1857 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Francis Egerton

Anonymous, Obituary in The Times (19 February 1857).



The death of the Earl of Ellesmere, which occurred at Bridgewater-house yesterday after a very long and most painful illness, requires at our hands something more than a mere passing paragraph. Francis Egerton, first Earl of Ellesmere, of Ellesmere, county of Salop, and Viscount Brackley, of Brackley, county of Northampton, was born on the 1st day of January, 1800. His father was George Granville, Marquis of Stafford, who afterwards was raised to the highest degree in the British Peerage, as Duke of Sutherland, whose father, the preceding Marquis, had married Louisa, daughter and eventually coheir of Scroope, first Duke of Bridgewater, to whose magnificent estates the Earl just deceased succeeded at the decease of his father in 1833, when he assumed the surname and arms of Egerton alone in the place of his patronymic of Leveson Gower. He received his early education at Eton, whence he was in due time transferred to Christ Church, Oxford, where he graduated B.A. in 1821. In the following year Lord Francis Leveson Gower, as he was then styled, was returned to Parliament as member for the pocket borough of Bletchingley, and commenced his public career in the Commons as a Liberal Conservative, and a warm supporter of Mr. Canning and his party. He had, however, at an earlier date displayed a taste for literature and the fine arts; and long before he had risked the broad glare of publication he had printed for private circulation some poems which were at least respectable. He then published a translation of Faust, accompanied by free and spirited versions of popular lyrics selected from the works of Goethe, Schiller, Burger, Salis, and Korner, which passed through several editions before he resolved to withdraw it from further circulation.

In 1828 Lord Francis Leveson Gower was sworn a member of His Majesty's Privy Council, and not long afterwards accompanied the late Marquis of Anglesey to Ireland as Chief Secretary. From July to November, 1830, he held the office of Secretary-at-War under the latter part of the Ministry of the Duke of Wellington. From 1826 to the dissolution in 1834 he sat for the county of Sutherland. In the December of the latter year he was chosen for the Southern Division of Lancashire, which he continued to represent down to his elevation to the Peerage, in 1846. On most important questions be carefully abstained from identifying himself with any faction or party. We ought, however, to mention that 20 years before Sir Robert Peel adopted the policy of free trade that measure had been strenuously advocated by Lord Francis Egerton in his place in Parliament; that he warmly supported the project of establishing the University of London; and that he actually carried on one occasion a motion for the endowment of the Roman Catholic clergy in Ireland.

In the year 1839 his Lordship was recommended by his medical advisers to spend a winter in the East, and he accordingly proceeded in his own yacht to the Mediterranean and the Holy Land. The results of his observations he afterwards gave to the world in the form of notes to his poem entitled the Pilgrimage, in which, having adopted the staff and sandals of a palmer, he gave a highly poetical picture of the various scenes and places which he visited in the course of his tour. This volume has been since reprinted, but it has been withheld from further circulation for many years. In the few years previous and subsequent to this date Lord Ellesmere published his Mediterranean Sk etches, and printed for private circulation several poems, among which the best known are Donna Charitea; Blue Beard, a Parody; the Siege of Vienna, and the Paria; together with The Mill, and a Monody on the Death of the Duke of Wellington.

Lord Ellesmere had inherited the magnificent pictures collected by the great Duke of Bridgewater, and set a brilliant example to the possessors of similar collections by erecting a noble gallery at his town residence in Cleveland-gardens, to which the public have found ready admission.

Like most Ducal houses, the House of Sutherland is built of a series of successive stages, and part at least of its fortunes may be said to have commenced from a comparatively humble origin. Thomas Egerton, the illegitimate son of Sir Ralph Egerton, of Ridley, having been brought up to the bar, arrived at the highest honours of his profession, and filled during the reign of Elizabeth the posts of Solicitor and Attorney General, Master of the Rolls, and Lord Keeper of the Great Seal. On the accession of King James Sir Thomas Egerton was appointed Lord High Chancellor of England, and was raised to the Peerage as Baron of Ellesmere; a few years later he was advanced to the Viscountcy of Brackley. An Earldom had been already promised to him, when he died; strange to say, the King, though a Stuart, kept his word, and elevated his son and successor to the Earldom of Bridgewater. Not content with this mark of Royal favour, he appointed him Lord President of Wales, and of the Marches thereof, and it is to this appointment that the world of letters is indebted for Milton's immortal masque of Comus. His great-grandson Scroope, fourth Earl, who was created Duke of Bridgewater in 1720, left two sons, who successively inherited the Dukedom, and an only daughter, Louisa, grandmother, as we have already said, to the Peer so lately deceased. The third and last Duke of Bridgewater was the projector of the celebrated canal which still bears his name, and which realized a princely fortune for himself and his successors. The Dukedom became extinct on his death, in 1803, though the Earldom of Bridgewater continued for some 25 years longer in a distant branch of the family; and the magnificent property of that house was devised by his Grace to his nephew, George Granville, second Marquis of Stafford and first Duke of Sutherland, with remainder to his second son, who, as our readers are aware, has been successively known as Lord Francis Leveson Gower, Lord Francis Egerton, and Earl of Ellesmere.

It only remains for us to add that the nobleman who has so recently passed away from among us married in 1822 Harriet Catherine, eldest daughter of Mr. Charles Greville and granddaughter of the late Duke of Portland, by whom he had issue two daughters, of whom the elder is married to the Hon. G. C. H. Byng, grandson of Field-Marshal the Earl of Strafford; and also five sons, the youngest of whom, Granville, was killed on the 27th of January, 1851, by a musket shot received accidentally at target practice on board one of Her Majesty's ships of the line. Of the other sons one is a captain in the navy, and another holds a captain's commission in the Grenadier Guards. His Lordship's eldest son, George Granville Francis, Viscount Brackley, who has now succeeded to the Peerage as second Earl of Ellesmere, was born in 1823, and married in 1846 the Lady Mary Louisa Campbell, daughter of the Earl of Cawdor, by whom he has two children, Charles Granville, born in 1847, and another son, born in 1854. His Lordship was elected for the Northern Division of Staffordshire at the general election of 1847, but accepted the Chiltern Hundreds in February, 1851, on the ground of ill health.

The deceased Earl was a Knight of the Order of the Garter, Lieutenant-Colonel of the Lancashire Yeomanry, a Deputy-Lieutenant for the county of Sutherland, a Vice-President of the Literary Fund, one of the Council of King's College, London, and a Trustee of the National Gallery. He was also appointed Lord-Lieutenant and Custos Rotulorum of the County Palatine of Lancaster on the death of the late Earl of Sefton, in 1855.