Intro Book III

BOOK III
SEPTEMBER 1856 – APRIL 1858

Introduction to Book III
THE third volume of the Diary covers about a year and a half, between September 1856 and April 1858. It is headed ” Begun aged 15 and 12 days. Ended aged 16 and 8 months.” It is still therefore the diary of a child, but a rather unusually mature child. And that maturity, or at least the seriousness in which it was partly exhibited, was increased by the principal event recorded in this volume : the death of Lady Lyttelton. Her twelfth and last child, a son, was born in February 1857 ; and it is curious to read that his sister, unconscious of the name by which she herself was to be known after a few more years, strongly objected to the suggestion that he should be called Frederic (presumably after Lord Spencer), even declaring that name to be ” my abomination ” ! He was in the end called Alfred, and was, from the first, as she writes a few months later, a ” sunny and prosperous ” baby with a look of ” happy thoughtfulness,” as his baptising uncle discovered, giving promise in both these ways of what he was to become, the adored Alfred Lyttelton of Eton and Cambridge, cricket and law and politics ; whose personal charm was so extraordinary that men who had only seen him for a few hours loved him for life ; whose voice and manner, as Lord Curzon wrote after his death, ” seemed almost to partake of the nature of a caress ” ; whose character was such that Lord Oxford, speaking as Prime Minister in the House of Commons, said of him that ” he, perhaps, of all men of this generation, came nearest to the mould and ideal of manhood which every English father would like to see his son aspire to, and if possible attain.” It is a great thing to give birth to twelve children, especially when the last is such a child as Alfred Lyttelton. But his poor mother paid for it with her life. The proud father, all unconscious of the near impending fate, might boast, as his daughter relates, that ” it would be difficult to find a man who, a few weeks before his fortieth birthday, would have a twelfth child, and could look round upon his multitudinous family without a notice¬able grey hair.” He adored his wife, but seems to have been strangely blind to her increasing weakness. She had for some time not been in good health, and after Alfred’s birth the references in the Diary to anxiety about her become more and more frequent till she died on August 17th, 1857. Her devoted sister Mrs. Gladstone was with her at Hagley for the last few weeks. The loss to her husband and her children was immeasurable. Her loving influence while she lived and her cherished memory after her death counted greatly in the making of all the older children. Gladstone wrote of her : ” She seemed to be one of those rare spirits who do not need affliction to draw them to their Lord. . . . When she was told she was to die, her pulse did not change : the Last Communion appeared wholly to sever her from the world, but she smiled upon her husband within a minute of the time when the Spirit fled.”

Outside this great event the Diary describes much the same life as its predecessor. There is the same continual riding and walking ; and the games include ” battledore and shuttlecock ” and croquet, ” a nice Irish game,” which makes the first of many appearances ; whist begins to replace commerce ; and a play is acted at Hagley with great excitement and success. In the last volume she had recorded her dislike of the young Matthew Arnold who came to stay at Hagley as a judge’s marshal : in this he is replaced by an older poet, Monck¬ton Milnes, afterwards Lord Houghton, who read aloud his own poetry, and is pronounced ” odd, nice, rough, ugly, and good.” The diarist is frequently seen taking classes and going to read to sick parishioners old and young ; is much occupied with the Christmas decoration of the church, and writes at great length of its testoration, which was almost a rebuilding, and ended in a reopening with which the volume concludes. There are entries which seem, happily, a long way off to-day : references to typhus fever and to anxiety about every railway journey as an alarming and dangerous experience. So to-day, happily, one can hardly imagine a state of affairs like that described after the burning of Hawarden church, when, in the belief that it was the work of criminals, ” all the clergy are sending for six-barrelled revolvers ” ; and a rector coming to dinner shows ” his beautiful little pocket revolver.” And it is fortunately not now necessary, when people visit their undergraduate sons at Christ Church, to purchase chloride to purify their rooms from unwhole¬some smells, as Mrs. Talbot is here reported to have done when she took Lucy Lyttelton to visit her son John, afterwards Member for the University. And, less happily, it is not now possible after going to Merton Chapel to walk straight ” into the fresh country fields with the Cherwell running by them.” Besides Oxford, there are also visits to Canterbury and Tunbridge Wells. These take place from the Talbots’ house in Kent, where the young Lucy stayed for her Confirmation, and while preparing for it discovered the delights of fishing and bird-nesting, as well as the risks of going on an expedition with her father, who turned out to have only half a crown in his pocket ! His little book, ” The Glynnese Glossary,” is full of allusions to the family impecuniosity : which in this volume is painfully seen in the difficulty arising of providing the invalid Lady Lyttelton with a proper carriage. In fact, Mrs. Glad¬stone has to bring hers, with coachman and horses, to Hagley. After Lady Lyttelton’s death, presumably for reasons of economy, the family house in St. James’s Square is given up.

In this volume, as in the last, the books read are frequently mentioned. Among the poets are Wordsworth, Byron, and Longfellow ; among the novelists Scott and Jane Austen and Charles Reade and Miss Yonge ; among other writers Prescott, Macaulay, and Sir James Stephen. Other intellectual amusements include hearing Mario and Grisi sing, visiting an exhibition of Turners at Marlborough House, and attending a debate at the House of Commons. Meanwhile all the old intimacy with the various cousins plays its full part : the Gladstones and Glynnes, in particular, make very frequent appearances ; and there is a curious entry, written at Althorp after her great-uncle’s death, showing a doubt as to what she was in future to call her cousin, the new Lord Spencer, afterwards the states¬man. ” We are put to it what to call Althorp, but there’s nothing to say beside that name ; so we avoid naming him as much as possible. He isn’t at all altered, save that he has whiskers.” In the end he remained ” Althorp ” all his life.