A colossus of British Liberalism approaches the end of his life

The end was near for the liberal leviathan William Ewart Gladstone who was approaching death at his residence at Hawarden Castle, Flinthshire, Wales, in May 1898 reported the News Letter.
The News Letter published the following account of Gladstone’s condition which it had received courtesy of the Press Association who had themselves come by the details from “a trustworthy source”.
The account stated: “Mr Gladstone’s condition is one of increasing weakness, and the apprehensions that are being felt as to a fatal issue in the near future are based not so much on the progress of the local disease, which might run a course yet of another three weeks, as on a general failure of his powers. His circulation and pulse are sometimes very weak indeed. Failure of the heart’s action, which that condition implies, might cause death unexpectedly.”
The report continued: “On Wednesday night he was delirious and rambling, but on Thursday morning he was quite himself again, and partook of liquid nourishment. His inability to take sufficient food is, no doubt, the main cause of his weakness. He retains full possession of his senses.
William Gladstone (1809-1898) by John Millias 1885“Medical science has beneficially assuaged his pain, and with calmness and confidence he faces the future with absolute tranquillity of mind. Indeed the invalid has through the trial of affliction and racking pain found life to be such a burden that, despite the wrench of severance from those so near and so dear to him, he is willing and almost eager to lay it down. His fortitude, patience, and perfect faith in what future holds for him are described as being very beautiful.”
Another report on the condition of Gladstone came from a correspondent in Chester. They telegraphed: “From special inquiries made as to Mr Gladstone’s condition, I gather that it has assumed an exceedingly serious aspect. During the past two days Mr Gladstone has been growing so weak that delirium has occasionally supervened.
“Last night the bulletin, referring to inadequate circulation, betrays a suspicion that the end is drawing near. Yesterday morning Dr Dobie was summoned from Chester, and, with Dr H Biss, held a consultation at Hawarden Castle. Mr John Morley had, it is said, a pathetic interview with Mr Gladstone previous to leaving the castle yesterday. Lord Rosebery is staying at Hawarden.”
Meanwhile, at the annual conference of the Southern and South Western Counties Union of Women’s Liberal Associations which had been held this week in 1898 at Bristol a vote of sympathy with Mr Gladstone was passed and a touching reference was made to his great influence for “good and freedom”.
Gladstone was to die on May 19, 1898 at Hawarden Castle, aged 88. His death was registered by Helen Gladstone, his daughter, “present at the death”, on May 23, 1898.
The cause of death is officially recorded as “Syncope, Senility, certified by Herbert E S Biss MD” and not metastatic cancer, as is frequently reported.
“Syncope” means failure of the heart and “senility” in the nineteenth-century meant the infirmity of advanced old age rather than a loss of the mental faculties.
The House of Commons adjourned on the afternoon of Gladstone’s death, with A J Balfour giving notice for an Address to the Queen praying for a public funeral and a public memorial in Westminster Abbey.
The day after, both Houses of Parliament approved of the Address and Herbert Gladstone accepted a public funeral on behalf of the Gladstone family.
W E Gladstone’s coffin was transported on the London Underground before his state funeral at Westminster Abbey at which the Prince of Wales (the future Edward VII) and the Duke of York (the future George V) acted as pallbearers.
Two years after Gladstone’s burial in Westminster Abbey, his wife, Catherine Gladstone (née Glynne), was laid to rest with him.


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