Intro Book XI

JUNE 1868 – JULY 1871

Introduction to Book XI
THE eleventh volume of the Diary covers three years—from June 1868 to July 1871. It therefore includes a great event in home politics and a greater in foreign. The first General Election fought on the new basis of Household Suffrage resulted in a sweeping Liberal victory and Gladstone became Prime Minister for the first time. Lady Frederick has now become an ardent Liberal and tends to see all questions, except those which affect the Church, entirely through party spectacles. When Conservatives criticise as unconstitutional the use of the Royal authority to abolish purchase in the Army, she is very much more confident than constitutional authorities have always been that there was nothing in the Conservative contention. And when Russia tore up the Black Sea clauses of the Treaty made after the Crimean War and the Liberal Ministry’s protests ended in nothing but a Conference which accepted the accomplished fact, she is cheerfully confident that England has ” duly snubbed Russia ” ! Such are the exigencies of party politics ! It is curious also now to read her mistaken views, which were the views of more than a party, indeed of nearly the whole country, about a greater matter than these. 1870 was the year of the Franco-Prussian War, and the Diary frequently refers to its horrors and the still worse horrors of the Paris Commune of 1871. But she puts all the blame for the war on the French, as most people then did. Considering the circle in which she lived, her pro-Prussian sympathies are a remarkable proof of the triumphant success of Bismarck’s tricks and lies. She was the niece of the Prime Minister and her brother-in-law had lately been Secretary at War, and yet she was so ill-informed of the truth as to write on August 1st, 1870: ” There seems no doubt Prussia was as entirely unprepared for war as is ever possible to such a warlike nation.” She was fond of French literature and knew little or no German ; but she was, as most English people were and are, temperamentally alien to French levity and to the exuberances of French rhetoric. When Paris forgets the disaster of Sedan in ” wild rejoicings over the downfall of the Emperor, embracings, hand-shakings, scratching out of N.’s,’ pitching of eagles and busts into the Seine, and renaming streets,” she would scarcely have been English if her common sense had not been scornful of what she calls ” mad, childish Paris.” So during the siege she comments : ” 0 how French the French are ! The papers say that Jules is always hugging Jacques, and all the talk and jabber and martial struts and ‘ manifestations ‘ and offerings of bouquets to the Strasburg statue sound unearthly and babyish.” The countrymen of Victor Hugo will never be understood by the countrymen of Wellington. The French will never mean all they say and we shall never say all we mean. So there was a heroic side even to the Commune which no one in England at that time, and certainly not Lady Frederick, could be expectd to perceive. For, even if they had had that side put before them, which they had not, it would have still remained true that the whole Communist insurrection was from the first absolutely futile and at the last insanely cruel ; and cruelty is not more alien to one side of the English character than futility is to another.

Other public events recorded or discussed in this volume are the (Ecumenical Council at Rome which declared the Infallibility of the Pope ; the passing of the first English Education Act, of Irish Disestablishment, and other important measures of Gladstone’s first and greatest Ministry ; and the marriage of Princess Louise to the Marquess of Lorne, the first marriage between a member of the Royal Family and a subject since George III’s Royal Marriages Act was passed. Lady Frederick was invited to be “Cousin Louise’s” [FN: Lord Frederick was 1st cousin to the Duchess of Argyll, the mother of Lord Lorne.] Lady,” but after consulting ” divers wise heads ” decided that she could not accept this compliment.
To the politics which fill so much of the volume and of the extracts from it given here it is not necessary to add anything, except perhaps two notes. It is rather interesting to see that already in 1871 Hartington and Gladstone had begun that difference in their attitude towards Irish crime which ultimately brought them to the parting of the ways. On February 27th Lady Frederick records as ” a dead secret ” which she thinks she may confide to her ” faithful journal ” that Hartington wished for an immediate suspension of the Habeas Corpus Act, but that Gladstone ” greatly hates this extreme measure ” ; in fact, he refused it. The other point, which is new, so far as I know, is that Gladstone on taking office in 1868 at first made the strange proposal that Hartington, a man who had already held the Secretaryship at War, and was, besides, young and unmarried, should accept the Lord-Lieutenancy of Ireland One other curious detail that appears is that Bruce, Gladstone’s Home Secretary, told Lady Frederick that the only subject on which Gladstone appeared to be without much knowledge or interest was Education.

Of private events in this volume there are only two of importance, the second marriage of Lord Lyttelton and the marriage of Lady Frederick’s younger sister Lavinia. Her own childlessness continues to be her one sorrow. It sends her to Ems in 1868 and Kissingen in 1869, not very hopefully. Meanwhile she remains the most affectionate and admiring of aunts. It is not enough that her niece Meriel Talbot should be a nice-looking little person ; her aunt repeatedly discovers in her a remarkable resemblance to her very beautiful Talbot cousin, Lady Brownlow, one of the most beautiful women of that generation ; so the infant Richard Cavendish is described as ” very pretty ” ; and when she goes to Dresden she boldly declares that ” the younger of the two cherubs ” in the Sistine Madonna is ” really like little Victor, only darker ” ! The most surprising thing in the volume, at least to those who knew either her or Mr. Gladstone, is that the entry for one Sunday in May 18-69 states that he and she went to church together and ” slipped out before the sermon.” And, for those who know Oxford and particularly All Souls, it is at least equally surprising to learn that she as well as her husband slept in that College in June 1870, being ” hospitably (and surreptitiously) ” lodged ” in his bachelor rooms ” by ” Mr. Clifford,” presumably a Fellow !

[FN: 1 ” Mr. Clifford ” (a sort of relation of the Cavendishes) was Charles Cavendish Clifford, M.P. for Newport. He succeeded to a Baronetcy late in life and was Senior Fellow of All Souls when he died in the nineties. The Warden of All Souls, who remembers him, writes to me that he was a ” tall bent old gentleman of imposing appearance and fine old-fashioned manners : terribly gouty about the finger-joints, but always kindly to us young men.” The Warden adds that he must have kept his own counsel about the enormity of letting Lady Frederick sleep in his room, or the story would have had a place among College legends of pre-1877 days ; and the Warden ” would have heard of it from some one on the old Foundation.”]