Divine Learning From Gladstone To Now

Gatherings to honour the bi-centenary of Britain's four times Prime Minister, who did much to ameliorate the plight of prostitutes and the uneducated at home, and the Bulgarians and Irish abroad, were held this week in London and at St. Deiniols Library, Hawarden, which he bequeathed to the nation, and where I met some of the guests. Gladstone was begged to donate the library to a famous public school or university, but he insisted its purpose was to make learning accessible to people who could not go to such institutions. He himself collected over 32,000 books, and he read 23,000 of them, many of which are annotated with his careful notes. He welcomed locals into his home to use the books. At the age of 83 he carried on his hobby of chopping trees for firewood, and transported his books, wheelbarrow by wheelbarrow, to a tin-roofed building he built to house his national library. |He bequeathed the equivalent of two million pounds to endow this, asking that students and clergy, being impecunious, should have subsidised rates. There are now over 250,000 books in this remarkable residential library.

Gladstone had a passion for divine learning to become the people's pastime. The present versatile Warden, Peter Francis, finds a hundred and one ways to keep this vision alive and up-to-date - from getting institutions to sponsor scholarships, marketing its excellent cuisine for week-end tourist groups, linking with he local university, and networking with groups like our own Community of Aidan and Hilda to offer week-long or one day courses. The latest development is to get Islamic sponsorship and engage in Christian-Muslim dialogue.

Queen Victoria found Gladstone annoying. His wife informed him that if he had not been a great man he would have been an awful bore! But I find him an inspiration for holistic politics and I would like to emulate him in fostering divine learning among the peoples of the world.

Posted at 09:14am on 15th November 2009
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