Intro Book IV

MAY 1858 – JULY 1859

Introduction to Book IV

THE fourth volume of the Diary begins in April 1858 and ends in August 1859. There is little in it which requires further introduction. Its great event is the ” coming out ” of the diarist. On May 26th she records that ” there was a party ” (at the Gladstones’, where they were staying) ” at which I appeared en qualité of child, not of grown-up young lady, in which capacity was Meriel.” But in June we hear of her dining with her father ” at the Bishop of Worcester’s, where for the first time I was bowed at to leave the room, and taken in by the Bishop ! I didn’t know if I was on my head or my heels.” A little later, still aged sixteen, she orders dinner at Hagley ” for the very first time in my life.” But she did not leave the schoolroom till she was seventeen, on September 5th, a few days after which she began a series of visits to country houses, by going with her father and sister to Hams, not far from Hagley, the house of Sir Charles Adderley (after¬wards Lord Norton). These visits occupy a great deal of this volume. At first they naturally alarmed her ; and on leaving Escrick, her cousin Lady Wenlock’s place, she records with evident relief that she has ” kept quite clear of all scrapes.” After the round of visits came her first ball, which was at Stourbridge, close to Hagley. The chief excitement about it appears to have been that ” we were not in bed till past 3 nor up next morning till 11 1/2 ! ”

‘ But of course she scarcely felt really out till she was launched on her first London season. They went up for that in May 1859, having ” a most smutty journey, for we travelled in the open britschka ” : so that her father had ” the complexion of a stoker ” after facing “wind and rain and dirt on the box ” ; and Lucy herself had to beg off dining with Lady Wenlock on arrival, ” being the colour of a blotchy turkey-cock from having to wash my face with cold water.” Such was a journey to London from the Midlands in those days ! The next pages record the beginnings of grown-up gaieties : the first dinner party, which was at Lady Wenlock’s ; the first evening party, which was at the Admiralty ; and the first ball, the hostess at which she forgets to name. It is soon followed by her pre¬sentation to the Queen and by a Royal ball, of which there is a full account. She has a passionate devotion to the Queen and her children which takes all oppor¬tunities of expressing itself : one of which in this volume is the birth of Princess Royal’s first child, whose future career as German Emperor scarcely justified this English welcome of his appearance. The diarist’s loyal enthusiasms extended beyond her own country, especially to the members of the House of France, of whom we get several glimpses, especially of the Comte de Paris, with whom she dances and exchanges pretty speeches. One of the occasions on which she met him was at a great garden party, or ” breakfast ” as they were then still called, given by Lady Marian Alford at Ashridge.
Balls and dinners continue in the changed world of to-day ; and even the evening parties, which they used to call ” drums,” and which were in those days of everyday occurrence and of social and even political importance, have not become quite unknown. But the breakfast,” as it was a hundred and more years ago, and continued to be within the period of this Diary, is now as obsolete as the bonnets with which young girls adorned themselves for it. Lucy Lyttelton goes to several of these ” breakfasts ” at Chiswick and Wimble¬don as well as at Ashridge. They were a very lengthy and elaborate form of entertainment. To the Ashridge one the Lyttelton party went by train at four o’clock to Tring, where Lady Marian’s carriages met her guests, But the scramble for them was so great that the Lyttel¬tons did not get to Ashridge itself till seven o’clock. They and the other eight hundred guests then had cold dinner, walked and talked, and after dusk began to dance. Dancing and illuminations occupied the even¬ing ; then came the drive to Tring and a long wait at the station ; and finally arrival at home at two o’clock in the morning, ” feeling wicked ” because it was already Sunday. On the whole it must have been a very fatiguing business, and perhaps there is no need to catalogue the giving of ” breakfasts ” among the now lost virtues, or the attending them among the now lost pleasures, of the Georgian and Victorian ” nobility and gentry ” !

Another kind of ” breakfast,” which really was a breakfast but is now equally extinct, finds frequent mention here. It seems strange to us, but it was then the practice of statesmen and men of letters to sacrifice on certain days a large part of the morning to break¬fasting together ! There was actually a Breakfast Club—whose meetings are recorded in Sir Mountstuart Grant Duff’s Diaries ; and Mr. Gladstone, whom one would have supposed likely to have his mornings fully occupied, was not only a member but a frequent attendant. Whether the meetings recorded here are meetings of this Club I am not sure ; perhaps not, as the ladies of the host’s family seem to have been allowed to be present.
For the rest, the family life at Hagley and elsewhere goes on here much as we have seen it in the earlier volumes. There is daily service at the Church at which Lucy usually attends ; there is frequent amateur singing at all gatherings of friends, in their own and other houses, a practice commoner then than now ; Lucy draws a good deal ; they ride continually ; they play cards in the evening ; and she records that she first played for money during her visit to Escrick. Lord Lyttelton hunts, and gives lectures, and chooses High Sheriffs, and works at ” a wonderful new Dictionary that is contemplated by the Philological Society,” and is since accomplished as the great Oxford English Dictionary. The brothers are a frequent topic ; always arousing expressions of passionate affection which are sometimes tempered by candid criticisms of their boyish defects, as seen or reported from Eton. Their tutor was ” Billy ” Johnson, afterwards Cory, and author of ” Ionica,” the most famous, I suppose, of the Eton tutors of that day, among whose pupils were Lord Rosebery, Lord Roberts, and Lord Balfour. She records that he prophesied great things of her eldest brother Charles, but made certain complaints of Neville, the future General, including one, which she endorses, that he is ” distinctly cheeky.” But whatever she has to say of her brothers always ends with ” Bless them all !”—and the little Alfred is already ” Alfred the King,” and never mentioned without enthusiasm.

There is a good deal of reading recorded again : more Waverley Novels ; “The Rivals”; “Adam Bede,” read aloud by their grandmother, and partly ” Bowdlered for our young minds ” ; Bourrienne’s ” Napoleon ” ; Montalembert’s ” Avenir de l’Angleterre ” ; Church’s ” Dante ” ; and the ” Promessi Sposi ” of Manzoni. Among the public events mentioned are the joint war of France and Italy against Austria, and the building of the Great Eastern, then by far the largest ship in the world. Home politics do not yet receive any great amount of attention. The diarist, it is to be noted, is still a Conservative : she regrets a Liberal victory in a Worcestershire election, and calls Bright a ” wretch.” She twice sent up a contribution to Punch; but no editorial notice of her efforts is recorded.