Reading progress update: I've read 40 out of 384 pages.

The Lion and the Unicorn: Gladstone vs Disraeli - Richard Aldous

This is an interesting book, but I'm not sure I'm going to enjoy the writing all the way through. Sure, the tone is light and it is interesting to learn about the two very different characters, but I feel this will erode into a "oh, gee, why am I reading this?" pretty soon if the author doesn't add some depth to it. 

 

I.e. it is fair enough to describe Disraeli's dress sense and his huge admiration for Byron:

Disraeli had lived his whole life under the influence of Byron. Now in 1835, the year he met Gladstone, he was dismissed by society as a sensationalist without either temperament or prospects. He was, at best, an amusement, or, at worst, an ostentatious Jewish upstart. He was famous, but greatness seemed beyond him. Disraeli had stretched every sinew of his character to emulate his hero.

Instead most dismissed him as mad, bad and dangerous to no one.

The descriptions of Gladstone are even more detailed ... and don't put him in a great light at all. The descriptions of his attempts to woo several women made him look rather pathetic in fact. 

 

So, what I am saying is that I am really not that interested in the social aspects of the relatioship between Disraeli and Gladstone and that I would like to see more about the political debate and more background to the issues that were discussed. 

 

For example, so far, the Corn Laws, the Copy Right Bill, and the 1832 Reform Act have all been mentioned, but without any detail or background at all, whereas Disraeli's and Gladstone's "home life" have been scrutinised in great detail.

No sooner had Gladstone left Oxford than he plunged into London’s political milieu with its masculine bastions of the Commons, the clubs of St James’s, and high-church Anglicanism. He became almost inseparable from James Hope, a university friend and fellow Anglo-Catholic. Whatever sexual frustrations he had were satisfied, according to his diary, by ‘vigorous’ masturbation, ‘which returns upon me again & again like a flood’. This was not a lifestyle into which women intruded. It certainly was not one to which many were attracted.

Although Gladstone knew very little about women, he was fairly sure that he wanted one of his own. Early marriage was part of the Evangelical tradition from which he came. Even after he determined to find himself a wife, beginning in 1835, his initial attempts ended in disaster. First he courted Caroline Farquhar, the sister of Walter, an Eton and Christ Church friend. The project was embarked upon rather as one might buy a house or a horse. Many letters were sent and visits paid, but most of them were to Miss Farquhar’s father and brother. How to interest the lady herself was beyond him. ‘The barrier you have to overcome is the obtaining of my sister’s affections,’ the frustrated Walter told him after eight months of courtship. ‘No Mama!’ Caroline had exclaimed on seeing Gladstone walking across her family’s park at Polesden Lacey, ‘I cannot marry a man who carries his bag like that.’

Fifty years later, finding herself at the communion rail of the Savoy chapel next to Gladstone, she immediately stood up and left.

Rejected by Caroline, Gladstone immediately turned his attentions to Lady Frances Douglas, teenaged daughter of the Earl of Morton. Here the humiliation was even greater. He courted her during a short trip to her father’s estate near Edinburgh in 1837. She found him earnest and dull. When he persisted in the chase, the Earl of Morton was forced to deliver a ‘crushing’ rejection along with an instruction to end all correspondence.

Much as with popular science reads where I prefer more science than fluff, I definitely need more history and/or politics in this book.