Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Helps, Arthur

HELPS, Sir ARTHUR (1813–1875), clerk of the privy council, youngest son of Thomas Helps of Balham Hill, Surrey, by his wife Ann Frisquet, was born at Streatham, Surrey, on 10 July 1813, and entered at Eton in 1829. He proceeded to Trinity College, Cambridge, where he graduated B.A. in 1835 and M.A. in 1839. The degree of D.C.L. was conferred on him at Oxford on 8 June 1864. His first official occupation was as private secretary to Mr. Spring Rice (afterwards Lord Monteagle), chancellor of the exchequer in Lord Melbourne's cabinet; but in 1839 he transferred his services to Lord Morpeth (afterwards Earl of Carlisle), chief secretary for Ireland. Soon after he received the appointment of a commissioner of French, Danish, and Spanish claims. On 9 June 1860, on the retirement of the Hon. W. L. Bathurst, Helps was named clerk of the privy council, a post which he held to his death. Shrewd, singularly clear-headed, highly cultivated, he made it his business to master as matter of personal interest many of the questions that came under the cognisance of the privy council. Thrown by his office into personal intercourse with Queen Victoria, she learnt to appreciate his high qualities, and found in him a staunch, thoughtful, and capable adviser. The queen entrusted him with the revision of Prince Albert's speeches, which were published in 1862, and with the preparation for the press of her ‘Leaves from the Journal of our Life in the Highlands’ in 1868, and of her ‘Mountain, Loch, and Glen,’ 1869. On 30 June 1871 he was created a C.B. civil division, and a K.C.B. 18 July 1872. He caught cold attending a levée, and died from a severe attack of pleurisy at 13 Lower Berkeley Street, London, 7 March 1875. He was buried in Streatham cemetery on 12 March. His wife was Bessy, daughter of Captain Edward Fuller. On 4 May 1875 a civil list pension of 200l. a year was granted to her in consideration of her husband's public services.

Helps's literary career commenced at an early age with the publication in 1835 of ‘Thoughts in the Cloister and the Crowd.’ He afterwards attempted history, fiction, drama. Mr. Ruskin called attention to his ‘beautiful quiet English,’ and the sincerity and practical purpose of his thinking (Modern Painters, 1856, iii. 268 and App.), though his arguments often lack depth. In 1847 the first series of ‘Friends in Council’ appeared (3rd ser. 1853). Another series was issued in 1859. Both series consist of dialogues on social and intellectual subjects, written with much earnestness. In history he devoted himself with considerable success to the study of the discovery of America and the early Spanish conquests. He published the ‘Conquerors of the New World’ in 1848, and the ‘Spanish Conquest in America,’ in four volumes, 1855–61. Of the last, a work of great value and interest, a new edition, with maps and introduction by M. Oppenheim, came out in London in 1900. Helps reissued portions of his Spanish-American histories as distinct biographies: ‘Life of Las Casas, the Apostle of the Indians,’ 1868; of Columbus, 1869; of Pizarro, 1869; and of Hernando Cortes, 1871. These biographies were in their day more popular than the original history. Among his dramas and romances were ‘Catherine Douglas’ and ‘Henry II,’ tragedies, printed in 1843, and ‘Oulita the Serf,’ a tragedy, in 1858. In his novel ‘Realmah,’ 1868, he introduced under transparent disguises several prominent statesmen and set them to discuss popular questions of the day. ‘Ivan de Biron,’ a Russian story, 1874, has some literary merit.

Besides the works mentioned, Helps was author or editor of:

  1. ‘Essays written in the Intervals of Business,’ 1841, 1888.
  2. ‘The Claims of Labour,’ an essay, 1844; 2nd edit. 1845.
  3. ‘Companions of my Solitude,’ 1851.
  4. ‘A Letter on “Uncle Tom's Cabin,”’ 1852.
  5. ‘Casimir Maremma,’ 1870; another edit. 1873.
  6. ‘Brevia; Short Essays and Aphorisms,’ 1871.
  7. ‘Conversations on War,’ 1871.
  8. ‘Work and Wages, by T. Brassey the younger,’ 1872.
  9. ‘Life and Labours of Mr. Brassey,’ 1872; 7th edit. 1888.
  10. ‘Thoughts upon Government,’ 1872.
  11. ‘Some Talk about Animals and their Masters,’ 1873; new edit. 1883.
  12. ‘Social Pressure,’ 1875.

[Times, 8 March 1875 p. 9, 9 March p. 10, and 10 March p. 5; Lancet, 13 March 1875, p. 383; Annual Register, 1875, pp. 74, 136; Illustrated London News, 13 March 1875, p. 258; Graphic, 8 May 1875, pp. 436, 450, with portrait; Martin's Queen Victoria, as I knew her, 1908.]

G. C. B.