The Greville Memoirs

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The Greville Memoirs

The Reign of Queen Victoria Vol. I


[I am not unaware that very many of the events I have described, and shall describe, may perhaps seem little things, trifles too slight for record; but no parallel can be drawn between these chronicles of mine and the work of the men who composed the ancient history of the Roman people. Gigantic wars, cities stormed, routed and captive kings, or, when they turned by choice to domestic affairs, the feuds of consul and tribune, land-laws and cornº-laws, the duel of nobles and commons — such were the themes on which they dwelt, or digressed, at will. Mine is an inglorious labour in a narrow field: for this was an age of peace unbroken or half-heartedly challenged, of tragedy in the capital, of a prince careless to extend the empire. Yet it may be not unprofitable to look beneath the surface of those incidents, trivial at the first inspection, which so often set in motion the great events of history.]

PREFACE of the Editor to the Second Part of this Journal

When the first portion of the Memoirs of the late Mr. Charles Greville, consisting of a Journal of the Reigns of King George IV. and King William IV., was given to the world in the autumn of the year 1874, it was intimated that the continuation of the work was reserved for future publication. Those volumes included the record of events which Mr. Greville had noted in his Diary from the year 1818 to the accession of Her Majesty Queen Victoria in the year 1837, a period of nineteen years. As they were published in 1874, an interval of thirty-seven years had elapsed between the latest event recorded in them and the date at which they appeared. The reigns of George IV. and William IV. already belonged to the history of the past, and accordingly I did not conceive it to be my duty to suppress or qualify any of the statements or opinions of the Author on public men or public events. I am still of opinion that this was the right course for a person charged with the publication of these manuscripts to pursue. I have seen it stated that the [viii] first edition of these Journals contains passages which have been suppressed in the later editions: but this is an error. The first edition contained a good many mistakes, which were subsequently pointed out by criticism, or discovered and corrected. Two or three sentences relating to private individuals were omitted, but nothing which concerns public personages or public events has been withdrawn.

Eight and forty years have now elapsed since the date at which the narrative contained in the former volumes was suspended, and I am led by several considerations to the opinion that the time has arrived when it may be resumed. We are divided by a long interval from the administrations of Lord Melbourne, Sir Robert Peel, and Lord John Russell, and, with a very small number of exceptions, no one survives who sat in the Cabinets of those statesmen. Nearly half a century has elapsed since the occurrence of the events recorded in the earlier pages of these volumes, and in a few months from the publication of them, the nation and the empire may celebrate with just enthusiasm the jubilee of the reign of Queen Victoria. Those who have had the good fortune to witness this long series of events, and to take any part in them, may well desire to leave behind them some record of a period, unexampled in the annals of Great Britain and of the world for an almost unbroken continuance of progress, prosperity, liberty, and peace. It is not too soon to glean in the records of the time those fugitive [ix] impressions which will one day be the materials of history. To us, veterans of the century, life is in the past, and we look back with unfading interest on the generations that have passed away.

As far as I am myself concerned, I am desirous to complete, whilst I am able, the task allotted to me by Mr. Greville in his last hours, which indeed I regard as a sacred duty, since I know that in placing these Journals in my hands his principal motive and intention was that they should not be withheld from publication until the present interest in them had expired. The advance of years reminds me that if this duty is to be performed at all by me, it must not be indefinitely delayed, and if any strictures are passed on the Editor of these volumes, I prefer to encounter them in my own person rather than to leave the work in other hands and to the uncertainty of the future.

If I turn to precedent and the example of other writers, it will be found that the interval of time which has elapsed since the latest date included in these volumes, embracing the period from 1837 to 1852, is considerably greater than that which marked the publication of similar contributions to political history [1].

[1] To look back as far as the Memoirs of the fifteenth century, it may be noted that the first edition of the Memoirs of Philippe de Comines, who had lived in the confidential intimacy of King Louis XI. and King Charles VIII. of France, was published in Paris in 1524, under a special privilege obtained for that purpose. Louis XI. died in 1483, and his son Charles VIII. in 1498. Comines himself died in 1511. These Memoirs, therefore, were published at a time when many of the persons mentioned in them, and most of their immediate descendants, were still alive.

[x] At the head of these must be placed Bishop Burnet's 'History of His Own Time.' Bishop Burnet had lived in confidential relations with four Sovereigns and their Ministers, and it would be a mistake to compare the position of Mr. Greville (who never filled any office of a political nature, and who never lived in confidential intercourse with the Court) with that of the bold adviser of Charles II. and James II., and the trusted councillor of William and Mary. Bishop Burnet finished his history of the reigns of Charles II. and James II. about the year 1704; that of William and Queen Anne between 1710 and 1713. In 1714 he died. The first folio containing the earlier reigns was published by his son in 1724; the second in 1734, barely twenty years after the death of Queen Anne. Many passages were, however, suppressed, and the text was not restored in its integrity until the publication of the Oxford edition in the present century.

Lord Clarendon died in 1674, and the first edition of his 'History of the Rebellion and the Civil Wars' was published in 1702-4, with some alterations and omissions, which were supplied by the publication of the complete text in 1826.

Lord Chesterfield died in 1773, and his 'Letters to his Son,' a work abounding in keen and sarcastic observations on his contemporaries, were published in the following year, 1774.

Sir Nathaniel Wraxall's 'Memoirs,' which contain the best account extant of the debates at the time of [xi] the Coalition Ministry in 1783, and on the Regency Question in 1788, were published in 1815, about thirty years after those discussions.

But it is scarcely necessary to seek for remote precedents to justify the publication of the materials of contemporary history. Our own time has been fertile in great examples of it. For instance, the 'Memoirs of Lord Palmerston,' by Lord Dalling and Mr. Evelyn Ashley, are full of confidential correspondence on the secret discussions and resolutions of the Cabinet. The 'Journal of Lord Ellenborough,' recently published by Lord Colchester, contains the private record of a Cabinet Minister on the events of the day and the characters of his colleagues. The more recent publication of Lord Malmesbury's 'Autobiography,' and of the Croker Papers, has made public a large amount of correspondence and information of great interest, with reference to the ministerial combinations and political transactions of the present century. And above all, Her Majesty Queen Victoria, by placing the papers of the late Prince Consort, and her own correspondence and journals, in the hands of Sir Theodore Martin, for the purpose of composing from the most authentic materials a full biography of that illustrious Prince, has shown that, far from regarding with distrust or repugnance the records of contemporary history, she has been graciously pleased to contribute to it in the most ample manner by the publication of an immense mass of documents relating to the interior of [xii] the Court, the intercourse of the Sovereign with her Ministers, the character of foreign monarchs, the less known transactions of her reign, and even the domestic incidents of her life. No Sovereign ever courted more fully and more willingly the light of publicity on a reign which needs no concealment or disguise.

It would be presumptuous to compare the Journals of an individual who never held any important office in the State, and who derived his knowledge of public affairs entirely from the intercourse of private friendship, with the correspondence and private records of sovereigns, ministers, and statesmen of the highest rank, which have been published with their sanction or with that of their immediate successors. These Journals advance no such pretension; but the production of so many confidential documents of contemporary or recent history by such personages may be fairly invoked to justify, a fortiori, the publication of notes and memoranda of a humbler character.

The incidents and opinions which will be found in these volumes derive their chief value from the fact that they are recorded by a bystander and spectator, who was not, and did not aspire to be, an actor in the occurrences he witnessed, but who lived on terms of intimacy with many of the most active politicians of his times, in both the leading parties in the State, a