It used to be customary for a boy on promotion to the Fifth Form to give a supper in his room; and afterwards to recite a satirical ode, passing comments on all the other fellows in his boarding house. These productions were often very coarse, for it was an understood thing that the authors of them were never to be molested by those whom they abused. Gladstone in his Fifth Form poem eschewed all personalities, but conveyed his opinion with great vigor on some of the abuses rife in the school, and in particular on cruelties that used to be practiced towards pigs at the Eton Fair that was held every Ash Wednesday. A barbarous usage had arisen for boys to hustle the drovers and then cut off the tails of the pigs. Gladstone gave great offense by remarking that the boys who were foremost in this kind of butchery were the first to quake at the consequences of detection, and he dared them, if they were proud of their work, to sport the trophies of it in their hats. On the following Ash Wednesday he found three newly amputated pig-tails hung in a bunch on his door, with a paper bearing this inscription:
Quisquis amat porcis, porcis amabitur illis;
Cauda sit exemplum ter repetita tibi.
Just before Gladstone entered Eton, in 1821, the Etonian, edited by Winthrop Mackworth Praed, had run its short, brilliant career; and Gladstone, though a Lower Boy, got acquainted with some of the contributors to that periodical, who used to come and breakfast with his brother Thomas. Among these were some who had acquired a real renown through their writings, and as Gladstone rose to the higher forms, the purpose of founding a magazine naturally suggested itself to him as one of the only methods that lay open to him for achieving scholastic distinction.
It is to be noted, however, that if there was always plenty of talent at Eton, able editors were as scarce there as elsewhere. The only three school periodicals which stand out as exceptionally good - the Microcosm, the Etonian, and the Miscellany - were edited by boys who possessed great firmness of character as well as genius and judgment. Canning, Mackworth, Pread, and Gladstone all knew how to recruit a staff, keep it up to the best standard of work, and prevent its members from falling out. If he had not become a statesman he might have done wonders in conducting a London daily newspaper.
Gladstone was always merry enough; but he was not one of those boys who can be called "merry fellows." Whilst he edited his magazine he used to stupefy his fags by his prodigious capacity for work. Most of his writings were calm in language, and breathe a conservative spirit; they also evince a rather nervous preoccupation on the part of the writer as to what his readers will think of them. The words "Benevolent Public," "Potent Dispenser of Fame," etc., recur very frequently. The graver pieces are those in which he displays most force; in humorous passages his pen does not run with the same lightness as Selwyn's, Shadwell's, or Doyle's. The epitaph which he composed for himself would have conveyed but a faulty idea of his talents and character:
Here lies Bartle Bouverie,
A merry soul and a quaint was he;
He lived for gain, he wrote for pelf,
Then took his pen and stabbed himself.