Herbert Henry Asquith — Not Quite in the Gladstone Mould

  • Dick Leonard


Gladstone without the passion, and without the religiosity. That would be an inadequate but not altogether misleading description of the last person to head a Liberal government. A complex personality, he himself attempted a somewhat tongue-in-cheek assessment of his own qualities in an idle moment at 10 Downing Street during a critical period of the First World War, in March 1915:

You were … almost a classical example of Luck. You were endowed at birth with brains above the average. You had, further, some qualities of temperament which are exceptionally useful for mundane success — energy under the guise of lethargy; a faculty for working quickly, which is more effective in the long run than plodding perseverance; patience (which is one of the rarest of human qualities); a temperate but persistent ambition; a clear mind, a certain quality and lucidity of speech; intellectual but not moral irritability; a natural tendency to understand & appreciate the opponent’s point of view; and, as time went on, & your nature matured, a growing sense of proportion, which had its effect both upon friends and foes, and which, coupled with detachment from any temptation to intrigue, and, in regard to material interests & profits, an unaffected indifference, secured for you the substantial advantage of personality and authority. The really great men of the world are the geniuses & the saints. You belonged to neither category. Your intellectual equipment (well cultivated and trained) still left you far short of the one; your spiritual limitations, and your endowment of the ‘Old Adam’, left you still shorter of the other. (Jenkins 1978, pp.334–5)


Prime Minister Liberal Party Intimate Friend Cabinet Minister Home Rule 
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Works consulted

  1. Brock, Michael, and Eleanor Brock (eds), H.H. Asquith: Letters to Venetia Stanley, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1982.Google Scholar
  2. Cassar, George H., Asquith as War Leader, London, Hambledon Press, 1994.Google Scholar
  3. Coogan, John W. and Peter F. Coogan, ‘The British Cabinet and the Anglo-French Staff Talks, 1905–1914: Who Knew What and When Did He Know It’, Journal of British Studies, 24 (1985).Google Scholar
  4. Hazelhurst, Cameron, ‘Herbert Henry Asquith’, in John P. Mackintosh (ed.), British Prime Ministers in the Twentieth Century, Vol. I, London, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1977.Google Scholar
  5. Iremonger, Lucille, The Fiery Chariot, London, Secker & Warburg, 1970.Google Scholar
  6. Jenkins, Roy, Asquith (revised edition), London, Collins, 1978.Google Scholar
  7. Koss, Stephen, Asquith, London, Allen Lane, 1976.Google Scholar
  8. Spender, J.A., article on Asquith in Dictionary of National Biography 1922–1930, London, Oxford University Press, 1937.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Dick Leonard 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  • Dick Leonard

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