Obituaries of Lord Lytton (Owen Meredith)

The Critic (London). November 19, 1891, p.309

THE RIGHT Hon. Edward Robert Bulwer-Lytton, Earl of Lytton, G.C.B., G.C.S.I., C.I.E, LL.D., British Ambassador to France, long popular as 'Owen Meredith,' died suddenly of heart-disease, at Paris, on Tuesday, after several years of enfeebled health. He was the only son of the first Lord Lytton, who made the name of Sir Edward Bulwer famous as that of a novelist, poet, dramatist, orator and statesman of unusual ability. The son -- born on Nov. 8, 1831 -- inherited much of his father's ability and versatility. He studied at Harrow and under special tutors, and then went to Bonn, where he devoted himself to the acquisition of the modern languages. In 1849 he was appointed an attaché of the British Legation at Washington, of which his uncle, Sir Henry Bulwer, was the head. Thence he was transferred to Florence and afterwards to Paris, The Hague, St. Petersburg, Constantinople and Vienna; in 1863 he was made Secretary of Legation at Copenhagen. His next posts were at Athens and Lisbon, where he negotiated a commercial treaty. After a week at Madrid he became Secretary to the Embassy at Vienna, whence he went in a similar capacity to Paris. On the death of his father, eighteen years ago, he succeeded to the title of Baron Lytton.

After acting as Chargé d'Affaires in Paris on several occasions, he was made Minister at Lisbon in 1874. One of Disraeli's surprises was Lord Lytton's appointment, in 1876, as Viceroy of India. In the following year he presided over the pageant at which Queen Victoria was declared Empress of India. For this he received the Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath. In 1879 an attempt was made to assassinate him, but he escaped uninjured. The Afghan War was the chief event of his Viceroyalty. In 1880 he resigned (at the same time that Disraeli resigned the Premiership) and received an Earldom. In 1887 he was appointed Ambassador to Paris, and in the same year was elected Lord Rector of Edinburgh University.

Lord Lytton was well known in the literary and artistic world, having published -- under the name of 'Owen Meredith' -- a number of volumes in prose and. verse, among them being 'Clytemnestra, and Other Poems,' 'The Wanderer,' the rhyme novel 'Lucile' (which attracted more attention than all the others combined), 'The Ring of Amasis,' 'Fables in Song,' 'Glenaveril' (1885) and 'After Paradise' (1887). He edited the speeches and some of the political writings of his father and published 'The Life, Letters, and Literary Remains of Edward Bulwer, Lord Lytton' in 1883. In the domestic troubles of his youth Lord Lytton espoused the cause of his mother, but without incurring the hostility of his father. His wife was the second daughter of the Hon. Edward Villiers.


[From a London Letter from G.W.S. in the Tribune, Nov., 1887]

Perhaps it is a little curious that Englishmen should lay so much emphasis on the fact that he can speak French fluently and elegantly. They have always had a certain surly pride in their incapacity to sustain a conversation in foreign languages. They repeat to you with evident pleasure Prince Bismarck's observation that the late Lord Ampthill (better known as Lord Odo Russell) was the only Englishman he ever knew who was fluent in French and could be trusted. Lord Lytton was Secretary to the Paris Embassy from 1872 to 1874 and may be forgiven his proficiency in the French tongue. The French themselves, be it observed, are sensitive to the compliment, as they think it, paid them by a foreigner who talks to them freely in their own language. They seldom return it.

What the French value not less is that flexibility of character which enables a man to catch the tone of a world different from his own. It might not be easy to say what is, or was, Lord Lytton's world. He has lived abroad in the diplomatic service of his country almost all his life, beginning with America, where he was attaché to his uncle, Sir Henry Bulwer, in 1849, and ending with Portugal, where he was Minister when Lord Beaconsfield startled England and India at once by making him Viceroy of the latter. He has lived in Florence, in the Netherlands, in Russia, in Turkey, in Austria, in Denmark, in Greece, in Spain and in France. If ever an Englishman gets his English insularity rubbed off him, Lord Lytton has got rid of his; supposing he had any to begin with. You cannot meet him without seeing that he is an accomplished man of the world, and of many worlds. In no company would you pass him without asking who he is. His stature is not excessive, but the whole appearance of the man is striking. The square high forehead is set in a mass of dark curling hair. Blue eyes look from under it, half-dreamily. The features are strong and well cut, where visible, but all the lower part of the face is enveloped by a beard, dark curling like the hair, which a fanciful person might call Assyrian. Refinement, thoughtfulness, reflectiveness, acuteness, under a well-worn mask of indifference -- these are its characteristics. London society is well aware of his unlikeness to the average man of London society. You somehow get at once the impression that here is a personage for whom the world has no surprises in reserve. He has an imperturbable politeness which in a country where people are expected to be demonstrative might pass for indifference.

When Lord Lytton does talk he talks exceedingly well. He is full, various, novel; it is the talk of a man who has seen many sides of life, of a man who has read and written, of a poet, sometimes of a man of letters and of affairs. There is a flavor in it which is exotic. India has left a mark on him. The eyes are those of one who does not mean to be taken at an advantage; the whole demeanor as of one accustomed to his own place and to maintain it without an effort. He is, I believe, a great favorite at Marlborough House, where very various reasons may be given for whatever favoritism is in vogue at the moment. Americans may remember Lord Lytton's appearance at the Lyceum on one memorable evening in the royal box. Miss Mary Anderson was the magnet who drew the princely party thither, and Lord Lytton's elaborate panegyric on Miss Anderson in The Nineteenth Century was perhaps the result of this visit. Rarely indeed has any dramatic criticism seen the light which was so minute in its record of gestures and expressions and fleeting glances and hidden purposes of the actress which, to an observer less skilled or less enthusiastic, would have remained hidden.

But like his friend, Lord Beaconsfield, Lord Lytton is capable of much silence. In one of the last published letters of Lord Beaconsfield he tells his sister that a dull neighbor at dinner insisted on talking so that he had 'not even the consolation of a silent stuff.' It would be easy to imagine Lord Lytton saying the same thing. In uncongenial company he carries taciturnity to its last permissible limit. In public he practises it as a virtue. There is a story of his final interview with Lord Beaconsfield before setting out for that Viceroyalty which was to bring so much censure on his head. The two men talked long together and had said goodbye and Lord Lytton was already on his way downstairs when Lord Beaconsfield leaned over the rail and said:--, ‘One thing more, Lytton. You are going to India to carry out a great policy, which a strong party in this country will oppose. You will be much attacked in the papers. Never answer them. Whatever you do remember that I shall stand by you.' The pledge was fulfilled. The injunction was obeyed. The two men were loyal to each other. Whatever Lord Lytton did in India or in Afghanistan, Lord Beaconsfield defended in Parliament. When Lord Beaconsfield resigned, his Viceroy resigned with him. The Prime Minister put his own and Lord Lytton's resignation into the Queen's hands at the same moment. The storm that raged about the Viceroy and his Afghan policy fell with full force on his chief at home; but he never flinched and never forsook his friend and servant, and he made him an Earl as his last act. The discredited ruler of India -- for in current public opinion he certainly was discredited -- came home and for the first time undertook to defend himself. There was a dress debate in the House of Lords. The ex-Viceroy delivered a speech. The Duke of Argyll answered him, and from that day to this Lord Lytton cannot be said to have taken part in public life. But he once more has before him a career splendid enough and serious enough to stimulate any man's ambition. He has only to put his Indian ideas behind him, renounce adventures, give fair play to his undoubted abilities, and set himself to acquire a reputation for prudence and soberness of judgment.


The Critic ( London ), December 5, 1891, p313-314.

The Late Lord Lytton
LAST SUNDAY'S Tribune published the following account of Lord Lytton's funeral:--

PARIS, NOV. 28:-- The funeral of the Right Hon. Edward Bulwer Lytton, Earl of Lytton, the British Ambassador at Paris, who died suddenly in this city on Tuesday, took place to-day in the English Church. The edifice was crowded in every part, and hundred of persons were unable to gain entrance. Among those present, besides the family of the dead statesman and author, were many of his personal friends, all the members of the Diplomatic Corps at present in Paris, and a large number of the members of the French Senate.

The Hon. Whitelaw Reid, the American Minister to France, sent a beautiful wreath, which was placed upon the coffin. Mr. Reid was present at the funeral services. All the Ministers of State were also present. President Carnot was represented by Gen. Brugère. Prominent among the mourning assemblage were Princess Mathilde and the Prince of Monaco. Many members of the English aristocracy, some of whom are staying in Paris, while others came from England for the special purpose, attended the services in the church. Among the prominent Frenchmen present were M. Francois Coppée, the poet and member of the Academy; M. Benoit Coqueliri, the actor; M. Jules Massenet, the musician and composer; M. Emile Carolus-Duran, the painter, and M. Alexandre Dumas. The French painter M. Leon Bonnat has just finished a portrait of the Earl, and this picture was placed upon an easel which stood at the head of the coffin as it lay in the church.

The service was fully choral. The chief mourners were the Countess of Lytton, widow of the Earl, and their five children -- Viscount Knebworth, who succeeds to the Earldom; the Hon. Neville Stephen; the Hon. Elizabeth Edith, the Hon. Constance Georgiana and the Hon. Emily. After the services at the church the body was conveyed to the railway-station on its way to England, where the burial will take place. The route followed by the funeral procession from the church to the railway station was lined by 3,500 troops, who had been detailed for this duty by the French Government. When the station was reached the coffin was removed from the hearse and placed upon a temporary stand. The troops, who until then had stood on each side of the streets through which the funeral procession had passed, fell into rank and defiled past the coffin.

Five thousand persons have called at the British Embassy and have inscribed their names there as a mark of respect to the dead Ambassador. The funeral of Lord Lytton in this city has seldom been equalled by that of any other foreign official. On all sides the greatest respect for his memory has been shown.

LONDON, DEC. 1.-- The services over the body of Lord Lytton, the British Ambassador to France, were held to-day at the family residence, Knebworth Park, Stevenage, Hertfordshire. Archdeacon Farrar officiated. A large number of the Earl's relatives and friends were present, among the latter being lord and Lady Salisbury. The Queen and the Prince of Wales sent representatives to attend the funeral. The coffin was covered with the union-jack, and upon the cover were wreaths that had been sent by the Queen and the Prince and Princess of Wales . The body was buried in the family mausoleum. Memorial services in honor of the Earl were held to-day in St. Margaret's Church, Westminster .

In the same paper G.W.S., in his London Letter, had this to say of the late poet and diplomat:--

Lord Lytton's death came very suddenly, but it was perhaps a crowning mercy which spared him great suffering. Much is said of him in public, not entirely in accord with the opinion which prevailed in private life. I have heard him called a brilliant failure, which does not seem a kindly estimate. Brilliant he certainly was. Fail, in some high matters, he certainly did; but it was not a failure that destroyed the confidence of those who knew him. He knew how to win the confidence of Lord Beaconsfield and Lord Salisbury. When Lord Beaconsfield made him Viceroy of India, it was against the judgment of his party, and his Viceroyalty justified the hostility to his appointment. Lord Salisbury sent him as Ambassador to France, almost as great a post, and what he said of his nominee yesterday implies that he was satisfied with his work. Yet I fear the truth is that Lord Lytton's removal had been more than once very seriously discussed, if not determined.

The English Ambassador was liked personally. He was not liked as an ambassador. He gave offence to the French sense of decorum by his Bohemian habits and his neglect of those conventionalities which are the most precious in French eyes. He Held the Foreign Office in alarm. One of the most accomplished men in that office was sent over to keep things straight, and did keep them as straight as circumstances would allow; but as Lord Lytton left India after having embittered and endangered the relations of England with natives and neighbors, so he leaves France more jealous and hostile than he found her. India was his fault, France is not; but viceroys and ambassadors are commonly judged by results. He had gifts of many kinds. He had literature, he had poetry; neither of the first order. He had delightful social qualities. He was one of those men whom Arnold used to call attaching. There was a touch of the feminine nature in him, and his caprices were innumerable. The French liked him because they knew he liked them, and for his fame as a writer and the son of a writer, which the English hardly understand. Perhaps to his own countrymen his title was more than his books or his father's books. When all is said, an amiable and gifted man, original, self-centred, free from Philistinism, free from cant, free from the commonplace, is gone.

From an article on Lord Lytton which accompanied a frontispiece portrait of 'Owen Meredith' in The Critic of Sept. 24, 1881, we reproduce the following passage:--

Tilling the soil of literature together, the father and son drove their plows in different fields. This was anything but a misfortune for the son. He had some of the humor, some of the fancy, some of the scholarship of his father; but he had none of the patience which presided at the birth of 'The Caxtons' and 'Rienzi.' Having patience, the elder Lytton so imbued himself with the spirit of the French stage that he became a master in comedy. Having patience, he made so thorough a study of antiquity that scholars may sniff at, but cannot condemn, the romances which he constructed from the cairns and tumuli of the past. Having patience, he so disposed of his not very extraordinary gifts as to leave a considerable name in literature. Having no patience the younger Lytton has been unable to sustain the fame which 'Lucile' brought him. As a diplomatist he occupied a great many posts and mastered a great many languages. He also acquired the highest art of which modern diplomacy is capable. He learned to cook. In Paris this was not a necessary accomplishment, for there were many good kitchens in the neighborhood of the Rue du Faubourg St. Honoré, not surpassed by the houses of the Boulevards and Palais Royal. But in Bucharest, in Constantinople, and particularly in Rome, many a ministerial heart might be won by a well-cooked partridge, and many a cabinet secret might be opened with the Tokay.

Lord Beaconsfield, who always prided himself on his appreciation of youthful merit, saw much to commend in Robert Lytton, and was not wholly blind to the points of similarity in their careers. Their literary affinities were close. Both aimed at warmth of color, and overshot the mark. Both revelled in the works of the French epigrammatists. Both preferred half truths to whole truths, and verbal felicities to purity of style. Owen Meredith's 'Fables in Song' might have come from the muse, rhymed and corrected, of Benjamin Disraeli. There is the old Disraelian yearning for the infinite in the fable of 'The Blue Hills Far Away,' the song of a traveller climbing mountains and crossing vales in quest of the ridge on the horizon. There is the old Disraelian malice in the fable of the beasts who choose a king, and having rejected the lion, the tiger, and the nobler animals, are bidden by the monkey to accept

A creature never known to run or royster.
You bid me choose your king. I choose the oyster.


The Critic ( London) number 416, p358.
How Lord Lytton Died

The following account of Lord Lytton's last moments is given by the correspondent of the London Daily News: --

Lord Lytton died at 4 o'clock, quite suddenly, from a spasm of the heart. He fell ill on his return from England of an internal inflammation and had not been out of his bed for five weeks. Lady Lytton thought a few days ago that he did not look as well as she wished, and noticed increasing weakness. She had a French specialist, Dr. Guyon, called in as a consulting physician. He took a hopeful view of the case, and said that quiet was all that was requisite to bring the patient through. The death came upon all with fearful suddenness. Lady Lytton, however, mentioned that she felt uneasy. To her watchful eye it seemed that her husband's strength was running down fast, although on awakening yesterday he called for pen and ink to write poetry. He went on writing, with short intervals of-rest, all the forenoon, and continued into the afternoon.

About 2 o'clock Lady Lytton noticed an oppressed state, and asked if anything was the matter. He said 'Nothing,' but that he felt and was troubled now and then with aching pains in the chest, which came and went. She quietly drove off to see the doctors and acquaint them with this symptom. The medical men promised to come in the evening. At 4 o'clock, Lord Lytton, who was still writing, said to the valet who was his personal attendant during his illness, 'I feel thirsty, and should be glad to drink something.' As the servant was preparing a draught he heard a faint but deep sigh, and, turning round, saw that Lord Lytton had fallen back upon his pillow dead. The valet hastened to tell Lady Lytton of what had taken place. She tried to revive the inanimate body. Her presence of mind and wifely tenderness and devotion were often tested during the illness, and she has shown great self-command and fine character under her terrible bereavement.

The London Chronicle's account states that his Excellency had been ailing for the past twelve months, and had been treated from time to time for a painful internal complaint, which had latterly developed into acute inflammation of the bladder. There can be no doubt that his lordship's illness was greatly aggravated, and possibly his death was hastened, by his making the return journey to Paris two months ago. He was strongly dissuaded against this journey by his physicians, but all to no purpose. The Paris representative of the Standard says:-- ‘His condition was, up to the very last, considered absolutely exempt from danger. When I called at the embassy at 3:30 o'clock this afternoon I heard that he had not had a good night, but felt much better, and within an hour his devoted secretary, Mr. Austin Lee, telephoned to me the announcement of his death. His end was painless as it was sudden.'

The Paris correspondent of the London Times says, The thoughtful, cultivated man and the attentive and laborious diplomatist were combined with the elegant, fashionable, artistic, and literary man; and those who at night had seen him in a salon, amiable, eager, giving the signal for plaudits, always drawing and keeping people round him by his urbanity and grace, were surprised to find him next day in his study again a diplomatist, full of acuteness and perspicacity, calmly discussing the most delicate and complex international questions. He had a gift precious for those fortunate enough to talk at any length with him. He listened with great attention, was silent a few minutes, and then, by a world or reflection, summed up his objections or approval, making a new idea spring up in the other person's mind. He produce the spark by giving the friction, and if the new idea which he had aroused was submitted to him, he considered it, turned it over and over with an artist's love of his work and a desire to make it perfect. It was a kind of amateur partnership interested in another's work, and, for my own part, I always left him with my days correspondence ready to be committed to paper. While thus speaking and discussing he was unfortunately always lighting cigarettes, smoking such a number in an hour as to alarm you, when you multiplied it by twelve for the rest of the day.

Yet I never saw his mind wanting in clearness. He always put his finger on the most important point, and when the discussion wandered he brought it back to that point. He judged men and things at their proper value, but he was indulgent to men, and was severe only with their acts. He had absolute professional discretion when he chose, but when he thought it well to admit the public into confidence on a fact, he did not hesitate, and unconditionally communicated it. The English Embassy became a chosen meeting place for all classes of society. Garden parties assumed real importance, and in these neutral grounds the most advanced republicans elbowed the aristocratic world of the Faubourg without any friction of embarrassment. Yet, like many illustrious Englishmen, he had sometimes a terror of the press, and from fear of exciting any susceptibility -- even in the humblest in the ranks of that dreaded fraternity -- as he could not invite all to certain of his fêtes, he invited none. Unfortunately journalists are irritable, and by trying to avoid attacks by some he achieved the result of irritating all. Those, however, who knew him well did not misconstrue his anxiety, and the day after he had restricted the number of his guests he was so gracious, so prepossessing, that their friendship was not for a moment cooler.

Lord Lytton's residence, at Paris was all along beneficial for his country, and he has often warded off conflicts. Even of late he had created a milder feeling toward England in the official world. In the everlasting Egyptian question he succeeded in getting it discussed with him without bitterness and almost smilingly. Yet he defended his causes with energy, and his arguments and replies, always ready, stopped warm discussions before they became acrimonious.

He spoke little of his residence in India . He looked back on it as a grand dream. The whole embassy, from vestibule to the first story, is full of mementos brought back by him. Every object is, as it were, a page in the magical book gone through during his stay in India . He dwelt most on her who shared his Vicerovalty, and was eloquent when depicting the progresses in which the Countess of Lytton was applauded by the enthusiastic populations. 'Sometimes,' he once said, 'when walking on a sunny day through the embassy, I recall the history and origin of the various objects which I have collected, then I shut my eyes and seem to go through that distant country, seeing it with wonderful vividness to the smallest details -- the slightest smile of my wife, the heads of the Hindus thronging to see us -- and all this with such exactitude that on reopening my eyes it takes a little time to realize where I am.'

Last revised: 26 August 2010