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Grant Duff, Mountstuart Elphinstone (DNB12)

GRANT DUFF, Sir MOUNTSTUART ELPHINSTONE (1829–1906), statesman and author, elder son of James Grant Duff [q. v.] by his wife Jane Catherine, daughter of Sir Whitelaw Ainslie [q. v.], was born at Eden, Aberdeenshire, on 21 Feb. 1829. He was educated at Edinburgh Academy, the Grange School, and at Balliol College, Oxford (1847-50). Among his contemporary friends at Oxford were Henry Smith, Henry Oxenham, Charles Pearson, Goldwin Smith, Charles Parker, and John Coleridge Patteson. He graduated B.A. in 1850 with a second class in the final classical school, and proceeded M.A, in 1853. On leaving Oxford he settled in London and read for the bar, and in 1854 passed with honours, second to James Fitzjames (afterwards Mr. Justice) Stephen, who later became one of his most intimate friends for life, in the LL.B. examination of London University. In the same year (17 Nov.) he was called to the bar by the Inner Temple, and while a pupil in the chambers of William Ventris (afterwards Lord) Field [q. v. Suppl; II] joined the Midland circuit, and obtained his first brief because he was the only person present who could speak German. He was one of the earHest contributors to the 'Saturday Review,' and lectured at the Working Men's College, of which Frederick Denison Maurice was first principal.

In December 1857 Grant Duff was returned as the liberal member for the Elgin Burghs, and held this seat without intermission until he was appointed governor of Madras in 1881. In 1860 and in each subsequent year he addressed to his constituents an elaborate speech, mainly on foreign policy, and he came to speak on this topic with recognised authority. His knowledge of the subject, largely derived from intimate conversation with foreigners of distinction in their own languages, was singularly wide and accurate, and his treatment of it entirely free from political acerbity. These speeches, which were from time to time re-published collectively, possess historical interest.

When Gladstone formed his first ministry in 1868, Grant Duff was appointed (8 Dec.) under-secretary of state for India, and he retained the office until the ministry finally resigned in 1874. In that year he paid a first visit to India. In 1880 he joined the second Gladstone ministry as under-secretary for the colonies, being sworn a member of the privy council on 8 May. It is probable that neither the domestic nor the colonial policy of the government during the next twelve months was supported by Grant Duff with unreserved enthusiasm, and on 26 June 1881 he accepted without hesitation the offer of the governorship of Madras, which brought to an end his twenty-four years' unbroken representation of his constituency in the House of Commons.

The presidency of Madras during the period of Grant Duff's government was free from critical events, but he devoted himself strenuously and successfully to his administrative duties, and the minutes in which from time to time he recorded and commented on the course of public affairs were models alike of assiduity and of style. Sir Louis Mallet [q. v.], under-secretary for India, commented upon the receipt of the last he wrote, 'I doubt whether any previous governor has left behind so able and complete a record.' Grant Duff left Madras in November 1886, and after making some stay in Syrria returned to England in the spring of 1887. In March he was invested at Windsor with the G.C.S.L He had been made C.I.E. in 1881.

On settling again in England Grant Duff made no effort to re-enter political life. The home rule controversy had embittered politics in his absence, and he had neither the requisite physical robustness nor any relish for violent conflict. A scholar, a calmly rational politician, and a man of almost dainty refinement both physically and morally, he devoted himself thenceforward to study, to authorship, and to the cultivation of the social amenities in which his experience was probably as wide and as remarkable as that of any one of his contemporaries. He was in the habit of meeting or corresponding with almost everyone of any eminence in social life in England, and with many similar persons abroad. He was a member of almost every small social club of the highest class. In February 1858, the month that he first took his seat in parliament, he was elected a member of the 'Cosmopolitan' and of the Athenæum. In 1889 he joined 'The Club,' and for some years before his death was its treasurer—'the only permanent official, and the guardian of its records.' He also belonged to the Literary Society (from 1872) and Grillion's (from 1889), and was in 1865 the founder of the Breakfast Club, and the most assiduous attendant at its meetings. Grant Duff published numerous articles, essays, and memoirs, a volume of original verse (printed privately), and an anthology of the Victorian poets. All of them show learning, cultivation, and style; but the principal literary work he left behind him is his 'Notes from a Diary.' He began a diary in 1851, and from 1873 kept it with the intention that the bulk of it should be published. He published the first two volumes (1851-72) in 1897; further sets of two volumes each followed in 1898, 1899, 1900, 1901, 1904, and 1905. The fourteen volumes bring the record down to 23 Jan. 1901, when Grant Duff kissed hands as a privy councillor on the accession of King Edward VII. He declares in his preface to the first two volumes that his object has been to make it 'the lightest of light reading,' and the most 'good-natured' of books. The 'Notes' contain practically no politics, but are a purely personal record of the people he met, and the things they said. The result is a collection of excellent stories and memorable sayings, which form a valuable contribution to social history.

Grant Duff travelled much. He visited at different times Coburg, Dresden, Russia, Spain, Darmstadt (during the war of 1870), Athens, the Troad, India (seven years before his appointment to Madras), Syria (where he spent a winter at Haifa in a house lent to him by Laurence Oliphant), and Bucharest. In all these places he frequented the society of rulers, ambassadors, authors, and other remarkable people. He received from M. Ollivier a full and confidential account of the political events immediately preceding the Franco-Prussian war. He met Garibaldi in the height of his fame, and was for many years on terms of friendship with the Empress Frederick of Germany. From 1866 to 1872 he filled for two consecutive terms the office of lord rector of Aberdeen University. From 1889 to 1893 he was president of the Royal Geographical Society, and from 1892 to 1899 was president of the Royal Historical Society. He was elected F.R.S. in 1901, and was nominated a Crown trustee of the British Museum in 1903.

In person Grant Duff was slight, delicately made, and habitually gentle in speech and manner, though he would upon occasion express himself with great animation. He suffered through life from indifferent health, and in particular from astigmatic vision to such an extent that it was extremely difficult for him to read or write for himself.

He was the tenant for considerable periods of Hampden House, Berkshire, York House, Twickenham, and Knebworth House. Finally ho bought Lexden Park, near Colchester, and in each of these houses he practised a wide hospitality. He died at his London house on Chelsea Embankment on 12 Jan. 1906, and was buried at Elgin cathedral.

Grant Duff married on 13 April 1859 Anna Julia, only daughter of Edward Webster of North Lodge, Ealing. By her he had four sons and four daughters. His elder sons, Arthur and Evelyn, are respectively minister at Dresden and consul-general, with the rank of minister, at Buda-Pest. Grant Duff's portrait in crayons by Henry T. Wells, drawn for reproduction for Grillion's Club, is in the possession of Lady Grant Duff at Earl Soham Grange, Framlingham.

Grant Duff published, besides 'Notes from a Diary':

  1. 'Studies of European Politics,' 1866.
  2. 'A Political Survey,' 1868.
  3. 'Elgin Speeches,' Edinburgh, 1871.
  4. 'Notes on an Indian Journey,' 1876.
  5. 'Miscellanies, Political and Literary,' 1878.
  6. 'Memoir of Sir Henry Maine,' 1892.
  7. 'Ernest Renan,' 1893-8.
  8. 'Memoir of Lord De Tabley,' 1899.
  9. 'A Victorian Anthology,' 1902.
  10. 'Out of the Past: some Biographical Essays,' 2 vols. 1903.
  11. 'Gems from a Victorian Anthology,' 1904.

[Notes from a Diary; Banffshire Herald. 16 Jan. 1906; The Times, 13 Jan. 1906; Burke's Landed Gentry; private information; personal knowledge.]

H. S.