BULWER, Edward George Lytton Earle (1803-1873), of 36 Hertford Street, Mdx.
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Family and Educationb. 25 May 1803, 3rd s. of Gen. William Earle Bulwer (d. 1807) of Heydon Hall and Wood Dalling, Norf. and Elizabeth Barbara, da. and h. of Richard Lytton (formerly Warburton) of Knebworth, Herts.; bro. of William Henry Lytton Earle Bulwer*. educ. by Dr. Ruddock at Fulham, Mdx.; Dr. Thomas Redman Hooker at Rottingdean, Suss.; Rev. Charles Wallington at Ealing, Mdx.; Trinity Coll. Camb. 1821, migrated to Trinity Hall 1822. m. 29 Aug. 1827, Rosina Doyle, da. of Francis Massy Wheeler of Lizzard Connell, co. Limerick, 1s. 1da. d.v.p. cr. bt. 18 July 1838; Bar. Lytton 14 July 1866; GCMG 30 June 1869; suc. mother to Lytton estate at Knebworth 1843 and took additional name of Lytton by royal lic. 20 Feb. 1844. d. 18 Jan.1873.
Sec. of state for war and colonies June 1858-June 1859; PC 5 June 1858.
Rect. Glasgow Univ. 1856-9.
The infant Bulwer was disliked by his choleric, inebriate father, who died without obtaining the peerage he coveted when Edward was four. A delicate child, he became a mother’s boy and grew up to be an emotionally crippled and self-centred man. John Cam Hobhouse* described him in middle age as ‘strange, irresolute, conceited ... [and] totally incapable of managing his own affairs, but not at all without selfishness’.1 While his elder brothers went to school Bulwer remained with his mother. She encouraged his childish literary pretensions, as did his bookish and impoverished maternal grandfather, Richard Warburton Lytton of Knebworth. On his death in 1810 Bulwer’s mother succeeded to and took possession of this estate, which she was left free to dispose of as she wished. Bulwer’s schooling was desultory, but under Dr. Hooker at Rottingdean he ‘made a leap’, in his own words, flourishing physically and putting out a weekly magazine. When he was fifteen Hooker, who credited him with ‘a mind of very extraordinary compass ... an emulation rarely found, and an anxiety and attention, and care about his business, very uncommon’, urged his mother to send him to a public school. Bulwer talked her out of consigning him to Eton and he went instead to the Rev. Charles Wallington at Ealing, where he developed an interest in politics, published a collection of poems, Ismael, of which he sent a copy to Sir Walter Scott, corresponded with Dr. Samuel Parr and had a doomed romance with a young woman who was forced by her father to marry an older man and died in 1823.2 At Cambridge, where he soon transferred from boisterous Trinity to the ‘non-reading college’ of Trinity Hall, he ‘obtained’, as his son later put it, ‘some local reputation as a conscientious, rather than as an eloquent speaker’ in the Union debates; but oratory never came naturally to him.3 In the 1824 summer vacation he went with his friend William Henry Ord† to his parental home in Northumberland and thence to the Lake District, where he supposedly visited the grave of his first love, and Scotland. Back in England he had an odd flirtation with the crazy Lady Caroline Lamb, whom he had known as a county neighbour since childhood.4 After leaving Cambridge (where he won the chancellor’s medal) in 1825 he went to France. He seconded his friend Frederick Villiers* in a duel at Boulogne. In Paris he gained entry to the smart and literary society of the Faubourg St. Germain, though he considered the English notables there ‘the refuse of those in England’ and remained distressingly self-conscious, as he confided to Mrs. Rosa Cuningham:
The reason of my dislike to society is a painful sense of my own unfitness for it. One year has altered me so much in person and mind, has rendered me so little amiable or even tolerable, that I never enter a room without the idea that I am going to be still more disliked, and never leave it without the impression of being so.
Four months after his return to England in April 1826 he bought for £450 an unattached ensigncy in the army, which he resigned in January 1829.5 From the Athenaeum Club, to which he had been elected the previous year, he told Mrs. Cuningham, 9 June 1826, that while his brothers William and Henry were candidates respectively for Seaford and Hertford at the impending general election, he would
not spend money upon the very little chance there is (from the king’s health) of Parliament’s lasting a sufficient time to answer me. I have offered, however, £800 a year for a seat instead of paying the capital all at once, but I fear the offer will not be accepted. If not I shall try hard for the next two or three years to acquire a literary reputation and come in with the next Parliament. In all things my favourite motto is that of Sir P. Sidney ... ‘I will either find my road, or make it’.
His brothers failed and nothing came of his own speculation. He spent the summer writing, largely at Knebworth, reflecting that he was wasting his time in England, ‘that land of wealth and rheumatism, corruption, vulgarity and flannel waistcoats’, and claiming to be ‘indifferent to the opinion [but] not to the happiness of mankind’, as ‘a misanthrope by feeling and a philanthropist by principle’.6
By then he had fallen in love with Rosina Wheeler, the ‘singularly beautiful’ but unstable daughter of separated Irish parents, whose bluestocking mother was later described by Benjamin Disraeli† as ‘something between Jeremy Bentham and Meg Merriles, very clever, but awfully revolutionary’. The journalist Samuel Carter Hall recalled meeting the couple in 1826, when Bulwer, who affected the fashionable dress of a dandy, was ‘a young man whose features, though of a somewhat effeminate cast, were remarkably handsome. His bearing had that aristocratic something bordering on hauteur, which clung to him during his life’.7 Bulwer’s mother, who held the purse strings, giving him a liberal allowance on top of the £200 a year which he had from his father’s will, objected to their proposed marriage; and at first Bulwer, conscious of her power to disinherit him, submitted. To Rosina, 6 Sept. 1826, he explained his plans:
It is our object to obtain power rather than reputation ... In this servile and aristocratic country we must make to ourselves a more commanding rank ... I would not care a straw about the fame of stringing couplets and making books ... Literary honours are not ... so desirable as political rank; but they ... are the great stepping-stones to our more ultimate object. To get power I must be in the House of Commons ... I must pay a certain sum of money ... either a large sum at once, or a proportionate sum a year. The former is too precarious ... and my mother would only assist me once ... It remains, therefore, to pay the annual sum ... It can be done through the [Liverpool] ministry for £1,000 a year; and directly I can raise that sum I can enter the House. My mother will pay £600 a year only; the remaining £500 I must ... make myself. I can spare nothing from my present income, and this deficiency I therefore hope to supply by writing. The age is luckily generous to authors ... I shall ... directly the winter begins, commence regular author.
Seven weeks later he told Mrs. Cuningham that he was on the verge of arranging his return to Parliament, but nothing came of this.8
In 1827 Bulwer published his first novel, Falkland, which had some success and earned him a £500 advance for another. In August he married Rosina, in defiance of his mother, who was temporarily alienated from him. He renounced her allowance and, to supplement his modest means (Rosina was worth only £80 a year) devoted himself to full time and frantic writing, which made him money but damaged his health, frayed his temper and helped to undermine the marriage. For over two years he and Rosina lived at Woodcot House, near Reading. Having decided by late 1827 that ‘a seat in Parliament ... is hopeless at present, even for any money’, he was ‘in treaty’ with the tottering Goderich government for an unspecified household place and a baronetcy. The collapse of the ministry in January 1828 dished this, and soon afterwards he was involved in abortive negotiations for a borough seat for £1,700. In June 1828, when his daughter Emily was born, he was delighted with the success of his new novel Pelham (begun at Cambridge), but still wished ‘to Heaven I were in the House’.9 Now established as a novelist, he churned out The Disavowed (Dec. 1828), Devereux (June 1829) and Paul Clifford (Aug. 1830), a portrait of a chivalrous highwayman which was widely reviled and ridiculed. In May 1829 he bought for £2,570 a town house at 36 Hertford Street, Mayfair. He spent a further £820 on furnishing it for his occupation in January 1830, when he was sustaining by his literary endeavours an annual expenditure of about £3,000. He became reconciled to his mother, though Rosina never won her over, but he declined her offer to renew his allowance. His unremitting labours contributed to recurrent attacks of a ‘capricious’ rash, which produced ‘pain and fever’, and he suffered too from bouts of distressing earache, which impaired his hearing. The Hertford Street house became a social centre for fashionable intellectuals and litterateurs.10 Bulwer, a member of Brooks’s Club since June 1827 and the peddler of reforming, quasi-Utilitarian political views (he belonged to John Stuart Mill’s debating society), was friendly with his contemporary and fellow novelist and dandy Disraeli, who in April 1830 asked him to read his new book The Young Duke in manuscript. He praised much of it, but decried its tendency to ‘an ornate and showy effeminacy that ... you should lose on the same principle as Lord Ellenborough should lop off his hair’.11 Disraeli had evidently offered to help find him a seat, but Bulwer claimed to have ‘brought to a conclusion an affair of that sort, though it is not to be consummated till next session’. Nothing came of this, or of overtures from Penryn at the general election that summer.12 On the death of one of the recently returned Southwark Members in August 1830 he was encouraged to offer by Bentham’s friend Dr. Bowring. He issued an address, but soon withdrew, ostensibly to avoid splitting the independent and reforming interest.13 In October 1830 the fledgling literary critic Henry Chorley, a member of the Athenaeum, discerned in Bulwer
an egotism, a vanity - all thrown up to the surface. He is a thoroughly satin character, but then it is the richest satin ... It is a fine, energetic, inquisitive, romantic mind which if I mistake not has been blighted and opened too soon. There wants the repose, the peace that passeth all understanding.14
In January 1831 Bulwer published his first article for the Edinburgh Review, on ‘The Spirit of Society in England and France’.15 He was ‘in a fever of hope and expectation’ over the nature and scope of the Grey ministry’s parliamentary reform scheme, unveiled on 1 Mar. A week later he told his mother that while he was ‘naturally and reasonably anxious to enter Parliament’, he was only prepared to ‘stand for any place ... with the fullest and fairest probability of success at a moderate expense’. He had his eye on the venal borough of St. Albans, ten miles from Knebworth, where he claimed to have backing, but his mother refused his request for a subsidy to help him contest the place. She did, however, agree to lend him money to clinch his ‘certain return’ for the Cornish borough of St. Ives, where he was to be introduced by the former Member James Halse, leader of the independent interest. His mother’s quibbles about potential long term expenses prompted him to turn down her offer of assistance. He was returned unopposed with Halse after a challenge from the Hawkins interest had collapsed.16
Bulwer, who installed his pregnant wife and their daughter in a rented cottage at Pinner, Middlesex, where he joined them at weekends during the session, was unwell in the spring of 1831. By late June he was ‘better’, though he complained that ‘the medicine affects my head and stomach dreadfully’. He planned to make his parliamentary debut on the second reading of the reintroduced reform bill.17 He duly did so on 5 July, when he argued that the legitimate influence of the aristocracy would survive reform provided its possessors fulfilled their obligations to and co-operated with the people:
At a time when authority can no longer support itself by the ‘solemn plausibilities’ and the ceremonial hypocrisies of old, it is well that a government should be placed upon a solid and sure foundation. In no age of the world, least of all in the present, could any system of government long exist, which was menaced both by the moral intelligence and the physical force of a country ... I see a system thus menaced ... modified into one placed, not only on the affections of the people, but also on the opinions of that class which ... fills up the vast space between the highest and the lowest, and whose members are opposed to every more turbulent revulsion by all the habits of commerce and all the interests of wealth.
On 30 July he accepted the placing of St. Ives in schedule B and on 25 Aug. he defended the proposed £10 householder franchise, contending that ‘in large towns the more men you exclude from the constitution, the more enemies you make of the constitution’, while ‘all whom you take from the rabble you convert into citizens, interested more or less in the preservation of the public safety’. Disraeli observed in 1833 that Bulwer was ‘physically disqualified for an orator, and, in spite of all his exertions, never can succeed’; and another commentator wrote in 1837:
His speeches are not only previously turned over with great care in his mind, but are written out at full length and committed ... carefully to memory ... He is artificial throughout ... in all his exhibitions in the House. You see art and affectation in his very personal appearance ... He is a great patron of the tailor and friseur. He is always in the extreme of fashion. He sometimes affects a modesty of demeanour, but it is too transparent to deceive any one who has the least discernment ... His manner of speaking is very affected: the management of his voice is especially so. But for this he would be a pleasant speaker. His voice, though weak, is agreeable, and he speaks with considerable fluency ... His articulation is impaired by the manner of his pronunciation, and the rapidity of his utterance ... [He is] a fine-looking man ... and ... usually wears a green surtout.18
Bulwer voted steadily for the details of the reform bill in July and August 1831, claiming in a public letter that he had ‘not missed one important division ... except on the question of dividing the counties ... on which I was unwilling to vote at all’.19 During this time Tom Macaulay* one night ‘walked about the streets’ with him and ‘spoke to him about his novels with perfect sincerity, praising warmly, and criticizing freely’. He apparently ‘took the praise as a greedy boy takes apple pie, and the criticism as a good dutiful boy takes senna tea’.20 Bulwer voted for the third reading, 19 Sept., and passage of the reform bill, 21 Sept., and the motion of confidence in the ministry, 10 Oct. He was in their majorities on the Dublin election controversy, 23 Aug. On 15 Sept. 1831 he urged them to introduce a measure to repeal the newspaper stamp duty, as ‘the removal of all checks upon the diffusion of knowledge and truth’ was ‘the only means by which a true and permanent reform can be effected’.
‘Smitten by the journalism mania of the period’, he took on the editorship of the New Monthly Magazine (to which he had contributed since April 1830) from November 1831. He had high hopes of ‘raising the character and refining the materials of a monthly publication’, and turned it into a reformist organ; but the period of his editorship, which lasted only until August 1833, was marked by a fall in sales.21 A visit to Brighton, where he was ‘"vapour-bathed" and shampooed’, helped to restore his health for the new session.22 Supporting the second reading of the revised reform bill, 16 Dec. 1831, he stressed the need to combine reform with ‘a general education of the people’. His effort, which even Whig observers found ‘tiresome’, was utterly eclipsed by Macaulay’s bravura display.23 Bulwer, whom Disraeli found depressed in February 1832 by the poor sales of the New Monthly, his ‘now universally acknowledged failure’ as a Commons speaker and a savage attack in Fraser’s Magazine on his new novel Eugene Aram (which in fact sold well), voted silently for the details of the bill and for the third reading, 22 Mar. His ‘brilliant’ soirees, at which he paraded ‘more sumptuous and fantastic than ever’ and Rosina was ‘a blaze of jewels’, toying habitually with a lap-dog, continued.24 He presented a petition for the removal of impediments to the study of anatomy, 17 Jan. He voted with ministers on the Russian-Dutch loan, 26 Jan., and relations with Portugal, 9 Feb., but was in the minority against reversing a cut in the salary of the Irish registrar of deeds, 9 Apr. After ‘slowly picking up health among the daisies’ at Pinner in the Easter holiday, he was present to vote for the address calling on the king to appoint only ministers who would carry reform unimpaired, 10 May.25 He brought up a petition for repeal of the laws restricting the performance of plays, 22 May, and on the 31st secured an inquiry into the subject after explaining that he wished to end the suppression of minor theatres, curb censorship and revise copyright regulations for the benefit of authors. He was in the minority for the immediate abolition of slavery, 24 May. Early the next month Bulwer, seeking to assist Disraeli’s candidature for Chipping Wycombe at the next general election, procured letters of support from Daniel O’Connell* and Joseph Hume*. Embarrassment ensued when Hume, alerted by one of the ministerialist sitting Members, retracted. Bulwer, who felt he had been placed in an ‘unpleasant situation’, advised Disraeli to make his peace with Hume and wrote himself to the other sitting Member, Sir Thomas Baring, to explain and apologize for his interference, which he attributed to a misunderstanding.26 When, within days of this, Baring vacated his seat to stand for Hampshire, Bulwer told him to his face that now that he was ‘out of the field’ he would ‘not prejudice’ the election of Disraeli, who had started for the vacancy but was opposed by the prime minister’s younger son. Bulwer reminded Disraeli, who was playing a duplicitous political game, that it would be ‘personally awkward’ for him to ‘give support to anyone against a son of Lord Grey’s’ and expressed ‘great uneasiness’ at Disraeli’s slogan of ‘Grey and reform, Disraeli and the people’:
You don’t mean it seriously, or publicly to countenance the idea that you consider the cause of the people an antithesis and opposition to the cause of reform. In that case you will have placed me in a most singular position. You cannot suppose that my name can be employed against the bill I have voted for and helped to secure.
He had nevertheless asked Ellice, the patronage secretary, to let Disraeli walk over, but this was ruled out, as his friend was reckoned to ‘have not a chance at present’. Bulwer advised him to ‘take care and be cautious’ in his political pronouncements and promised that
if I can help you in any way not against my principles and in consistency with my public honour it will delight me, however much it may in a selfish point of view prejudice me, as it already has, indeed, in depriving or weakening that party and ministerial influence which I should otherwise have exercised for my own return.27
On 14 June he moved for ‘repeal of the principal taxes on knowledge’ as ‘a necessary appendix’ to reform. Ministers agreed in principle but objected on financial grounds, and he withdrew the motion. Even so, he believed that his speech had ‘succeeded thoroughly’, as he informed Disraeli three days later on his way to canvass Lincoln for the next general election. ‘Quite satisfied’ with Disraeli’s explanation of his slogan, he urged him in his electioneering to ‘stick to the bill’ and not to ‘irritate our party or the government’.28 (Disraeli was easily defeated by Grey’s son.) At Lincoln Bulwer made much of his attempt to get rid of the taxes on knowledge, appealed to ‘the new times’ as ‘the times for the general good’, called for reform of the Lords, hedged on relaxation of the corn laws and advocated the abolition of slavery and the reduction of taxation.29 He divided with administration on the Russian-Dutch loan, 12, 16, 20 July, but voted in minorities of 32 to postpone consideration of the Irish tithes bill, 13 July, and of ten for reception of a petition for the abolition of Irish tithes, 2 Aug. 1832, when he presented and endorsed a Norfolk petition for revision of the poor laws.
Bulwer’s wife wrote to his mother, 15 Aug. 1832:
It is ... very melancholy to think of poor Edward’s rash continuing so long; but while he will slave himself and lead the feverish excited life he does, there is, I fear, no chance of his getting rid of it. He undertakes a degree of labour that ... no three persons could have the health and time to achieve ... If I implore him to do less and study his health more ... it only makes him angry; and ... all this irritability increases the rash. So I can only lament, endure and be silent.
The marriage was fast disintegrating, with faults on both sides, and it ended in legal separation in April 1836, though Rosina, who was briefly placed under restraint in 1858, carried on a public vendetta against Bulwer for years afterwards.30 He was returned for Lincoln as a Liberal in 1832, 1835 and 1837, was made a baronet in 1838 and lost his seat in 1841.31 Two years later he succeeded his mother, ‘almost the great affection of his life’, to Knebworth.32 He returned to the Commons as Protectionist Member for Hertfordshire in 1852, served as colonial secretary in Lord Derby’s brief second ministry and was made a peer by Derby in 1866.33 Despite ‘some terrible disadvantages of voice and articulation’, his speeches during his second period in the Commons ‘took a tremendous grip of the House’, according to the Irish journalist Justin McCarthy, and ‘he was for a time a great success’. William White, door-keeper of the Commons, described in 1856 Bulwer’s ludicrous ‘action’ when addressing the House:
He begins a sentence, standing upright, in his usual tone; as he gets to the middle he throws himself backwards, until you would fancy that he must tumble over, and gradually raises his voice to its highest pitch. He then begins to lower his tone and bring his body forwards, so that at the finish of the sentence his head nearly touches his knees, and the climax of the sentence is lost in a whisper.34
Bulwer, who fathered a number of bastards and tried to disguise the physical effects of ageing with hair dye and corsets, continued to be a prolific and highly successful author of fiction, plays and history, and contributed incessantly to the periodical press.35 He died at Argyll Hall, Torquay, Devon, in January 1873, after suffering two days of excruciating agony from his middle ear complaint. He was buried in Westminster Abbey. He was succeeded in the peerage by his only surviving child, Edward Robert (1831-91), a diplomat, who was viceroy of India from 1876 to 1880, when he was promoted to an earldom. Disraeli, who considered him ‘one of the few with whom my intellect comes into collision with benefit’, observed enigmatically that ‘youth was ... [his] master feeling’.36 His journalistic colleague Hall summed him up as ‘a man made to be admired rather than loved. He achieved fame, but I am not sure that it brought him happiness. He seldom gave one the idea that he was in earnest’.37
Ref Volumes: 1820-1832
Author: David R. Fisher
The Life (1883) by his son Edward Robert, 1st Earl Lytton, covers the period 1803-32. The Life (1913) by his grandson, Victor Alexander George, 2nd Earl Lytton, covers the same ground and deals with the rest of Bulwer’s life. See also C.W. Snyder, Liberty and Morality (1995); L.G. Mitchell, Bulwer Lytton (2003); Oxford DNB.
- 1. Life (1883), i. 76-78; M. Sadleir, Bulwer: A Panorama (1931), 17-18; Broughton, Recollections, vi. 208.
- 2. Life (1883), i. 118-68.
- 3. Ibid. i. 227-9; Speeches of Lord Lytton ed. 1st Earl Lytton, pp. viii-xiv.
- 4. Life (1883), i. 273-327.
- 5. Herts. Archives, Lytton mss D/EK C26/20, Bulwer to Mrs. Cuningham, 25 Feb. 1826; Life (1883), i. 359-65; Life (1913), i. 155; Sadleir, 67.
- 6. Lytton mss C26/20, Bulwer to Mrs. Cuningham, 9, 25 June, 11 Aug. 1826.
- 7. S.C. Hall, Retrospect of a Long Life, i. 263-6; Life (1883), ii. 33, 137-9.
- 8. L. Devey, Letters of Edward Bulwer to his Wife, 38; Lytton mss C26/20, Bulwer to Mrs. Cuningham, 25 Oct. 1826.
- 9. Life (1883), ii. 140-55, 165, 171-7, 182; Devey, 228, 230, 232, 235-6, 257; Lytton mss C26/20, Bulwer to Mrs. Cuningham [20 June 1828].
- 10. Life (1883), ii. 203, 212-31, 233, 241, 289, 311-12; Life (1913), i. 247-8; Sadleir, 144.
- 11. Bodl. Dep. Hughenden 104/1, ff. 3, 6, 11; Disraeli Letters, i. 83, 86.
- 12. Dep. Hughenden 104/1, ff. 15, 29; Life (1883), ii. 300-301, 310-11.
- 13. Life (1883), ii. 302, 304; Hall, i. 271.
- 14. Sadleir, 357.
- 15. Edinburgh Rev. lii. 374-87; Add. 34615, f. 19.
- 16. Add. 34615, f. 50; Life (1883), ii. 310-13; West Briton, 29 Apr.; R. Cornw. Gazette, 30 Apr., 7 May 1831.
- 17. Life (1883), ii. 290; Life (1913), i. 414.
- 18. Disraeli Letters, i. 233; [J. Grant], Random Recollections of Commons (1837), 344-6.
- 19. The Times, 1 Sept. 1831.
- 20. Macaulay Letters, ii. 84.
- 21. Cent. Kent. Stud. Stanhope mss U1590 C374, Bulwer to Mahon, 7 Sept. 1831; Wellesley Index to Victorian Periodicals, iii. 166-7, 216-24; Disraeli Letters, i. 123, 141; Three Diaries, 167.
- 22. Lytton mss C28/52, Bulwer to Scorgill, 1 Nov.; Dep. Hughenden 104/1, f. 25.
- 23. Add. 51569, Ord to Lady Holland ; 51573, Spring Rice to same [16 Dec. 1831].
- 24. Disraeli Letters, i. 141, 146, 159, 169, 178.
- 25. Ibid. i. 182; Dep. Hughenden 104/1, f. 30.
- 26. Disraeli Letters, i. 198-200; Dep. Hughenden 28/1, ff. 3, 9, 13, 15, 19, 21; 104/1, f. 31.
- 27. Dep. Hughenden 28/1, f. 31.
- 28. Ibid. 104/1, f. 32.
- 29. Drakard’s Stamford News, 22 June 1832.
- 30. Life (1913), i. 254-342; Oxford DNB; Devey, 281-30.
- 31. Drakard’s Stamford News, 5 Oct., 7, 14, 21 Dec. 1832.
- 32. Lytton mss C26/34, Bulwer to Lady Blessington [Dec. 1843].
- 33. Broughton, vi. 208.
- 34. W. White, Inner Life of House of Commons, vol. 1, pp. vii-ix, 9-10.
- 35. Oxford DNB.
- 36. Sadleir, 356; Dep. Hughenden 26/2, f. 106.
- 37. Hall, i. 269.