The late Edward Robert Bulwer, First Earl of Lytton (1831-1891), Viceroy and Governor-General of India from April 12, 1876, to June 8, 1880, is here depicted from the superficial point of view of his character as a man, a poet, and a statesman generally current at the time.
Lord Lytton was thoroughly unconventional in all his manners and moods, and in his methods of conducting the affairs of his great office.
As a boy of seven he was already scribbling verses; and he wrote a poem, “The Prisoner of Provence,” which turns upon the famous story of the Man in the Iron Mask, only two or three months before his death. In fact, all through Lord Lytton’s distinguished career, as his father had done before him, he found recreation in change of employment. As forcibly and eloquently stated by his daughter, Lady Betty Balfour, in her introduction to the 1894 edition of his Selected Poems, “The minds of both were ceaselessly active, and they turned without a pause from one kind of thought and business to another as readily as they turned from either to easy, disengaged conversation. Had the rival calls of his many-sided intellect been at variance, the poet in my father would always have had the preference.”
Ali Baba, it may be taken for granted, did not intend to characterise as “a flood of twaddle” the whole of Lord Lytton’s verse. Poetry which, as far as published up to 1855, called forth from Leigh Hunt warm praise for its beauties and mercy for its defects, in these words embodied in a letter to Mr. John Forster, the friend and biographer of Charles Dickens.—
“I have read every bit of Owen Meredith’s [his now well-known pseudonym] volume, and it has left me in a state of delighted admiration. He is a truly musical, reflecting, impassioned and imaginative poet, with a tendency to but one of the faults of his contemporaries and that chiefly in his minor pieces—I mean the doing too much, and the giving too much importance and emphasis to every fancy and image that comes across him, so that his pictures lose their proper distribution of light and shade, nay, of distinction between great and small. On his greatest occasions, however, he can evidently rid himself of this fault.”
During Lord Lytton’s Indian career, those who were on political or self-interested grounds opposed to his policy—and there were many such—were wont, as recorded by his daughter, to attempt to discredit the statesman by reiterating that he was a poet.
As a matter of fact, Aberigh Mackay’s acquaintance with Lord Lytton’s poetry was mainly, if not entirely, based upon a volume edited by N.A. Chick, and published in Calcutta in 1877, quaintly entitled: “The Imperial Bouquet of Pretty Flowers from the Poetical Parterre of Robert Lord Lytton, Viceroy and Governor-General of India.”