Letter of the Month | March 2019

Letter 5: March 2019

Transcription:

Boughrood

Llyswen

R.S.O

Mid Wales

 

Sep 26 1878

Sir,

The Times newspaper contains an article upon a letter alleged to be written by you to an American journal.

It represents you as lauding the Americans as a nation to the depreciation of your own country - also of giving undue [unreadable] to the [unreadable] of President of the United States of America over the sovereign of the greatest and most powerful empire in the world, and that sovereign too, whose confidence you enjoyed for the term of years during which you held the office of her Prime Minister.

The above refers especially to a passage in your letter, in which either by a slip of your pen, or {unreadable} of the printer’s, the title ‘President’ was written with ‘P’ in capitals, while that of ‘queen’ was written with a small initial letter.

This, to the eye of a patriotic Englishmen is naturally offensive and what I wish to know is, whether I am right in conjecturing that it was an error of the printers and not an intentional slight on your part on the Person of her most gracious majesty the Queen.

Apologising for thus troubling you.

I am yours truly,

Charles de Winter

This month’s letter is one that demonstrates how polarising Gladstone’s views and writings could be. It is a letter from the Glynne-Gladstone Archive [GG/1642/12] from a Mr Charles De Winter who has written to Mr Gladstone to express his displeasure over a recent article written by the statesman in an American journal.

The transcription of Mr De Winter’s letter can be seen above.

This ‘alleged’ letter that Mr De Winter is referring to, is of course Gladstone’s famous ‘Kin Beyond Sea’ article, which appeared in the September-October 1878 edition of the US-based North American Review. It was the first piece of Gladstone’s writing that was specifically aimed at an American audience and signifies an entrance for the ‘Grand Old Man’ into the sphere of American politics, even while his political star was not in ascendance in Britain. In the article, Gladstone aims to compare the English and American political systems and claim the US as kin to Britain, while also putting forth an argument that the US would, in the near future, surpass Britain commercially. This was a small part of a wider argument that Gladstone was making at the time against Disraeli’s Conservative government wherein he argued that continued Imperial expansion by the Tories would only drain Britain of manpower, wealth and commercial superiority to the benefit of its competitors.

To make this argument, Gladstone is somewhat effusive in his praise of the American political system, its President, and its mounting commercial power. It is this flattery that many contemporary newspapers focused on, and took issue with. Press cuttings also present in this folder show reactions to the article from The Pall Mall Gazette (Wednesday, 18th September 1878), The Midland Counties Evening Express (Friday, 20th September 1878) and The Examiner (21st September 1878). [1]

The Pall Mall Gazette (Wednesday, 18th September 1878) ran a full front-page article on their reaction to Mr Gladstone’s writing, which indicates both the seriousness and the newsworthiness of the issue. The Gazette questions Mr Gladstone’s decision to first bring up, and then elaborate on, the subject of Anglo-American relations and commercial supremacy, explaining:

‘Mr Gladstone begins by stating what he does not intend to write about, and under this heading is comprised “the menace which, in the prospective development of her resources, America offers to the commercial pre-eminence of England.” It would have been well for his reputation and influence if he had been content, in excluding this subject, to exclude it altogether.’ [2]

The authors of the article strenuously disagree with Gladstone’s decision to present American supremacy as a fait accompli and take issue with his tone, stating that:

‘The jauntiness with which he expresses a conviction which ought to be enough to sober a more flippant politician than Mr Gladstone, and the imprudence of stating what is only a possibility as though it were for practical purposes a certainty, are unworthy, the one of any man calling himself a patriot, the other of any man calling himself a statesman.’ [3]

Both The Midland Counties Evening Express (Friday, 20th September 1878) and The Examiner (21st September 1878) show that tempers had not cooled even a few days later with The Express titling their article ‘Mr Gladstone as Cassandra’, a reference to the Greek mythological seer whose prophecies were often true but never believed. [4] This is a strange title, considering that the article that follows is vitriolic in tone, calling Gladstone’s arguments 'incomprehensible' [5] and stating that:

'Mr Gladstone has forgotten his patriotism…his chagrin at being excluded from power for some years, and seeing his pet opinions overruled by the wiser policy and superior skill in statecraft of his rival, has led him to believe that a nation capable of such extreme stupidity as to tolerate this must necessarily be already in its decadence.' [6]

The Examiner is slightly softer in its tone, acknowledging that: 'In penning "Kin Beyond Sea" Mr Gladstone has evidently been at extraordinary pains to eschew offence' and that ‘The candour of the article is simply admirable, and it may well be that it contains the germs of an Anglo-American alliance beside which the tawdry Oriental Imperialism of Earl Beaconsfield must be esteemed poor indeed.' [7] Clearly this journal is somewhat hostile to the Government’s policies, however, that does not stop the article’s authors from stating that in reaction to Gladstone’s article they do ‘not know whether to laugh or cry’. [8]

It is in this atmosphere that Mr De Winter wrote his letter to Gladstone. However, he did not concentrate so much on the opinions expressed in the article, as the newspapers did, but instead on its grammar. While this may seem trivial in comparison to the great debate going on, Mr De Winter had serious concerns. He is particularly incensed that while Gladstone has graced the President of the United States with a Capital ‘P’ for his title, the Queen of England is referred to merely as the queen (with a lower-case q)! At a time when patriotism and commitment to the Queen was a very serious commitment, and speaking ill of Her Majesty could end a person’s political career, this is a heated claim and it is probably with this in mind that Mr De Winter offers an alternative explanation stating:

‘…what I wish to know is, whether I am right in conjecturing that it was an error of the printers and not an intentional slight on your part on the Person of her most gracious majesty the Queen.’ [9]

We have no record of any response from Gladstone, though one may be out there, and who knows if he meant any deliberate slight, merely mis-wrote or was ill-edited by his printers in regards to his grammar. However, we do know that despite the anger that Mr De Winter feels over this issue (as can be seen by emotionally underlined words), he is still perfectly polite in signing off his letter and in typical Victorian fashion, gracefully concludes his harangue: ‘Apologising for thus troubling you. I am yours truly, Charles de Winter’. [10]

Click here to read and examine Gladstone’s original ‘Kin Beyond Sea’ article in the North American Review (September-October, 1878).

 By Sophie Hammond, Graduate Work Experience student 


References

[1] Pall Mall Gazette (Wednesday, September 18, 1878) [GG/1642/14]; The Midland Counties Evening Express (Friday, September 20, 1878) [GG/1642/15]; The Examiner (September 21, 1878) [GG/1642/18]

[2] Pall Mall Gazette (Wednesday, September 18, 1878) [GG/1642/14]

[3] Pall Mall Gazette (Wednesday, September 18, 1878) [GG/1642/14]

[4] The Midland Counties Evening Express (Friday, September 20, 1878) [GG/1642/15]

[5] The Midland Counties Evening Express (Friday, September 20, 1878) [GG/1642/15]

[6] The Midland Counties Evening Express (Friday, September 20, 1878) [GG/1642/15]

[7] The Examiner (September 21, 1878) [GG/1642/18]

[8] The Examiner (September 21, 1878) [GG/1642/18]

[9] A letter to WEG from a Mr Charles De Winter about Gladstone’s ‘Kin Beyond Sea’ article in North American Review (26/09/1878) [GG/1642/12]

[10] A letter to WEG from a Mr Charles De Winter about Gladstone’s ‘Kin Beyond Sea’ article in North American Review (26/09/1878) [GG/1642/12]

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