“… I scarcely dare to look at the clock…”

On 15.6.04, it was reported at news.bbc.co.uk:

“Gordon Brown has become the UK’s longest continuously serving Chancellor of the Exchequer, overtaking David Lloyd George who served for seven years and 43 days between 1908 and 1915

But he’s still not even close to the 19th Century giant, William Gladstone. Gladstone was Chancellor for over 12 years, in four separate stints, starting in 1852, and going on into the 1880s.

He was famous for his ability to make exceedingly long speeches. His first ever Budget statement, in April 1853, lasted well over four hours. Despite its length, it was held to be an oratorical triumph.

This is an extract from the last section of that speech, which starts with an apology.

William Gladstone’s budget speech, 18 April, 1853

“Sir, I scarcely dare to look at the clock, reminding me, as it must, how long, how shamelessly I have trespassed on the time of the Committee. All I can say in apology is, that I have endeavoured to keep closely to the topics which I had before me –

– “immensum spatiis confecimus acquor, Et jam tempus equum fumantia solvere colla.”

These are the proposals of the government. They may be approved, or they may be condemned, but I have at least this full and undoubting confidence, that it will on all hands be admitted, that we have not sought to evade the difficulties of our position – that we have not concealed those difficulties either from ourselves or from others; that we have not attempted to counteract them by narrow or flimsy expedients; that we have proposed plans which, if you will adopt them, will go some way to close up many vexed financial questions.

Questions such as, if not now settled, may be attended with public inconvenience, and even with public danger, in future years and under less favourable circumstances; that we have endeavoured, in the plans we have now submitted to you, to make the path of our successors in future years not more arduous, but more easy; and I may be permitted to add, that while we have sought to do justice, by the changes we propose in taxation, to intelligence and skill, as compared with property.

While we have sought to do justice to the great labouring community of England by further extending their relief from indirect taxation, we have not been guided by any desire to put one class against another; we have felt we should best maintain our own honour, that we should best meet the views of Parliament, and best promote the interests of the country, by declining to draw any invidious distinction between class and class, by adopting to ourselves as a sacred aim, to diffuse and distribute.

Burden if we must; benefit if we may – with equal and impartial hand; and we have the consolation of believing that by proposals such as these we contribute, as far as in us lies, not only to develop the material resources of the country, but to knit the hearts of the various classes of this great nation yet more closely than heretofore to that throne and to those institutions under which it is their happiness to live.” “

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