ABSTRACT

The elite reacted with predictable hostility to Gladstone’s declaration in 1886 that his policy of Irish Home Rule implied a struggle between ‘the classes and the masses’, yet the same Gladstone could write, six years later: The natural condition of a healthy society is that governing functions should be discharged by a leisured class. Gladstone could be described in European terms as a nationalist politician, comparable with Bismarck or Cavour, but only so far. Contemporary English Conservatives were less complacent. Echoing Greville, bureaucratic ex-liberals like Sir Henry Maine saw the ‘new radicalism’ which Gladstone had helped create as ‘entirely fluid, taking all shape and direction from the accidental and temporary pressure of great masses of ignorant and impulsive men’. Social reformers were correspondingly annoyed by a leader who purposively distanced himself from their ‘New Liberalism’.