little criticism" of the Secretary of State's draft his letter to Cathcart announcing his appointment.[38]

From the outset, Stephen was uneasy about the implications of Gladstone's florid style for precision of policy. Moreover, as a naturally solitary person, he was uncomfortable at being the recipient of a charm offensive: Gladstone seemed to accept criticism "with an almost painful docility".[39] As early as 5 January, he confessed himself "doubtful" about his new master. "Wordy, most wordy, in what he writes; not powerful in speech, & pleasant rather than impressive in demeanour. Mais nous verrons."[40] Judgment did not remain suspended for long. By 12 January, it was clear that the Colonial Office had acquired a ministerial chief who had no immediate prospect of being able to fight the department's corner in parliament. What was so special about Gladstone that he should have a seat in the cabinet under such unusual and restricted circumstances? "Surely he is a man vastly & absurdly over valued."[41] Stephen now set out "to convince my new Master that he cannot govern Colonies by bestowing his subtlety & fostering advice on them & treating them like children".[42] He could not even take refuge in his favourite pastime of literature. Thomas Carlyle had recently published his acclaimed edition of Oliver Cromwell's Letters and Speeches, but his grandiloquence jarred on Stephen. "Phrase making is not thought finding, whatever old Carlyle or young England or middle aged Eton (WEG to wit) may suppose to the contrary."[43] The pairing is noteworthy: the most notable recent expression of the philosophy of Young England had come in Disraeli's novel of 1844, Coningsby. It was not difficult to associate Gladstone with Eton but, at thirty-six, he could only be middle-aged in manner, not in years. Yet he continued to be affable, inviting the senior clerks to his home on 20 January: "Fifteen to dinner," he noted in his diary: "semi official." Stephen did not enjoy the occasion: he was rarely comfortable with social occasions, but he did like the Gladstones' "two pretty children", who were paraded for the admiration of the guests.[44] He was still making a valiant (if intermittent) attempt to like the new Colonial Secretary, even though he feared that Gladstone "has as a faint a hold on his meaning as most men .... in good sooth my excellent Master (& I do believe that you are virtuous & devout) your understanding is not masterly."[45]

The fragile truce between the two men was soon badly disrupted. Edward Gibbon Wakefield, the self-styled colonisation theorist, decided that the change of minister at the Colonial Office gave him an opportunity to unleash more of his nostrums regarding the colonisation and government of New Zealand.[46] On 22 January, Gladstone noted in his diary that he was reading a memorandum by Wakefield, although he does not seem to have noticed that, even by the standards of the writer's habitual amorality, its contents were breathtaking. While deploring the Treaty of Waitangi which, for all its shortcomings, had sought to guarantee Māori rights, Wakefield graciously conceded that it might apply in the North Island. However, as a trade-off, the South Island would be handed over entirely to settlers, with the smaller numbers of indigenous people settled in reserves, from which they would be gradually eliminated (apparently by various strategies of assimilation).[47]  Stephen could only be horrified when he discovered that Gladstone was taking this mountebank seriously, warning his minister that Wakefield "could not rationally expect to be considered a man of honour, integrity or truth". In his diary, he referred to "a grave Protest to Mr G. against his trusting E[.]G[.] Wakefield, into which error I see he is prone to fall. Alas I am involved again with these people – of all people the most unjustly censorious & selfish."[48]

Undeterred by the rebuke, Gladstone pressed ahead, reading in some detail the denunciation of the Colonial Office by Wakefield's ally Charles Buller in a major parliamentary debate on New Zealand the previous year. Buller had demanded the introduction of representative government, elective institutions that would give the settlers a voice in colonial affairs. In a despatch sent to the governor, Sir George Grey, five days later, Gladstone seemed to allow the wordiness that Stephen so feared to carry him still further. He announced that the British government believed that "the colonists of New Zealand, being as they are of British blood and birth, and not affected otherwise than as it may be casually by the infusion of actual and emancipated convicts into their community, should undertake as early and with as little exception as may be, the administration of their own affairs". It is hardly necessary to state that this convoluted statement was the product of Gladstone's own intensive drafting, nor that its apparent endorsement of calls for local self-government were characteristically undermined by its reservations – a familiar feature of Gladstonian pronouncements. The absurdity of his position was that it failed to grasp the essential point that the New Zealand colonists demanded the right to manage their own affairs in order to have a free hand in dealing with the indigenous population, whose land they wished to acquire. Even if their aspirations had been morally acceptable, the aim was mere fantasy since the European population lacked the numbers and the firepower to subjugate their Māori neighbours: Wakefield's own brother had been killed during a foray into the territory of a tribe that did not accept the authority of Kuini Wikitoria. As was his wont, Gladstone had no difficulty in finding a formula that would square the circle. "I conceive it to be an undoubted maxim, that the Crown should stand in all matters between the colonists and the natives." Put into practice, that would prove – if at all feasible – something more than a "little exception" to colonial autonomy.[49]

Throughout February, Stephen was depressed, by the threat of war over Oregon, the uncertainty of the political crisis over the Corn Laws and, above all, "the interminable Downing St[reet] ... I have had many ruminations about resigning my office."[50] On 2 March, he recorded "a long talk with (or should I say to?)" the two ministers and Sir Charles Fitzroy, who had been appointed governor of New South Wales.[51] This harangue was perhaps not the best prelude to broaching with Gladstone the plan he had evolved for his own partial retirement. For twenty-three years before his appointment as permanent under-secretary in 1836, Stephen had acted as counsel to the Colonial Office, advising whether laws and ordinances from the distant dependencies conflicted with common sense or Westminster legislation. He now proposed to resign his under-secretaryship but continue his legal work. The proposal was flatly rejected. It would be easy to interpret this as an insensitive Gladstonian refusal to incur the relatively small sum in additional expenditure that would ease a loyal and talented public servant out of burdens he could no longer carry. In fact, as noted above, Gladstone was in the process of persuading the Treasury to fund the additional post of assistant under-secretary. It was assumed that Stephen would soon retire, and the Secretary of State adopted the reasonable position that staffing arrangements should not be altered to the disadvantage of his successor. Far from expressing concern about any additional cost involved in Stephen's proposal, he insisted that there could "no carving out of my present income a double income", and hence a reduction in salary for the next incumbent. "I gave it up as a hopeless scheme."[52]

Stephen was now alienated and embittered, trapped in a job that was wearing him down while working for a minister whom he could not respect. On 6 March, he reported a three-hour discussion on land policy in South Australia with Gladstone, Lyttelton and T.F. Elliott, the principal official in the Colonial Land and Emigration Commission, an offshoot of the Downing Street machine, "forming thus in fact the much abused 'Colonial office' in the full manifestation of all its imputed ignorance, oppression[,] folly & so on."[53] He also felt increasingly gloomy about Canada, fearing that its Assembly could not be relied upon to support Britain in the threatened clash with the United States over Oregon: "if they [the Canadians] make demonstrations hostile to us[,] the game is up & they [the ministers] have appointed Lord Cathcart to govern there – a man I hear of a mere military cast – a man milliner soldier[,] a formalist, about coats & buttons & bows & all that sort of trumpery,[54] with the temper of a bashaw. If this be true Canada is lost – a good loss if [lost, deleted] parted with kindly & graciously. But what utter folly it is to put such interests at the direction of a man like W.E.G. who knows nothing about them: a man to be esteemed (perhaps loved) but without dignity external or internal, or knowledge of the world in any broad sense, or [deletion] fire, or subtlety, save only the subtlety which delights in splitting hairs not worth the labour bestowed on them."[55]

It was at this point that Gladstone wrote to Sir George Grey in New Zealand, praising the "signal ability of Mr Wakefield" and urging "careful attention" to his proposals. Indeed, the despatch was worded with such insensitivity that it seems permissible to wonder if Gladstone intended it as a deliberate snub to his permanent under-secretary. Stephen's explosion of resentment is valuable in revealing Sydney Smith's nickname for the portentously solemn Colonial Secretary. "Gladstone ('our dear Gladdy' of the irreverent S. Smith) has truckled to Wakefield at my expense: & I have written to the said G. to say that resignation (in the active sense) is the luxury of the rich, in the passive sense the value of the poor – & that I being [too, deleted] unable to afford the luxury mean to practise the duty – which is 'awful smack' to one's Master. But he has the spirit of a [blank] – no! of Lord Glenelg."[56] The deliberate omission of a comparator name here means that it is not entirely clear what Stephen was trying to say. After all, the diary was simply his attempt to communicate with himself: only once was there any indication that he expected that others might read it. Stephen had in fact worked closely with Glenelg, a fellow Evangelical, whom he praised in 1852 for "his gentle and kindly nature – almost too kindly a nature for the rough world with which he has to do"[57] – hardly an assessment that he would have applied to Gladstone.[58] Entries in the diary were by now sporadic, and allusions to his political master even fewer. He returned to denunciation a month later. "I am devoured with disgust & vexation about that (I spare the Epithets which rise to the tip of my quill) Gladstone – the poorest & feeblest (not excepting [blank]) of all my Downing St. Rulers." Once again, Stephen's own omission obscures his meaning, but a passing condemnation in mid-May of Gladstone and Charles Buller as "shabby fellows" suggests that it was his political master's encouragement of Wakefield that was the last straw.[59]

By the end of June, relief was in sight, as Peel's ministry moved towards its close. Stephen was briefly disturbed by a tentative approach from Longman, the publisher, who was considering the issue of a new edition of Gladstone's works, and had apparently invited him to contribute a preface. Happily for its designated author, the scheme was abandoned: "& I shall not be sorry to avoid the responsibility for writing an account of him". (It was a curious suggestion, improper if it assumed that a civil servant could comment on a ministerial superior and misinformed if it expected a sympathetic assessment of Gladstone's opinions on religion.) Reviewing the past six months, Stephen wrote that "this Gladstonian reign has proved a very hard one for me in the way of working". Sir Robert Peel he admired and respected "[b]ut Gladstone I do not like. He has reigned for six months & what is the fault I have to find with him? Want of magnanimity & of all other imperial virtues. Microscopic in his views & in his ways, – too civil & not quite [deletion] civil enough – something of a Jesuit in manner & address – subtle almost to a disease. There is neither force, nor expansion, nor grace, nor dignity[,] nor high courage – at least none of these things make themselves manifest if they are. I have learnt to like & have come to desiderate an aristocratic bearing." In Stephen's eyes, Gladstone's only redeeming feature was his dismissal of Sir John Eardley Wilmot. The new minister had arrived in January promising his permanent under-secretary "all manner of worship & homage"; now he departed with Stephen employing the same term, if more selectively: "for that act let him be held in homage". But he felt no regret at their parting: "Get thee gone William Ewart Gladstone & restore me to more leisure!"[60] Gladstone remained as caretaker for the few days of transition that prepared the way for the incoming Whig ministry, but on 4 July he visited the Colonial Office for the last time, "to bid goodbye to Stephen & others", and to thank them for their support. The farewells took two hours, which suggests a series of personal interviews.[61] Stephen would probably have resented that Gladstone's last act was to assemble his senior staff on a Saturday afternoon. However, he contented himself with a three-word celebration in his diary: "Gladstone is gone."[62]

The outgoing Secretary of State was glad to escape too, leaving the Colonial Office with what one scholar termed a "shout of joy". There is no indication in the Gladstone diaries that the two men ever corresponded or conversed again. The death of James Stephen's eldest son, Herbert, in October 1846 was followed a year later by the breakdown of his own health, which forced his retirement. In the last decade of his life, he spent part of the year in Cambridge, delivering lectures associated with his Professorship of Modern History. Cambridge was alien territory to Gladstone, by now MP for Oxford University, who did not visit until October 1859: he received an honorary degree, one month after Stephen's death.[63] In support of his candidature for the Chair, Stephen had published a two-volume collection of studies that had previously appeared in the Edinburgh Review. Gladstone was evidently not interested in the mainly medieval topics in the first volume of Essays in Ecclesiastical Biography, but in 1852 he read a chapter on "The 'Evangelical' Succession".[64] He did not return to the book until 1879 when, perhaps in preparation for his Midlothian campaign, he read a later essay on "The Clapham Sect".[65] However, Gladstone did make one public reference, albeit oblique, to James Stephen, and it is not an episode that does him credit.  In March 1869, he accepted an invitation to address the inaugural banquet of the Colonial Society, an association formed to act as a pressure group on behalf of the self-governing territories overseas. Gladstone was by now Prime Minister of an energetically reforming Liberal government, and applied his habitual ingenuity to presenting himself as a veteran in imperial affairs but one who had somehow escaped involvement with the bad old days of centralised control. He took the easy way out, by deflecting the censure on to Stephen. "In the days when I was accustomed to wear out with my footsteps the stairs of the Colonial-office[,] that office was haunted by a disembodied spirit that received a painful distinction under the title of 'Mr Mother Country'."[66] The nickname had been coined by Charles Buller in 1840, and given wider circulation by Wakefield in his tome of 1849, The Art of Colonization. The members of the Colonial Society would have had no difficulty in decoding the allusion as directed at Stephen, who had been dead for a decade. It was an unworthy sneer at the memory of a dedicated public servant.  

Conclusion For the student of Gladstone, and especially of Gladstone in government, the diary of James Stephen is valuable for its contemporary assessment of his role as an administrator. We have many accounts of Gladstone in the cabinet room or the House of Commons, but few portraits of him at a ministerial desk, attempting to drive Britain's archaic administrative machine.[67] It is thus all the more to be regretted that Stephen was in a negative mood, disillusioned, tired and lacking in any enthusiasm to respond to Gladstone's initially friendly overtures. Conscious of the reversal of their previous working relationship at the Colonial Office, his first appointment as a political novice eleven years earlier, Gladstone did make some effort to show deference towards the veteran civil servant, promising "all manner of worship & homage" and accepting criticism "with an almost painful docility".  Yet Stephen felt uneasy at working for a political superior who was "pleasant rather than impressive in demeanour". He bridled when the upstart Lyttelton spoke to him with "the air of a lord to a commoner", but he admitted that he had "come to desiderate an aristocratic bearing" in his chief. However, this brief phase was overtaken by the new minister's hyperactive self-confidence and, by the end of January, he was making his own policy on several key issues. Stephen, the taciturn lawyer, was alarmed by the prolixity with which grand principles were enunciated: "Wordy, most wordy, in what he writes .... Phrase making is not thought finding" and, in the pages of his diary at least, he warned Gladstone that "your understanding is not masterly". He was very quickly critical of the Secretary of State's missives to the colonies for "bestowing his subtlety & fostering advice on them & treating them like children". Gladstone's decision to entertain the opinions of the hated Edward Gibbon Wakefield and – even more incomprehensibly, to heap praise on this venomous alumnus of Newgate in a despatch to New Zealand – left Stephen in bitter despair.

Yet the vocabulary of his condemnations indicates that the relationship would always have been difficult. Stephen's verdict that Gladstone's subtlety was of the type which "delights in splitting hairs not worth the labour bestowed on them" is surely a reference to his obscure theorising on the relations of Church and State, and the equally puzzling choreography of his attitude to the issue of Maynooth, positions that perplexed many contemporaries, not least among them Peel. His farewell diatribe, which dismissed the departing minister as "something of a Jesuit in manner & address – subtle almost to a disease" is very much an Evangelical's denunciation of the Tractarian mind. Inherent antipathy made it virtually impossible for Stephen to get to grips with Gladstone's personality. It is startling to find him attributing a lack of dignity to a Victorian icon who is invariably seen as portentous to the point of pomposity, and Stephen himself did use the phrase "middle aged Eton" for his 36 year-old political master. Yet the accusation, that Gladstone was "without dignity external or internal" [emphasis added], brings to mind the memorable put-down recorded by Bagehot in 1860: "Oxford on the surface, but Liverpool below."[68] It is hardly surprising that Stephen should have detected an element of artificiality about Gladstone – " too civil & not quite  civil enough" – that reflected the insecurity of an outsider carefully feeling his way in an aristocratic political structure. Stephen himself, however much he sought to turn the world upside down in other respects, accepted as the natural order that government office was naturally bestowed upon men with titles, although he did expect basic competence from his lordly superiors. In 1839, he had praised Lord John Russell as an "admirable" Colonial Secretary, "filling the precise function for which nature designed, and education qualified him". Yet Stephen was no mere tuft-hunter: he also praised the statesmanship of William Huskisson who, like Gladstone, hailed from outside the magic circle of aristocratic power, and who only held office as Colonial Secretary very briefly.[69]  Gladstone was one of two bare "Misters" in Peel's cabinet: the other, Henry Goulburn, was also the product of slave-generated wealth, but he had first held office in 1810, and his post, Chancellor of the Exchequer, made him one of the cabinet's workhorses. Gladstone was also one of Britain's youngest front-line politicians. Two Oxford contemporaries had followed him into Peel's cabinet: the Honourable Sidney Herbert was the younger son of an Earl, while his friend Lord Lincoln was heir to the Duke who had first installed and then dislodged him at Newark. Perversely, Gladstone could not even bring to public life the advantages of a very different background, provincial and commercial, since his dominant father had chosen to steer him away from the family business to be educated as a gentleman. Stephen was right in emphasising his lack of "knowledge of the world in any broad sense", but he failed to look below the surface when he complained of an absence of "fire", dismissing his latest bird-of-passage chief as "the poorest & feeblest ... of all my Downing St. Rulers". Perhaps the most significant point about his final rip-roaring indictment of Gladstone's negative qualities is that Stephen himself recognised that it was a description of the surface, not the impenetrable depths. "Want of magnanimity & of all other imperial virtues. Microscopic in his views & in his ways.... There is neither force, nor expansion, nor grace, nor dignity[,] nor high courage – at least none of these things make themselves manifest if they are." Gladstone would never display much grace. He could immerse himself in moral amnesia when political necessity required alliance with former foes, notably Parnell and his followers in the eighteen-eighties, but it may be doubted whether magnanimity ever ran deep in his soul. But he would reveal qualities of force and high courage, even if the quality of "expansion" – which Stephen did not clearly define – could become bizarrely entwined with his tendency to the microscopic, for instance in the provisions of the Irish Land Acts and the strange mishmash of the 1886 Home Rule Bill, so suddenly made manifest from the remoteness of Hawarden and its details fastened upon the Liberal party, or what remained of it, like tablets of stone.

In closing, it is right to put Stephen on Gladstone into perspective. His diary intermittently covered eight months and one week in 125 pages. Not only do his negative impressions of his political master need to be seen as the opinions of an embittered bureaucrat, but it is also important to appreciate that his allusions to Gladstone were relatively infrequent, especially after those first few weeks of probing and sparring mutual evaluation. Tired as he was and uncomfortable with social contact, Stephen led a life beyond Downing Street, in which home, family and literature offered their own comforts. Perhaps one day, the diary will be published in full, to provide a brief glimpse of an early Victorian life. And we may close, too, with perhaps the most precious revelation of all. In common with Stephen, indeed with most of their contemporaries, the Whig wit Sydney Smith clearly could not comprehend the stern unbending complexity of this rising political phenomenon, but where Stephen was moved to angry condemnation, Smith preferred affectionately belittling satire. It is an intriguing thought that, in reportedly referring to "our dear Gladdy", he showed unconscious prescience in forecasting that duality of ethical and political apposition that would pit Gladstone in mid-century parliamentary combat against the flamboyant but equally indefinable foe who was already known as "Dizzy".

ENDNOTES     For other material on Gladstone, see "Gladstone on www.gedmartin.net":

[1] The diary of James Stephen is held in Cambridge University Library, Add. MS 7511, and see https://archivesearch.lib.cam.ac.uk/repositories/2/resources/7019#.  It is cited as Diary, with dates of entries. For extracts and discussion, C.E. Stephen, The Right Honourable Sir James Stephen ... (Gloucester, 1906), 91-111 and T. Barron and K.J. Cable, "The Diary of James Stephen, 1846", Historical Studies Australia and New Zealand,  xiii (1969), 503-19 [cited as B&C]. Caroline Emilia Stephen's book was privately printed and evidently did not achieve a wide circulation. It is sometimes cited by the alternative title on the spine, The First Sir James Stephen. The Stephen family referred to their father's diary as a journal, even though he did not make daily entries. My notes were taken over 50 years ago, and I am unable to recall whether Stephen's handwriting was "execrable" (B&C, 504) or "beautiful" as his daughter claimed (92). I have expanded some of Stephen's abbreviations [using square brackets] where clarity required, but left others to convey the informal flavour of the entries. I have also indicated some emendations of punctuation.

[2] Gladstone was Colonial Secretary (in full, Secretary of State for War and Colonies) from 23 December 1845 to 6 July 1846. I discuss his responses to British North American challenges in "Gladstone, Canada and calibration: Part 1 of Gladstone and Canada":

[3] Gladstone supported Peel's plan to increase the government grant to St Patrick's College, Maynooth, but had felt obliged to resign because the proposal conflicted with his previously expressed views on the duty of the State to support the Anglican Church. An MP accepting office had to fight a by-election and, on becoming Colonial Secretary, Gladstone faced the difficulty that his patron, the Duke of Newcastle, whose influence had secured his return at Newark, remained a fervent Protectionist. Half a century later, he recalled that "I could not honourably seek re-election at Newark". In fact, for about ten days after his appointment on 23 December, Gladstone had hoped to retain the seat, in effect daring the Duke to run a candidate against him and thereby stir further agitation for parliamentary reform. Since Newcastle was about to evict another newly appointed cabinet minister, his own son Lord Lincoln, from nearby South Nottinghamshire, this was false optimism. Newcastle made it clear in a letter of 28 December that he intended to support another candidate, although it was two weeks before his nominee was identified. No doubt politicians tend to cling to the hope of victory however dismal their prospects, but Gladstone's belief, as late as 3 January 1846, that the voters were "much disposed to kick against the Duke" was self-deluding. J. Brooke and M. Sorensen, eds, The Prime Ministers' Papers: W.E. Gladstone, i ... (London, 1971), 248 (July 1894); R. Shannon, Gladstone, i: 1809-1865 (London, 1984 ed., cf. 1st ed. 1982), 189-90; J.B. Conacher, "Mr Gladstone Seeks a Seat", Canadian Historical Association: Report of the Annual Meeting, xli (1962), 55-67. Gladstone formally withdrew from Newark on 7 January. His farewell address to his constituents was characteristically wordy:  The Spectator described it as "framed very skilfully, so as to seem open and frank without telling a single thing". "Read it straightforward, turn it upside down, try it from corner to corner, and tell me if ever there was seen such an utterly incomprehensible document," another journalist complained. "His obvious intention was to write an infinite deal of nothing, and he must be hugging himself on his success." The style might be termed ponderously coy. Gladstone relied on the conventional formula that, as a cabinet minister, he could not go into detail on policy that was still emerging, but seemed to indicate that he might be elected without his consent. For a few days around the end of the first week of January, there were indications that some Newark electors would rebel against ducal dictation. However, the people of the town were "[c]hiefly engaged in the malt and corn trade": on 31 December 1845, 500 Nottinghamshire farmers had met there and declared "that we cannot exist as farmers without protection, and we are determined to uphold it by every means in our power". Gladstone's successor was returned unopposed on 27 January. Spectator, quoted South Australian Gazette, 23 May (via the National Library of Australia Trove online newspaper archive); Fife Herald, 13 January; The Times, 6 January 1846; C.R. Dod (ed. H.J. Hanham), Electoral Facts ... (Brighton, 1972 ed., cf. 1st ed. 1852), 222; C. Brown, The Annals of Newark-upon-Trent... (London, 1879), 291-2. Gladstone's miscalculation undoubtedly weakened him politically, as indicated by a critical article in The Times as early as 6 January 1846. There was even speculation that he might be "pitchforked" into the House of Lords. Fifty years later, in 1896, Gladstone remarked that "acceptance of office is apt to be less sharply criticised than resignation. The motives that induce a man to resign are more severely scrutinised than those which induce a man to accept". Perhaps biographers should note this reflection. A. Briggs, ed., Gladstone's Boswell... (Brighton, 1984), 169.

[4] Conacher, "Mr Gladstone Seeks a Seat", 57.  Gladstone would later describe being "a Minister of the Crown without a seat in Parliament" as "a state of things not agreeable to the spirit of parliamentary government". Brooke and Sorensen, eds, The Prime Ministers' Papers: W.E. Gladstone, i ... (London, 1971), 63 (September 1897).

[5] Diary, 4 March. Discussing the affairs of Van Diemen's Land, The Times commented: "It would be absurd to suppose that the officials of Downing-street are actuated by a perverse desire to injure the colonies .... But it is indisputable and undisputed by any who have given their attention to colonial affairs, that in no single instance has a good measure – that is, one productive of lasting benefit to a colony – ever emanated from the office of the Secretary for Colonial Affairs. A blight seems to rest upon all their efforts, and this blight, we are convinced, is the blight of ignorance." Stephen's complaint throws doubt on his claim, in 1839, that he made it "a rule never to read newspapers, except for matters of fact": Knaplund, James Stephen and the British Colonial System 1813-1847, 16-17 (full reference below).

[6] The Colonial Office was located at 14 Downing Street, at the west end of the cul-de-sac. The building was demolished in 1876 and its site left vacant. H.L. Hall, The Colonial Office: a History (London, 1937), 48-9.

[7] A.G.L. Shaw, "Stephen, Sir James (1789–1859)", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography; Diary, 9 January, 16 March. He was the subject of an impressive scholarly study, P. Knaplund, James Stephen and the British Colonial System 1813-1847 (Westport, Conn., 1974 ed., cf. 1st ed., Madison, Wisconsin, 1953). I have been unable to consult K. McBride, Mr Mothercountry: the Man who Made the Rule of Law (Oxford, 2016). Leslie Stephen included a perceptive sketch of his father in The Life of Sir James Fitzjames Stephen... (2 vols, London, 1895), i, 41-65.

[8] B&C, 511.

[9] Stephen's detractors were not confined to discontented colonial enthusiasts. Lord John Russell (Prime Minister 1846-52) sneered: "It was the fault of Stephen that instead of being Under-Sec[retar]y for the Colonies, he was Under- Sec[retar]y against the Colonies." University of Durham. Grey Papers, Russell to Grey, 16 March 1849. It was a cheap remark, the more so as Stephen had respected Russell as his chief. After meeting Stephen, in 1849, to discuss his appointment as Professor of Modern History at Cambridge, Prince Albert commented: "I understand now, why he was unpopular; for he hits hard at the weak points of his countrymen." T. Martin, The Life of His Royal Highness the Prince Consort, ii (London, 1875), 203 (1 August 1849).  

[10] For Gladstone's ambivalence on the subject, R. Quinault, "Gladstone and Slavery", Historical Journal, lii (2009), 363-383. I discuss his evasions in the 1830s in "Gladstone Through the Looking Glass: Part 2 of Gladstone and Canada": https://www.gedmartin.net/martinalia-mainmenu-3/369-gladstone-canada-part-2.

[11] Knaplund, James Stephen and the British Colonial System 1813-1847, 114, and cf. 95-130 for an overview of his campaign against slavery and its aftermath.

[12] "Compare the child of nine years old – and some say, under – entering your factories to work eight hours a-day – and some say, more – for a livelihood, with the child of nine years old in British Guiana, supported without labour by the proprietors of the soil. What shall we say of the Irish peasant with his sixpence a day; of the hand-loom weaver with his four shillings a-week?—what shall those of us who have such poor constituents say to them, when next we go among them, and see their wasted frames stooping to their toil for twelve or fourteen hours in the day to procure a bare subsistence, when we tell them we have no aid to afford them, but that we have been busy in rescuing from his seven-and-a-half daily hours the negro of British Guiana, who can employ his extra time at the rate of three shillings and sixpence, or four shillings a-day?" Gladstone reminded the House that the slave-trade, with all its horrors, still carried tens of thousands of Africans across the Atlantic to Brazil, and asked: "are not the manufacturers of this country they who supply the means of supporting this monstrous traffic? The British manufacturer sends his goods in British ships to the Brazils, and receives for them cotton, the produce of slave labour. But a portion of those goods are made for an ulterior purpose; they are adapted to the African market; they are reshipped from the Brazils to the coast of Africa, and there exchanged for the human ware that passes from Africa to Brazil." Hansard, 30 March 1838, 224-57, esp. 225, 254-6.

[13] Stephen to Gladstone [March 1838], J. Morley, The Life of William Ewart Gladstone (3 vols, London, 1903), i, 147. I have added punctuation here in the hope of clarifying Stephen's convoluted meaning. For a description of Gladstone at this time: "'He is plausible even when most in error': Gladstone as parliamentarian, 1838": https://www.gedmartin.net/martinalia-mainmenu-3/353-gladstone-as-parliamentarian-1838.

[14] One month previously, in December 1834, Gladstone had been appointed a junior lord of the treasury, but the Colonial Office was his first real job.

[15] Morley, The Life of William Ewart Gladstone, i, 127. In 1881, Gladstone recalled a conversation at the Colonial Office in 1835, in which Stephen praised the poetry of Wordsworth. In a Commons speech in December 1837, he spoke highly of Stephen as "the advocate of the slaves, with his liberal and enlightened views". H.C.G. Matthew, ed., The Gladstone Diaries, x (Oxford, 1990), 172; Morley, The Life of William Ewart Gladstone, i, 142n.

[16] P. Knaplund, Gladstone and Britain's Imperial Policy (London, 1966 ed., cf. 1st ed. 1927), 39. Knaplund's verdict is borne out by Gladstone's own diary, which records his detailed work in drafting documents. The diary seems to make remarkably few references to Stephen, but it must be remembered that its contents, while extensive, were not intended to be exhaustive: Gladstone specifically noted letters to Stephen, but it would be taken for granted that he consulted the permanent under-secretary when he was in the Colonial Office. Thus Stephen recorded a 3-hour discussion on South Australia on 6 March, but Gladstone simply listed "C.O. 1¾-6½". M.R.D. Foot and H.C.G. Matthew, eds, The Gladstone Diaries, iii... (Oxford, 1974), 506-50, esp. 523.

[17] Diary, 28 June 1846.

[18] Diary, 1 January.

[19] Diary, 7 May.

[20] Diary, 11, 18 May.

[21] Diary, 11, 20 May. The reform episode is referred to in R.C. Snelling and T.J. Barron, "The Colonial Office and its Permanent Officials 1801-1914" in G. Sutherland, ed., Studies in the Growth of Nineteenth-Century Government (London, 1972), 139-66, and Gladstone Diaries, iii, 532-4.

[22] Selections from the Correspondence of the late Macvey Napier (London, 1879), 523-4 (letter of 9 March 1846). Stephen's friends might have gently pointed out that he preferred to work in solitude, as he had noted on 24 January: "No one comes near me from the beginning to the end of the morning; & if they do come I certainly do not invite their return."

[23] Lyttelton graduated in 1838 as Senior Classic, a rare achievement in a nobleman. In 1847, he became a figurehead for the Canterbury Association which planned an Anglican colony in New Zealand. Apart from attending one meeting (The Times, 28 April 1841) in support of new overseas bishoprics, he had shown no previous interest in colonial affairs. He has been frequently described as Gladstone's brother-in-law, although strictly speaking he was Catherine Gladstone's brother-in-law. The two couples had shared a joint wedding in 1839. There is a brief Note by P. Gordon, "Lyttelton, George William, fourth Baron Lyttelton and fourth Baron Westcote (1817-1876)", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.  I cannot find him on Venn ACAD, the Cambridge alumni database. The appointment can be traced through Gladstone Diaries, iii, 508-12. The massive failure of Lyttelton's selection makes it all the more bizarre that he had hesitated to join the ministry because he disapproved of plans to close two Welsh dioceses. Peel urged a dose of perspective. "How could the government of this wonderful empire be ever constructed, if a difference on such a point were to be an obstruction to union?" Morley, The Life of William Ewart Gladstone, i, 288.

[24] The Colonial Office had recently dealt with a blatant case of nepotism. The governor of New Brunswick, Sir William Colebrooke, had appointed his son-in-law, Alfred Reade, to a key administrative post. This violated a pledge to the British North American colonies that only locals should be chosen for such positions, and Colebrooke compounded his offence by omitting to mention his connection to Reade when reporting the appointment to London. Lord Stanley, who preceded Gladstone as Colonial Secretary, agreed with Stephen that that this "jobbing" was "injudicious and indefensible". Knaplund, James Stephen and the British Colonial System 1813-1847, 46-7.

[25] Administrative studies of the Colonial Office rarely say much about the parliamentary under-secretary, a post described by a later holder as "somewhat difficult and anomalous". In effect, the parliamentary under-secretary occupied a hybrid position, part bureaucrat, part political liaison officer, a role effectively but unobtrusively discharged by G.W. Hope (1841-5) and by Benjamin Hawes (1846-52). The need to speak in parliament, and particularly to be able to respond to questions on a wide range of colonial questions, required a close grip on incoming despatches, as well as knowledge of their context. In a few cases, e.g. Gladstone himself in 1835 and Carnarvon in 1858-9, appointment as parliamentary under-secretary would be the first step on the ladder to cabinet office. However, for most holders of the post, it represented the peak of a ministerial career. Hall, The Colonial Office: a History, 50-2.

[26] B&C read "wrestling" for "exertions".

[27] B&C read "a preliminary".

[28] Gladstone Diaries, iii, 512, 513-4 ((9, 16, 17 January), and Stephen's diary 9, 15 January, 4, 13 February. Stephen was contemptuous of Lyttelton's work rate: "To me a half dozen [boxes] per diem are as nothing now." On 22 May, he processed 112 despatches in one day. But Stephen had over 30 years' experience, and could easily distinguish the important from the routine.

[29] The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography obscurely states that Gladstone "was obliged to rebuke him for amending the minutes of senior civil servants".

[30] Morning Chronicle, 4 March 1846, quoted Australian (Sydney), 30 June 1846, via National Library of Australia Trove online newspaper archive. Dr Andrew Jones points out that "most imperfectly heard" was probably a euphemism. It suggests either that Lyttelton lacked an effective speaking voice, or that he failed to command the attention of his fellow peers. The index to the Gladstone Diaries bluntly terms Lyttelton "manic depressive".

[31] B&C, 509. Morley, generally an admiring biographer, also implied that Gladstone erred in "not seldom differing from Stephen, the chief of staff in the office". Morley, The Life of William Ewart Gladstone, i, 359.
Gladstone and Stephen did work together on specific policy issues. For instance, the Treasury insisted on appointing customs officers in Nova Scotia, and Stephen sympathised with local opposition to this interference. On 10 January 1846, Gladstone wrote to the Treasury requesting them to accept the governor's nomination of a Nova Scotian candidate at Annapolis: his own appointment was so recent that it is likely that he was following Stephen's advice. A reply was received almost two months later, which simply and arrogantly announced the name of the Treasury's own selection.  Gladstone requested a memorandum (he called it a "précis") outlining similar cases (i.e. he called upon Stephen as the Colonial Office's memory), to enable him to raise the matter with Peel and the Chancellor of the Exchequer Henry Goulburn. However, there is no indication from the Gladstone diaries that any such consultation took place. Knaplund, James Stephen and the British Colonial System 1813-1847, 181-3.

[32] W.P. Morrell, British Colonial Policy in the Age of Peel and Russell (Oxford, 1930), 46.

[33] In full, Sir John Eardley Eardley-Wilmot, and usually referred to as Sir Eardley Wilmot. Hyphenated (or "double-barrelled") surnames were coming into use, and some confusion occurred. For his recall, B&C, 508n.; M. Roe, "Sir John Eardley Eardley-Wilmot (1783–1847)", Australian Dictionary of Biography; L. Robson, A History of Tasmania, i... (Melbourne, 1983), 428-37.

[34] Gladstone Diaries, iii, 534 (29, 30 April).

[35] Brooke and M. Sorensen, eds, The Prime Ministers' Papers: W.E. Gladstone, i, 248 (July 1894): Robson (433) was perhaps unfair in referring to Gladstone's "geriatric reminiscences". As with the appointment of Lyttelton, Gladstone has had something of a free run from his biographers in regard to his appalling handling of this episode. Morley omitted any mention. In a single sentence, Richard Shannon, Gladstone: God and Politics (London, 2008 ed., cf. 1st ed. 2007), 55-6, described the dismissal as "controversial", but provided no details of what he admitted was the "major incident" of Gladstone's tenure of office. In a biography that often treads a conventional path, Roy Jenkins, Gladstone (London, 1995), 86 did give a brief and balanced account. The Eardley-Wilmot affair was an unpleasant example of Gladstone's narrow and moralistic approach to public issues. It is also likely that his humiliation may help to explain the doggedly myopic naivety with which he accepted Katharine O'Shea an emissary from Parnell, without questioning the nature of their relationship. In 1976, I attended a conference in Hobart. One of the participants, a distinguished and charming Gladstone scholar, spent much time in deep thought at the grave of Sir John Eardley-Wilmot, earning the nickname of "Greyfriars Bobby".

[36] Diary, 28 June.

[37] Gladstone Diaries, iii, 507 (23, 24 December 1845). He wrote to Stephen, presumably on policy matters, on 29 and 31 December.

[38] Diary, 4 January. A footnote in Gladstone Diaries, iii, 510 identifies two drafts of Gladstone's letter to Cathcart.

[39] Diary, 14 January.

[40] Diary, 5 January. The French translates as: "But we shall see."

[41] Diary, 12 January.

[42] Diary, 13 January. Perhaps Stephen did not allow for the position in which Gladstone found himself. As the representative of a British ministry committed to the abolition of the Corn Laws, he was bound to expound to the virtues of free trade to the people of Canada, however much they objected to the loss of their privileged access to the British market. However, his despatch to Cathcart of 3 June 1846 was tactlessly unctuous in asserting that "It would indeed be a source of the greatest pain to Her Majesty's Government if they could share in the impression that the connexion between this country and Canada derived its vitality from no other source than from the exchange of commercial preferences." K.N. Bell and W.P. Morrell, eds, Select Documents on British Colonial Policy 1830-1860 (Oxford, 1928), 339-45, esp. 345.

[43] Diary, 16 January.

[44] Gladstone Diaries, iii, 514, and see picture of the Gladstones' son Willie, aged 3 and in skirts, 506ff; Diary, 20 January.

[45] Diary, 22 January.

[46] I regard Wakefield as a charlatan and a scoundrel: Edward Gibbon Wakefield: Abductor and Mystagogue
(Edinburgh, 1997): https://www.gedmartin.net/?view=article&id=159:edward-gibbon-wakefield-abductor-and-mystagogue-part-a and https://www.gedmartin.net/?view=article&id=160:edward-gibbon-wakefield-abductor-and-mystagogue-part-b.

[47] Gladstone Diaries, iii, 515 (22 January); P. Temple, A Sort of Conscience... (Auckland, 2002), 384-6. Wakefield's proposals were summarised by Morrell, British Colonial Policy in the Age of Peel and Russell, 125-7. In 1849, Wakefield claimed that he had been doubtful about submitting his ideas since it was generally believed that "the weeks of Mr Gladstone's tenure of office were numbered before he accepted the seals" and that any attempt to involve him would provoke the "jealous disposition" of Lord Howick [i.e. the 3rd Earl Grey], who was likely to be his Whig successor. In the event, so he claimed, the serious problems facing the colonists in New Zealand led him to submit his scheme to Gladstone, "but too late for enabling him to come to any official decision upon it". E.G. Wakefield, A View of the Art of Colonization... (London, 1849), 31-2. As with most Wakefield statements, this represented an approximate interpretation of the truth.

[48] Temple, A Sort of Conscience, 385; Diary 26 January. By 1844, Lord Stanley, Gladstone's predecessor, had become "disgusted by the perpetual small trickery which from first to last has characterized their proceedings". For an example of the feline nature of Wakefieldian attack, see the discussion of Gladstone's appointment by the New Zealand Journal, 3 January 1846, which described Stephen as lurking "in his own especial den, waiting to have his advice asked. And as soon as it is asked, he will be ready with his minute or dispatch for each and all the colonies, and his arguments in support of it. Mr Gladstone's mind being on all these subjects a tabula rasa, he will be unable to detect any perversions of facts, or any fallacious application of them. He will see that Master Stephen is a man of different metal from the other mere quill-drivers of his office. He will have no choice but to follow his guidance in the first instance, and Mr Stephen having got him on the old official rail, will spare no pains to keep him from running off it." As Leslie Stephen pointed out, "there is an advantage in criticising the permanent official in a department. He cannot answer an attack upon him, and it is also an attack upon the superior who has yielded to his influence." To prove his independence of mind, Gladstone would have to reject Stephen's recommendations; to accept them would condemn him as a puppet. Unfortunately, Gladstone's mind was not a tabula rasa. I have not identified the New Zealand Journal, but it is cited as a source for New Zealand Company activities by D.A. Haury, The Origins of the Liberal Party and Liberal Imperialism ... (New York and London, 1987), a useful study of the career of Charles Buller, if with a grandiose title. The quotation comes from Wellington Independent, 22 August 1846, via the National Library of New Zealand's PapersPast online newspaper archive.; L. Stephen, The Life of Sir James Fitzjames Stephen, i, 46.

[49] Gladstone Diaries, iii, 516-17; Morrell, British Colonial Policy in the Age of Peel and Russell, 125-7. The despatch to Sir George Grey was printed in UK Parliamentary Papers, 1846, xxx, 315-17.

[50] Diary, 26, 28 February.

[51] Stephen's eyesight had been weakened by an attack of smallpox in childhood. Coupled with shyness in direct personal dealings, this led him to avoid eye contact in meetings. An earlier Colonial Secretary, Thomas Spring Rice (Lord Monteagle) said that he "shuts his eyes on you and talks as if he were dictating a colonial despatch." L. Stephen, The Life of Sir James Fitzjames Stephen, ii, 53.

[52] Diary, 2 March. Indeed, Stephen feared that he had been "self willed and self seeking" in pressing the proposal. In fact, when he retired the following year, after a breakdown in his health, Stephen was generously treated by the penny-pinching standards of contemporary administration. He received a pension (plus a knighthood), and two years later was appointed Professor of Modern History at Cambridge. Friends apparently lobbied on his behalf. Another influential civil servant, Charles Greville, feared that "Stephen will never make the exertions for himself that may be necessary, and, if so, it is all the more incumbent on his friends to bestir themselves, and to take care (so far as in them lies) that justice is done to him". J.M. Ward, "Retirement of a Titan: James Stephen 1847-1850," Journal of Modern History, xxxi (1959), 189-205; E. Dowden, ed., Correspondence of Henry Taylor (London, 1888), 165.

[53] Diary, 6 March; M. Ray, "Elliot, Sir Thomas Frederick (1808–1880)", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.

[54] B&C read "humbug".

[55] Diary, 4 March. On 12 January, Stephen had virtually refused to advise on the instructions to be issued to Cathcart, arguing that the relationship with Canada had become so tenuous that a governor-general would have to act on his own initiative as challenges arose. Bell and Morrell, eds, Select Documents on British Colonial Policy 1830-1860 (Oxford, 1928), 87. A "man milliner" was someone who sold headgear, but the phrase was applied contemptuously to anyone who showed a disproportionate concern with buttons and bows. The term "bashaw" (variant of "pasha") was applied to authoritarian officials.

[56] Temple, A Sort of Conscience, 385-6; Diary 12 March. The despatch had been planned on 10 March, but it was not sent until 27 March. Stephen recorded his reaction on Easter Sunday. I cannot find that it was ever printed for Parliament. Gladstone Diaries, iii, 530; Knaplund, Gladstone and Britain's Imperial Policy, 48. Sydney Smith had died in February 1845: Stephen did not date his witticism.

[57] C.E. Stephen, The Right Honourable Sir James Stephen, 157. Glenelg was Colonial Secretary from 1835 to 1839. I attempted a partial defence in "Two Cheers for Lord Glenelg", Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History, vii (1979), pp. 213-237, but I do not think I made many converts.

[58] He addressed an imaginary "Mr Biographer" on 9 January.

[59] Diary, 7 April, 16 May.

[60] Diary, 28 June. Peel had earned Stephen's gratitude by defending him against attack in the House of Commons the previous year.

[61] Gladstone Diaries, iii, 530.

[62] Diary, 5 July.

[63] Knaplund, Gladstone and Britain's Imperial Policy, 53;  Ward, "Retirement of a Titan: James Stephen 1847-1850"; "Magdalene College Cambridge Notes: prime-ministerial visits, from Gladstone to Macmillan":


[64] "The 'Evangelical' Succession" was an unsympathetic discussion of the published letters of Hurrell Froude, an early leader of the Tractarian Oxford Movement. Gladstone, who read it on 12 December 1852, was unlikely to have improved his opinion of its author. M.R.D. Foot and H.C.G. Matthew, eds, The Gladstone Diaries..., iv (Oxford, 1974), 550. For the essay, J. Stephen, Essays in Ecclesiastical Biography (2 vols, London, 1849), ii, 65-202, 476.

[65] H.C.G. Matthew, eds, The Gladstone Diaries..., ix (Oxford, 1986), 414, 416 (17, 23 May 1879); Stephen, Essays in Ecclesiastical Biography, ii, 287-383. Gladstone's 1881 reference to Stephen's admiration for the poetry of Wordsworth (Matthew, ed., The Gladstone Diaries, x (Oxford, 1990), 172) is mentioned above. Buller's 1840 pamphlet, Responsible Government for the Colonies, was reprinted in E.M. Wrong, Charles Buller and Responsible Government (Oxford, 1926). Mr Mother-Country is described, and lampooned, at 137-50, with illustrative personal details that insiders would easily have identified as referring to Stephen.

[66] The Times, 11 March 1869.

[67] I can think of nothing remotely comparable until the diary of E.W. Hamilton, one of Gladstone's private secretaries during his second term as Prime Minister. However, Hamilton set out primarily to compile a journal of events, and only incidentally described how Gladstone worked. D.W.R. Bahlman, ed., The Diary of Sir Edward Walter Hamilton 1880-1885 (2 vols, Oxford, 1972).

[68] W. Bagehot, Biographical Studies (ed. R.H. Hutton, London, 1889), 86. The comment was attributed to "an old Whig". In "Gladstone through the looking glass", I suggest that this was George Cornewall Lewis:

[69] Knaplund, James Stephen and the British Colonial System 1813-1847, 16; A.C. Howe, "Huskisson, William (1770–1830)", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.