Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Lewis, George Cornewall

LEWIS, Sir GEORGE CORNEWALL (1806–1863), statesman and author, the elder son of Sir Thomas Frankland Lewis [q. v.] of Harpton Court, Radnorshire, by his first wife, Harriet, fourth daughter of Sir George Cornewall of Moccas, Herefordshire, bart., was born in London on 21 April 1806. He was first sent to Monsieur Clement's school at Chelsea, but in January 1819 was removed to Eton, where he distinguished himself by his facility and elegance as a writer of Latin verse; many of his compositions are still preserved in a manuscript volume in the library at Harpton. Leaving school in December 1823, Lewis matriculated at Oxford on 10 Feb. 1824, and after travelling abroad for a few months commenced his residence at Christ Church in the Michaelmas term of that year. In Easter term 1828 he gained a first class in classics and a second in mathematics, and in June of the same year was elected a student of Christ Church. He graduated B.A. in 1829, M.A. in 1831, and was created D.C.L. on 24 June 1857. Having been admitted a student of the Middle Temple in June 1828, he became a pupil in the chambers of Mr. (afterwards Sir) Barnes Peacock, then a special pleader, and in 1830 he attended Austin's lectures on jurisprudence at London University. Lewis was called to the bar on 25 Nov. 1831, and joined the Oxford circuit, but owing to ill-health soon abandoned law for literature. He had now become an advanced classical scholar, could both speak and read French, German, and Italian, and had studied Spanish, Provençal, and Anglo-Saxon. In 1833 he was appointed an assistant-commissioner to inquire into the condition of the poorer classes in Ireland, and on 28 Dec. 1833 was directed by the home secretary ‘to make a particular inquiry into the state of the Irish labourers’ in the larger towns of Lancashire, and in the south-western portions of Scotland. His report, embodying the result of his investigations, is dated Dublin, 1 Dec. 1834, and was published as an appendix to the ‘First Report of the Irish Poor Inquiry Commissioners’ (Parl. Papers, 1836, xxxiv. 427–642). On 4 June 1834 he became a member of the commission of inquiry into the state of religious and other instruction in Ireland (ib. 1835, vols. xxxiii. xxxiv.). At the desire of the chancellor of the exchequer (Thomas Spring Rice) Lewis, in July 1836, wrote his ‘Remarks on the Third Report of the Irish Poor Inquiry Commissioners,’ &c. (London, 1837, 8vo; also printed in vol. li. of the ‘Parliamentary Papers’ for 1837, pp. 253–290). Lewis disagreed with the recommendations of the commissioners, and in a letter to Sir Edmund Head declared that ‘their utter misconception of the entire subject, both the state of Ireland and the English poor law, is less provoking than the impudent way in which they beg the question while professing to argue it’ (Letters, p. 54).

On 10 Sept. 1836 he was appointed joint-commissioner with John Austin (1790–1859) [q. v.] to inquire into the affairs of Malta, where he spent eighteen months in reporting on the condition of the island, and proposed various changes in the laws (Parl. Papers, 1838 vol. xxix., 1839 vol. xvii.). He returned to England in May 1838, and in January 1839 succeeded his father as one of the poor-law commissioners for England and Wales. This post, which was both a difficult and a thankless one, Lewis held for more than seven years. The board was attacked on all sides, and while the local authorities protested that it interfered too much, the philanthropists declared that it did too little. The difficulties of the board, moreover, were intensified by the want of a representative in parliament (Letters, pp. 149–151), as well as by the action of its secretary, Mr. (afterwards Sir) Edwin Chadwick, who was the chief opponent of the policy of the commissioners. Matters were at length brought to a crisis by the report of the select committee of the House of Commons appointed to inquire into the administration of the poor laws in the Andover union, and into the management of the union workhouse (Parl. Papers, 1846, vol. v. pts. i. ii.) This report cast a slur upon the conduct of the commissioners, who replied to the charges made against them in ‘Letters addressed … to the Secretary of State respecting the Transaction of the Business of the Commission’ (London, 1847, 8vo). In the same year (1846) Lewis filed a criminal information against W. B. Ferrand, M.P. for Knaresborough, for a libel charging him with conspiracy and falsehood in connection with the Keighley union inquiry in 1842. The rule was made absolute on 24 Nov., but it would appear that the action was never brought to trial. In consequence of the general dissatisfaction with the board, a bill was brought in by the government for remodelling the commission (10 & 11 Vict. c. 109), and Lewis resigned office in July 1847.

At the general election in August 1847 Lewis was returned to the House of Commons for Herefordshire in the Liberal interest, and in November following was appointed one of the secretaries to the board of control in Lord John Russell's first administration. He spoke for the first time in the House of Commons on 26 Nov. 1847 (Parl. Debates, 3rd ser. xcv. 254–5), and on 4 May 1848 supported the third reading of the Jewish Disabilities Removal Bill (ib. xcviii. 631–3, 668). On 15 May 1848 he became under-secretary for the home department, and in the following year endeavoured without success to carry through the house a bill for the abolition of turnpike trusts and the management of highways by a mixed county board (ib. cii. 1339–45, 1364, ciii. 417–30, 441). In 1850 his Highways Bill, from which all reference to the turnpike trusts had been omitted (ib. cviii. 746–9), met with no better success.

In May and June 1850 he was examined before the select committee of the House of Lords appointed to consider the laws relating to parochial assessments. His evidence, which was of a very comprehensive character, was reprinted from the report (Parl. Papers, 1850, vol. xvi.) as a separate pamphlet (London, 1850, 8vo). On 9 July 1850 Lewis became financial secretary to the treasury, an office which he retained until Lord John Russell's downfall in February 1852. In September 1851 Lewis was entrusted with Lord John Russell's proposals to Sir James Robert George Graham [q. v.], but the negotiations were unsuccessful (Greville Memoirs, pt. ii. vol. iii. pp. 411–12). He lost his seat for Herefordshire at the general election in July 1852, and in November following unsuccessfully contested Peterborough, where he was defeated by G. H. Whalley by fifteen votes. In December 1852 Lewis accepted the post of editor of the ‘Edinburgh Review,’ in succession to William Empson [q. v.], but the first number really edited by him did not appear until April 1853 (Letters, p. 261). In 1853 he went up to Oxford to examine for the Ireland scholarship, and in the summer of the same year refused the offer of the governorship of Bombay. On the death of his father in January 1855 Lewis succeeded to the baronetcy, and in the following month to his father's seat for the Radnor boroughs, for which he was returned without opposition, and which he continued to represent until his death. During the break in his parliamentary career Lewis wrote his ‘Enquiry into the Credibility of the Early Roman History’ (London, 1855, 8vo, 2 vols.; translated into German by F. Liebrecht, Hanover, 1858, 8vo, 2 vols.), in which he assailed the results of Niebuhr's investigations, as well as the method by which he arrived at them. Lewis succeeded Mr. Gladstone as chancellor of the exchequer in Lord Palmerston's first administration, and was sworn a member of the privy council on 28 Feb. 1855. He thereupon resigned the editorship of the ‘Edinburgh Review.’ He brought forward his budget on 20 April 1855 under circumstances of exceptional difficulty (Parl. Debates, 3rd ser. cxxxvii. 1555–80). To meet a deficit of twenty-three millions, Lewis raised sixteen millions by a new loan, three millions by exchequer bills, and the remaining four millions by increasing the income-tax from fourteenpence to sixteenpence in the pound, and by raising the duties on sugar, tea, coffee, and spirits. A proposed stamp duty, which would have produced 200,000l., was afterwards abandoned. By this budget the taxation of the country was raised to 68,639,000l. per annum, a sum ‘largely in excess of any that had ever before been so levied’ (Sir Stafford Northcote, Twenty Years of Financial Policy, p. 268). The loan of two millions to Sardinia was readily agreed to, but the resolution adopting the convention by which the government, conjointly with France, agreed to guarantee the Turkish loan of five millions was violently attacked in the house, and carried by only 135 to 132 (Parl. Debates, 3rd ser. cxxxix. 1268). Owing to the continual drain of the war expenses, Lewis was compelled before the session closed to apply for power to issue seven millions of exchequer bills instead of three (ib. cxxxix. 1697–1703). During the same session Lewis succeeded in carrying through the House of Commons the Newspaper Stamp Duties Bill (18 and 19 Vict. c. xxvii.), which he had ‘received as an inheritance from Gladstone’ (Letters, p. 295). On 22 Feb. 1855 Lewis applied for authority to raise a loan of five millions, in order to supply the place of the surplus on which he had calculated in the previous year (Parl. Debates, 3rd ser. cxl. 1228–42). He introduced his second budget on 19 May 1856, when he estimated the whole cost of the Crimean war at 77,588,711l. (but see Sir Stafford Northcote, Twenty Years of Financial Policy, p. 295; Buxton, Finance and Politics, i. 155). As no new taxes were to be levied, Lewis, in order to meet a deficiency of over eight millions, was once more compelled to find the money by means of a further loan (Parl. Debates, 3rd ser. cxlii. 329–55). By his third and last budget, which he brought in on 13 Feb. 1857, Lewis reduced the income-tax from sixteenpence to sevenpence in the pound, and made some small reductions in the tea, coffee, and sugar duties (ib. cxliv. 629–64). Though his financial proposals were severely attacked by Disraeli and Mr. Gladstone, they were subsequently carried in a slightly modified form. In consequence of the grave commercial crisis in the autumn of 1857, the Bank Charter Act was suspended on Lewis's recommendation (Annual Register, 1857, Chron. p. 513), and on 4 Dec. 1857 he moved for leave to bring in an Indemnity Bill (Parl. Debates, 3rd ser. cxlviii. 145–71), which was quickly passed through both houses, and received the royal assent on the 12th of the same month (ib. p. 672). He made one of his most successful speeches in the House of Commons on 12 Feb. 1858 in support of Lord Palmerston's motion for leave to bring in a bill for the better government of India (ib. pp. 1330–53), and resigned office with the rest of his colleagues on the defeat of the ministry a few days afterwards. On the formation of Lord Palmerston's second administration in June 1859, Lewis waived his claims to the chancellorship of the exchequer in favour of Mr. Gladstone, and accepted the post of home secretary. On the resignation of Sidney Herbert, lord Herbert of Lea [q. v.], Lewis, much against his wish, was appointed secretary for war (22 July 1861).

While still holding this uncongenial office, he died at Harpton Court on 13 April 1863, aged 56. The House of Commons was adjourned on the following day out of respect to his memory (ib. clxx. 13–16). He was buried on the 18th in the family vault under the lady-chapel in Old Radnor Church. A marble bust of Lewis, by Weekes, was placed in the north transept of Westminster Abbey, and monuments were erected in his honour in Old Radnor Church, in New Radnor, and in front of the Shire-hall at Hereford.

Lewis was a quiet, grave-looking man, of simple habits and undemonstrative manners. As a sober-minded, practical politician, of high principles, untiring industry, and great administrative ability, he secured the confidence of the moderate men of all parties. Greville describes him as ‘cold-blooded as a fish, totally devoid of sensibility or nervousness, of an imperturbable temper, calm and resolute, laborious and indefatigable, and exceedingly popular in the House of Commons, from his general good-humour and civility, and the credit given him for honour, sincerity, plain-dealing, and good intentions’ (Memoirs, pt. iii. vol. ii. p. 84). Lewis was a solid and shrewd thinker. He possessed a keen critical faculty, and was indefatigable in research. His accumulation of exact knowledge was so great that ‘there was no sort of definite information, whether relating to public business or to books, which he did not know how to acquire and where to find’ (Bagehot, Works, iii. 231). He was neither a brilliant nor an eloquent speaker, but his conversation, in Bagehot's opinion, was superior both to his speeches and his writings on account of ‘the flavor of exact thought’ which they invariably possessed (ib. 263). His writings are more remarkable for scholarly research than for any elegance of style, and are distinguished by the same practical good sense, as well as the same absence of any desire for popularity, which were so noticeable in his parliamentary career. Lewis had a tendency to overestimate the effects of education, and was firmly convinced that ‘a well-educated man was competent to undertake any office and to write on any subject’ (ib. 231). His characteristic assertion that ‘life would be tolerable but for its amusements,’ though familiar to many, is frequently misquoted (Times, 18 Sept. 1872, p. 4).

He married, on 26 Oct. 1844, Maria Theresa, only daughter of the Hon. George Villiers, and widow of Thomas Henry Lister [q. v.] [see , Lewis, Maria Theresa, Lady]. During their married life their town residence was Kent House, Knightsbridge. Lewis numbered among his most intimate friends Sir Edmund Walker Head [q. v.], the Austins, the Duff Gordons, the Grotes, John Stuart Mill, Dean Milman, and Lord Stanhope. He was a great favourite with the queen and the prince consort (Sir Theodore Martin, Life of the Prince Consort, 1880, v. 252 n.) A full-length portrait of Lewis, by Henry Weigall, is now the property of a nephew. Lewis's brother, Sir Gilbert Frankland Lewis (1808–1883), canon of Worcester, succeeded him in the baronetcy, and edited the ‘Letters of the Right Hon. Sir G. C. Lewis to various Friends’ (London, 1870, 8vo).

Besides the ‘Essays on the Administrations of Great Britain from 1783 to 1830,’ which were edited by Sir Edmund Walker Head in 1864 (London, 8vo), Lewis contributed the following articles to the ‘Edinburgh Review:’ 1. ‘Eton’ (No. 101, art. 3). 2. ‘Westminster and Eton’ (No. 105, art. 3). 3. ‘Legislation for the Working Classes’ (No. 167, art. 3). 4. ‘Local Taxes of the United Kingdom’ (No. 171, art. 3). 5. ‘The State of the Nation—the Minority and the New Parliament’ (No. 175, art. 4). 6. ‘Grote's History of Greece, vols. iii–vi.’ (No. 183, art. 4). 7. ‘Lord Derby's Ministry and Protection’ (No. 194, art. 10). 8. ‘The Late Elections and Free-Trade’ (No. 196, art. 8). 9. ‘The Fall of the Derby Ministry’ (No. 197, art. 9). 10. ‘Lord Grey's Colonial Administration’ (No. 199, art. 3). 11. ‘Marshall on the Representation of Minorities’ (No. 203, art. 7). 12. ‘Parliamentary Opposition’ (No. 205, art. 1). 13. ‘The Second Derby Ministry’ (No. 218, art. 9). 14. ‘The Celts and Germans’ (No. 219, art. 6). 15. ‘The History and Prospects of Parliamentary Reform’ (No. 219, art. 9). 16. ‘The Diaries and Correspondence of George Rose’ (No. 227, art. 2). 17. ‘The Election of President Lincoln and its Consequences’ (No. 230, art. 10). 18. ‘The Military Defence of the Colonies’ (No. 233, art. 4). He contributed to the ‘Foreign Quarterly Review’ the following articles: 1. ‘Spix and Martius's Travels in Brazil’ (No. 10, art. 3). 2. ‘Tittmann's History of the Amphictyonic Confederacy’ (No. 11, art. 6). 3. ‘Schaefer's edition of Plutarch's Lives’ (No. 11, art. 11). 4. ‘On Codification and its Application to the Laws of England’ (No. 12, art. 2). 5. ‘The French Revolution of 1830’ (No. 12, art. 7). 6. ‘Mythology and Religion of Ancient Greece’ (No. 13, art. 2; see also No. 15, pp. 225–7). 7. ‘The Brunswick Revolution’ (No. 13, art. 9). 8. ‘Dindorf's Poetæ Scenici Græci’ (No. 13, art. 13). 9. ‘Raynouard's Ancient Municipal Institutions of France’ (No. 15, art. 6). 10. ‘Thierry's History of the Gauls’ (No. 19, art. 6). He contributed nine articles to the ‘Philological Museum,’ Cambridge, 1832–3, 8vo (i. 122–5, 126–41, 177–87, 280–304, 420–6, 679–86, ii. 38–71, 243–6, 689–94), and three to the ‘Classical Museum, a Journal of Philology and of Ancient History and Literature,’ London, 1844–50, 8vo (i. 113–24, 389–97, ii. 1–44). His article on ‘The Irish Church Question’ appeared in the third number of the ‘London Review’ (art. 8). Among his contributions to the ‘Law Magazine’ during Hayward's editorship were articles on ‘Secondary Punishments’ (vii. 1–44), and on ‘American Penitentiaries’ (xiv. 31–57). He was also an occasional contributor to ‘Fraser's Magazine’ and ‘Notes and Queries.’ His other publications were: 1. ‘The Public Economy of Athens, in four books; to which is added a Dissertation on the Silver Mines of Laurion. Translated from the German of Augustus Boeckh’ (anon.), London, 1828, 8vo, 2 vols.; 2nd edition, London, 1842, 8vo. 2. ‘An Examination of some Passages in Dr. Whateley's Elements of Logic,’ Oxford, 1829, 8vo. 3. ‘The History and Antiquities of the Doric Race … translated [from vols. ii. and iii. of K. O. Müller's ‘Geschichten Hellenischer Stämme und Städte’] by H. Tufnell and G. C. Lewis,’ Oxford, 1830, 8vo, 2 vols.; 2nd edition, London, 1839, 8vo, 2 vols. 4. ‘Remarks on the Use and Abuse of some Political Terms,’ London, 1832, 8vo; new edition, with notes and appendix by Sir R. K. Wilson, bart., Oxford, 1877, 8vo. 5. ‘An Essay on the Origin and Formation of the Romance Languages. Containing an Examination of M. Raynouard's Theory on the Relation of the Italian, Spanish, Provençal, and French to the Latin,’ &c., Oxford, 1835, 8vo; a new edition, London, 1839, 8vo; second edition, London, 1862, 8vo. 6. ‘On Local Disturbances in Ireland, and on the Irish Church Question,’ London, 1836, 8vo; the part relating to the ‘Irish Church Question’ is a revised edition of his article which appeared in the third number of the ‘London Review.’ 7. ‘A Glossary of Provincial Words used in Herefordshire and some of the adjoining Counties’ (anon.), London, 1839, 12mo. 8. ‘History of the Literature of Ancient Greece. By K. O. Müller, vols. i. and ii. pts. i–iv. [translated from the German manuscript by G. C. Lewis],’ London, 1840–2, 8vo; no more published by the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge, but the work was afterwards completed by J. W. Donaldson, D.D., London, 1858, 8vo, 3 vols. 9. ‘An Essay on the Government of Dependencies,’ London, 1841, 8vo; a new edition, Oxford, 1891. 10. ‘Babrii Fabulæ Æsopeæ cum Fabularum deperditarum Fragmentis. Recensuit et breviter illustravit G. C. Lewis,’ &c., Oxford, 1846, 12mo; 2nd pt., London, 1859, 8vo. The spurious fables in the second part were concocted by Minoides Menas, a Macedonian Greek, by whom they were sold, together with the manuscript of the genuine apologue, to the trustees of the British Museum in 1857. ‘To the eternal disgrace of English scholarship’ they were edited by Lewis in 1859, but were ‘almost immediately exposed by Duebner, Cobet, and other scholars’ (W. G. Rutherford, Babrius, 1883, p. lxix). Both parts were translated into English verse from Lewis's text by the Rev. James Davies, who dedicated the translation to Lewis, London, 1860, 8vo. 11. ‘An Essay on the Influence of Authority in Matters of Opinion,’ London, 1849, 8vo; 2nd edition, London, 1875, 8vo. 12. ‘A Treatise on the Methods of Observation and Reasoning in Politics,’ London, 1852, 8vo, 2 vols. 13. ‘The Financial Statement, 1857. Speech of the Chancellor of the Exchequer in Committee of Supply,’ &c., London, 1857, 8vo. 14. ‘Speech … on the Introduction of the Bill for the better Government of India,’ London, 1858, 8vo. 15. ‘On Foreign Jurisdiction and the Extradition of Criminals,’ London, 1859, 8vo. 16. ‘Speeches … on Moving the Army Estimates, in Committee of Supply, in the House of Commons, March 3 and 6, 1862,’ London, 1862, 8vo. 17. ‘An Historical Survey of the Astronomy of the Ancients,’ London, 1862, 8vo. 18. ‘Suggestions for the Application of the Egyptological Method to Modern History; illustrated by examples’ (anon.), London, 1862, 8vo. 19. ‘A Dialogue on the Best Form of Government,’ London, 1863, 8vo; translated into French by P. M. Merroyer (Paris, 1867, 12mo), and into Italian (Padua, 1868, 8vo). An Italian translation of this dialogue is included in Brunialti's ‘Biblioteca di Scienze Politiche’ (Turin, 1884, 8vo), vol. ii. pt. i. pp. 1–63. His essay on the ‘Characteristics of Federal, National, Provincial, and Municipal Government’ (Letters, p. 364) was never published, and the pedigree which he compiled of his own family (ib. p. 425) appears to have been privately printed.

[Letters of the Right Hon. Sir G. C. Lewis to various Friends, edited by Sir Gilbert F. Lewis, with portrait, 1870; the Works of Walter Bagehot, edited by Forrest Morgan, 1889, i. lv–vi, iii. 222–68, 421–2, iv. 205; Greville Memoirs, pts. ii. iii. 1885 and 1887; Walpole's Hist. of England, 1880–6, vols. iii. iv. v.; Sir Stafford Northcote's Twenty Years of Financial Policy, 1862, pp. 264–334; Buxton's Finance and Politics, 1888, i. 153–65, 294; A Selection from the Correspondence of Abraham Hayward, edited by H. E. Carlisle, 1886; Mrs. Grote's Personal Life of George Grote, 1873; Selections from the Correspondence of Macvey Napier, 1879; Revue des deux Mondes, seconde période, lxxxviii. 809–36 (P. Challemel-Lacour); Contemporary Review, xx. 803–18; Fraser's Magazine, 1863 lxvii. 684–686, 1870, new ser. ii. 288–93; Macmillan's Magazine, xxi. 465–74; Encyclop. Brit. 9th edit. xiv. 492–3; Times, 15 and 20 April 1863; Illustrated London News, xlii. 453–4 (with portrait), 490, xlv. 573–4, 584; Gent. Mag. 1845 pt. i. p. 90, 1863 pt. i. pp. 789–91, 1865 pt. ii. p. 802; Annual Register, 1863, Chron. pp. 207–8; Burke's Peerage, &c., 1890, pp. 287, 847; Dod's Peerage, &c., 1863, pp. 368–9; Foster's Alumni Oxon. 1888, iii. 845; Honours Register of the Univ. of Oxford, 1883, p. 216; Stapylton's Eton School Lists, 1864, pp. 103, 111; Haydn's Book of Dignities, ed. H. Ockerby, 1890; Official Return of Lists of Members of Parliament, pt. ii. pp. 398, 425, 440, 457; Notes and Queries, 3rd ser. iii. 320, 4th ser. xii. 264, 5th ser. xii. 208, 255, 7th ser. xi. 386, 448, xii. 518; Halkett and Laing's Dict. of Anon. and Pseudon. Lit. 1882–8; Brit. Mus. Cat.]

G. F. R. B.

Dictionary of National Biography, Errata (1904), p.181
N.B.— f.e. stands for from end and l.l. for last line

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182 i 19-18 f.e. Lewis, Sir George C.: for These spurious fables read The spurious fables in the 2nd part