English statesman and man of letters
Born 1709 Died 1773
George Lyttelton, born at Hagley, Worcestershire, was a descendant of the great jurist Sir Thomas Littleton. He was the eldest son of Sir Thomas Lyttelton, 4th baronet (d. 1751), who at the revolution of 1688 and during the following reign was one of the ablest Whig debaters of the House of Commons(*). Lyttelton was educated at Eton and Oxford, and in 1728 set out on the grand tour, spending considerable periods at Paris and Rome. On his return to England he sat in parliament for Okehampton, Devonshire, beginning public life in the same year with Pitt. From 1744 to 1754 he held the office of a lord commissioner of the treasury. In 1755 he succeeded Legge as Chancellor of the Exchequer, but in 1756 he quitted office, being raised to the peerage as Baron Lyttelton of Frankley, in the county of Worcester. In the political crisis of 1765, before the formation of the Rockingham administration, it was suggested that he might be placed at the head of the treasury, but he declined to take part in any such scheme. The closing years of his life were devoted chiefly to literary pursuits. He died on the 22nd of August 1773.
Lyttelton's earliest publication (1735), Letters from a Persian in England to his Friend at Ispahan, appeared anonymously. Much greater celebrity was achieved by his Observations on the Conversion and Apostleship of St Paul, also anonymous, published in 1747. It takes the form of a letter to Gilbert West, and is designed to show that St Paul's conversion is of itself a sufficient demonstration of the divine character of Christianity. Dr Johnson regarded the work as one "to which infidelity has never been able to fabricate a specious answer". Lord Lyttelton's Dialogues of the Dead, a creditable performance, though hardly rivalling either Lucian or Landor, appeared in 1760. His History of Henry II (1767-1771), the fruit of twenty years' labor, is not now cited as an authority, but is painstaking and fair. Lyttelton was also a writer of verse; his Monody on his wife's death has been praised by Gray for its elegiac tenderness, and his Prologue to the Coriolanus of his friend Thomson shows genuine feeling. He was also the author of the well-known stanza in the Castle of Indolence, in which the poet himself is described. A complete collection of the Works of Lord Lyttelton was published by his nephew, G. E. Ayscough in 1774.
For the 1st baron see Sir R. Phillimore's Memoirs and Correspondence of Lord Lyttelton, 1734-1773 (2 vols., 1845).
(* descended Sir Thomas Lyttelton, 1st baronet of Frankley (1596-1650), whose sons were Sir Henry, 2nd baronet (d. 1693), and Sir Charles, 3rd baronet (1629-1716), governor of Jamaica. The latter's son was Sir Thomas, 4th baronet, above mentioned, who was also the father of Charles Lyttelton (1714-1768), bishop of Carlisle, and president of the Society of Antiquaries. The male descendants of the second, Richard, died out with Sir Edward Littleton, baronet, of Pillaton, Staffordshire, in 1812, but the latter's grandnephew, Edward John Walhouse (1791-1863) of Hatherton, took the estates by will and also the name of Littleton, and was created 1st Baron Hatherton in 1835; he was chief secretary for Ireland (1833-1834). From Thomas, the third son, was descended, in one line, Edward, Lord Littleton, of Munslow (1589-1645), recorder of London, chief justice of the common pleas, and eventually lord keeper; and in another line, the baronets of Stoke St Milborough, Shropshire, of whom the best known and last was Sir Thomas Littleton, 3rd baronet (1647-1710), speaker of the House of Commons (1698-1700), and treasurer of the navy.)
Being the entry for LYTTELTON, GEORGE LYTTELTON, 1ST BARON in the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica, the text of which lies within the public domain.