Fraser, William Augustus (DNB01)

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FRASER, Sir WILLIAM AUGUSTUS, fourth baronet (1826–1898), politician and writer, born on 10 Feb. 1826, was the eldest son of Colonel Sir James John Fraser (d. 1834), third baronet, of the seventh hussars, who was on the staff at Waterloo, by his wife Charlotte Anne, only child of Daniel Craufurd, and niece of Major-general Robert Craufurd [q. v.] Succeeding to the baronetcy as a child, Sir William left Eton in 1844, and after three years at Christ Church, Oxford (graduating later B.A. 1849, M.A. 1852), he was gazetted a cornet in the 1st life guards on 4 June 1847. He left the army shortly after obtaining a captaincy in 1852, and addressed himself to parliamentary life. A staunch conservative, he became a familiar figure at the Carlton Club, where he was known pre-eminently as a raconteur of stories about Wellington and Waterloo, and latterly of Disraeli and Napoleon III. He was a great hero-worshipper, and was especially fascinated by the spectacle of great and successful ambition concealed beneath a mask of melancholy impassivity. On Wellington he gradually became a considerable authority. He practically decided the vexed question as to the place where the Waterloo ball was held, and he preserved many little details of the great duke which but for him would have been lost. His results were printed in a very loosely compacted volume of anecdotes called 'Words on Wellington' (1889; new edit. 1900), which was followed by a small brochure on 'The Waterloo Ball' (1897), Similar volumes of personal gossip, with a large admixture of autobiography promiscuously huddled together in paragraphs, were 'Disraeli and his Day' (1891, two editions), 'Hie et Ubique' (1893), and ' Napoleon III' (1896). The last is very inferior to the preceding collections. A volume upon the stage and some reminiscences of Charles Dickens were promised, but never appeared. His zeal as a collector of old maxims, relics, and bons-mots accorded well with his political views. He believed, with Disraeli, that the Garter and election at White's were the two culminating peaks of human ambition, while he had a veneration for the House of Commons as a school not only of debate but also of a kind of etiquette. He had an admiration for Cobden, and spoke of him as a Don Quixote with John Bright (for whom he had a particular abhorrence) as his Sancho Panza; but his parliamentary hero was Disraeli. The ups and downs of his own political career were somewhat remarkable. In 1852 he was returned as a conservative at the head of the poll for Barnstaple, but the election was declared void for bribery, and the constituency, a notoriously corrupt one, was disfranchised for two years. At the election of 1857 Fraser, who had in the meantime been defeated at Harwich, stood again at Barnstaple, and was again returned at the top of the poll. He was, however, defeated in 1859, coming out this time at the bottom of the poll, the electors having to all appearance changed their political opinions with singular unanimity in the interval. In 1803 he was chosen without opposition at a by-election at Ludlow, but he held this seat for no more than two years, and then remained out of parliament until 1874, when he was returned for Kidderminster. This constituency he represented until the general election of 1880, when he retired. In 1877 Fraser rendered a great service to historical research by moving (on 9 March) for a return relative to members of the House of Commons from 1295 to 1696, to be printed as a supplement to the return from 1696 onwards, which was ordered to be printed in 1876. This was accomplished in 1878. He was elected F.S.A. on 11 Dec. 1862, and during the later years of his life was a member of Queen Victoria's bodyguard for Scotland. From his anecdotes one would gather that he was only less susceptible to beauty than to wit and valour, but he maintained Disraeli's opinion that a man in chambers was the only true master of the universe, and he died a bachelor in the Albany on 17 Aug. 1898. He bequeathed a large fortune to be accumulated during twenty-one years in the interest of his nephew, Sir Keith Alexander, eldest son of General James Keith Fraser, formerly colonel of the 1st life guards, who succeeded to the baronetcy. By his will dated 1 Dec. 1886, and proved in October 1898, he further bequeathed a splendid collection of Gillray's caricatures to the House of Lords, a similar collection of H. B.'s caricatures, and a unique set of portraits of former speakers to the House of Commons; the chairs of Thackeray and Dickens respectively to the Travellers' and Athenæum Club, Nelson's sword to the United Service Club, Byron's sofa to the Garrick, the manuscript of Gray's 'Elegy' to the Eton College library, and the Duke of Marlborough's sword to the Scots guards at St. James's Palace. The chief portion of Sir William Fraser's library was sold by auction by Messrs. Sotheby, 22 to 30 April 1901, and one thousand eight hundred and fifty-two lots fetched 20,334l. 18s., or far more than twice what Fraser had given for them. The chief items were extra-illustrated books and books with autograph inscriptions by distinguished persons.

Besides the works mentioned he published anonymously in 1867 and 1869 two little volumes of verse, and issued (in 1876) three hundred copies of some annotations on Pope by Horace Walpole from a copy in his possession. He also issued a small tract called 'London Self-Governed' (1866, 12mo), a plea for more centralised municipal bodies for London, with an amusing denunciation of the metropolitan board of works. The most finished of his books is perhaps 'Disraeli and his Day,' which performs the feat of explaining the fascination which the House of Commons exercised over a man of Fraser's high culture and eccentric hero-worship.

[Times, 18 Aug. 1898; Scotsman, 20 Aug. 1898; Guardian, 24 Aug. 1898; Army Lists; Burke's Peerage; Debrett's Baronetage; Fraser's Works.]

T. S.