William Ewart Gladstone (1809-1898) was both the most characteristic and the most extraordinary of Victorians. His huge public career - in and out of office from 1834 to 1894 and four times Prime Minister - was consistently controversial and dramatic. His private life was a most curious blendof happiness and temptation. His Christian faith held the extremes of his character in sufficient harmony to avoid disintegration and to produce one of the most powerful political personalities in British history. The book describes Gladstone's early years as a Tory, the great transformation of his political position in the 1840s, his lengthy period as Chancellor of the Exchequer with its long-lasting implications for British financial policy, and his spectacular first administration from 1868 to 1874. Itsets in context the remarkable private drama of sexual temptation and moral crisis which from the 1840s onwards accompanied these public developments. The account ends in December 1874, with Gladstone's formal retirement from leadership of the Liberal Party - the move which he intended as his farewell to party politics. Gladstone was perhaps the most influential political leader of modern Britain, and this book is a major contribution to our understanding of his character, his life, and his role in the Victorian political arena.