Midlothian 1892: Gladstone loses his temper

Biographers have passed over the incident in which Gladstone lost his temper while campaigning in Midlothian during the 1892 general election.

Indeed, his last general election campaign has attracted little attention in the overall portrayal of his life, with most biographers doing little more than note its inconclusive overall result, and the unexpected fall in his majority in Midlothian. Hence, the cameo of his outburst at a meeting in Corstorphine throws some light upon the pressures upon the Grand Old Man at that time, and illustrates an aspect of his personality that his admirers have generally preferred to discount. Most of the biographies mention that his majority fell by four thousand, but few attempt to account for this shift of opinion, let alone enquire whether voters singled him out for particular disapproval. Perhaps a focus upon his angry outburst may suggest that there is more to be explored and explained about the general election of 1892, especially in Scotland, than the textbooks have told us.[1]

Mr Gladstone returns to his constituency In 1879, Gladstone had famously barnstormed Midlothian in a speaking tour that helped to redefine the British political agenda. The following year, he was returned to represent the county, although with a small majority, just 211 votes (1579 against 1368). However, he was triumphantly re-elected on the broader franchise of 1885 with over four and a half thousand votes ahead of his Conservative opponent (7,879 to 3,248).[2] This triumph has tended to create the impression – which Gladstone shared – that his position in Midlothian was impregnable.  It is unfortunate for historians, and may have been a tactical mistake by Liberal Unionists, that he was unopposed at the general election of 1886, so that we can only guess how much of his support from a few months earlier had deserted him over Home Rule.[3] In Edinburgh and across the Lothians, split candidatures, population change and differences in turnout make it difficult to make much sense of the movement of opinion between 1885 and 1892, but there is evidence of a relatively small but possibly increasing Liberal Unionist vote that refused to accept Irish Home Rule.[4] The result of this electoral confusion was that, in 1892, Gladstone was set, and set himself, an impossible benchmark in hoping to replicate his 4,631-vote majority of seven years earlier.

After six years of earnestly re-educating the British public to accept that Home Rule was both the right and the safe answer to the perplexing Irish Question, Gladstone entered the 1892 election campaign in a confident frame of mind. Extrapolation of by-election results into national predictions was even harder in late-Victorian times than it is today, since constituencies varied in size and were often influenced by local personalities and issues, rendering modern concepts of vote-share opaque and sometimes unhelpful. Nonetheless, the tide of public opinion seemed to be running in favour of the Gladstonian Liberals: the Unionist government's Commons majority fell by fifty seats during their term of office. Although Home Rule had suffered a crushing rejection overall by British voters in 1886, Lord Salisbury's Conservatives, with 313 of the 670 seats, had not won an overall majority in their own right, and the popular vote had been much closer than the respective numbers of MPs might suggest. Liberal Unionist support remained stubborn and, in some places, substantial, but as a breakaway movement, the party lacked effective organisation, and some of the secessionists had made their peace and returned to the Gladstonian fold.[5] The swinging pendulum had shuddered for a time after the Irish leader, Charles Stewart Parnell, had shocked Nonconformist opinion by being cited in a divorce case in 1890, while the subsequent in-fighting among his erstwhile followers did little to reassure British opinion that the Irish could manage their own affairs. However, Parnell's death in October 1891 seemed to draw a line under the turbulence. The mainstream Home Rulers, under the mild leadership of Justin McCarthy – a nice old gentleman for a tea party, Parnell had called him – were so tightly bound to the Liberal alliance that they could be counted on to accept whatever form of devolution Gladstone might devise and secure for them. Parnell's remaining dissident followers, who stood for hard bargaining with all British politicians, were largely marginalised by the disapproval of the Catholic Church. Gladstone hoped for a majority of at least one hundred, enough to overawe the House of Lords and compel the peers to swallow Home Rule. He would soon be disappointed.[6]

Gingerbread, disestablishment and disappointment Gladstone's election tour got off to a bad start. As he drove into Chester on 25 June to catch a train to Scotland, a woman hurled a missile into his carriage. She was never identified, let alone caught, but either her aim or her luck was good, for she hit the Liberal leader in his left eye. (One theory suggested that the unknown assailant was in fact an admirer. There was a folkloric belief that eating gingerbread brought good luck, and she may have been wishing him success.)  Since Gladstone's right eye had virtually ceased to function, damage to the left was a considerable setback, and he lost four days of potential vote-getting time resting in a darkened room back at Hawarden, his Welsh home. Perhaps, too, he had also been fortunate – that his attacker had thrown a lump of gingerbread, so that he had been struck by a biscuit rather than a bullet and, more generally, that in half a century of public life in an era of minimal security, he had escaped with only an occasional public pelting. Unfortunately, within a few days, he became aware that the confectionery had caused some continuing damage, for instance making it hard for him to read. (Unfortunately gingerbread biscuits were decorated with imitation gold leaf, which was made from a mixture of copper and zinc, chemicals dangerous to the eyesight.) When he eventually arrived at his temporary headquarters, Lord Rosebery's mansion at Dalmeny, the atmosphere was also tense. Gladstone's moody host – who would in fact succeed him as Prime Minister two years later – was playing hard to get, claiming that he did not wish to take office again and distancing himself from the speculative political gossip that made electioneering such fun.

As an absentee member, Gladstone certainly did not have his finger on the pulse of his constituency, but he soon became aware that he also faced problems in Midlothian. At the explosive Corstorphine meeting on 6 July he was to insist "that never in the darkest days of defeat or doubt in former years has the least misgiving as to the soundness, the heartiness, the enthusiasm of the county entered into my mind" – but the fact that he felt the need to make the declaration was noteworthy in itself. He was well aware that working men were more interested in their own problems than in the noble cause of Ireland. At the mining community of Gorebridge on 4 July (where he was greeted by a banner that said "Welcome, Gladstone, Man of God"), he abandoned his usual oratorical style and discussed labour and social questions in a conversational tone, a performance that was intended to project sympathy although he pointedly refused to bind himself to support any specific reforms. He advanced two reasons why his audience should refrain from supporting independent Labour candidates. The first was that these idealists never actually got themselves elected – although Keir Hardie was about to break this taboo in West Ham South. The second was that they siphoned votes away from Liberal candidates, thereby delivering seats to Tories, as had just happened to the Gladstonian C.S. Parker at Perth.[7]

However, Gladstone also made his own problems. In his election address to the voters of Midlothian, issued on 24 June, he concentrated on the argument that Home Rule would remove the Irish roadblock that prevented Parliament from tackling British issues. Not surprisingly, he emphasised the "special exigencies of Scotland and Wales", apparently casually adding "where the public sense has constitutionally declared itself against religious establishments".[8] This seemed to suggest that he intended some early move to disestablish the Church of Scotland and, indeed, at Dalmeny, Gladstone startled John Morley by announcing that he was planning a declaratory act, just three clauses in length, that would end the Kirk's status as the State Church north of the Border.[9] Elsewhere, I have argued that the shifts in Gladstone's opinions, the dramatic conversions to the acceptance of previously rejected positions that so baffled contemporaries, may be best understood in terms of Alice's transition through the Looking Glass.  Neither the exact moment nor the requisite molecular reconstitution were ever discernible, but somehow it became clear that Gladstone was to be seen on the other side of the mirror, even if he found the reversed landscape oddly familiar, allowing him to claim continuity and consistency in his own position.[10] Something like this had happened in his attitude to the question of Scottish disestablishment. In the mid-eighteen-eighties, determined to endure the priority of Home Rule, he had attempted to postpone the issue to "the end of a long vista". However, by 1889, he seemed to be moving, cautiously, perhaps even reluctantly, towards the view that there had been a subtle change in Scottish opinion, and that perhaps the Looking Glass moment had taken place, even if nobody had actually noticed it. "I confess that I am of opinion that the time has come when the sense of Scotland has been sufficiently and unequivocally declared", he announced in June 1889.[11] The Glasgow Herald dismissed this as "a ridiculously audacious assertion", and noted the significance of Gladstone's decision to announce his revelation at St Austell in Cornwall, "a distant corner of England" (it would have been hard to choose a location much further from Scotland), where he could veil his own intentions with regard to possible action.[12] After some years of fence-sitting, he apparently endorsed the principle of disestablishment in a Commons debate in May 1890, making light of the difficulties involved: "I do not believe there ever was a country where the question of Disestablishment is so simple as in Scotland, or where it could be introduced so entirely without shock or serious trouble." But there were also property rights and guaranteed incomes at stake, as he acknowledged: "People talk of separating disestablishment and disendowment; but without disendowment, disestablishment would be an actual shadow."[13]  Yet even this speech was hedged with the usual Gladstonian terms and conditions: he explained why he thought Scottish opinion had come to support the severance of Kirk and State, and he outlined how the process might be enacted. Nonetheless, there remained the usual potential for ambiguity. The Glasgow Herald was predictably suspicious but by no means persuaded that he had definitively committed himself on the subject. "So many oracular responses have been given by Mr Gladstone in the course of his long political career that the kind of interest which attaches to an obscure psychological problem is felt in regard to any utterance from him on a subject about which he has not fully committed himself to action." The potential escape clause lay in the obvious fact that "the people of Scotland have not been afforded and have not sought to create an opportunity for expressing their mind as to the fate of their national Church", and there was no evidence from by-elections, petitions or public meetings that they did indeed support disestablishment.[14] A review of the subsequent general election by an anonymous Scottish Conservative confirmed the ambiguity. "In spite of the formal pledging of the party in May, 1890, there remained in 1892 a reluctance to realize, and almost a disbelief on the part of many voters attached by old association to the Liberal party, that Mr Gladstone really intended Disestablishment."[15] However, an observer of Gladstone's final election campaign in Midlothian, who later emigrated to Australia, recalled that the threat unsettled the Church of Scotland, without gaining Gladstone much support from members of the Free Kirk whose rigid Protestantism made many of them opponents of Home Rule. According to this account, Gladstone was always called "Auld Wully", presumably by working-class electors. His speeches were punctuated by cries of "Hoot, Wully, we'll no let ye hurt the auld kirk".[16] Already weakened by the defection of the Liberal Unionists, Gladstone had compounded his problems by seeming to embrace an issue that was bound to alienate a large section of Scottish opinion. He hardly poured oil on troubled ecclesiastical waters by urging his constituents, in a speech at Edinburgh on 30 June, to put their trust "in the Almighty God, who is the God of justice ... of right, of equity, and of freedom", which naturally led to challenges to his right to pronounce in such a sacred area.[17]

These local difficulties were compounded by discouraging developments at national level. Until 1918, general elections were conducted over several weeks, and political leaders naturally hoped that the early trends would produce a bandwagon effect. Gladstone was massively over-confident. When John Morley encountered him at Dalmeny during the campaign, "he seemed already to have a grand majority of three figures, to have kissed hands, and to be installed in Downing Street". Morley added significantly: "This confidence was indispensable to him."[18] When the first results emerged early in July there was indeed a swing against Lord Salisbury's government, but it did not amount to the landslide that Gladstone needed. His confidence was shaken. "Election returns unsatisfactory", he noted on 5 July. The next day, at Corstorphine, he resorted to Gladstonian obscurity: "I do not as yet see in what way their results are to be made consistent with the continuance of the present Administration". He was going to win, but with a majority of around thirty (and that included his Irish allies), not enough to intimidate the House of Lords.[19] He confided to his diary: "the burden on me personally is serious: a small Liberal majority being the heaviest weight I can well be called to bear". He poured out his disappointment to Rosebery, who was so moved by his guest's depression that he finally offered a sympathetic ear. "I now see how for the last six years I have been buoyed up with the belief that we should have a great majority and that the Irish business should be a very short business." The early results had shattered that illusion. In any case, the strain of campaigning was taking its toll on the 82-year-old politician. With affected good humour, he grumbled at "being shown all over the country ... like a dwarf at twopence a head". His wife, also an octogenarian, was "suffering". It was decided that the Gladstones should take a day off, spending 6 July at Dalmeny where the candidate could recoup his strength before addressing his supporters at Corstorphine that evening. But when he arrived at that meeting, the reporter from the Glasgow Herald – admittedly not a friendly observer – noted that "Mr Gladstone, for the first time in his present campaign, wore a stern and somewhat tempestuous look. His lips were firmly compressed, his face set hard, and he but rarely indulged in one of his winning smiles, which ... light up his features when they do occur, and change their whole expression".[20]

Gladstone, 17 May 1888, photographed by the London Stereoscopic Company. Two copies were placed side-by-side in a 3D viewer, to create a stereoscopic image. The effect must have been terrifying. 

Corstorphine welcomes Mr Gladstone  "Edinburgh's pleasant little suburb" of Corstorphine was proud of its recently constructed public hall.[21]  The platform had been richly decorated with assorted flags (the Stars and Stripes were oddly prominent), the dais "handsomely draped with scarlet cloth", and the walls decorated with slogans, such as "The Land for the People" and "Hail to the Chief!" The distinguished guests who formed the official party were separated from the body of the hall by a rail along the front of the platform. A table immediately below was reserved for the press. Although one report stated that about six hundred people attended the meeting, it is more likely that the relatively small space could take little more than two hundred,[22] most of whom turned up well in advance to ensure admission. The gathering clearly contained "a large preponderance of Mr Gladstone's followers", but his opponents were also represented. The waiting throng engaged in some sloganising banter to pass the time. One "wicked wag" called for "three cheers for law and order", the Unionist prescription for Ireland, which drew a ragged response and provoked the Gladstonians to demand "three groans for Chamberlain", the secessionist Radical who was a particular bugbear to Home Rulers. Although contemporary reporters did not trouble to state an obvious point, it is clear that the audience was predominantly male, if only because it was specifically intended as a meeting of electors, and women did not have the vote. However, it was customary to include at least one female among the platform party, as a tacit signal that, however boisterous, the gathering would not dissolve into fisticuffs. No doubt Catherine Gladstone was too exhausted to come, but the speaker arrived with his daughter Helen in tow. A small girl dressed in white presented the candidate with a buttonhole, which he solemnly placed in his lapel before breaking into a rare smile. There was also a bouquet for Miss Gladstone, who swept the child into her arms for a melodramatic bout of kissing.

Helen Gladstone by Herbert Rose Barraud, published by Eglington & Co., carbon print, published 1893: NPG Ax27646. Original photograph in the National Portrait Gallery, London and used here under Creative Commons Licence. Apart from the little girl who presented the flowers, Miss Gladstone seems to have been the only female at the Corstorphine meeting. She was attempting to create a career for herself at Cambridge, but had been brought to Midlothian to handle her father's correspondence. In 1896, she abandoned her academic ambitions and accepted the dictated destiny of acting as his unpaid secretary. The presence of a token woman in the platform party was a gesture signalling that a meeting was allowed to become boisterous, but that there must be no resort to physical violence. Her impressions of the evening are not known.   

The meeting proved fortunate in its choice of chairman. Professor John Kirkpatrick held the Chair of History at Edinburgh University. A sound man of business, he was Secretary of Senatus, the University's professorial council, and a reformer in his own sphere, who introduced comparative constitutional studies into his teaching of modern British history.[23] Both in his personality and his learning, Kirkpatrick radiated a sense that Home Rule was a safe solution for Irish problems. At the close of the torrid meeting, Gladstone attempted some light-hearted thanks for his participation: it had been "most gratifying" to have "a learned professor in the chair". More to the point, Kirkpatrick's interventions helped to save Gladstone from the worst consequences of his own loss of control when pushed on to the defensive by a persistent questioner. Professor Kirkpatrick also possessed the useful quality of brevity. Local worthies elevated to chair Gladstone's meetings too often seized their brief moment of celebrity to deliver orations of their own. The learned professor contented himself with reading a brief address of welcome and pledging the local Liberals to securing the re-election of their champion. By Gladstonian standards, the candidate himself was also relatively brief, ranging for forty minutes over a wide sweep of political questions, although of course rarely straying far from his own obsessive preoccupation with Ireland.

Midlothian Maltese Marriage Merchant One excursion into another field is worth examination, not least because it showed Gladstone in a poor light, unscrupulous in his exploitation of a sectarian issue, inaccurate in his information, unfair in its interpretation, petulant in his acceptance of correction, and recklessly hypocritical in ignoring his own track-record on the subject. He waxed indignant in condemnation of Lord Salisbury's government for sending an envoy to the Pope to negotiate on marriage laws for Malta. On the face of it, this was the Gladstone of 1875, the author of the controversial pamphlet, The Vatican Decrees in their Bearing on Civil Allegiance, the fiery publication that had denounced the pretensions of Rome to interfere in the internal affairs of sovereign states. But, of course, the Gladstone of 1892 was not simply indulging himself in the nostalgia of refighting old battles. Condemning the Conservatives' acceptance of the Pope's right to pronounce on Maltese marriage laws – even, Gladstone alleged, on the validity of individual Maltese marriages – highlighted their inconsistency in denouncing Home Rule as Rome Rule in Ireland. Evidently, Gladstone was by now aware that his flirtation with disestablishment had damaged his support in the Auld Kirk. Taking a fling at the Vatican would have seemed a safe way of reminding Protestants that he was sound on basic principles.[24]   

However, the matter was more complex than Gladstone's energetic denunciations allowed. Not merely were the Maltese an intensely Catholic people, but – as Gladstone well knew[25] – canon law had been built into the island's institutions long before the island came under British rule. In 1890, Lord Salisbury's ministry had sent Field-Marshal Sir Lintorn Simmons to Rome as envoy extraordinary and minister plenipotentiary charged with negotiating a settlement on various technical aspects of Maltese marriage laws. Simmons was a distinguished soldier, a Royal Engineer with both administrative and diplomatic experience, who had crowned his career with a four-year term as governor of Malta, retiring in 1888. He merited more respectful treatment from the Grand Old Man than he received.[26] Gladstone alleged that the Salisbury government had not only invited the Pope to meddle in the internal affairs of a British dependency, but had selected for the task a Roman Catholic who – it would be tacitly assumed – could not possibly resist the demands of the head of his Church.[27] Simmons was quick to defend himself through the columns of The Times.  He pointed out that he had been commissioned not to encourage Rome to intervene in the internal affairs of Malta, but to resolve difficulties in property law and inheritance where the validity of marriages might be challenged on the grounds of conflict between canon and civil law.  Mixed marriages formed a particularly sensitive issue here, and Simmons insisted that he had rejected Vatican demands to pronounce on the validity of professed conversions to Catholicism allegedly made simply to persuade a priest to conduct the wedding ceremony. He had maintained that the right to change one's religion was a basic civil entitlement, a point accepted in the eventual settlement. But the Field-Marshal was particularly indignant in his insistence on a fundamental matter of fact: "it is absolutely untrue that I am, or ever have been, a Roman Catholic. I have always been a member of the Church of England."[28]

In Protestant Britain, describing an Anglican gentleman as a Roman Catholic was not so much a misclassification as a slander. Gladstone, of all people, should have been aware of that, since his adherence to the ritualistic wing of the Church of England had often caused rumours and even open allegations that he had secretly defected to Rome. Furthermore, his apparent failure to verify a basic point in his indictment could only draw attention to his advanced age: at 82, was he losing his grip? The Corstorphine meeting was his first opportunity to set the record straight. It cannot be said that he did so with much grace. He grudgingly accepted the Field-Marshal's description of his own religious affiliation, truculently adding: "I had not the smallest doubt of the accuracy of what I said, but, of course, it follows that I must be mistaken, and therefore I personally tender my sincere apologies to Sir Lintorn Simmons for saying he was a Roman Catholic." Since Gladstone was habitually certain of the rectitude of his own assertions, this protest merely underlined the wilful nature of his blunder. He might have reflected – and must surely have known – that Simmons had held positions of high command at Aldershot, Chatham and Woolwich, all of them no doubt in theory open to Catholics, but in real life impractical for any officer who could not conscientiously participate in Anglican services. 

There followed some polite weasel words of high-minded tolerance ("Not that it is any reproach to any man to be a Roman Catholic from conscientious conviction") before Gladstone launched into an unpardonable counter-attack. "I must tell you why I thought he was a Roman Catholic. It was because I thought that he had been guilty of a tremendous fault in carrying on these negotiations with the Pope about the civil rights of his fellow-subjects, and I thought that, if Roman Catholic, his fault was greatly extenuated."  The Corstorphine audience laughed and cheered this deplorable sentiment, but the speaker was not finished. "Viewing the high point to which many Roman Catholics exalt the prerogative of their religion, I am not surprised if naturally they fell into some forgetfulness of these strict rules about excluding spiritual influence and power from the domain of civil rights." It was hardly appropriate for the leader of the Liberal Party to impugn the loyalty of the entire Roman Catholic community, all the more so since he assured Ireland's Protestant majority that their fellow-citizens would resist priestly dictation. But the generalised denigration was merely a prelude to crushing the particular prey.  "I must say that if Sir Lintorn Simmons, being a member of the Church of England, negotiated  as he did with the Pope for Lord Salisbury about the civil rights of English subjects in Malta, there is no apology for his fault nor for the fault of the Government."  In public discourse, the precise nature and the overall outcome of the negotiations between Sir Lintorn and Pope Leo might be open to reasonable differences of opinion, but such an attack on the good faith of a public servant was indefensible. More to the point, it was no reluctant rebuff regretfully issued on a point of principle, but an ill-tempered response to a perceived personal slight. In his letter to The Times, Field-Marshal Simmons had called it "astounding" that an attempt had been made "to gull well educated and thoughtful Scotchmen by such gross misstatements, which are unworthy of a man who has been Prime Minister of this great Empire". Gladstone rounded off his condemnation by insisting that "I have said what I think necessary ... without passing into the discourteous language which he thinks himself justified in using to me". His performance was a remarkable combination of arrogance, misinformation and self-asserted victimhood.[29]  

Not merely was Gladstone's attack on Sir Lintorn Simmons distasteful, it was also politically risky. Throughout his second term of office, the Gladstone government had used a pre-Parnellite Home Rule MP, George Errington, as a channel of communication with the Vatican. An English Catholic (and a daily attendant at Mass) who could afford to spend his winters in Rome, Errington was a landowner who supported concessions to Irish tenants but was alienated by violent agitation. Dealing with Rome through Errington carried the same risks as using O'Shea for arm's-length communication with Parnell: unconstrained by formal instructions, the intermediary was tempted to become an autonomous player, and seek to trap the principals into endorsing projects of his own. Late in 1881, Lord Granville, Gladstone's Foreign Secretary, "snubbed" Errington for exceeding his unofficial mandate. In truth, his role was hardly essential, for it was entirely possible for the British Ambassador in Rome, the formal diplomatic link to the Italian State, to pass messages to the Curia informally.[30] However, Errington was credited with having "screwed up" the Pope to condemn the Parnell Testimonial in 1883, although the rescript had the perverse effect of increasing the flow of subscriptions.[31] Two years later, he was made a baronet in recognition of his activities.[32] Errington's role was probed during parliamentary discussions of Sir Lintorn Simmons in 1890. Gladstone insisted that "the Mission of Sir G. Errington, was really not so much a Mission as the taking advantage of Sir G. Errington's residence in Rome to correspond with the Foreign Office and to make known his views. ... He bore no diplomatic character whatever, but he undoubtedly conveyed and received information. As far as I am aware, the essential distinction between those cases and the case of Sir Lintorn Simmons was this – that no gentleman who carried on these correspondences on any occasion had any power whatever to commit Her Majesty's Government upon any subject, or claimed any power to receive requests or demands from the Vatican, and to accede to those requests and demands."[33] However, in denouncing the Simmons mission during the 1892 election campaign, Gladstone did not realise that Salisbury and Balfour were aware that there was a good deal more involved in the Errington mission. For instance, he had been authorised to assure the Pope of the British government's goodwill towards the Catholic Church (not a sentiment shared by all its supporters), and of the impossibility that Home Rule could ever be achieved. Salisbury's principal biographer concluded that the Tory leaders "decided not to damage the national interest for Party advantage", although when Balfour invaded Midlothian to deliver an address in the radical stronghold of West Calder a few days before polling, he broadly hinted – without naming Errington – that Gladstone had used his unofficial link with Rome to shock the Pope with reports of the dangers of Irish disloyalty on the eve of his own conversion to Home Rule.  Gladstone was fortunate that the issue upon which he bestowed so much moral outrage in fact aroused little interest – Punch lampooned him as "the Midlothian Maltese Marriage Merchant" – but he was both ruthless and reckless in the way he handled it.[34] The scene was set for the confrontation that would bring the meeting at Corstophine to a close.

Mr Usher takes the stage When Gladstone concluded his oration, the political choreography was disrupted by a gentleman in his sixties identified by reporters as "Mr John Usher of Norton", who "rose to put a few questions, which he said he did with regret". We may spare a thought for the newspaper correspondents charged with capturing the flow of words in a political meeting: even with good shorthand, they could hardly catch every nuance in every sentence. The Aberdeen Journal made Usher's intrusion sound deferential and apologetic, but the Birmingham Daily Post added a phrase that seemed arch and contemptuous in his claim to be "very sorry to humble Mr Gladstone by asking him to answer questions".[35] Most of the audience tried to drown Usher with groans, but a hardy few called to him to climb on to the platform, which he did, launching into comments upon Gladstonian misdeeds, and claiming to speak on behalf of "a great number of Mr Gladstone's old supporters".[36]

John Usher of Norton, from a sketch in the Edinburgh Evening News, 24 March 1904. A prominent Edinburgh distiller, whose country estate made him a Midlothian voter, Usher was a former supporter who had been shocked by Gladstone's conversion to Home Rule.  

John Usher of Norton was no lightweight agitator. A whisky distiller, he was a very wealthy Edinburgh businessman, as well as a prominent member of the Free Church.   In 1883, he had purchased Norton House, a country estate ten miles west of Edinburgh, which he was expensively remodelling to create interiors in an "eclectic" mix of architectural styles.[37] As John Usher of Norton, he qualified to vote in Midlothian. There is no indication in the Gladstone Diaries that the two men had ever conversed or corresponded, but Gladstone generally only made a note of one-to-one encounters. It is likely that he could identify his challenger, not least because Usher had been an active and admiring constituency supporter until 1886.[38]  In October 1885, he had hailed Gladstone's election address to the voters of Midlothian as "one of the most important political documents that had appeared in their time .... a scheme of present action on which all sections of the Liberal party may unite, and setting forth a definite and satisfactory programme of the work to be immediately undertaken by the Legislature". This was pitching enthusiasm a little too high: one of Gladstone's colleagues described the manifesto as "moderate, not exciting or inspiring". Any practical proposals, of which there were very few, might lead voters to wonder why he had not tackled such matters during his preceding five years in office. If indeed it represented a programme around which "all sections of the Liberal party may unite", it had done so through some combination of accident and telepathy, since its author had pointedly avoided consultation with the ex-cabinet colleagues from whom he had recently parted.[39] Perhaps the most reassuring section of Gladstone's 1885 election address – and probably so to John Usher – was his discussion of Ireland. "Without doubt we have arrived at an important epoch in her history, which it behoves us to meet in a temper of very serious and dispassionate reflection." Gladstone favoured the concession "to portions of the country of enhanced powers for the management of their own affairs" but "the limit is clear within which any desires of Ireland, constitutionally ascertained, may, and beyond which they cannot, receive the assent of Parliament". Given that his own cabinet had been unable to agree on even a relatively limited measure of devolution, this hint of severely limited autonomy at local level presaged no threat to the Union. The manifesto made no mention of other Irish issues.[40]

Not surprisingly, Gladstone's conversion to Home Rule came as a shock to John Usher, although he tried to cling to his admiration for his misguided leader. At a meeting of the Midlothian Liberal Association in June 1886, he proposed a resolution "disapproving of the main principle of the Government Home Rule Bill for Ireland" but hoping "that Mr Gladstone will confer upon the country the great benefit of applying his powerful intellect in devising measures of local government applicable to Ireland, Scotland, and Wales, which, while giving adequate control over local affairs, will fully maintain the supremacy of the Imperial Parliament."[41] His motion was defeated and, from then on, he was a committed Liberal Unionist.[42] Usher was simple and consistent in his belief that he had not changed sides. Rather, it was their fallen leader who had "broken up the Liberal party": "the Mr Gladstone whom they returned in 1880 and 1885 was not the Mr Gladstone of the present day. He had now out-Parnelled Mr Parnell."[43] He was involved in organisational work for the breakaway party, serving as Treasurer of the East of Scotland Liberal Unionist Association, taking part in the adoption of Colonel Wauchope as their nominee to oppose Gladstone – a candidature supported by the Conservatives – and forming part of a deputation that welcomed the government's abrasive Chief Secretary for Ireland, Arthur Balfour, when he visited Edinburgh in 1891.[44] It is not surprising that Gladstone loyalists in the Corstorphine audience reacted angrily to his intervention.[45]

The Plan of Campaign battleground John Usher challenged Gladstone on his attitude to the Plan of Campaign, a wave of tenant protest that had swept Ireland, and particularly the western counties, throughout the previous six years. His point appeared to be that, in the celebrated Kilmainham Treaty of 1882, Liberals had agreed to work with Parnell, and that, in return, his lieutenants would abandon the confrontational agrarian radicalism of the Land League. "They thought that when the Parnellites became his allies that they would drop their old methods, but instead of that they adopted the Plan of Campaign." At this point, Professor Kirkpatrick made the first of his forceful interventions, telling the interloper that "he must put a direct question, and not make a speech". Usher replied : "Very well; I will ask Mr Gladstone what he has to say about his Parnellite allies and their modes of action, especially the [P]lan of [C]ampaign."[46] It was a challenge on an awkward issue, as Gladstone was well aware.

Despite the hopes that the widespread rent reductions which followed the passage of the 1881 Land Act had resolved conflicts between landlords and tenants in Ireland, falling agricultural prices in 1885 produced renewed distress in the countryside.[47] Unable to sell livestock at economic prices, Irish farmers pleaded for further abatement in their obligations. Some paternalist landlords made concessions, but others refused, and once again the spectre of eviction threatened rural communities. In 1886, T.M. Healy, one of Parnell's principal associates, although not one of his greatest admirers, delivered several speeches in which he recommended new tactics. Tenants should band together on each estate and offer landlords as much in rent as they thought fair to pay. If this was refused, they should hand the money to trustees to be used as a fighting fund, which would cover legal costs and provide support for those who lost their farms. The idea was taken up by other leading Parnellites, notably John Dillon and William O'Brien, although Parnell himself stood aloof, preferring to seek a parliamentary solution. In September 1886, he proposed a Tenants' Relief Bill, which was supported by the Liberals, now in opposition after the routing of Home Rule.[48] The proposed remedy was predictably voted down by Salisbury's Unionist majority: a month later, the full Plan of Campaign emerged, the work of Nationalist MP and political organiser Timothy Harrington. The Plan of Campaign envisaged a national strategy that would support specific local struggles, thereby mobilising a wider range of financial support for struggling farmers than they could generate among themselves.

This startling initiative coincided with a breakdown in Parnell's health, perhaps in reaction to the strain of the recent Home Rule crisis. In effect, he lost control of his party, although he continued to adopt a detached attitude to the new agitation. One of the secrets of his political mastery was his ability to look two or three steps beyond the immediate enthusiasms of his associates, and he evidently realised that, if the Plan of Campaign failed, the eventual defeat would be all the worse. It is likely, too, that he sought to tread his usual careful path, projecting himself as a constitutional statesman while reaping whatever benefits might be harnessed from direct action.[49] But if Parnell was anxious to maintain his alliance with the Liberals, Gladstone faced an inverse problem: how to placate English opinion by distancing himself from the potential renewal of disorder without alienating the Home Rulers in general? In December 1886, Dillon delivered a speech at Castlerea, County Roscommon, in which he seemed to threaten the police. Gladstone privately condemned it as "really bad", although he was not sure whether or how far to engage in public condemnation of its excesses.[50]

An assessment of the Plan of Campaign required answers to two questions, one political, the other legal. What were the motives behind the movement: was it a defensive tactic or an aggressive strategy? Was it a criminal activity? As so often in matters Irish, both questions could produce dual answers. On the estates of the Marquess of Clanricarde at Woodford in County Galway, desperate tenants were driven to resist a landlord whom William O'Brien called "one of the strangest monsters in recorded history". But around Youghal in County Cork, the estates of C.W.T. Ponsonby, a genuine dispute, first over rents and then over the terms upon which farmers might purchase their land, was broadened into a confrontation aimed at breaking a landlord who was known to be in financial difficulties.[51] The legal question was equally ambiguous. Since failure to meet tenancy obligations was a breach of contract, landlords had a remedy in civil law to recover arrears, and could invoke eviction to get rid of defaulters. However, organising and encouraging a nationwide rent strike arguably involved Nationalist politicians in the offence of conspiracy. Unfortunately, both prongs of the legal conundrum had serious political implications. How far should the State support evictions by providing police and military back-up? Even the Conservative Sir Michael Hicks-Beach warned Clanricarde that the Royal Irish Constabulary had better ways to use its time. And did it make sense to prosecute the leaders of the Plan of Campaign, politicians who were adept at manipulating martyrdom – and the first attempt to prosecute Dillon, in the winter of 1886-7, failed when the government failed to assemble an Irish jury that would convict. In any case, locking people up was hardly an effective riposte to the claim of the Catholic Bishop of Cloyne that there was "something above law and that is justice".[52] 

In a speech delivered at Newcastle in July 1887, Gladstone attempted to solve his problem with a carefully calibrated statement whose component parts might be variously emphasised, either to the taste of the hearer, or to the subsequent convenience of the speaker. "The plan of campaign was one of those devices that cannot be reconciled with the principles of law and order in a civilised country. Yet we all know that such devices are the certain result of misgovernment. With respect to this particular instance, if the plan be blameable (I cannot deny that I feel it difficult to acquit any such plan) I feel its authors are not one-tenth part so blameable as the government whose contemptuous refusal of what they have now granted, was the parent and source of the mischief."[53] He restated this dual line of argument in the House of Commons in February 1888. "The Plan of Campaign is an interference with the law; it is, no doubt, a substitute, without authority, for the law. Far be it from me to deny that, necessarily, such a Plan in the abstract is an evil." But it was also "a sign of deeper evils; it is a sign that the law itself is not doing its work, and that the condition of legality does not exist; it is a warning to set about restoring them". The argument was defensible, but the examples he chose to illustrate his point, which included lynch law in the United States and the Camorra in Calabria, were undoubtedly startling. "These are all of them in their nature evils; but such is the condition of man and the imperfection of his institutions, that sometimes things which are evils in themselves are the cure or mitigation of greater evils."[54] As the "one-tenth part" partition of responsibility indicated, what was intended as a balanced attribution of blame sounded remarkably like a defence of agrarian instability.

There were three reasons why Gladstone was able to maintain this hybrid position until the moment when John Usher climbed on to the platform at Corstorphine. First, the Unionist government embarked on a crackdown on dissent in Ireland – as Gladstone himself had done in 1881-2 – converting the previously temporary expedient of Coercion into the settled policy of government. The professed aim of killing Home Rule with kindness manifested itself as a particularly ugly form of tough love, which furnished Liberals and Nationalists with plenty of examples of absurdity and injustice. Emblematic of the repression was the fatal wounding of three protestors at Mitchelstown in County Cork in September, 1888, an incident that would feature in the clash of words at Corstorphine. Gladstone was credited with coining the ringing phrase "Remember Mitchelstown!", but it was a highly selective appeal to memory and indignation. Essentially, Coercion enabled Gladstone to soar above the sordid agenda of petty conflict and continue to preach his solution to the underlying causes of Irish discontent, Home Rule.

Second, the Plan of Campaign itself was soon forced on to the defensive, partly in response to the government's firmness, but it also paid the price for instant popularity and early success. Tenants on no fewer than 84 estates quickly adopted the strategy, and on sixty of them landlords soon came to terms. But after the initial wave of triumph, it became clear that the national organisation would struggle to finance the number of potential casualties it would be called upon to support in a long-term struggle. In some cases, such as the Pakenham-Mahon estates in Roscommon in 1888, tenants settled for much less than they had demanded. In 1889, there was a major setback on what had come to be seen as the key battleground of the Ponsonby estates. A Conservative MP, A.H. Smith-Barry, put together a syndicate of wealthy landowners – he was one himself – who bankrolled the hapless Ponsonby and stiffened his resolve. At just the point when the Plan of Campaign needed more money to survive a long struggle, the acrimony of the Split inhibited the potential for fund-raising both within Ireland and overseas. Worse still, its leaders condemned it to financial suicide by attempting to open a second front against Smith-Barry. His estates included much of Tipperary town, where his tenants demanded that he abandon the landlord syndicate. A rent strike followed his inevitable refusal, and a cycle of evictions followed, notably among local shopkeepers. William O'Brien conceived the quixotic scheme of building a rival market centre from which they might operate. As an exercise in instant town-planning, New Tipperary was remarkably impressive, and Gladstone unwisely invested his own political capital in praising "a measure so entirely beyond anything recorded in former times".[55] Far from achieving the "speedy victory" that he incautiously predicted in his October 1890 Edinburgh speech, New Tipperary squandered scarce funds and forced the abandonment of dependants elsewhere.[56] Although the Ponsonby tenants reached a settlement in February 1892, its terms substantially amounted to a defeat. By the time Gladstone was challenged at Corstorphine, the Plan of Campaign was substantially over and had largely failed.[57] Paradoxically, this made it easier to portray the episode as an exercise in self-defence.

The third reason why Gladstone was able to evade scrutiny over his attitude to the Plan of Campaign lay in the political conventions of the time. Put simply, he was able to choose his own battlegrounds, to control when and how expressions of his opinions were put before the public. It was a world of speeches and public letters. Statesmen spoke to journalists, if at all, on their own terms. Voters were consulted, albeit formally, only when the country went to the polls: Punch regularly enlivened its election coverage with cartoons of candidates privately venting their disgust at the humiliating rituals that the canvass imposed. As will be further discussed later in this essay, as greatness enveloped Gladstone, so he became insulated even from these formalities. Throughout a parliamentary career of six decades, he had never lived in any of the constituencies that he represented – unless we except the University of Oxford, whose existence transcended time and place. His encounters with the voters of Midlothian had been carefully staged to create a theatre of mass adulation, but party managers had largely prevented interaction with any of them as individuals, let alone as people of wealth and community standing. The very fact that John Usher should dare to question him represented a threat to Gladstone's political majesty, and the subject that he had chosen forced him to fight on very insecure ground. Naturally he mobilised the terrifying force of his innate dignity in order to crush his challenger.[58]

Terrible on the rebound[59] "I am extremely sorry our respected friend has put to me this question because it shows he has never taken the pains to read any one of the speeches I have made on the Plan of Campaign. He thereby obliges me to waste three or four minutes of your time," Gladstone began, to laughter from his supporters, one of whom encouragingly shouted "Go for him". "But I will endeavour to convey my meaning to his mind." (The Times reported that he had said "in a single sentence", which was an exercise that it may be doubted Gladstone had ever attempted.)  "I have again and again in the House of Commons and out of the House of Commons in Scotland within these last few days  spoken most unequivocally about the plan of Campaign, and I have stated to-day – but I suppose the gentleman did not hear me – that it was the Government who brought about the Plan of Campaign." To renewed cheering, he repeated his point. "I state that again it was the Government who brought about the Plan of Campaign. He asks me whether I approve of it. No, Sir, I have never approved of it. I do not approve of it more than in the abstract I approve of the conduct of a man who strikes a blow at another man. But suppose the man who strikes the blow has received a desperate assault, and he is defending himself against it, then I say his striking the blow may be a less evil than allowing the desperate assault to go forward." The Times report suggests Gladstone made his comparison explicit at this point: "That is exactly the Plan of Campaign". He then appealed to the report of a royal commission under Lord Cowper, which had been established by the Salisbury government in 1886 and had submitted its findings with admirable speed the following year. It argued that many land holdings, especially in the west of Ireland, could not be regarded as farms at all, in the sense of self-supporting units, but were merely plots of land that provided a home base for migrant labourers who made their living from seasonal work in Scotland and England. Gladstone claimed that the Cowper Commission report proved his case. "I have told you that in 1886 there was desperate distress in Ireland, and that a multitude of people, as was within six months after proved by a Royal Commission that the Government appointed, could not pay their rent. For them it was a question of starvation. We, the Liberals, and likewise Mr Parnell, with his Nationalists, demanded of the Government that they should make a temporary provision to give time to the people until it was seen what the real rights of the case were. As I have told you to-day – I am repeating what I have already said – the Government put down that demand for a reasonable temporary accommodation to the people, and thereupon, rather than starve, a portion of them went into the Plan of Campaign. I do not know that other people under such circumstances and with such misconduct of the Government before them would not have done something of the same kind." Turning to Usher, but still addressing the audience, Gladstone delivered his oratorical killer blow. "Gentlemen, the Plan of Campaign is his work and the work of his friends."[60]

Still occupying a place on the platform, presumably in one corner, Usher attempted to comment, but his voice was drowned by a storm of catcalls.  At this point, Gladstone's election agent, P.W. Campbell, an Edinburgh lawyer, "rose from his seat on the opposite side of the platform, and, crossing to Mr Usher, spoke to him in an undertone".[61] But whether Campbell pleaded or threatened, Usher stood his ground. Eventually, the "howling and whistling" subsided sufficiently for him to utter a brief sentence of stiletto-like counter-attack. "Then I understand that Mr Gladstone, under the circumstances, approves of the Plan of Campaign?" Gladstone was outraged. He had orated, he had emoted and he had pronounced, yet his answer was thrown back in his face. Had he simply answered Usher's original question by saying that he disapproved of the Plan of Campaign but understood how it had come about, he might reasonably have resented the follow-up as an attempt at distortion. But by indulging in a tendentious plea of self-defence, he had left himself open to a flank attack on his consistency. There is little doubt that he lost his temper with the questioner. The Scotsman described him as "jumping up excitedly from his seat and pointing at Mr Usher" before scornfully denouncing the questioner's impertinence. "I have nothing to do with this gentleman's understanding. I am not responsible for his understanding." No doubt swept on by the laughter and cheering of his supporters, he unleashed a scornful sentence that would have been better left unsaid. First tapping his own forehead and then pointing to his tormenter, he proclaimed: "I am responsible for the understanding that the Almighty has been pleased to lodge in this skull of mine, but I am not responsible for the understanding that the Almighty has been pleased to lodge in that skull of his." The Australian account published in 1898 had Gladstone angrily concluding with the words "insolent, insolent!'[62] If the reporters heard this comment, they must have tactfully decided that it should be omitted, but it is perhaps more likely that the story had grown in the telling, for the Australian version is not entirely accurate. Nonetheless, even if the charge of insolence was a narrator's elaboration, it confirms the angry and contemptuous tone of the Grand Old Man's response. It seems that Usher attempted to appeal to the representatives of the press, presumably requesting them to ensure that they reported Gladstone's outburst, but his remarks were inaudible in the pandemonium of howling and cheering. Eventually, no doubt feeling that he had landed a blow on the Liberal leader, he retired from the platform.

Although no reporter seems to have observed it, the din must have provided an opportunity for some brief communication between chairman and speaker, one or both of them realising Gladstone's angry condemnation was a blunder that required damage limitation. When order was restored, Kirkpatrick announced that "Mr Gladstone is extremely desirous to have absolute fair play, and that this gentleman shall be good enough to put any further question he chooses. But I rule it out of order to present it with a speech or an argument. If the gentleman will put any direct question, Mr Gladstone will be courteous enough to answer." Usher grasped the renewed opportunity, although the precise terms of his next question were "inaudible in the din" of Liberal supporters demanding that he be thrown out. He was understood to have asked whether Gladstone considered that the Plan of Campaign was criminal conspiracy. "You want to entangle me in a legal discussion," Gladstone responded, with what could only have been mock incredulity, since the alleged criminality of the Plan of Campaign had been a central issue throughout.[63] "I am asking a question," Usher replied. "I am not a competent judge of what is a legal conspiracy," Gladstone responded. "I have told you that the evil in itself is probably less than the evil of sending people to starvation."  Usher next asked whether Gladstone stood by the description of boycotting he had given in the House of Commons in 1882. This was potentially a clever move, since the Plan of Campaign specifically called for interlopers who took over farms where tenants had been evicted to "be left severely alone": Usher appealed to the hard-line Gladstone of 1882 to condemn the complaisant Gladstone who stood before him. The Grand Old Man evaded the blow, although at the cost of seeming even more opaque in meaning than ever. He had condemned boycotting ten years earlier because it was "a system ... of rigorous exclusive dealing which passed on into crime". This, he implied, was not the same as "exclusive dealing, which is the whole basis of the association of the working classes, and on which foundation their present independence rests". The exchange was inconclusive, but Gladstone seemed intent on deflecting the attack and, at the same time, portraying himself as sympathetic to the trades unions.

Usher attempted to comment on the reply he had received but, once again, Kirkpatrick intervened. "If you have another question to ask put it, but don't make a speech." Usher tried to comply, but it was some time before he could be heard. This time, he attempted to attack Gladstone on another flank, referring to the continuing Split in the Irish Nationalist ranks. Gladstone was counting on the support of the official Home Rulers, the MPs who had ousted Parnell from the party leadership. But, despite their hero's death, candidates representing the irreconcilable minority were contesting the elections, faithful to his policy of tough bargaining with the Liberals to secure more of their objectives. On the face of it, this question could have been batted aside with a display of constitutional propriety. Gladstone might have replied that it was too soon to speculate on the composition of the next parliament but that he stood ready, if commissioned to form a ministry, to put forward his own proposals, leaving it to other groups or factions in the House of Commons to determine whether or not they supported them. He might have added that it seemed unlikely that many Parnellites would be returned, although he would probably not have wished to go into the chief cause of their electoral weakness, the hostility of the Church. Indeed, although it was tactically clever, Usher's question was also fundamentally absurd, since the Parnellite position of inflexible independence would rule out any continuing coalition. But if these obvious and plausible responses occurred to him, Gladstone seems to have been too angry to argue the point. At this point, we have to thank an unknown New Zealand journalist who drew upon American newspapers for a vivid glimpse of a dramatic moment over which the British press seems to have drawn a veil. "Mr. Gladstone trembled with indignation." After a momentary pause, as the crowd shouted "Don't answer", Gladstone began in evidently thunderous terms. Reporters could not agree on his precise words – "I wish, my friend", "I see that my friend", "I say my friend" – but he was, in any case, cut short by Kirkpatrick, who no doubt feared a volcanic eruption. "This won't do. That is not a fair question," he told Usher. "If you have nothing more direct to ask I will disallow the questions. I call that an impertinent question." The chairman's intervention was loudly cheered by the loyal followers "who look upon Mr Gladstone as a god to be worshipped, and resent his being asked any questions at all",[64] although it may now seem that Usher's challenge was pertinent rather than impertinent. To adopt cricketing terms – a vocabulary probably alien to Gladstone himself – if the bowler delivers a googly, it is for the batsman to block it, not the responsibility of the umpire to call no-ball.

According to the Scotsman, Usher briefly dismissed Kirkpatrick's opinion of his manners ("Oh, do you?") before launching into a broad and final challenge, which recalled the Unionist slogan shouted before the candidate's arrival. "Who have been the supporters hitherto of law and order in Ireland?" "In Ireland?", Gladstone asked, once again with affected incredulity. "Yes," came the confirmation. The Grand Old Man, whom some versions reported was by now sweating profusely, replied in excited terms.[65] "Not the present government – and", pointing at Usher, "not the gentleman who has just addressed me." His annoyance reflected in slightly convoluted wording, he insisted that Unionist Government had been responsible for the fatal shooting of "three innocent men engaged in a legal and peaceable meeting" by the Irish police five years earlier – "and this gentleman supports them". This was a reference to the fatal shooting by the police of three men at an open-air meeting at the County Cork town of Mitchelstown in September 1887, an episode which recent historians have termed an "incident" or an "affray". By definition, the deaths of unarmed civilians represented a failure in policing: at the very least, it may be said that the Royal Irish Constabulary simply did not have enough men to carry through the strong-arm tactics that they unwisely adopted in dealing with a crowd that the historian F.S.L. Lyons described as "large, enthusiastic and not readily controlled". John Morley, Gladstone's friend and official biographer, could only suspect "a conspiracy of all the demons of human stupidity in this tragic bungle"; J.L. Hammond, a historian sympathetic to Gladstone, termed it "a complicated incident".[66] Gladstone had no such inhibitions. In his private diary, he condemned the "horror" of the killings, while publicly he coined the memorable cry "Remember Mitchelstown!".[67] As always, Gladstone's moral indignation was awe-inspiring, although he went a little far in comparing Mitchelstown with "Peterloo", an episode at Manchester 1819 when eighteen people were killed and hundreds injured by a cavalry charge into a peaceful protest meeting at a venue known as St Peter's Fields.[68] Usher attempted to reply, perhaps to point to the unfairness of being personally blamed for the episode. However, by this time, Campbell, Gladstone's constituency agent, had come down from the platform. He now leaned across the reporters' table and was clearly heard to say: "We cannot go on more with this to-night."[69] There may have been a touch of menace in his voice, for Usher retreated to his seat, amid a storm of booing and some cheers, and the unprecedented cross-examination of the Liberal leader was over. Thanks to Campbell's intervention, it had ended on a high note for Gladstone, but the effectiveness of his crushing rejoinder depended very much on the uncritical acceptance of a tendentious interpretation of the tragedy at Mitchelstown. As the Glasgow Herald had commented on his account of the episode two years previously, "Mr Gladstone persists in looking at only one set of statements in relation to these disturbances".[70] Others may well have felt that, whatever the rights and wrongs of Mitchelstown, the episode cast doubt on the wisdom of allowing the turbulent Irish to govern themselves. Overall, John Usher was entitled to regard his bold intervention as moderately successful. There is no real evidence that he planned to make a speech, as Professor Kirkpatrick alleged, and indeed little chance to a Gladstonian gathering would have given him a hearing. Interventionist chairmanship hampered him even in uttering the few sentences intended to put each question in context but, if he had landed few direct punches, he had goaded the Grand Old Man into an embarrassing and revealing display of passion.

The remainder of the proceeding subsided into anticlimax. Kirkpatrick called upon a local worthy to move a motion of confidence in the candidate. In a few words, the proposer demonstrated how much the Grand Old Man needed to be saved from his friends. Gladstone, he said, was "the greatest statesman in the world", and they had all enjoyed the "high treat" of his joust with Usher: "with his great age he had done remarkably well". These remarks were interrupted by a renewed bout of groaning, directed not at the crass sentiments of the speaker, but at the departure of John Usher, who had presumably deemed it prudent to make his getaway before the general exodus. The motion was seconded by a working man, who seized his moment of glory to deliver a mini-oration in which he praised Gladstone for raising the labouring classes from virtual serfdom. Kirkpatrick had declared the motion carried unanimously and Gladstone was about to pronounce the final benediction when members of the Usherite faction succeeded in gaining a hearing to move a hostile amendment. When the chairman put this to the vote, it was variously reported that between seven and fifteen hands were raised, the uncertainty being caused – no doubt deliberately – by the Liberal majority rising to their feet, cheering and waving their hands in the air. Gladstone duly responded, expressing his appreciation for Professor Kirkpatrick's deft handling of the confrontation that had "tended a little to challenge the judgment and the decision and the perspicacity of a chairman's mind". He insisted that he welcomed the opposition to the vote of confidence since it proved the strength of his support that his opponents could only secure seven votes in an open meeting. (The Usherite minority responded by shouting that it was packed.) The gathering gave one final "ringing cheer for their grand, beloved, and illustrious candidate" but there was no disguising that Corstorphine in 1892 was a far cry from the heady days of the original Midlothian campaign twelve and a half years earlier, when Gladstone had harangued a "wonderful meeting" of 20,000 people at the Waverley Market, some of whom fainted in the crush and were "handed out over the heads" of the crowd "as if dead".[71] Gladstone returned to Dalmeny to review the day in his diary. Of the meeting at Corstorphine, he baldly noted: "Speech of 40 m[inutes], & heckling of a trumpery character."[72]  It did not occur to him that he had mishandled his assailant.

Professor John Kirkpatrick was probably glad to get back to the calm of his study after being obliged to police John Usher's confrontation with Gladstone. This sketch, made at the time of Edinburgh University's tercentenary celebrations in 1884, shows the Professor of History with the constitutional tomes by Henry Hallam and William Stubbs on his desk. He was probably chosen to take the chair at the Corstorphine meeting because his presence would symbolise the notion that Home Rule for Ireland was a safe and logical development. From Portraits of the High Officers and Professors of the University of Edinburgh ... drawn and etched by William Hole (Edinburgh, 1884), scan kindly supplied by Peter Freshwater. 

Reactions  Gladstone was such a polarising figure that the reactions to his confrontation with John Usher were entirely predictable. The Liberal Edinburgh Evening News condemned the upstart challenger: "Mr Usher of Norton did not show very good taste or very good sense in his questions. He got a 'dressing' that he is not likely to forget, and his 'heckling', instead of prejudicing Mr Gladstone in the eyes of the Mid-Lothian electors, is more likely to secure him a few more votes."[73] By contrast, the Australian witness of 1898, who was sympathetic to the indomitable old man but critical of his policies, claimed that the episode caused him damage. "Gladstone refuse a heckling! All Scotland was in a flame! 'Wha's Auld Wully, that an honest man canna speir him a ceevil question?' was asked at every street corner; and it is said that that momentary ebullition of temper cost the old man hundreds of votes." The statement was obviously exaggerated: an observer in Edinburgh could not possibly have known of reactions across Scotland, and it is likely that the reminiscence conflated a handful of comments into a general sense of outrage. But the episode did draw condemnation from opponents: the Glasgow Herald specifically used the word "temper", calling Gladstone's responses to Usher's questions "such involved answers as would in anybody else be called evasions."[74] Reporting Usher's death in 1904, The Times recalled the incident: "Mr Gladstone resented the pertinacity of his tormentor in tones of great warmth, which caused something of a sensation at the time, and alienated still further some of his former Liberal supporters in Mid Lothian, where Sir John Usher and his family are held in much esteem."[75] The emphasis here appears to be on the offence Gladstone that caused among those Liberals who had already abandoned him, with no suggestion that Usher's challenge cost him any further support.

Reporting the confrontation two days after the event – when an assessment of its impact would have been premature – The Times was particularly withering in its report of "some first-rate sport" at the Corstorphine meeting. Confronted by a questioner who refused to be bullied, Gladstone, it said, "promptly lost all command of his temper, and tried to make the offensiveness of his manner atone for the feebleness of his replies". John Usher, however, had persisted "with queries of increasing awkwardness, until the great man, quite unaccustomed to this sort of treatment, positively quivered with rage, and took refuge in the retort, at once rude and commonplace, that he could not be responsible for the understanding which it had pleased the Almighty to place in his adversary's skull". The Times wondered why it was necessary "to drag in the Almighty, but Mr Gladstone frequently does that when in a fix or when about to coin some peculiarly reckless misstatement". He was only rescued from his "distress" by Kirkpatrick's decision to impose "the closure" – a thinly coded allusion to Gladstone's own procedural reform to set limits to parliamentary debate – in which the chairman was supported "by the faithful items who came to worship not to criticize". Gladstone had "made a very poor appearance" in the face of "the growth in Mid Lothian of a healthy spirit of dissent from the prevailing cult".[76]

Outcome The Corstorphine clash had briefly enlivened a dull general election, but when Midlothian voters went to the poll on 12 July, it was generally assumed that Gladstone would be comfortably re-elected.[77] Consequently, the declaration of the poll the following day caused a considerable shock: even one of London's most rigidly Tory newspapers reported that "the first feeling was one of disbelief".[78] Gladstone had won, but his 1885 majority of 4,631 (7,879 / 3,248) had been slashed to 690 (5,845 / 5,155).[79] He was stunned by the outcome. "Two thousand voters seem to have gone over from me in a mass," he wrote to Sir William Harcourt, but he fastened upon a simple answer. "It is simply due to the question of Scotch Disestablishment." Admitting that the party's campaign had been "too lax" in countering "the efforts of the clergy to detach Liberals on the Church question", P.W. Campbell, his agent, reckoned that the disestablishment issue had cost them four-fifths of their lost vote, Irish Home Rule only one-fifth.[80] The Pall Mall Gazette regretted that the Unionists had not taken on the Grand Old Man with a high profile candidate: "it looks very much as if, had Mr Balfour stood in person, he might to-day have been member for Midlothian". Unionist organisation had also been impressive, secretly hiring all the available cabs and conveyances for election day, so obvious a resource in a constituency with a scattered population that one wonders what had become of the famed Liberal machine that Rosebery had constructed a decade earlier. There was a thoughtful article on the result in the Middlesbrough Daily Gazette, whose proprietor, Hugh Gilzean Reid, had previously edited a weekly newspaper in Edinburgh. Reid claimed that he had been warning for several years that Gladstone's position in Midlothian was not as secure as the 1885 result seemed to indicate.[81] However, since no commentator mentioned Gladstone's bad-tempered outburst at Corstorphine, there is no contemporary support for the suggestion that he lost "hundreds of votes" through his discourtesy to Mr Usher of Norton.[82]

There was certainly something of a consensus in the press that Gladstone had been harmed by the disestablishment issue. "It is probably the Church that has done most injury to Mr Gladstone."[83] Yet we should also remember that Gladstone was inclined to attribute political setbacks to simplistic causes. "We have been borne down in a torrent of gin and beer," he complained in 1874, blaming his election defeat that year on the hostility of the drink trade rather than accepting that his activist ministry had created resentments and that his precipitate dissolution had caught his own party organisation off-guard.[84] Blaming the hostility of the Kirk – and accepting P.W. Campbell's estimates – may similarly have allowed him to exaggerate the alleged sympathy of Scots towards Irish Home Rule. Historians may perhaps ask how Campbell could be so certain about an element in constituency opinion that he admitted he had failed to read in advance.[85]

There is only one piece of statistical evidence that bears upon the hypothesis advanced. In 1885, the Midlothian Church Defence Association produced canvass of 9,342 residents of the county, presumably male electors, of whom 5,992 (64%) were classed as opposed to disestablishment. Given that Gladstone polled 66.4 percent of the 11,000 votes cast in 1892, it would appear that he had in fact won the support of around half the supporters of the official Kirk.[86] No doubt, the Midlothian Church Defence Association deserves the respect of posterity for a pioneering effort in public opinion polling. However, this is not say that its methodology would have satisfied modern practices. First, no attempt seems to have been made to ask its 5,992 supporters of the Auld Kirk whether they cared enough about its status to change their voting allegiance. Second, while the numbers were impressive, it is unlikely that any attempt was made to ensure that the sample, however large in itself, was representative of the constituency as a whole, where about 13,000 were eligible to vote.[87] Indeed, one may suspect that canvassers from a Church Defence Association did not go out of their way to consult those who were likely to disagree with them. It is more likely that the 1885 canvass should be rounded down to something closer to a fifty-fifty split on the issue, at which point it would have become considerably less important as a constituent element in the Gladstonian vote. In any case, while the Kirk as a whole was not – as in England – "the Tory party at prayer", there was nothing new in the anti-Liberal orientation of its ministers: of 1,228 of them who voted in the general election of 1868, 1,221 supported Conservative candidates.[88]

It might also be suspected that Midlothian voters were entitled to feel that they had not much benefited from electing so distinguished a member of parliament: there is only so much reflected glory that a constituency can absorb. Indeed, Scotland as a whole sometimes became restive at being taken for granted. Two years after Gladstone had become Prime Minister for the second time, Rosebery complained to him that a ministry "backed by an overwhelming majority of Scottish members" had totally ignored the country's affairs. "Can you be surprised that the people of Scotland complain?"  In the mid-eighties, Gladstone had unsettled his Free Church supporters by insisting that disestablishment of the Kirk could not be considered without reviewing the status of the Church of England, a nightmare prospect that no mainstream politician dared contemplate. While this may have represented a convenient delaying device, it hardly reflected a profound respect for Scotland's distinct but equal status within the Union.  

As always, Gladstone made no secret that his priority was Ireland. In his last speech to the voters of Midlothian, in 1893, he would catch the imagination of reporters when he proclaimed that Scottish questions had suffered "a legislative famine" thanks to the parliamentary block caused by Ireland – an obstacle considerably magnified by his own obsessions with Home Rule. The creation of a Scottish Office in 1885 was hardly a step towards devolution, since it was based in Whitehall and did not establish any substantial presence in Edinburgh for fifty years.[89] Gladstone's major legislative achievement in relation to Scotland was the 1886 Crofters' Act – indeed, the only real success of his brief third ministry. It sought to extend Irish-style security of tenure to the Highlands, and created a Crofters Commission which drove down rents. However, it did not address the problems of the landless, and the Unionist government mobilised troops on several occasions to restore order in remote areas. Northern Scotland and the Islands had elected five Crofter MPs in 1885, and land-reform candidates polled well in Glasgow and Greenock, but it was not a Midlothian issue.[90] Although Gladstone warned the House of Commons in 1889 that "the Scotch" were "a dangerous people" who had to be "treated with prudence and consideration",[91] he rarely spoke as MP for Midlothian.  Indeed, there were few debates on specifically Scottish subjects but, even so, Gladstone could not resist incurring some commitment, apparently not realising that his cautious endorsement of disestablishment in May 1890 might cause him problems in Midlothian.[92] This may explain why he spent ten days in the constituency in October, delivering two speeches and a few impromptu addresses in which he did indeed define his position on the Plan of Campaign, which he felt entitled him to reprimand John Usher for failing to digest. Grandiosely termed, by both friend and foe, the Fourth Midlothian Campaign, the orations were mostly generalised restatements of his well-known views. Of one of them the admittedly hostile Glasgow Herald commented: "Mr Gladstone spoke a great number of words without committing himself to anything in particular." His overdue return to Scotland was sufficiently relaxed to permit some sight-seeing, including visits to St Giles, the High Kirk of Edinburgh, and an excursion to view the recently completed Forth Railway Bridge ("a marvel, & not an ugly structure"), plus a library crawl that took in three of the capital's collections of books.[93] Otherwise, throughout the decade of his association with Midlothian, the constituency appears only fleetingly in the detailed records of his diary. Notably, he sent messages to two public meetings, one in Dalkeith and the other in Edinburgh, both of them called to protest about Ireland.[94] Gladstone was demonically prolific in the publication of articles and pamphlets, over seventy of which appeared in print between 1886 and 1892. Just one had a Scottish theme, and it dealt with his early memories of Edinburgh and meetings with the great divine Thomas Chalmers, who had died in 1847.[95] He was certainly not a politician who energetically sought to develop support in his constituency.[96]

There is one further basic point which is too easily overlooked: Gladstone did not simply lose two thousand votes, he lost most of them direct to his Conservative opponent. (Gladstone's vote dropped by 2,034; Wauchope polled 1,907 more than the Conservative candidate in 1885.) Given that it was so widely expected that the Grand Old Man was coasting to an easy victory, disillusioned supporters might simply have abstained. Instead, with apparently little hope of unseating him, they flocked to vote for his opponent.  Could it be that his outburst at Corstorphine annoyed some abstainers into the more committed gesture of voting for his opponent?

Perhaps the best way to estimate the extent of Gladstone's setback in Midlothian is through comparison with the fate of Liberals in other constituencies. Unfortunately, it is very difficult to apply the modern psephological concept of 'swing' to late-Victorian elections.[97] Despite the secret ballot, landowners were still capable of exercising considerable sway over their tenantry while, in the smaller burgh constituencies, a wealthy MP could purchase the loyalty of voters by financing local amenities and so defy the tectonic shifts of public opinion.[98] Especially in the more popular constituencies, in the heady days of 1885 Liberals recklessly took on Liberals (there were 27 such clashes across Scotland), and their rivalries may have been fed by Tory tactical voting. Crofter and Labour candidates also essentially represented insurgent movements on the margins of Liberalism. The uncertainty was particularly applied to the years between 1885 and 1892, when party labels and loyalties were in flux: in the four Edinburgh city constituencies, for instance, there was obviously some general trend away from the Liberals over that seven-year period, but confusion in personalities and labels obstructs precise calculations.[99]

Nonetheless, despite all the statistical uncertainties, it is striking to note how dramatically the Liberals in 1892 had fallen back from their glory days of 1885 across the whole of south-eastern Scotland.[100] In Midlothian, the Conservative vote increased in those seven years by 13.5 percent (33.4 to 46.9).  This was close to the position in East Lothian, R.B. Haldane's constituency, where the Conservative vote rose by 11 percent (35.9 to 46.9). On Gladstone's other flank, in West Lothian, the increase in the Conservative share of the vote was slightly greater, from 29.7 percent to 48.6, a rise of 18.9 percent. Gladstonian candidates also fared worse in the combined counties of Peebles and Selkirk, where the Conservative vote increased by 16.7 percent over the seven-year period (37.3 to 54), and in Berwickshire, which registered a 17.4 percent increase (24.6 to 42), even though the MP, Edward Marjoribanks, was the son of Lord Tweedmouth, a local landowner.[101] Gladstone, then, stood about midway in the region in terms of vote loss.

While they may be conveniently compared, the three Lothian constituencies were different in various respects: East Lothian was agricultural, while West Lothian had a large population of coal-miners. Midlothian itself was a mongrel constituency whose most distinctive feature was its incorporation of Edinburgh's outer suburban fringe.[102] Hence comparisons of actual votes cast must be regarded as approximate, but here again Gladstone was in the middle. Between 1885 and 1892, he had lost 2,034 votes, almost all of which (1,886) had transferred to his opponent. In East Lothian, with less than half as many electors, 922 of them had deserted Haldane, but the Conservatives gained fewer than one third of them (280). The much larger proportion of abstentions in East Lothian would suggest that whereas Haldane was damaged by apathy and discontent, Gladstone suffered a more definite rejection.[103] However, in West Lothian, with an electorate not much smaller than that of Midlothian, the Liberals fared worse overall, losing 931 supporters, while the Conservatives gained 1,103 votes, actually tapping into entirely new support.[104]

It remains to enquire whether it is possible to quantify the loss of Liberal votes in south-east Scotland, to determine how far the decline was caused by Irish Home Rule in 1886 and by disillusion over other issues in the six years that followed. Once again, the evidence is slight and inconclusive. Four of these county constituencies were contested in all three elections, 1885, 1886 and 1892. In two of them, Home Rule seems to have accounted for only about one third of the defections. In East Lothian, the Conservative share of the vote merely increased by four percent in 1886, rising by a further 7.9 percent in 1892. In Berwickshire, Home Rule cost the Liberals 5.2 percent of the vote, jumping by a further 12.2 percent in 1892. But in the two constituencies further to the west, the balance tipped the other way. Peebles and Selkirk had a tiny electorate, much of it agricultural but with several small manufacturing towns, and hence considerable potential for landlord or employer influence. Home Rule cost the Liberals a 13.2 percent drop in support, so much so that they lost the seat.[105] The Liberal Unionist sitting member improved his position by a further 3.1 percent in 1892. Here, then, raw arithmetic suggests a position entirely inverse to P.W. Campbell's explanation for Gladstone's setback in Midlothian, for in this part of the Borders four-fifths of the Unionist gain occurred between 1885 and 1886. In West Lothian, the Conservative vote rose by 11.9 percent in 1886, with a smaller gain of seven percent six years later. It is probably no coincidence that West Lothian had by far the highest Irish population in the seats under discussion: roughly seven percent had been born in Ireland, and eight percent were practising Catholics. This may have contributed to backlash among the native-born. Indeed, there are signs of cross-currents in attitudes to Ireland even among Liberals who had not bolted to the Unionist camp: as late as December 1888, Gladstone's own Midlothian constituency association had not formally declared itself in favour of Home Rule.[106] It may be that some Liberal defectors told party workers that they were voting Conservative to defend the Kirk but in fact were also uneasy about Home Rule. Nor should we entirely discount the possibility that P.W. Campbell knew that his revered candidate liked to receive messages that reinforced his own interpretations.

Overall, we may conclude that Gladstone's setback in Midlothian should probably be seen as part of a regional shift of opinion away from the Liberals in the seven years since 1885. Irish Home Rule had alienated some, but there can be little doubt that he lost support among members of the Church of Scotland, a denomination that had remained relatively popular in the region despite the Free Church secession in 1843. Comparison with Haldane's result in nearby East Lothian suggests that the two candidates lost about the same proportion of their former supporters, although a larger proportion of the defectors went the whole hog and voted Conservative in Midlothian. How far Gladstone's detached attitude to his constituency contributed to this, it is impossible to say. Perhaps his bad-tempered attempt to crush John Usher shocked some of them, but it seems unlikely to have been a major factor in the polling booths.

Envoi  Six months before the Corstorphine  meeting, Catherine Gladstone had told John Morley "how glad she was that I had not scrupled to put unpleasant points" to her husband, and that he "must not be shielded and sheltered as some great people are, who hear all the pleasant things and none of the unpleasant". Gladstone, she implied, did not enjoy contradiction, but "the perturbation from what is disagreeable only lasts an hour".[107] No doubt nothing could have equalled the adulation of 1879, but Scotland in 1892 could still be ecstatic in welcoming its Grand Old Man. "Vast & enthusiastic masses" greeted him in Glasgow, while his reception by the crowd in Aberdeen was also "enthusiastic".[108] Cheered by supporters who packed his meetings – the verb may here be multi-layered in meaning – it was all too easy for him to believe in his own unshakeable rectitude, and to resent those few whom he encountered who challenged his carefully structured arguments, such as his exculpatory condemnation (or was it, as John Usher asked, an ostensibly censorious approval?) of the Plan of Campaign.[109]

Gladstone responded to his setback in Midlothian with a characteristic display of headstrong arrogance, persuading himself that, in returning a majority of Liberal MPs, Scotland had indeed voted for disestablishment, and that he should press ahead with the issue. "One thing is clear to me," he wrote to J.B. Balfour, the incoming Lord Advocate who would have to guide the legislation: "... we ought to make a decided effort to get Disestablishment in Scotland out of the political arena before the next General Election."[110] By shooting their fox, Gladstone seems to have taken for granted that Liberals who had deserted him out of loyalty to the Kirk would see the error of their ways, or the futility of their resentment, and tamely return to the party fold. It was a remarkable example of his obtuse lack of empathy in the interpretation of motives and responses of others. During his final term of office, some preliminary moves were made towards severing the link between the Scottish Church and the British State but, when Rosebery succeeded him as Prime Minister, the question was shelved. In a remarkably self-defeating and self-inflicted political manoeuvre, he had succeeded in damaging his own support base without achieving his intermittently and opaquely professed aim.

In an autobiographical frame of mind at about this time, Gladstone reviewed his first election campaign, at Newark sixty years earlier, recalling an incident when "I lost my temper completely, and very foolishly". In fact, as a more experienced politician would have realised, he had been wasting his time in discussion with an argumentative constituent anyway, since the prominent ironmonger, Thomas Gillson, was a leading supporter of his Whig opponent. In what sounds suspiciously like projection, Gladstone recalled him as "an old dog" who was motivated by "pride and a fractious temper". Gillson specialised in the manufacture of printing presses, and evidently felt that his sources of information and his judgment were superior to those of the callow Oxford double-First who – he publicly complained – had been "sent by the Duke of Newcastle to be pushed down the throats of the electors". When Gladstone produced his knock-down defence of slavery, that the institution had been recognised in the New Testament, Gillson "took upon him coolly to assert, that the slavery of the Christian era was entirely different in kind from that of our days". Gladstone was furious at being contradicted, and made his anger plain. Gillson coldly rebuked his loss of self-control: "I hope you'll keep your temper a little better than that when you're on the hustings, for if you don't I'm afraid you'll get into a great scrape". Indeed, at the public nomination meeting, Gillson did his best to goad the young Tory candidate into another outburst.[111]

It might be asked why it would be sixty years before the Gladstonian volcano erupted again. The answer lies partly in his own curious political trajectory but also in the entire shift in electoral culture during the third quarter of the nineteenth century. Gladstone was only compelled to fight for his Newark seat at one of the three subsequent general elections, before he parted from the constituency in 1846.[112] For most of the next two decades, he sat for the University of Oxford. The constituency was by no means a politics-free zone, for he was run close at ministerial by-elections in 1853 and 1859, and suffered rejection in 1865. But votes were harvested through formalised rituals, courtesy calls upon heads of colleges and other academic dignitaries, the "usual official circuit" as Gladstone called it in 1857.[113] Disagreements could be both strongly felt and minutely focused, but they were expressed in abstract terms within a shared discourse of Anglican politeness. The candidate himself stood largely aloof, while the serious organisational work was undertaken on his behalf by committees, usually based in Oxford and London. Having recently accepted cabinet office on both occasions – which caused the vacancy – he did not even visit Oxford for the by-elections of 1853 or 1859, although his phenomenal energy as a letter-writer undoubtedly helped him maintain a personal following. When he returned to popular electioneering in 1865, he found himself in a different world. In 1832, there had been around 1,500 voters on the roll in Newark. Thirty years later, he found himself courting over 20,000 in South Lancashire, and a widened franchise and a rising population would create many more such mass constituencies. It was no longer possible for a candidate to engage in face-to-face persuasion of individual voters, while the introduction of the secret ballot in 1872 rendered it pointless to seek pledges of support, since there was no way of checking whether they had been discharged. The result was that party organisation on the ground became more important as a way of engaging voters – and rounding them up – at ward and parish level, with candidates simultaneously insulated from individual voters while sparingly paraded before them through mass meetings.[114] Political street theatre had given way to grand opera, and Gladstone was a natural prima donna. When he presented himself in Manchester in 1865, he memorably proclaimed himself "unmuzzled".

Six thousand people responded with "unbounded enthusiasm" – but the truth was that the terms of trade had been inverted and, in the new electoral culture, the voters had become effectively gagged. Mass meetings enabled candidates to make the maximum impression, both upon their voters and through the newspapers that reproduced their orations, with the minimum investment of time. Gladstone spent just two days in South Lancashire in 1865: he addressed 11,000 voters at two rallies on the first day, and took most of the second off.[115] Party organisers generally ensured a predominance of supporters among the audience, and it was rare for a speaker to lose control of the crowd, especially – like Gladstone – if he was a practised orator. At Blackheath in 1874, an outdoor rally was disrupted by Tory working men, but Gladstone knew that most of the crowd were there to be entertained, and he recaptured the initiative by reciting doggerel verse, a "novel development of the facetious side of the Prime Minister's character" that drew shocked (if probably simulated) outrage from his opponents.[116] The cumulative effect of this new electoral choreography was the absorption of the individual and perhaps sometimes quizzical voter into the anonymous cheering mass. Dissidents might seek to disrupt a meeting by heckling – in the modern sense of the term, the interjection of a brief critical comment – but the combat odds were stacked in favour of the speaker, who could usually crush the interruption with some practised riposte, probably packaged to include coded words, now known as "dog-whistles" ("Remember Mitchelstown!") calculated to arouse the muffled decibels of the baying supporters. It was this stage-managed set-piece form of public discourse that was punctured when John Usher strode on to the stage at Corstorphine, and it is through the small hole that he ripped in the political fabric that this examination has sought to probe the events of 1892 and throw light of a perhaps shadowy and unfamiliar kind upon the personality of William Ewart Gladstone.

The member for Midlothian met his constituents on just one further occasion. In September 1893, on his way south from a holiday in the Highlands, Gladstone addressed a meeting of 1,200 supporters at an Edinburgh theatre. Admission was by ticket only, and their distribution was carefully controlled, entailing "a vast amount of extra work upon the staff of the Mid-Lothian Liberal Association". The Times described the audience as "members of his parochial committees:  the lesson of Corstorphine had been learned.  He spoke of Home Rule, the House of Lords and the need for parish councils. On disestablishment, he menacingly appealed to members of the Kirk to take "an opportunity, which might not always be at their command, of an equitable and moderate settlement".[117] The following morning, mounted policemen escorted him from his Princes Street hotel to the Caledonian railway station, "a large and admiring crowd" rejoicing that their 83-year-old hero was "fresh and alert". They cheered their good wishes as his train departed.[118] He would never return.

In the aftermath of the declaration of the Midlothian poll in July 1892, his exultant foes had claimed a moral victory in so savagely slicing Gladstone's majority: the Scotsman insisted that the Grand Old Man had been "all but defeated" and had definitely "received notice to quit". However, Unionists quickly and sportingly announced that they would not contest any by-election should he once again become Prime Minister, but they made clear their determination to organise for the next general election.[119] With his invigorated opponents so clearly lurking among the thistles, it was reasonably certain – although it would not be made explicit for a further two years – that the octogenarian Gladstone would not fight Midlothian again.[120] By the beginning of 1894, he was clearly running out of political road, indeed at risk of colliding with a brick wall as he differed from cabinet colleagues in denying the need for increased defence spending. Early in February, from his retreat at Biarritz, Gladstone wrote to John Cowan, his constituency chairman, in typically vague terms, contradicting a newspaper report which "stated that a decision had been taken, which it had not & has not .... The choice is not made: but the time may be very near." The recipient was left to deduce that this mysterious statement referred to Gladstone's intention to step down as MP for Midlothian: "the movement of the hands upon the old clock of time is an inexorable movement". Cowan replied that he intended to convene a meeting of the local Association's four-man inner cabinet in order "that we may carefully consider our duty to our great and much honoured representative and also to our constituency". The addendum was significant: even a loyalist, who had formally invited Gladstone into Midlothian back in 1879, could now see that his era was passing. However, Gladstone, by now back in London and sniffing the prospect of a new session of parliamentary battle, asked him to delay any local consultation. Cowan evidently agreed to allow the Grand Old Man to stage his own absentee lap of honour, and received a baronetcy for his co-operation. In March 1894, Gladstone opaquely signalled the termination of his connection with Midlothian, although he continued as its MP – without attending the House of Commons – until the dissolution of 1895.[121] Even after his death in 1898, his presence somehow continued to hover over the streets of Edinburgh, thanks to a prolonged dispute over the location of a statue in his honour, the principal designated site being blocked by disapproving neighbours until 1955.[122]

John Usher remained prominent in Liberal Unionist affairs, for instance presiding over the annual meeting of its East of Scotland Association in 1893, and continuing in office as Treasurer.[123] In February 1894, he chaired a rowdy meeting in support of Colonel Wauchope at Ratho. Soon afterwards, when the gallant Colonel was forced to put his Army career ahead of his political ambitions, Usher's name was mentioned as possible replacement, a development that was said to have caused "considerable alarm as a possible rival to the Liberal candidate". The Dundee Evening Telegraph reminded its readers that he was "an erstwhile friend, and now bitter opponent of Mr Gladstone".[124] In 1903, he supported Joseph Chamberlain's Tariff Reform campaign. He was also actively involved in charitable and philanthropic activities, chairing meetings for distressed gentlewomen and vulnerable children.[125] In 1893, Edinburgh University had received a bequest for the establishment of a Chair of Public Health. Unfortunately, the sum received, £5,000, covered only about one third of the cost needed to endow a professorship, and subsequent fund-raising only increased this to about half. Usher saved the project by donating a further £8,000, and the first appointment to the new Chair was made in 1898. It soon became obvious that the professor needed a fully equipped laboratory, and Usher contributed £10,000 for a handsome new building that opened in 1902 as the John Usher Institute of Public Health (with facilities "which are certainly unsurpassed elsewhere").[126] Usher's munificence was rewarded with a baronetcy in 1899, while the University conferred an honorary degree upon him four years later.[127] By now a widower in his mid-seventies, he travelled for his own health to Egypt in the winter of 1903-4, escaping the Scottish climate in the company of a party of friends. Perhaps the journey made too many demands, for he died – apparently unexpectedly – in Cairo in March 1904. The Glasgow Herald respectfully chronicled his benefactions and his honours, but could not resist reminding its readers that he had "obtained some notoriety in connection with a famous scene at one of Mr Gladstone's meetings", a prelude to recitation of the tale of the infuriated Grand Old Man denying responsibility for Usher's intellectual deficiencies. The Dundee Courier headlined the news: "ONE OF THE FEW MEN WHO HECKLED GLADSTONE", and seemed amused to recall that Gladstone had pointed "with outstretched hands ... and in indignant terms shrieked at his questioner" during their memorable confrontation. The staunchly Liberal Edinburgh Evening News more bluntly, and most charitably, recalled Usher's "temerity" in challenging its hero, but The Times – as quoted earlier – recalled that Gladstone's discourtesy had deepened the hostility to him among Liberal defectors.[128] Over a century later, his memory faintly endures. Today, a major research centre within the Edinburgh Medical School is simply known as the Usher Institute, but his name is still associated with the University's Chair of Public Health. Gladstone may have denigrated the understanding that the Almighty had been pleased to lodge in Sir John Usher's skull, but the people of Scotland can be grateful that he appreciated the need for modern public health facilities.[129]

Carved on the base of Gladstone's statue in Edinburgh is a Greek verse from Homer's Iliad, which translates as "from whose tongue also flowed speech sweeter than honey". Three miles away, on a summer night in 1892, an outburst of temper cast some doubt upon those words. There can be no doubt that Gladstone's angry denigration of the intelligence of a prominent and respected Scottish businessman was a lapse of judgement. It may perhaps be partly excused by the immediate circumstances in which he addressed the Corstorphine meeting, the wretched disappointment felt by a man of 82 at the inconclusive trend in the election results, compounded by fears for the sight of his remaining efficient eye after the gingerbread incident.  Yet it also reveals a less attractive side of the Grand Old Man, one that his loyal but shrewd spouse had thanked John Morley for resisting in calmer times six months earlier. In 1890, he had noted the respectful welcome he had received in Midlothian. "The incidents of this tour ought to overwhelm me with gratitude and humiliation before God."[130] Perhaps the operative word here is "ought". The assertion of humility masked the assumption of infallibility, and the too-frequent acceptance of adulation occasionally allowed that mask to slip. There is a sense in which the starting point of all Gladstone biography has remained, until recent times, Morley's hagiographical insistence upon "his nobility, his sincerity, his simplicity", although even this admiring colleague and chronicler could occasionally despair that his hero was "impregnable to ordinary mortifications".[131] Of course, biography that goes to the other extreme, merely offering thinly disguised character assassination, is neither appealing nor persuasive. Nonetheless, we shall never come to terms with William Ewart Gladstone unless we recognise that there were dark sides to his labyrinthine personality – a common enough human mixture, but particularly explosive in his case. I have elsewhere suggested that this complexity may have been caused, at least in part, by the dichotomy of his early adult years that he could not always reconcile, the conflict between being the servant of God and the son of a slave-owner. Gladstone's defence of the Caribbean planters was not some brief and immature aberration from which he quickly emerged into the sunlight of liberalism, as traditional accounts imply, but a central and determined theme of most of his first decade in politics.[132] The intellectual convolutions required to reconcile his principles with his paternity – at one stage even adopting the absurd position that it must be the responsibility of slaves to qualify themselves for emancipation by their own moral conduct – left him with a mindset that could rarely respond in a straightforward manner to any subsequent issue. Gladstone's insulting riposte to John Usher was discourteous, and some felt that his characteristic invocation of the Almighty verged upon the indecent, but there was a sense in which he was correct: ordinary intellects, even one that could make money from the distilling of whisky, were simply incapable of plumbing the subtlety of his own processes of thought.

On balance, it seems unlikely that his confrontation with Usher swung many votes. The episode was the subject of passing press comment for about 48 hours, but when journalists sought to explain the shock Midlothian result a week later, they do not appear to have mentioned the clash at Corstorphine. Nonetheless, it is worth repeating the point that there are two ways in which disillusioned supporters may abandon a politician, one by abstention and the other by voting for a rival. It is possible that Gladstone's misplaced contempt for his questioner goaded some who had resolved to stay at home to make the more definite gesture of endorsing a Unionist candidate who, although personally popular, was not thought to have any chance of taking the seat. More broadly, the attempt to measure the effect, if any, of Usher's intervention leads to wider questions about the general election of 1892, especially in regard to the movement of opinion in Scotland. Most accounts of Gladstone's life mention the dramatic fall in his majority in Midlothian in a tone of just-fancy-that, implicitly regarding it as one of the autumnal shades cast over the sadly declining final years of his long career.[133] This essay attempts to review Gladstone's last campaign in a wider context of region and issues, but there can be no doubt that a deeper study is required.

The truth must also be faced that Gladstone's political problems in 1892 were largely of his own making, with his handling of two key issues hardly a reflection of the accumulated tactical cunning of someone who had spent six decades in public life. In essence, his underlying position on the Plan of Campaign might have been presented in terms that were both plausible and politically convenient: agrarian unrest was wrong, but the Unionist government was at fault for failing to tackle the issue that provoked it. Perhaps Usher did Gladstone a favour by forcing him to state his position in the bare outline of a question-and-answer format. Unfortunately, when stripped of its habitual oratorical camouflage, it was all-too-easy for a probing questioner to home in on the obvious imbalance in the Gladstonian position, in which empathy for the agitators obscured the profession of respect for law and order. There can be little doubt that he had adopted an exaggerated, even a romantic, view of the two symbolic episodes of the Plan of Campaign: surely it would have been better to have said that Mitchelstown was a tragic mess from nobody emerged with much credit, and New Tipperary was – to say the least – an over-ambitious gimmick that exploited unfortunate pawns and would victimise them as unintended martyrs.[134] Of course, it may be pleaded that Gladstone's central and obsessive commitment to Irish Home Rule forced him to mitigate any condemnation of the Plan of Campaign, but the way in which he argued the case seemed to suggest that coat-trailing predominated over damage limitation. However, on the other issue that hurt him in Midlothian, the harm seems to have been largely self-inflicted. In the mid-eighteen-eighties, he had made sympathetic noises about the disestablishment of the Church of Scotland: Matthew probably got it right when he concluded that Gladstone regarded it "as a natural development which would in time ripen". It is difficult to understand why he did not stand firm on his parliament-after-next timetable, all the more so since he told Morley in 1891 that "sentiment is not unanimous" in favour of the measure among the people of Scotland. Instead, he allowed himself to be associated with a question that was bound to cost him more votes than he could hope to gain.[135] Gladstone's biographers, almost all of them writing from a south-of-England viewpoint, have generally said little about this issue, thereby failing to notice his serious and unnecessary failure in political strategy.

The confrontation with John Usher may fairly be regarded as a British cameo. A Liberal manufacturer-turned-country-gentleman, alienated by Home Rule and outraged by the threat of agrarian revolution in Ireland – Gladstone might have encountered such a person in Belfast or Birmingham, although he had the sense to avoid both cities, and most of his meetings in England would have been so tightly stewarded that no pertinacious questioner would have been permitted to get so near to the revered speaker. Yet a full evaluation of the Corstorphine meeting must call upon sentiments and controversies that were specifically North British, to borrow the geographical euphemism of the time.  Here the entire biographical canon is silently unhelpful. If Gladstone's career were to be evoked in fifty key words, one of them would certainly be "Midlothian". However, invariably, this refers to the Midlothian of 1879, that electric moment when the revulsion of the whole British people against Disraeli's foreign policy was made manifest in the Corn Exchange at Dalkeith, where the crusading candidate assured his admiringly acquiescent audience that "local questions are most unhappily swallowed up in general questions".[136] This is biographical box-ticking: Scotland has been mentioned, but there is no suggestion of any independent political process north of the Tweed that might contribute to an overall understanding of Gladstone's life and career. In this essay, John Usher's dramatic intervention has been used to prise open a much wider range of questions, many of them left unresolved but, cumulatively, they do lead to one definite conclusion. There is a need for a distinctively Scottish study of Gladstone, one that discards the perspective of Philip Magnus, who wrote that he "went up" to Midlothian to fight his election campaigns.[137] In venturing to assume that Scotland is "here", a Scottish scholar might explore the nature of the national identity of this son of Scottish parents, reared in an exile home on Merseyside, and also ask how far the crowds who listened to "auld Wullie" regarded him as one of themselves. Such a study might examine Gladstone's long period of quasi-affiliation, throughout his thirties and forties, to the Episcopal Church of Scotland, not some outpost branch of Anglicanism but a distinct stream in post-Reformation British episcopacy. Most biographers acknowledge the fundamental importance of religious belief in Gladstone's make-up, but few even recognise, let alone discuss, the importance of this challenging duality.[138] Defining Gladstone's Scottish identity would help to clarify how he handled the Scottish issues that intruded upon his agenda in the eighteen-eighties, such as Home Rule, disestablishment and the crofter crisis. His relations with the Scottish aristocracy, the Aberdeens, the Sutherlands, Rosebery prominent among them, should also illuminate the prism through which he viewed the country's social structure. He had moved a long way from his ancestry but had he escaped it altogether? Gladstone's father, who began his career with an apprenticeship in a Leith ropeworks and ended his life as a landowner in Angus, would probably have found some common ground with John Usher, the Edinburgh distiller and Midlothian squire. But in a crowded hall in an Edinburgh suburb on a July night in 1892, John Gladstone's Scotto-anglified son could only roar defiant abuse at the former supporter who pressed him on his Irish obsession. 

ENDNOTES  I owe warm thanks to Dr Andrew Jones for his comments, and especially for sharing his knowledge of sources and personalities relating to late-Victorian politics. My old friend Peter Freshwater has been generous in his help with Edinburgh material. There is a list of material relating to Gladstone on this website in "Gladstone on www.gedmartin.net": https://www.gedmartin.net/martinalia-mainmenu-3/370-gladstone-on-ged-martin-s-website. My interpretation of him is offered in "Gladstone, Canada and calibration: Part 1 of Gladstone and Canada": https://www.gedmartin.net/martinalia-mainmenu-3/368-gladstone-canada-part-1 and "Gladstone through the Looking Glass: Part 2 of Gladstone and Canada": https://www.gedmartin.net/martinalia-mainmenu-3/369-gladstone-canada-part-2.

 [1] The best account (although still brief) of the 1892 Midlothian campaign, and the pressures upon Gladstone, is R. Shannon, Gladstone: Heroic Minister 1865-1898 (London, 2000 ed., cf. 1st ed. 1999), 514-19. Gladstone's account is in H.C.G. Matthew, ed., The Gladstone Diaries, xiii... (Oxford, 1994), 37-40. [The 13 volumes of text were published between 1968 and 1994, and successively edited by M.R.D. Foot and H.C.G. Matthew. They are cited in short form as Gladstone Diaries.]

[2] Election results are taken from J. Vincent and M. Stenton, eds, McCalmont's Parliamentary Poll Book … (Brighton, 1991). They have been checked against Wikipedia, which takes its information from F. W. S. Craig, ed., British Parliamentary Election Results 1832-1885 (London, 1977) and usefully adds the percentage vote of each candidate. McCalmont, although a generally useful source, contains a misprint in the 1885 Midlothian result, which I have corrected.

[3] In April 1886, Gladstone's agent in Midlothian, P.W. Campbell, warned him that there was widespread opposition to Irish Home Rule among Scottish Liberals  and "things do not look bright with us". At Lasswade, in Midlothian, Liberals had rejected a motion in its support and called for "important modifications" in Gladstone's Bill. Rank-and-file Liberals, Campbell warned, were not "keeping pace". This had implications for electoral organisation: local committee meetings were "attended chiefly by the most earnest and interested members". Cabinet minister Hugh Childers had been elected in Edinburgh South by 2,700 votes in January; in April, he thought he was "nearly certain" to be defeated over the Bill. In the event, many uneasy Scottish Liberals stood by the party at the polls in July (the majority for Childers fell by about 600 votes), but their allegiance had probably been weakened. N. Lloyd-Jones, "'Liberal disaffection such as has not been seen in Scotland’: Home Rule, Political Organisation and the Liberal Party in 1886", Scottish Historical Review, cii (2023), 116-53; S. Childers, The Life and Correspondence of  the Right Hon, Hugh C.E. Childers 1827-1896 (2 vols, London, 1901), ii, 252.

[4] The best barometer, although probably influenced by personality factors, was the career of T.R. Buchanan in Edinburgh East, which he won as a Liberal in 1885 with 3,800 votes against a Conservative who polled 2,625 (majority 1,175). In 1886, he stood as a Liberal Unionist, defeating a Gladstonian (pro-Home Rule) Liberal by 3,083 votes to 2,393: despite a notable fall in turn-out, he had exceeded the Conservative vote of 1885 by over 400. In 1888, Buchanan switched back to the Liberals, contesting a by-election to secure the approval of his constituents. He won, but only narrowly: 3,296 votes to 3,244 for his Liberal Unionist opponent. In 1892, he lost the seat to another Liberal Unionist challenger, by 3,728 votes to 3,216. Suburban development may have been a factor in the changing vote pattern, but it should be noted that, over the seven years, the Conservative / Liberal Unionist vote continued to climb, from 2,625 to 3,728, while the official Liberal vote failed to equal its 1885 tally of 3,800 (before Gladstone's conversion to Home Rule), and stalled at around 3,200 votes in 1888-92. Translated into Midlothian, where the electorate was about 60% larger, this might suggest that Gladstone could have lost close to 1,000 votes over Home Rule. This may explain why his agent warned him in 1892 that his majority would fall to 2,000 (i.e. drop by 2,600).

[5] Their problems were discussed in I. Cawood, "The 1892 General Election and the Eclipse of the Liberal Unionists", Parliamentary History, xxix (2010), 331-57.

[6] Shannon, Gladstone: Heroic Minister 1865-1898 (London, 2000 ed., cf. 1st ed. 1999), 514-19. "The argument from the by-elections and from the computations of our skilled and sober workers at [Liberal Party] headquarters appeared to justify the expectation of a minimum majority of 80 or 90, probably rising into three figures. With such a majority we should have been very strong, and could have carried Home Rule into the House of Lords with a voice and impetus somewhat imperative." Gladstone to Lord Spencer, 13 July 1892, Gladstone Diaries, xiii, 40-1. By-elections were very frequent in late-Victorian times. In October 1890, Gladstone cheered an audience at West Calder with a calculation based on 96 contests since the 1886 general election, in roughly one-seventh of the constituencies. Multiplying 14 by seven pointed to 98 gains overall at the next election. He further argued that Liberals underperformed at by-elections because absentees who qualified for the franchise by owning property in a constituency "all come trooping up from the ends of the world for the purpose of giving their votes, and … an overwhelming proportion of this section of public opinion is entirely in the Tory interest". By contrast, at a general election, "they cannot be in two, three, or four places at once", and their ability to swamp Liberal residents was accordingly devalued. This was good material for encouraging supporters and demoralising opponents, but Gladstone would have been well advised not to have placed too much faith in his own estimates. Not only did his multiplier of 7 implicitly include Ireland, which stood outside the mainstream two-party system, but he ought to have remembered that constituencies differed very much in size and were subject to local influences: he had, after all, played a large part in drawing their boundaries in 1884. He might also have recalled that, in 1880, the Conservatives had placed too much confidence in unexpectedly encouraging results in 3 by-elections, dissolved Parliament and gone down to defeat. Gladstone drew consolation from the Liberal failure to capture a seat at Liverpool, as widely predicted: "I think as an arithmetician we state the case too much against ourselves. The true position of the [Disraeli Conservative] Government is indicated by the proportion of a voting constituency who support it." He might have made the point more succinctly by pointing out that the percentage vote share in the Liverpool by-election had shifted (albeit not by much) towards the Liberals. His sense of critical analysis seems to have deserted him in 1892. A.W. Hutton and H.J. Cohen, eds, The Speeches ... of The Right Hon W. E. Gladstone, x (London, 1892), 235-6 (speech at West Calder, Midlothian, 23 October 1890); A. Jones, The Politics of Reform 1884 (Cambridge, 1972), 208-22; T. Lloyd, The General Election of 1880 (Oxford, 1968), 16-18; R. Blake, Disraeli (London, 1969 ed., cf. 1st ed. 1966), 702-4; A. Ramm, ed., The Political Correspondence of Mr Gladstone and Lord Granville 1876-1886 (2 vols, Oxford, 1962), i, 112.

[7] Glasgow Herald, 5 July 1892. Some of Gladstone's Midlothian supporters in 1892 campaigned on the slogan "Vote for the Grand Old Working Man"; Brisbane Telegraph, 14 July 1892. C.S. Parker turned biographer, writing extensively but not always accurately about Sir Robert Peel and Sir James Graham. The Glasgow Herald may be consulted without charge via Google News Archive, although it must of course be remembered that it was not a friendly source. Australian newspapers are consulted via Trove, the National Library of Australia's online newspaper archive. They are frequently useful in reporting British news, and reprinting articles from the metropolitan press.

[8] Glasgow Herald, 24 June 1892.

[9] Shannon, Gladstone: Heroic Minister 1865-1898, 518.

[10] "Gladstone Through the Looking Glass: Part 2 of Gladstone and Canada": https://www.gedmartin.net/martinalia-mainmenu-3/369-gladstone-canada-part-2.

[11]  His changing position is traced in J.G. Kellas, "The Liberal Party and the Scottish Church Disestablishment Crisis", English Historical Review, lxxix (1964), 31-46, esp. 37-42.

[12] Glasgow Herald, 13 June 1889. "Mid-Lothian is scarcely the spot he would choose in which to proclaim his travesty of Scotch opinion as an undoubted national conviction." Cornwall was safer.

[13] Hansard, 2 May 1890, 100-1.

[14] Glasgow Herald, 3 May 1890.

[15] "Scotland and the Unionist Cause", Scottish Review, xxiii (1894), 364-80, esp. 365. This was one of three impressive articles on Scottish elections, all by the same author, in the Scottish Review between 1886 and 1895.

[16] Sydney Daily Telegraph, 25 May 1898. It is possible that the author was a medical student at Edinburgh University. In "Gladstone Through the Looking Glass: Part 2 of Gladstone and Canada", I discuss the question of Gladstone's Scottish identity. The son of Scottish parents and raised, albeit as an exile, in a very Scottish atmosphere, Gladstone's identification with Scotland was complex, as was the attitude of Scots towards him. The issue of his national identity does not seem to have been prominent in 1892, and the present study throws very little light upon these mysteries.

[17] Shannon, Gladstone: Heroic Minister 1865-1898, 516.

[18] J. Morley, The Life of William Ewart Gladstone (3 vols, London, 1903), iii, 491-2. Morley as biographer allowed himself some creative exaggeration. Morley as diarist recorded a different story. On his arrival at Dalmeny on 12 July, Rosebery told him of "a horrid week of dejection and dismay", with the election results "smashing to atoms the illusions of many months". Extracts from Morley's diaries form an appendix to Gladstone Diaries, xiii, 431-40. Morley had perhaps transferred a pre-election discussion to Dalmeny. Rosebery himself was still mourning the death of his wife in November 1890, which made him feel that continuation in politics was pointless. 

[19] The result was in fact even less impressive than the prediction of a majority of 30 would indicate. The Liberals had won only four seats more than the Conservatives (272 to 268) and, in themselves, were outnumbered, since there were also 42 Liberal Unionists (various sources give between 41 and 45). Gladstone's assumptions were based on the maintenance of his alliance with the official wing of the Irish Home Rulers, upon whose 81 seats he would depend. H.C.G. Matthew, Gladstone: 1875-1898 (Oxford, 1995), 328. There is an account of the principal speeches and a discussion of the results in Annual Register for 1892, 106-22 (which counted 46 Liberal Unionists). Although ostensibly a neutral chronicle, it has a detectable bias towards the Conservatives. It maybe viewed via https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=hvd.hl0k86&seq=7

[21] Corstorphine remained a distinct community from the city until a railway branch line opened in 1902. It is pronounced Cuh-stor-fin; unlike its New Zealand namesake, a suburb of Dunedin, which is ""Cor-stuh-fine". (I am grateful to Tom Brooking for confirming my distant memory.) Corstorphine voters were not all Liberals. "There is a large proportion of the village class here, and they are expected to vote for the Unionist candidate," reported the Press Association news agency: Cork Examiner, 13 July 1892. This may explain why Usher and his small band of supporters targeted this particular meeting. As the numbers attending were relatively small, infiltration by about a dozen insurgents could have a marked effect in disrupting the unanimity of the proceedings. The village hall had been built in 1891-2. Gladstone had addressed an enthusiastic meeting here in the Free Church in 1880. A.S. Cowper, Historic Corstorphine…  (Edinburgh, 1992), 34, 12-13. I owe this information to Peter Freshwater.

[22] Serving a Scottish settlement, the Otago Daily Times had its own Edinburgh correspondent, who gave the attendance figure of 200 and alleged that the meeting was "carefully packed". Otago Daily Times, 3 September 1892 (report of 14 July).

[23] A.L. Turner, ed., History of the University of Edinburgh 1883-1933 (Edinburgh, 1933), 94-5, 313, 389.

[24] Gladstone had dealt with the subject at some length in a speech to the National Liberal Club in July 1890. Reviving the issue two years later seems a clear attempt to play the Protestant card. Hutton and Cohen, eds, The Speeches ... of The Right Hon W. E. Gladstone, 216-25.

[25] He had recognised the special position of the Catholic Church in Malta in his first book, The State in its Relations with the Church (1839).

[26] The impressive career of Field-Marshal Simmons deserves to be better remembered. The outline by R. H. Vetch / James Lunt in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography ("Simmons, Sir John Lintorn Arabin (1821–1903), army officer") abbreviates the original account (by Vetch) in Dictionary of National Biography, Second Supplement, iii.

[27] In 1888, Pope Leo XIII had issued a rescript denouncing the Plan of Campaign (discussed below). Some Protestant activists suspected that the Simmons mission (and its alleged surrenders) constituted a quid pro quo (or pay-off) for the Pope's co-operation. The deeply devout population of Nationalist Ireland ignored the Pope's condemnation.

[28] The Times, 5 July 1892.

[29] I quote from the Glasgow Herald report of 7 July 1892.  Although useful, J. Loughlin, Gladstone, Home Rule and the Ulster Question 1882-1893 (Dublin, 1986) does not emphasise the sectarian aspect of the Home Rule controversy.

[30] Ramm, ed., The Political Correspondence of Mr Gladstone and Lord Granville 1876-1886, i, 317.

[31] D.W.R. Bahlman, ed., The Diary of Sir Edward Walter Hamilton 1800-1885 (2 vols, Oxford, 1975), ii, 437 (19 May 1883). Hamilton was one of Gladstone's private secretaries.

[32] It is perhaps surprising that there is no entry for Errington in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, but his career is outlined by C.J. Woods in Dictionary of Irish Biography.

[33] Hansard, 31 July 1890, 1534-5. Gladstone claimed to be have been caught unawares and to be speaking from memory, a formula that would allow him subsequently to shift his ground should the need arise.

[34] A. Roberts, Salisbury: Victorian Titan (London, 2000 ed., cf. 1st ed., 1999), 577; Glasgow Herald, 12 July 1892; Punch, 30 July 1892, 41.  Balfour's country estate was nearby, at Whittinghame in East Lothian. Admission to the West Calder meeting, on 11 July, was by ticket, but all the electors in the parish were invited to attend.  It was a boisterous gathering, which Balfour handled deftly and with good humour.

[35] Aberdeen Journal; Birmingham Daily Post, 7 July 1892.

[36] The reference to Gladstone's former supporters comes from the report in Glasgow Herald, 7 July 1892, which is the primary source used here, with additions from the Scotsman and The Times of the same date.  Other newspapers carried detailed reports on the same day, e.g. Cork Examiner. A New Zealand newspaper, drawing upon reports in unidentified newspapers from the United States, added the detail that Usher "appeared with a huge manuscript in hand". This was probably a set of briefing notes for short contextual comments to his planned questions, since he was hardly likely to gain the attention needed to deliver a speech, but the fact that he appeared thus prepared probably alarmed Professor Kirkpatrick into attempting to silence him. New Zealand Herald, 13 August 1892, consulted via the National Library of New Zealand's PapersPast online newspaper archive.   

[37] For information on John Usher: https://www.scottish-places.info/people/famousfirst3992.html and https://grangeassociation.org/cemetery/21-john-usher-1828-1904/; C. McWilliam, The Buildings of Scotland: Lothian... (Harmondsworth, 1978), 369. His obituary in the Glasgow Herald, 25 March 1904, states that he was an active huntsman, as befitted a country gentleman. This probably explains one of the catcalls directed at him during the Corstorphine meeting, which alleged he had defected to the Tories. It is curious that neither John Usher, a notable public benefactor, nor his brother Andrew, who funded Edinburgh's concert hall, appears in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.

[38] John Usher attended the annual meeting of the Scottish Liberal Association in January 1885, and spoke at a party meeting in the Edinburgh suburb of Colinton soon after. Glasgow Herald, 17 January; Edinburgh Evening News, 31 January 1885. The Belfast News-Letter, 7 July 1892, thought he had chaired one of Gladstone's election meetings: this may have been at Juniper Green in March 1880 (Leeds Mercury, 22 March 1880).

[39] Edinburgh Evening News, 8 October 1885; Shannon, Gladstone: Heroic Minister 1865-1898, 381. Gladstone himself described the address as "a rather short Pamphlet": H.C.G. Matthew, ed., The Gladstone Diaries, xi... (Oxford, 1900), 400. The lengthy document ("Mr Gladstone's address ... will repay study, and it needs a good deal of it") was published in the Glasgow Herald, 19 September 1885.

[40] It is worth emphasising the firmness with which Gladstone ruled out Home Rule (however loosely defined) in his 1885 election address. This made his conversion all the more shocking to disillusioned supporters.

[41] Aberdeen Journal, 17 June 1886. Usher's resolution was rejected by 51 votes to 14. It is interesting to note that the political split in party ranks did not disrupt the city's Liberal Club, which had its headquarters on Princes Street.  It seems to have been controlled by a Liberal Unionist majority but to have remained a social centre for both wings of the party, with political activity banned. There was some tension in 1896, when Usher was accused of attempting to undermine this principle of neutrality. Usher attended a dinner at the Club Rooms in September 1886, when Lord Rosebery urged Liberal reunion, and he served as Chairman in 1890: Edinburgh Evening News, 28 September 1886; Aberdeen Journal, 3 October 1890; Edinburgh Evening News, 23, 28 January 1896.

[42] Stresses in Edinburgh Liberal ranks have been analysed by M.K. Thompson, "Edinburgh's Local Liberal Party and the Political Crises of 1885–6", Parliamentary History, xli (2022), 435-62. Thompson comments on the lack of attention given by historians to the local politics of the Scottish capital: "Overall, Edinburgh has not been a focus and has been overshadowed by other burghs and regions of Scotland."

[43] Edinburgh Evening News, 31 October 1888, 18 November 1887. 

[44] Edinburgh Evening News, 22 November 1888; 18 November 1889; Dundee Courier, 16 December, 30 November 1891.

[45] It is possible that Usher's intervention formed part of a planned strategy of disruption to the meetings of leading Liberals (or, at least, an experimental dry-run). In modern times, "heckling" has come to refer to hostile interruptions, but in 1892 the word was used to describe persistent questioning. The Liberal Unionist chief whip, Lord Wolmer, argued for "a system of organised heckling of Gladstonian candidates" during the 1892 election campaign. As the eldest son of a peer, he was known by a courtesy title and was eligible to sit in the Commons: he contested Edinburgh West, a constituency next door to Corstorphine, capturing the seat from the Liberals two days before the meeting. Roberts, Salisbury: Victorian Titan, 577. Gladstone was dismissive of the defeat, implying that the voters formed a privileged enclave atypical of the city. "The Western Division of Edinburgh stands to Edinburgh exactly as the constituency of St George's Hanover Square stands to London." This sneer may help to explain why residents in that part of the city later blocked the erection of his statue.

[46] The Aberdeen Journal reported Kirkpatrick's intervention.

[47] My account is based on L.M. Geary, The Plan of Campaign 1886-1891 (Cork, 1986). L.P. Curtis Jr, Coercion and Conciliation in Ireland 1880-1892... (Princeton, 1963) deals with the response of the Salisbury government. Margaret O'Callaghan stresses the ruthless nature of broader Unionist tactics in British High Politics and a Nationalist Ireland... (Cork, 1994). 

[48] Curtis condemned Conservative policy towards Ireland during the opening months of the new government as "vacillating and unimaginative". In opposing Parnell's bill, "ministers blandly disputed" obvious facts, providing "a good excuse to revive the land war in Ireland". Curtis, Coercion and Conciliation in Ireland 1880-1892, 120-37, 142-4.

[49] F.S.L. Lyons, Charles Stewart Parnell (London, 1978 ed., cf. 1st ed. 1977), 382-8, 438-42; P. Bew, Enigma... (Dublin, 2011), 147-55.

[50] Morley, The Life of William Ewart Gladstone, iii, 371 (8 December 1886); F.S.L. Lyons, John Dillon ... (London, 1968), 86-7 for the speech, and 84ff. for his part in the Plan of Campaign. According to Morley, the recipient of the letter, Gladstone continued: "The question rather is how much disavowal." But Matthew read the sentence as: "The question is how wise is disavowal", although he acknowledged a doubt about the reading of "wise". Morley's version makes Gladstone sound cynical, but both interpretations indicate concern to protect his own position. Gladstone Diaries, xi, 636-7. Paul Bew, who accepts Morley's reading, mildly adds that Gladstone's position "requires a little decoding". P. Bew, Ancestral Voices... (Oxford, 2023), 122-4.

[51] Geary, The Plan of Campaign 1886-1891, 18-19, 55-7 (Clanricarde); 139 (O'Brien); 109-14 (Ponsonby). The pronunciation of Ascendancy surnames was notoriously eccentric. The first syllable of Ponsonby is pun-. Queen Victoria's private secretary, Sir Henry Ponsonby, was a distant cousin. Of Clanricarde, Curtis said "no man did more to injure the Unionist cause in Ireland". Curtis, Coercion and Conciliation in Ireland 1880-1892, 255.

[52] Geary, The Plan of Campaign 1886-1891, 79.

[53] Morley, The Life of William Ewart Gladstone, iii, 372 (29 July 1887). I discuss the concept of calibration in relation to Gladstone's opinions in " Gladstone, Canada and calibration: Part 1 of Gladstone and Canada": https://www.gedmartin.net/martinalia-mainmenu-3/368-gladstone-canada-part-1 and "Gladstone through the Looking Glass: Part 2 of Gladstone and Canada": https://www.gedmartin.net/martinalia-mainmenu-3/369-gladstone-canada-part-2. On most issues, most people were simply for or against. However, Gladstone tended to adopt a carefully modulated position at some arbitrary point along the political thermometer, usually cloaked in cloudy language that – so his detractors alleged – made it easier for him to change position at some later stage, while perversely claiming consistency.

[54] Hansard, 17 February 1888, 770-1.

[55] Glasgow Herald, 22 October 1890: "is it not evident that they are people determined to fight through the battle in which they are engaged, and that they are people confident that with the goodness of the cause in the main, and with the assistance they receive from England they are destined to achieve a speedy victory?" As critics pointed out, Gladstone's reference to "the assistance they receive from England" was either naive or disingenuous: the Plan of Campaign badly needed American and Australian money. Despite his earlier concern about the 1886 Castlerea speech, Gladstone was surprisingly trustful of Dillon, who was even accorded the unusual honour of a visit to Hawarden in June 1890 to deliver a briefing on the situation in Tipperary. Remarkably, this discussion appears to have remained secret until revealed by the publication of the diary volume in 1894: Gladstone's Diaries, xii, 296.

[56] Curtis concluded that "neither side emerged victorious" from New Tipperary. He estimated that £100,000 was raised, primarily in support of this one struggle, including £40,000 from the Australian Irish who had not been previously mobilised. But over a 6-year period from 1887 to 1893, the Plan of Campaign cost about £200,000, and cash dried up during the Split: in the longer confrontations, "the tenants always suffered most" and those still in dispute at the end were "left almost stranded". Curtis, Coercion and Conciliation in Ireland 1880-1892, 253, 259.

[57] Geary, The Plan of Campaign 1886-1891, 78, 112-13, 119-21, 128-9 ; J.L. Hammond, Gladstone and the Irish Nation (London, 1964 ed., cf. 1st ed. 1938), 555-75. The plight of the evicted Ponsonby tenants is described in J.S. Donnelly Jr, The Land and People of Nineteenth-Century Cork ... (London, 1975), 356-60, 376. No trace now exists of the settlement established for them at Ardagh, near Youghal, in a field next to the Protestant church, but local tradition identifies large stones in the bed of a nearby stream as the place where the refugees washed their clothes. It is a poignant spot. Some tensions over local land-holdings lingered until recent times. One peculiarity of the dispute on the Ponsonby estates is that it spread to other local property, including that owned by Sir Joseph McKenna, a Home Rule MP. He came to terms quickly. Disputes on the Clanricarde estates remained unresolved into the twentieth century. A prolonged rent strike, on Plan of Campaign lines, began on an estate in County Roscommon in 1895. When land agitation revived in 1898, it had two aims: the total elimination of landlordism, and the transfer of large grazing estates to tillage and smallholdings. This duality created cross-currents within Irish Nationalism. P. Bew, Conflict and Conciliation in Ireland 1890-1910 ... (Oxford, 1987). 

[58] The Royal Cornwall Gazette (14 July 1892) commented that "every endeavour is made in Midlothian to prevent Mr Gladstone from being heckled".

[59] Lord Aberdeen's description of Gladstone, 1858, Morley, The Life of William Ewart Gladstone, i, 613. The version of Gladstone's retort to Usher that follows is taken from the Glasgow Herald, 7 July 1892, with some small but plausible emendations from The Times.

[60] Gladstone's argument followed the criticism of the Salisbury government in his election address: "it drove the people into what was called the Plan of Campaign, and became the true author of whatever danger or hardship it produced". Glasgow Herald, 24 June 1892. However, many of the tenants involved in disputes were in fact moderately substantial farmers, whose involvement in raising cattle was at the root of their own financial problems. 

[61] The Scotsman seems to have been alone in mentioning this incident.

[62] Sydney Daily Telegraph, 25 May 1898.

[63] An Auckland newspaper, quoting from an unidentified file of American papers, stated that Gladstone responded to this question "with a fierce flash of his eye". However, this would probably be a normal description of his penetrating appearance. New Zealand Herald, 13 August 1892.

[64] Otago Daily Times, 3 September 1892 (Edinburgh correspondent, 14 July).

[65] "Mr Gladstone was very excited and perspired profusely." Morning Post, 7 July 1892.

[66] Lyons, John Dillon, 88; Morley, The Life of William Ewart Gladstone, iii, 382; Hammond, Gladstone and the Irish Nation, 575. Morley found it awkward to comment on Mitchelstown. Gladstone's chief adviser on Irish issues, he had served as Chief Secretary for Ireland in 1886 and from 1892 to 1895. In 1903, when his biography appeared, it was possible that he would be a member of some future Liberal cabinet and, indeed, the apparently secure Unionist government spectacularly disintegrated in the next two years. He therefore needed to avoid sweeping condemnation of the police while maintaining lines of communication with the Irish Nationalists. During his brief term of office in 1886, police had opened fire to quell rioting in Belfast: Orangemen denounced them as "Morley's murderers". In 1893, he noted that his position as Chief Secretary was much harder than it had been for Balfour. "He had only to think of the enforcement of the law. I have to think how, while enforcing the law, I shall not leave my Nationalist allies planted in a position which they cannot defend on Irish platforms". For the serious business of governing, Gladstone's moral outrage at Mitchelstown was embarrassingly over-simplified. Curtis, Coercion and Conciliation in Ireland 1880-1892, 125; John Viscount Morley [sic], Recollections (2 vols, London, 1917), i, 346 (31 October 1893).

[67] Gladstone Diaries, xii, 63; Shannon, Gladstone: Heroic Minister 1865-1898, 468-9.

[68] The meeting, at St Peter's Fields in Manchester, was attacked by Yeomanry, amateur cavalry formed (mainly) by landowners. "Peterloo" was a sardonic reference to the battle of Waterloo.

[69] Some versions reported "to-day" for "to-night". The small variations are an indication of how difficult it was for even experienced shorthand writers to capture the exact wording used in any exchange.

[70] Glasgow Herald, 22 October 1890.

[71] Gladstone Diaries, ix, 463 (29 November 1879).

[72] Gladstone Diaries, xiii, 39 (6 July 1892). As noted above, "heckling" was the contemporary term for intrusive questioning.

[73] Edinburgh Evening News, 7 July 1892. This prediction proved to be spectacularly inaccurate.

[74] Sydney Daily Telegraph, 25 May 1898. "Speir" was a Scots word meaning "to ask a question". It was still used in mid-20th-century Scotland, carrying the connotation of persistent or intrusive cross-examination, but it does not seem to be in common use today. Information kindly supplied by Grace Owens. Although it was a homophone, it was not etymologically related to "spear". The writer, of course, used a phonetic spelling, "ceevil", for "civil".

[75] Glasgow Herald, 7 July 1892; The Times, 25 March 1904. See also Otago Daily Times, 3 September 1892 (Edinburgh correspondent, 14 July). Usher's son would contest Midlothian as a Unionist in 1906.

[76] The Times, 8 July 1892.

[77] His Unionist opponent did not seem a threat. Colonel Andrew Wauchope [pronounced "waw-hope"] was the laird of Niddrie, near Edinburgh, where his ancestors had lived for centuries. Coal mines made him very wealthy, and he was popular both as a paternalist employer and as a gallant soldier, who was said to have been wounded in every engagement in which he fought. He had fought in the 1873-4 Ashanti campaign in the Gold Coast [Ghana], in the Transvaal in 1881, in Egypt in 1882 and taken part in the attempted rescue of General Gordon from Khartoum in 1885 – several of them operations that gave him personal reasons for distrusting Gladstone's judgment in foreign affairs. However, his Army career, to which he was obviously and enthusiastically dedicated, made him an implausible candidate: he was based at Gibraltar when he was adopted in 1889, and second-in-command of a battalion of the Black Watch at Limerick when Parliament was dissolved in June 1892 – which may partly explain the point of John Usher's question to Gladstone: "Who have been the supporters hitherto of law and order in Ireland?" Reluctantly taking on a role that nobody else would accept and describing himself as "the forlorn hope of Midlothian", Wauchope felt obliged to acknowledge that "[a] greater statesman than Mr Gladstone perhaps never lived in this country", much as he disagreed with the Grand Old Man. He was also an unimpressive speaker, who tended to bore audiences by reading from newspaper cuttings that he had stuffed into his pockets, and he knew that he could not confront so accomplished an orator in public debate. "Like the Eagle on its Prey, will he not swoop down on my utterances?" Apart from Arthur Balfour's eve-of-the-poll speech on his behalf, he was left unsupported by the Conservative high command. The strength of his campaign lay in the fact that he was "uniformly sound and strong" in his opposition to Irish Home Rule for Ireland and to the disestablishment and disendowment of the Church of Scotland, of which he was a loyal member. Like Gladstone, he did experience one unscheduled platform incursion. It came during a rowdy meeting, apparently at Liberton on the outer fringe of Edinburgh: "the audience was surprised to see a smart-looking working-man step on to the platform beside the Colonel. A momentary hush ensued, of which the intruder took advantage to speak somewhat as follows: ' I dinna ken very much aboot politics. But I was wounded at the battle of Tel-el-Kebir [in Egypt, 1882], and a man came up to me and gave me his water-bottle, and carried me back to a safe place. That man is on the platform to-night – and that's the man I'm gaen to vote for.'" There was an "instant change in the feeling of the crowd" in Wauchope's favour. He resigned as candidate in 1894 in order to take command of the Black Watch at Edinburgh Castle, although he was drafted to contest (and lose) a by-election in Edinburgh South in 1899.  He took part in the conquest of Sudan in 1898, fighting at the battle of Omdurman. By now a Major-General, he commanded the Highland Brigade in South Africa, and was killed at Magersfontein, one of the unsuccessful battles of Black Week in December 1899. G.B.S. Douglas, The Life of Major-General Wauchope... (London, 1905), 217,225,241; Edinburgh Evening News, 19 January 1892; E.I. Carlyle / R.T. Stearn, "Wauchope, Andrew Gilbert (1846–1899)", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.

[78] Standard, 14 July 1892.

[79] His majority was also given as 673. Where one candidate was clearly elected, returning officers did not always bother to adjudicate disputed ballot papers.

[80] Gladstone Diaries, xiii, 42; P.W. Campbell quoted in Kellas, "The Liberal Party and the Scottish Church Disestablishment Crisis", esp. 42-3 (20 July 1892); H. Pelling, Social Geography of British Elections 1885-1910 (London, 1967), 396.

[81] Pall Mall Gazette, Middlesbrough Daily Gazette, 14 July 1892, and see https://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/titles/daily-gazette-for-middlesbrough. Reid perhaps exaggerated any expressions of concern. On 16 April 1892, the Daily Gazette had commented: "No one supposes that Mr Gladstone's seat is in danger, but it is generally admitted that his position is not as strong as it was in 1885 or 1886". If this was indeed the opinion among informed observers, it is curious that nobody conveyed it to the candidate himself.

[82] Balfour did not mention the episode in his West Calder speech on 11 July.

[83] Glasgow Herald, 14 July 1892.

[84] Morley, The Life of William Ewart Gladstone, ii, 495 (6 February 1874).

[85] It may be noted that P.A. Readman's study of the 1895 election argued that "in Scotland disestablishment lost [the Liberals] more votes than it won .... disestablishment had much to do with the heavy Liberal losses in Scotland in 1895". By then, the Liberals had moved closer to formal endorsement of disestablishment, tacitly supporting enabling legislation proposed by Sir Charles Cameron, a Glasgow MP who lost his seat that year. If Readman's analysis is correct – and it seems plausible – then it would suggest that relatively few pro-establishment voters had deserted the Liberals in 1892. However, in Midlothian (without Gladstone as candidate) the Liberal vote declined by a barely detectable 1.1 percent in 1895. P.A. Readman,"The 1895 General Election and Political Change in Late Victorian Britain", Historical Journal, xlii (1999), 467-93, esp. 483.

[86] Kellas, "The Liberal Party and the Scottish Church Disestablishment Crisis", 37.

[87] This was certainly Gladstone's view, when he dismissed the survey's findings in 1890: "If my memory serves me, that declaration did not embrace all the parishes of the county; but certain of those parishes were left out on principles which no doubt approved themselves to the promoters of the declaration. I will not enter upon a discussion of that declaration, because an attempt to appreciate it with exactitude might lead me into invidious remarks." Hansard, 2 May 1890, 89.

[88] M. Lynch, Scotland: a New History (London, 1991), 415.

[89] He stonewalled over the demand for Scottish Home Rule (which was not very strong) by invoking the formula that he had not yet seen "a serious plan … approved by any large body of the people". Prior to 1886, he had used an identical device to fend off demands to commit himself for Irish Home Rule. Gladstone Diaries, xii, 169n. Arguably, Home Rule has received rather more attention from historians than it did from the inhabitants of late-Victorian Scotland.

[90] Torrance, A History of the Scottish Liberals and Liberal Democrats, 21 (27 June 1882); The Times, 28 September 1893; T.M. Devine, The Scottish Nation 1700-2000 (London, 1999), 436-41. The Scottish Office was Rosebery's idea. It was a remarkably insensitive decision to locate it in a Whitehall building with the very English name of Dover House.

[91] Hansard, 30 May 1889, 1510.

[92] Hansard, 2 May 1890, 89ff.

[93] Gladstone Diaries, xii, 330-1 (20-28 October 1890); Glasgow Herald, 24 October 1890. His two principal speeches, at West Calder and in Edinburgh, are in Hutton and Cohen, eds, The Speeches ... of The Right Hon W. E. Gladstone, x. A cynical Conservative commentator explained how the MP for Midlothian was able to get away with oratorical generalities: "we Scotsmen do like to be told we are wiser and more moral and better in every way than any other people, and Mr Gladstone has in this line fooled us to the top of our bent". Scottish Review, vii (1886), 27-47, esp. 33. Gladstone himself was relieved that he was still able to address large audiences: "voice came as usual dropping as it were from the skies". Gladstone Diaries, xii, 330.

[94] Gladstone Diaries, xii, 140 (12 August 1888), 184 (16 February 1889). The latter was sent from Cannes, where he was on breaking his journey after a midwinter visit to Naples.

[95] Gladstone Diaries, xiii, 441-2.

[96] However, Scots deferentially accepted outsiders as their MPs. Sir George Harrison, the newly elected MP for Edinburgh South (itself a new constituency) died five days after the 1885 general election.  Although Harrison was a local figure (a popular former Lord Provost), the local Liberals promptly endorsed H.C.E. Childers, who had lost his seat in England because of Parnellite tactical voting. He was easily elected in January 1886. Nineteen years earlier, Childers had spent four hours sight-seeing in the city: he was between trains. As he commented, "Mr Gladstone's name goes a long way at Edinburgh". Sometime in the 1890s, the MP for West Fife, Augustine Birrell, climbed a hill near Kirkcaldy in the company of Haldane and H.H. Asquith, MP for neighbouring East Fife. The three enjoyed the view of the Kingdom of Fife and across the Firth of Forth to East Lothian. "What a grateful thought," Birrell remarked, "that there is not an acre in this vast and varied landscape which is not represented at Westminster by a London barrister!" Childers, The Life and Correspondence of  the Right Hon, Hugh C.E. Childers 1827-1896, i, 145, ii, 237;  Earl of Oxford and Asquith, Memories and Reflections 1852-1927 (2 vols, London, 1928), i, 105. Birrell sat for West Fife from 1889 to 1900. One of the last notable examples of an English incomer was the election of Winston Churchill at Dundee in 1908 after losing his English seat. "It is a life seat and cheap and easy", he was assured. Dundee was a major industrial city, not a pocket borough. Times changed: Churchill was defeated fourteen years later by a Labour-backed Prohibitionist. R.S. Churchill, Winston S. Churchill, ii... (London, 1967), 261.

[97] What follows draws upon H. Pelling, Social Geography of British Elections 1885-1910 (London, 1967), 372-413, and Vincent and Stenton, eds, McCalmont's Parliamentary Poll Book. D. Torrance, A History of the Scottish Liberals and Liberal Democrats (Edinburgh, 2022), 19-46 discusses Scottish Liberalism from 1880 to 1906, and incidentally provides a review of recent scholarship. The 1892 election is briefly mentioned at 33-4. There is a useful account of the 1892 general election in C. Burgess, 'Strange Associations': The Irish Question and the Making of Scottish Unionism, 1886-1918 (East Linton, 2003), 95-103, but it concentrates on the west of Scotland, only mentioning Gladstone's disappointing performance briefly at 96-7. The structure of the East and North of Scotland Liberal Unionist Association is described at 77-81. Two articles by J.G. Kellas remain valuable for the general picture but neither says much about 1892.  They are "The Liberal Party and the Scottish Church Disestablishment Crisis" [cited above] and "The Liberal Party in Scotland 1876-1895", Scottish Historical Review, xliv (1965), 1-16. The same may be said of D.W. Urwin, "The Development of the Conservative Party Organisation in Scotland until 1912", Scottish Historical Review, xliv (1965), 89-111. It was difficult for N. Lloyd-Jones to say much about Gladstone's 1892 election campaign in "Liberalism, Scottish Nationalism and the Home Rule Crisis, c.1886-93", English Historical Review, cxxix (2014), 862-87 since, as the author pointed out, the Home Rulers denounced him for ignoring them. In any case, support for a Scottish parliament was probably not an issue that could influence many votes, even if the idea commanded some inchoate sympathy. There is a strangely modern whiff of psephology in the detailed analyses of Scottish electoral politics from 1885 to 1895 in three contemporary articles in the Scottish Review, all by the same anonymous author: vii (1886), 27-47; xxiii (1894), 364-80 and xxvi (1895), 359-80. Constituency results were grouped into regions to highlight local trends. The author's aim was to present Conservative and Unionist prospects in the most favourable light, but the statistics generally bear out the aim. There is surely material here for a at least a sub-doctoral dissertation, if only to convert the author's raw voting statistics into percentages.

[98] A remarkable example of aristocratic / landlord influence came as late as 1906, when the sitting MP for Midlothian, A.W.O. Murray, moved to another constituency because Rosebery wished his heir, Lord Dalmeny, to acquire political training by sitting in the Commons. Dalmeny did not enjoy the experience, and in 1910 Murray came back. The 1906 election, of course, is generally regarded as one of the high-water marks of British radicalism in the 20th century. Himself the son of a Scottish peer, Murray was known by the courtesy title of Master of Elibank. Similarly, M.J. Stewart (later Sir Mark MacTaggart-Stewart, Bart) consistently held Kirkcudbrightshire for the Conservatives between 1885 and 1906 (and again, briefly, in 1910), albeit with small majorities. The 'Stewartry' (county) had a small population and he was a prominent and paternalist landowner. "His generosity was unbounded .… charming, old-fashioned fatherliness …. long and faithful service" are phrases from his Glasgow Herald obituary (28 September 1923).

[99] Similar confusion complicates assessment of the shift of opinion in Glasgow and the urban west of Scotland. However, in most constituencies in that region the increase in the Conservative / Unionist vote between 1885 and 1892 was very much smaller than in the Lothians and the Borders, generally around 3 to 5 percent, and in some cases the anti-Liberal share even declined. (Pelling, Social Geography of British Elections 1885-1910, 398-409.) One possible explanation is that Conservative candidates benefited from tactical voting by Irish Catholics in 1885, in accordance with Parnell's instructions. The loss of this support in 1886 would mask a countervailing gain of Liberal Unionists. However, only about 9 percent of the population of the Glasgow area had been born in Ireland, not all would have been Catholics and Nationalists, some were probably too poor and mobile to qualify for the franchise, and there is no guarantee that all Nationalists heeded Parnell's call. This was the view taken by an informed Conservative commentator shortly after the election: "the Irish vote as a practical factor has been greatly over estimated, it is the interest of the Irish party to magnify their influence, and indeed the remark was made at an early stage of the late contest, in discussing the effect of the Irish Manifesto on various constituencies, that the Irish vote was generally estimated at double its real value. It is extremely doubtful in many cases whether the Irish vote was solidly given, and the general consensus of opinion among those who had practically to deal with the work of elections on the Conservative side in localities where the Irish vote was powerful, is that it proved a delusion though not a snare." Scottish Review, vii (1886), 27-47, esp. 37-8.  Another possibility is that the Conservatives already commanded a large section of the working class vote as Protestants reacted against the competition from Irish Catholic cheap labour.  Burgess, 'Strange Associations': The Irish Question and the Making of Scottish Unionism, 1886-1918, 50-65 noted Conservative strength in the west of Scotland. J.G. Kellas, Modern Scotland … (London, 1968), 30 stressed the fundamental east-west division in modern Scottish history.

[100] Percentage vote shares taken by the table in Pelling, Social Geography of British Elections 1885-1910, 393. I focus here on a small number of county seats adjoining Midlothian, but the result in the Leith Burghs may also be noted. Here the 28.1 percent Conservative vote of 1885 became 41.6 percent for the Liberal Unionists in 1892 – a 13.5 percent gain that exactly paralleled the change in Midlothian. Four-fifths of the population lived in the Port of Leith, which also included some middle-class suburbs of Edinburgh. The seaside village of Portobello and the market town of Musselburgh accounted for the remainder.  On the whole, they were very different voters from Gladstone's constituents in Midlothian. Still worth reading is the near-contemporary analysis of an anonymous Scottish Conservative (who termed the Liberals "Separatists"), "The Scottish Elections of 1895", Scottish Review, xxvi (1895), 359-80., who also emphasised the shift of opinion in the Lothian constituencies. "The most remarkable feature of the comparison is the marvellous change that has come over the three Lothians between 1885 and 1892. In 1885 the Conservative vote, plus the Irish vote thrown against Mr. Gladstone, though not for the Conservatives, was 6,699, and the Gladstonian, 15,153. In 1892 the Unionist vote was 10,119, the Gladstonian, 11,216." In a landmark article published in 1963, John Cornford argued that the Unionist ascendancy in British politics between 1886 and 1906 was largely the product of Liberal divisions and concomitant poor organisation, and that their own policy positions were almost entirely negative. Scholarly debate has tended to modify the sweeping nature of this verdict, but it seems to apply in Midlothian, where Gladstone's opponent, Andrew Wauchope, concentrated on opposition to Irish Home Rule and disestablishment. In the aftermath of the election, the Scotsman was inclined to regret that he had not made some bid for the votes of miners, who sought statutory limitation of working hours. "If Colonel Wauchope had fallen down and bowed before the eight hours idol, he would have been member for Mid-Lothian at this time." J. Cornford, "The Transformation of Conservatism in the Late Nineteenth Century", Victorian Studies, vii (1963), 35-66; Scotsman, 14 July 1892.      

[101]  In a post-election review, Joseph Chamberlain, who may be regarded as well-informed about electoral matters, reckoned that "friends of the Kirk in Scotland… except in Midlothian and Berwick … have made no show at all". Cawood, "The 1892 General Election and the Eclipse of the Liberal Unionists", 331-57.  Roxburghshire also fits the broad pattern, but here local circumstances were more complicated. The Hon. Arthur Elliot was elected as a Liberal in 1880 and 1885, the constituency remained faithful to him when he became a Liberal Unionist in 1882, but rejected him six years later. He was the son of the Earl of Minto, who owned over 8,000 acres of the county. The Scotsman (14 July 1892) attributed the Unionist defeat in Roxburghshire to poor organisation, but this has always been a standard excuse for losing an election. 

[102] The 3 Lothian constituencies were officially known in the cumbersome 'North British' terminology as Edinburghshire (Mid-), Haddingtonshire (East) and Linlithgowshire (West). Over 50 percent of the population of East Lothian was engaged in farming and around 10 percent were miners. In West Lothian, 30 percent were miners and 10 percent worked on the land. The Glasgow Herald, 27 December 1909, published a discussion of the breakdown of employment categories in Midlothian, but by then the electorate had increased by a quarter, and coalminers in particular were more important than in Gladstone's day.

[103] The electorate in Midlothian was 13,324; in East Lothian only 6,350. If Haldane's figures are adjusted (i.e. multiplied by 2.1), the Liberal loss of votes would be 1,936 (comparable with the 2,034 defections from Gladstone) but the Conservative gain would be only 588, less than a third of the Tory upsurge in Midlothian. On this comparison, around 1,200 former Midlothian Liberals who might otherwise have abstained were goaded into actually voting against the Grand Old Man. But it may be simplistic to attempt a straight comparison of the two seats: East Lothian, for instance, contained no Edinburgh suburban fringe, although wealthy businessmen began to colonise North Berwick in the 1890s .

[104] In West Lothian, the same two candidates engaged in straight fights in 1885, 1886 and 1892: Peter McLagan for the Liberals, Captain Thomas Hope for the Conservatives. McLagan, the son of a Scottish father and an Afro-Caribbean mother, is claimed as Scotland's first Black MP. He had represented West Lothian since 1868, so the surge of votes against him in 1892 could hardly be the result of racism. (https://www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk/article/our-records-peter-mclagan-1823-1900-scotlands-first-black-MP.) I suspect that Captain Hope was related the Earl of Hopetoun, a major landowner in West Lothian, but I have not established a connection. He captured the seat at a by-election in 1893, attributing his victory to the increasing Liberal support for disestablishment: "farm servants and other workmen objected to the Church of Scotland being attacked. They look on it as the Church of the people, and the Church of the poor." Protestant Standard (Sydney, New South Wales), 5 August 1893, quoting an interview in an unidentified newspaper. The Glasgow Herald, 17 July 1893, was equally sure that the Church issue explained the Unionist gain.

[105] Walter Thorburn, the Liberal Unionist who won Peebles and Selkirk in 1886, had not previously contested the seat but, as a director of a family-owned woollen mill in the town of Peebles, he probably commanded some personal following.

[106] Kellas, "The Liberal Party in Scotland 1876-1895", 11n. Revelling in the immediate aftermath of Gladstone's humiliation in Midlothian, the vehemently hostile Scotsman alleged that he had only clung on thanks to the Irish vote in the constituency, which it estimated at 800. This seems too high. The Irish-born formed 2.5 percent of the population in Midlothian in 1891. Of course, Irish identity and a sense of Irish grievance could be transmitted to children: James Connolly, the 1916 leader, was born in Edinburgh's Cowgate. (Figures supplied by Pelling indicate that the Roman Catholic Church claimed the allegiance of 6.6 percent of the people of Midlothian in 1901, but this probably included Edinburgh, just as the Catholic population of Forfar was inflated by the industrial city of Dundee.) We should also guard against the too-familiar assumption that "Irish" was a synonym for "Catholic and Nationalist": north-east Ulster, the closest part of the island to Midlothian, had a Protestant majority. One-fortieth (2.5 percent) of an electorate of 13,234 equals 330. The Scotsman's hypothesis may well suggest that Gladstone's truncated majority would have been even smaller had there been no Irish constituents. However, it embodied the curious assumption that Irish votes were somehow not the moral equivalent of native Scottish ballots, an odd assumption for a newspaper that upheld the United Kingdom. Scotsman, 14 July 1892; Pelling, Social Geography of British Elections 1885-1910, 385.          

[107] Morley, The Life of William Ewart Gladstone, iii, 479.

[108] Gladstone Diaries, xiii, 37 (2 July), 40 (13 July 1892).

[109] For an example of Gladstone's resentment of criticism, see his reaction in 1887 to Edwin Hodder's biography of the humanitarian social reformer, Lord Shaftesbury. Gladstone was shocked to find that a public figure whom he had known socially was virulently critical of him, from his allusion to "that inexplicable statesman, Mr Gladstone" to his 1882 comparison of the Liberal Party to the Gadarene swine: "When Gladstone runs down a steep place, his immense majority, like the pigs in Scripture, but hoping for a better issue, will go with him, roaring in grunts of exultation." (E. Hodder, The Life and Work of the Seventh Earl of Shaftesbury …, quotations taken from the popular edition of 1892, 307, 736.) Gladstone initially confided to his diary that the book was "an excellent discipline for me: it forces me to compare his nobleness with my vileness, his purity with my foulness". However, resentment soon overcame humility. Three weeks later, he drafted an extensive and pained memorandum: "It is evident indeed that his Diaries recorded the first and hasty impressions of the hour, and I think his Biographer is to be blamed for much reckless and painful publication". His description of himself "biting the dust" and adopting "the attitude of inward prostration" were no longer the responses of someone submitting to correction but the noble consolations of a traduced victim. Nor did he confine himself to private protest, issuing a public letter praising Shaftesbury as "a most excellent man", but denying "the accuracy of a number of statements concerning me which purport to be facts, and which have been published by his biographer, contrary, as it appears, to his intention". The sting in the tail was a low blow: in his preface, Hodder had described Shaftesbury's reluctance to open his diaries, but explained how he was persuaded to change his mind ("I should like you to use them. I should wish you to use them").  This was shooting the messenger with a vengeance. Hodder offered to remove from a planned second edition any passages that Gladstone could show to be inaccurate, but the self-declared victim preferred to maintain his grievances. Indeed, since Shaftesbury's most hurtful comments were matters of opinion, it would hardly have been possible for Gladstone to prove that his followers were not a herd of stampeding swine. Gladstone Diaries, xii, 15 (27 February), 19 (19 March 1887). The attack on Hodder was widely published, e.g. South Wales Echo, 30 April 1887, consulted via National Library of Wales Welsh Newspapers online archive. It was (and remains) an unpleasant episode. In 1893, in a very conscious act of turning the other cheek, Gladstone drafted an inscription for a memorial statue that was placed in Piccadilly Circus, and is popularly known as Eros. Shannon, Gladstone: Heroic Minister 1865-1898, 506n.

[110] Gladstone Diaries, xiii, 44 (18 July 1892).

[111] Gladstone's account of his first campaign was written soon after the events: J. Brooke and M. Sorensen, eds, The Prime Ministers' Papers: W.E. Gladstone, ii … (London, 1972), 15, 18 for Gillson. Gladstone did not refer to the incident in his diary at the time. Gillson is identified in W. White, History, Gazetteer and Directory of Nottinghamshire, 1832, 621. C. Brown, The Annals of Newark-upon-Trent ... (London, 1879), 280-1 quotes at length from a local newspaper account of the hustings.

[112] He spent two weeks in the town in June 1841 but, with "no fears of the result", took time for sight-seeing, making two visits to the Duke of Rutland's mansion at Belvoir Castle. Gladstone Diaries, iii, 117-21.

[113] Gladstone Diaries, v, 228 (1 June 1857). He was unopposed at that election.

[114] The process may be traced through J. Vincent, The Formation of the British Liberal Party 1857-1868 (Harmondsworth, 1972, cf. 1st ed. under shorter title, 1966) and H.J. Hanham, Elections and Party Management... (Hassocks, Sussex, 1978 ed., cf. 1st ed. London, 1959). Neither says much about canvassing by candidates, but Hanham noted that John Stuart Mill was elected for Westminster in 1865, despite refusing to canvass or spend money. This was the constituency where, in 1784, the Duchess of Devonshire had allegedly traded kisses for votes on behalf Charles James Fox. The Corrupt and Illegal Practices Prevention Act of 1883 probably added to the pressure to protect candidates from voters, and increased reliance upon ground-level organisation. Kathryn Rix discussed the subtle ways in which the Act changed the relationship between candidates and constituencies. One major change was that campaigns came to depend upon volunteer workers, who had to be mobilised through permanent local associations. K. Rix, "'The Elimination of Corrupt Practices in British Elections'? Reassessing the Impact of the 1883 Corrupt Practices Act", English Historical Review, cxxiii (2008), 65-97. Eugene Biagini has discussed the projection of Gladstone through mass public meetings as a "charismatic leader", noting parallels both with American political rallies, and with religious revivalist meetings, which also copied transatlantic elements. E.F. Biagini, Gladstone (London, 2000), 60-71. He particularly associates this phenomenon with Gladstone's appearances in Midlothian between 1879 and 1884.  This unprecedented personal ascendancy made Usher's challenge all the more shocking – or refreshing.

[115] Morley, The Life of William Ewart Gladstone, ii, 145-6. Gladstone was returned in his absence for Greenwich in 1868, Leeds in 1880 and the Leith Burghs in 1886.

[116] Disraeli had attacked the Gladstone ministry for failing to ensure safe passage for British ships through the Straits of Malacca, which gave access to Singapore. Gladstone made light of the charges, and mocked his opponent's intention to deliver a speech on the subject at Aylesbury, the chief town in his agricultural constituency of Buckinghamshire. When the Blackheath meeting threatened to degenerate into disorder, Gladstone launched into comic verse, whose rhyming punch depended upon use of the slang term "bacca" for tobacco: "The farmers at Aylesbury gathered to dine / And they ate their prime beef and they drank their old wine / With the wine there was beer, with the beer there was 'bacca / The liquors went round, and the banquet was crowned / With some thundering news from the Straits of Malacca." The Morning Post sniffed that "the issue is too serious for this poor sort of chaff", but the bruisers of Blackheath loved it. "The meeting disturbed by design was strangely brought around again by doggerel," Gladstone noted in his diary. Morning Post, 2 February 1874; Gladstone Diaries, viii, 452 (31 January 1874).  I have not traced the source of the lines.

[117] Glasgow Herald, Edinburgh Evening News, 27 September; The Times, 28 September 1893. A further 700 tickets were issued for the city's Caledonian station, to ensure a supportive crowd.

[118] South Wales Echo, 28 September 1893. The Caledonian station, at the west end of Princes Street, provided services to the west coast of England, and thence to Wales.

[119] Scotsman, 14 July; The Times, 8 October 1892. In fact, in his election address to the voters of Midlothian, Gladstone had reflected that, after sixty years in politics, "I necessarily feel that this must surely be the last General Election at which I can expect to solicit your suffrages". However, with Gladstone it was never possible to be sure. An early dissolution might have prompted another campaign, excused on the basis that his 1892 statement had been made on the assumption that Parliament would last for its full seven years. Annual Register for 1892, 110. He did not confirm his withdrawal until 1894.  

[120] This was probably a factor in the resistance of his cabinet colleagues to his wish to dissolve and fight a 'peers versus people' election in 1894, although he sought to keep his options open in regard to Midlothian. No doubt another constituency could have been found for him in the event of a snap election but – especially after the shock of 1892 – it would have had to be rock-solid Liberal, which would almost certainly have compelled him to endorse more radical policies than he would have wished. Shannon, Gladstone: Heroic Minister 1865-1898, 558-61.

[121] Gladstone Diaries, xiii, 374-9 (8 -19 February 1894); Morley, The Life of William Ewart Gladstone, iii, 535; G.F. Millar, "Cowan, Sir John, baronet (1814–1900)", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Cowan published the letter on 22 March 1894. The Glasgow Herald commented that Gladstone made no mention of Lord Rosebery, his successor, which seemed doubly pointed given that he was such a major force behind Midlothian Liberalism. "It is also notable that Mr Gladstone does not speak of himself as an absolutely extinct volcano. He does not say positively that he will retire from Mid-Lothian at the close of the present Parliament." However, Gladstone's chosen formula – that he would do whatever his constituency supporters wished – adequately covered his retreat. The Midlothian Liberal Association had passed a vote of confidence in him as recently as December 1893, although it is striking that they felt the need to do so. Edinburgh Evening News, 23 December 1893.

[122] Soon after Gladstone's death, a national committee was formed with the intention of erecting statues in his memory in London, Dublin and Edinburgh. Dublin City Council refused the offer, but a statue by Hamo Thornycroft was unveiled in the Strand in 1905. (There were other statues of him in London, for instance two very close together in Westminster Abbey and the central lobby of the House of Commons, while a very lifelike representation had been erected at Bow as early as 1882.) The Scottish sculptor James Pittendrigh Macgillivray was commissioned to produce the Edinburgh statue, which was designed on a grand scale for a south-facing garden site in Coates Crescent, part of Shandwick Place in the city's West End. (I have been unable to confirm a contemporary claim that Gladstone lived there as a child: if true, it could only have been briefly on a family visit.) However, the proprietors (i.e. owners of local property) refused permission, and stalemate soon ensued over alternative locations. (This should have been embarrassing to the city, not least because Glasgow had paid for its own statue and unveiled it in 1902.) The problem in Edinburgh was twofold: suitable garden sites in the central area already had statues, while those in the suburbs were regarded as too far out of town for a national memorial. Eventually, in 1917, Gladstone found a home by the roadside in St Andrew Square, where he displaced a mythological rendering of Alexander the Great. Surrounded by (and obstructing) traffic, the site was criticised – not least by Pittendrigh Macgillivray – as unsuitable. In 1930, the City Council decided to relocate it to a suburban park at Saughton, the argument of inaccessibility being countered by the plea that Saughton had formed part of the Midlothian constituency. However, Gladstone's devotees (including the angry Liberal women of Leith) successfully argued that a national memorial should remain in the city centre. In 1947, a very blunt Edinburgh councillor said "that the monument was a danger to traffic and he did not care where it went so long as it was removed". Gladstone's final migration, 57 years after his death, to the originally intended site in Coates Crescent seems to have generated little comment. By 1955, his party held just one seat in Scotland, Orkney and Shetland. The memorial is about 30 feet (9 metres) in height, with Gladstone standing on a central plinth. He is portrayed in the uniform of a privy councillor and wearing the voluminous official robes of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. (The robes were still occasionally worn by Chancellors for ceremonies throughout the 20th century, but are reported to have been lost in the time of the Blair government. In 2020, the Treasury refused to respond to a freedom of information request on the subject from a member of the public.) With hands folded at waist level, Gladstone gathers together the trailing robes in a gesture presumably intended to invoke parallels with a Roman senator in his toga. This pose solved the perennial 'Venus de Milo' problem facing sculptors (what to do with the arms), but it may suggest either that the statesman was about to wade through something unpleasant, or that he was protecting himself against the Edinburgh climate. Flanking the plinth are two uncomfortably perched seated female figures, Eloquentia and Historia: the model, Elizabeth Stark, thus secures an unusually prominent commemoration for somebody whose day job was waitress at a local restaurant. Four less prominent seated female figures represent Faith, Fortitude, Measure and Vitality. There are also two unexplained naked boys, whose modesty is not entirely protected by trailing ribbons. Wildlife is represented by three red kites. Pittendrigh Macgillivray was a cultural nationalist who wrote poetry in Scots. The birds are "gleds", the origin of "Gledstanes", a landmark from which the Gladstone family derived its original surname. Glasgow Herald, 18 January 1917; Dundee Evening Telegraph, 28 February 1947; "Edinburgh, Coates Crescent, Gladstone Memorial": https://canmore.org.uk/site/146163/edinburgh-coates-crescent-gladstone-memorial.

[123] Aberdeen Journal, 7 December 1894; Edinburgh Evening News, 4 December 1902.

[124] Edinburgh Evening News, 23 February; Dundee Evening Telegraph, 17 August 1894.

[125] Edinburgh Evening News, 12 December 1902, 16 November 1903.

[126] Turner, ed., History of the University of Edinburgh 1883-1933, 126-7; The Times, 2 January 1899, 5 January 1903; https://www.ed.ac.uk/usher/about-us/why-usher. The Edinburgh University tradition that the project was inspired by Louis Pasteur's visit to the city in 1884 is not very convincing: at the very least, the causal connection operated very slowly. When the Institute moved to new premises in the 1980s, the original building in Warrender Park Road was converted into student accommodation.

[127] Edinburgh Evening News, 9 April 1903.

[128] Glasgow Herald, 25 March; Dundee Courier, 25 March; Edinburgh Evening News, 24 March; The Times, 25 March 1904.

[129] And not just the people of Scotland. The current holder of the John Usher Chair, Professor Linda Bauld, proved to be an exceptionally cogent and reassuring communicator on British television throughout the Covid crisis.

[130] Gladstone Diaries, xii, 332 (29 October 1890). The Greek quotation referred to Nestor, king of Pylos, much loved for his wisdom and sage counsel. He was notably long-winded in giving advice, but Carmel McCallum-Barry points out to me that this was not unusual in Homer (who was, of course, one of Gladstone's favourite authors).

[131] Morley, The Life of William Ewart Gladstone, i, 194 (of 1840), iii, 2 (1880). R. Shannon, Gladstone, God and Politics (London, 2007), xii-xxv discussed and deplored the continuing influence of Morley's "skewed and distorted" interpretation, although Shannon's attempt to establish an alternative emphasis upon Gladstone's intense religious beliefs became swamped in (no doubt necessary) secular political narrative.

[132] "Gladstone through the Looking Glass: Part 2 of Gladstone and Canada": https://www.gedmartin.net/martinalia-mainmenu-3/369-gladstone-canada-part-2. John Powell takes a gentler view of Gladstone's prescription for abolition, arguing that he wished slaves to be freed when they were ready to benefit from their emancipation: "William Gladstone and the Question of Slavery, 1832–33",  Journal of Liberal History, cxx (2023), 8-31, esp. 20-1.  I am grateful to Dr Andrew Jones for an extract from this article, which I have been unable to consult. However, I stand by my critical view of Gladstone's convolutions. He does not seem to have accepted the abolitionist argument that slaves possessed an innate human right to their freedom, and it is not obvious how a 5-year-old slave with learning difficulties could ever have met Gladstone's restrictive criteria.

[133] Roy Jenkins was rightly doubtful about Gladstone's own diagnosis that disestablishment cost him 2,000 votes, but evidently made no attempt to check the context: "it is difficult to believe that it could have been exclusively responsible for a result so sharply at variance with the general trend. There must surely have been a feeling that Gladstone was both over the hill and obsessed with Ireland." R. Jenkins, Gladstone (London, 1995), 585. Jenkins represented a Glasgow constituency from 1982 to 1987. Magnus said even less: "he was mortified to find that his majority in Midlothian … was reduced to 690". P. Magnus, Gladstone: a Biography (London, 1963 ed., cf. 1st ed. 1954), 397. Magnus also advanced a slightly muddled argument that Gladstone's choice of Midlothian in 1879 was "significant" as somehow symbolising a Liberal retreat to "the periphery of the British Isles" (259). This was a strange example of the intrusion of hindsight into historical explanation.

[134] A.H. Smith-Barry's re-election as a Conservative MP (by 22 votes) in the marginal seat of Huntingdon was an indication that the Plan of Campaign aroused little sympathy in the English countryside. In 1886, he had won by 161. (He owned 2,000 acres of land in Hunts.)

[135] H.C.G. Matthew, Gladstone 1875-1898 (Oxford, 1995), 324; Morley, The Life of William Ewart Gladstone, iii, 471. The Disruption in 1843 had not been caused by any wish to break the link between Kirk and State. Rather, the secessionists aimed to hollow out the Church of Scotland and then reoccupy it as a reformed Establishment. Echoes of this view remained fifty years later, and the Free Kirk was neither unanimous nor especially enthusiastic about attacking a rival with which it intermittently conducted unity talks. Many Free Church supporters, such as John Usher, were far more concerned about Home Rule.

[136] W.E. Gladstone, ed. M.R.D. Foot, Midlothian Speeches 1879 (Leicester, 1971 ed., 1st ed., titled Political Speeches in Scotland… [London, 1879]), 62 (Dalkeith, 26 November 1879).

[137] Magnus, Gladstone: a Biography, 261, repeating the "Before going up" of the previous page.

[138] Although lacking any qualifications to discuss Scottish identity, I touch on this question in "Gladstone through the Looking Glass: Part 2 of Gladstone and Canada": https://www.gedmartin.net/martinalia-mainmenu-3/369-gladstone-canada-part-2. The point that may elude the modern secular intellect (and challenged mine) is that there were liturgical differences between the Church of England and its northern cousin, which had some potentially explosive theological implications. Gladstone's ability to be an adherent of both is a mystery. Perhaps some part of his spirituality mutated when he crossed the Border. The various controversies are outlined in M. Lochhead, Episcopal Scotland in the Nineteenth Century (London, 1966).