Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Bulwer, William Henry Lytton Earle
BULWER, WILLIAM HENRY LYTTON EARLE, Baron Dalling and Bulwer (1801–1872), diplomatist, better known as Sir Henry Bulwer, although his baptismal certificate gives the above names, was born at 31 Baker Street, Portman Square, London, on 13 Feb. 1801. He was the second of the three sons of General William Earle Bulwer of Wood Dalling, Heydon Hall, Norfolk, by his wife, Elizabeth Barbara Lytton, only child of Richard Warburton Lytton of Knebworth Park, Hertfordshire. At the time of Bulwer's birth his father was colonel of the 106th regiment. General Bulwer died 7 July 1807, in his fifty-first year, and his young widow undertook the education of her three sons. She was a woman of rare accomplishments; her father had been a favourite pupil of Dr. Parr, who used to boast that his pupil was inferior only to himself and perhaps Porson in scholarship, while he was also an accomplished oriental linguist. Henry Bulwer had an ample fortune secured from his maternal grandmother, Elizabeth, daughter of Paul Joddrell of Lewknor in Oxfordshire.
Bulwer's first schooling was under Dr. Curtis at Sunbury in Middlesex. Thence he went to Harrow, where his tutor was the Rev. Mark Drury. In 1819 he went up to Cambridge, where he was entered at Trinity, but shortly afterwards migrated to Downing College. Bulwer never competed for honours. His most intimate associate was Alexander (afterwards Chief Justice) Cockburn [q. v.] In 1822 he published a small volume of poems, with a prophetic dedication to his younger brother, Edward Lytton Bulwer. In the autumn of 1824 Bulwer left Cambridge; for the Greek committee, then sitting in London, authorised him to set out at once for the Morea as their agent. He carried with him a sum of 80,000l., which he handed over to Prince Mavrocordato. He was accompanied by Hamilton Browne, who, only the year before, had been commissioned by Lord Byron to treat with the armed insurgents at Cephalonia. During Bulwer's absence abroad he was gazetted on 19 Oct. 1825 as a cornet in the 2nd life guards. On 2 June 1826 he exchanged into the 58th regiment. On 27 July 1826 he obtained an unattached ensigncy. On 1 Jan. 1829 he commuted his half-pay and became a diplomatist.
In 1826 he published a record of his excursion to the Morea, under the title of ‘An Autumn in Greece.’ In August 1827 he was appointed attaché at Berlin. While passing through Paris he found himself one night a winner at play of between 6,000l. and 7,000l. This enabled him to join a select whist-playing set at Prince Wittgenstein's, where the stakes ran high, sometimes reaching even 500 louis the rubber. In April 1829 he became an attaché at Vienna. Thence in April 1830 he was transferred to the Hague. On the outbreak of the revolution at Brussels on 25 Aug. 1830, Bulwer was despatched by Lord Aberdeen, then foreign secretary, upon a special mission into Belgium. At the very moment of his arrival at Ghent the civic conflict broke out, the commissionnaire of his hotel being shot down at his elbow on the Grand' Place. On reaching Brussels he found the Dutch troops already upon the heights. While he was passing through the streets of Ath the insurgents took possession of that fortress. His despatches were considered so able that in a few days he was summoned to London to receive the congratulations of the cabinet. He returned to Brussels in a regular official capacity. He took an important part in the negotiations which followed, and gave an interesting account of the facts in the ‘Westminster Review’ for January 1831.
Bulwer was returned to parliament for Wilton, 30 Aug. 1830, but, having voted for the disfranchisement of the borough, sought another seat, and on 29 April 1831 was returned as an advanced liberal for Coventry. He sat for Coventry in the parliament of 1833, and on 9 Jan. 1835 was returned as a radical reformer by Marylebone. He held that seat till the dissolution of 1837, and won high repute as a debater. In 1834 he published, in two volumes—entitled ‘France: Social, Literary, and Political’—the first half of a work, completed in 1836, called ‘The Monarchy of the Middle Classes.’ He prefixed in 1835 a sympathetic ‘Life of Lord Byron’ to the Paris edition of the poet's works published by Galignani, a memoir that was republished sixteen years afterwards.
On 27 Nov. 1835 he became secretary of legation, and during 1835 and 1836 he was chargé d'affaires at Brussels. In 1836 he brought out a pamphlet entitled ‘The Lords, the Government, and the Country.’ For the next thirty years he devoted himself entirely to diplomacy. He had become familiar with French society of all ranks, and was said to have suggested or inspired George Sand's ‘Mauprat.’ While at Paris on 14 Aug. 1837 he received his nomination as secretary of embassy at Constantinople. In this post he distinguished himself by negotiating a commercial treaty with the Porte, the duty being entrusted to him by Lord Ponsonby, then ambassador at Constantinople. He has told the story of his success in the twelfth chapter of his ‘Life of Lord Palmerston’ (ii. 250–88). Palmerston, writing from Windsor Castle on 13 Sept. 1838, pronounced the treaty a masterpiece. Soon afterwards Bulwer was appointed secretary of embassy at St. Petersburg, but he delayed his departure on account of his health, and the appointment was practically cancelled in the June of 1839 by his despatch to Paris as secretary of embassy there, when there was some danger of war with France. In 1839 and in 1840 Bulwer held the responsible office of chargé d'affaires. On 14 Nov. 1843 he was appointed ambassador at the court of Isabella II. He was appointed, with the assent of both powers, arbitrator between Spain and Morocco. A treaty of peace was signed in 1844. In 1846 a far more formidable difficulty originated in the dynastic intrigues of Louis-Philippe and the affair of the Spanish marriages. There can be little doubt that, but for Lord Palmerston, Bulwer might readily have prevented those fatal marriages. The direct result of their accomplishment was the French revolution of February 1848; and, a month after the popular outburst at Paris, came the insurrectionary explosion at Madrid. When Marshal Narvaez proceeded summarily to suppress the constitutional guarantees, Bulwer formally protested in the name of England. Narvaez in return denounced the ambassador as an accomplice in the conspiracies of the Progresistas. On 19 May 1848 Bulwer was required to quit Madrid within forty-eight hours. This summary dismissal of the British ambassador was first known to the ministers in London when Bulwer called in Downing Street to report himself at the Foreign Office. Immediately afterwards M. Isturiz, the Spanish ambassador, took his departure from England. Bulwer had been gazetted on 27 April 1848 a knight commander of the Bath, being promoted three years afterwards, on 1 March 1851, to the grand cross. Before the close of the year of his return from Spain he was married, on 9 Dec. 1848, to the Hon. Georgiana Charlotte Mary Wellesley, youngest daughter of the first baron Cowley, and niece to the first duke of Wellington. On 27 April 1849 Sir Henry Bulwer was appointed ambassador at Washington. His principal achievement in that capacity was the bringing to a satisfactory completion the Bulwer-Clayton treaty. During the three years of his sojourn in America he obtained an extraordinary amount of popularity. More than once he roused immense audiences in the United States to exceptional enthusiasm. On 19 Jan. 1852 he was sent as minister plenipotentiary to the court of the Grand Duke of Tuscany at Florence. There he remained until his retirement on 26 Jan. 1855. A pension was awarded to him on 25 April. Several diplomatic missions, some of them of extreme delicacy, were afterwards entrusted to him, at Constantinople, in the Danubian principalities, and elsewhere along the borders of the Levant. Among these he was, for nearly two years together, empowered as commissioner under the 23rd article of the treaty of Paris—from 23 July 1856 to 9 May 1858—to investigate the condition of the Danubian principalities. Bulwer was selected, at the close of the Crimean war, to be the successor of Viscount Stratford de Redcliffe as ambassador extraordinary to the Ottoman Porte at Constantinople. From 10 May 1858 to August 1865 he added much to his already high reputation.
On returning from the Bosphorus in the winter of 1865 Bulwer retired from the diplomatic service. On 17 Nov. 1868 he was elected member for Tamworth, and retained that seat until his elevation to the peerage on 21 March 1871 as Baron Dalling and Bulwer. His last speech in the commons, upon the Irish church, was one of the most effective he ever delivered, though his infirmity made him inaudible to most of the house. Before the close of 1867 he published in two volumes, entitled ‘Historical Characters,’ four masterly sketches of Talleyrand, Cobbett, Canning, and Mackintosh. Two other companion sketches, those of Sir Robert Peel and Viscount Melbourne, have since been selected from among their author's papers and published posthumously. The first two volumes of a ‘Life of Viscount Palmerston’ appeared in 1870. Four years afterwards a third volume was issued from the press posthumously. He died very suddenly on 23 May 1872 at Naples. As he died without issue, his title became extinct. The sweetness of his disposition and his high-bred manner rendered him a universal favourite. Habitually sauntering through society with an air of languor, he veiled the keenest observation under an aspect of indifference. Whenever in his more delicate negotiations he was in reality the most cautious, he was seemingly the most negligent. The apparently languid way in which he related an anecdote gave it a peculiarly poignant effect. His personal popularity was mainly attributable to his complete mastery of the subtlest arts of a conversationalist.[Many particulars in the foregoing record are drawn from the writer's own personal recollections and correspondence. Memoirs by the present writer have appeared in the Morning Post, 28 May 1872; Athenæum, 1 June 1872; Illustrated Review, 15 Aug. 1872; and Encycl. Brit. (9th edition), vi. 780–3. See also Times, 3 June 1872; Lord Dalling's Life of his political chief, Viscount Palmerston, i. ii. iii.; Life of Edward, Lord Lytton, by his son Robert, Earl of Lytton, i. ii.; Returns of Members of Parliament.]