George Wyndham (1863-1913)

CriticismQuotations


Life
[Eponym of Wyndham Land Act, 1903] great-grandson of Lord Edward Fitzgerald on his mother’s side; cousin of Wilfrid Blunt, whom he regularly consulted on Irish affairs; ed. Eton, defeating Curzon for post of sec. to the Debating Society there; joined Coldstream Guards and served in Egypt; attracted to Oxford Movement, and m. widower Lady Curzon with whom he honeymooned in Florence; acted as priv. sec. to A. J. Balfour while the latter was Chief-Secretary for Ireland, succeeding Gerald Balfour, 1887; elected MP Dover (Con.), 1889 [‘Politics and banquets are a sad substitute for Palestrina and Browning’];
 
travelled to S. Africa, and gave admired speech on management of the war in House of Commons following Spion Kop, 1900; appt. Chief Sec. for Ireland, following Gen. Election, 1900; strenuously opposed to Home Rule, believing that the policy of Balfour in Ireland could be ‘progressively developed’; focussed his attention on the land issue, Catholic universities, bureaucratic reorganisation and devolution of powers; encouraged the Land Conference, 1902, and incorporated its proposals in his Land Act (1903) which clarified Balfour’s Acts; failed to resolve University Question, 1904, and resigned over devolution, 1905;
 
forewarned by Salisbury, “Beware of [Tim] Healy”, though later more troubled by the role of Sir Anthony MacDonnell in his own administration; suffered from nervous strain and later broken health; resigned his post as Irish Secretary following publication of Devolution scheme arising from correspondence between Dunraven and Sir Anthony; Wyndham selected and arranged the poetry of W. S. Blunt with W. E. Henley in 1898; d. suddenly, Hotel Lotti, Paris, 8 June 1913; there is a portrait in bronze by Rodin; Lord Douglas (Wilde’s “Bosie”) was a cousin; the entry in Dictionary of Irish Biography (RIA 2009) is by Patrick Maume. OCIL

Chronicle: William O’Brien established a conciliatory Land Conference of 1902 inviting Lord Dunraven to represent the landlords with O’Brien, John Redmond and Timothy Harrington for the southern tenants, with T. W. Russell to represent the Ulster [Protestant] tenants - resulting in the Wyndham Purchase Land Act of 1903. Initially Redmond sided with O’Brien’s new strategy of “conciliation plus business” but rejected his demand to rebuke Dillon for his criticism of the Wyndham Act, leading to O’Brien’s resignation in November 1903. Again though approving of the 1904 devolution proposals of the Irish Reform Association, fearing another party split, Redmond quietly endured Dillon’s dictate of distancing from any understanding with the landlord class. However, they made a good team: Redmond, who was a fine speaker and liked the House of Commons, dealt with the British politicians, while Dillon, who disliked London, the Commons and their influence on Irish politicians, stayed in Ireland and kept Redmond in touch with national feelings. [See Wikipedia entry on John Redmond - online; accessed 28.09.2014.]
For more about Irish land agitation, legislation and Home Rule politics - see under D. D. Sheehan > infra.

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Works
J. W. Mackail, G. Wyndham, ed., Life and Letters of George Wyndham, 2 vols. (1924). See also The Letters of George Wyndham, 1877-1913, compiled by Guy Wyndham (Edinburgh: priv. printed by T. & A Constable [q.d.), available at Internet Archive online [mainly family but incl. G. K. Chesterton et al.].

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Criticism
Eunan O’Halpin, The Decline of the Union: British Government in Ireland, 1892-1920 (Syracuse UP 1987). See also Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing (Derry 1991), refs. in Vol. 2, 347, 348 & 351; also Vol. 3, 472.

See also Carol Shloss, ‘Molly’s Resistance to the Union: Marriage and Colonialism in Dublin, 1904’, in Molly Blooms: A Polylogue on “Penelope” and Cultural Studies, ed. Richard Pearce, Wisconsin UP 1994), 105-18 [Shloss concludes that ‘[t]he effect of Wyndam’s mode of governance was to leave people in better material circumstances but powerless to ensure their own continued self-interest.’ (p.110.)]

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Commentary
D. D. Sheehan, Ireland Since Parnell (London 1921), Chapter XI: “The Land Question and its Settlement”: ‘Mr George Wyndham, whom I like to look back upon as one of the most courtly and graceful figures in the public life of the past generation, was installed in Dublin Castle as Chief Secretary. I can imagine that nothing could have been more distasteful to his generous spirit than to be obliged to use the hackneyed weapons of brute force in the pursuance of British policy. As an answer to the agitation for compulsory land purchase and a settlement of the western problem Mr Wyndham introduced in 1902 a Land Purchase Bill which fell deplorably short of the necessities of the situation. It would have deprived the tenants of all free will in the matter of the price they would be obliged to sell at, and left them wholly at the mercy of two landlord nominees on the Estates Commissioners, whilst it did not even pretend to find any remedy for the two most crying national scandals of the western “congests” and the homeless evicted tenants. [...]’. Further quotes Wyndham’s public communication on the Land Question, as infra.

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Sir Dunbar Plunket Barton, Timothy Healy: Memories and Anecdotes (Dublin: Talbot Press; London: Faber & Faber [1933]), quotes Healy as calling Wyndham a ‘child of genius’ and remarking that ‘No soul more accordant with Ireland than Wyndham ever came out of England.’ Barton also notes that Wyndham visited the grave of his great-grandfather Lord Edward Fitzgerald immediately on arrival in Ireland, while Healy was equally touched when Wyndham’s wife Lady Grosvenor showed him some relics of Lord Edward with evident pride. (p.76.) Further: ‘Healy was grateful to Wyndham for the passage of Wyndham’s Land Purchase Act, which Healy regarded as a charter of the Irish Tenants’ liberties. He also admired the character of the man. “George Wyndham’s mind,” he wrote, “was animated by a soul of the rarest and noblest order.” Wyndham reciprocated Healy’s friendship. It was he who gave the name of “Heliopolis” to Healy’s country house. Some years afterwards the Viceregal Lodge was nicknamed “Uncle Tim’s Cabin,” when Healy occupied it as Governor-General.’ (p.77.)

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Shane Leslie, Men were Different: Studies in Late Victorian Biography (London: Michael Joseph 1937): ‘Five George’s line was romantic toward Ireland but neutral towards politics. He refused to consider every move in Ireland, every porposal and every reform as it might affect the chances of Home Rule, that would please th [Tory] Party managers. If by chance it gavce Home Rule an argument, well that remained to be sseen and, if it was good in itself, it was worth trying. This was far from what the Conservative Causus like to think. As for the Orange Party in Belfast they considered that loyalty to themselves and that to the Irish Secretary appointed by the Party they helped to keep in power was their political and almost their intellectual [212] servant. George was not a good Protestant and deplorably lacking in Christian bigotry.’ (pp.211-12.)

Micheal Laffan, ‘Bloomsyear’, in Anne Fogarty & Fran O’Rourke, eds., Voices on Joyce (Dublin: UCD Press 2015): ‘Wyndham’s lieutenant in this enterprise [The Land Act, June 1904] was Anthony MacDonnell, an experienced imperial civil servant who had acquired the nickame of “the tiger of Bengal”. He was a Catholic from Mayo, and his appointment to the hightest administrative post in Dublin Castle provoked sectarian resentment and suspicions among Irish unionists, particularly in Ulster. Both he and Wyndham were amazed by the bigotry they encountered in Ireland. However some of MacDonnell’s actions appeared to confirm paranoid fears that he was sympathetic to Irish [29] nationalists and favoured his co-religionists, that “his office in Castle Yard has been the Council Chamber of the Italian Propaganda, and he has done more than any other man to stir up religious strife” [Irish Protestant, 11 June]. He and Wyndham were compared to James II and the Earl of Tyrconnell (who, in the late 1680s, had ried to destroy the Protestant supremacy in Ireland).’ (p.29.)

Further (Laffan, ‘Bloomsyear’, in Fogarty & O’Rourke, Voices on Joyce, 2015): ‘The university question, which resulted in the defeat of the reformers in Dublin Castle, was soon followed by a second and far more decisive crisis. Once again, Lord Dunraven took the initiative, and - once again - was inspired to do so by MacDonnell. Dunraven’s Irish Reform Association called for a pattern whereby Irish financial affairs and legislative matters would be “devolved” to two local councils [...] Wyndham was alarmed when the scheme was made public and he realised that such an extreme measure would be unacceptable to many Conservatives. His response took the unusual form of a public letter in which he repudiated the plan and repeated the government's opposition to “the multiplication of Legislative Assemblies within the limit of th United Kingdom.” [...] The short-term consequence of the Devolution Crisis was the disgrace and resignation of Wyndham, and abandonment of “constructive unionism”, the takoover of Dublin Castle by right-wing conservatives and unionists, and an abrupt halt to patterns of reform.’ (Ibid., p.31.)

Bibl. note: Laffan cites Andrew Gailey, Ireland ahd the Death of Kindess: The Experience of Constructive Unionism, 1890-1905, Cork UP 1987; Lawrence W. McBride, The Greening of Dublin Castle: The Transformation of Bureaucratic and Judicial Personnel in Ireland, 1892-1922, Washington DC: Catholic University of America Press 1991.) Laffan goes on to write: ‘Irish unionists in the [British] cabinet exploited the government’s weakness to block Wyndham’s conciliatory measures. [...] Many of them wanted to end the recent policy of consensus that had tended to blur the divisions between the Catholic and Protestant communities.’ (p.31-32.)

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Quotations
Letter to Arthur Balfour (4 Nov. 1903): ‘Ireland is in a plastic state. We can mould her almost at will providing that we go on doing something over here. We must give the Irish something sensible to think about and work for. Otherwise they relapse into a position of being mere pawns in a game between rival politicians.’ (rep. in Andrew Gailey, Ireland and the Death of Kindness: The Experience of Constructive Unionism 1890-1905, Cork UP 1987, p.198; quoted in Carol Shloss, ‘Molly’s Resistance to the Union: Marriage and Colonialism in Dublin, 1904’, in Molly Blooms: A Polylogue on “Penelope” and Cultural Studies, ed. Richard Pearce, Wisconsin UP 1994, p.110.) [Note references to Gerald and Arthur Balfour in Shloss, op. cit.]

Resisting Home Rule: ‘[The Tories and the King] have the money, the Army and the Navy and the Territorials, all down to the Boy Scouts. Why then should they consent to a change in the constitution without fighting?’ (Q. source; quoted on History Learning Site > Home Rule - online; accessed 17.08.2014.)

See comment: ‘Some Unionists like George Wyndham, believed that the country had every reason to use every means at its disposal to stop Home Rule in its tracks - including using the army to stop Asquith!’ (Idem.)

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Irish Land Question: ‘No Government can settle the Irish Land Question. It must be settled by the parties interested. The extent of useful action on the part of any Government is limited to providing facilities, in so far as that may be possible, for giving effect to any settlement arrived at by the parties. It is not for the Government to express an opinion on the opportuneness of the moment chosen for holding a conference or on the selection of the persons invited to attend. Those who come together will do so on their own initiative and responsibility. Any conference is a step in the right direction if it brings the prospect of a settlement between the parties near, and as far as it enlarges the probable scope of operations under such a settlement.’ (Quoted in D. D. Sheehan, Ireland Since Parnell, London: Denis O’Connor 1921, [Chap. VII] “Forces of Regeneration and Their Effect”; access full-text via Sheehan, q.v.)

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Notes
David Hare’s The Judas Kiss (1998), narrates that George Wyndham, a cousin of Lord Alfred Douglas and an MP, seeks to intervene in the warrant of arrest for Wilde.

Hugh Lane Gift: George Wyndam presented Constable’s “Evening, Mill on the Stour” to the Municipal Gallery of Ireland (Hugh Lane Gift, Exhibition of 2008).

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