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Morley of Blackburn: A Literary and Political Biography of John Morley.

Morley of Blackburn: A Literary and Political Biography of John Morley, by Patrick Jackson. Madison, New Jersey, Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 2012. xii, 570 pp. $105 US (cloth).

Since his retirement from the British Civil Service in 1989, Patrick Jackson has published several well-received major biographies of significant political figures who served in Liberal governments during the second half of the nineteenth century (one of whom also sat in Conservative-Unionist cabinets). Although these individuals--Lord Hartington, W.E. Forster, and Sir William Harcourt--had garnered attention in various scholarly monographs on the Gladstonian Liberal party, none had been the subject of a full-scale modern biographical study before Jackson took them in hand. He has now given us a comprehensive biography of John Morley, an important man of letters as well as a prominent Liberal politician whose political career spanned the years between 1883 and 1914. Morley's personal papers at the Bodleian Library, a diary included, only recently became accessible to scholars, and Jackson has put these materials to good use. Unlike the subjects of Jackson's previous biographies, Morley's public life transcended the strictly political sphere; hence the subtitle "A Literary and Political Biography." Morley as man of letters found a worthy expositor in Edward Alexander, whose short yet valuable study John Morley appeared in 1972 (New York); Morley as political thinker and actor formed the subject of D.A. Hamer's weighty study, John Morley: Liberal Intellectual in Politics (Oxford, 1968). Jackson's dutiful elucidation of important aspects of Morley's literary life cannot conceal his partiality for the political end of things.

Morley's record of accomplishment is such that he surely merits the careful consideration he has attracted from well-respected scholars (these include not only Alexander, Hamer, and Jackson, but Peter Stansky, Christopher Kent, A.O.J. Cockshut, D.M. Schreuder, Jeff Lipkes, Stanley Wolpert, and Stephen Koss). Cut off by his father when Morley lost his faith and refused to comply with his father's wishes that he take Holy Orders in the Anglican Church, Morley fils left Oxford with a pass degree and launched himself into the world of metropolitan journalism. Drive, discipline, and ample intellectual resourcefulness enabled him to survive and ultimately prosper. From 1863 to 1867 he wrote essays on a regular basis for the Saturday Review; between 1867 and 1882 he edited the Fortnightly Review; from 1880 to 1883 he edited the Pall Mall Gazette and from 1883 to 1885 Macmillan's Magazine. During these years he turned a number of his lengthy essays into books, including studies of Burke, Diderot, Voltaire, and Rousseau, which together attest to Morley's formidable capacities as a historian of ideas. In 1881 he produced a two-volume biography of Richard Cobden and in 1889 a shorter work on Sir Robert Walpole. Morley's Life of Gladstone, published in 1903, stands as a biographical achievement of great distinction. His single notable contribution to political theory, On Compromise, appeared in 1874. Elected to parliament in 1883, he joined Gladstone's cabinet as Irish Chief Secretary in 1886 and held the same exacting office in the Liberal administration of 1892 to 1895; he occupied an important place on the Liberal front-bench during the party's extended years in opposition; he became Secretary of State for India in the Liberal government that took office at the end of 1905, remaining in that post until 1910, when he became Lord President of the Council. Unable to support the government's decision to enter the First World War, Morley retired in 1914, by which time his status as an eminent Victorian and Edwardian was indisputable.

Did marrying well help Morley attain such heights? In his early thirties Morley married Rose Ayling, an invalid with two illegitimate children. Morley scarcely mentions his wife in his Recollections; Hamer does not refer to her in his book on Morley; and Jackson, his access to Morley's personal papers notwithstanding, cannot tell us much about either the circumstances giving rise to the marriage or the content of the marriage itself. It seems that Morley kept his domestic arrangements almost entirely separate from his professional commitments and his social life. The marriage was childless; if it brought Morley happiness, he evidently did not convey to others that this was so. His sister Grace, however, does seem to have been a source of emotional support to Morley, a feature of Morley's personal life that Jackson's work now permits us to appreciate.

Morley's political associates were men whose social position rested on foundations more secure than his own. Of this he seems never to have lost sight. His flaws--vanity, petulance, acute sensitivity to criticism--stemmed from the powerful need to demonstrate, to himself and the world, that he was a man of consequence. Jackson is a generous biographer. The Morley we come to know in these pages often shows an awareness of his faults. While fully acknowledging his subject's personal defects, Jackson places greater emphasis on Morley's virtues, personal and political. As is the case with most politicians, Morley's motives can be variously understood, especially in relation to the issue with which he became most strongly identified, Irish Home Rule. For the Liberal party the Irish Question proved a serious political liability in the two decades following Gladstone's embrace of Home Rule. For Morley, however, the split in the Liberal party spawned by Gladstone's conversion opened the way to rapid political promotion. In their book on the politics of 1885-86, A.B. Cooke and John Vincent assert that Morley's "loyalty to John Morley came before loyalty to passing the home rule bill" (The Governing Passion, Brighton, 1974, p. 54). Without gainsaying Morley's unceasing devotion to the cause of Irish Home Rule in the years after 1886, Hamer observes that Morley's "Irish preoccupation also offered a respite from the difficult and perilous work of deciding oh domestic policy" (John Morley, p. 206). Although not lacking a critical edge, Jackson's treatment displays a consistent sympathy for Morley as a man of high moral principle whose sustained engagement with the Irish Question sought to blend idealism and realism in the service of estimable ends. This characteristic sympathy is also much in evidence in his expansive chapter on Morley's Life of Gladstone. In Hamer's view, the writing of this biography became for Morley "a form of escape" from "the political debates of the day" (John Morley, p. 334); Jackson demurs, arguing that Morley saw this monumental undertaking as "the most important contribution he could make to the revival of Liberal fortunes" (p. 317). Jackson's examination of Morley's Life of Gladstone deftly illuminates the qualities that make it an outstanding example of both political and biographical art. While no one can (or should) do for Morley what Morley did for Gladstone, neither should anyone feel the need to do for Morley more than Jackson has now done for him. Not art, perhaps, but the well-wrought work of a proficient practitioner of political biography.

Bruce Kinzer

Kenyon College
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Author:Kinzer, Bruce
Publication:Canadian Journal of History
Article Type:Book review
Date:Mar 22, 2013
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