Posted - 18-06-2018

Collections / Research

The Gladstone Pamphlets at the National Library of Wales

In January of this year Dr John Powell, Professor of History at Oklahoma State University, spent some time in the UK, both here at the National Library of Wales and in Gladstone’s Library in Hawarden, undertaking research into the Gladstone’s Pamphlet Collection. We are very grateful that Dr Powell kindly agreed to write this blog about the part of the collection which is based at the Library. To see the full article version of this blog click here.


Tracts and pamphlets are the orphans of the Victorian print revolution, and the poor relations of William Gladstone‘s justly famous library.  Despite the fact that Gladstone read and collected thousands of shorter publications, marked them, organized them for reference, sent them to colleagues, used them routinely in developing policies, and employed them as evidence in his own books and articles, they have been seldom mentioned and never systematically examined in the study of Gladstone’s thought or politics.  The technological and educational revolution of the early nineteenth century may have made it into the age of the book, but as one recent study of the period has observed, if we count “what was produced” instead of what has survived, the Victorians might properly be considered “people of the tract”. More than 5,000 tracts once owned or associated with Gladstone are now housed in the National Library of Wales and are an invaluable source for scholars of the Victorian era. Added to the inherent value of the tracts themselves, annotations in a significant percentage of them provide scholars with kinds of evidence not generally found in correspondence, memoranda, and public papers. Working with Gary Butler at Gladstone’s Library, we have begun to unravel the complicated history of the pamphlets after Gladstone’s death.


The Gladstone Pamphlets housed at the National Library of Wales are rich as sources of Gladstone’s thought and policy development. Most of the pivotal moments in his career involved public exchanges involving some combination of articles, speeches, and tracts.  While his family, friends, and colleagues often urged more private methods of proceeding, Gladstone almost always chose to make use of the public forum, routinely reading and responding to the tract and periodical press. Whether engaging the nuances of Tractarian Church reform in the 1830s and 1840s, battling the Vatican or the Ottoman Empire in the 1870s, or attempting to bring justice to Ireland and the Empire in the 1880s and 1890s, he played politics with an eye toward the public.  Gladstone’s unique political gifts are too often represented as being almost exclusively rooted in principle, oratory and the public sphere.  But when he marked pamphlets in the first flush of new revelations or ideas, he often left posterity with a very personal glimpse of his feelings, which only later would be refined and mixed into a speech, policy, or pamphlet.


One example will suffice to suggest the kinds of insights afforded by the Gladstone pamphlets at the NLW. On 8 March 1846 Gladstone read E. B. Pusey’s Entire Absolution of the Penitent. He had long admired Pusey, having worked with him on High Church reforms pre-dating the Oxford Movement. By the mid-1840s, however, Gladstone had begun to doubt his elder colleague’s judgment as they each tried to preserve Catholic traditions in the Church of England. Upon reading Pusey’s cautionary footnote “to the young” regarding mortification— “See Mr. Newman’s valuable Sermon, ‘Dangers to the Penitent’”


–Gladstone underlined “Newman’s valuable Sermon” and noted in the margin: “This is hardly decent, time considered”. Newman had converted to Rome less than four months earlier. Reading this comment in the original pamphlet preserved at the NLW is about as close to being with Gladstone in his study and in his head as we are likely to get.


John Powell

Professor of History

Oklahoma Baptist University


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A blog about the work and collections of the National Library of Wales.

Due to the more personal nature of blogs it is the Library's policy to publish postings in the original language only. An equal number of blog posts are published in both Welsh and English, but they are not the same postings. For a translation of the blog readers may wish to try facilities such as Google Translate.

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