Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Lytton, Edward George Earle Lytton Bulwer-
LYTTON, EDWARD GEORGE EARLE LYTTON BULWER-, first Lord Lytton (1803–1873), novelist, third and youngest son of William Earle Bulwer of Heydon Hall, Norfolk, by Elizabeth Barbara, daughter of Richard Warburton Lytton of Knebworth, Hertfordshire, was born at 31 Baker Street, London, on 25 May 1803, but not baptised till 15 March 1810. He was himself ignorant of the year of his birth, which has been often erroneously given. He had two brothers, William (1799–1877), and Henry, afterwards Lord Dalling (1801–1872) [q. v.] His father (b. 22 March 1757) was colonel of the 106th regiment or Norfolk rangers, raised by himself, and afterwards became a general. The Bulwers, according to their own belief, had been settled in Norfolk since the Conquest, and still held lands at Wood Dalling, Norfolk, assigned by Aymer de Valence to one of the Conqueror's followers (Life of Lord Lytton, i. 9. See a genealogy, not quite confirmatory, in Blomefield's History of Norfolk, 1775, iv. 458). The Lyttons descended from an ancient family settled at Congleton, Cheshire, and at Lytton of the Peak, Derbyshire, in the time of the Conquest. Sir Robert de Lytton, who had fought at Bosworth, received various honours from Henry VII, and acquired Knebworth, ever afterwards the family seat. The last male heir of the Lyttons died in the reign of William III, leaving his estates to a cousin, William Robinson Lytton, descended from the Welsh family of Norreys or Robinson, who were connected with many of the great houses of the Palatinate, and claimed descent from Cadwaladr Vendigaid (d. 664?) [q. v.] Richard Warburton Lytton represented this family through the female line. He was an eccentric scholar, and became while at Harrow School a friend of Dr. Parr (Life, i. 154), who pronounced him to be ‘the best Latin scholar of the day, inferior only to Porson in Greek, and to Sir William Jones in Hebrew and the oriental languages.’ He produced nothing, however, except a Hebrew drama, which he burnt because he could not find actors (he did not think of an audience) with a sufficient knowledge of the language (Life of Lord Lytton, i. 46). He is partly represented by the elder Caxton in his grandson's novel. He was a child in matters of business, and greatly encumbered the property. He was early married to a daughter of Richard Paul Joddrell, a lively girl of sixteen, who never opened a book. They separated soon after the birth of their only child, Elizabeth Barbara. She grew up with some literary accomplishments, and had several suitors, the most favoured of whom was dismissed by her father's caprice. She afterwards married Colonel Bulwer on 21 June 1798. He was an athletic, strong-willed, and ambitious soldier, with a rough temper and the gout. He quarrelled with his mother-in-law and frightened his wife. He was one of four generals entrusted in 1804 with the arrangements intended to meet the expected invasion, and was in hopes of a peerage when he died suddenly at Heydon Hall on 7 July 1807. His widow settled in London. The two elder boys were sent to school. Edward, who had been delicate in infancy, remained with his mother, and they occasionally stayed with her father, who had been obliged to leave Knebworth, and lived at St. Lawrence, near Ramsgate. The boy learnt to read very early, wrote poems at the age of seven, and was considered in the family to be a prodigy. Old Mr. Lytton died on 30 Dec. 1810. His library was sent to London, where the grandson dipped into some of the books. The books had soon to be sold, and three sides of the Knebworth quadrangle were pulled down to suit the house to Mrs. Bulwer's diminished means. Edward asked his mother one day whether she was ‘not sometimes overcome by the sense of her own identity,’ to which she replied that it was high time that he should go to school. His school career was desultory. He was so ill-treated at his first school, kept by Dr. Ruddock at Fulham, that he was taken away in a fortnight. After two more experiments he was sent to a Dr. Hooker at Rottingdean. Here he read Scott and Byron, started a weekly magazine, became the best pugilist in the school, and showed such physical and mental vigour that Hooker in 1818 recommended his removal to the wider sphere of a public school. He thought himself already too old for school, and persuaded his mother not to send him to Eton. He was placed with a Mr. Wallington at Ealing. He was there encouraged to read classics, to discuss politics, and make speeches. Wallington thought him a genius, and encouraged him to publish a collection of poems (‘Ismael’) in 1820. A copy was sent to Scott and politely acknowledged. Dr. Parr, who had been his grandfather's friend and his mother's guardian, corresponded with him, and spoke of his intellectual promise with enthusiasm. While at Ealing he had a love affair with a girl, who was soon forced by her father to marry another man, and who died three years later, sending to Bulwer a letter from her deathbed describing her sufferings and continued devotion. The affair, to which he refers in various writings, is said to have ‘coloured the whole of his life’ (ib. i. 165). A visit to her grave in 1824 prompted a poem called ‘The Tale of a Dreamer,’ and the same incident is described in an adventure of Kenelm Chillingly in his last novel. In February 1826 he declares to a lady that ‘love is dead to him for ever,’ and that the freshness of his youth has been buried in the grave (ib. ii. 45). How far this Byronic sentiment was genuine or lasting must be matter of conjecture. For the time his passion made him depressed and indifferent. He let his mother decide that he should go to Cambridge. After learning some mathematics from a Mr. Thomson, who occupied his grandfather's old house at St. Lawrence, he began residence at Trinity College, Cambridge, as a pensioner in the Easter term of 1822. He disliked the lectures, thought himself insulted by a tutor, and persuaded his mother to allow him to remove to Trinity Hall, which he entered after the long vacation as a fellow-commoner. As fellow-commoner in a ‘non-reading college’ he was excused from lectures. He became intimate with Alexander Cockburn, afterwards chief justice, who was of the same college, and at Cockburn's suggestion joined the Union Society. He became a good speaker in the debates when W. M. Praed, Charles Buller, Maurice, and B. H. Kennedy also distinguished themselves (Macaulay, i. 22). He read a good deal of English history, and began to fill a series of commonplace books. He kept up the practice till they were ultimately almost as voluminous as his published works (Life, ii. 101). He published a small volume of poems, and he won the chancellor's medal by a poem on ‘Sculpture’ in 1825. He took the degree of B.A. in 1826, that of M.A. in 1835, and in 1864 received the honorary LL.D. degree from Cambridge, having previously received the same degree at Oxford. The Lent term of 1825 was the last which he kept. During a long vacation in his Cambridge career Bulwer made a tour in the Lakes, where he visited the grave of his first love, and afterwards in Scotland. The strange story of his adventures (ib. i. 273–326) can only be accepted as a fragment of an autobiographical romance. It includes some of the most conventional incidents of his novels, and some doubt is thrown upon the historical accuracy of his early love story by its connection with this apocryphal bit of autobiography. Bulwer afterwards had a strange flirtation with Lady Caroline Lamb. In the autumn of 1825 he went to Paris. At Boulogne he acted as second in a duel to his friend Frederick Villiers (ib. i. 331, 363), who was in some degree his model for Pelham. At Paris he was admitted to the society of the Faubourg St.-Germain, and made friends with the Abbé Kinsela, an Irish jesuit, who proposed to him a marriage with a daughter of the Marquise de la Rochejacquelein. His mother's horror of popery induced him to decline the honour and give up visiting the family.
Bulwer was soon at home in the fashionable circles both of London and Paris. He was ‘a finished dandy’ of the period, and significantly called ‘Childe Harold’ by an English lady at Paris, a Mrs. Cunningham, with whom he carried on an intimate correspondence. He retired occasionally from Paris to Versailles to work at literature. He printed privately some Byronic poems called ‘Weeds and Wild Flowers,’ and composed some other early books of similar tendency. One night he won a large sum at a gambling-house, which, says his son (ib. iii. 25), ‘may have founded a fund’ afterwards very useful. He was disgusted, however, by the experience, and never played again, although he became afterwards so good a whist player as to derive from his skill ‘an appreciable addition to his income’ at one period (ib. ii. 156). He was a good rider, fencer, and boxer, and in August 1826 he purchased an unattached ensigncy. He was never appointed to a regiment, however, and sold the commission in January 1829.
Meanwhile he had met in London Miss Rosina Doyle Wheeler, an Irish young lady of remarkable beauty, niece of General Sir John Doyle (1750?–1834) [q. v.] Her parents had separated, and she was living with her uncle. She was clever and accomplished, though of passionate character. Though Bulwer was still apt to consider himself as a blighted being, he liked her frankness, was touched by her unprotected position, and thought that he could repay the ‘quiet tender sympathy’ of a woman (ib. ii. 27). He was, however, dependent upon his mother, who strongly disapproved the match. His father's estates were entailed upon his eldest brother William, and Henry inherited a good estate from his maternal grandmother. Edward had inherited 200l. a year from his father, while his mother was free to dispose of the Lytton estates. She made him a liberal allowance, but his prospects entirely depended upon her. Solid reasons, therefore, as well as his real affection for his mother, delayed his courtship, and he went to Paris at one time in order to be out of the way of temptation. He found himself, however, bound in honour as well as by feeling to carry out the engagement to Miss Wheeler. He promised his mother not to marry if it could be proved that Miss Wheeler had been born in 1800 or 1801 (ib. ii. 148), but as it was soon proved that she was born on 4 Nov. 1802 (ib. p. 150), the marriage was finally celebrated on 29 Aug. 1827, and caused the temporary alienation of his mother. Upon his marriage Bulwer settled at Woodcot House, near Pangbourne, Berkshire. His wife had only 80l. a year. As he kept a carriage, two or three saddle-horses, and entertained friends, he had to support himself by energetic literary labour. Though he incurred some debts, he was able to pay them off within three years of his marriage. He wrote enormously for all kinds of periodicals, from ‘Quarterly Reviews’ to ‘Keepsakes’ and ‘Books of Beauty.’ In 1827 he had published ‘Falkland,’ a gloomy work, which he says was to him what the ‘Sorrows of Werter’ was to Goethe. It gave some offence, but Colburn the publisher was so far satisfied that he offered 500l. for another novel. Bulwer said that he would give him one ‘which was sure to succeed.’ This was ‘Pelham,’ already begun at college, which he now finished, and which appeared in June 1828. Though abused by most of the critics, it made a rapid success. It was popular in Paris, and was translated into German, Spanish, and Italian. The dandy, with a serious ambition concealed under levity, was naturally taken to represent Bulwer himself. Though he disavowed the resemblance very warmly, there can be no doubt that the belief was not altogether groundless. The author boasted that it had put down the Byronic mania by substituting at any rate a more manly kind of foppery. It is said also to have introduced the fashion of black coats for evening dress (ib. ii. 195). The literary historian who compares it with ‘Vivian Grey’ (1826) will probably find that Bulwer and Disraeli were both representing a common phase of contemporary sentiment. The youthful vivacity made it one of his best novels, and gave him thereafter a safe position as a popular author. Bulwer's first child, Emily Elizabeth (who died on 29 April 1848), was born on 17 June 1828. Her mother's inability to nurse the infant deprived her of a salutary interest, according to her son, who adds that her maternal instincts never revived, and her home life was injured, though the prediction of Bulwer's mother that he would be ‘at a year's end the most miserable of men’ was not verified at the time.
In September 1829 Bulwer left Woodcot, and settled at 36 Hertford Street, London. He had written affectionate letters to his mother upon the birth of his daughter and the publication of his books, which gradually led to a reconciliation. She restored his allowance of 1,000l. a year, but refused at first to see his wife. Upon his remonstrance she at last consented to visit her daughter-in-law. She complained, however, to her son that his wife, whom she ‘maintained,’ had not received her with sufficient effusion. Bulwer resented the phrase by refusing to take her money. Although they remained upon good terms, he had still to work hard for his support. He was prospering as an author. For the ‘Disowned,’ published in December 1828, he received 800l., and for ‘Devereux’—a novel of the reign of Queen Anne—published in June 1829, 1,500l. His absorption in these and other literary works deprived his wife of his society, and gave morbid acuteness to an irritable temperament. He was like a ‘man who has been flayed and is sore all over,’ and his wife suffered, though meekly for the present, under vehement reproaches, as well as frequent solitude. Their second child, afterwards the first Earl Lytton, was born on 8 Nov. 1831.
Meanwhile Bulwer had published in August 1830 ‘Paul Clifford,’ which brought much hostile criticism. Although intended, according to his son, to promote a reform in the criminal law, this portrait of a chivalrous highwayman not unnaturally struck the reviewers as immoral. The dandyism and philosophical pretensions of his novels suggested other marks for ridicule, which was applied pretty freely. Thackeray afterwards expressed regret for some of the personalities into which he had been betrayed as a youth (ib. ii. 275). An attack in the ‘Quarterly Review’ (December 1832) was met by a sharp letter to Lockhart, published by Bulwer in the ‘New Monthly.’ Though over-sensitive to criticism, it must be admitted that the rod had been applied with excessive sharpness, especially in ‘Fraser's Magazine.’ He became himself an editor, undertaking the ‘New Monthly’ in 1831. The first number under his superintendence appeared in November 1831. His sub-editor was Samuel Carter Hall [q. v.], who in the course of 1832 became his successor.
Bulwer was at this time a reformer in politics. He had made some acquaintance with the younger utilitarians, whose leader, Charles Austin, had been his contemporary at college. He was a member of the debating society formed by J. S. Mill in 1825, and Mill afterwards contributed an account of Bentham to his ‘England and the English,’ 1833, a book, says Mill, ‘at that time greatly in advance of the public mind’ (Mill, Autobiog. pp. 126, 168). Though he was not a utilitarian, he frequently speaks with great admiration of Bentham (e.g. Speeches, ii. 65). In 1830 he was advised by Bowring, Bentham's disciple, to stand for Southwark, and his candidature was approved by Godwin. He issued an address, but withdrew on finding his prospects hopeless. After declining some other offers of a seat, he was elected for St. Ives, Huntingdonshire, on 30 April 1831. He had already become a friend of the elder Disraeli, and was now intimate with the son, who contributed to the ‘New Monthly.’ It does not appear that there was at present any special political sympathy between them, but their friendship continued through life.
Bulwer's relations with his wife were becoming worse. They travelled to Naples in the autumn of 1833, returning to England in the spring of 1834. Scenes followed which led to their living apart, and ultimately in April 1836 to a legal separation. The children at first lived with their mother, but were taken from her in 1838. Bulwer agreed to make an allowance of 400l. a year to his wife. Her remaining years were a long and painful tragedy. She was almost from the first in great want of money, partly, it seems, because she had no gift for economy, and partly because she spent a great deal upon lawsuits directed against her husband. She brooded over wrongs (real and imaginary), and attempted to obtain redress by most injudicious means, which only inflamed the quarrel. She began a long series of similar attacks by publishing in 1839 a novel called ‘Cheveley, or the Man of Honour,’ in which her husband was the villain. In the autumn of that year she went to Paris, and in 1840 prosecuted some agents employed by her husband who had tried to seize some papers in her house. She then lived at Florence and at Geneva, returning to England in 1847. After some stay in London and in Wales she settled at Taunton in 1857 with Mrs. Clarke, an innkeeper, who seems to have been a warm and hospitable supporter. On 8 June 1858 she appeared at Hertford upon the day of Bulwer's election for the county, and denounced him to the crowd. On 22 June following she was placed in charge of a physician upon a medical certificate of insanity. She was released on 17 July and went to France, accompanied by her son (afterwards Earl Lytton). In answer to newspaper comments, the son published certificates from Dr. Forbes Winslow and Dr. Conolly justifying the proceedings. He stated that his father had enjoined him to make every arrangement for his mother's welfare and to be guided by the advice of Lord Shaftesbury. Lady Bulwer's debts were also paid, but various difficulties arose, and she continued to attack her husband's character. After his death in 1873 her son increased her allowance, and she left Taunton, living afterwards at Dulwich and at Upper Sydenham, where she died in a house called Glenômera, 12 March 1882. After her death some letters to her from her husband were published in 1884, but the book was suppressed. A ‘Life of Rosina, Lady Lytton,’ was published by the editor of the letters in 1887. Lady Lytton accused her husband of infidelity, of personal violence in paroxysms of rage, and of various atrocities. Her statements show her readiness to believe in any enormity upon worthless evidence, and, except so far as checked by independent evidence, are obviously undeserving of confidence. The facts given above are only such as can be tested by published evidence. From the account given by the second Lord Lytton of the early years of the marriage it is obvious that his father was, in any case, far from a model husband. He was clearly passionate, irritable, and neglectful. Her conduct in later years was certainly such as to aggravate the difficulties of a very difficult position. Though she was not insane, her sense of her wrongs had become almost a monomania. It can only be said that she suffered cruelly for any follies she committed, and that Bulwer must be counted among the eminent authors who have not made and not deserved success in married life. Bulwer's domestic troubles did not diminish his restless energy. He spoke in defence of the Reform Bill in 1831, in 1832 he obtained (31 May) a committee to inquire into the state of the laws affecting dramatic literature, and he spoke (14 June 1832) in favour of cheap postage for newspapers, when the principle was accepted by the government. In 1834 and 1835, and again in 1855, he supported the repeal of the stamp duty on newspapers, and prepared a speech in support of Mr. Gladstone's proposal for the repeal of the paper duties in 1860. He was through life a steady supporter of the removal of taxes upon literature and of the copyrights of authors. In more purely political questions he did not become prominent in his early parliamentary career. In the first reformed parliament he was elected for Lincoln, which he preferred to two other constituencies, as at Lincoln the liberal party, to which he still belonged, was also, like himself, in favour of protection. His most remarkable performance was ‘A Letter to a late Cabinet Minister on the Crisis’ (1834), a pamphlet which ran through twenty editions. The ‘crisis’ was the breaking-up of the whig government on Lord Althorp's removal to the upper house. Bulwer, in the ‘Junius’ style, denounced the king's action as unconstitutional, and declared that a repeal of the Reform Bill might be anticipated. When Lord Melbourne returned to power he offered a lordship of the admiralty to Bulwer, explaining that the claims of his old colleagues prevented the offer of a higher post. Bulwer, however, declined, chiefly on the ground of his devotion to a literary career. In fact he did not take much further part in politics for the time, although he generally supported ministers, and on 22 May 1838 spoke in favour of the resolution for the immediate abolition of negro apprenticeship. The speech was published by the Anti-Slavery Society. In 1841 he lost his seat because he had recommended his constituents to accept a compromise on the small fixed duty on corn proposed by Lord John Russell.
Meanwhile he had been an active author. ‘Eugene Aram’ appeared in 1832, ‘Godolphin’ in 1833, ‘The Pilgrims of the Rhine’ and ‘The Last Days of Pompeii’ in 1834, ‘Rienzi’ in 1835, the two novels afterwards combined as ‘Ernest Maltravers’ in 1837 and 1838, ‘Night and Morning’ in 1841, and ‘Zanoni’ in 1842. The historical novels presuppose a considerable amount of diligent reading, and in 1836 he also published two large volumes of ‘Athens, its Rise and Fall,’ which he judiciously left incomplete after the appearance of the histories of Grote and Thirlwall. In 1841 he undertook, with Brewster and Lardner, a periodical called ‘The Monthly Chronicle,’ intended to combine scientific, literary, and political information. He contributed to it a first sketch of ‘Zanoni’ (called ‘Zicci’) and an ‘Historical Review of the State of Europe.’ During the same period he appeared as a dramatist. ‘The Duchess de la Vallière’ was brought out with Macready as Marquis de Bragelonne in 1836, and failed. In 1838, however, he wrote ‘The Lady of Lyons’ in a fortnight, upon a hint from Macready, who had just taken Covent Garden Theatre. It made a great success, and has ever since retained its position on the stage. In 1839 he produced ‘Richelieu, or the Conspiracy,’ and ‘The Sea Captain, or the Birthright,’ which ran through the season and was revived in 1869 at the Lyceum as ‘The Rightful Heir.’ In 1840 he produced the comedy of ‘Money’ at the Haymarket. Although these plays can scarcely be placed in a high position as literature, it must be admitted that Bulwer is almost the only modern English author of eminence who has succeeded in writing plays capable of keeping the stage.
After losing his seat in parliament Bulwer travelled in Germany, studied the language, and qualified himself to translate Schiller's ballads. In 1843 he produced his solid historical romance, ‘The Last of the Barons.’ Upon the death of his mother in December 1843 he succeeded by her will to the Knebworth property and assumed the surname of Lytton. His excessive industry had led to a breakdown of health. He tried hydropathy, and recorded the results in ‘Confessions of a Water Patient’ (1846). He was recommended to travel in order to recover his health, and for some years divided his time between residence at Knebworth and continental travelling.
In 1846 he published his ‘New Timon,’ a story in the romantic vein and in heroic couplets. An incidental description of contemporary statesmen included some often-quoted phrases (the ‘Rupert of debate’ applied to the then Lord Stanley) and an attack upon Tennyson, to which Tennyson replied effectively in ‘Punch.’ In 1847 he returned to fiction with ‘Lucretia, or the Children of the Night,’ in which the story of Thomas Griffiths Wainwright [q. v.] was turned to account, as he had previously used that of Eugene Aram. Some criticisms about his idealisation of criminals had provoked him to answer in ‘A Word to the Public.’ The novels were as unlikely to corrupt anybody's morals as to improve their taste. Bulwer, however, was already meeting the public demand for domestic propriety by the first of a series of novels which proved thoroughly satisfactory to the British moralist. ‘The Caxtons’ was passing anonymously through ‘Blackwood's Magazine,’ and was published in 1849. The vein thus struck was afterwards worked in ‘My Novel’ and in ‘What will he do with it?’ both by Pisistratus Caxton. During the appearance of ‘The Caxtons’ he struck off ‘at a heat’ his last historical romance, ‘Harold,’ which appeared in the spring of 1848, and found time simultaneously to produce an epic poem, ‘King Arthur,’ of which the first (anonymous) instalment appeared in March. His novels had by this time gained a wide popularity, and were appearing in collective editions. In December 1853 Messrs. Routledge gave him 20,000l. for a ten years' copyright of the cheap edition; at the end of that period they paid 5,000l. for another period of five years, and made a contract on the same terms at the end of the second period.
Lytton had spent the whole of 1849 abroad. After his return he joined Dickens in an enterprise for the amelioration of the position of authors. He wrote a comedy, ‘Not so bad as we seem,’ for the amateur company of which Dickens was manager, which was performed (27 May 1851) at the Duke of Devonshire's house in London. The same company had played ‘Every Man in his Humour’ at Knebworth in November 1850, when the scheme for a ‘Guild of Literature and Art’ was suggested. The scheme languished, till at last Lytton gave a piece of land near Stevenage, Hertfordshire, upon which three houses were erected for decayed authors (built from the profits of ‘Not so bad as we seem’). It was opened by a festival (29 July 1865), at which Lytton and Dickens appeared as president and vice-president of the guild. Decayed authors, however, were not forthcoming, and the scheme collapsed. Dickens named a son, born in 1852, after his friend; and Lytton presided at the dinner (2 Nov. 1867) given to Dickens upon his last departure for America.
Bulwer now returned to political life. He had declined an invitation to stand for Westminster on account of his objection to a total repeal of the corn laws. In 1851 he published his ‘Letters to John Bull, Esq.,’ which went through several editions, advocating some moderate protection of corn. He had from the first differed from the liberals upon this subject; and his political theories, though differing from old-fashioned toryism, were never those of the radicals. He really shared the prejudices and principles of the class to which he belonged, though he tried to give them a more philosophical colouring, and especially distrusted the Manchester school, both as hostile to the landed interest and to what he regarded as a worthy imperial policy. He therefore joined the conservatives, and in 1852 was elected M.P. for Hertfordshire. He held the seat till his elevation to the peerage in 1866. His general reputation gave him more authority than he had possessed in his past parliamentary career. He never became a skilful debater, nor did he hold an important position among the leaders of his party. He made, however, set speeches which were carefully prepared and frequently successful. He spoke against such taxation as was disapproved by his party and the country gentlemen, supported an energetic prosecution of the Crimean war, advocated administrative reform and the introduction of competitive examinations in 1855, when our military failures had produced general discontent, denounced the treatment of China upon the ‘Arrow’ dispute in 1857, and opposed the abolition of the East India Company in 1857 as conducive to the subordination of Indian interests to parliamentary intrigue.
He was appointed secretary for the colonies in Lord Derby's ministry (1858–9). His principal measure was for the organisation of the new colony of British Columbia, which had become necessary in consequence of the discovery of gold-fields and a rapid influx of population. Queensland was also separated from New South Wales during his tenure of office, and a town in each colony is named Lytton after him. He defended the Reform Bill introduced by Disraeli in 1859, and attacked that introduced in 1860 by Lord John Russell in two able speeches. The point of both was the danger of swamping the constituencies by an indiscriminate admission of the working classes, and the necessity therefore of such an arrangement of the franchise as might admit only the more prudent and intelligent. He afterwards opposed Mr. Gladstone's bill of 1866 upon similar grounds.
After leaving office Lytton ceased to take any conspicuous part in politics. Upon Lord Derby's return to office in 1866 he was raised to the House of Peers as Baron Lytton of Knebworth (gazetted 13 July 1866). He meanwhile resumed his industry as an author. His love of the mysterious, already shown in ‘Zanoni,’ led to the ‘Strange Story’ (1862), in which some attempt is made to give a quasi-scientific colouring to old-fashioned magic. Besides various publications of a different kind, he produced ‘The Coming Race’—an ingenious prophecy of the society of the future—which made a great success, although he kept the authorship secret until his death; ‘Kenelm Chillingly,’ a novel intended to give some of his views of the tendency of the age; and ‘The Parisians,’ a lighter satirical version of the same views, which was appearing in ‘Blackwood's Magazine’ at his death.
Lytton died at Torquay, 18 Jan. 1873, in the arms of his only son. He had long suffered from some disease in the bones of the ear. Acute pain set in on the 16th, and he became unconscious on the day of his death.
Lytton was elected lord rector of Glasgow in 1856 and 1858, the only Englishman, it is said, upon whom the honour has been twice conferred.
Lytton is one of the authors upon whose merits the critics have never agreed with the public. He won immense popularity in the face of generally hostile criticism, and even his success failed to obtain a reversal of the judgment. Some of his qualities, however, are incontestable. No English author has displayed more industry, energy, versatility, or less disposition to lapse into slovenliness. His last works are among his best; and though he often tried the experiment of publishing anonymously (as in ‘The Caxtons’ and ‘The Coming Race’), his success showed that his popularity did not depend upon his previous fame. Though his published works make him one of the most voluminous of English novelists, he left unpublished several dramas, a volume of the ‘History of Athens,’ historical fragments, and ‘an immense number of unfinished novels, plays, poems, and essays’ (preface to Life). The historical novels, whatever their value, are the product of much laborious study, and his essays prove that he had read widely and noted carefully. An author in whose career an ‘epic poem’ and a ‘History of Athens’ are mere episodes can hardly expect to be a Milton or a Gibbon, and it is surprising that his work preserves on the whole so high a level. His industry was associated with a very keen and versatile intellect, great powers of observation, and very wide appreciation of different schools of thought and taste. His most obvious weakness was the want of spontaneous sincerity. He is always self-conscious and aiming at something beyond his reach. The coxcombry of ‘Pelham,’ which was genuine in its way, did not deserve the ridicule it met. But this can hardly be said of the succeeding novels, in which ‘the Ideal and the Beautiful’ became conspicuous. The ideal is a very good thing, but a deliberate resolve to produce it is apt to end only in the unreal. Lytton showed courage but hardly discretion in attempting to be more of a poet or philosopher than nature had made him. He had enough talent to convince himself that he had the genius which is above talent. He wrote some excellent verses in the style of Pope, but fancied that he could also be a Spenser. His characters show more shrewdness of observation than imaginative insight, and the stories, while most carefully designed and constructed, show, not creative impulse, but dexterous management and a quick eye for dramatic effect. His curious attempts at the mysterious too often remind us of spirit-rapping rather than excite the thrill of supernatural awe. He scarcely fails, however, unequivocally, unless in his attempts at the humorous or the descriptions of the lower orders. He shows so much ability and such sustained activity of thought that the critic feels some hesitation in disputing too strongly the claims of his admirers, and only regrets that he had not written at least one novel expressing his views of life frankly and vigorously, without aiming at the ideal or at the propitiation of the respectable. It might have been less edifying, but would certainly have been more interesting than his actual achievements. Lytton's works are: 1. ‘Ismael, and other Poems,’ 1820. 2. ‘Delmour, or the Tale of a Sylphid, and other Poems,’ 1823. 3. ‘Sculpture’ (Cambr. prize poem), 1825. 4. ‘Weeds and Wild Flowers’ (chiefly poems, privately printed), 1825. 5. ‘O'Neil, or the Rebel’ (poem), 1827. 6. ‘Falkland,’ 1827. 7. ‘Pelham,’ 1828. 8. ‘The Disowned,’ 1829. 9. ‘Devereux,’ 1829. 10. ‘Paul Clifford,’ 1830. 11. ‘The Siamese Twins’ (a satirical poem, not reprinted), with a poem on Milton (reprinted with alterations in ‘Collected Poems’), 1831. 12. ‘Eugene Aram,’ 1832. 13. ‘Godolphin,’ 1833. 14. ‘England and the English,’ 1833. 15. ‘Pilgrims of the Rhine,’ 1834. 16. ‘The Last Days of Pompeii,’ 1834. 17. ‘Letter to a Cabinet Minister on the present Crisis,’ 1834. 18. ‘The Student,’ 1835 (essays from the ‘New Monthly’). 19. ‘Rienzi,’ 1835. 20. ‘The Duchesse de la Vallière’ (play), 1836. 21. ‘The Sea-Captain, or the Birthright,’ 1837. 22. ‘Athens, its Rise and Fall, with Views of the Literature, Philosophy, and Life of the Athenian People,’ 2 vols. 8vo, 1837. 23. ‘Ernest Maltravers,’ 1837. 24. ‘Alice, or the Mysteries,’ 1838 (afterwards with ‘Ernest Maltravers’ as pt. 1 and pt. 2 of ‘The Eleusinia’). 25. ‘Leila, or the Siege of Granada,’ 1838. 26. ‘Calderon the Courtier,’ 1838. 27. ‘The Lady of Lyons’ (play), 1838. 28. ‘Richelieu’ (play), 1838. 29. ‘Money’ (comedy), 1840. 30. ‘Night and Morning,’ 1841. 31. ‘Zanoni,’ 1842 (a short sketch of this, called ‘Zicci,’ was in the ‘Monthly Chronicle’ of 1841). 32. ‘Eva, the Ill-omened Marriage, and other Tales and Poems,’ 1842. 33. ‘The Last of the Barons,’ 1843. 34. ‘Poems and Ballads translated from Schiller,’ 1844. 35. ‘Confessions of a Water Patient,’ 1845. 36. ‘The New Timon’ (poem), 1845; completed 1847. 37. ‘Lucretia, or the Children of Night,’ 1846. 38. ‘A Word to the Public,’ 1847. 39. ‘Harold, or the Last of the Saxon Kings,’ 1848. 40. ‘King Arthur’ (epic poem), 1848–9. 41. ‘The Caxtons,’ 1850 (originally in ‘Blackwood's Magazine’). 42. ‘Letter to John Bull, Esq.,’ 1851. 43. ‘Not so bad as we seem’ (comedy), 1851. 44. ‘Outlines of the Early History of the East,’ &c. (lecture), 1852. 45. ‘My Novel,’ 1853 (originally in ‘Blackwood’). 46. ‘Inaugural Address at Edinburgh,’ 1854. 47. ‘What will he do with it?’ 1858 (originally in ‘Blackwood’). 48. ‘St. Stephen's’ (poem), 1860. 49. ‘A Strange Story,’ 1862 (originally in ‘All the Year Round’). 50. ‘Caxtoniana’ (essays), 1863. 51. ‘The Boatman; by Pisistratus Caxton’ (a poem reprinted from ‘Blackwood’), 1864. 52. ‘The Lost Tales of Miletus’ (poems), 1866. 53. ‘Walpole, or Every Man has his Price’ (rhymed comedy), 1869. 54. ‘The Odes and Epodes of Horace,’ (translation), 1869. 55. ‘The Coming Race,’ 1871 (originally in ‘Blackwood’). 56. ‘Kenelm Chillingly,’ 1873. 57. ‘The Parisians,’ 1873 (originally in ‘Blackwood’). 58. ‘Speeches and other Political Writings,’ with prefatory memoir by his son, 1874. 59. ‘Pausanias the Spartan,’ an unfinished historical romance, edited by his son, 1876. A collective edition of his novels first appeared in 1840; a cheap edition, as above, was published by Routledge in 1853, &c., and a library edition in 43 vols. by Blackwood (1859–63). Dramatic works, with the ‘Odes,’ were published in 1841. Poetical and dramatic works in 5 vols. appeared in 1852–4. There are numerous translations of separate novels, and several have been dramatised.
[Life by his son, prefixed to Speeches, as above; Life, Letters, and Literary Remains, by his son, 2 vols. 8vo, 1883 (this covers the period from 1803 to 1832; the first volume includes an autobiographical fragment; there are various fragments of unfinished novels; it was never continued); The Derby Ministry, a Series of Cabinet Pictures, 1858, pp. 143–94, by ‘Mark Rochester’ (i.e. Mr. Charles Kent, an intimate personal friend), who wrote also articles in the Illustrated Review, 15 June 1871, the Graphic, 28 Dec. 1872 (with a portrait by D. Langée, the last executed), and in the Athenæum, 25 Jan. 1873; Lord Lytton, a Biography, by Thomson Cooper, F.S.A., 1873.]