Archibald Primrose, 5th Earl of Rosebery, 1st Earl of Midlothian (1847-1929)

From Wikipedia:

“Clan Primrose is a Lowland Scottish clan. The surname derives from the lands of Primrose in the parish of Dunfermline, Fife. The seat of the Chief of Clan Primrose is still at Dalmeny House in West Lothian on the Firth of Forth in Scotland. The current Chief of Clan Primrose is Neil Archibald Primrose, 7th Earl of Rosebery, 3rd Earl of Midlothian.”

From: Penelope Fitzgerald – a Life (2013) by Hermione Lee:

The (Knox) brothers had deep and largely inexpressible feelings for each other, which came out in their ‘poetry, love of’: of Housman’s A Shropshire Lad, or of Cory’s elegy for ‘Heraclitus’ (‘They told me, Heraclitus, they told me you were dead…’), which (Fitzgerald) keeps returning to, like a sad tune…”

In the London Review of Books of 22.9.05, Ferdinand Mount reviewed Leo McKinstry’s Rosebery: Statesman in Turmoil:

“The schoolmaster William Johnson…wrote the most famous of all translations from Greek lyric verse, ‘They told me, Heraclitus, they told me you were dead’; he wrote the words of the ‘Eton Boating Song’; and in a letter to Francis Warre-Cornish, another Eton schoolmaster, he wrote of his pupil, the future Lord Rosebery: ‘I would give you a piece of plate if you would get that lad to work; he is one of those who like the palm without the dust.’ Ten years later, Johnson was sacked…and changed his name to Cory.

…Adoring crowds followed (Rosebery) throughout his career. Leo McKinstry in this excellent new biography makes a case for him being the first modern celebrity (but what about Nelson?)…His daughter Peggy’s wedding drew crowds almost as big as for the queen’s jubilees. Thousands of spectators wore primroses as a gesture to the family name. The London Evening News printed its afternoon editions on primrose paper. Margot Asquith said that ‘when the Prince of Wales went up the aisle, he was a nobody compared to Rosebery.’ Until 1951 the Scottish football team would often turn out in primrose and rose hoops, the racing colours of Rosebery, who was their honorary president. Long after his ill-fated premiership, well-wishers from Edward VII downwards wanted him to come back and could not stop wondering what he would do next…

…He overfulfilled his programme…marrying not just any old heiress but Hannah de Rothschild, who brought him Mentmore, that vast treasure house in the Vale of Aylesbury, designed by Paxton of Crystal Palace fame on much the same scale and brimming with booty from Versailles and the Doges’ Palace…she was good-natured, sensible and kind, and the 12 years she and Rosebery had together were the happiest of his life. She died of typhoid in 1890. Rosebery was never quite the same and never married again.

…Rosebery might have married Princess Victoria, Edward VII’s shy middle daughter, if her parents had not objected so violently – the only occasion on which he was found to be not grand enough…

…Then there was the queen, who in old age was less inclined than ever to acknowledge that she was supposed to be a constitutional monarch: ‘I urged Lord Rosebery not to bring too many matters before the cabinet as nothing was decided there and it would be better to discuss everything with me and Mr Gladstone.’ She repeatedly conspired with Lord Salisbury to unseat the Liberals. As for the speech from the throne, she refused point blank to read out Rosebery’s proposals for disestablishing the Church in Scotland and Wales.

…McKinstry not only unravels the supposed mystery of Rosebery but also sheds a raking light on the impending death of Liberal England…

…on a platform before an audience of thousands, (Rosebery) blossomed. His strong melodious voice, his dark hypnotic eyes (all the more hypnotic after a hefty dose of Sulfonel), his air of mysterious gravity relieved now and then by a bubbling up of flippancy which the queen did not care for (‘in his speeches out of Parliament, he should take a more serious tone and be, if she may say so, less jocular which is hardly befitting a prime minister. Lord Rosebery is so clever that he may be carried away by a sense of humour, which is a little dangerous’)…

…He took the advent of democratic local politics with a seriousness his colleagues found hard to comprehend. He was as diligent a first chairman of the London County Council as he had been a lackadaisical prime minister, attending over three hundred meetings in his first year of office. The dockers’ leader, Ben Tillett, also an LCC councillor, remarked: ‘he really made London government a living thing.’

…he never lost sight of traditional balance-of-power considerations in Europe. He was one of the very few public figures to come out against the Entente Cordiale: ‘You are all wrong. It means war with Germany in the end!’ Having an informed view of Germany’s growing economic and military might, he began to warn of the horrors that such a war would bring long before it was on the public horizon. Is it fanciful to imagine that if Rosebery had accepted office in Asquith’s cabinet and managed to stick it out, he might have steered Europe away from war? I fear it is, because Rosebery’s prescience was inseparable from his independence. His unwillingness to compromise was the obverse of his freedom from wishful thinking.

But it was in domestic affairs that his prescience was most marked. He saw that no modernising Liberal programme had any chance of success until the House of Lords was reformed – he wanted a mixture of life peers, hereditaries and ex-officio members not unlike what we have today. He came to believe that the old Liberal Party was drawing to its end, and years before the formation of the Labour Party feared that the elimination of Liberalism would leave ‘the two forces of reaction face to face’.

…Rosebery’s abiding virtue…was to pay attention to the facts of late Victorian society and to consider the possible consequences for public policy. Even though his actual time in office was so brief and his official achievements so meagre, his influence on events from the margin was considerable. By insisting as his price for joining the government in the first place that there be established a minister for Scotland, which almost nobody in the cabinet wanted, certainly not Gladstone, he unleashed a long process of devolution which arguably saved Scotland for the Union, just as Home Rule in Ireland might have saved thousands of lives…He was besides an untiring champion of better working conditions, the minimum wage and trade union rights. After he had successfully arbitrated in a miners’ strike – the first cabinet minister to attempt such a role – he was so delighted that he said ‘this would have been a good day to die on.’

…In accordance with his wishes, he breathed his last to the sound of Cory’s ‘Boating Song’ on the gramophone. Perhaps someone should have recited Cory’s threnody for Heraclitus too. The line ‘Still are thy pleasant voices, thy nightingales, awake’ would have made a great epitaph for such a melodious insomniac. I do not expect to read a more enjoyable or more thoughtful political biography for a long time to come.”

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