Edward first Baron Bulwer Lytton


Notes : In his youth Bulwer Lytton lived a stylish life in London and Paris as the original dandy: he is the butt of Carlyle’s Sartor Resartus (1837). After being cut off by his mother for marrying a penniless Irish beauty, he made his fortune writing novels and topical works; within a decade he was Britain’s wealthiest and most famous popular novelist. From 1831-41 he was a member of Parliament as a reformer and a radical, where he was a colleague of George Grote and an associate of the Utilitarian philosophers James and John Stuart Mill. The passing of the corn laws caused him to change politics, and from 1852-66 he was conservative M.P. for Hertfordshire until being raised to the peerage; in 1862 he declined the throne of Greece, along with many others. A close friend of Disraeli and Charles Dickens, he was buried in Westminster Abbey as the greatest author of his age (‘Poet, Essayist, Statesman, Dramatist, Scholar, Novelist’ – The Times). He is now completely forgotten, except for his sentimental novel The Last Days of Pompeii (1834). Athens: Its Rise and Fall, volumes I -II (to the start of the Peloponnesian War; the last chapter is a long discussion of the plays of Sophocles) was published in 1837. This was the first serious history of Greece in 19th century Europe, rejecting the conservative values of Mitford, and portraying Athens as the ideal Utilitarian paradise: his book anticipates all the main themes of Grote’s history by more than a decade; even Grote’s later views of Athenian politics in the Peloponnesian War are to be found already formulated twenty years earlier in the forgotten manuscript of volume III, first published in 2004. The history of Greece is conceived as the history of Athens; the description of the reforms of Solon includes the first panegyric of the Athenian assembly as the ideal form of government. The work is an important example of the European Romantic school of history; it was a huge popular success, widely reviewed in the radical and tory journals; it was translated into German, Italian and Danish, and had many American and pirated continental editions. But vol. III was abandoned in the face of competition from the more sober Thirlwall, and later Grote. Although John Stuart Mill initially welcomed the book he subsequently transferred his admiration to Grote; and the history of the study of Greek history was rewritten by these two to make the later writer the official Utilitarian hero of Greek historiography. Athens was forgotten, to be rediscovered only in the year of Bulwer Lytton’s bicentenary. Athens: Its Rise and Fall (1837); bicentenary edition with unpublished material from volume III ed. Oswyn Murray, 2004. T.H.S. Escott, Edward Bulwer, First Baron Lytton of Knebworth (1910) Leslie Mitchell, Bulwer Lytton: the Rise and Fall of a Victorian Man of Letters (2003) Reviews: Edinburgh Review vol. 65 (July 1837) pp. 151-77 (Sir D.K. Sandford) Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine vol. 42 (July 1837) pp. 44-60 (Sir A. Allison) Fraser’s Magazine Sept 1837, pp. 347-56 (?William Maginn) British and Foreign Review 7 1838 36-85 (W.B. Donne)

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