Robert Blake

Robert Blake books include Disraeli and Conservatism in an Age of Revolution. He is Provost of The Queen’s College, Oxford.

Cardinal’s Hat

Robert Blake, 23 January 1986

The history of Cardinal Manning’s biographies is a remarkable one. When he died, on 14 January 1892, ‘no reputation ever appeared more secure,’ as Mr Gray rightly says. His death occurred on the same day as that of the Duke of Clarence, who, had he lived, would have become King of England. Normally the passing of the next heir to the throne would attract much public attention, but it was completely eclipsed by the death of the Cardinal. After the Requiem Mass, despite the poor visibility caused by a London pea-souper, vast crowds lined the streets on the way from Brompton Oratory to the cemetery at Kensal Green. ‘Their reaction,’ writes Mr Gray, ‘constituted perhaps the most striking, certainly the most spontaneous, demonstration of mass emotion that occurred in the capital during the Late Victorian period.’

Weathering the storm

Robert Blake, 18 October 1984

Set in a radio or TV quiz, the following question would flummox most people, even historians: which future prime minister was one-eighth Indian, present at the fall of the Bastille, a colonel in the militia, and had to invoke the King and the current prime minister to overcome his father’s opposition to his marriage? The answer is Robert Jenkinson, second Earl of Liverpool and eighth baronet, whose maternal grandmother, wife of a Nabob, was Eurasian. He is one of the neglected figures of history. Yet he was prime minister for 15 years from 1812 to 1827, till in February at the age of 56 he was incapacitated by a cerebral haemorrhage, called in those days ‘an apoplectic fit’. He resigned a month later, having asked faintly: ‘Who succeeds?’ George IV had many unattractive traits, but harshness was not one of them. He told the second Lady Liverpool that there should be no talk of resignation till absolutely necessary and hoped the Prime Minister would soon be well enough to resume work. ‘No, no, not I – too weak, too weak.’ And he became again unconscious, reviving only to put his hand on a painfully aching head, lamenting loss of memory and saying: ‘I am but a child.’ Late in March he was told that a successor had to be found. He died, a forgotten ghost, nearly two years later in December 1828. By then his successor, Canning, was also dead. Canning’s successor, Lord Goderich, had resigned without even meeting Parliament, and the Duke of Wellington was well into the first year of a premiership which led to the triumph of two causes anathema to Lord Liverpool – Catholic Emancipation and Parliamentary Reform.’

Prime Ministers’ Pets

Robert Blake, 10 January 1983

In reviewing the Gladstone Diaries and the Disraeli Letters I must declare an interest. I am chairman of the committee which superintends the publication of the former and one of the research consultants involved in the latter. But the quality and scholarship of the editors of all these volumes has been so widely acclaimed by others that there is no danger of appearing to give an unwarranted puff to works with which I am connected. Both sets of volumes are admirably edited and if the task is worth doing at all one can safely say that it could hardly have been done better. I have only one criticism of the Disraeli letters. The editors have rightly printed Disraeli’s so-called ‘Mutilated Diary’ in appendices in each volume covering the appropriate years, but whereas his correspondence is very fully annotated, no attempt at all has been made to explain the references in the diary. Yet there is just as much need for explanation here as elsewhere – in fact more, for the diary is particularly allusive and obscure.

Late Deceiver

Robert Blake, 17 September 1981

The state of play over the biographising of Anthony Eden is one of some interest. He offered the task to the late Sir John Wheeler-Bennett, author of many major books including a study of the Munich crisis and the official biography of George VI, who agreed on condition that he would not be expected to publish in Lord Avon’s lifetime. By a tragic irony of events Sir John, who was younger than Eden, predeceased him. Various possibilities have been canvassed since Eden’s death. The choice for the ‘authorised’ biography is said, though I have never seen any public announcement, to have fallen on Robert Rhodes James. If so, it is an excellent decision.

Turning Turk

Robert Blake, 20 August 1981

This is the first of two volumes designed to describe the British press and its connection with politics and politicians from 1850 to 1951. It is a formidable task, and one cannot be surprised that it has never hitherto been successfully achieved, though many attempts have been made. Such success as can be found in press historiography during these years lies more in studies of individual newspapers or particular editors than in any synthesis of the whole story. However, the task is not an impossible one. Professor Aspinall’s notable work Politics and the Press (1949) does it for the period 1780 to 1850, and Stephen Koss pays full tribute to his predecessor. Professor Koss is one of the few American historians of the top rank writing about modern British political history (as opposed to pre-revolution English history). He is producing a work which, to judge from Volume I, is likely to be an essential source of information on the subject for many years to come. It is admirably written, with clarity, incisiveness and wit.

World’s Greatest Statesman

Edward Luttwak, 11 March 1993

The highly practical Hellenistic solution to Britain’s insatiable Churchill/Finest Hour cravings would have been to establish a regular cult, with its own dedicated priests, rituals and...

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Finding a role

Peter Pulzer, 5 September 1985

May 1915 saw the end of the last purely Liberal government in Britain. October 1964 saw the defeat of the last aristocrat to head a Conservative government by a Labour Party dedicated to...

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From Old Adam to New Eve

Peter Pulzer, 6 June 1985

The history of modern Britain is to a considerable degree the history of the Tory Party, Europe’s – and perhaps the world’s – oldest political party. Or at least the equal...

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P.N. Furbank, 18 November 1982

Can it be doubted that to write about ‘the English Spirit’ (or L’Ame Française or ‘the Spanish Soul’) is intellectually disreputable? Plainly, there are no...

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Jew d’Esprit

Dan Jacobson, 6 May 1982

If you want to get ahead in the world, you cannot afford to be contemptuous of or ironic about your own fantasies. It is indeed important to be able, as Wordsworth puts it, ...

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