Romance of London: The Duke of Newcastle’s Eccentricities

John Timbs (1801-1875), who also wrote as Horace Welby, was an English author and aficionado of antiquities. Born in Clerkenwell, London, he was apprenticed at 16 to a druggist and printer, where he soon showed great literary promise. At 19, he began to write for Monthly Magazine, and a year later he was made secretary to the magazine’s proprietor and there began his career as a writer, editor, and antiquarian.

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From Wikipedia:

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Thomas Pelham-Holles, 1st Duke of Newcastle

Thomas Pelham-Holles, 1st Duke of Newcastle upon Tyne and 1st Duke of Newcastle-under-Lyne KG PC (21 July 1693 – 17 November 1768) was a British Whig statesman, whose official life extended throughout the Whig supremacy of the 18th century. He is commonly known as the Duke of Newcastle.

A protégé of Sir Robert Walpole, he served under him for more than twenty years, until 1742. He held power with his brother, Henry Pelham (the Prime Minister of Great Britain), until 1754. He had at this point served as a Secretary of State continuously for thirty years—dominating British foreign policy.

Walpole gladly welcomed the young Newcastle into his coterie, firstly because he believed he could easily control him, and secondly because it would strengthen his hand against the rival Whig factions. Newcastle joined with Walpole because he, correctly, believed that he was going to dominate British politics for a generation.

Robert Walpole, 1st Earl of Orford

Robert Walpole, 1st Earl of Orford

After Henry’s death the Duke held his late brother’s position for six years, in two separate periods. While his first premiership was not particularly notable, Newcastle precipitated the Seven Years’ War, which would cause his resignation from his high position. After his second term as Prime Minister, he served for a short while in Lord Rockingham’s ministry, before retiring from government. Few politicians in British history matched his skills and industry in using patronage to maintain power over long stretches of time. He was most effective, however, as a deputy to a leader of greater ability, such as Walpole, his brother, or Pitt.

Historian Harry Dickinson says that he became:

notorious for his fussiness and fretfulness, his petty jealousies, his reluctance to accept responsibility for his actions, and his inability to pursue any political objective to his own satisfaction or to the nations profit…. Many modern historians have depicted him as the epitome of unredeemed mediocrity and as a veritable buffoon in office.

The Duke of Newcastle’s Eccentricities

Horace Walpole

Horace Walpole

There is scarcely any public man in our history of whose manners and conversation so many particulars have been preserved, as of the Duke of Newcastle, the well-known leader in the Pelham Administration under George II. Single stories may be unfounded or exaggerated. But all the stories about him, whether told by people who were perpetually seeing him in Parliament, and attending his levées in Lincoln’s Inn Fields, or by Grub Street writers who had never more than a glimpse of his star through the windows of his gilded coach, are of the same character. Horace Walpole and Smollett differed in their tastes and opinions as much as two human beings could differ. They quite different society. Walpole played at cards with countesses, and corresponded with ambassadors. Smollett passed his life surrounded by printers’ devils and famished scribblers. Yet, Walpole’s Duke and Smollett’s Duke are as like as if they were both from one hand. Smollett’s Newcastle runs out of his dressing-room, with his face covered with soap-suds, to embrace the Moorish envoy. Walpole’s Newcastle pushes his way into the Duke of Grafton’s sick-room to kiss the old nobleman’s plasters. No man was so unmercifully satirised. But in truth he was himself a satire ready made. All that the art of the satirist does for other men, nature had done for him. Whatever was absurd about him, stood out with grotesque prominence from the rest of the character. He was a living, moving, talkng caricature. His gait was a shuffling trot; his utterance a rapid stutter; he was always in a hurry; he was never in time; he abounded in fulsome caresses and hysterical tears. His oratory resembled that of Justice Shallow. It was nonsense effervescent with animal spirits and impertinence. Of his ignorance many anecdotes remain, some well authenticated, some probably invented at coffee-houses, but all exquisitely characteristic:—”Oh—yes—yes—to be sure—Annapolis must be defended—troops must be sent to Annapolis—Pray where is Annapolis?”—”Cape Breton an island! wonderful!—show it me in the map. So it is, sure enough. My dear sir, you always bring us good news. I must go and tell the King that Great Britain is an island.”

And this man was, during near thirty years, Secretary of State, and during near ten years, First Lord of the Treasury! His large fortune, his strong hereditary connections, his great parliamentary interest, will not alone explain this extraordinary fact. His success is a signal instance of what may be effected by a man who devotes his whole heart and soul, without reserve, to one object. He was eaten up by ambition. He was greedy after power with a greediness all his own. He was jealous of all his colleagues, and even of his own brother. Under the disguise of levity he was false eyond all example of political falsehood. All the able of men of his time ridiculed him as a dunce, a driveller, a child who never knew his own mind for an hour together; and he overreached them all round.—Lord Macaulay, on Walpole’s Letters.

Romance of London Series

  1. Romance of London: The Lord Mayor’s Fool… and a Dessert
  2. Romance of London: Carlton House and the Regency
  3. Romance of London: The Championship at George IV’s Coronation
  4. Romance of London: Mrs. Cornelys at Carlisle House
  5. Romance of London: The Bottle Conjuror
  6. Romance of London: Bartholomew Fair
  7. Romance of London: The May Fair and the Strong Woman
  8. Romance of London: Nancy Dawson, the Hornpipe Dancer
  9. Romance of London: Milkmaids on May-Day
  10. Romance of London: Lord Stowell’s Love of Sight-seeing
  11. Romance of London: The Mermaid Hoax
  12. Romance of London: The Bluestocking and the Sweeps’ Holiday
  13. Romance of London: Comments on Hogarth’s “Industries and Idle Apprentices”
  14. Romance of London: The Lansdowne Family
  15. Romance of London: St. Margaret’s Painted Window at Westminster
  16. Romance of London: Montague House and the British Museum
  17. Romance of London: The Bursting of the South Sea Bubble
  18. Romance of London: The Thames Tunnel
  19. Romance of London: Sir William Petty and the Lansdowne Family
  20. Romance of London: Marlborough House and Sarah, Duchess of Marlborough
  21. Romance of London: The Duke of Newcastle’s Eccentricities
  22. Romance of London: Voltaire in London
  23. Romance of London: The Crossing Sweeper
  24. Romance of London: Nathan Mayer Rothschild’s Fear of Assassination
  25. Romance of London: Samuel Rogers, the Banker Poet
  26. Romance of London: The Eccentricities of Lord Byron
  27. Romance of London: A London Recluse

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