Wilfred Scawen Blunt’s diaries, pt. I

“The year 1888 saw the close of my activities in English public life.”

I think it would probably amuse a modern spectator of politics that a candidate could think his arrest would win him a place in office, but when Wilfred Scawen Blunt’s life narrative actually continues from a personal narrative of his time trying to struggle for Irish independence, that is exactly the case. At the end of that time, he found himself imprisoned as a result of all that and, returning home, he found himself in the nightmare zone of radicalism.

The Nightmare Zone of Radicalism. Notice how that dude’s totally alone and no one likes him? That’s the nightmare zone. This picture won’t go in the center of my post so I’m leaving it like this.

His “unpatriotic” sentiments failed to win him a seat in parliament, and failed to win him any friends. Instead, having begun with relations and intimate friends among the conservative types, he suddenly found himself entirely between footings. He had neither footing among the Torys, nor the Whigs, nor anyone else. So he got depressed. The first page and a half of this narrative is pretty depressing in that weird way where you can’t get yourself to care, and frankly I hope that most of his narrative is quotations from his diary, because the diary was just plain better written.

At this point he begins his travels east with his wife and daughter (Judith), in the November 10 entry describing a day out with his cousin Francis Gore Currie, for whom he would later commission a tapestry.

Incidentally, Blunt had a bit of history with William Morris, the man who was commissioned, who sent him a letter previously about a meeting wherein Blunt was to call for the return of Ahmed ‘Urabi Pasha, the Egyptian nationalist, to Egypt. Blunt had spent time in Egypt before, as a member of the diplomatic service, and developed an affinity for Egyptian nationalism. Blunt also wrote a poem apparently concerning Morris, although it’s not very good. The two had much in common and much in difference, and the William Morris Society has a nice little paper by Geoffrey Syer, “Morris and the Blunts” which you can access here.

With his cousin, he went to see…


Richelieu’s tomb at the Sorbonne




Hotel de Cluny


Gambetta by Jean Paul Aube

This lattermost he assures us he “liked better than [he] could have thought possible.” The next entry, 11th November, consists of some other social meetings followed by some discussion here of some general I know nothing about. This general, apparently, was popular and a hopeful second Napoleon, but neither a “real swashbuckler” nor a threat to world order, and thus not a Napoleon (so [probably Jean-Edouard] Lacretelle, a painter, tells Blunt). At any rate, his question to this general was this: “It has been much debated in our Peace Societies, how the quarrel between France and Germany could be settled without war. Is it possible to arrange for the neutralization of the ceded Provinces?” The reply is, as could be expected, totally noncommittal. Interestingly, he was apparently reminded of Urabi by the “pleasant fatalism” on display by the general. For his career, our hero predicts success. Incidentally, the general, Georges Boulanger, would not be that successful at all. So that puts Blunt’s predictions at something like 1-1 so far in my reading, although you could argue that it’s 0-2 because the British still have holdings overseas.

His next social meeting, of which he has a ton and of which I will unfortunately be spending a lot of time reading, was with an extreme socialist. Unfortunately, he had to break the news to her that England was not “mined with Socialism” which made her “visibly distressed.” I feel like us leftists ought to get used to it, because that’s always the news, isn’t it? Of course, the next bit is just as amusing:

“…invited us to go with her to a meeting to take place that evening at Belleville, which we promised to do, but later I made the Princess explain to her that it was impossible I should really go, as I have no mind to be mixed up in a free fight, or to be arrested by the Paris police. But it was difficult to make her understand. She imagined that as I had been in prison I must necessarily be ready for everything. ‘Why should he hesitate,’ she said. ‘There will be no danger, for we shall all have revolvers.’ I like the woman, as she is evidently honest and of an unselfish kindly heart.”

Ah, revolvers. Why don’t we all just tote revolvers so the police don’t interrupt our protests? I suppose that worked better in the late 19th century.

Now comes the visit via Marseilles to Greece, where Blunt’s wife’s grandfather, Lord Byron, had died fighting for Greek independence in 1827. The association has been made by many between Byron and Blunt’s own fights for independence. Certainly, Byron loomed large in Blunt’s thoughts, but I’ll have to do some more reading before I can really say whether or not Blunt was motivated primarily by the memory of Byron. Here, at any rate, we see some of that incredibly bitter nostalgia wherein the memory of the place is greater than the present reality; he laments that Byron’s sacrifice reaped such sad results in his day. The memory was apparently from his time as a diplomatic officer at 18.

A meeting with the Greek PM about Greek politics revealed the Prime Minister’s notion that Greece needed to expand their borders or be taken by Russia or Austria. Blunt, of course, likes him, because it seems he just likes everyone.


Tell me I'm wrong

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s