The Greville Memoirs

I am happy that you are using this web site and hope that you found it useful. Unfortunately, the cost of making this material freely available is increasing, so if you have found the site useful and would like to contribute towards its continuation, I would greatly appreciate it. Click the button to go to Paypal and make a donation.

The Greville Memoirs


[v] The Author of these Journals requested me, in January 1865, a few days before his death, to take charge of them with a view to publication at some future time. He left that time to my discretion, merely remarking that Memoirs of this kind ought not, in his opinion, to be locked up until they had lost their principal interest by the death of all those who had taken any part in the events they describe. He placed several of the earlier volumes at once in my hands, and he intimated to his surviving brother and executor, Mr. Henry Greville, his desire that the remainder should be given me for this purpose. The injunction was at once complied with after Mr. Charles Greville's death, and this interesting deposit has now remained for nearly ten years in my possession. In my opinion this period of time is long enough to remove every reasonable objection to the publication of a contemporary record of events already separated from us by a much longer interval, for the transactions related in these volumes commence in 1818 and end in 1837. I therefore commit to the press that portion of these Memoirs [vi] which embraces the Reigns of King George IV. and King William IV., ending with the Accession of her present Majesty.

In accepting the trust and deposit which Mr. Greville thought fit to place in my hands, I felt, and still feel, that I undertook a task and a duty of considerable responsibility; but from the time and the manner in which it was offered me I could not decline it. I had lived for more than five-and-twenty years in the daily intercourse of official life and private friendship with Mr. Greville. Sir George Cornewall Lewis, to whom he had previously intended to leave these Journals, died before him. After that event, deeply to be regretted on so many accounts, Mr. Greville did me the honour to select me for the performance of this duty, which was unexpected by myself; and my strong attachment and gratitude to him for numberless acts of kindness and marks of confidence bound me by every consideration to obey and execute the wishes of my late friend.

In the discharge of this trust I have been guided by no other motive than the desire to present these Memorials to the world in a manner which their Author would not have disapproved, and in strict conformity with his own wishes and injunctions. He himself, it should be said, had frequently revised them with great care. He had studiously omitted and erased passages relating to private persons or affairs, which could only serve to gratify the love of idle gossip and scandal. The Journals contain absolutely nothing relating to his own family, and but little relating to his private life. In a passage (not now [vii] published) of his own writings, the Author remarks:—

'A journal to be good, true, and interesting, should be written without the slightest reference to publication, but without any fear of it: it should be the transcript of a mind that can bear transcribing. I always contemplate the possibility that hereafter my journal will be read, and I regard with alarm and dislike the notion of its containing matters about myself which nobody will care to know' (January 2nd, 1838).

These notes were designed chiefly to preserve a record of the less known causes and details of public events which came under the Author's observation, and they are interspersed with the conversations of many of the eminent men with whom he associated. But it must be borne in mind that they are essentially what they profess to be — a contemporary record of facts and opinions, not altered or made up to square with subsequent experience. Hence some facts may be inaccurately stated, because they are given in the shape they assumed at the time they were recorded, and some opinions and judgments on men and things are at variance (as he himself acknowledges and points out) with those at which the writer afterwards arrived on the same persons and subjects. Our impressions of what is passing around us vary so rapidly and so continually, that a contemporary record of opinion, honestly preserved, differs very widely from the final and mature judgment of history: yet the judgment of history must be based upon contemporary evidence. It was remarked by an acute observer to Mr. Greville himself, that the nuances in political society are so delicate and numerous, the [viii] details so nice and varying, that unless caught at the moment they escape, and it is impossible to collect them again. That is the charm and the merit of genuine contemporary records.

The two leading qualities in the mind of Mr. Greville were the love of truth and the love of justice. His natural curiosity, which led him to track out and analyse the causes of events with great eagerness, was stimulated by the desire to arrive at their real origin, and to award to everyone, with judicial impartiality, what appeared to him to be a just share of responsibility. Without the passions or the motives of a party politician, he ardently sympathised with the cause of Liberal progress and Conservative improvement, or, as he himself expresses it, with Conservative principles on a Liberal basis. He was equally opposed to the prejudices of the old Tory aristocracy, amongst whom he had been brought up, and to the impetuous desire of change which achieved in his time so many vast and various triumphs. His own position, partly from the nature of the permanent office he held in the Privy Council, and partly from his personal intimacies with men of very opposite opinions, was a neutral one; but he used that neutral position with consummate judgment and address to remove obstacles, to allay irritations, to compose differences, and to promote, as far as lay in his power, the public welfare. Contented with his own social position, he was alike free from ambition and from vanity. No man was more entirely disinterested in his judgments on public affairs, for he had long made up his mind that he had [ix] nothing to gain or to lose by them, and in the opinions he formed, and on occasion energetically maintained, he cared for nothing but their justice and their truth. I trust that I do not deceive myself in the belief that the impressions of such a man, faithfully rendered at the time, on the events happening around him, will be thought to possess a permanent value and interest. But I am aware that opinions governed by no party standard will appear to a certain extent to be fluctuating and even inconsistent. I have not thought it consistent with my duty as the Editor of these papers to suppress or modify any of the statements or opinions of their Author on public men or public events; nor do I hold myself in any way responsible for the tenor of them. Some of these judgments of the writer may be thought harsh and severe, and some of them were subsequently mitigated by himself. But those who enter public life submit their conduct and their lives to the judgment of their contemporaries and of posterity, and this is especially true of those who fill the most exalted stations in society. Every act, almost every thought, which is brought home to them leaves its mark, and those who come after them cannot complain that this mark is as indelible as their fame. The only omissions I have thought it right to make are a few passages and expressions relating to persons and occurrences in private life, in which I have sought to publish nothing which could give pain or annoyance to persons still alive.

It will be observed that these Journals begin in the year 1818, when Mr. Greville was barely twenty-four [x] years of age, and indeed I possess some notes of an earlier period, which it was not thought desirable to include in this publication. At that age Mr. Greville had but a short experience of life, without the opportunities of information which he subsequently enjoyed; consequently the first two or three chapters of the first volume are of secondary interest, and the political value of the work begins with the retirement of Lord Liverpool. But it is by his own express desire that these chapters are retained to complete the series, and the particulars relating to the Duke of York and to the Queen's trial are not without interest. As the Author advanced in life his narrative increases in value both in substance and in style, and the most important portion of it is that which must at present be reserved for future publication.

Of the Author of these Journals it may suffice to say that Charles Cavendish Fulke Greville was the eldest of the three sons of Charles Greville (who was grandson of the fifth Lord Warwick), by Lady Charlotte Cavendish Bentinck, eldest daughter of William Henry, third Duke of Portland, K.G., who filled many great offices of State. He was born on the 2nd of April, 1794. Much of his childhood was spent at his grandfather's house at Bulstrode. He was educated at Eton and at Christ Church, Oxford; but he left the University early, having been appointed private secretary to Earl Bathurst before he was twenty.

The influence of the Duke of Portland obtained for him early in life the sinecure appointment of the Secretaryship of Jamaica, the duties of that office being [xi] performed by deputy, and likewise the reversion of the Clerkship of the Council. He entered in 1821 upon the duties of Clerk of the Council in Ordinary, which he discharged for nearly forty years. During the last twenty years of his life Mr. Greville occupied a suite of rooms in the house of Earl Granville in Bruton Street, and there, on the 18th of January, 1865, he expired. I was with him on the previous evening until he retired to rest; from that sleep he never woke.

No additions whatever have been made to the text of these Journals. The passages occasionally interposed in a parenthesis, at a later date, to correct or comment upon a previous statement, are all by the hand of the Author. So likewise are the notes distinguished by no mark. For the notes included in brackets [] the Editor is responsible.

Henry Reeve. October 1st, 1874

Index page


Meet the web creator

These materials may be freely used for non-commercial purposes in accordance with applicable statutory allowances and distribution to students.
Re-publication in any form is subject to written permission.

Last modified 12 January, 2016

The Age of George III Home Page

Ministerial Instability 1760-70

Lord North's Ministry 1770-82

American Affairs 1760-83

The period of peace 1783-92

The Age of the French Wars 1792-1815 Irish Affairs 1760-89

Peel Web Home Page

Tory Governments 1812-30

Political Organisations in the Age of Peel

Economic Affairs in the Age of Peel

Popular Movements in the Age of Peel

Irish Affairs
Primary sources index British Political Personalities British Foreign policy 1815-65 European history
index sitemap advanced
search engine by freefind