Of all the 19th century diarists who recorded public and political events, Charles Cavendish Fulke Greville, is probably the most important. Arthur Ponsonby, who wrote two learned reviews of English diaries in the 1920s, says that as a commentator on contemporary events he ‘holds a unique position’, for ‘he wrote history as it was in the making’. Other political and social diaries of the time ‘fade into insignificance when compared with his very full and detailed chronicle’. Indeed his early diaries, when published a decade after his death for the first time, caused an uproar. The Prime Minister at the time, Benjamin Disraeli, called them an outrage, and Queen Victoria, taking her cue from him, was indeed outraged - at the things written about her uncles many decades earlier.
Greville was born in 1794 into a branch of the family of the Earls of Warwick. Educated at Eton and Christ Church, Oxford, he paged for King George III for a short while before working as a private secretary to Earl Bathurst. Then, for more than 35 years, he was Clerk to the Privy Council, a job which brought him into contact with many important people of the time. He was much liked, and maintained good relations with both Whigs and Tories, often being employed as a negotiator during ministerial changes. His interests extended from horse racing (he owned horses and managed the Duke of York’s stables for some years) to literature. In 1859, he resigned the clerkship of the council, and in 1865 he died.
Sympathetic and kind, grumpy and vain
Described as sympathetic, generous and a delightful companion, he was also said to bustle with kindness. Smooth and urbane, Greville’s features were marked by a long, pointed chin and a strong nose which led to him being given the nickname of ‘Punch’; though he was also known as the ‘Gruncher’, on account of being grumpy when troubled by an attack of gout or his growing deafness. He could be vain too. Benjamin Disraeli, writing to a friend in 1874, said: ‘I knew him intimately. He was the vainest being - I don’t limit myself to man - that ever existed; and I don’t forget Cicero and Lytton Bulwer [Edward Bulwer-Lytton - a very popular writer of the day, he who coined the epigram, ‘the pen is mightier than the sword’]. Although he never married, one of his mistresses bore him a son who died as a young man journeying back from India.
Well known and well liked as he was while alive, Greville’s eminence today is entirely thanks to his diaries. Having always intended them for publication, Greville gave them to Henry Reeve, a Privy Council colleague. ‘The author of these Journals,’ Reeve says, ‘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.’
The first three volumes of The Greville Memoirs - A Journal of the Reigns of King George IV and King William IV were published by Longmans, Green in 1874. And they caused a scandal. In Disraeli’s letter (the same one as mentioned above), he writes: ‘I have not seen Chas. Greville’s book, but have read a good deal of it. It is a social outrage. And committed by one who was always talking of what he called ‘perfect gentlemen.’ I don’t think he can figure now in that category.’ According to Queen Victoria’s biographer, Christopher Hibbbert, she wrote that she was ‘horrified and indignant at this dreadful and really scandalous book. Mr Greville’s indiscretion, indelicacy, ingratitude, betrayal of confidence and shameful disloyalty towards his Sovereign make it very important that the book should be severely censored and discredited,’ she wrote indignantly.
Five more volumes followed, in the 1880s, entitled The Greville Memoirs: A Journal of the Reign of Queen Victoria.
The gaudy splendour of the Pavilion
18 December 1821
‘I have not written anything for months. ‘Quante cose mi sono accadute!’ My progress was as follows, not very interesting: To Newmarket, Whersted, Eiddlesworth, Sprotborough, Euston, Elveden, Welbeck, Caversham, Nun Appleton, Welbeck, Burghley, and London. Nothing worth mentioning occurred at any of these places. Sprotborough was agreeable enough. The Grevilles, Montagu, Wilmot, and the Wortleys were there. I came to town, went to Brighton yesterday se’nnight for a Council.
I was lodged in the Pavilion and dined with the King. The gaudy splendour of the place amused me for a little and then bored me. The dinner was cold and the evening dull beyond all dulness. They say the King is anxious that form and ceremony should be banished, and if so it only proves how impossible it is that form and ceremony should not always inhabit a palace. The rooms are not furnished for society, and, in fact, society cannot flourish without ease; and who can feel at ease who is under the eternal constraint which etiquette and respect impose?
The King was in good looks and good spirits, and after dinner cut his jokes with all the coarse merriment which is his characteristic. Lord Wellesley did not seem to like it, but of course he bowed and smiled like the rest. I saw nothing very particular in the King’s manner to Lady Conyngham. He sat by her on the couch almost the whole evening, playing at patience, and he took her in to dinner; but Madame de Lieven and Lady Cowper were there, and he seemed equally civil to all of them. I was curious to see the Pavilion and the life they lead there, and I now only hope I may never go there again, for the novelty is past, and I should be exposed to the whole weight of the bore of it without the stimulus of curiosity.’
The King’s bathing habits
19 August 1822
‘I went to Brighton on Saturday to see the Duke [of York - George IV’s brother and heir presumptive at the time]; returned to-day. The Pavilion is finished. The King has had a subterranean passage made from the house to the stables, which is said to have cost 3,000l or 5,000l; I forget which. There is also a bath in his apartment, with pipes to conduct water from the sea; these pipes cost 600l. The King has not taken a sea bath for sixteen years.’
I shot 376 rabbits
16 September 1829
‘Went to Brighton on Saturday last to pay Lady Jersey a visit and shoot at Firle. Jersey and I shot 376 rabbits, the greatest number that had ever been killed on the hills. The scenery is very fine - a range of downs looking on one side over the sea, and on the other over a wide extent of rich flat country. It is said that Firle is the oldest park in England. It belongs to Lord Gage.’
Heard at Brighton
‘I heard at Brighton for the first time of the Duke of Wellington’s prosecution of the ‘Morning Journal,’ which was announced by the paper itself in a paragraph quite as scurrilous as those for which it is attacked. It seems that he has long made up his mind to this measure, and that he thinks it is a duty incumbent on him, which I do not see, and it appears to me to be an act of great folly. He stands much too high, has performed too great actions, and the attacks on him were too vulgar and vague to be under the necessity of any such retaliatory measure as this, and he lowers his dignity by entering into a conflict with such an infamous paper, and appearing to care about its abuse. I think the Chancellor was right, and that he is wrong.
[In December 1829, the editors and proprietor of ‘Morning Journal’ were found guilty of libel on ministers and parliament and sentenced to a year in Newgate. The paper closed a few months later.]
There is a report that the King insists upon the Duke of Cumberland [another of George IV’s brothers] being Commander-in-Chief, and it is extraordinary how many people think that he will succeed in turning out the Duke. Lord Harrington died while I was at Brighton, and it is supposed that the Duke of Cumberland will try and get the Round Tower [part of Windsor Castle], but probably the King will not like to establish him so near himself.
The King has nearly lost his eyesight, and is to be couched as soon as his eyes are in a proper state for the operation. He is in a great fright with his father’s fate before him, and indeed nothing is more probable than that he will become blind and mad too; he is already a little of both. It is now a question of appointing a Private Secretary, and [Sir William] Knighton, it is supposed, would be the man; but if he is to abstain from all business, there would seem to be no necessity for the appointment, as he will be as little able to do business with his Private Secretary as with his Minister.’
With tagrag and bobtail about him
19 January 1831
‘G[eorge] Lamb [politician and writer] said that the King [William IV] is supposed to be in a bad state of health, and this was confirmed to me by Keate the surgeon, who gave me to understand that he was going the way of both his brothers [George IV etc.]. He will be a great loss in these times; he knows his business, lets his Ministers do as they please, but expects to be informed of everything. He lives a strange life at Brighton, with tagrag and bobtail about him, and always open house. The Queen is a prude, and will not let the ladies come décolletées to her parties. George IV, who liked ample expanses of that sort, would not let them be covered.’
King, Queen, Princes, Princesses, bastards, and attendants
14 December 1832, Brighton
‘Came here last Wednesday week; Council on the Monday for the dissolution [of Parliament]; place very full, bustling, gay, and amusing. I am staying in De Ros’s house with Alvanley; Chesterfields, Howes, Lievens, Cowpers, all at Brighton, and plenty of occupation in visiting, gossiping, dawdling, riding, and driving; a very idle life, and impossible to do anything. The Court very active, vulgar, and hospitable; King, Queen, Princes, Princesses, bastards, and attendants constantly trotting about in every direction: the election noisy and dull - the Court candidate beaten and two Radicals elected. Everybody talking of the siege of Antwerp and the elections. So, with plenty of animation, and discussion, and curiosity, I like it very well. Lord Howe is devoted to the Queen, and never away from her. She receives his attentions, but demonstrates nothing in return; he is like a boy in love with this frightful spotted Majesty, while his delightful wife is laid up (with a sprained ancle and dislocated joint) on her couch.’
The prize-fighter John Gully comes good
17 December 1832, Brighton
‘On Sunday I heard Anderson preach. He does not write his sermons, but preaches from notes; very eloquent, voice and manner perfect, one of the best I ever heard, both preacher and reader.
The borough elections are nearly over, and have satisfied the Government. They do not seem to be bad on the whole; the metropolitans have sent good men enough, and there was no tumult in the town. At Hertford Buncombe was routed by Salisbury’s long purse. He hired such a numerous mob besides that he carried all before him. Some very bad characters have been returned; among the worst, Faithful here [George Faithful - a nonconformist preacher and attorney - was one of the first two MPs returned for Brighton after it was created a Parliamentary Constituency]; Gronow at Stafford; Gully, Pontefract; [. . .]
Gully’s [John Gully - see also Chapter Seven] history is extraordinary. He was taken out of prison twenty-five or thirty years ago by Hellish to fight Pierce, surnamed the ‘Game Chicken,’ being then a butcher’s apprentice; he fought him and was beaten. He afterwards fought Belcher (I believe), and Gresson twice, and left the prizering with the reputation of being the best man in it. He then took to the turf, was successful, established himself at Newmarket, where he kept a hell, and began a system of corruption of trainers, jockeys, and boys, which put the secrets of all Newmarket at his disposal, and in a few years made him rich.
At the same time he connected himself with Mr Watt in the north, by betting for him, and this being at the time when Watt’s stable was very successful, he won large sums of money by his horses. Having become rich he embarked in a great coal speculation, which answered beyond his hopes, and his shares soon yielded immense profits. His wife, who was a coarse, vulgar woman, in the meantime died, and he afterwards married the daughter of an innkeeper, who proved as gentlewomanlike as the other had been the reverse, and who is very pretty besides. He now gradually withdrew from the betting ring as a regular blackleg, still keeping horses, and betting occasionally in large sums, and about a year or two ago, having previously sold the Hare Park to Sir Mark Wood, where he lived for two or three years, he bought a property near Pontefract, and settled down (at Ackworth Park) as John Gully, Esq., a gentleman of fortune. [. . .]
When Parliament was about to be dissolved, he was again invited to stand for Pontefract by a numerous deputation; he again hesitated, but finally accepted; Lord Mexborough withdrew, and he was elected without opposition. In person he is tall and finely formed, full of strength and grace, with delicate hands and feet, his face coarse and with a bad expression, his head set well on his shoulders, and remarkably graceful and even dignified in his actions and manners; totally without education, he has strong sense, discretion, reserve, and a species of good taste which has prevented, in the height of his fortunes, his behaviour from ever transgressing the bounds of modesty and respect, and he has gradually separated himself from the rabble of bettors and blackguards of whom he was once the most conspicuous, and tacitly asserted his own independence and acquired gentility without ever presuming towards those whom he has been accustomed to regard with deference. His position is now more anomalous than ever, for a member of Parliament is a great man, though there appear no reasons why the suffrages of the blackguards of Pontefract should place him in different social relations towards us than those in which we mutually stood before.’
6 August 1835
‘Yesterday to Brighton, to see my horse Dacre run for the Brighton stake, which he won, and back at night.’
Mrs. Fitzherbert and her papers
31 March 1837
‘Among the many old people who have been cut off by this severe weather, one of the most remarkable is Mrs Fitzherbert, who died at Brighton at above eighty years of age. She was not a clever woman, but of a very noble spirit, disinterested, generous, honest, and affectionate, greatly beloved by her friends and relations, popular in the world, and treated with uniform distinction and respect by the Royal Family. The late King, who was a despicable creature, grudged her the allowance he was bound to make her, and he was always afraid lest she should make use of some of the documents in her possession to annoy or injure him. This mean and selfish apprehension led him to make various efforts to obtain possession of those the appearance of which he most dreaded, and among others, one remarkable attempt was made by Sir William Knighton some years ago.
Although a stranger to Mrs Fitzherbert, he called one day at her house, when she was ill in bed, insisted upon seeing her, and forced his way into her bedroom. She contrived (I forget how) to get rid of him without his getting anything out of her, but this domiciliary visit determined her to make a final disposition of all the papers she possessed, that in the event of her death no advantage might be taken of them either against her own memory or the interests of any other person. She accordingly selected those papers which she resolved to preserve, and which are supposed to be the documents and correspondence relating to her marriage with George IV, and made a packet of them which was deposited at her banker’s, and all other letters and papers she condemned to the flames. For this purpose she sent for the Duke of Wellington and Lord Albemarle, told them her determination, and in their presence had these papers burnt; she assured them, that everything was destroyed, and if after her death any pretended letters or documents were produced, they might give the most authoritative contradiction to their authenticity.’
The Diary Junction