published The Disowned, following it up with Devereux (1829), Paul Cliford (1839), Eugene Aram (1832) and Godolphin (1833). All these novels were designed with a didactic purpose, somewhat upon the German model. To embody the leading features of a period, to show how a criminal may be reformed by the development of his own character, to explain the secrets of failure and success in life, these were the avowed objects of his art, and there were not wanting critics ready to call in question his sincerity and his morality. Magazine controversy followed, in which Bulwer was induced to take a part, and about the same time he began to make a mark in politics. He became a follower of Bentham, and in 1831 was elected member for St Ives in Huntingdon. During this period of feverish activity his relations with his wife grew less and less satisfactory. At first she had cause to complain that he neglected her in the pursuit of literary reputation; later on his disregard became rather active than passive. After a series of distressing differences they decided to live apart, and were legally separated in 1836. Three years later his wife published a novel called Cheveley, or the Man of Honour, in which Bulwer was bitterly caricatured, and in June 1858, when her husband was standing as parliamentary candidate for Hertfordshire, she appeared at the hustings and indignantly denounced him. She was consequently placed under restraint as insane, but liberated a few weeks later. For years she continued her attacks upon her husband’s character, and outlived him by nine years, dying at Upper Sydenham in March 1882. There is little doubt that her passionate imagination gravely exaggerated the tale of her wrongs, though Bulwer was certainly no model for husbands. It was a case of two undisciplined natures in domestic bondage, and the consequences of their union were as inevitable as they were unfortunate.
Bulwer, meanwhile, was full of activity, both literary and political. After representing St Ives, he was returned for Lincoln in 1832, and sat in parliament for that city for nine years. He spoke in favour of the Reform Bill, and took the leading part in securing the reduction, after vainly essaying the repeal, of the newspaper stamp duties. His pamphlet, issued when the Whigs were dismissed from office in 1834, and entitled “A Letter to a Late Cabinet Minister on the Crisis,” was immensely influential, and Lord Melbourne offered him a lordship of the admiralty, which he declined as likely to interfere with his activity as an author. At this time, indeed, his pen was indefatigable. Godolphin was followed by The Pilgrims of the Rhine (1834), a graceful fantasy, too German in sentiment to be quite successful in England, and then in The Last Days of Pompeii (1834) and Rienzi (1835) he reached the height of his popularity. He took great pains with these stories, and despite their lurid colouring and mannered over-emphasis, they undoubtedly indicate the high water mark of his talent. Their reception was enthusiastic, and Ernest Maltravers (1837) and Alice, or the Mysteries (1838) were hardly less successful. At the same time he had been plunging into journalism. In 1831 he undertook the editorship of the New Monthly, which, however, he resigned in the following year, but in 1841, the year in which he published Night and Morning, he started the Monthly Chronicle, a semi-scientific magazine, for which he wrote Zicci, an unfinished first draft afterwards expanded into Zanoni (1842). As though this multifarious fecundity were not sufficient, he had also been busy in the field of dramatic literature. In 1838 he produced The Lady of Lyons, a play which Macready made a great success at Covent Garden: in 1839 Richelieu and The Sea Captain, and in 1840 Money. All, except The Sea Captain, were successful, and this solitary failure he revived in 1869 under the title of The Rightful Heir. Of the others it may be said that, though they abound in examples of strained sentiment and false taste, they have nevertheless a certain theatrical flair, which has enabled them to survive a whole library of stage literature of greater sincerity and truer feeling. The Lady of Lyons and Money have long held the stage, and to the last-named, at least, some of the most talented of modern comedians have given new life and probability.
In 1838 Bulwer, then at the height of his popularity, was created a baronet, and on succeeding to the Knebworth estate in 1843 added Lytton to his surname, under the terms of his mother’s will. From 1841 to 1852 he had no seat in parliament, and spent much of his time in continental travel. His literary activity waned somewhat, but was still remarkably alert for a man who had already done so much. In 1843 he issued The Last of the Barons, which many critics have considered the most historically sound and generally effective of all his romances; in 1847 Lucretia, or the Children of the Night, and in 1848 Harold, the last of the Saxon Kings. In the intervals between these heavier productions he had thrown off a volume of poems in 1842, another of translations from Schiller in 1844, and a satire called The New Timon in 1846, in which Tennyson, who had just received a Civil List pension, was bitterly lampooned as “school miss Alfred,” with other unedifying amenities; Tennyson retorted with some verses in which he addressed Bulwer-Lytton as “you band-box.” These poetic excursions were followed by his most ambitious work in metre, a romantic epic entitled King Arthur, of which he expected much, and he was greatly disappointed by its apathetic reception. Having experienced some rather acid criticism, questioning the morality of his novels, he next essayed a form of fiction which he was determined should leave no loophole to suspicion, and in The Caxtons (1849), published at first anonymously, gave further proof of his versatility and resource. My Novel (1853) and What will he do with it? were designed to prolong the same strain.
In 1852 he entered the political field anew, and in the conservative interest. He had differed from the policy of Lord John Russell over the corn laws, and now separated finally from the liberals. He stood for Hertfordshire and was elected, holding the seat till 1866, when he was raised to the peerage as Baron Lytton of Knebworth. His eloquence gave him the ear of the House of Commons, and he often spoke with influence and authority. In 1858 he was appointed secretary for the colonies. In the House of Lords he was comparatively inactive. His last novels were A Strange Story (1862), a mystical romance with spiritualistic tendencies; The Coming Race (1871), The Parisians (1873)—both unacknowledged at the time of his death; and Kenelm Chillingly, which was in course of publication in Blackwood’s Magazine when Lytton died at Torquay on the 18th of January 1873. The last three of his stories were classed by his son, the 2nd Lord Lytton, as a trilogy, animated by a common purpose, to exhibit the influence of modern ideas upon character and conduct.
Bulwer-Lytton’s attitude towards life was theatrical, the language of his sentiments was artificial and over-decorated, and the tone of his work was often so flamboyant as to give an impression of false taste and judgment. Nevertheless, he built up each of his stories upon a deliberate and careful framework; he was assiduous according to his lights in historical research; and conscientious in the details of workmanship. As the fashion of his day has become obsolete the immediate appeal of his work has diminished. It will always, however, retain its interest, not only for the merits of certain individual novels, but as a mirror of the prevailing intellectual movement of the first ’half of the 19th century. .
See T. H. S. Escott, Edward Bulwer, 1st Baron Lytton of Knebworth (1910).
LYTTON, EDWARD ROBERT BULWER-LYTTON, 1st Earl of (1831–1891), English diplomatist and poet, was the only son of the 1st Baron Lytton. He was born in Hertford Street, Mayfair, on the 8th of November 1831. Robert Lytton and his sister were brought up as children principally by a Miss Green. In 1840 the boy was sent to a school at Twickenham, in 1842 to another at Brighton, and in 1845 to Harrow. From his earliest childhood Lytton read voraciously and wrote copiously, quickly developing a genuine and intense love of literature and a remarkable facility of expression. In 1849 he left Harrow and studied for a year at Bonn with an English tutor, and on his return with another tutor in England. In 1850, he entered the diplomatic service as unpaid attaché to his uncle, Sir Henry Bulwer, who was then minister at Washington. His advance