Friday, December 18, 2009

In Brighton with George IV

It is a century and a half today since Henry Edward Fox, the fourth Baron Holland, died. He was a fairly unremarkable aristocrat, and sired no children so causing his baronies to expire. Nevertheless, he was an interesting diarist, gossipy, observant and happily acerbic at times. He had no qualms, for example, in calling the King (George IV) a fool, or in describing the English countryside as being full of ‘Lilliput ostentation’! But he liked Brighton, and was there for the opening of the Chain Pier which he described as ‘a great ornament and convenience to the place’.

Fox, the third son of the third Baron Holland, was born in 1802 at Holland House in London. He was educated privately and then studied at Christ Church, Oxford. He briefly held the parliamentary seat of Horsham before eschewing politics and joining the diplomatic service, taking posts in Italy and Austria. He married the daughter of the Earl of Coventry in 1833, and succeeded to become (the fourth) Baron Holland in 1840 on the death of his father.

On returning permanently to England in 1846, Baron Holland launched himself into renovating and altering Holland House. Queen Victoria and Prince Albert attended parties there in 1849-1850. He had no children, and so his baronies became extinct when he died, exactly 150 years ago today, on 18 December 1859. Thereafter, the estate passed to a cousin, the fifth Earl of Ilchester.

Diary writing, it seems, was a family habit. The diaries of both Fox’s parents were published, seven decades apart: The Journal of Elizabeth Lady Holland in two volumes by Longmans, Green and Co in 1908; and The Holland House diaries, 1831-1840 in 1977 by Routledge and Kegan Paul. This latter was based on the diaries of the Third Baron Holland, but also included extracts from the diary of Dr John Allen, a physician and writer, and a significant figure brought into the Holland household by the third Baron.

The fourth Baron Holland’s diaries - The Journal of the Hon. Henry Edward Fox, afterwards fourth and last Baron Holland - were published after his mother’s and before his father’s in 1923 by Thornton Butterworth. Somewhat bizarrely, they cover a 12 year period before those of his father in the Holland House diaries. Having been found among the manuscripts at Holland House, the fourth Baron’s diaries were edited by the sixth Earl of Ilchester, who also gives a short introduction with some biographical details. All 400 pages of the diary are freely available online at Internet Archive (as are both volumes of Lady Holland’s journal).

Arthur Ponsonby, a British writer and politician, who wrote two excellent books on English diaries in the 1920s says this about the fourth Baron’s diaries: ‘He has style, great facility of expression, terse and epigrammatic powers of portraiture and gives unreserved disclosure of candid opinions. So we get at the man through the gossip. This does not prevent the gossip of high society being very exhausting, nor does it prevent him from suffering from the common delusion that association with prominent people must necessarily mean gaining wide experience.’

Here are some extracts from the fourth Baron’s diary, all of them concerning visits to Brighton (for no other reason than that’s where I happen to live).

October 1823
‘We went back to Petworth for two days, and arrived at Brighton on the first of November. For the first three nights we slept in that wretched place, the York Hotel, and dined almost every day with Lady Affleck, who brought Mary from St Ann’s. Our life at Brighton was just what all lives must be in a wateringplace. Some agreable people were there, and latterly when Charles and Henry Webster came it was more agreable: Bedfords, Vernons, Cowpers, Ponsonbys, Duncannons, Hopes, Kings, Aberdeens. Our house was pleasantly situated immediately opposite the Chain Pier, which was twice the scene of gaieties. One night upon its’ being publickly opened there were fireworks, and afterwards, in honor of King’s arrival, illuminated. It is a delightful walk, and a great ornament and convenience to the place. Nothing very particular occurred in the world except that Ld Granville was appointed to The Hague as Ambassador, and that all London has been occupied with the murder of Mr Weare in Hertfordshire one of the most barbarous ever known; and the publicity of it and of all the proceedings has been so great that they thought it but fair to the prisoners to put off the trial, as they had been so much prejudged. . .

My father and I dined one day at the Pavilion. Nothing could be more civil than the King was to him, and the whole conversation after dinner was meant to be gracious to him, praising Holland House, General Fitzpatrick; and even what he did not address to him was meant as implied civility. To Ld Aberdeen he was almost rude. Lf Aberdeen fainted from the heat and looked quite lovely. Nothing could surpass the excellence of the dinner and the splendour of the whole establishment. The King after dinner talked about Junius, which he believes to have been written by Sir Philip Francis, and gave some strong corroborations of that suspicion. The rooms are splendid, and when lighted up look like the palaces of Fairies or Genii. After dinner the King played at écarté with the favorite and Lf Cowper, and all the rest of the company remained in the outer room. Afterwards there were several evening parties and a child’s ball, to which I went. The music is so loud and the heat so overpowering, that they generally gave me a headache. Charles met Lady Errol for the first time one evening there. My father and mother went away on Xmas Day, but Charles and I staid on some time longer. Charles, however, got tired and left me.

One evening I was suddenly sent for to the Pavilion. My dismay was not small at finding myself ushered into a room where the K. and Rossini were alone. I found that I was the only person honored with an invitation to hear this great composer’s performances. A more unworthy object than I am could not have been selected. H.M. was not much pleased with his manner, which was careless and indifferent to all the civilities shown him. The K. himself made a fool of himself by joining in the choruses and the Halelujah Anthem, stamping his foot and overpowering all with the loudness of his Royal voice.’

29 November 1829
‘30 Old Steyne, Brighton. I was called a little after seven and got up immediately. The morning was foggy, damp and cold. I left London before 9 and stopped to hear how Miss Vernon had passed the night at Little Holland House. I was happy to find that the new medicine and a blister had in some measure relieved her and given her a few hours’ sleep. I cannot, however, help apprehending that all ultimate hopes of her recovery must be very faint. My journey was rapid and had no other merit. The country (indeed like almost all the country in this island) is tame and uninteresting; perpetual small country-houses with their mean trimness and Lilliput ostentation. There are few of those worst of all sights on this road - a vast green field, dotted with trees, surrounded by a wall, and damped by a variety of swampy ponds, which call themselves country seats. I arrived at half past 2. My mother was on the pier. I sat with my father, who was, as he always is, very lively. He talked of the Grenvilles, and tho’ he admitted all the faults which make them so unpopular in the world, he praised them for many merits, especially Tom Grenville for his disinterested generosity about Lord Carysfort’s guardianship. I took a bath before dinner. Our guests were, The Lord Chancellor, Lady Lyndhurst, Duke of Devonshire, Sir James Mackintosh, Mr Whishaw, four selves. I never had met the Chancellor before; he is agreable in his manner and voice, and his language is choice and elegant. After dinner we talked of Napoleon and Bourrienne’s Memoires. Sir James said that the conversation there given between the Emperor and Auguste de Stael (at that time only 17 years old), is quite correct. That he has seen Auguste’s letter to his mother, detailing it just as it is told in Bourrienne. He went to meet Napoleon on his return from Italy, in order to solicit for his mother to be allowed to go nearer Paris - but in vain. The D. of D. is grown more absurd in his costume, more obtuse in hearing, and much duller than he used to be. I had a curious conversation after coffee, in which I dissipated the ill-grounded apprehensions of ___. Edward Romilly and Sir James Macdonald came after tea. The room was hot and the evening fatiguing. It is very painful to see and be in the room with someone one wishes excessively to speak to, without the possibility of doing so without becoming the gaze of the whole party. I went to bed at 12.’

2 December 1829
‘A cold, raw day. I got up late and took no bath. I called on Lady Webster and Miss Monson. The former is a fine, open-hearted, cheerful woman, perfectly good-humoured and devoid of any affectation. She has remains of very extraordinary beauty and is still very handsome. I then went to Lady L. The Chancellor is gone. Before he went she received another anonymous letter from London, threatening to expose her to him, and accusing her of an embrace with me on the steps leading to the Chain Pier on Saturday last, on which day I was in London and she was in her bed. This takes off any apprehension we might feel, for it proves the ignorance of our enemies. Great God! What a dreadful country this is to live in, and how much better for the peace of society and for the agrémens of life is the despotism of one man to the inquisitive tyranny and insolent exactions of a whole nation. She very wisely instantly showed the letter to her husband, at the same time showing The Age with a paragraph about her and Cradock, and desired him to direct her future conduct, which he has done in advising her to continue exactly as if she had never received such letters and not to allow the avarice of blackguards to harass and torment her. . .’

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