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A Real Companion and Friend:
The diary of William Lyon Mackenzie King

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Behind the Diary

A King's Who's Who Biographies

William Ewart Gladstone (1809-1898)

William Gladstone was the leading figure of British Liberalism in the nineteenth century. The son of a wealthy merchant, he was educated at Eton and at Oxford. His father wanted him to become an Anglican priest, but young Gladstone chose instead to enter Parliament. He felt some guilt, however, about deciding against the Church, and he tried to make up for this by always conducting his life according to Christian principles.

Though originally a Conservative, Gladstone became a Liberal, and promoted causes such as free trade, wider suffrage for all men, and home rule for Ireland. He served as Chancellor of the Exchequer for some years. In 1868, he became Prime Minister of Great Britain. He was defeated in 1874, and retired. But he returned in 1880 and served three more terms as Prime Minister, 1880 to 1885, 1886, and 1892 to 1894. He then retired for good, at the age of 84.

As a young Liberal, Mackenzie King developed a great admiration for Gladstone. He shared Gladstone's Liberal principles and his religious faith. When he learned of the older man's death, King wrote: "Gladstone died last night. I was moved to tears in thinking of the great life that has closed. He died with the Lord's Prayer on his lips. This was the great undercurrent which carried him thro' life. I thanked God on my knees for the life of this great statesman & his heroic example." (Diary, May 19, 1898)

King often drew inspiration from John Morley's biography Life of Gladstone (1903). Moreover, during his spiritualist seances, King frequently "spoke" with Gladstone. On King's 60th birthday, he and Joan Patteson spent an hour at the little table. "It was beautiful the manner in which one after the other of the loved ones 'came trooping in,' and how the number included the Leaders of Liberalism in the old land and this," King wrote. (Diary, December 17, 1934) One of the people who came to express good wishes was Gladstone.

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