No, I am no equalitarian

[As usual, dots between square brackets indicate cuts made by Sidney Colvin. For full, correct and criticaledition of this letter, see Mehew 5, 1374.]

To Sidney Colvin [Colvin 1911, 2, pp. 264-265]

Bonallie Towers, Bournemouth, [? 6] January 1885

Dear S. C.,

I have addressed a letter to the G.O.M. à propos of Wellington; and I became aware, you will be interested to hear, of an overwhelming respect for the old gentleman.


W.E. Gladstone was known by the appellation G.O.M., which stood for ‘Grand Old Man’ to his friends and supporters, and ‘God’s Only Mistake’ to his lifelong rival B. Disraeli. RLS’s letter was probably never sent, there are only two copies still existing []


A. Morgan, An Omnibus Ride to Piccadilly Circus, Mr Gladstone Travelling with Ordinary Passengers (the painter and his family), 1885 []


I can blaguer his failures; but when you actually address him, and bring the two statures and records to confrontation, dismay is the result. By mere continuance of years, he must impose; the man who helped to rule England before I was conceived, strikes me with a new sense of greatness and antiquity, when I must actually beard him with the cold forms of correspondence. I shied at the necessity of calling him plain ‘Sir’! Had he been ‘My lord,’ I had been happier; no, I am no equalitarian. Honour to whom honour is due; and if to none, why, then, honour to the old!

Millais, John Everett, 1829-1896; William Ewart Gladstone (1809-1898)

Gladstone by J.E. Millais, 1885 []

These, O Slade Professor, are my unvarnished sentiments: I was a little surprised to find them so extreme, and therefore I communicate the fact.


Sidney Colvin (1845-1927), Slade Professor of Fine Art at Cambridge 1873-1895, photographed by F. Hollyer, ca. 1890 []

Belabour thy brains, as to whom it would be well to question. I have a small space; I wish to make a popular book, nowhere obscure, nowhere, if it can be helped, unhuman. It seems to me the most hopeful plan to tell the tale, so far as may be, by anecdote. He did not die till so recently, there must be hundreds who remember him, and thousands who have still ungarnered stories.


Daguerreotype of the Duke of Wellington, then aged 74 or 75, by Antoine Claudet, 1844 []

Dear man, to the breach! Up, soldier of the iron dook, up, Slades, and at ’em! (which, conclusively, he did not say: the at ’em! theory is to be dismissed). You know piles of fellows who must reek with matter; help! help!

I am going to try Happy-and-Glorious-long-to-reign-over-us. H.M. must remember things: and it is my belief, if my letter could be discreetly introduced, she would like to tell them […].

Queen Victoria with the 'Munshi'.

Queen Victoria in 1885 []

So I jest, when I don’t address my mind to it: when I do, shall I be smit louting to my knee, as before the G.O.M.? Problème! — Yours ever,



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