Open main menu

Page:Dictionary of National Biography volume 53.djvu/200

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.


and acknowledged Mr. Disraeli's leadership. The Young England party sought to extinguish the predominance of the middle-class bourgeoisie, and to re-create the political prestige of the aristocracy by resolutely proving its capacity to ameliorate the social, intellectual, and material condition of the peasantry and the labouring classes. Outside as well as inside parliament Smythe energetically advocated such principles. He and Lord John Manners expounded them with a brilliance which extorted a compliment from Cobden. At a soirée held at the Manchester Athenæum on 3 Oct. 1844, under Disraeli's presidency, Smythe, in an address on ‘The Importance of Literature,’ asserted that ‘his political watch was always five minutes too fast.’ A few days later he and his friends attended a festival at Bingley, Yorkshire, to celebrate the allotment of land for gardens to working men. On 11 July 1843 Smythe had denounced in parliament ‘the perpetual toryness’ of England's treatment of Ireland, and on 16 April 1845 he strongly advocated the grant to Maynooth College (Hansard, 3rd ser. lxxix. 833–40). Disraeli paid Smythe the compliment of drawing from him his portrait of the hero of ‘Coningsby’ (1844).

In January 1845 Smythe was appointed under-secretary of state for foreign affairs in Sir Robert Peel's second government. His friends spoke of him regretfully as ‘Pegasus in harness,’ and he described himself as ‘fettered by party and muzzled by office.’ In 1842 Smythe had spoken against free trade; but when Peel in 1846 accepted that principle, Smythe, who was by nature readily open to conviction, followed his chief. Disraeli and others of Smythe's former allies adhered to their original position, and Smythe's severance from them was complete. During the great debate on the corn laws in June 1846 Smythe advocated their abolition. The premier highly praised Smythe's effort, but after the discussion was over, and when Sir William Gregory remarked to Smythe, ‘Peel gave you plenty of butter,’ Smythe characteristically replied ‘Yes, rancid as usual’ (Gregory, Autobiography, p. 89). On the same night Disraeli delivered his scathing denunciation of Peel's administration as an ‘organised hypocrisy,’ and before the close of the month (29 June) Sir Robert resigned. At the general election in the following year Smythe was again returned, on 3 Aug. 1847, for Canterbury. During that parliament, which lasted until July 1852, Smythe, according to Disraeli, committed a sort of political suicide by abstaining from all part in the debates. In May 1852 he fought at Weybridge with Colonel Frederick Romilly (1810–1887), youngest son of Sir Samuel Romilly [q. v.], the last duel in England. Romilly was his colleague in the representation of Canterbury, and Smythe accused him of unfairly influencing the electors against him. At the subsequent general election in July Smythe received only seven votes, and he did not sit in the house again. The election was afterwards declared void through bribery and the writ suspended until August 1854.

From 1847 to 1852 Smythe devoted himself to journalism, and wrote industriously and with brilliant effect in the leading columns of the ‘Morning Chronicle.’ An attack on Richard Monckton Milnes (afterwards Lord Houghton) led to a challenge, but the affair was compromised (Reid, Life of Lord Houghton, i. 416 sq.). ‘He would rather be’ (he had said in 1844) ‘one of the journalists who led than of the statesmen who followed in the path of reforms.’ He had already made a literary reputation by his ‘Historic Fancies,’ which was published in 1844. It is a miscellaneous collection of poems and essays, the titles of which indicate the range of its author's studies: ‘The Merchants of Old England,’ ‘The Aristocracy of France,’ ‘The Jacobin of Paris,’ ‘The Loyalist of La Vendée,’ an elegy on ‘Armand Carrel,’ and a Napoleonic dialogue between ‘Fifteen and Twenty-five.’ In the following year (1845) two remarkable monographs from his hand, on ‘George Canning’ and ‘Earl Grey’ respectively, appeared in the ‘Oxford and Cambridge Review.’

On his father's death, on 29 May 1855, Smythe succeeded to the title as seventh Viscount Strangford, but took no part in the debates of the House of Lords. Consumption had manifested itself and proved incurable. Early in 1857 he went to Egypt in a vain search of health, and returned to London in the autumn. On 9 Nov. he was married by special license, at Bradgate Park, near Leicester, the seat of the Earl of Stamford and Warrington, to Margaret, eldest daughter of John Lennox Kincaid Lennox, esq., of Lennox Castle, N.B. But he was then dying, and the end came a fortnight later at Bradgate Park (23 Nov. 1857) (Malmesbury, Memoirs of an ex-Minister, 2nd edit. ii. 88). He was succeeded by his brother, Percy Ellen Frederick William [q. v.], as eighth Viscount Strangford.

Among his papers was found the manuscript of a novel entitled ‘Angela Pisani,’ which he had begun writing at Venice in 1846. This was eventually published under the editorship of his brother's widow in 1875.

The Earl of Beaconsfield described Strangford as ‘a man of brilliant gifts, of dazzling