Dictionary of National Biography, 1912 supplement/Brodrick, George Charles

BRODRICK, GEORGE CHARLES (1831–1903), warden of Merton College, Oxford, born on 5 May 1831, at his father's rectory, Castle Rising in Norfolk, was second of four sons of William John Brodrick (1798–1870), rector of Bath (1839–54), canon of Wells (1855–61), dean of Exeter (1861–7), and seventh Viscount Midleton (1863–70). His mother, Harriet (1804–1893), third daughter of George Brodrick, fourth Viscount Midleton, was his father's second wife and first cousin. From 1843 to 1848 Brodrick was an oppidan in Goodford's house at Eton, but in 1848 he broke down under the strain of reading for the Newcastle examination, and was sent on a voyage to India for his health. Returning next year, Brodrick became a commoner of Balliol in March 1850, at a time when Richard Jenkyns [q. v.] was Master and Benjamin Jowett [q. v. Suppl. I] was the leading tutor. He had a distinguished university career, obtaining first classes in moderations in 1852 and in literæ humaniores in 1853, in company with his lifelong friend, George Joachim Goschen, first Viscount Goschen [q. v. Suppl. II]. He also took a first class in law and history in 1854, was president and librarian of the Union (1854-5), won the English essay and Arnold prizes in 1855, and was elected a fellow of Merton College on 30 May 1855. He graduated B.A. in 1854, M.A. in 1856, and D.C.L. in 1886.

In 1856 Brodrick left Oxford for London, and there passed the next twenty-five years of his life. In 1858 he took the degree of LL.B. with a law scholarship at the University of London. He was called to the bar at Lincoln's Inn in 1859, and went the western circuit (1859-62), but in 1860 turned from law to journalism, joining the staff of 'The Times.' During the next thirteen years he contributed some 1600 leading articles to that newspaper, chiefly on political themes. Journalism was in his case intended to be the prelude to a political career. But in his parliamentary ambitions Brodrick was disappointed. He fought a good fight for the liberals at Woodstock in 1868, and again in 1874, when Lord Randolph Churchill was the successful candidate. A third defeat in 1880 in Monmouthshire led him to abandon the quest of a seat in parliament. More successful as a writer than as a candidate, he gave lucid and forcible expression to the old liberal or 'philosophical radical' doctrines of reform, which formed his creed through life. His political views are chiefly expounded in his 'Political Studies' (1879), which included articles on primogeniture and local government in England, and in his 'English Land and English Landlords' (published by the Cobden Club, 1881).

Though his earlier ambitions were anything but academic, Brodrick was elected warden of Merton College, Oxford, on 17 Feb. 1881, and made his chief reputation in that capacity. The only definitely educational position Brodrick had previously held was membership of the London School Board (1877-9), he being the first member who was co-opted to fill a vacancy caused by death. He had also promoted the University Tests Act of 1870, and he served on the council of the London Society for university extension. In the administration and government of the reformed Oxford University, to which he now returned, he took little active part. But for many years (1887-1903) he served on the governing body of Eton, and as a member of the council of the Geographical Society he zealously promoted the foundation in 1899 of the school of geography in Oxford. He likewise endeavoured to make college and university history popular in his 'Memorials of Merton College' (1885) and a short 'History of the University of Oxford' (1886). As warden he did much to prevent university society from becoming narrow and provincial. His week-end parties kept Oxford in touch with the wider world of politics and letters to which he never ceased to belong. His unfailing flow of conversation and anecdote and old-world courtesy of manner gave him a place of distinction in society, while his fairness, loyalty, and unaffected kindliness won him the love and respect of his college and university.

Brodrick by no means lost all interest in politics when he returned to Oxford. Both with tongue and pen he fought against the socialistic tendencies of modern democracy, the Irish land legislation of Gladstone's government, and above all against home rule. For an incautious expression in a speech at Oxford he was summoned before the Parnell commission for alleged contempt of court (14 Jan. 1889). But his later years were given in the main to the duties of his office and to literary work. He published a volume of 'Memories and Impressions' (1900), and wrote the greater part of 'The History of England 1801-1837,' which, after being completed and recast by J. K. Fotheringham, forms vol. xi. of the 'Political History of England' (ed. W. Hunt and R. L. Poole, 1906). He resigned the wardenship on 14 Sept. 1903, and died unmarried in the warden's house on 8 Nov. 1903, being buried at Peper Harrow in Surrey.

A good portrait in the hall of Merton College by William Carter (1899) has been engraved. Brodrick's writings include, besides those already cited, an edition of 'Ecclesiastical Judgments of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council' (with W. H. Fremantle, 1865) and 'Literary Fragments' (articles from magazines, lectures, speeches, &c.), printed but not published, 1891.

[Memories and Impressions, 1900; The Times, 9 Nov. 1903; personal knowledge and private information.]

W. W. H.