18 JANUARY 1957, Page 23


By BRIAN INGLIS 1D VERY student of English nineteenth-century politics is likely at some time to ask himself why Edward Stanley, with his advantages and talents, should in the end have left not a mark, but a smear, on English history. He was born into the ruling class—an advantage which, in the opinion of his most recent biographer,* 'fills the cup of destiny to overflowing.' He had great ability, par- ticularly in his knack of making good use of the ability of others. He was an excellent parlia- mentary speaker; Mr. Wilbur Jones even claims that there is 'a mass of evidence' to support the contention that he was 'one of the greatest orators in British history' (this is stretching it—the authority Mr. Jones cites for so extravagant a claim is Aberdeen, not the best of judges). And he was reasonably popular; not, indeed, with his associates, who mostly disliked him, but with the electorate. He had that fortunate knack, shared by Edward VII—with whom he would have had more in common than a passion for racing—of getting himself liked as a good, sporty figure. Yet in spite of his long parliamentary career, crowned With periods as Prime Minister, he is never thought of as one of the great figures, or great influences, of his day.

A new biography, therefore, was needed; and after the publication of Mr. Jones's book it is still needed. Mr. Jones has brought to it the qualifications that we have conic to look for from teachers in American universities: patience and industry. But he has also brought their apparently congenital humourlessness, which renders his Judgements, when he makes them, either trite or on occasion positively misleading.

Mr. Jones was handicapped by the fact that certain important collections were not available for study; as a result he has little that is new, and nothing that is startling, to reveal. For all that, the book has sonic value as a compendium of information about and around Stanley; and most of it confirms Graham's opinion, as recorded by Greville : 'With great talents, exttaordinary readiness in debate, high principles, unblemished honour, he never had looked, he thought he never Would look, upon politics and political life with the seriousness which belonged to the subject; that he followed politics as an amusement, as a means of excitement, as another would gaming, or any other very excitable occupation.' Charac- teristically, Mr. Jones relegates this judgement to a footnote. He is justified in quoting Greville With reservations, and in pointing out that * LORD DERBY AND VICTORIAN CONSERVATISM. By W. D. Jones. (Basil Blackwell, 37s. 6d.) Graham may have been disillusioned with Stanley at the time : but it is symptomatic of the indis- criminate use to which his footnotes are put.

A second value the book has lies in its helping to reveal Stanley not only as a sportsman but also—again the similarity to Edward VII—as a thoroughgoing cad. He had no principles, except those which he grew up with (which kept him for a few years a Whig) and those which he took on from his environment (which rapidly made him a Tory). Clarendon, recalling him in one of his ministerial posts, called him 'unscrupulous beyond measure'; and indeed his political morality was that of the hunter, prepared to obey certain conventions, such as not shooting sitting birds, but preoccupied mainly with the size of the bag. He was, quite simply, predatory.

How little this was held against him can be judged by the verdict of an earlier biographer, George Saintsbury, who thought Stanley the ideal of the Oxford man. 'To be thrice a Tory Prime Minister, to have resigned office in Whig and unregenerate days rather than injure the Church, to run second for the Derby, and to translate Homer not unacceptably—no well- conducted and healthy undergraduate could pos- sibly add much more as an expression of the chief end of man—though, of course, it would have been better to have run first than second.' Incidentally Saintsbury's book, for all its seventy- odd years and for all its prejudices, is much more revealing about Derby than is Mr. Jones's, and very much more readable.

'It was customary,' Henry Taylor mused in his congenial autobiography, referring to Stanley's popularity, `to call him chivalrous. I think he was not chivalrous.' Taylor was an amiable soul; he would not lightly have uttered such a condemna- tion, or reinforced it by a description of Stanley's 'cold, unfriendly, and repulsive' treatment of a subordinate. Many contemporary noted with disgust Stanley's bad manners, and in particular his rudeness to social inferiors. This, and other defects, are brought out by Mr. Jones—though to tell the truth he seems hardly aware of the damage he is doing to his subject. Mr. Jones has no whitewashing intent : the subject was chosen, he says in his introduction, because a friend pointed out that there was no recent biography. But there are occasional indications that Mr. Jones has come to regard Stanley quite affec- tionately—which, in view of the evidence, is odd. But then, Mr. Jones's judgement can easily be faulted. Consider, for example, his discussion of Stanley's early years in politics. The decisive factor in them, through no design of Stanley's, was the Irish problem. It was not simply that he had estates there, and lived on them for a while after his marriage. Ireland also forced on him his first serious political crisis—over Catholic Emancipation; gave him his trst important poli- tical post—as Chief Secretary in Dublin; pro- vided him with his most formidable parliamentary adversary—in Daniel O'Connell; and gave him the upset Whig coach into the 'Derby Dilly'— over the question of what was to be the future of the funds of the Established Irish Church.

It becomes a necessity, therefore, for any biographer of the young Stanley to understand the nature of the Irish problem at that period— even if only to prove, as it might be possible to prove, that Stanley was not much influenced by it : that he simply used Ireland as an excuse to jump whatever way suited him. Mr. Jones's acquaintanceship with the Irish problem, how- ever, appears rudimentary. There is no bibli- ography, an extraordinary omission in what must, to judge by the price, have been intended to be a serious contribution to the history of the period; but of the books on Ireland which the author mentions in his references, one was published in 1900 and the other in 1887. Nor is confidence in his authority encouraged by his spelling of the name Grattan with an 'o'—not, presumably, a misprint, as it appears more than once in the text and also in the index. Gratton, indeed!

Mr. Jones's judgements on English figures are hardly more trustworthy; 'brilliant' is a curious word to use to describe Peel, and whatever else Melbourne might be called, he was not 'weak.' When the author is trudging along, turning up material, he can be mildly readable; but the humourlessness becomes destructive. At times it is worthy of a Croker—for example, when he discusses why O'Connell should have misquoted the 'Derby Dilly' jingle, in saying that the Dilly carried 'six inside'—instead of the three in the original verse. As Macaulay wrote of Croker on a similar occasion, 'The conceit is wretched enough but it is perfectly intelligible and never, we will venture to say, perplexed man, woman or child before'; but Mr. Jones worries over it in the text and then, as if still dissatisfied, worries over it further in a footnote, until at last it dawir on him that O'Connell might have had in mind the fact that there were half a dozen members associated with Stanley at the time.

Still, Lord Derby and Victorian Conservatism provides a good deal of information, however ill- digested, on its subject. It makes it clear that insolence as well as indolence was a reason for Stanley's comparative failure in politics; and also that Stanley played so shifty a game that it needed a Disraeli to cope with him. Disraeli, little though he liked Derby, was frankly envious of the skill with which he played that game. 'You have done very well for your friends,' he wrote about a distribution of patronage shortly before Stanley's retirement : '3 garters, 4 bishoprics, 8 Lord Lieutenancies, and almost the whole Bench in three kingdoms.' Lloyd George himself can rarely have claimed a bigger bag than that.