The NATIONAL PORTRAIT GALLERY. London: Cassell, Petter & Galpin, 1875. Volume 2.
The Right Hon. Lord Lytton
TO become Governor-General of the vast Indian possessions of the British Empire is the highest post to which an uncrowned head can aspire. It is the cordon bleu in the gift of the Prime Minister for the time being, and bespeaks, in no ordinary degree, the confidence of the Sovereign in the statesman or diplomatist upon whom it is conferred. Under any circumstances the appointment may be regarded with legitimate pride by the recipient of so honourable a distinction j but when the pinnacle has been reached at the early age of forty-four—as was the case with the nobleman who forms the subject of the present memoir—Lord Lytton may well be congratulated on his good fortune. So signal an instance of promotion has rarely been met with: a young and able diplomatist—bearing, it is true, a well-known and distinguished name —is suddenly transferred from the Court of Portugal, a position in the third rank of British representatives upon the Continent, to become the virtual ruler of some two hundred millions of souls. Though the announcement of the appointment created some surprise, it was a surprise of a pleasurable nature, and prominent men of the two great political parties concurred in warmly congratulating the new Viceroy.
Lord Lytton is the son of one who, for nearly half a century, took rank amongst the central figures of English literature. The author of "The Caxtons," rejoicing in his own great literary success, had a cosmopolitan heart; and it would have been strange, seeing the interest he exhibited in other literary men, if he had not ardently welcomed the developing genius of his own son. He beheld in him, not only one in whom was reproduced very largely his own outward lineaments, but a similarity of mind and tastes; though the son scarcely possesses that originality (except as regards his poetry) which made Edward Lytton Bulwer-Lytton the widely-known essayist, orator, dramatist, and statesman. Could the latter have lived, however, to witness his son attain an elevation to which he himself would scarcely venture to have aspired, we can well understand what would have been the nature of his feelings at this recognition, on the part of the Queen, of hereditary genius.
The Right Hon. Lord Lytton is the second holder of the title in the peerage, and is perhaps more extensively known in the world of letters under his nom de plume of "Owen Meredith." He was born on the 8th of November, 1831, and, in order to imbue him with the same love of foreign literature (while not ignoring the English) which he himself cherished, the first Baron sent his son abroad to complete his education, and to add to his knowledge of the world and of the lore of modern Europe. Having first been to Harrow, Robert Lytton was subsequently sent to Bonn, on the Rhine, where he devoted himself to the study of the masterpieces in the Greek and Roman languages, at the same time also not neglecting the acquisition of modern German, French, and Italian. At a very early age—scarcely before he completed his eighteenth year, in fact—the young student signified the career to which he intended to devote himself, by entering the diplomatic service as private secretary to his uncle, Lord Dalling and Bulwer (then Sir Henry Lytton Bulwer). Sir Henry at this period occupied the important post of Minister Plenipotentiary for Great Britain to the United States, at Washington. The young diplomatist could not have chosen a better entry upon diplomatic life; and it would have been difficult for him to have discovered an abler or more experienced tutor in ambassadorial duties than his relative. The new aspirant acquitted himself so well in his post, and proved so apt a scholar in the ways of diplomacy, that Sir Henry Bulwer quickly discovered he might employ him on important service in connection with Anglo-American affairs. Nor was this all the advantage that the nephew reaped, for at that time the United States possessed two of the most eminent statesmen who have ever graced Transatlantic history—Henry Clay and Daniel Webster—and Robert Lytton was brought into constant contact with them. Eloquence is natural with the Bulwers, and we learn that while in New York this youngest of the race delivered a speech which made a marked impression upon all who heard it, including the veterans of American oratory.
From the post of Attaché at New York, Mr. Lytton was transferred, in three years, to Florence, where Sir Henry Bulwer became resident Minister. Leaving the latter city after a stay of two years, he was appointed to the same office in Paris; thence, as Paid Attaché, to the Hague, in 1856; but was promoted in 1858, first to St. Petersburg, and afterwards to Constantinople; whence his destination was changed to Vienna, on the eve of the war between France and Austria, before he had joined his post at either of the two above-mentioned capitals. This was a valuable and varied experience for one who had barely attained his twenty-seventh year; and it prepared the way for his signal success in a more important mission. His time of anxiety—and every diplomatist expects to encounter such periods—speedily commenced. In 1860—that is, when he was twenty-nine years of age—Mr. Lytton was acting Consul-General at Belgrade, and any one who remembers the condition of Turkish politics at that juncture, will know that no diplomatic post which involved relations with Turkey, or her principalities, or neighbouring states, could be a sinecure. Shortly after the last-named period the bombardment of Belgrade by the Turks took place, and Mr. Lytton, upon its conclusion, was dispatched to the city on a special mission. Our representative played the part of mediator so well upon this and another occasion, that he not only won the encomiums of those strangers amongst whom he was sent, but earned promotion from his own Government. In 1862, he was advanced to the position of Second Secretary in the diplomatic service, with which rank he took up his residence at Vienna. He who serves his country in any capacity, however, must be prepared for change; and accordingly we find that at the commencement of the year next to that of which we have been speaking (namely, 1863), Lord John Russell marked his appreciation of Mr. Lytton's services by appointing him Secretary of Legation to Copenhagen. Here he found further cause for circumspection and diligence in his duty. Shortly after the happy marriage of the Prince of Wales to the Princess Alexandra, the daughter of King Christian, Europe was disturbed by the raising of a difficulty known as the Schleswig-Holstein question. We shall not, of course, discuss this question from a political point of view, and only refer to it for the purpose of noting Mr. Lytton's services during its continuance. Heated discussions took place upon the subject in our own House of Commons, and Mr. Lytton's despatches (he had now become charge d'affaires at Copenhagen) were referred to approvingly on more than one occasion during the debates by several of our leading statesmen. At the close of his Danish experiences, Mr. Lytton went, with considerable prestige now attaching to his name, to Athens, where King George had been recently established upon the throne; and to the young monarch the counsel and advice of an able English diplomatist could not fail to be of the greatest possible service during a period of expectancy and anxiety. Portugal was the next field wherein Mr. Lytton displayed his talents; and from April, 1865, till February, 1868, he acted as charge d'affaires of the mission at Lisbon. To this succeeded the Secretaryship of Legation at Madrid, and in a few months the higher grade in the capacity of Secretary to the Embassy at Vienna. While in the Austrian capital, he made the acquaintance of most of the eminent statesmen of Europe, and he assisted those of Austria in the important work of perfecting the commercial treaty with this country. Then came Mr. Lytton's residence in Paris, where he was Secretary of the Embassy from October, 1872, to November, 1874. During this period (in 1873), England was deprived of the literary and other services of the first Lord Lytton; but his successor had become so acclimatised to the French capital, that he continued his duties there, notwithstanding his succession to the title and estates, including the magnificent ancestral home of Knebworth. There is little doubt that the numerous positions which he satisfactorily filled, but more especially the knowledge of diplomacy which he acquired in Paris, led Mr. Disraeli to single him out for the important office to which he was appointed. It caused some little surprise that Lord Lytton should not have enlightened the world on certain problems in modern politics upon which he must have as intimate a knowledge as any man; but his lordship has ever been diffident to the commission of any act which might give colour to the charge of meddlesomeness—the most deadly sin which could overtake the diplomatist. Two facts only remain to be mentioned in connection with his public life, before his appointment to the Viceroyalty. He was British Minister Plenipotentiary at Lisbon from 1874 till January, 1876; and he declined the post of Governor of Madras, which was offered to him on the death of Lord Hobart. That post the Duke of Buckingham subsequently accepted. Lord Lytton is connected by marriage with the Clarendon family, having, in 1864, espoused the second daughter of the Hon. E. Villiers, brother to the late Earl of Clarendon.
We who live so far from the scene of action can form no adequate conception of the responsibilities which attach to Her Majesty's representative in India. The position of Viceroy, however much we may be dazzled with the splendour of the title, can be no easy one to sustain, nor can its duties and obligations be perfunctorily performed. The weight of our Indian Empire is so great that the shoulders of any ruler need well be like to those of Atlas to support it. If the young nobleman who now fills the office be but as successful in his new sphere as he has invariably been during his career in Europe, both India and England will have abundant reason to be satisfied. When the appointment was first announced, the Saturday Review well remarked upon this head:—" Lord Lytton's appointment must rest exclusively on his personal merits. He may be expected to show in a very high degree the first set of qualities which his office demands. He is sure to be courteous, able, and sympathetic; to discharge social duties gracefully; to please the world of officials and their wives; and to make people about him at their case. Native kindliness and good sense are the foundation of all good manners; but Lord Lytton has improved nature by the cultivation of a poet and the training of a diplomatist. Whether he will show the second set of qualities needed in a Viceroy, whether he will display real power, and will be able to act under a Secretary of State with sufficient independence and sufficient obedience, and to impress a sense of mastery on those with whom he has to deal, cannot be known until he is tried. His published reports on the countries where he has been stationed have always displayed a power of grouping and stating facts which no one but an able man could possess. But it is impossible from the best of reports written by a Secretary of Legation to judge whether he is or is not fit to be a Viceroy of India. His fitness can only be judged by a personal insight into character. The real reason to suppose Lord Lytton fit is that Mr. Disraeli has thought him fit. Mr. Disraeli has gone out of his way to choose Lord Lytton, and it may be assumed that Mr. Disraeli has not gone out of his way without good grounds." The Times, speaking upon the same subject, made observations of a similar purport to those we have already expressed. In announcing the appointment, the leading journal said, "The choice of Lord Lytton as Lord Northbrook's successor is bold and striking. Few can have guessed at this appointment before it was made public; but still fewer, probably, will now question its fitness. Lord Lytton has his genius by inheritance; but he has had a training in public affairs which his accomplished father had not, and he is believed to possess administrative abilities in which his father was wanting. He possesses, but is not possessed by, a graceful poetic talent, which secures him the advantages of a cultivated and sympathetic imagination, but does not threaten to dominate his intellectual qualities. In the diplomatic service he has risen fast and far, and both his powers of work and his skill in affairs are recognised on the Continent no less than at home. As British Minister at Lisbon he has had little scope for eminent services, and his labours in the subordinate ranks of diplomacy at some of the great capitals are better known. His Reports have always been admirably clear and full, and his Minutes in Council, with which a Governor-General is bound to expound or defend his policy, will be penned by a master of literary style. Lord Lytton goes out to India in the prime of life, and at a period when the interest of Englishmen in Oriental politics is deepening rapidly. It is significant that' an experienced and able diplomatist should be selected for the Indian Viceroyalty at a time when events seem once more to be connecting the interest of our Indian Empire with the great game of Continental policy." In this game, however, Lord Lytton is an adept, for the mysteries of European politics, which to most men are a sealed book, have been very largely mastered by Lord Northbrook's successor.
Upon looking back over the records of the history of British India during the past twenty years we are enabled clearly to perceive how great is the responsibility which devolves upon a Governor-General, and how grave is the nature of his duties. In 1857 England thrilled from one end to the other with the terrible story of the Indian Mutiny, a disaster which bore such sad fruit for many in the mother-country, whose relatives were exposed to danger in the far East, and many of whom perished under the diabolical hand of the assassin. And we thus say nothing of the minor troubles which are inevitably to be borne by the Viceroy, making his life far from one of even tolerable ease and comfort. After the ebullition of savagery on the part of the natives, to which we have referred, may be mentioned as another period prolific in extreme anxiety for the Queen's representative, that of the Famine, when, but for the foresight of Lord Lytton's predecessor, thousands might have perished. These are times of the greatest moment, bringing with them to those who are responsible for the government of India anxious cares, and yet at the same time the necessity for prompt and vigorous action. Pusillanimity in such a crisis as either of the two indicated might some day cause the loss of our valuable dependency. But it must be remembered, when speaking of statesmen and administrators, that age does not necessarily bring wisdom, while the spectacle of Pitt being Prime Minister of England at the age of twenty-three will prevent us from casting doubt unnecessarily upon the wisdom of youth. Neither must it be supposed that a man with the temperament of a poet is unfitted for hard work in another direction. The father of Lord Lytton himself was a valuable instance in contradiction of this. Notwithstanding the devotion which he exhibited towards literature, he yet proved himself, by his administration of the duties of the Colonial Office, an able public servant, and one who brought to his task a capacity for hard work such as is rarely seen. Unquestionably his history as Colonial Minister reflected upon him great credit. Mr. Disraeli doubtless perceived in the son that which justified him in committing to him an even greater responsibility; and we in England, therefore, can only wait and judge by results. The prejudice against poets as business men is now dying out: it is beginning to be believed that, in the practical concerns of life, even a large development of the imaginative faculty is no hindrance to a successful man of action. Indeed, we might traverse the long roll of English literature, and discover many men eminent in letters, who have also been valuable servants of the people and the Sovereign. The position of Viceroy is one, of course, where the principal requisite, or at least a leading characteristic, must be the power of dealing with mankind. Firmness, and yet moderation, sternness, and yet by alternations both justice and mercy—are the qualities which are required in him who is truly able to cope with the problems of statesmanship, the conflicting interests of race, and the rights of individuals, which will inevitably thrust themselves into his notice. Judging from what is already known of Lord Lytton's capabilities, the chances are strongly in his favour that the confidence in him as an administrator exhibited by Mr. Disraeli has not been misplaced.
We have hitherto spoken of his lordship as a diplomatist. It now remains for us to view him in that light in which he first became favourably known to the world—viz., as a man of letters, but principally as a poet. In this respect we may at once admit that his fancy and poetic temperament are superior to those of his father. The latter had more of classic grace, with which, indeed, much of his verse was overladen, but "Owen Meredith" showed a lightness, grace, and delicacy to which the first Lord Lytton could not lay claim. His first published work, issued in 1855, when its author was only twenty-four years of age, was entitled "Clytemnestra and other Poems." In his selection of subjects the young poet demonstrated what influence had been at work upon him; but the critics, nevertheless, were unanimous in praise of the work, and encouraged the then unknown author to proceed. There was perceived in the volume that devotion to nature which should ever mark the young poet, while in the diction there was not the riotous gracelessness which so frequently distinguishes the poetry of aspirants. His imagery, too, was good, and at times the thought was subtle. Here is one idea from the poem which gave its name to the volume
"As we move
Further and further down the path of fate
To the sure tomb, we yield up, one by one,
Our claims on Fortune; till, with each new year,
We seek less and go further to obtain it."
There is considerable merit, also, in "The Artist" and "The Earl's Return," but for pastoral beauty the reader should turn to the "Good Night in the Porch." We unquestionably get fine poetry here—poetry of the highest description of its kind. The painting is vivid, and the whole picture clearly revealed to the mind's eye. We perceive in such poems as this a simplicity which reminds us of Wordsworth, and a spontaneity also which is quite refreshing, and full of promise. Having so well proved his title to the name of poet—though his number of readers was not so large as to justify us in describing him as a popular one—"Owen Meredith" rested upon his oars for a few years, and at length, in 1859, again appeared before the world with a volume entitled "The Wanderer." This collection of poems has nearly dropped out of recollection now, but it is well worthy of resuscitation. It is singular how some authors vault into the highest positions, while others of equal merit are doomed to only a very partial recognition at the hands of a small band of devoted admirers. In this sense literature is frequently only an urn into which the world drops its hand, and draws forth a chosen name, which is henceforth, beyond others, to be held in remembrance. The lack of recognition to any poet who really possesses the "faculty divine" must be a profound trial, for sensitiveness is sometimes wounded by it more keenly than by absolute injustice. Though "Owen Meredith" did not pass wholly without such recognition at the hands of the critics, the striking merits of his verse, and the lyrical power displayed in this second volume of his works, should have given his name a still wider appreciation. "The Wanderer," who furnishes the title to the leading poem, is one who has cruised in the Mediterranean, and traversed the lands of the sunny South, afterwards recording his impressions of the varied scenery and character he met with. There are several portraits of women strikingly drawn, glimpses of character or of personal appearance being occasionally touched off in a single line. Some of the love passages in the volume would suggest that they were drawn from personal experience; they show strength without morbidity, and passion without extravagance. There is little in the whole work that is not worthy of being extracted or remembered; but to show the author's power of writing a lyric, delicate and musical as those written by the poets of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and cast somewhat in the same mould, let us take these stanzas:—
"Quiet skies in quiet lakes,
No wind wakes, .
All their beauty double;
But a single pebble breaks
Lake and sky to trouble;
Then dissolves the foam it makes
In a bubble.
With the pebble in my hand,
Here upon the brink I stand;
Meanwhile, standing on the brink,
Let me think.
Not for her sake, but for mine,
Let those eyes unquestioned shine,
Let no hand disturb the rare
Smoothness of that lustrous hair
Let that white breast never break
Its calm motion—sleep or wake—
For my sake.
Not for her sake, but for mine,
All I might have I resign.
Should I glow
To the hue—the fragrance fine—
The mere first sight of the wine—
If I drained the goblet low?
Who can know?
With her beauty like the snow,
Let her go! Shall I repine
That no idle breath of mine
Melts it? No! 'tis better so.
All the same, as she came,
With her beauty like the snow,
Cold, unspotted, let her go!"
Poems of another and more stirring character were "Babylonia," "The Norse Gods," and "Rinaldo Rinaldi." All the promise at the first appearance of the poet, it may be said, was more than fulfilled by the publication of his second series of poems.
The novel in rhyme will always have a certain amount of success, of which poems of the imagination, or of simple unmixed human emotion, will be deprived. It is remarkable how even a fictitious hero or heroine has the power to move mankind; and as a proof of the inherent fondness of the individual for interesting himself in character, we need only reflect upon the enormous amount of novel-reading we have in England, compared with the bulk of that which is scientific or philosophical. There is something even in a badly-drawn character which moves us towards it; and that something is the semblance to humanity, however imperfect it may be. But this class of poems, together with the great majority of novels, has but an ephemeral existence—it fails to fix itself upon the world's mind. Mrs. Browning wrote "Aurora Leigh," a novel in verse, but her minor poems are much more widely known, even after this comparatively brief lapse of time, and as the years roll on we may expect their power over society to become stronger, while "Aurora Leigh" will probably continue to have fewer readers—notwithstanding its extraordinary merits—with each succeeding generation. The story, whether in verse or prose, has a temporary success, partly on account of its author, and partly on account of its plot; but it rarely gives the opportunity for uttering those brief, pregnant lines, whose wisdom or whose poetry makes them immortal. "Owen Meredith's 'Lucile/" published in 1860, belonged to the class of works which we have been describing. Viewed as a story, it has had few equals for interest. It relates the history and the vicissitudes of a woman whose life was crushed and despoiled. She had two suitors, the one English and the other French, but through a series of singular misfortunes she became the wife of neither, and late in life assumed the veil. The local descriptions of scenery at the opening of this story are wonderfully graphic, and the crashing of a storm among the mountains is very finely rendered. The two men, unable to win the fair Lucile, married in pique; and on more than one occasion in their lives they were on the point of bringing death upon each other, when, by providential circumstances, the woman they had lost was enabled to interpose, and to save them. At length, after long years, the son of the Englishman and the daughter of the Frenchman met, and fell in love. The youth, was wounded in the Crimea, and when supposed to be dying was tended by a Sister of Mercy, who afterwards discovered herself as the long-lost Lucile. She learnt the history of the lovers, and by her efforts they were not only united, but the feud between the fathers yielded to her influence, and they became friends for ever. As for Lucile herself, we last see her pursuing the work of love and mercy she had undertaken. Such is, in hrief, the substance of this poem, on almost every page of which may be found some happy touch of human character, or some glowing depiction of outward nature.
Other works of importance written by Lord Lytton were "Julian Fane, a Memoir;" a collection of the national songs of Servia; "The King of Amasis;" "Chronicles and Characters;" and "Orval: or, the Fool of Time." He also wrote a prefatory memoir to the speeches of his father. But one of the works by which he will be chiefly remembered is his volume of verse, "Fables in Song." It is full of happily-turned conceits, and though, from the very nature of it, the author has not striven to give us the highest characteristics of poetry, there is still much of his lest labour stowed away in its pages. To mention one amongst many of these fables, "The Thistle" absolutely bristles with choice thoughts and poetic scintillations; and in the course of it we come upon a beautiful description of Spring, worthy of being read even after so much has been sung of the season by nearly all the poets. "A Philosopher" is a poem of a totally different stamp, intended to correct the exaggerated notions which men are in the habit of forming of themselves. To review the volume here, however, is not our purpose; it must suffice for us to state that it maintains in every way its author's previous reputation, if it does not, indeed, enhance it. We trust that Lord Lytton may still find occasion for cultivating the Muse. He is a genuine singer, and the world can ill afford to lose him in this capacity.
The Portrait prefixed to this Memoir is copied from a Photograph by Emil Rabending,Wien
Last revised: 2 April 2012