Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Morier, Robert Burnett David
MORIER, Sir ROBERT BURNETT DAVID (1826–1893), diplomatist, only son of David Richard Morier [q. v.], was born at Paris 31 March 1826. He was educated at first privately at home, and then at Balliol College, Oxford, where he took a second class in litteræ humaniores in 1849. To his Oxford training he owed in part the scholarly style and analytical insight which afterwards characterised his despatches. In January 1851 he was appointed a clerk in the education department, a post which he resigned in October of the following-year in order to enter the diplomatic service. On 5 Sept. 1853 he became unpaid attache at Vienna, and the next twenty-three years of his life were spent almost entirely in German countries. He was appointed paid attache at Berlin, 20 Feb. 1858; accompanied Sir H. Elliot on his special mission to Naples, June 1859; and was assistant private secretary to Lord John Russell during his attendance upon the queen at Coburg in September to October 1860. On 1 Oct. 1862 he was made second secretary, on 1 March 1865 British commissioner at Vienna for arrangement of tariff, and on 10 Sept. 1865 secretary of legation at Athens, whence he was soon transferred in the same capacity to Frankfort on 30 Dec. 1865. His services were recognised by the companionship of the Bath in the following January. From March to July 1866 he was again engaged on a commission at Vienna, for carrying out the treaty of commerce, and on returning to Frankfort acted as charge d'affaires, and was appointed secretary of legation at Darmstadt in the same year. Here, with an interval of commission work at Vienna upon the Anglo-Austrian tariff (May to September 1867), He remained for five years, until his appointment as charge d'affaires at Stuttgart, 18 July 1871. From Stuttgart he was transferred with the same rank to Munich on 30 Jan. 1872, and after four years' charge of the Bavarian legation, left Germany on his appointment as minister plenipotentiary to the king of Portugal on 1 March 1876.
During these twenty-three years of diplomatic activity in Germany, he acquired an intimate and an unrivalled familiarity with the politics of the 'fatherland.' He was a hard Avorker and a close observer, and his very disregard of conventionality and his habits of camaraderie, which sometimes startled his more stiffly starched superiors, enabled him to keep in touch with all sorts and conditions of men and to get a firm practical grip of important political questions. When any important question of home or foreign politics arose, he knew the views and wishes, not only of the official world, but also of all the other classes who contribute to form public opinion; and he did not always confine himself to playing the passive role of an indifferent spectator. His naturally impulsive temperament, joined to a certain recklessness which was checked but never completely extinguished by official restraints, sometimes induced him to meddle in local politics to an extent which irritated the ruling powers; and there is reason to believe indeed Sir Robert believed it himself that the enmity of Prince Bismarck was first excited by activity of this kind. ... In complicated questions of German politics, even when they did not properly belong to the post which he held for the moment, he was often consulted privately by the Foreign Office authorities, and he was justly regarded as one of the first authorities on the Schleswig-Holstein question, though the advice which he gave to her majesty's government on that subject was not always followed' (Times, 17 Nov. 1893). During his residence at Darmstadt he was brought into relations with the Princess Alice and the crown princess, and probably from this time may be dated the high opinion in which he was held at court, and also the disfavour with which he was regarded by Prince Bismarck. The general ascription of some unsigned letters in the 'Times' in 1875 on continental affairs to Morier's trenchant pen did not tend to diminish a dislike which the minister's outspoken language and unconcealed liberalism had contributed to excite, and it is noteworthy that the epoch of Bismarck's greatest power was also the date when the man who knew more than any other Englishman of German politics and public opinion was finally removed from diplomatic employment in Germany.
For five years (1876-81) he was minister at Lisbon, and on 22 June 1881 he was transferred to Madrid, where he remained only three years, until his appointment as ambassador at St. Petersburg on 1 Dec. 1884. He had been created a K.C.B. in October 1882, and was called to the privy council in January 1885; he received the grand cross of St. Michael and St. George in February 1886, and the grand cross of the Bath in September 1887; he received the honorary degree of D.C.L. at Oxford in 1889, and was also hon. LL.D. of Edinburgh University. These honours were in just recognition of the exceptional ability he displayed in the conduct of British relations with Russia, especially after the Penj-deh incident, when his tact and firmness contributed in a very great degree to the maintenance of peace. It has often been asserted that, but for Morier, England would have been at war with Russia in 1885. In spite, or perhaps on account, of his vivacity of temperament, frankness of expression, and uncompromising independence of character, he was popular at St. Petersburg, both with the tsar and the ministers, and his popularity was notably enhanced when the German press, acting presumably with Prince Bismarck's authority, circulated the scandalous fiction that he had transmitted secret military information to the French from his post at Darmstadt during the war of 1870. When Count Herbert Bismarck made himself responsible for the accusation by declining to contradict it, the ambassador pubblished the correspondence, including an absolutely conclusive letter from Marshal Bazaine. The result was a universal condemnation of the accusers by public opinion, and Morier was warmly congratulated in very high quarters at St. Petersburg, where the German chancellor was no favourite. He used to relate with amusement the obsequious politeness of a French stationmaster, when travelling in France soon afterwards, which was explained by the official's audible comment to a friend as the train moved off, 'C'est le grand ambassadeur qui a roulé Bismarck!'
In 1891 Sir Robert Morier was gazetted as Lord Dufferin's successor in the embassy at Rome. The climate of St. Petersburg, joined to very arduous work, often protracted late into the night, had undermined his constitution, and the appointment to Rome was made at his own request, solely on the ground of health. Matters of importance
and delicacy, however, remained to be settled at St. Petersburg, and the tsar personally expressed a hope that the ambassador would not abandon his post at such a juncture. Sir Robert reluctantly consented to remain in Russia, though he knew it was at the risk of his life. The premature death, in 1892, of his only son, Victor Albert Louis,' at the age of twenty-five, broke his once buoyant spirits, and his already weakened constitution was unable to repel a severe attack of influenza in the spring of 1893. He went to the Crimea, and then to Reichenhall in Bavaria, without permanent improvement, and died at Montreux, near the ancient seat of his family, on 16 Nov. 1893. He married in 1861 Alice, daughter of General Jonathan Peel [q. v.], but no male issue survived him. With his death a distinguished line of diplomatists became extinct.
[Foreign Office List, 1893; Times, 17 Nov. 1893; personal knowledge.]