A Visit to Gladstone's Study - by Writer in Residence, Lachlan Mackinnon

A Visit to Gladstone's Study - by Writer in Residence, Lachlan Mackinnon

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A week in Hawarden, watching golden light creep across the soft wood tones of the Library, reading largely in theology, as is perhaps proper in the library Gladstone created. I've been thinking about hope; Ernst Bloch (not a theologian, I admit) was less help than I had expected, Hans Urs von Balthasar considerably more.  People come and go, individual researchers and writers and, this week, Gladstonians en masse. It is very striking how much fervour he still arouses. Over excellent meals, I have had conversations about the history of pageants, Swahili, parliamentary draughtsmanship and Marianism - as well as the deplorable Second Test result.

I joined a small party on a special private visit to Gladstone's study. If he leant back in the seat at his working desk, he looked up at a handsome bust of Disraeli. A sort of political memento mori, I thought, but perhaps it was more a spur to renewed industriousness. The visitors' book alone is exhausting. Busts of Homer and a savage Dante, and a splendid bas-relief of Tennyson. Among the many, many books, editions of Tennyson, especially the In Memoriam given to Gladstone by Arthur Hallam's father. I though wryly of how Tennyson and Gladstone quarrelled over who had been closer to Hallam, and about the strange afterlife in any generation of the brilliant who die too young. Beside the working desk (Gladstone also had a leisure one) an empty prie-dieu reminds us how central to his whole being was his faith. I imagine the number of clergy of all denominations visiting his library would please him, as would the new House of Wisdom dedicated to Islamic scholarship.

What should a Writer in Residence do but read? One might sit around staring into space in an exemplary way, but this place is a conduit to thoughtfulness. Write, of course, but that has not yet happened for me. Until this, which I trust is a good omen.

Lachlan Mackinnon