7 JULY 1939, Page 30


A History of Welbeck Abbey and Its Owners. Vol. 2. 1755-1879. By A. S. Turberville. (Faber and Faber. 25s.)

IN a previous volume Professor Turberville traced the fortunes of Welbeck Abbey in the hands of Cavendish, Holies, and Harley. His second volume is virtually a history of the Dukes of Portland, who have stood since 1755 in the heritage of the Dukes of Newcastle.

The story begins in 1688 with the glorious revolution. To none was it more glorious than to Hans William Bentinck, who between that year and his death in 1709 accumulated English property to the value of £85o,0oo. This handsome provision was given in reward for personal services rendered to King William, who was extremely vexed at the refusal of the House of Commons to vote still larger grants to his Dutch friend. Only the advent of the younger and still more engaging Keppel put a term to the King's amazing if vicarious generosity.

Bentinck's grandson, the second Duke of Portland, married Lady Margaret Harley, who was the heiress of the former Cavendish estates. She was notable in eighteenth-century memoirs chiefly as the close friend of Mrs. Delany, whose six volumes of literary remains are largely concerned with her many long visits to Bulstrode, the Bentincks' original English property.

The greater part of Professor Turberville's narrative is given to the life of the third Duke of Portland, who was lord of Welbeck from x762 to 18o9. Though twice Prime Minister of England, he has never been the subject of any biography ; and there are good reasons for this neglect. Professor Turberville handles him most justly as an important character in the history of his family, while not pretending to regard him as a major figure in public life. He entered political life as a member of the closely-knit fraternity of Whig aristocrats organised by his kinsman the old Duke of Newcast'e. He distinguished himself by his loyalty rather than by his talents. Sir James Lowther having endeavoured on behalf of the Tories to wrest from him the political over- lordship of the city of Carlisle and the county of Cumberland, Portland most stoutly resisted the attempt and allowed himself to be dragged through nine years' litigation with a much wealthier opponent, at a cost which came near to dispossessing him of the whole of his inheritance. It was a striking instance of the strength of party ties in the days when party had so little connexion with opinion.

Merely by sitting tight, Portland succeeded to the nominal headship of the Foxite Whigs at the death of Rockingham.

An honest but mute First Lord of the Treasury, he presided

over the unconscionable coalition of Fox and North. Not until after his fiftieth year did a live political issue compel

him to take stock of his position. The crisis of 1792 marked the dividing-line of his career. With tears and anguish he clung to his personal loyalty to Charles Fox ; while with un- spoken consent he listened to Burke's tirades upon the menace of revolutionary France: In the end, though not until after war had been declared, he joined up with the anti-Jacobin Whigs and became Home Secretary under Pitt. In this office

he gravely mishandled the Irish question, betraying both his Prime Minister and his Lord Lieutenant upon the issue of

Catholic Emancipation ; and he even stooped to remain in

office under Addington. After Pitt's death he took part in the equally strange and dubious intrigue which destroyed the

Ministry of All the Talents, and found himself as a result Prime Minister in a purely Tory Government. With all his inadequacy, he clung to this position, in spite of extreme physical suffering, to within a month of his death.

Profesor Turberville has dealt most fairly with the career of this worthy blunderer. His character speaks for itself ; but some of his actions take a lot of explanation ; and his addiction to public life in the face of every handicap is inexplicable.

No party intrigues disturbed the useful and admirable existence of the fourth Duke. He was an inarticulate pro- tectionist ; he was happy to finance the purchase of Hughenden, but left the turmoil of the struggle to his son Lord George Bentinck. He rid his estates of a debt of half a million pounds, lowered his rents, improved his farms, built railways and harbours, and earned the blessings of thousands of humble people. Among his innumerable interests was naval architecture ; and he compelled the

Admiralty to adopt a new style of design by building at his own expense a brig which could outsail every naval com- petitor in any weather. If this admirable nobleman had a failing, it was that he would not send his sons to a public school. The consequences of this mistake were manifest in the lifetime of the fifth Duke, with whom Professor Turber- ville's narrative comes to a close.

In the writer of an authorised family history it is not to be expected that he should revive the memory of stale gossip or resuscitate legends that were embarrassing and quite untrue.

But beneath the imaginative folk-lore which came to be woven about the private life of the fifth Duke there remains a certain amount of truth which is of interest to any student of mankind. All Professor Turberville's discretion cannot fill in the stupendous excavations which the fifth Duke made at Welbeck. As follies they far outstrip the towers and ruins of ordinary noblemen. They had clearly a deep psychological significance ; and it is irrelevant to point out that they gave

employment to armies of men. It is not mere vulgar curiosity which would ask to be told more frankly of these and other ducal eccentricities. But it would be unfair to lay stress upon a minor disappointment which comes at the end of a long and extremely successful historical achievement.