Monday, December 12, 2022

I went with the Queen

The undistinguished British diplomat and courtier, Henry Greville, died 150 years ago today. Like his more famous brother, Charles, he kept a diary for most of his life, and this was published a few years after his death. However, unlike Charles’s diary, Henry’s is considered relatively dull in style and content. Nevertheless, Henry records many of the political and cultural events going on around him with a smooth style, showing a particular affection for the theatre.

Henry William Greville, the youngest son of Charles and Lady Charlotte Greville, was born in 1801. He was educated at Westminster School and Oxford, though much of his childhood was spent on the Continent, chiefly in Brussels. As an adult he worked as private secretary for Lord Francis Egerton, afterwards earl of Ellesmere, when he was chief secretary for Ireland.

In 1835, Greville entered the diplomatic service, as attaché to the British embassy in Paris, and retired from it in 1844. For many years, he held a minor post at Court, that of a gentleman usher, which gave him a small addition to his income. Never having married, he died, after a somewhat lingering illness, on 12 December 1872. Wikipedia has a short biography, but there is far more information about Henry’s brother, Charles Cavendish Fulke Greville, who is remembered as a major diarist of the 19th century.

Henry Greville, though, also kept a diary for much of his life. This was edited by his niece, Viscountess Enfield (afterwards countess of Strafford), and published in four volumes from 1883 by Smith, Elder & Co. under the title Leaves from the Diary of Henry Greville. All of these volumes are freely available at Internet Archive.

Henry’s diary is said to derive some importance from Greville’s position in Paris, but otherwise to lack the wit and malice found in his brother’s diary. Enfield says this in a preface to one of the volumes: ‘This work cannot aspire to the depth of thought, the carefulness of style, the pungency of satire which characterised the journals of my uncle Charles Greville. As a literary composition they are doubtless inferior to these, but still I venture to think and hope that in this volume there will be found something to amuse and to interest, with little or nothing to wound the most sensitive feelings.’

12 January 1840
‘On Tuesday there was a great ball at the Embassy. The Infants of Spain, Don Francisco and Dona Carlotta and their children, were present. The Infanta, a huge, fat, frightful woman, danced the whole evening like a girl of sixteen. Don Francisco is an ignoble stunted-looking man with a Bourbon face.

An interesting discussion is going on in the Chambers on the Eastern question. The feeling against Russia is very strong, but, on the other hand, the English alliance is not so popular as it has been.’

5 April 1840
‘I have been confined for a fortnight by a most excruciating rheumatism, and have been too ill to write. [. . .]

In England we have a war with China, and a motion of Graham censuring the Government with reference to this question stands for the 7th of this month. Government was beaten by sixteen on Stanley’s motion for revising and reforming the fictitious voting in Ireland, which was a great blow; they are consequently making a great whip for the debate on China. . .’

15 May 1840
‘The translation of Napoleon’s remains makes a great stir. Many people laugh at it, and think it a great piece of humbug - which no doubt it is - but it is a sort of humbug which goes down here exceedingly well. I am still confined to my couch, but people are very kind to me, [. . .]

The murder of Lord William Russell is still enveloped in mystery; and although there is evidence to connect the Swiss valet with the robbery, there is none to prove him guilty of the murder. Charles writes me word he had seen the prisoner in Tothill Fields prison; that he has a bad countenance, but was calm and even dejected, civil and respectful in his manner. Everything would tend to condemn him morally, but much doubt is entertained whether, legally, there be sufficient evidence to convict him.

The Duke of Wellington made an admirable speech the other night on a motion of Lord Stanhope on the Chinese question. It was well delivered, and, evincing an entire knowledge of the subject, and a total absence of all party feeling, he entered into a warm defence of Captain Elliott, showing that when an officer was, as he considered, unjustly attacked in the discharge of his duty, he never could allow any consideration of party warfare to prevent his upholding him against all detractors.

The Tories are very angry with the Duke, as their only object is to embarrass the Government, no matter at what hazard or cost.’

19 January 1841
‘Parliament was opened today by the Queen in person. The Speech, which is a good one, touches upon the state of Ireland principally, and upon the measures which are to be proposed for the amelioration of its social and physical condition; upon Cracow; and upon the Spanish marriages, but slightly, and merely saying that they had given rise to a correspondence between the two Governments. It is said in the town that Palmerston is much annoyed that stronger mention has not been made of this matter; that there had been a dispute in the Cabinet thereupon.

The debates were interesting.

I went to see Covent Garden Theatre, which is being newly constructed for an Italian Opera House. It was a very curious spectacle. M. Albano, the architect, showed it to me. It took them fourteen days to pull down the parts they wished to remove, so strongly was it built. Charles Kemble told me tonight the theatre had cost 300,000l.; that 100,000l. of this, his money and that of his family, had been sunk in the concern, and he should be very glad to sell his share of it for 10,000l.’

10 February 1841
‘One of the heaviest falls of snow I ever saw. It began yesterday, and continued all day and night, and the railroads are all but impassable. The snow is deep in the streets, and the Queen has just passed my window with her suite in three sledges.’

15 May 1841
‘Here is a large gap in my journal. My time has been entirely occupied by rehearsals and arrangements for the two plays we have acted at the St. James’s Theatre, for the benefit of the starving Irish and Scotch. They went off very well. ‘The Hunchback’ on the first evening and ‘Hernani’ and a farce on the second. The Queen and Royal Family and the elite of London were present, and the receipt was a very large one. Lady Dufierin wrote a beautiful epilogue, which was spoken to perfection by Mrs. Butler.

Jenny Lind has at last made her appearance at the Queen’s Theatre. She is decidedly a first-rate artist, a great musician, and a great executant. Her voice is of a peculiar quality, strong in the upper notes, but a good deal veiled in others. She is a good actress up to a certain point, and her style of singing is essentially German. Her success is prodigious, and perhaps greater than that of any other singer of our time; but she owes some of this to the skilful manner in which ‘the puff precedent’ has been brought into play, and by which public curiosity has been raised and kept up by artificial means. However, she is decidedly an artist of the first class, though not, as is asserted, the greatest that ever appeared.’

5 November 1850
‘The streets are more than usually filled with Guy Fawkes and images of Roman bishops. The ‘Times’ is entirely full of the sermons preached in the various churches, and of anti-Popery meetings in the provinces.’

5 February 1851
‘Yesterday I went with the Queen to the House of Lords. The day was magnificent, and the crowds of people far greater than I ever saw on any other similar occasion. The carriage in which I sat (the first) was too far from the Queen to judge of her reception, but the Duchess of Sutherland, who was in the State coach, told me the cheering was great, but the cries of ‘No Popery!’ were continuous. The House of Lords looked beautiful, filled as it was to overflowing by women in every sort of colour and sparkling with jewels.’

2 May 1851
‘Contrary to expectation, the Exhibition was opened yesterday with great solemnity and eclat. The day, though cold, was bright. The crowds were immense, and those who were to be present began going to the palace as early as six o’clock.

As I did not buy a season ticket I was not present, but all those who were unanimously pronounced it as one of the grandest sights they ever witnessed. I walked about the park, and never saw a more good-humoured multitude, and there was nowhere the slightest disorder or confusion.’

5 May 1851
‘The Queen has written a letter to John Russell, expressing her great satisfaction at the manner in which she was received, and in which everything was conducted on the 1st of May. There had been all sorts of rumours of probable disturbances and riots which were to be got up by foreign emissaries, &c., but for which there does not seem to have been any foundation.

The foreigners now in London were immensely struck by the order of the vast crowds which perambulated the streets, and which was maintained solely by the police.

Prince Albert dined at the Royal Academy for the first time, and made an excellent speech.

I never remember a colder spring. It constantly hails and rains, and the sun rarely shines!’

11 May 1851
‘I went yesterday for the first time to the Exhibition. It is really a marvellous place, beautiful and singular, but although filled with everything curious from all parts of the world, its immense size gives one a feeling of hopeless bewilderment. I did little more than walk through a part of it, glancing at the wondrous things it contains, and at the general effect of the building, and of the crowds of people who perambulated it without confusion or inconvenience, but I returned home jaded, with aching head and eyes from the glare, and with the sensation of being glad I had seen it, and (no doubt stupidly) with no desire to return there. Its success is great and universal, and when one recollects that seven months ago the building was not begun, and that now this stupendous edifice is finished, filled with everything most wonderful, and gathered from all corners of the world, it is nothing short of marvellous. The receipts are immense and daily increasing.’

This article is a slightly revised version of one first published on 12 December 2012.

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