Delane, John Thadeus (DNB00)

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DELANE, JOHN THADEUS (1817–1879), editor of the ‘Times,’ was of a family originally Irish and settled in Queen's County. His grandfather, Cavin Delane, was serjeant-at-arms to George III, and his father, William Frederick Augustus Delane, was a barrister and author of ‘A Collection of Decisions and Reports of Cases in the Revision Courts,’ 1834, of which a second edition appeared in 1836. John Delane was his second son by his wife Mary Ann White, a niece of Colonel Babington, of the 14th light dragoons. He was born in South Molton Street, London, on 11 Oct. 1817, and brought up at his father's house at Easthampstead, Berkshire. Mr. Walter, the proprietor of the ‘Times,’ a neighbour in Berkshire and a keen judge of character, early remarked the boy's abilities and designed him for employment upon the newspaper. Though never erudite, Delane was very quick in mastering anything that he took in hand. After being at one or two private schools he spent two years, 1833 to 1835, at King's College, London, under Joseph Anstice [q. v.], went thence to a private tutor's at Faringdon, Berkshire, and entered at Magdalen Hall, Oxford, where the vice-principal, Dr. Jacobson, afterwards bishop of Chester, was his tutor and friend. He did not read hard, but was famous for feats of endurance as a horseman, and remained all his life an eager rider. He took his degree in 1839. After leaving Oxford he was called to the bar at the Middle Temple, 28 May 1847. He was next engaged upon the ‘Times,’ his father being financial manager, and Thomas Barnes [q. v.] editor. Even while an undergraduate he had written for the press with success. He was ‘passionately imbued with the spirit of journalism’ (Kinglake, Crimean War, 6th ed. vii. ch. ix., where Delane's character is analysed at length). On 7 May 1841 Barnes died, and at the age of twenty-three, a year after leaving Oxford, John Delane succeeded him as editor of the ‘Times.’ That post he retained for thirty-six years, his brother-in-law, George Dasent, acting as his colleague from 1845 to 1870. From this time his career was that of his newspaper. He shrank from publicity, and was careful to preserve the impersonality of an editor. He was not a finished scholar; he was not so brilliant as Barnes; he hardly ever wrote anything except reports and letters, both of which he wrote very well. For some time he was the youngest of the ‘Times’ staff; yet this newspaper, which had become great under his predecessor, became greater still under Delane. ‘The influence of the “Times” newspaper,’ says Mr. Reeve, ‘during the ensuing ten or fifteen years can hardly be exaggerated, and as compared with the present state of the press can hardly be conceived’ (Greville Memoirs, 2nd ser. ii. 3). The period of his editorship was one of great change. He saw thirteen administrations rise and fall; and in the management of his newspaper the repeal of the corn laws, the abolition of the newspaper duty, and the extension of the telegraph system were events of the most capital significance. He felt strongly the responsibility of the great power which he wielded, and although he had to insure the correctness of the whole forty-eight columns of the ‘Times,’ yet, by dint of unsparing industry and energy, he made singularly few mistakes. His general policy was to give active sympathy and support to all liberal movements, but to act rather as a moderator between parties than as a partisan. His foresight was great, and he was very rarely taken by surprise. During 1845 he organised, with Lieutenant Waghorn's aid, a special ‘Times’ express from Alexandria to London. Previously a special messenger had brought the ‘Times’ mail from Marseilles, but the French government, irritated at this enterprise by which the regular Indian mails were met in Paris by the ‘Times’ with the contents of them already printed, interfered with this messenger. By means of a special dromedary express from Suez and special steamer to Trieste the ‘Times’ brought its news forward so fast that in December it beat the regular mail by fourteen days. The French government then gave way, and the old plan was resumed. In 1845 Delane, at an immense cost to the ‘Times’ by loss of advertisements, exposed and stopped the railway mania. On 4 Dec. the ‘Times’ electrified the public by announcing that the cabinet had decided, with the consent of the Duke of Wellington, to summon parliament in January and propose the repeal of the corn laws. The announcement was received with incredulity; the ‘Standard’ publicly, and various ministers privately, especially Lord Wharncliffe, contradicted it, but Delane persevered in his statement. Greville had become as intimate with Delane as he had been with Barnes and first introduced him into political society, where he gradually acquired the esteem of men of all parties and a position which no editor of a paper had before enjoyed. Thus he met all statesmen on equal terms. Lord Palmerston, whom he resembled in temperament, was the statesman he liked best; Lord Aberdeen was the one he most respected. In this position he was able to assist ministers, and they to assist him. In 1843 he had had regular communications with Lord Aberdeen and a sort of alliance with the foreign office, and had been told by him, on returning from Eu, of the agreement as to the Spanish marriages. In 1845 Lord Aberdeen, anxious in the crisis of the Oregon negotiation to mollify American opinion by the news of the impending free admission of American corn, sent for Delane and communicated to him the state of opinion in the cabinet, practically telling him to publish it. This Delane did, and when the news was contradicted Aberdeen told him to insist on its truth. He misled Delane, however, to some extent by omitting to tell him that the ministry had resigned on the day after the first conversation, and that Lord John Russell had failed to form an alternative administration. In 1849 Delane casually heard in the hunting-field from Hood, the arms contractor, that Palmerston had sent arms from Woolwich to the Neapolitan insurgents. It was from the ‘Times’ that Lord John Russell first learned the fact, and thereupon Lord Palmerston was compelled to apologise to the Neapolitan government (Greville Memoirs, 2nd ser. ii. 3,200, 308, 406, iii. 261). During the Crimean war it was the ‘Times’ that determined public opinion in favour of operations for the reduction of Sebastopol. When the ‘Times’ correspondent sent home accounts of the deplorable state of the troops in the Crimea, Delane began an attack upon the government of the most vigorous kind, and published his information in full, though the Russian government received therefrom considerable encouragement and assistance. The Duke of Newcastle wrote to Lord Raglan of the ‘ruffianly “Times.”’ Undoubtedly, however, Delane exposed many official blunders and excited the public indignation which led to their reform. The relations of the ‘Times’ with the government were regarded with some suspicion. Horsman insinuated in the House of Commons in 1860 that Delane's political views were influenced by Lord and Lady Palmerston's hospitalities. Palmerston declared that their relations were merely social. Delane was a frequent guest of Palmerston, and of Lady Waldegrave at Strawberry Hill. In 1863 the ‘Times’ in an article on 3 Dec. accused Bright of proposing to divide the lands of the rich among the poor. Cobden wrote to ‘the editor’ on the 4th declaring that ‘shameless disregard of the claims of consistency and sincerity’ had long distinguished the ‘Times,’ and accusing the editor of undue subservience. Delane wrote to Cobden on the 7th declining to publish this letter. Cobden thereupon addressed a letter of similar tenor to ‘John T. Delane, esq.,’ and this appeared in the ‘Daily News.’ A correspondence followed. Delane deprecated Cobden's employment of his private name (instead of ‘the editor’). The letters were eventually republished by Cobden in 1864, ‘to show the surreptitious relations which a journal professedly anonymous and independent maintains with the government.’ The unfairness of the attack on Bright was established, but Cobden gained little by these letters (see Morley, Life of Cobden). Delane, though greatly opposed to all war policies, was a keen critic of military affairs, and was fond of riding about with the troops during the autumn manœuvres in Wiltshire and Berkshire. In 1864 he was largely influential in preventing the government from interfering in defence of Denmark, and in 1870 he foresaw, as few did, that the Franco-Prussian war must result in favour of Germany. In spite of the late hours which his post obliged him to keep, he long retained his health and florid appearance, but in 1877 his strength gave way. The unremitting effort of five-and-thirty years, calling for so much decision, self-reliance, and self-control, and the loss of the family, social, and country pleasures which he most valued, overcame his strength. His mind began to fail, and he retired in 1877. He was succeeded by Thomas Chenery [q. v.] ‘But who,’ asked Lord Beaconsfield, ‘will undertake the social part of the business? who will go about in the world and do all that which Mr. Delane did so well?’ (Yates, Reminiscences, 4th ed. 330). He had bought of Mr. Cobden in 1859 some land near Ascot, where he built himself a house, and here he lived until his death, which occurred at his residence, Ascot Heath House, on 22 Nov. 1879. He was buried at Easthampstead in Berkshire, a country parish with which he had been intimately connected throughout his life, and a mural tablet has since been erected to his memory in the church.

[Macmillan's Mag. Jan. 1880; Times, 25 Nov. 1879 (inaccurate as to early life); Kinglake's Crimean War; Forster's Dickens; information supplied by Delane's family; Ashley's Life of Palmerston; Ballantyne's Experiences, i. 276.]

J. A. H.