1902 Encyclopedia > Henry Bulwer, 1st Baron Dalling and Bulwer

Henry Bulwer, 1st Baron Dalling and Bulwer
(Sir Henry Bulwer)
British Liberal politician, diplomat and writer


BARON DALLING AND BULWER (1801-1872). William Henry Lytton Earle Bulwer, better known during the chief part of his long and brilliant career in diplomacy, politics, and literature as Sir Henry Bulwer, was born in Baker Street, Portman Square, London, on Friday the 13th February 1801. Upon both sides Lord Dalling's line-age was illustrious; his father's house traced back their ancestry to the Vikings of the North, and his mother's claimed descent from the Tudors and Plantagenets. Gene-ral Bulwer, when colonel of the 106th Begiment, had been married to Elizabeth Barbara Lytton, who—as the only offspring of Bichard Warburton Lytton, of Knebworth Park, in the county of Hertford—was sole heiress of the family of Norreys-Kobinson-Lytton of Monacdhu in the island of Anglesea and of Guersylt in Denbighshire. Her father, Warburton Lytton, was noteworthy in his generation. As an Oriental linguist he became the intimate friend of Sir William Jones ; he was besides the favourite pupil of Dr Samuel Parr, who used to brag of him as inferior only to himself and perhaps Porson in classical erudition. Three sons were the fruit of General Bulwer's marriage with the heiress of the Lyttons. The second of those three sons, Henry, afterwards Lord Dalling, having been amply provided for by his selection as heir to his maternal grandmother, while the paternal estates in Norfolk went in due course, by right of primogeniture, to his elder brother William, the maternal property in Herts passed into the possession of the youngest of the three brothers, Edward, known first as Bulwer the novelist and dramatist, and afterwards as the first Baron Lytton of Knebworth.

Lord Dalling's father was so far notable in his military capacity that, as brigadier-general of volunteers, he was one of the four commanding officers to whom was intrusted the defence of England in 1804, when threatened with invasion by the great Napoleon. Three years afterwards, on the 7th July 1807, General Bulwer died prematurely at fifty-two at Heydon Hall. His young widow had then devolved upon her not only the double charge of caring for the estates in Herts and Norfolk, but the far weightier responsibility of superintending the education of her three sons, then in their earliest boyhood. She at once devoted herself with earnest solicitude to their instruction, and her qualifications for the duties of home instructress were certainly exceptional. For, besides having great natural gifts and instinctive refinement, she was a woman of cultured intel-lect and rare accomplishments. Henry Bulwer's first school was that of Dr Curtis in Sunbury, Middlesex. Thence, while yet a stripling, he was removed to Harrow, then presided over by Dr George Butler. His tutor there was the Rev. Mark Drury, a younger brother of the previous head master. At eighteen, Henry Bulwer was enrolled as an undergraduate at Trinity College, Cambridge, removing thence soon afterwards to Downing College, where his university career was completed. At that turning-point in his history his maiden work was published. It was issued from the press in 1822 as a tiny volume of verse, commenc-ing with an ode on the death of Napoleon. It is chiefly interesting now for its fraternal dedication to Edward Lytton Bulwer, then a youth of nineteen, an inscription couched in terms of affectionate admiration.

On leaving Cambridge in the autumn of 1824, Henry Bulwer signalized his entrance into public life by an adven-ture. As emissary of the Greek Committee then sitting in London, he started for the Morea, carrying with him no less a sum than £80,000 sterling, which, immediately on his arrival at his destination, he handed over to Prince Mavrocordato and his colleagues, as the responsible leaders of the War of Independence. He was accompanied on this expedition by Mr Hamilton Browne, who, a twelvemonth before, had been despatched by Lord Byron to Cepha-lonia to treat with the insurgent Government. Shortly after his return to England in 1826, Bulwer published a record of this romantic excursion, under the title of An Autumn in Greece. Meanwhile, bent for the moment upon following in his father's footsteps, he had on the 19th October 1825, been gazetted as a cornet in the Second Life Guards. Within less than eight months, however, he had exchanged from cavalry to infantry, being enrolled on the 2d June 1826 as an ensign in the 58th Begiment. That ensigncy he retained for little more than a month, obtaining another unattached, which he held until the 1st January 1829, when he finally abandoned the army. The court, not the camp, was to be the scene of his successes ; and for thirty-eight years altogether—from the August of 1827 to the August of 1865—he contrived, while maturing from a young attache to an astute and veteran ambassador, to hold his own with ease, and in the end was ranked amongst the subtlest intellects of his time as a master of diplomacy. His first appointment in his new profession, at the date just mentioned, was as an attache at Berlin. In the April of 1830 he obtained his next step through his nomination as an attache at Vienna, Thence, exactly a year afterwards, he was employed nearer home in the same capacity at the Hague.

As yet, ostensibly, no more than a careless lounger in the salons of the Continent, the young ex-cavalry officer veiled the keenest observation under an air of indifference. His constitutional energy, which throughout life was exceptionally intense and tenacious, wore from the first a mask of languor. When in reality most cautious, he was seemingly most negligent. No matter what he hap-pened at the moment to take in hand, the art he ap-plied to it was always that highest art of all, the ars celare artem. His mastery of the lightest but most essential weapon in the armoury of the diplomatist, tact, came to him as it seemed intuitively, and from the outset was con-summate. Talleyrand himself would have had no reason, even in Henry Bulwer's earliest years as an attaché, to write entreatingly, "Pas de zèle," to one who concealed so felicitously, even at starting, a lynx-like vigilance under an aspect the most phlegmatic. Endowed thus highly both in intellect and in temperament, he had hardly reached his new post in the capital of the Netherlands when he found and immediately seized his opportunity. The revolutionary explosion of July at Paris had been echoed on the 25th August 1830 at Brussels by an equally startling outburst of insurrection. During the whole of September a succession of stormy events swept over Belgium, until the popular rising reached its climax on the 4th October in the declaration of Belgian independence by the Provisional Government. At the beginning of the revolution, the young attaché was despatched by the then foreign secretary at Whitehall, Lord Aberdeen, to watch events as they arose and report their character. When he reached Ghent in the midst of the civil conflict, the com-missionaire of his hotel was shot down at his elbow on the Grande Place. In the execution of his special mission he traversed the country in all directions amidst civil war, the issue of which was to the last degree problematic. Under those apparently bewildering circumstances, he was enabled by his sagacity and penetration to win his spurs as a diplomatist. Writing almost haphazard in the midst of the conflict, he sent home from day to day a series of despatches which threw a flood of light upon incidents that would otherwise have appeared almost inexplicable. Scarcely a week had elapsed, during which his predictions had been wonderfully verified, when he was summoned to London to receive the congratulations of the Cabinet. He returned to Brussels no longer in a merely temporary or informal capacity. As secretary of legation, and afterwards as chargé d'affaires, he assisted in furthering the negotiations out of which Belgium rose into a king-dom, and in so rising established for the first time on the European continent the adjusted fabric of a moderate con-stitutional sovereignty. Scarcely had this been accom-plished when he wrote what may be called the first chapter of the history of the newly created Belgian kingdom. It appeared in 1831 as a brief but luminous paper in the January number of the Westminster Review. And as the events it recorded had helped to inaugurate its writer's career as a diplomatist, so did his narrative of those occur-rences in the pages of the Badical quarterly signalize in a remarkable way the commencement of his long and consist-ent career as a Liberal politician. Shortly before his appear-ance as a reviewer, and immediately prior to the carrying of the first Beform Bill, Bulwer had won a seat in the House of Commons as member for Wilton, afterwards in 1831 and 1832 sitting there as M.P. for Coventry. Nearly two years having elapsed, during which he was absent from the legislature, he was in 1834 returned to Westminster as the representative of the metropolitan borough of Maryle-bone, which, as it happened, was his birthplace. That position he retained during four sessions, winning consider-able distinction as a debater by his undoubted gifts of wit and oratory. Within the very year in which he was chosen by the Marylebone electors, he brought out in two volumes, entitled France—Literary, Social, and Political, the first half of a work which was only completed upon the publica-tion, two years afterwards, of a second series, also in two volumes, under the title of The Monarchy of the Middle Classes. Through its pages he made good his claim to be regarded not merely as a keen-witted observer, but as one of the most sagacious and genial delineators of the generic Frenchman, above all of that supreme type of the race, with whom all through his life he especially delighted to hold familiar intercourse, the true Parisian. Between the issuing from the press of these two series, Henry Bulwer had prefixed an intensely sympathetic Life of Lord Byron to the Paris edition of the poet's works published by Galignani,—a memoir republished sixteen years afterwards. A political argument of a curiously daring and outspoken character, entitled The Lords, the Government, and the Country, was given to the public in 1836 by Bulwer, in the form of an elaborate letter to a constituent. At this point his literary labours, which throughout life were with him purely labours by-the-way, ceased for a time, and he disappeared during three decades from authorship and from the legislature. It was within that interval of thirty years, however, that he succeeded in building up what has ever since constituted the sum and substance of his reputation, securing to him his eminent and now historical name as a diplomatist. During the period of his holding the position of charge d'affaires at Brussels, Bulwer had seized every opportunity of making lengthened sojourns at Paris, always for him the choicest place of residence. It was in the midst of one of these dolce far niente loiterings on the Boulevards that, on the 14th August 1837, he received his nomination as secretary of embassy at Constantinople. Although he held that position for little more than a year, he contrived within that brief period to make his mark upon the Ottoman empire. He did this by opening up single-handed its resources to Western Europe, through the negotiation of a commercial treaty that has ever since proved of the greatest importance, not to England alone, but in a more or less considerable way to all Christendom. Until then the mercantile relations subsisting between the Sublime Porte and the outer world were not merely unsatis-factory, they were simply intolerable. Recognizing, imme-diately upon his advent, the exceptional abilities of the new secretary, Lord Ponsonby, then ambassador at Stam-boul, devolved upon Bulwer the responsibility of dis-covering some solution for this apparently insoluble problem. Dexterously overcoming difficulties which had heretofore appeared insuperable, the young diplomatist succeeded within an astonishingly brief interval in removing the barriers which hampered trade at the Golden Horn. So triumphant in their result were his negotiations that Lord Palmerston, in writing his con-gratulations to him from Windsor Castle, on the 13th September 1838, pronounced his treaty a capo d'opera, adding that without reserve it would be at once ratified. Shortly after this achievement he was nominated secretary of embassy at St Petersburg. Illness, however, compelled him to delay his northern journey—almost opportunely, as it happened, for in the June of 1839 he was despatched, in the same capacity, to the more congenial atmosphere of Paris. At that juncture the affairs of the Levant were threatening to bring England and France into armed collision. In 1839 and 1840, during the temporary absence of his chief, Lord Granville, the secretary of embassy was gazetted ad interim charge d'affaires at the court of France. Opportunities were thus afforded him, of which he availed himself, for winning new distinction as a diplomatist. The reward earned by his devotion to his profession came to him at last towards the close of 1843. On the 14th November he was appointed ambassador at the court of the youug Spanish Queen Isabella II. Upon his arrival at Madrid signal evidence was afforded of the estimation in which he was then held as a diplomatist. He was chosen arbitrator between Spain and Morocco, then confronting each other in deadly hostility. As the result of his mediation, a treaty of peace was signed between the two powers in 1844, their antagonistic interests having through his negotiations been adroitly reconciled. Two years had hardly elapsed after Bulwer's success in this way as a peacemaker when, in 1846, a much more formid-able difficulty arose,—one which, after threatening war between France and England, led at last to a diplomatic rupture between the British and Spanish Governments. The dynastic intrigues of Louis Philippe were the imme-diate cause of this estrangement, and those intrigues found their climax in what has ever since been discreditably known in European annals as the Spanish Marriages. The storm sown in the Spanish marriages was reaped in the whirlwind of the February revolution. And the ex-plosion which took place at Paris was answered a month afterwards at Madrid by a similar outbreak. Marshal Narvaez thereupon assumed the dictatorship, and wreaked upon the insurgents a series of reprisals of the most pitiless character. These excessive severities of the marshal-dicta-tor the British ambassador did his utmost to mitigate. When at last, however, Narvaez carried his rigour to the length of summarily suppressing the constitutional guarantees, Bulwer sent in a formal protest in the name of England against an act so entirely ruthless and unjustifiable. This courageous proceeding at once drew down upon the British envoy a counter-stroke as ill-judged as it was unprecedented. Narvaez, with matchless effrontery, denounced the am-bassador from England as an accomplice in the conspiracies of the Progressistas; and despite his position as an envoy, and in insolent defiance of the Palmerstonian boast, Civis Britannicus, Bulwer, on the 12th June, was summarily required to quit Madrid within twenty-four hours. Two days afterwards M. Isturitz, the Spanish ambassador at the court of St James's, took his departure from Lon-don. Diplomatic relations were not restored between the two countries until years had elapsed, nor even then until after a formal apology, dictated by Lord Palmerston, had been signed by the prime minister of Queen Isabella. Before his return the ambassador was gazetted a Knight Companion of the Bath, being promoted to the Grand Cross some three years afterwards. In addition to this mark of honour, he received the formal approbation of the ministry, and with it the thanks of both Houses of Parliament. Before the year of his return from the peninsula had run out Sir Henry Bulwer was married to the Hon. Georgiana Charlotte Mary Wellesley, youngest daughter of the first Baron Cowley, and niece to the duke of Wellington. Early in the following year, on the 27th April 1849, he was nomi-nated ambassador at Washington. During his sojourn in the United States in that capacity he acquired immense popularity. Though possessing few popular qualifications as a speaker, he frequently roused American audiences to enthusiasm by his generous sentiments and impressive address. His principal success, as ambassador at Washing-ton, was the compact known equally in the Old World and in the New as the Bulwer-Clayton treaty, which was in the main the fruit of his sustained labour as a diplomatist. This convention, ratified in May 1850, pledged the con-tracting Governments to respect the neutrality of the meditated ship canal through Central America, bringing the waters of the Atlantic and Pacific into direct communication. If it did no other good, it unquestionably for the time being allayed the jealousies which so often before then had sprung up between the two countries in regard to the British right of protection on the Mosquito Coast and in the Bay of Honduras. After having been accredited as ambassador to the United States for three years, Sir Henry Bulwer, early in 1852, was despatched as minister plenipotentiary to the small but stately court of the grand duke of Tuscany at Florence. Shortly after his retirement from that post in the January of 1855, he was intrusted with various diplomatic missions of an almost nomadic character, in one of which he was empowered as commissioner under the 23d article of the Treaty of Paris, 1856, to investigate the state of things in the Dauubian principalities, with a view to their definitive reorganization. Finally, as the crowning incident in his diplomatic career, he was installed, from May 1858 to August 1865, as the immediate successor, after the close of the Crimean war, of the " Great Eltchi," Viscount Strat-ford de Redcliffe, as ambassador extraordinary to the Otto-man Porte at Constantinople. In that capacity he fully sustained the high reputation he had acquired as a diplomatist.

When in the winter of 1865 Sir Henry Bulwer returned
home from the Bosphorus it was to retire upon his pension
to the lettered ease he had so well earned, and to revive for
a brief space in the evening of his life the recollection of
his earlier successes as an advanced liberal reformer in
the House of Commons. He was elected member for
Tamworth on the 17th November 1868, and retained his
seat until gazetted as a peer of the realm on the 21st
March 1871, under the title of Baron Dalling and Bulwer
of Wood Dalling in the county of Norfolk. Upon the eve
of his return to his old haunts as a debater and a politician
he had asserted his claim to literary distinction by
giving to the world in two volumes his four masterly
sketches of typical men, entitled Historical Characters.
This work, dedicated to his brother Edward, in testimony
of the writer's fraternal affection and friendship, portrayed
in luminous outline Talleyrand the Politic Man, Cobbett
the Contentious Man, Canning the Brilliant Man, and
Mackintosh the Man of Promise. Two other kindred
sketches, those of Sir Robert Peel and Viscount Melbourne,
having been selected from among their author's papers,
have since been published posthumously. Another work
of ampler outline and larger pretension was begun and
partially issued from the press during Lord Dalling's life-
time. The luxury of completing it, however, was denied to
the hand of its author. This was the elaborately planned and
vigorously opened Life of Viscount Palmerston, the first two
volumes of which were published in 1870. A third volume
appeared four years afterwards. Even then it left the story
of the English statesman broken off so abruptly that the work
remained at the last the merest fragment. Within little
more than one year from the date of his elevation to the
peerage Lord Dalling, on the 23d May 1872, breathed his
last quite unexpectedly at Naples, whither he had gone to
all appearance on a mere holiday excursion. Although he
had been for some time a confirmed valetudinarian, his death
occurred so suddenly that it came at last almost as a
surprise. Yet he had by that time entered upon his
seventy-second year, more than half his life having been
passed in the service of his country. In his public career he
enjoyed a three-fold success—as ambassador, as politician,
and as man of letters. Winning his way in each character
with a seemingly careless ease, he still improved the gifts
of nature and fortune by personal effort, and bore his
honours with an air of distinction expressive half of
fatigue, half of indifference. His popularity in society
was at all times remarkable, mainly no doubt from his
mastery of all the subtler arts of a skilled conversationalist.
The apparent languor with which he related an anecdote,
flung off a bon mot, or indulged in a momentary stroke of
irony imparted interest to the narrative, wings to the
wit, and point to the sarcasm in a manner peculiarly his
own. If as envoy he helped to mould the events of his
time, he left among those who came within the range of
his social influence the memory of one of the most gifted
and charming of companions. (o. K.)

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