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The historian Lord Acton is best known as Lord Rosebery's choice for the Regius Chair of Modern History at Cambridge University in 1895. This outcome was not the inexorable culmination an historian's career. It was rather a form of compensation for the failure of Acton's earlier ambitions for political or public office. Drawing on hitherto largely untapped archival material this article re-examines this crucial period in the final decade of Acton's life. To an extent, this is a study in failure. Acton's attempt to re-enter public life remained abortive. But this study goes beyond adding to our understanding of Acton's biography. His quest for public office furnishes a useful prism to study also the prolonged post-Gladstonian transition phase in Liberal politics in the middle part of the 1890s, its underlying ideological fissures and the problematic personal relations at the top of the Liberal Party.

Few would scruple to maintain with Mr. Morley that the equity of history requires that we shall judge men of action by the standards of men of action.

Lord Acton [1]

On Lord Acton's death in 1902, F. W. Maitland reflected that for the late Regius Professor ‘nothing was too small because nothing was too large. The whole lay in every part and particle.’ [2] To study a larger whole is also the object of the following examination of a particle of Acton's career, his quest, during Gladstone's final administration, for a public appointment. The episode is not only of interest in terms of Acton's biography. It also furnishes a useful prism through which to study a range of different aspects of late Victorian Liberal politics and the personal relationships that sustained them.

Acton's desire for a senior political or diplomatic post is by no means unknown to Actonian scholars. [3] But their work has, of necessity, been concentrated on Acton himself and his role on the fringes of contemporary political life. It is, however, possible to cast one's net more widely. Acton's abortive attempt to re-enter public life reflected the evolving nature of his relations with Gladstone. But it also helps to illuminate the dynamics within the leadership of the Liberal party in the 1890s. In so doing it throws light on the Grand Old Man's difficulties in forming and managing his fourth and final cabinet as well as on his views on foreign policy and Britain's professional diplomatic elite.


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Central to Acton's political and, to some extent, his intellectual life, too, was his connection with William Ewart Gladstone. He had first visited the Liberal leader at his Flintshire home, Hawarden Castle, in 1869 in the company of his stepfather, Granville George Leveson-Gower, second earl of Granville, Gladstone's closest political associate. By all accounts, their acquaintance started somewhat uneasily. Yet it eventually developed and ripened. A decade later, in September 1879, the retired Liberal leader's visit to Acton's Bavarian chalet at Tegernsee formed a crucial juncture in the lives of both men. [4] From it sprang the historian's extensive correspondence with Gladstone's daughter Mary, one of the main sources for students of Acton's complex mind. And from it sprang Gladstone's almost reverential regard for Acton's pronouncements on all matters historical, theological, and even political.

The nature of the Acton–Gladstone relationship defies neat categorization and precise labelling. [5] Perhaps it was inevitable that the statesman and polymath manqué Gladstone and the polymath and politician manqué Acton should gravitate towards each other. Their relationship was anchored in common intellectual interests and mutual political preferences. Both shared a deep love of learning and of books. Both represented prominent strands of contemporary liberalism. And both the anti-papal Roman Catholic Acton and the High-Church Anglican Gladstone felt a strong affinity for each other's religious sentiments. This was, perhaps, more strongly felt by Acton. As he explained to his Munich mentor, the church historian Ignaz von Döllinger, he sensed Gladstone's growing disenchantment with an established church that ‘covered heterodoxy with an official cloak’ and that was no longer faithful to ‘the Catholic elements’. [6] Indeed, by the time of his death, Acton concluded that Gladstone had ‘cast Protestantism to the winds’. [7]

For Gladstone, the scholar Acton was a sage of unimpeachable moral authority, whose profound knowledge and insights helped him, the former Peelite Tory, to discover the true basis of his own Liberalism in religion and morality. By the mid-1880s, moreover, most of Gladstone's early friends were dead. There was thus a vacuum in his private and intellectual life which the stepson of his most intimate political colleague easily filled. Indeed, Acton, ‘a most satisfactory mind’, [8] provided a vital intellectual impulse to Gladstone's thinking during the final two decades of his life.

For Acton, the Liberal statesman epitomized his own beau idéal of principled political and moral leadership, even if, like any politician, Gladstone was by no means immune to the temptations of the expedient. There was, indeed, ‘an almost mythical quality’ to his regard for Gladstone. [9] Acton's own political career had been curiously fragmented, his personal circumstances always insecure, and his life perennially peripatetic. In Gladstone, however, he had found his personal political lodestar. In a letter to Mary Gladstone in 1882, he emphasized her father's intellectual emancipation from the prejudices imbibed in his youth. And he anticipated ‘the judgment of posterity’ on the politician Gladstone: ‘[W]hen our descendants shall stand before the slab that is not yet laid among the monuments of famous Englishmen, they will say … that the highest merits of [Chatham, Fox, Pitt, Canning and Peel] without their drawbacks were united in Mr. Gladstone.’ [10]

There was an indubitable element of calculation in this paean, using the daughter as an intermediary to cement the ties with the father. Even so, it would be wrong to see in it merely an instance of a self-seeking, ‘near-lifetime's assiduous courtiership within the Gladstone entourage’, though, as will be seen, that was clearly the perception of some in the upper echelons of the Liberal party at the time. [11] Rather, the Acton–Gladstone relationship was based on a confluence of intellectual and political interests and needs.

The ties between the two men were nevertheless puzzling for contemporaries, just as they continue to puzzle historians. In the oft-quoted, but possibly apocryphal, quip by Matthew Arnold, Gladstone influenced all around him, but ‘[i]t is Acton who influences Gladstone’. [12] If he ever made the remark, he exaggerated Acton's influence. Acton clearly encouraged the Liberal leader, for instance, in his pursuit of Home Rule for Ireland, or in placing moral principles before political calculations. And in leading on Irish devolution, Gladstone ‘fulfilled the sort of Liberal role which men such as Acton expected of him’. [13] But this did not make Acton the sole source or inspiration of Gladstonian liberalism. Owen Chadwick seems much nearer the mark in observing that Acton was ‘the intangible aura of a mind and spirit [rather] than a definable stimulus of a statesman who understands how votes are caught and policy executed’. [14]


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  7. Footnotes

Whatever the precise nature of the Acton–Gladstone relationship, by the time the octogenarian ‘Grand Old Man’ formed his final administration, Acton had become indispensable to him. The prime minister, Mary Drew confided to Acton, ‘treats your judgement absolutely as to when to choose between the “silver” & the “golden” ’. [15] Acton, indeed, was Gladstone's ‘ultimate referee’, as one of Gladstone's private secretaries noted. [16]

Nor was the historian holding back in offering advice on politics. Writing from Munich in the late spring of 1892, as the prospect of a general election hove into view, he warned of breakers ahead. The earl of Rosebery, the last and, by common consent the most likely future, Liberal foreign secretary, he suggested, ought ‘to go to some German waters, and get better acquainted with post-Bismarckian Prussia. So much is changed since he has made friends there with the fallen giants [the Bismarcks].’ [17] It was a less than subtle dig at Rosebery's stated preference for continuing Salisbury's policy of aligning with Germany and the German-led Triple Alliance. Whether or not it was meant to encourage the party leader to cleave to a more distinctly Gladstonian line, [18] Acton had rightly identified Rosebery as a potential problem. Incapable of turning his many precocious attributes into lasting achievements, the capricious earl was still the heir apparent to the party leadership. Without him in the cabinet, the unity of the party, fragile at the best of times, was at risk.

It did not require an historian's superior insight to make Gladstone appreciate Rosebery's central importance to the formation of a viable Liberal administration; but it did require Acton's services as an intermediary to secure his adhesion to the government. By 1892, relations between the two most senior Liberals had become awkward. Gladstone's disappointment in his erstwhile protégé's fling with the precepts of Salisburian realpolitik was now tempered only by the imperative of ‘secur[ing] Rosebery at any price’. [19] The latter's once high regard for Gladstone was much diluted now by his strong sense of the Grand Old Man's many failings. The current leader, with his firm ideas about seniority, clung desperately to the prospect of a fourth premiership. The likely future leader was dismayed at that prospect, which would bring with it renewed immersion in the Home Rule controversy and the pursuit of all the ‘fads’ in the 1891 Newcastle programme. [20] Only his disquiet at his own ascent to the top of the greasy pole seemed greater. Neither man could broach the leadership question directly; neither could afford to ignore it. But both could communicate through Acton.

Acton himself had returned from Bavaria in June to assist Gladstone in drafting his appeal to the electorate: ‘As the plot thickens, it draws me strongly homewards.’ [21] In July, he accompanied Gladstone to Dalmeny, Rosebery's seat and once again headquarters of the Liberal election campaign in Midlothian. Indeed, the octogenarian ‘could never have too much’ of Acton's company now. [22] He was well-nigh ubiquitous: ‘Every person in the house is continually getting hold of him for private interviews, so, what a blessing he is so entirely trustworthy.’ [23]

By all accounts, Rosebery had ‘a terrible week of it’, the Gladstones being ‘more than usually tactless’. [24] Acton himself ‘described the state of things [at Dalmeny] as electric, i.e. between [Rosebery] and his illustrious guest’. [25] As the election results came in, moreover, the early optimism in the Gladstone camp evaporated. The Unionists had lost the contest, but the Liberals had not won a majority. [26] The prospect ahead was of office without power, reliant on the unreliable ‘Irish brigade’. The unspoken leadership question between Gladstone and his otherwise perfect host, meanwhile, did little to improve the depressed atmosphere at Dalmeny. At one point, Rosebery asked Acton: ‘How long do you think this can last? Do you really think him [Gladstone] fit to be Premier?’ The reply outlined precisely Rosebery's dilemma: ‘At any rate nobody else can.’ Acton was by no means insensitive to that predicament. Whatever Rosebery's psychological flaws, Acton thought him a shrewd political operator, who saw all too clearly that the Liberal crown was a damnosa hereditas. He knew that he ‘would have to follow a failing old man, with no hope of lasting, and little prospect of immediate, success’. [27]

When, in mid-July, Gladstone left Dalmeny for Braemar to stay with George (later Lord) Armistead, a former MP for Dundee and pillar of the Gladstonian establishment in Scotland, Acton once again accompanied him. At Braemar, the two composed a cabinet, with Rosebery pencilled in at the Foreign Office, even though the question of Rosebery's position still hung in the balance. Acton was certainly ‘most anxious, chiefly on L[or]d R[osebery]’. [28] Whether he took it upon himself to clarify matters, or whether Gladstone, worried that Rosebery might not accept office under him after all, urged him to write, is not clear. But, on 18 July, Acton appealed to Rosebery to make his intentions understood. Gladstone was ‘much depressed’. He thought that he ‘had come virtually to an agreement’ with his host at Dalmeny, and that the process of forming a cabinet rested on Rosebery's joining it:

I drop with scruple the part of an impartial and comparatively discreet observer, to tell you what I think: you cannot mean to leave suspended and unanswered such an offer as Gladstone made to you, or to deposit a quicksand under the foundations of his Cabinet. The second course cannot be laid before the first, both from the importance of your office, and from the awkward choice of the man to take your place. … The future of the party as well as its immediate fate, and the last scene of this prodigious drama depend mainly on your reply. [29]

If Acton had meant to appeal to his fellow-historian's sense of the historical significance of the occasion, he failed. Rosebery continued to pretend indifference. Indeed, he took ten days to reply. When he did, he expressed ‘some perplexity’ at Acton's letter. Gladstone, he averred, had made no ‘offer of any kind at Dalmeny; indeed he hardly had the opportunity of doing so. I was anxious that he should not’, as he had previously indicated to him that he wished to withdraw from public life altogether. [30]

It required further appeals by Gladstone, Lord Salisbury as the outgoing foreign secretary, the permanent under-secretary at the Foreign Office, and the queen through her private secretary before Rosebery relented. [31] The failure of Acton's mission as a go-between did not affect his relationship with Gladstone: ‘there was not a word of reproach for my failure, and he [Gladstone] ended by saying that [John] Morley and I were the only men he entirely trusted.’ [32]

If the Grand Old Man harboured no grudges, others certainly did. As a student of past politics, Acton understood the dangers of his exposed position on Gladstone's flank, ‘appearing as a busybody and doing more harm than good’. [33] Those in the know, he feared, ‘will say that I had an unparalleled opportunity of earwigging the coming Prime Minister, and poisoning his mind; and those who are disappointed will lay the blame on my innocent shoulders’. Relations with Rosebery and Morley were strained already, and ‘[t]his makes it difficult for me to take office myself.’ [34] This was the first indication of his own ambitions for high office in 1892, though he had spoken often, and often indiscreetly, of his hopes in that direction before. Acton's straitened personal circumstances were well known in political circles, and now he needed to earn his living. [35]

For his part, Gladstone had shown considerable solicitude towards Acton on that score. The financial woes of the remaining Whig peers were a long-standing concern of his. [36] And just as he had helped to salvage the finances of the family of his principal political associate, Lord Granville, so he went to considerable personal trouble to alleviate the financial problems of his old ally's stepson. [37] In 1890, he enlisted the support of the philanthropist-financier Andrew Carnegie in an anonymous rescue effort to prevent Acton's famous private library from being auctioned off to repay some of his debts, even though the scholar had lost all interest in this vast collection. [38] In the same year, Gladstone also used his personal influence to arrange for Acton's election to a fellowship at All Souls. [39]

Even Carnegie's £9,000 could not secure Acton's personal finances in the longer term, and Gladstone now sought to make space for him in the cabinet: ‘Acton is here with me [at Braemar]. In some way he ought to be brought into the circle.’ [40] Acton's own indiscretion and Gladstone's contemplated act of favouritism provoked an immediate backlash. Chief among those who moved against Acton was John Morley, man-of-letters and torch-bearer of Gladstonianism as a crusading moralism, especially where Irish matters were concerned. Their Gladstone connection had brought the two into closer contact in the middle of the 1880s. Although Acton had shown Morley ‘unwearied’ personal kindness, [41] he nevertheless did ‘not trust him. … He is, at bottom, a fanatic, full of Jacobinical possibilities, and therefore … without ethical basis.’ [42]

Morley, meanwhile, regarded Acton as a rival for the prime minister's personal confidence. This was no inconsiderable threat. Morley had long held the view that public intellectuals, men like Acton and himself, were a form of ‘spiritual Power’ in the land, forming opinion and guiding the deliberations of the men of business, who sat on the red and green benches in Westminster. [43] Accordingly, he judged Acton in this light. It was, he reflected, ‘a mistake to think of him [Acton] as a bookworm. He has the gift of observation and penetration. He came to my room, and turning a semi-furtive flash upon me, s[ai]d: “Mr. G[ladstone] once thought of putting me in the cabinet. He hasn't s[ai]d anything about me?” ’ [44] Morley could scarcely contain himself as he witnessed Gladstone pouring out ‘all his inmost thoughts on men and things’ to his rival. [45] Indeed, he feared that his indiscreet rival ‘with [his] colloguings [sic] &c will do much harm’. [46]

Acton, he recorded in his diary, had confided to the Gladstone acolyte Armistead that he would not accept a subordinate office in the government or the royal household:

[W]as there ever anyth[in]g so irrational [?]. But what a scene it is! What foolishness all round! If Mr. G[ladstone] cannot do the work himself he ought to consult [the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Sir William] H[arcourt] and me, not ignorant outsiders. [47]

Morley's other rival was Rosebery. At a personal level, relations between the two men of letters were friendly; on policy, however, their views diverged sharply. Rosebery's acceptance of office under Gladstone, moreover, shattered what hopes Morley had entertained of being handed the seals of the Foreign Office himself. For this he blamed Acton, as the latter knew only too well: ‘Morley [is] frightfully jealous of my influence with G[ladstone].’ [48] When the prime minister still persisted with his plans to find a cabinet post for Acton, the incoming chief secretary for Ireland ‘put his foot on this at once’. Some complained of Acton's ‘meddlesomeness’; others feared that ‘Acton considers that at this crisis he is going to govern England through Gladstone.’ [49]

Morley, indeed, was full of ‘the redoubtable Acton’, as he confided to his diary: ‘Stories of the usual tracassaries of the singular families. The meddling of ladies & of outsiders with these serious affairs at so dire a moment makes me boil with wrath, because it must end up bad gov[ern]m[en]t.’ [50] On 2 August, the uneasy Morley–Harcourt alliance swung into action, aided by Earl Spencer, Gladstone's choice for the Admiralty. They made it plain that there was no room for Acton in the Cabinet. [51] When Gladstone resisted, and

talked of Acton as a farsighted man [,] [Morley] gently intimated: ‘His merits are great, and his necessities are great.’ As if his necessities had anyth[in]g to do with it. We are in for a life and death battle with no quarter given, and the sole point is to construct a fighting gov[ern]m[en]t. Everyth[in]g ought to go down before th[a]t. However, I resisted A[cton]'s impracticable pretensions on the prosaic ground th[a]t we c[oul]d not have 6 peers in the cabinet, nor need we go out of our way to put a peer into place outside the cabinet. [52]

The triple intervention of these political heavyweights from across the Liberal spectrum ended Acton's hopes of high office. The ‘political exigencies made this impossible.’ [53] His lack of political achievement during his unremarkable spell in the House of Commons and then, after 1869, as an absentee peer, no doubt, counted against him. As the earl of Kimberley, one of the solid men of business in successive Liberal administrations since the 1860s, remarked of Acton later in 1894: ‘he has made no mark whatever in public life, and, if he gets an appointment, it can only be because he is poor and one of our few supporters in the Lords.’ [54]

But there were other reasons, too, that weighed against him. As Gladstone himself reflected in 1892, ‘making a gov[ern]m[en]t is a process that favours dark views of human nature. I have never found it so until now.’ [55] At Dalmeny and afterwards there had been a jockeying for positions not just in the cabinet now being formed, but also in anticipation of Gladstone's eventual succession. The outsider Acton's perceived meddling, therefore, threatened to make the outcome of their manoeuvres, and with it the future direction of Liberal politics, more uncertain.

The 1892 cabinet was one of the most literate in British history, with no fewer than half a dozen of its members established writers on historical and cognate subjects. [56] And yet even in this company Acton was something of an outsider. Professors of history are, perhaps, never popular with those who profess the practical art of politics. Acton was not a professor, nor had he ever held a university position. He was one of the ‘leading minds’ of his time, and that gave him a standing in public. [57] But he also enjoyed the dubious reputation for a ‘passion for knowledge’ that was not, perhaps, entirely healthy. [58]

There was, indeed, something alien about Acton. ‘[A] charming person, with pleasant manners (rather foreign)’, observed Queen Victoria, more than a little foreign herself. [59] This was not merely a question of Acton's continental courtoisie. It went deeper than that. As James Bryce noted, Acton was ‘only half an Englishman in blood, less than half an Englishman in his training and mental habits’. He sought facts in relation to an idea. When, in 1882, Acton developed to Bryce his scheme for his great unwritten work on the history of liberty, ‘he spoke like a man inspired … as if from some mountain summit high in the air.’ [60] Others sensed this, too. Attractive, perhaps, in the abstract, moral rigidity had little to recommend itself to those who were engaged in the steady and patient boring of the thick planks of politics. Thus, when E. W. (later Sir Edward) Hamilton, a senior treasury official and intimate associate of both Gladstone and Rosebery, privately labelled Acton ‘the German Professor’, [61] he reflected wider suspicions of Acton in political circles as otherworldly, a little too foreign and, in the phrase of a later premier, not quite ‘one of us’. For his part, Morley, Acton's self-proclaimed friend, even claimed that deep inside Acton's breast ‘was a cabinet noir’. [62]

Acton's religious affiliation might well have reinforced views of him as too much of a cosmopolitan continental and too little of an Englishman. Whether anti-Catholic sentiments were decisive in blocking Gladstone's scheme, as has been suggested, it is difficult to prove. Certainly, by then, it was considered disreputable in Liberal circles to deploy such sectarian arguments. Indeed, the marquess of Ripon's own slightly scandalous conversion to Rome had done nothing to diminish his standing as one of the party's elder statesmen, with a seat in successive Liberal cabinets. [63] In Acton's case, however, there was a religious complication. At one stage, Gladstone had toyed with the idea of bringing Acton into the cabinet as chancellor of the duchy of Lancaster, which entailed responsibility for the disposal of Church of England livings. Allowing a non-Anglican to dispense clerical patronage was politically fraught, but not impossibly so. [64]

Thus ended Acton's search for political office. He had to settle for a salaried position in the queen's household. This still involved a somewhat farcical interlude, when he had to be disabused of his preference for the Gilbert-and-Sullivanesque Captaincy of the Yeomen of the Guard by one of Gladstone's private secretaries, who ‘persuaded him of the absurdity of his wearing a big helmet and sword’. [65] In the end, Acton accepted ‘cheerfully and gratefully’ a lordship-in-waiting, though not without a twinge of misgiving: ‘My difficulty is not that it is below the level of merits or claims, which do not exist, but that it is incongruous, and scarcely compatible with any position I may aspire to.’ [66] For his part, Gladstone learnt of Acton's acceptance ‘with much selfish pleasure’. He applied a liberal dose of balm to Acton's wounded amour propre. His stepfather Granville had started his political career with a household appointment. His own appointment now was ‘a compliment from the Queen herself’. Besides, the demands of the position were not particularly onerous: ‘time is not very invaded, exit on the Terrace & a great Library.’ [67]


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  2. Abstract
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  7. Footnotes

Acton's time was not much invaded at Windsor, indeed. The monarch found the famous scholar ‘very agreeable and pleasant. … He spends his day in the Library which he is delighted with.’ [68] No doubt, Acton's prodigious knowledge of the pedigrees of the central European ruling dynasties was a considerable asset in the queen's household whenever a gap in the Almanach de Gotha was discovered. As for the great library at Windsor, its treasures were not quite what Gladstone had made them out to be: ‘This is not an intellectual place’, Acton confided to Bryce: ‘I have found much good literature, but a very bad library.’ [69]

In addition to his position in the royal household, Acton was a junior government whip, in which role he acted as Morley's spokesman on Irish affairs in the House of Lords. Neither role, however, satisfied him; already in the autumn of 1892 he made his first attempt to leave government for a position in the diplomatic service.

As with his aborted elevation to a cabinet post, so the origins of this scheme are somewhat obscure. According to Acton, at a dinner at Armistead's just after the general election, Rosebery had intimated to him that it might be possible to appoint him minister-resident at Munich. [70] The British legation in the Bavarian capital was a relic of the days when the minor German states had enjoyed a degree of real independence. Since the German Empire of 1871 was constituted as a federation of princes, Britain had retained its diplomatic representation at most of the minor German courts, though little political business was transacted there. Munich had survived several culls of the smaller legations. [71] Indeed, it proved a launch-pad for distinguished diplomatic careers (Sir Robert Morier, Sir Horace Rumbold) – not so, however, in the case of the current incumbent, V. A. W. (later Sir Victor) Drummond. A member of the eponymous banking family, his diplomatic career, after a promising start, had stalled in the mid-1870s. Transferred to Munich in 1885, he was to remain there until his retirement in 1903. Very much ‘the representative English gentleman’, he had proved popular in Bavarian circles, even though he had come to harbour mildly anti-German sentiments. [72]

In October 1892, Acton approached Gladstone with the idea, apparently sanctioned by Rosebery, of transferring Drummond to a post in South America. Britain's man in Munich was ‘a very quiet urbane gentleman, sufficiently acceptable where he is, at a court without foreign affairs’. Acton also suggested that a knighthood would make a transfer more acceptable to Drummond's wife, ‘a rather showy and overdressed, but perfectly respectable N[orth] American lady’. As for his own suitability, he noted with becoming self-deprecation that ‘there are no complications between this country and Bavaria that would give me an opportunity for mismanagement, and I not only know Germany pretty well, but I enjoy a measure of favour with the [Bavarian] Royal family.’ [73]

A move to Munich would have suited Acton on a number of counts. Lady Acton's dislike of English life, and her preference for residing in her native Bavaria or at Cannes, no doubt, mattered. The Munich post, moreover, came with an official salary of £1,500 p.a., more than double his current salary, supplemented, moreover, by a housing and office allowance of £500. In light of the significantly lower living costs in provincial Germany, this made it an attractive prospect for Acton in his straitened financial circumstances. [74]

Deeply immersed in the German scholarly tradition, Acton might well have appreciated the parallel with Barthold Georg Niebuhr and Christian Karl Josias von Bunsen, distinguished historians of ancient Rome and of the early Church respectively, who had both held the position of Prussia's envoy to the Vatican in the early nineteenth century. Indeed, he was driven by a scholarly consideration, as he intimated to Gladstone: ‘For some portion of the work in hand, it would be of inestimable service to me.’ [75] Very likely this was the projected edition of his Doktorvater Döllinger's correspondence. He had been immersed in this work since the spring of 1890, part of which resulted in an article in a learned journal. [76] Moreover, he had still been hard at work on the papers before his return to Britain just before the general election of 1892. [77]

Whatever his motivations, the notion of a diplomatic appointment for Acton was by no means as outlandish as it might appear at first glance. On at least two earlier occasions his name had been touted in connection with the Berlin embassy. ‘My diplomatic dream’, enthused Odo Russell (later Lord Ampthill), Britain's newly minted ambassador to Bismarck's new empire in 1871, ‘would be Lord Acton [as] Ambassador at Berlin, … [a] task for which he is more than admirably qualified’. [78] Nothing came of this. Russell was very much the right man for Berlin, and with Bismarck about to embark on his Kulturkampf struggle with Rome, the appointment of a Catholic, however anti-papal, would have been inadvisable.

Thirteen years later, after Odo Russell's sudden death, Acton's name was once more in the frame for Berlin. This time, the suggestion came from the crown princess of Prussia, Queen Victoria's eldest daughter. Ironically, the fact that Acton's stepfather was foreign secretary made the appointment of an outsider to this prime diplomatic post impossible. [79] Now, in 1892, the circumstances for a sideways arabesque into the diplomatic service seemed more propitious. Acton was a plausible candidate for Munich. The passions aroused by the Kulturkampf two decades earlier had ebbed away. At Munich, moreover, the Liberal Catholic Acton, with his South German affinities and familial connections, would have been more than acceptable. Why Acton thought that Britain's current representative at Munich would exchange the Bavarian capital for one in Latin America, however, is not at all clear. For Drummond had at least once before declined the offer of a South American legation. [80]

For his part, Gladstone was as keen as ever to bestow his prime-ministerial beneficence on Acton. His high regard for Döllinger, moreover, was also not likely to be an obstacle: ‘I see no difficulty in the proposal of a moderate [?] honour for the removable whom it is desired to remove, except a temporary one. The Queen has observed with justice that honours have of late … been copiously distributed.’ Once Acton had settled with Rosebery, Gladstone assured him, he would arrange matters with the monarch. [81]

Gladstone must have written in a similar vein to the foreign secretary, which left Rosebery ‘completely mystified’. [82] In a hastily arranged meeting at the Foreign Office on 14 October, he made it clear to Acton that ‘the difficulty [was] greater than it appeared at first.’ A few promotions had to take place ‘in the regular process, before breaking the line’ by appointing an outsider. He suggested that an opening might be found in the spring of 1893: ‘But he does not like to speak hopefully even of that conjuncture, and leaves me more leisure to become an old courtier of the Queen.’ [83] Rosebery followed this up with a further explanation:

I cannot see my way to promoting our friend [Drummond] with due regard to public service, though something comparatively innocuous might turn up in South America.

The KCMG I only mentioned casually as, from the result of enquiries about him, I find that it is believed that that is what he wishes for. But it would not dislodge him! [84]

This touched on a flaw in Acton's scheme. In the wake of the Northcote–Trevelyan civil service reforms in 1854, the diplomatic service had gradually become a proper profession. Entry to it was now more regulated, and subsequent promotions and transfers required careful arrangements, though in both ministerial patronage still mattered. Successive foreign secretaries, however, had shied away from making excessive use of their powers to promote outsiders. To be eligible for diplomatic posts, candidates ought to have demonstrated an ‘aptitude for public business’ in either parliament or office, as Granville had argued when ruling out Acton for Berlin in 1884. [85]

That aptitude Acton had never been able or never been allowed to demonstrate. Even so, Rosebery was more than a little disingenuous in his rigid refusal to contemplate Acton for Munich. As the scholar-politician Lord Edmund Fitzmaurice later reflected, the notion of the diplomatic service as a profession closed to outsiders was, in fact, ‘an invention of Rosebery's in 1892–5; who said that you could not expect the Diplomatists to be efficient, if they constantly saw the big prizes of the profession go to outsiders; a plausible doctrine; and one … very popular with the Diplomatic service itself.’ [86]

In 1892, there was the additional complication that at least one career diplomat was known to covet the Munich post. This was W. A. C. (later Sir William) Barrington, at the time embassy counsellor at Vienna. His brother Eric happened to be a senior clerk at the Foreign Office; and, as the foreign secretary's private secretary, ‘Slyboots’ Barrington dispensed his political master's powers of patronage. [87]

Acton returned to the charge in the spring of 1893. Rosebery was not to believe a rumour, then current at Westminster, that he wished to remain ‘in harness’ in the Lords. On the contrary, ‘if you continue the favourable inclination to employ me abroad [,] I am as anxious for it as when you suggested it first, and as hopeful of succeeding.’ [88] Acton clearly sensed that appealing to the foreign secretary alone was not enough, and that a two-pronged approach was necessary. He had not ceased, he impressed on Gladstone, ‘to be an object for his [Rosebery's] beneficent favour, because Morley has put a bit between my teeth and a saddle on my back’. [89]

No real movement came into the matter in the spring. At a garden party given by the prime minister's wife in July, however, Acton seems to have been given further assurances, though he still thought it necessary to entreat his family to ‘the most absolute discretion and secrecy about Drummond and Rosebery’. [90]

Whatever Acton was told, Rosebery continued to resist all ideas of appointing outsiders. In the autumn of 1893, Gladstone pressed him to find permanent employment in the diplomatic service for Sir (Joseph) West Ridgeway, a former Indian official who had just returned from a successful special mission to the Sultan of Morocco. Rosebery refused:

The diplomatic service … is now a service. … [A]nd I have no right except under very exceptional circumstances to put anybody in at the top. Did I do this it would be for [Lord] Reay [ex-Governor Bombay] and Acton, both of whom I am most anxious to serve, and both of whom … could, at certain posts and under certain circumstances, render good service. But even these I have not thought it right to appoint. [91]

This amounted to a tacit admission that Acton had legitimate claims to preferment.

As Gladstone's premiership waned, Acton renewed his attempts to force the issue at the turn of 1893–4. The Irish business in the Lords made too many demands on his time, he informed the prime minister, and he would have to seek release from his official duties as a whip. It was ‘imperiously necessary’ now to conclude the Döllinger project:

As long as I have constant occupation at the Irish Office – consequent on my native ignorance of the subjects to be prepared – the main employment of my life has to be indefinitely suspended. I have come to feel that my duty lies the other way. And if Rosebery sends me to Munich, I have hopes of seeing certain correspondence which the Government there would not disclose to one less important. [92]

And so, in January 1894, Acton stepped down from his junior position in the government. [93]

Following Rosebery's succession to the premiership in early March 1894, Acton once more sought the captaincy of the Yeomen of the Guard, which had eluded him in 1892, and which, as the new prime minister had hinted, would entail his elevation to the Privy Council. Once more, he failed.

The Munich legation, however, remained his ultimate objective: ‘The point is this’, he reminded Rosebery's private secretary: ‘There was a plan for giving me another – obviously appropriate – appointment which is not yet available.’ In 1892, the queen had approved of him for ‘one of the great household offices’, and ‘I stand pretty well at court – to say nothing of the salary being worth more to me than to any likely candidate.’ [94]

Acton did not hide his ultimate ambition. He would be glad to fill the household office, he informed Gladstone, ‘until he [Rosebery] and [the Earl of] Kimberley [the new Foreign Secretary] can give me the post you once thought of’. [95] There was little support to be expected from the new prime minister: ‘I do not think I shall like any of the duties of my new position’, he confided to one of Gladstone's former private secretaries: ‘Patronage is odious.’ [96]

Under the circumstances, Acton enlisted the former prime minister in his quest for the Munich post. Gladstone duly obliged and pleaded his case with Kimberley:

Acton possesses the negative quality of poverty, though when he was made a peer, some 29 [recte 25] years ago, Granville appraised him at £10,000 a year. Three years ago he was only saved by a most peculiar & friendly intervention from selling his library. In 1892 he had been approved for an office at £1,200 a year: but to please the Queen took a Lordship in Waiting at £700. But on the positive side, notwithstanding his literary habits, he has undoubtedly a great capacity for the comprehension of affairs, and a great knowledge of them: and he would …have been likely to do credit to an appointment in diplomacy of a higher order than perhaps Rosebery would have ventured on offering to him. [97]

The new foreign secretary was more emollient in tone than his predecessor, but no more forthcoming in substance. Acton, he replied, ‘has many excellent qualities and I should be glad if I should have an opportunity of offering him a suitable post.’ The diplomatic service was riven with ‘jealousy … of outsiders, and appointments … must be sparingly made’. [98]

Kimberley's capitulation before senior diplomats drew forth a stinging riposte from Gladstone:

I regard our closed diplomatic service as an egregious failure. It cuts off its members from the free atmosphere of British public life. It dwarfs them by running their ideas in the groove of their single subject. Outside men are brought in because the [right?] men are not to be found inside. Besides egregious honours and advantages, they have the highest pay in the civil service, with … the lowest capacity. All or nearly all the able diplomatists of today are men bred outside the service. I hope somebody will some day open the window and let in some air and light. [99]

Fulminate as he might at the perceived inequities of the diplomatic service, Gladstone's outburst was also an admission of his own political impotence. Whether or not Kimberley agreed with the Grand Old Man's notion of the invigorating effect of the ‘free atmosphere of British political life’, he thought it best to placate him: ‘No fears of my “taking up the cudgels” with you about diplomatic appointments as your views are exactly mine.’ [100]

Acton made one last attempt at securing the Munich appointment for himself. In late summer he turned directly to Kimberley, with whom he had worked closely when the latter was Leader of the House of Lords and Acton a junior whip. He informed Kimberley that, in 1892, he had made way for another peer and accepted the more junior Lordship-in-Waiting. As compensation, both Rosebery and Gladstone had offered him the Munich legation: ‘Rosebery continued, last year, to keep up my modest aspirations.’ It was now for Rosebery's successor to redeem that earlier promise:

[T]here is none [diplomatic appointment] for which … I should be less obviously unfit, as I know everybody at Munich, and almost everything, at court, in politics, and in society, and I have very many friends there, and received a Jubilee Degree from the University (with John [Stuart] Mill and Gladstone) and am a member of the Bavarian Academy (with the Bishop of Oxford [William Stubbs]). What is more to the point, it is a place where there is so little of importance to do, that it would be difficult, even for a man less familiar with the ground, to do badly. [101]

Acton's persistence clearly made an impression on Kimberley, who now sought clarification from Rosebery on his earlier encouragement of Acton's ambitions. The supplicant historian, he thought, was ‘an excellent fellow, and has high literary attainment, but he made no mark whatever in public life, and, if he gets an appointment, it can only be because he is poor and one of our few supporters in the Lords’. [102] Rosebery admitted to once having encouraged Acton in his belief that Munich was a possibility, ‘for there, and only there perhaps, would he be a round peg in a round hole’. [103]

Even so, neither man was willing to antagonize the professionals in the service by appointing the outsider Acton. ‘There is, as far as I know,’ Kimberley informed Acton, ‘no more probability than when you heard from Rosebery of a vacancy at Munich’. [104] Thus ended Acton's quixotic quest for a diplomatic appointment.


  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. I
  4. II
  5. III
  6. IV
  7. Footnotes

Lord Acton's attempt to enter the cabinet and then to find employment in the diplomatic service ended in failure. This study in failure has nevertheless revealed hitherto hidden facets of Acton's role on the fringes of late Victorian politics.

Acton's contemporaries, Maitland ruminated in 1902, thought of the historian Acton ‘as the man who with wonderful exactitude knew and enjoyed all the bye-play in the great drama:– at home … upon the front stairs, but supreme upon the backstairs, and (as he once said) getting his meals in the kitchen’. [105] None of this somehow applied to Acton, the politician. True, he was often seen on the grand staircase. More often, he could be heard clattering up and down the backstairs. And yet he never got his meals in the kitchen.

In some measure, these were personal failings. For all his profundity as a student of past politics, he was no shrewd practitioner of current politics. As one Gladstone biographer observed, ‘[s]omething in his manner repelled. … [H]e gave the impression of grasping for office.’ [106] What made it repellent to those who were just as much jockeying for positions was the fact that he seemed to be riding on the coat-tails of the man on whose succession they all had firm views.

But Acton's failure was not merely a question of his own shortcomings: it reflected also larger issues. His position as Gladstone's consigliere would have been awkward under ordinary circumstances. It was infinitely more so during the prolonged post-Gladstonian transition. Deep ideological fissures and the fraught personal relations between leading Liberals, indeed, made it an impossible position. Acton's influence with Gladstone was no trump card with Rosebery, weary of the superannuated leader's moralizing ‘Little Englanderism’ and Newcastle ‘faddism’ and anxious to ditch this baggage so as to entrench the party more firmly in the centre of British politics. That same influence was also perceived as a threat by John Morley. He saw in Acton a rival for the prime minister's confidence, and a threat to his own middle position between Harcourt and Rosebery, the two post-Gladstonian leadership contenders. Indeed, Morley's machinations in the summer of 1892 may well make the historian sympathize with Arthur Balfour's confession that he ‘never understood why Morley was called “Honest John” ’. [107]

Acton's failure to obtain a diplomatic appointment reflected the gradual transformation of the diplomatic service to a more rigorously professional body closed to outsiders, however suitable they might have been. Gladstone's final outburst, meanwhile, serves as a useful reminder that his moralizing Midlothian zeal had not diminished with age. If anything, it was the reverse, though the need to keep Rosebery in the cabinet acted as powerful check on it.

There is a final ironic twist to this study in failure. In helping to secure Rosebery for the Foreign Office in the fraught aftermath of the inconclusive general election of 1892, Acton had also ensured that his own accession to cabinet office was barred. In turn, Rosebery's unwillingness to redeem his apparent promise of a diplomatic appointment made possible the offer of a post which Acton had never sought, but for which he was more eminently qualified than any other – the Regius Chair in Modern History at Cambridge. [108] And this small crumb from the prime minister's table was, perhaps, more substantial and nourishing than any meal that was to be had in the Liberal kitchen at the time.

All of the above are small particles. But they contain within them the essence of a larger universe. Acton himself might have appreciated this.


  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. I
  4. II
  5. III
  6. IV
  7. Footnotes
  • 1
    [J. E. D.] Lord Acton, ‘Introduction’, in N. Machiavelli, Il Principe, ed. L. A. Burd (Oxford, 1891), p. xxvii.
  • 2
    F. W. Maitland, ‘Lord Acton: an obituary’, Cambridge Review, 16 Oct. 1902, repr. in E. Homberger , W. Janeway and S. Schama (eds), The Cambridge Mind: Ninety Years of the Cambridge Review, 1879–1969 (London, 1970), pp. 6974, at p. 72.
  • 3
    See inter alios H. Paul, ‘Introductory memoir’, Letters of Lord Acton to Mary, Daughter of the Rt. Hon. W.E. Gladstone (London, 1904), pp. lxvlxvi; L. Kochan, Acton on History (London, 1954), p. 30; G. Himmelfarb, Lord Acton: A Study in Conscience and Politics (Chicago, 1962), pp. 188189; D. Mathew, Lord Acton and his Times (London, 1968), p. 309; O. Chadwick, Acton and Gladstone (London, 1976), p. 47; R. Hill, Lord Acton (New Haven, 2000), pp. 350352.
  • 4
    For a Gladstonian impression of the visit see L. Masterman (ed.), Mary Gladstone (Mrs. Drew): Her Diaries and Letters (London, 1930), pp. 165175; also H. C. G. Matthew, Gladstone (2 vols; Oxford, 1995), II. 74.
  • 5
    The most incisive examination remains Chadwick, Acton and Gladstone, and idem, Acton on History (Cambridge, 1998), pp. 139185. Perceptive also, except when filial piety got in the way, is M. Drew (née Gladstone), Acton, Gladstone and Others (London, 1924), pp. 132.
  • 6
    Acton to Döllinger [mid-Sept. 1882], in V. Conzemius (ed.), Ignaz von Döllinger: Briefwechsel mit Lord Acton (3 vols; Munich, 1971), III, no. 470.
  • 7
    Acton to daughter Marie (‘Mamy’), 27 May 1898, as quoted in Chadwick, Acton and Gladstone, p. 19.
  • 8
    Gladstone diary, 23 Jan. 1883, in H. C. G. Matthew (ed.), The Gladstone Diaries X: 1881–1886 (Oxford, 1990), p. clxxxii.
  • 9
    Hill, Acton, p. 360; also J. N. Figgis and R. V. Laurence, ‘Introduction’, in Selections from the Correspondence of the First Lord Acton (London, 1917), pp. ixxx, at p. xiii.
  • 10
    Acton to Mary Gladstone, 14 Dec. 1880, in L. March-Phillipps and B. Christian (eds), Some Hawarden Letters, 1878–1913, Written to Mrs. Drew (Miss Mary Gladstone) (London, 1917), p. 285; also in Paul (ed.), Letters Acton-Mary Gladstone, pp. 5055.
  • 11
    See R. T. Shannon's unflattering assessment of Acton in his Gladstone, II: Heroic Minister, 1865–1898 (London, 1999), p. 64.
  • 12
    Lady C. Blennerhassett, ‘The late Lord Acton’, Edinburgh Review, 197 (1903), p. 528.
  • 13
    Matthew, Gladstone, II. 257. John Morley claimed that Acton was ‘the one decisive author of the [Home Rule] policy’: Acton to ‘Mamy’, 14 Nov. 1898, Acton MSS, Add. 7956/116; and J. Morley, The Life of William Ewart Gladstone (3 vols; London, 1903), III. 296, n. 1.
  • 14
    Chadwick, Acton and Gladstone, p. 31.
  • 15
    Mary Drew to Acton, 1 Dec. 1892, Acton MSS, Cambridge University Library, Add. 8119(9). Gladstone himself once told him that he trusted him ‘more entirely than any other man’, Acton to ‘Mamy’, 23 May 1898, as quoted in Chadwick, Acton and Gladstone, p. 29, n. 2.
  • 16
    H. G. Hutchinson (ed.), Private Diaries of the Rt. Hon. Sir Algernon West, G.C.B. (London, 1922), pp. 132133 [hereafter WD].
  • 17
    Acton to Gladstone, 20 May 1892, Gladstone MSS, British Library, Add. MSS 44094.
  • 18
    In July, he outlined a more pro-French course, see memo. Acton, 18 July 1892, ibid.
  • 19
    Acton to Murray, 20 Dec. 1892, as quoted in L. McKinstry, Rosebery: Statesman in Turmoil (London, 2005), pp. 220221; see also P. Stansky, Ambitions and Strategies: The Struggle for the Leadership of the Liberal Party in the 1890s (Oxford, 1964), pp. 34.
  • 20
    For some of the tensions among the Liberal leadership see D. A. Hamer, Liberal Politics in the Age of Gladstone and Rosebery: A Study in Leadership and Policy (Oxford, 1972), pp. 174184.
  • 21
    Acton to Bryce, 20 May 1892, Bryce MSS, Bodleian Library, Bryce 1; for Bryce's friendship with Acton see H. A. L. Fisher, James Bryce, Viscount Bryce of Dechmont, OM (2 vols; London, 1927), I. 195–6.
  • 22
    Morley, Gladstone, III. 493.
  • 23
    Helen Gladstone to Mary Drew, 11 July (extract), Acton MSS, Add. 8121/9/376; Gladstone diary, 29 June–13 July 1892, H. C. G. Matthew (ed.), The Gladstone Diaries, XIII: 1892–1896 (Oxford, 1994), pp. 3741 [hereafter GD].
  • 24
    Hamilton diary, 11 July 1892, D. W. R. Bahlmann (ed.), The Diary of Sir Edward Walter Hamilton, 1885–1906 (Hull, 1993), p. 149 [hereafter HD]; also [J.] Viscount Morley, Recollections (2 vols; London, 1917), I, 310.
  • 25
    Morley diary, 1 July 1892, Morley MSS, Bodl., Ms.Eng.d.3450.
  • 26
    See Gladstone's sober and businesslike analysis, Gladstone to Spencer, 13 July 1892, Gladstone MSS, Add. MSS 44314; also repr. in M. Barker, Gladstone and Radicalism: The Reconstruction of Liberal Policy in Britain, 1885–1894 (Hassocks, 1975), app. C.
  • 27
    Acton to ‘Mamy’, 25 July 1892, Acton MSS, Add. 7956/74. For Rosebery's state of physical and mental health after Lady Rosebery's death see R. R. James, Rosebery: A Biography of Archibald Philip, Fifth Earl of Rosebery (London, 1963), pp. 237251.
  • 28
    Gladstone diary, 12 July 1892, GD, 40.
  • 29
    Acton to Rosebery, 18 July 1892, Rosebery MSS, National Library of Scotland, MS 10090; [R.] marquess of Crewe, Lord Rosebery (2 vols; London, 1931), II, 393394. For a discussion of the difficulties in forming the cabinet see N. S. Johnson, ‘The role of the cabinet in the making of foreign policy, 1885–1895’ (D.Phil., Oxford, 1971), pp. 67; D. Brooks, ‘Gladstone's fourth administration, 1892–1894’, in D. Bebbington and R. Swift (eds), Gladstone Centenary Essays (Liverpool, 2000), pp. 225242, at pp. 228–9.
  • 30
    Rosebery to Acton (confidential), 29 July 1892, Acton MSS, Add. 8119(5)/130. Intriguingly, on the same day, Acton hinted to Algernon West that continuity in foreign policy would be the price of Rosebery's acceptance of office, to West, 29 July 1892, WD, 41.
  • 31
    Gladstone to Rosebery, 15 Aug. 1892, Rosebery MSS, MS 10024, and reply (tel.), 15 Aug. 1892, Gladstone MSS, Add. MSS 442389. Salisbury communicated his views through Sir Philip Currie, the permanent head of the Foreign Office, Currie to Rosebery (private), 4 Aug. 1892, and 18 Aug. 1892, Rosebery MSS, MS 10090 and 10132; Queen Victoria to Ponsonby, 26 July and 10 Aug. 1892, in A. Ponsonby, Henry Ponsonby: Queen Victoria's Private Secretary. His Life from Letters (London, 1942), p. 217. E. W. Hamilton was behind the idea of mobilizing the monarch, Hamilton diary, 15, 17, 19 July 1892, HD, 160–1.
  • 32
    Acton to son Richard, 1 Aug. 1892, Acton MSS, Add. 8119/10/155. Gladstone later considered Rosebery's appointment to the Foreign Office an egregious mistake, see memo. Gladstone, ‘Appointments of 1892’, 7 Nov. 1896, in J. Brooke and M. Sorensen (eds), The Prime Ministers' Papers: W. E. Gladstone (4 vols; London, 1971), I. 134.
  • 33
    Acton to Bryce, 23 July 1892, Bryce MSS, Bryce 1; Hill, Acton, p. 338.
  • 34
    Acton to ‘Mamy’, 26 July 1892, Acton MSS, Add. 7956/75.
  • 35
    Mathew, Acton, pp. 308–12; Himmelfarb, Acton, p. 188.
  • 36
    Shaw-Lefevre to Granville, 8 Dec. 1870, Granville MSS, The National Archives (Public Record Office), Kew, PRO 30/29/78; memo. Murray, ‘Political Pensions’, 10 Jan. [1895], Rosebery MSS, MS 10049.
  • 37
    Gladstone to Rosebery (secret), 15 Oct. 1892, Gladstone MSS, Add. MSS 44290; Matthew, Gladstone, II. 332.
  • 38
    Carnegie to Gladstone, 10 June 1890, Gladstone MSS, Add. MSS 44510. For a detailed account of the arrangement see O. Chadwick, ‘The Acton Library’, in P. Fox (ed.), Cambridge University Library: The Great Collections (Cambridge, 1998), pp. 136152, and Acton on History, pp. 246263; see also P. Krass, Carnegie (Hoboken, NJ, 2002), p. 249.
  • 39
    Acton to Gladstone, 21 Nov. 1890, Figgis and Laurence (eds), Correspondence, pp. 256257; Sir C. Oman, Things I have Seen (London, 1933), pp. 7497.
  • 40
    Gladstone to Morley, 17 July 1892, Gladstone MSS, Add. MSS 44256. The two had first discussed Acton at Dalmeny on 2–3 July 1892, see GD, 38.
  • 41
    Morley, Recollections, I. 234.
  • 42
    Acton to Mary Drew, 31 March 1886, as quoted in Chadwick, Acton and Gladstone, p. 41, n. 1. For some discussion of Acton's relations with Morley see also Hill, Acton, pp. 340341.
  • 43
    See his self-characterization in this manner, Morley to Dilke, 13 June 1882, Dilke MSS, BL, Add. MSS 43895; see also D. A. Hamer, John Morley: Liberal Intellectual in Politics (Oxford, 1968), pp. 7478; for a more general discussion, see S. Collini, Public Moralists: Political Thought and the Intellectual Life in Britain, 1850–1930 (Oxford, 1991), pp. 1659.
  • 44
    Morley diary, 3 July 1892, Morley MSS, Ms.Eng.d.3450.
  • 45
    Lewis Harcourt diary, 27 July 1892, Harcourt MSS, Bodl., MS Harcourt dep. 383. For Morley's growing sense of isolation see Hamer, Morley, pp. 280284.
  • 46
    Morley diary, 30 July 1892, Morley MSS, Ms.Eng.d.3450.
  • 47
    Morley diary, 30 July 1892, ibid. (passages struck out in the original); for a discussion of Morley's growing disenchantment with Liberal politics see K. O. Morgan, ‘John Morley and the Crisis of Liberalism, 1894’, National Library of Wales Journal, 15/4 (1968), pp. 451465.
  • 48
    Acton to daughter Annie, ?Oct. 1892, Acton MSS, Add. 8121/9/40. Gladstone's private secretary, Sir Algernon West, had told Acton so, Morley diary, 2 Aug. 1892, Morley MSS, Ms.Eng.d.3451.
  • 49
    Quotes from Harcourt diary, 1–2 Aug. 1892, Harcourt MSS, Ms Harcourt dep. 388; and Sir Rowland Blennerhassett, as quoted in Chadwick, Acton and Gladstone, p. 37.
  • 50
    Morley diary, 1 Aug. 1892, Morley MSS, Ms.Eng.d.3451.
  • 51
    West diary, 1–2 Aug. 1892, WD, 43. For the Morley–Harcourt alliance, see A. G. Gardiner, The Life of Sir William Harcourt (2 vols; London, 1923), II. 51–3 and 178–80.
  • 52
    Morley diary, 1 Aug. 1892, Morley MSS, Ms.Eng.d.3451.
  • 53
    J. Bryce, Studies in Contemporary Biography (London, 1904), p. 383.
  • 54
    Kimberley to Rosebery (private and confidential), 4 Sept. 1894, Rosebery MSS, MS 10069; see also A. Bell, ‘Lord Acton gets his Chair’, Times Literary Supplement, 8 Feb. 1974, p. 137.
  • 55
    Morley diary, 1 Aug. 1892, Morley MSS, Ms.Eng.d.3451.
  • 56
    H. C. G. Matthew, Gladstone, 1809–1898 (Oxford, 1997), p. 583.
  • 57
    Collini, Public Moralists, p. 231.
  • 58
    See also the tactful comments by two of Acton's friends, Drew, Acton, Gladstone and Others, p. 7; and Bryce, Contemporary Biography, p. 392. There is an echo of this in A. J. Toynbee, A Study of History, 2nd edn. (10 vols; London, 1938), I. 4648.
  • 59
    Journal, 1 Dec. 1892, in G. E. Buckle (ed.), The Letters of Queen Victoria, 3rd ser., 1886–1901 (3 vols; London, 1930–2) [hereafter LQV (3)], II. 188.
  • 60
    Bryce, Contemporary Biography, p. 396; Fisher, Bryce, I. 336–7.
  • 61
    Hamilton diary, 25 Aug. 1892, Hamilton MSS, BL, Add. MSS 48658; Rosebery described Hamilton as ‘one of my most intimate friends’, see his ‘Mr. Gladstone's Last Cabinet (I)’, History Today, 1/12 (1951), pp. 3141, at p. 38.
  • 62
    Rendel diary, 7 Jan. 1896, in F. E. Hamer (ed.), The Personal Papers of Lord Rendel (London, 1931), p. 127.
  • 63
    Hill, Acton, pp. 339340; and for a more balanced view Chadwick, Acton on History, pp. 173174. For Ripon's conversion see L. Wolf, Life of the First Marquess of Ripon (2 vols; London, 1921), I. 323355.
  • 64
    West diary, [29?] July 1892, WD, 41. There was the precedent of the Quaker John Bright as chancellor of the duchy of Lancaster in 1873–4 and 1880–2.
  • 65
    West diary, 23 Aug. 1892, ibid., p. 56. The matter had been settled beforehand between Gladstone and the Queen, see Queen Victoria Journal, 15 Aug. 1892, LQV (3) II. 146.
  • 66
    Acton to Gladstone, 23 Aug. 1892, Gladstone MSS, Add. MSS 44094.
  • 67
    Gladstone to Acton, 24 Aug. 1892, Acton MSS, Add. 8119 (9)/83 (original emphasis).
  • 68
    Queen Victoria to Empress Frederick, 7 Dec. 1892, in A. Ramm (ed.), Beloved and Darling Child: Last Letters between Queen Victoria and Her Eldest Daughter, 1886–1901 (Stroud, 1990), p. 151.
  • 69
    Acton to Bryce, 5 and 11 Dec. 1892, Bryce MSS, Bryce 1; see also Matthew, Acton, pp. 321328.
  • 70
    Acton, Gladstone and Rosebery were guests at Armistead's on 19 Aug. 1892. There is no firm evidence, however, that the Munich offer was made, see Gladstone diary, 19 Aug. 1892, GD, 61, and Hamilton diary, 19 Aug. 1892, HD, 179.
  • 71
    See min. Hammond, 7 Oct. 1870, Granville MSS, PRO 30/29/104.
  • 72
    Drummond obituary, The Times, 30 March 1907. For his anti-German leanings see Drummond to Lascelles (private), 14 Jan. 1896, Lascelles MSS, TNA (PRO), FO 800/6; for the family background H. Bolitho and D. Peel, Drummonds of Charing Cross (London, 1967).
  • 73
    Acton to Gladstone, 12 Oct. 1892, Gladstone MSS, Add. MSS 44094.
  • 74
    For Lady Acton's dislike of England see Hill, Acton, pp. 169170; for the diplomatic salary see The Foreign Office List and Diplomatic and Consular Year Book 1895 (London, 1895), p. 27. Acton's salary as Lord-in-Waiting amounted to £700 p.a., see Gladstone to Kimberley, 9 May 1894, Kimberley MSS, Bodl., Ms.Eng.c.4383.
  • 75
    Acton to Gladstone, 12 Oct. 1892, Gladstone MSS, Add. MSS 44094.
  • 76
    Acton to Gladstone, 11 June 1890, Gladstone MSS, Add. MSS 44094; cf. Lord Acton, ‘Doellinger's Historical Work’, English Historical Review, 5/20 (1890), pp. 700744. For Niebuhr and Bunsen see F. Hanus, Die preussische Vatikangesandtschaft, 1747–1920 (Munich, 1954), pp. 154244.
  • 77
    Friedrich to Reusch, 24 May 1892, as quoted in Conzemius, ‘Vorwort’, Döllinger–Acton Briefwechsel, I, p. xxiii. The Bonn historian Johannes Friedrich felt his monopoly on the Döllinger cult threatened by Acton.
  • 78
    Russell to Granville (private), 11 April 1871, Granville MSS, PRO 30/29/90; also in P. Knaplund (ed.), Letters from the Berlin Embassy, 1871–4, 1880–5 (Washington, DC, 1944), p. 47, n. 1. Russell and Acton had become acquainted at Rome during the time of the Second Vatican Council, see N. Blakiston, The Roman Question: Extracts from the Despatches of Odo Russell from Rome, 1858–1870 (London, 1962), p. xxxv et passim.
  • 79
    Princess Victoria to Queen Victoria, 30 Aug. 1884, in G. E. Buckle (ed.), The Letters of Queen Victoria, 2nd ser., 1886–1901 (3 vols; London, 1930–2) [hereafter LQV (2)], III. 533; Granville to Gladstone, 26 Aug. 1884, in A. Ramm (ed.), The Political Correspondence of Mr. Gladstone and Lord Granville, 1876–1886 (2 vols; Oxford, 1962), II, no. 1400. The Prince of Wales also opposed Acton's appointment, see Sir S. Lee, King Edward VII: A Biography (2 vols; London, 1925), I. 483.
  • 80
    Howard diary, 26 Feb. 1885, Howard-von Recum MSS, Library of Congress, Washington, DC, cont. 1, vol. 2.
  • 81
    Gladstone to Acton, 13 Oct. 1892, Acton MSS, Add. 8119/9.
  • 82
    Rosebery to Acton, 14 Oct. 1892, ibid., Add. 8119 (5)/R131. Gladstone's letter could not be traced.
  • 83
    Acton to Gladstone, 14 Oct. 1892, Gladstone MSS, Add. MSS 44094.
  • 84
    Rosebery to Acton (personal), 19 Oct. 1892, Acton MSS, Add. 8119 (5)/R132.
  • 85
    Granville to Queen Victoria, 31 Aug. 1884, LQV (2) III. 534. For some of the background see R. A. Jones, The British Diplomatic Service, 1815–1914 (Gerrards Cross, 1983), pp. 97115; for the politics of promotion see T. G. Otte, The Foreign Office Mind: The Making of British Foreign Policy, 1865–1914 (Cambridge, 2011), passim.
  • 86
    Fitzmaurice to Spender, 6 Jan. 1918, Spender MSS, BL, Add. MSS 46389. Fitzmaurice took a strong interest in foreign affairs and was the biographer of Acton's step-father, Lord Granville.
  • 87
    E. Barrington to O'Conor (private), 17 Nov. 1893, O'Conor MSS, Churchill College Archive Centre, Cambridge, OCON 6/1/4. For Eric's nickname see Rumbold to father, 28 Oct. 1891, Rumbold MSS, Bodl., MS Rumbold dep. 7.
  • 88
    Acton to Rosebery, 1 April 1893, Rosebery MSS, MS 10091.
  • 89
    Acton to Gladstone, 5 April 1893, Gladstone MSS, Add. MSS 44094.
  • 90
    Acton to Annie, 14 July 1893, Acton MSS, Add. 8121 (9)/65. There is no record of this in Gladstone's diary; the two men last met on 11 June 1893, see GD, 250.
  • 91
    Rosebery to Gladstone (confidential), 9 Oct. 1893, Gladstone MSS, Add. MSS 44290 (undated copy in Rosebery MSS, MS 10027). For some thoughts on Ridgeway's mission see A. J. P. Taylor, ‘British Policy in Morocco, 1886–1902’, in his Rumours of War (London, 1952), pp. 114152, at pp. 134–7.
  • 92
    Acton to Gladstone, 10 Dec. 1893, Gladstone MSS, Add. MSS 44094.
  • 93
    Acton to Gladstone, 4 Jan. 1894, ibid., Add. MSS 44094; Kimberley to Acton, 8 Jan. 1893 [recte 1894], Acton MSS, Add. 8119/I/K34; Kimberley to Gladstone (sec.), 20 Jan. 1894, Gladstone MSS, Add. MSS 44229.
  • 94
    Acton to Murray, 12 March 1894, Rosebery MSS, MS 10092. The nature of the office may be deduced from a reference to Viscount Oxenbridge, who had just resigned the captaincy.
  • 95
    Acton to Gladstone, 12 March 1894, Gladstone MSS, Add. MSS 44094; to Murray, 13 March 1894, Rosebery MSS, MS 10092. Note how the scheme was now attributed to Gladstone rather than Rosebery.
  • 96
    Rosebery to Godley, 19 March 1894, Kilbracken MSS, BL, Add. MSS 44902. Arthur Godley (later Lord Kilbracken) and Rosebery were contemporaries at Balliol, Kilbracken, Reminiscences (London, 1931), p. 64.
  • 97
    Gladstone to Kimberley, 9 May 1894, Kimberley MSS, Ms.Eng.c.4383.
  • 98
    Kimberley to Gladstone, 10 May 1894, Gladstone MSS, Add. MSS 44229.
  • 99
    Gladstone to Kimberley, 12 May 1894, Kimberley MSS, Ms.Eng.c.4283.
  • 100
    Kimberley to Gladstone (private), 15 May 1894, Gladstone MSS, Add. MSS 44229. Kimberley had, in fact, expressed his reservations about the closed nature of the service to Rosebery when he was at the Foreign Office, see Kimberley to Rosebery (private), 30 Oct. 1893, Rosebery MSS, MS 10068.
  • 101
    Acton to Kimberley, 29 Aug. 1894, Kimberley MSS, Ms.Eng.c.4383.
  • 102
    Kimberley to Rosebery (private and confidential), 4 Sept. 1894, Rosebery MSS, MS 10069.
  • 103
    Rosebery to Kimberley (private), 5 Sept. 1894, ibid.; also Bell, ‘Lord Acton’, p. 137.
  • 104
    Kimberley to Acton (private), 8 Sept. 1894, Acton MSS, Add. 8119/I/K35. The original is partially mutilated; for a complete version see the copy in Kimberley MSS, Ms.Eng.c.4383.
  • 105
    Maitland, ‘Acton’, p. 71.
  • 106
    Shannon, Gladstone, II. 523.
  • 107
    According to Fitzmaurice, to Pentland, n.d. [after 17 Sept. 1919], Campbell-Bannerman MSS, BL, Add. MSS 52520.
  • 108
    For an account of this see Bell, ‘Lord Acton’, p. 137; and O. Chadwick, Professor Lord Acton: The Regius Chair of Modern History at Cambridge, 1895–1902 (Grand Rapids, MI, 1995), pp. 38; J. Barnes, ‘Acton, Ward and the Cambridge Modern History’, Cambridge Review, 103/2267, 26 Feb. 1982, pp. 162163.