English diplomatist and poet
Born 1831 Died 1891
Edward Robert Bulwer-Lytton 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 anda 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 attache to his uncle, Sir Henry Bulwer, who was then minister at Washington. His advance in the diplomatic service was continuous, his successive appointments being: as second secretary — 1852, Florence; 1854, Paris; 1857, The Hague; 1859, Vienna; as first secretary or secretary of legation — 1863, Copenhagen; 1864, Athens; 1865, Lisbon; 1868, Madrid; 1868, Vienna; 1873, Paris; as minister — 1875, Lisbon. In 1887 he was appointed to succeed Lyons as ambassador at Paris, and held that office until his death in 1891. This rapid promotion from one European court to another indicates the esteem in which Lytton was held by successive foreign secretaries. In 1864, immediately before taking up his appointment at Athens, he married Edith, daughter of Edward Villiers, brother of the Earl of Clarendon, and in 1873, upon the death of his father, he succeeded to the peerage and the estate of Knebworth in Hertfordshire.
Early in 1875 Lord Lytton declined an offer of appointment as governor of Madras, and in November of that year he was nominated governor-general of India by Disraeli. The moment was critical in the history of India. In Central Asia the advance of Russia had continued so steadily and so rapidly that Shere Ali, the amir of Afghanistan, had determined to seek safety as the vassal of the tsar. Lytton went out to India with express instructions from the British government to recover the friendship of the amir if possible, and if not so to arrange matters on the north-west frontier as to be able to be indifferent to his hostility. For eighteen months Lytton and his council made every effort to conciliate the friendship of the amir, but when a Russian agent was established at Kabul, while the mission of Sir Neville Chamberlain was forcibly denied entrance into the amir's dominions, no choice was left between acknowledging the right of a subsidized ally of Great Britain to place himself within Russian control and depriving him of the office which he owed to British patronage and assistance.
The inevitable war began in November 1878, and by the close of that year the forces prepared by Lytton for that purpose had achieved their task with extraordinary accuracy and economy. Shere Ali fled from Kabul, and shortly afterwards died, and once more it fell to the Indian government to make provision for the future of Afghanistan. By the treaty of Gandamak in May 1879 Yakub Khan, a son of Shere Ali, was recognized as amir, the main conditions agreed upon being that the districts of Kuram, Pishin and Sibi should be 'assigned' to British administration, and the Khyber and other passes be under British control; that there should be a permanent British Resident at Kabul, and that the amir should be subsidized in an amount to be afterwards determined upon. The endeavour of the Indian government was to leave the internal administration of Afghanistan as little affected as possible, but considerable risk was run in trusting so much, and especially the safety of a British envoy, to the power and the goodwill of Yakub Khan. Sir Louis Cavagnari, the British envoy entered Kabul at the end of July, and was, with his staff, massacred in the rising which took place on the 3rd of September. The war of 1879-80 immediately began, with the occupation of Kandahar by Stewart and the advance upon Kabul by Roberts, and the military operations which followed were not concluded when Lytton resigned his office in April 1880. A complete account of Lytton's viceroyalty, and a lucid exposition of the principles of his government and the main outlines of his policy, may be found in Lord Lytton's Indian Administration, by his daughter, Lady Betty Balfour (London, 1899).
The frontier policy which he adopted, after the method of a friendly and united Afghanistan under Yakub Khan had been tried and had failed, was that the Afghan kingdom should be destroyed. The province of Kandahar was to be occupied by Great Britain, and administered by a vassal chief, Shere Ali Khan, who was appointed 'Wali' with a solemn guarantee of British support (unconditionally withdrawn by the government succeeding Lytton's). The other points of the Indian frontier were to be made as secure as possible, and the provinces of Kabul and Herat were to be left absolutely to their own devices. In consequence of what had been said of Lytton by the leaders of the parliamentary opposition in England, it was impossible for him to retain his office under a government formed by them, and he accordingly resigned at the same time as the Beaconsfield ministry. This part of his policy was thereupon revoked. Abdur Rahman, proving himself the strongest of the claimants to the throne left vacant by Yakub Khan's deposition, became amir as the subsidized ally of the Indian government.
The two most considerable events of Lytton's vice royalty, besides the Afghan wars, were the assumption by Queen Victoria of the title of Empress of India on the 1st of January 1877, and the famine which prevailed in various parts of India in 1876-78. He satisfied himself that periodical famines must be expected in Indian history, and that
constant preparation during years of comparative prosperity was the only condition whereby their destructiveness could be modified. Accordingly he obtained the appointment of the famine commission of 1878, to inquire, upon lines laid down by him, into available means of mitigation. Their report, made in 1880, is the foundation of the later
system of irrigation, development of communications, and 'famine insurance'. The equalization and reduction of the salt duty were effected, and the abolition of the cotton duty commenced, during Lytton's term of office, and the system of Indian finance profoundly modified. by decentralization and the regulation of provincial responsibility, in all which matters Lytton enthusiastically supported Sir John Strachey, the financial member of his council.
Upon Lytton's resignation in 1880 an earldom was conferred upon him in recognition of his services as viceroy. He lived at Knebworth until 1887, in which year he was appointed to succeed Lord Lyons as ambassador at Paris. He died at Paris on the 24th of November, 1891, of a clot of blood in the heart, when apparently recovering from a serious illness. He was succeeded by his son (b. 1876) as 2nd earl.
Lytton is probably, better known as a poet—under the pen-name of 'Owen Meredith' than as a statesman. The list of his published works is as follows: Clytemnestra, and other Poems, 1855; The Wanderer, 1858; Lucile, 1860; Serbski Pesme, or National Songs of Servia, 1861, Tannhauser (a collaboration with Mr Julian Fane), 1861; Chronicles and Characters, 1867; Orval, or The Fool of Time, 1868; Fables in Song (2 vols.), 1874; Glenaveril, or The Metamorphoses, 1885; After Paradise, or the Legends of Exile, and other Poems, 1887; Marah, 1892; King Poppy, 1892. The two last-mentioned volumes were published posthumously. A few previously unpublished pieces are included in a volume of Selections, published with an introduction by Lady Betty Balfour, in 1894.
His metrical style was easy and copious, but not precise. It often gives the impression of having been produced with facility, because the flow of his thought carried him along, and of not having undergone prolonged or minute polish. It was frequently suggestive of the work of other poets, especially in his earlier productions. The friend who wrote the inscription for the monument to be erected to him at St Paul's described him as "a poet of many styles, each the expression of his habitual thoughts". Lucile, a novel in verse, presents a romantic style and considerable wit; and Glenaveril, which also contains many passages of great beauty and much poetic thought, has much of the same, narrative character. Besides his volumes of poetry, Lytton published in 1883 two volumes of a biography of his father. The second of these contains the beginning of the elder Lytton's unfinished novel, Greville, and his life is brought down only to the year 1832, when he was twenty-six years of age, so that the, completion of the book upon the same scale would have required at least four more volumes.
The executrix of Lytton's mother chose to consider that the publication was injurious to that lady's memory, and issued a volume purporting to contain Bulwer-Lytton's letters to his wife. This Lytton suppressed by the law that the copyright in letters remains in the writer or his representatives, though the property in them belongs to the recipient. Lytton's appointment to the Parisian embassy caused the biography of his father to be finally laid aside. The Personal and Literary Letters of Robert, 1st Earl of Lytton, have been edited by Lady Betty Balfour (1906). (H. S.)
Being the entry for LYTTON, EDWARD ROBERT BULWER-LYTTON, 1ST EARL in the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica, the text of which lies within the public domain.