"The Whole-Hearted Homage of a Hero-Worshipper"


"The Whole-Hearted Homage of a Hero-Worshipper"

Date Created

November 5, 1888


Joseph Parkin Mayall (1839-1922)


The Grand Old Man, n 44, Pall Mall Gazette "Extra" (London) (November 5, 1888), Part VII, 26-30. LSE Selected Pamphlets, LSE LIbrary, http://www.jstor.org/stable/60214627


Mayall's reminiscences of his two visits to Hawarden Castle, Wales, in 1884 (he misremembers the year as 1883), to photograph the prime minister, W. E. Gladstone, for Artists at Home.


A lengthy, discursive , autobiographical text in which the photographer J. P. Mayall recalls his two visits to Hawarden Castle to photograph W. E. Gladstone and his wife. As one of the only extant primary sources on Mayall, it is extraordinarily valuable, revealing his love of music and books; his tepid appreciation of royalty (he recalls going to Osborne as a child when his father, the much better-known photographer J. J. E. Mayall, was summoned to photograph Queen Victoria and her family) and his "whole-hearted" admiration for Gladstone and others like him, who had earned their position in the world through intelligence and hard work; his antipathy toward Roman Catholicism; his sense of social inferiority; his views on photography as an art form; and his photographic process. The story ends with Mayall glimpsing the Gladstone family at a distance, walking through Hawarden Park with axes in hand, preparing to fell a few trees.

Is Referenced By

Milk, Joanna (MacFarland). “Artists at Home: Artifice and Presence.” n.d. Accessed September 24, 2015. http://www.academia.edu/4168571/Artists_at_Home_Artifice_and_Presence


Public domain.




Omeka record contributed by Linda Merrill

Date Submitted

October 30, 2016

Date Modified

December 5, 2016





[Mr. J. P. Mayall, one of the well-known photographers of that name, paid two visits to Hawarden for the purpose of photographing Mr. Gladstone. Of them he has been good enough to send us the following remarkably interesting account, which will be read with great interest. We are also indebted to Mr. Mayall for having placed at our disposal the charming series of photographs of Hawarden Castle, and the photograph of Mr. Gladstone in his library, and of Mrs. Gladstone at her working table. These have been reproduced with great care in this little book.]


I packed up my apparatus and started off with my assistant on January 15, 1883, by the 5:15 A.M. train, from Euston. We arrived at Broughton Hall in due course, distant about two miles from Hawarden Castle, which was visible from the railway station. We drove over in a trap. The day was dull and unpromising for photography. The aspect of the country became more interesting as we approached the lodge gates of the park which surrounds the Castle. Once inside the park the undulating character of the country studded with fine trees was very charming, reminding one so much of the subject of Mendelssohn’s beautiful part-song “Departure”:—

 *  O Hills! O Vale of Pleasure!

O Woods, with verdure drest!

When all the charms of leisure

So oft have calmed my breast.

The book I read is Nature’s’

There simple truths appear;

And though she change her features

Her dictates still are clear.

Though far from ye I wander,

Lost in the worldly train,

My heart will fondly ponder,

And sigh for ye again.

Some one quoting the adage to Napoleon I, “L’ habitude est une second nature,” he re-marked, “C’est dix fois la nature.” To compare great things with small, I may mention that it is a mental habit of mine in my walks abroad and during my journeys to be constantly either improvising music heard alone by the soul within, or recalling some favourite bit from Beethoven or Mendelssohn, whose music specially delights me. I have listened to their music long and often with rapt attention, and in my own humble and imperfect way endeavoured to interpret it on the piano and the organ. This has ever been a great resource and entertainment to me, and as every one is permitted to indulge in a hobby music is mine. Well, then, to my mind Hawarden Park represents a magnificent poem set to music. There one would delight to roam the long summer days, “forgetting and forgot” by the thousand and one cares which beset the life of man in cities, under the blue sky of heaven, there to commune with one’s own heart. There to go out at eve in the fields to meditate as Isaac did of old. Surely after a busy and chequered life there would be enough to occupy one’s thoughts. As a background to this magnificent scene, the stately castle looms in the distance, the goal of our journey and the home of one of England’s greatest men. A noble and stately pile, built of stone in the mediæval Gothic style, with embattled towers and ponderous gateway. Our coachman entertained us with bits of local lore, and acquainted us with the important fact that he had often driven the old lady and gentleman (alluding to Mr. and Mrs. Gladstone) from the station in the vehicle we occupied. The coachman was evidently quite at home, for on approaching the ponderous gates he stepped down in the most familiar way and opened them both, and then entered in state, as though the place belonged to him. I was somewhat afraid we were trespassing by thus entering at the front gate, being always fearful of intruding, like “Paul Pry.” I had written to Mrs. Gladstone immediately on receipt of her letter to say that we should present ourselves at the Castle on Tuesday morning.


Accordingly, I sent up my card by the major-domo, after waiting a few minutes in the servants’ hall, where I whiled away the time by taking down an inscription written over the fireplace in these words:—

Spare not,

Waste not.

To Sobriety

Add Diligence.

Good words, excellent precepts, sound advice. These ought to be inscribed in letters of gold in every home in the Kingdom. Old-fashioned, antiquated, some may be inclined to say, but nevertheless true. Those who practice these precepts alone can afford to relieve the necessities of others. And where could moral virtue be inculcated with better grace than in the home of the past and future Prime Minister of England? One who himself excels in every moral and social virtue, worthily does he occupy the exalted position to which he has been called by the Sovereign and people of England. From his labours, his life, and his character may every Englishman learn the most useful of lessons. “Not slothful in business, fervent in spirit, worshipping the Lord.” What greater praise could be meted out to any human being? As an epitaph, let me for my part merit such, and this may be applied without challenge to Mr. Gladstone when “time with him shall be no more.” His name Englishmen will always cherish and not willingly let die. But I must cease moralizing (which my friends tell me not to do), and come back to the subject. The major-domo (who rejoiced in the familiar name of Smith) returned in a few minutes with a message from Mrs. Gladstone desiring to see me. I was ushered up a winding staircase leading from the basement, and after passing along passages and through various rooms was finally shown into the drawing-room. Mrs. Gladstone came forward and shook hands cordially, and presented me to her daughter. She desired me to come to the fire and warm my hands, which were cold after our six hours’ journeying. She said, “And so you have come all the way from London to photograph Mr. Gladstone.” I replied that I was most delighted and happy to come, that it would form a red-letter day in my calendar. I had brought with me a number of the photographs of “Artists at Home,” including some enlargements of Sir John Gilbert’s studio and T. Webster, R.A. I had also with me a life-size portrait of a gentleman with the Rembrandt lighting. These she admired very much, and said that it was very kind of me to bring these photographs with me for her inspection. Mrs. Gladstone thought that photography was making immense strides, and said how interesting it was to see the progress of the art.


She listened patiently and attentively to all that I had to say, but as I have a mortal fear of boring people I pulled myself up in discoursing about photography to apologize and trust that I was not wearying her. To which she gave a courteous “No!” Now came the technical and other difficulties to be surmounted in taking a photograph of Mr. Gladstone in his sitting-room. I had been somewhat alarmed at the persistent way in which Mr. Gladstone’s sitting-room had been pronounced too dark to be photographed. “Ah!” said I to myself, before seeing the sitting-room, “des faux bruits.” I have hardly seen a room which does not admit of being photographed with Wratten’s dry plates. “Soyez tranquille, mon ami,” I said to myself; “ne t’embarrasse point.” Now Mrs. Gladstone told me that she wished to prepare Mr. Gladstone for the ordeal of being photographed, shall I say, for the thousand and first time. Would I therefore follow her into the “Temple of Peace.” By this tranquil name did she designate Mr. Gladstone’s sanctum. “Look round and take a general survey. Take no notice of Mr. Gladstone,” who was sitting in his favourite corner reading. Accordingly I followed her with light footstep and on entering I inwardly exclaimed, “Allons donc! des histoires. There is light enough here for my purpose.” But my attention was fully absorbed as Mrs. Gladstone pointed out the table where the Homeric studies had been penned, her own table, with many objects of interest scattered about (one a medallion of a great friend of Mr. Gladstone—Sidney Herbert, now no more). I mentioned to Mrs. Gladstone that I recollected quite well when a boy being present in my father’s studio when Sidney Herbert sat for his photograph. Here was a goodly sight for a lover of books (that is another hobby of mine). I could exclaim with the old Roman, “Vita sine literis, mors est.” The books were evidently arranged by the loving hand of a genuine bibliophile. A massive bookcase in the centre of the sitting-room contained a variety of superb editions of Dante arranged by Mr. Gladstone’s own hands.


Mrs. Gladstone suggested to me that if I found them in the way they could be removed. I said, “No! madam, don’t touch them. I am somewhat of a bookworm myself, and am jealous of any one disturbing my books. I will bring that much-treasured bookcase in view when I photograph Mr. Gladstone,” which I afterwards did. In the library were books on every conceivable subject. A series of shelves were dedicated to many and various editions of my favourite Shakespeare (the poet of poets). Even at a cursory glance I could gather from their titles in divers languages—Greek, Latin, Italian, French, German—those even which caught my eye. Ponderous tomes, representing the classical authors, Aristotle, Plato, Herodotus, Thucydides, &c., &c. Reader, if you want to test your powers of comprehension, just try your ‘prentice hand on a volume of dry, theological disquisition which I saw in Mr. Gladstone’s library, entitled “L’Immaculata Concepzione.” Mr. Gladstone must have waded through this treatise with the same sturdy perseverance as though it had been a State paper to be grasped and fathomed before it could be dealt with, enabling him to expose the sophistry of the Roman Church. Yet one could imagine Mr. Gladstone’s capacious mind unraveling the thread of the argument and exposing it to view, unmasking, as it were, and divesting it of all its pomp of words and parade of logic with which the Church of Rome loves to array its lucubrations, which are made to conceal the real poverty and hollowness of the argument. “The Vatican Decrees” must have been well thumbed and thought over before answering.


In the sitting-room and adjoining rooms of the library are over 15,000 volumes. It was a saying of George III.: “It often happens that when I ask my lawyers a question of law, they are unable to reply off-hand, but they know where to place their hands on the desired information.” Doubtless, thought I, the three score years and ten of the Psalmist would not suffice, however diligently employed, to read all these books through, but one book becomes like a skeleton key, useful in unlocking the treasures of a good many others. And very truly may it be said that one book is a key to another. But this requires intellectual power of no ordinary kind, powers of memory quite prodigious, facility of study, and much leisure. In viewing Mr. Gladstone in the seclusion of his library from my stand-point, the man of letters was more prominent than the statesman. The scholar will always be an object of interest to the man of literary taste. Politics to him cannot possess that absorbing interest which belong to the productions of literature. Perhaps the most profound writer and thinker the Greeks produced was in my humble opinion Aristotle. Yet how would the later generations have known of his existence had he not possessed the literary faculty in a supreme degree? Had he not committed his thoughts to writing, the mighty Stagyrite would have been known most imperfectly to these later times. Aristotle’s writings were not published until some time after his death. In him the literary faculty must have been supreme, as he wrote for posterity, but he has, in consequence, left us evidence that he possessed one of the most profound and encyclopædic intellects the world has ever seen. All this, however, is hardly germane to photography, and perhaps the reader may wish me to do like the cobbler and stick to my last. Well, then, to resume. All the preparations being made and ready, the camera in site, double slides charged, and a good solid head-rest placed behind the chair, Mr. Gladstone was seated and I exposed the plate 120 seconds. Mrs. Gladstone and her son, who were in the library at the time, thought that I had exposed the plate five minutes, the time seemed so long. I said no, I had counted 120 long seconds, so Mr. Gladstone very good naturedly said, “Photographic seconds,” which I explained must be lengthened out if possible, as every photographer dreads under exposure.


I may mention that during my career as a photographer—in which calling I was brought up as my father before me, who is now the oldest photographer living in England—in my career as a photographer it has often happened that I have assisted my father in photographing great and illustrious personages, but this in quite a secondary capacity. My memory now recalls a scene on the terrace at Osborne House, Isle of Wight. About the year 1855 my father received her Majesty’s commands to attend there for the purpose of taking some photographs, and I accompanied him. In succession were photographed the Princess Royal, the Princess Helena, the Prince of Wales, the Prince Alfred, finally her Majesty and the Prince Consort. To my boyish mind it was naturally a subject of curiosity to approach these Royal personages in all the unstudied intimacy of their daily life and surroundings. But I must here frankly confess that my admiration and enthusiasm could never be thoroughly aroused by the presence or interview with merely persons of rank. Was it Louis XIV. who said that “No man was a hero to his valet”? Well, then, I had often asked myself what impression would be left on the mind if one should ever be called upon to officiate in person in photographing a really great man. My curiosity, my enthusiasm would then have ample scope for gratification, and I shall here attempt to analyze my feelings on being ushered by Mrs. Gladstone into the “Temple of Peace,” and there to stand in the very room where Mr. Gladstone sat in his favourite corner, looking impassive as marble, engaged in reading. It was a feeling of respectful awe, as I said to myself, “There sits the greatest living man, one who by mere force of intellect and culture occupies the most exalted position to which any subject can be called. In him behold the highest product of civilization. By no accident of birth is he Prime Minister of England, no caprice of fortune can account for his present position, but that one sovereign gift of intellect vouchsafed to him by the Almighty has made him and fitted him for the office he holds.”


In my own small way and amongst my friends I have a certain ascendency, and am looked up to; but never in my life, either before or since, did I feel my own inferiority and insignificance as during that moment when I stood in that library in Mr. Gladstone’s very presence. For that privilege and for that moment and at that time I would not have exchanged positions with any man in England. That was a precious experience which I shall carry with me through life, on which I shall often dwell and ponder, and have endeavoured, however feebly, to reproduce here on paper. But the experience itself defies description. All that I had ever read, thought, or seen of great men flashed across my mind, and I saw they possessed this is common—the literary gift, the love of letters. The greatest men the world has yet seen loved books. Alexander the Great placed a copy of Homer under his pillow to mark his love and admiration of “the blind old man of Scios’ rocky isle,” Cicero, the most Grecian in mind and culture of all the Romans (for to him Greek was as familiar as his mother tongue)—in Cicero the man of letters dominates the man of law. Then, again, Julius Cæsar, himself only inferior to Cicero as an orator,  was a man profoundly literary in his tastes. How interesting to find Cæsar while in Britain corresponding with his literary friends in Rome, proposing and solving the grammatical questions and niceties of idiom of the Latin tongue! Speaking of the love of letters, how eloquently Cicero has said, “Delectant domi, non impediunt foris.” And so on, the great masterminds have been eminently devoted to literature. Dante, in the “Divina Commedia,” at a bound fixed the Italian language and literature for all time. Our own Shakespeare and Milton, whose words are indeed familiar to our lips as household words—have they not in a measure schooled and fashioned the best minds this country has produced? Shakespeare and Milton I particularly love and revere. What, reader, would you or I sacrifice to be ushered into the presence o Shakespeare or Milton, if that could by any possibility be accomplished?—it is a dream, and must remain such. But I have tasted something of what a similar experience might leave on the mind.


In that library at Hawarden Castle I saw one of the master spirits of the world, the scholar surrounded by his books and literary treasures, the man of letters immersed in thought, deep in study. You may perhaps be curious to know what book Mr. Gladstone had been reading. Now, as chance would have it, on my second visit to Hawarden Castle in June, 1883, after I had settled my apparatus in the library on the morning Mr. Gladstone sat to me the second time, I, being alone and having nothing else to do, availed myself of the opportunity to make a minute inspection of the library. On the table close by the chair where Mr. Gladstone sits in his library, I saw an open volume laid flat, placed with the pages facing the table so as not to lose the place—a habit familiar to every serious reader (and a very much better plan than dog-earing a page). I had the curiosity or indiscretion, which I dare say Mr. Gladstone will pardon, to examine the volume Mr. Gladstone had been reading, and the comments he had been making on it in his own handwriting. It was a volume in Greek—the Odes of Pindar. I said to myself, that must be pretty stiff reading, and would rather tax one’s knowledge of Greek. You require to be an enthusiastic Greek scholar to tackle such an author. The rest speaks for itself. To drop upon a man in his most unguarded moments might give you a surer key to his character and tastes than to meet him in public “staging himself in the eyes of the multitude.” I must confess, for my part, an extreme desire to make the acquaintance of men, not as they are seen by the outside world, but simply following the bent of their minds. Here is a touchstone of character which reveals volumes to the initiated and the genuine searcher.


In Mr. Gladstone’s sitting-room at the other end of it is Mrs. Gladstone’s table. I may say, for the reader’s information, on my first interview with Mrs. Gladstone I perceived that I had a valuable ally to aid me in getting the photographs I required (this I said to her), and I was not wrong, as the sequel proved. I therefore addressed myself to Mrs. Gladstone, who was always accessible, kind, and courteous to me whenever I required to make any arrangements. Having been honoured with a separate sitting by Mrs. Gladstone on my first visit, I had a life-size enlargement done from the negative; this I took with me on my second visit. This enlargement found favour with Mr. Gladstone and his family, and procured for me the honour of a separate sitting from Mr. Gladstone as a pendant. When I had finished the sitting in the library, I made bold to ask Mr. Gladstone himself to favour me with a separate sitting for a Rembrandt photograph, as a companion to the one of Mrs. Gladstone. To this the right hon. gentleman assented at once, and said that he would sit for me in the open air if I liked. Now the previous evening I had reconnoitered the various rooms and selected a spot in a recess of one of the windows in the drawing-room adjoining the library, the light there being suitable for my purpose. This I mentioned to Mr. Gladstone, who said, “Very well, when you are ready let me know.” In the said recess a very serious impediment stood in the way of the reflector used in the Rembrandt lighting—namely, a marble bust perched on a pedestal. This I pointed out to Mr. Henry Gladstone, who volunteered assistance in carrying the apparatus out of the library. Mr. Henry Gladstone, without more ado, coolly took the marble bust (weighing I don’t know how much) in his arms and deposited it safely on the floor. I said “Bravo! well done!” At the time I spoke to him quite familiarly about Mr. Gladstone and things generally, not knowing that he was Mr. Gladstone’s son. This I only learnt a few minutes after when I came to take his portrait. I adjusted the chair, the camera, the head-rest (no prudent photographer travels without that), and the portable background. I was then ready for action, and Mr. Henry Gladstone went and told his father, who came out of the library into the drawing-room. Mr. Gladstone noticed the marble bust had been lifted off the pedestal and placed on the ground. I said to him, “I think, Sir, we have Hercules (pointing to Mr. Gladstone’s son) here. It’s no joke to lift that bust,” at which he smiled.


He then sat down in the chair, and here again was a feast for the eye of a painter, let alone a photographer. That face, that effect of light and shade, will never be effaced from my memory. It would have required Rembrandt himself to do justice to the occasion. There was a noble and majestic countenance, almost leonine in its aspect, so full of power and masculine dignity. This was one view of Mr. Gladstone’s face which I caught when I heard him speak in the House of Commons in May, 1883. At least, thought I to myself, I will aim at something different from anything I have yet seen of Mr. Gladstone. Whether I have succeeded or not I must leave others to judge. To the eye of the photographer Mr. Gladstone’s face is pale as marble, and the lips and eyes alone give indication of colour. I have not seen any oil-painting of Mr. Gladstone which satisfies my eye or which thoroughly represents the man. Per contra, as a salve to the portrait painters, I have seen a tremendous lot of caricatures of Mr. Gladstone in the shape of photographs (I hope that mine will not be included) which are downright false and repulsive. The finest photograph I have yet seen of Mr. Gladstone, and which I should like to have done myself, was one taken in Florence during his last visit to Italy. There is a delicacy and refinement about that photograph which pleases me. I have often gazed at it with much pleasure and delight. To the photographer Mr. Gladstone would be an endless subject: there is a refined expression on his countenance which caught my eye when speaking to him in the library which has not yet been portrayed either by painter or photographer. He will be a fortunate man who can render it. In the meantime, we must be satisfied with what has already been obtained of him. Every one knows how difficult it is to call up an agreeable expression at the time of being photographed.


Just at the critical moment of taking the cap off the lens I asked Mr. Gladstone to fix his eye on one point. He did so, and said that he had often thought that photographers ought to have some toy or other to amuse or attract the attention of the sitter. I suggested the expression I should like to secure would be one called up by listening to fine music. I threw this out as a hint to other photographers in their operations. But I make this observation in general as regards photographic portraiture, that the normal expression of the face can only be obtained in a subdued light—photographic studios have generally too much glare. This I consider a fatal objection to the use of electric light, which is very apt to call up a painful, forced expression seen at no other time. Another very important element in producing a successful portrait of any one is the photographer himself. In my view a good photographer is

 Rara avis in terris, nigroque simillima cygno.

And the qualifications are very high. Photography, I am sorry to say, like school-mastering, though worthy of the highest abilities, is frequently followed by men of the lowest, and, to use a current phrase, has become “a refuge for the destitute.” A good photographer requires to be a fair chemist, a man of good taste and agreeable manners, and very much indeed of an artist. As the Captain in Dickens’s novel very justly observes, “When found, make a note of.” It is to be hoped that the photographer of the future may be recruited from the ranks of the ardent and enthusiastic amateurs whose name is legion. Whenever I see an amateur I always extend my right hand to him as a possible future brother, and I indulge him in his hobby by talking “shop” to him to his heart’s content. I hereby give notice that all amateurs are welcome at my place, and I don’t in the least look upon them as intruders.


To return to the library, I noticed on one of the side shelves among the walking sticks, a very fair collection of axes of different sizes and patterns, but this collection was fairly dwarfed in comparison with a collection I saw in one of the outhouses of the Castle. It appears certain manufacturers of axes in Sheffield and elsewhere when they bring out an axe of a new pattern, send one to Mr. Gladstone for trial. The tree-felling was quite in the ascendant on the occasion of my visit. After the family had lunched, they made up a party, armed with axes, and started for a spot in the park to perform their self-appointed task. I had occasion on my way to photograph the gateway to catch sight of the party. The Rector of Hawarden was in his shirt-sleeves, axe in hand, and positively bathed in perspiration. They had evidently, to use the Yankee phrase, “had a good time of it.”

*By kind permission of Messrs. Novello, Ewer, and Co.

Original Format

Part VII in an illustrated pamphlet dedicated to W. E. Gladstone





Joseph Parkin Mayall (1839-1922), "The Whole-Hearted Homage of a Hero-Worshipper"

Cite As

Joseph Parkin Mayall (1839-1922), “"The Whole-Hearted Homage of a Hero-Worshipper",” Victorian Artists at Home, accessed May 26, 2024, https://artistsathome.emorydomains.org/items/show/81.

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