Wilfrid Scawen Blunt (1840-1922)

a cousin of George Wyndham; ed. at Stonyhurst, then St. Mary’s, Oscott, after the death in June 1853 of his mother who had been received into the Catholic Church by Henry Manning (later Cardinal), and the boys likewise at Aix-en-Provence in 1852; entered the Foreign Office as unpaid attaché, Dec. 1850 [var. diplomatic service 1858]; served first in Athens and later in other European capitals; faith shaken by reading Darwin and Jowett’s Essays and Reviews; engaged in affair with Catherine Walters (‘Skittles’), Parisian courtesan, who inspired Songs and Sonnets of Proteus (1875), appearing as Manon in Love Sonnets of Proteus (1881) and Esther in Esther, Love Lyrics, and Nathalie’s Resurrection (1892);
served in Lisbon, Buenes Aires, where he met Richard Burton, 1867, and Frankfurt; resigned from service in Switzerland in 1869; m. Lady Anne Isabella King-Noel, dg. Earl of Lovelace and Byron’s dg. Ada; lived in Paris, 1869-70; moved to Sussex; lost a child days after birth, 1870; inherited Crabbet Park Sussex on death of brother, 1872; dg. Judith b. 1873; travelled to Scutari, where he suffered a collapsed lung; Egypt, 1875; journeyed rough to Jerusalem, spring 1876; met james Henry Skene at Aleppo, 1877; travelled among Bedouin, and became br. of Sheik Faris; sent back Arab horses to Crabbet; issued Bedouin Tribes of the Euphrates (1879); penetrated Nejd with his wife, issuing A Pilgrimage to Nejd, The Cradle of the Arab Race, 2 vols. (1881); visited Mohammed Ib. Rashid at Hail;
returned by the route of the Iranians [Persian] Hajji from Mecca to Baghdad; departed for India; stayed with Robert Lytton, then Viceroy; Ideas About India (1885), appearing first serially in Fortnightly Review during 1884; preached against the Ottoman rule of the Arab regions and proposed returning Caliphate to Arabs; met affair Lady Gregory in Egypt, Dec. 1881, and became lovers ‘at the climax of the tragedy’ [viz, battle of Tel-el-Kebir], 1882; supported of Bey Arabi’s [var. Urabi] peaceful revolution; dismayed when the British govt. supported the Khedive against Arabi; purchased Shaeyd Obeyd, outside Cairo; returned to London; after fall of Tel-el-Kebir and arrest of Arabi, organised his defence at personal expense of 5,000, Arabi pleading guilty and settling for exile in Ceylon; in India he profess that ‘all nationas were fit for self-government’, 1883; stood unsuccessfully as Tory Democrat for Camberwell, 1884;
narrowly defeated for Parliament, standing against Joseph Chamberlain in W. Birmingham, June 1885; published articles in Fortnightly Review as Ideas about India (1885); supported Land League and Home Rule Party; wrote ‘The Canon of Aughrim’, 1886; visited Rome, and permitted back into Egypt, 1887; visited estates of Col. King-Harman, and Lord Kingston at Boyle and Keadue, Co. Roscommon; and sickened by evictions on estate of Lord Kingston at Arigna; offered his services to Michael Davitt and William O’Brien during Land War; conversed with Balfour and learned from him of his intention of using Coercion on the Home Rule leadership; addressed midnight meeting alongside William O’Brien at Woodford (nr. Portumna) on the Clanricarde estate, advocated Plan of Campaign and was arrested for sedition under Balfour’s Coercion Act of 1887, with additional charges of resisting the police;
sentence to two months at Loughrea prison but awarded bail and returned to England; retried and sentenced for the full term in Galway Gaol; prison governor instructed to remove his coat and travelling rug; reduced to wrapping himself in a blanket; Lady Gregory’s intercession gains him a coat of prison cloth; quotes Balfour’s literal words in his deposition to the Judges whom she brought to mediate his case; transferred for the remainder of his sentence to Kilmainham; lost action for assault against magistrate at Woodstock; lost election at Deptford; suffered disapproval due to his exposure of Balfour; resumed winter visits to Egypt; issued In Vinculis (1889), sonnets, praised by Oscar Wilde in review; also A New Pilgrimage (1889); increasingly difficult relations with Lady Anne and Judith; resumed writing love poetry, issuing numerous collections of sonnets and lyrics, often featuring his amours (Esther [...] [&c.]); lived at Newbuildings Grange, after removing from Crabbet;
close friend of George Wyndham in Sussex; Love Lyrics and songs of Proteus with the Love Sonnets of Proteus issued by William Morris’s Kelmscott press (1892); travelled in the Libyan desert, 1897; Satan Absolved (1899), demonstrating that imperialist greed had outdone the devil; shipwrecked beyond Suez on the way to Mt. Sinai, 1900; defended his servants against charges when Sheik Obeyd was invaded by foxhunting Englsh officers, 1901; travelled to Damascus, 1904; his Abbey play, Fand of the Fair Cheek, written 1904, produced after long delay 1907 without his prior knowledge; finally separated from Lady Anne, 1906, after her compassionate visit to Sheik Obeyd in 1905; issued Atrocities of Justice Under British Rule in Egypt (1906), dealing with Denshawi affair, attacking Lord Cromer; also India Under Ripon (1909); wrote on prison reform in English Review (1910); wrote Introduction to Theodore Rothstein’s Egypt’s Ruin (1910); reviewed by Fred Ryan in The Irish Nation, 10 Dec. 1910]; financed the Egyptian Standard (Cairo), later edited by W. P. Ryan up to his death in 1913;
published The Land War in Ireland (1912), giving account of Lady Gregory’s stern reaction to his involvement in Irish nationalist politics; conducted Poet’s Party, Jan. 1914, serving peacock, attended by Richard Aldington, F. S. Flint, T. Sturge Moore, W. B. Yeats, and Ezra Pound; Poetical Works, 2 vols. (1914); reconciliation over joint property in the Arab stud with Lady Anne, 1915; My Diaries (2 vols. 1919-20), with foreword by Lady Gregory; the stud largely acquired by Judith (who had married Neville Lytton) in spite of the will of Lady Anne favouring the grandchildren, and a legal contest with Blunt himself; posthumous Poems (1923); d. 12 Sept., after Catholic extreme unction, but buried by his own wish without ceremony in Newbuildings wood; his unpublished papers in a ‘secret box’ were reserved in the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, until 1972; an early life by Edith Finch reflects the hostility of his dg. Judith; the Earl of Lytton, his grandson, wrote a memoir in 1961; [Lady] Elizabeth Longford’s A Passionate Pilgrimage (1979) is the standard biography. ODNB ODQ OCEL FDA OCIL

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  • In Vinculis (1889), port.; A New Pilgrimage & Other Poems [Ist edn.] (1889).
  • Love Lyrics and Songs of Proteus, with The Love Sonnets of Proteus (Kelmscott Press 1892).
  • with W. E. Henley, sel., The Poetry of Wilfrid Blunt (1st edn. 1898).
  • Poems, ed. Floyd Dell (NY 1923).
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  • Secret History of the Occupation of Egypt: Being a Personal Narrative of Events (London 1907).
  • The Land War in Ireland: Being a Personal Narrative of Events [continuation of “[...] Egypt”] (London: Stephen Swift & Co. 1912), ix, 510pp.
  • My Diaries: Being a Personal Narrative of Events 1888-1914, foreword by Lady Gregory, 2 vols. (London: Secker 1919-1920), Pt. 1: ‘The Scramble for Africa’; Pt. II: ‘The Coalition Against Germany’; and Do., first US edn. (1921) [lim. edn. 1500], and Do. (1932), Foreword by Lady Gregory.
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  • Aubrey de Vere, ed., Proteus and Amadeus: A Correspondence (London: Kegan Paul & Co. 1878), xxi, 184pp. [i.e., Wilfred Scawan Blunt and Charles Meynell on the existence of God].
  • Introduction to Theodore Rothstein’s Egypt’s Ruin (1910) [reviewed by Fred Ryan in The Irish Nation, 10 Dec. 1910; see Field Day Anthology, 1991, vol. 3, pp.706-07]0.

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  • W. B. Yeats, ‘Prose and Poetry of Wilfred Blunt’, review of Love Sonnets of Proteus, in United Ireland (28 Jan. 1888) [rep. in John Frayne, ed., Uncollected Prose of W. B. Yeats, Vol. 1, 1970, pp.122-30].
  • Edith Finch, Wifrid Scawen Blunt 1840-1922 (London 1938).
  • Elizabeth Longford, A Pilgrim of Passion (NY: Knopf 1979), 467pp., 49 ills. [with port. pencil sketch by Henry Holiday, ‘Reading proclamation of the Woodford Meeting – Farringdon Memorial Hall, Nov. 3 1887].
  • Max Egremont, The Cousins: Wilfrid Scawen Blunt and George Wyndham (1977).
  • R. J. Finneran, ‘W. B. Yeats and Wilfrid Scawen Blunt: A Misattribution,’ in Irish University Review (Autumn 1978).
  • Elizabeth Longford, A Passionate Pilgrimage (1979).
  • Elizabeth Longford, ‘Lady Gregory and Wilfrid Scawen Blunt’, in Lady Gregory: ,Fifty Years After, ed. Ann Saddlemyer & Colin Smythe (Gerrards Cross: Colin Smythe 1987).
  • Patrick F. Sheeran, ‘Wilfrid Scawen Blunt: A Tourist of the Revolutions’, in Literary Interrelations: Ireland, England and the World, ed. Wolfgang Zach and Heinz Kosok eds., Vol. III: National Images and Stereotypes (Tübingen: Guntar Narr Verlag, 1987), pp.153-160.
  • A. N. Jeffares, ‘Bunt: Almost an Honorary Irishman’, in Images of Invention (Gerrards Cross: Colin Smythe pp.201-219.
  • Lucy McDiarmid , ’Lady Gregory, Wilfrid Blunt and London Table Talk’, in Irish University Review [Lady Gregory Special Iss.] (Srping/Summer 2004), pp.67-81.

See also Declan Kiberd, ‘Lady Gregory and The Empire Boys’, in Inventing Ireland: The Literature of the Modern Nation (London: Jonathan Cape 1995), pp.83-95, espec. pp.84-89; also works by Manning Robertson.

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Oscar Wilde, reviewing Poems of W. S. Blunt (1889): ‘Prison has had an admirable effect on Mr Wilfrid Blunt as a poet. [...] Mr Balfour must be praised [since] by sending Mr Blunt to gaol [...] [he] has converted a clever rhyming into an earnest and deep-thinking poet’ (Quoted in Ellmann, The Artist as Critic: Critical Writings of Oscar Wilde, 1987, p.xxiiii; and see further under Wilde, infra.)

Frederick Ryan, review of Theodore Rothstein, Egypt’s Ruin, in The Irish Nation [ed. W. P. Ryan] (10 Dec. 1910): ‘We have sketched the malodorous intrigue which the present British Occupation of Egypt began. Mr. Wilfred [sic] Blunt, the most weighty friend that the cause of Egyptian liberty has in England today, contributes a preface to the present volume in which he dwells on the ignorance of the circumstances of that intrigue on the part of English publicists of the present day. Most of the public men who were then alive have passed away. He says, indeed, that the only competent and courageois speaker on Egyptian questions heard any longer in the House of Commons is Mr. John Dillon. Mr. Blunt ably sets out the fallacies and the pseudo-history now current in England. The first is that Egypt, before the intervention of England, was a barbarous land, where universal ignorance prevailed, and where there were neither law nor order, nor the common safeguards of life and property. Another statement to be found repeated by various writers is that England did not desire to go to Egypt, that the intervention was not of her choice, but was forced upon by her by circumstances she could not avoid. Another is that Egypt owes all her present material prosperity to England. And so on. We could easily forecast the sort of arguments that Imperialists indulge in with regard to Egypt by just remembering the arguments they employ with regard to Ireland. Mr. Blunt easily exposes these absurdities, and supplies a damning record of England’s broken pledges with reference to Egypt, stretching from Lord Granville’s dispatch of November 4th, 1881, to Sir Edward Gorst’s Consular Report of 1910./ Mr. Blunt simply sets out these quotations, and adds: “Surely never were such pledges given, to be afterwards broken, in the whole history of England’s imperial dealings.” [...].’ (rep. in Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing, 1991, Vol. 3, pp.706-07.)

H. G. Wells, The Outline of History (1919 & Edns.): ‘Wilfrid Scawen Blunt regards the English remaining in Egypt, when they had pledged themselves to go, as the greatest cause of the troubles that culminates in 1914. To pacify the French over Egypt, England connived at the French occupation of Morocco, which Germany had looked up as her share of North Africa. Hence Germany’s bristling attitude to France, and the revival in France of the revanche idea, which had died down. See Blunt’s Diaries, vol. I, 30 Sept., 1891. [Ftn. A. C. W.]’ (London: George Newnes [q.d.], Vol. 2, p.705.)

Francis MacManus, ed., M. J. MacManus, Adventures of an Irish Bookman (Dublin: Talbot Press 1952), ‘The Sussex Squire’ pp.50-54, cites dedication to In Vinculis: ‘To the PRIESTS AND PEASANTRY OF IRELAND / who for / Three Hundred Years / Have preserved the tradition of a Righteous War / for / Faith and Freedom.’ [p.54]

Frank O’Connor, The Backward Look (1967), quotes, ‘The answer to Joyce’s murder was swift. Two strokes of the pen,/Set by Miss Blake’s fair hand on parchment white as her face/Gave what remained of the parish, lands, tenements, chapel, and mill,/All to a Scotch farmer to hold on a single lease.//Here stands the story written. The parchment itself could show/Hardly more of their death than this great desolate plain./The poor potato trenches they dug, how greenly they grow,/Grass, all grass for ever, the graves of our women and men!’ (Blunt, ‘The Canon of Aughrim’, in The Land War in Ireland, Lon. 1912); O’Connor comments, ‘There is Irish poetry, Irish as Goldsmith’s [Deserted Village] is not; Ah, yes, but whereas the author of The deserted Village was a Roscommon lad, the author of ‘the cannon of Aughrim’ was an English land-owner, Wilfrid Scawen Blunt. You will not find it in any English anthology, nor have I ever met an English man of letters who had heard of it. To them it was simply not relevant, but to me it is as relevant as Swift. [O’Connor, 125]; also, quotes remarks on Lady Gregory, cited in Land War [‘it is curious that she who could see so clearly in Egypt when it was a case between the Circassian pashas and the Arab fellahin, should be blind now that the case is between the English landlords and Irish tenants in Galway. but property blinds all eyes, and it is easier for a camel [&c.] than it is for an Irish landlord to enter the kingdom of Home Rule. She comes of a family, too, who are “bitter Protestants”, and has surrounded herself with people of her class from Ireland, so that there is no longer room for me in her house’ (Land War, p.146) [this note refers to a period before she became a folk-collector].

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A. N. Jeffares, W B Yeats, A New Biography (1988), brief by passionate affair with Lady Gregory, whose poems he published anonymously as ‘A Woman’s Sonnets’ (in Love Lyrics and Songs of Proteus [sic], a farewell to their passion; Blunt worked strenuously for Arabi, one of the colonels in revolt, when he was placed on trial in a Kedival court, and later visited him in exile in Ceylon; visited by Yeats and Pound and invited by Yeats to write for the Abbey. Note: his play Fand, based on the Cuchullain cycle being produced 20 April 1907 [see Lennox Robinson, Abbey Theatre, 1951)].

Frank Tuohy, Yeats (1976), Blunt found Yeats psaltery theory ‘reduced the verse to the position it holds in an opera libretto’; at his country house, Newbuildings Grange, ‘we had an afternoon of poetry, but all agreed that Yeats’s theories of recitation were wrong [...] All the same he is a true poet, more than his work reveals him to be, and he is full of ideas, original and true, with wit into the bargain. We all like him.’ (p.115); there a photo-portrait of Blunt on his 75th birthday with Victor Plarr, Thomas Sturge Moore, Yeats, Pound, Aldington, and FS Flint (Tuohy, p.155).

A. T. Q. Stewart, Edward Carson (Dublin: Gill & Macmillan 1981), writes that Blunt was ‘tried before two magistrates and sentenced to weeks imprisonment, having involved himself in the Plan of Campaign and addressing an illegal meeting, Carson and John Atkinson QC appearing for the Crown in his appeal. Blunt wrote that the case was conducted by “two of the Castle bloodhounds, who for high pay did the evil agrarian work in those days for the Government by hunting down the unfortunate peasantry when, in connexion with the eviction campaigns, they came within reach of the law. It was a gloomy role they played, especially Carson’s, and I used to feel almost pity for the man when I saw him, as I several times did, thus engaged in the West of Ireland Courts”.’ (Blunt, Land War, p.365). Stewart remarks that Carson took a different view of his duties in regard to agrarian violence of the Land War.

Juan R. I. Cole, Colonialism and Revolution in the Middle East: Social and Cultural Origins of Egypt’s Urabi Movement (Princeton [1992] writes, ‘[Wilfrid Blunt was] Urabi’s anti-imperialist friend who, however, misled him about the importance of Whitehall and the “lifeline of Empire” argument. However, Blunt understood Arabic and the Egyptian psyche, he had no doubt that this was a genuine national movement led by the army.’ (See review, Times Literary Supplement, 30 April 1993.)

Roy Foster, Paddy and Mr Punch (1993); ‘Wilfrid Scawen Blunt and others found to their sorrow that the Irish were more potentially conservative and imperialist than a people supposedly breaking the bonds of colonialism had any right to be’ (p.72).

Guardian Weekly, obituary of Elizabeth Longford [Pakenham] (31 Oct. 2002): ‘Her last substantial biography [...] was of Wilfrid Scawen Blunt (1979), a figure she wrested from poetry anthologies and fleshed out, at somewhat exhausting length, into a full-blooded and Byronic character.’

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The Land War in Ireland: Being a Personal Narrative of Events (): Attending a court hearing during agrarian violence of 1887, the ‘self-important fellow-traveller’ Blunt, said ‘The best of the joke is that the prisoners were all really guilty of a great deal more violence than could be proved, and everybody in the Court knew it, except the magistrates and the Crown people.’ (p.281; quoted in R. F. Foster, Modern Ireland, 1980, p.408.)

The Land League: Blunt wrote to Lady Gregory (who disparaged his joining the Land League): ‘[it is] curious that she, who could see so clearly in Egypt, when it was a case between the Circassian Pashas and the Arab felleheen, should be blind now that the case is between English landlords and Irish tenants in Galway [...] it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for an Irish landlord to enter the kingdom of Home Rule.’ (Quoted in Mary Lou Kohfeldt, Lady Gregory, The Woman Behind the Irish Renaissance, André Deutsch 1985; p.75, p.80; quoted in Declan Kiberd, Inventing Ireland, 1995, p.88).

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In Vinculis
[extract]: ‘Farewell; dark gaol. You hold some better hearts / Than in this savage world I hoped to find, / Your law is not my law, and yet my mind / Remains your debtor. It has learned to see / How dark a thing the eart would be and blind, / But for the light of human charity.’ (Quoted in Francis MacManus, ed., M. J. MacManus, Adventures of an Irish Bookman, Dublin: Talbot Press 1952, p.54.)

Galway Gaol, 1888”: ‘Honoured I lived e’erwhile with honoured men / In opulent state. My table nightly spread / Found guests of worth, peer, priest and citizen, / And poet crowned, and beauty garlanded. / Nor these alone, for hunger too I fed, / And many a lean tramp and sad Magdalen / Passed from my doors less hard for sake of bread. / Whom grudged I ever purse or hand or pen? / To-night, unwelcomed at these gates of woe / I stand with churls, and there is none to greet / My weariness with smile or courtly show / Nor, though I hunger long, to bring me meat. ? God! what a little accident of gold / Fences our weakness from the wolves of old!’

Gibraltar”: ‘Go! to hear the shrill / Sweet treble of her fifes upon the breeze, / And at the summons of the rock gun’s roar / To see her red coats marching from the hill!’ Also, Love Sonnets of Proteus, XCV: ‘I would not, if I could, be called a poet. / I have no natural love for the “chaste muse”. / If aught be worth the doing I would do it; / And others, if they will, may tell the news.’ (Given in Oxford Dict. of Quotations, with “The Old Squire”, and “St. Valentine’s Day” [‘Today, all day, I rode upon the Down, / With hounds and horsemen, a brave company.’]

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Frank O’Connor, Book of Ireland (Collins 1959; Dent 1967) selects “Englishman in Ireland/Galway Gaol” nd “But a Bold Peasantry”.

Seamus Deane, gen. ed., The Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing (Derry: Field Day 1991), Vol. 2, p.281 [Blunt, the English diplomat who supported Irish nationalist cause, was the first to refuse to wear prison clothes when imprisoned in 1887, and further, that his example was followed by IPP members William O’Brien and Timothy Harrington]; p.1003 [Frederick Ryan edited his paper Egypt].

Margaret Drabble , ed., Oxford Companion of English Literature (OUP: 1985); poet, traveller, anti-imperialist, m. Byron’s gt.-gd.-dg. Annabella King-Noel; also an energetic amorist; Sonnets and Songs by Proteus passionately addresses several women; other collections incl. love lyrics, evocations of Sussex, and Arabic translations; supported Egyptian, Indian and Irish independence, and was noticed in the pref. of John Bull’s Other Island. A spell in Irish prison inspired In Vinculis (1889), sonnets. My Diaries, 2 vols. (London: Secker 1919-20); life by Elizabeth Longford, A Passionate Pilgrimage (1979).

Hyland Books (1997 Cat.) lists A New Pilgrimage & Other Poems [Ist ed.] (1889) [top edge gilded]; The Poetry of Wilfred Blunt, Selected and Arranged by W. E. Henley and George Wyndham [Signed pres. copy from Arthur C. Benson]; My Diaries: Being a Personal Narrative of Events, 1888-1914 (1932), Foreword by Lady Gregory [18]; Edith Finch, Wilfrid Scawen Blunt, 1840-1922 [Ist ed.], 1938. Ills. [bookplate of T. W. Moody]; Elizabeth Longford: A Pilgrim of Passion, The Life of Wilfrid S.Blunt [Ist ed.] (1979), ills.

Eric Stevens Books (1992) lists Wilfrid Blunt and Sandra Raphael, The Illustrated Herbal [new ed.] (Frances Lincoln 1994), 190pp.; also William Scawen Blunt [sic], The Bride of the Nile, a political extravaganza in 3 acts of rhymed verse (priv. 1907), [1st], 43pp..

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Lady Gregory wrote the sonnets that Blunt published as “A Woman’s Sonnets”, which were actually her love-letters to him [see Attic Guide, 1993, under Carolyn Swift].

Daddy, daddy! Blunt is erroneously accredited with fathering Robert Gregory in Roy Foster, W. B. Yeats: The Apprentice Mage (OUP 1997).

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