Intro Book X

MAY 1866 – JUNE 1868

Introduction to Book X
THE tenth volume, which covers two years, 1866-8, is much more political than any of its predecessors. Lady Frederick has now become an ardent Liberal, and throws herself with great enthusiasm into the cause of Reform, which threw Lord Russell’s Ministry out, only to force itself in more drastic shape on the reluctant Conservative Ministry which followd. And she is quite as convinced and eager on the question of the Irish Church which began to come to the front during Disraeli’s first Prime Ministership. But, though political parties made much sharper social divisions then than now, she and her husband kept many Tory friends. Indeed, some of Lady Frederick’s nearest relations were of that persuasion. Her two Glynne uncles, Mr. Gladstone’s brothers-in-law, were both more than cool about his new policies ; and, though her eldest brother at last threw in his lot with the Liberals and was elected for East Worcestershire, her beloved sister Mrs. Talbot was very much in the other camp, as befitted the wife of a very Conservative M.P. And many Conservatives find very friendly places in the Diary. Even one so definite and prominent as Lady Cranborne, soon to be Lady Salisbury, wife of the future Prime Minister who left the Derby Ministry because it was not Conservative enough for him, is to be found here in the friendliest co-operation with Mrs. Gladstone and Lady Frederick over their Convalescent Home, as she will be found a little later acting as their hostess at Hatfield. Lady Frederick describes her as having ” a wonderful head for housewifery,” by help of which she ” is going to cheapen our prices “—i.e. at the Home. And though the Diary is fiercely critical of the ” Adullamite ” Whigs who wrecked the Russell Ministry by their hostility to Re¬form, yet political feeling does not interfere at all with cousinship or prevent the Frederick Cavendishes from being found constantly with the arch-rebel Lord Gros¬venor (afterwards the 1st Duke of Westminster) at Rome and on the Riviera during the autumn and winter of 1867. Still, we hear of rather fierce political discussions between Frederick Cavendish and old Mrs. Talbot ; and Lady Frederick is a little uncomfortable at the John Talbots dining with her on a night when the Gladstones were coming. In fact politics, and party politics, now increasingly absorb her life and occupy her mind ; and she is, of course, not always a perfectly impartial critic of the proceedings of Conservatives, and never fails to say the worst of Disraeli.

She was continually in the Ladies’ Gallery of the House of Commons, and one or two of her accounts of what she heard will be found here. Nothing like it will ever, in all probability, be heard there again. The duels between Pitt and Fox can hardly have provided more magnificent oratory than those between Gladstone and Bright on the one side and Disraeli and Lowe on the other.

Of public questions, outside the Parliamentary arena, we hear a good deal of the cattle plague, cholera, and bank failures at home and war abroad, which make the diarist describe 1866 as ” a year full of calamity.” And after 1866 she has to allude more and more frequently to the more and more alarming menace of Irish Fenianism. A less depressing note is evoked by the successful completion of the Atlantic cable, which enabled The Times on August 2nd, 1866, to head a telegram ” New York to-day ” !

The private events of the volume are not very numerous, the most important being the birth of sons to Lady Frederick’s two sisters-in-law, Lady Edward’s son being the present Duke of Devonshire. The Frederick Cavendishes spent some months abroad in the autumn of 1867, visiting the Paris Exhibition and then going by the Italian Lakes, Milan, Verona, Venice, Bologna, and Florence to Rome and Naples, and afterwards home by Genoa and the Riviera. Diaries of foreign travel, at least in Europe, are generally the least interesting sort of diary there is; they inevitably tend to reproduce the guide-book. So I have only given a few extracts from the entries of these months, the most curious of which is the interview with Pio Nono. I have heard that Mr. Gladstone, when told of this, most characteristically objected to Lady Frederick’s having accepted the Pope’s description of him as a ” Pooseyite,” regretting that she had not explained to His Holiness the qualifications and reservations which prevented his accepting that description as correct !

For the rest, life in London and the country goes on much as before, except that Lady Frederick’s London days are increasingly occupied with Convalescent Home work and visiting the Workhouse at St. George’s in the East and other charitable activities. Her labours are wonderful enough, but they sink into in¬significance beside those of Mrs. Gladstone. And that amazing woman was the wife of the leader of a party and the mother of a large family of children, including at this time several young unmarried daughters ! Yet when she was not entertaining herself, as she is here continually seen to be, she was apparently always attending somebody else’s dinner-party, ball, or ” drum,” or listening for four or five hours at a stretch to a debate in the House of Commons ! And the morning after debate or ” drum ” she is seen hurrying off after breakfast to an East End workhouse or a hospital ! Truly there were giants in those days ; and they were not all of one sex.

Of details, more or less curious, in this volume I will only note three. There are so many Anglican Bishops nowadays that one is surprised to find that only sixty years ago the attitude of Parliament to new Bishoprics was cautious and suspicious ; an attitude to which it now shows some signs of returning. Lady Frederick writes on May 13th, 1867: ” Papa carried his Increase of the Episcopate Bill thro’ the Lords ; only they insist upon every new Bishop having at least £6,000 a year, which must make the thing impracticable. However, he is glad to have the principle established.” My other two notes are of less serious matters. When the Caven¬dish party left Bolton on September 6th, 1866, after their annual stay there for the grouse shooting, the Diary records the number of the slain. It was 7,203. That is one little item ; and the other is that in 1867 the hour for table d’hôte at Danieli’s Hotel in Venice was five o’clock.