Lingen, Ralph Robert Wheeler (DNB12)
|←Lindsay, Robert James||Dictionary of National Biography, 1912 supplement
Lingen, Ralph Robert Wheeler
LINGEN, Sir RALPH ROBERT WHEELER, Baron Lingen (18191906), civil servant, born in Birmingham on 19 Feb. 1819, was only son of Thomas Lingen of the old Herefordshire family [see Lingen, Sir Henry] by his wife Ann, eldest daughter of Robert Wheeler of Birmingham. Lingen was sent to Bridgenorth grammar school at the beginning of 1831, the head boy of the school at the time being Osborne Gordon [q. v.]. In May 1837 he won a scholarship at Trinity College, Oxford, and went into residence in the same year. His contemporaries included James Fraser [q. v.], afterwards bishop of Manchester, an old schoolfellow, Frederick (afterwards Archbishop) Temple [q. v. Suppl. II], with whom he was brought much into contact in later years on educational matters. Sir Stafford Northcote, and Froude. One of his closest friends through life was Benjamin Jowett, who, writing to him in 1890, spoke of 'a friendship of more than fifty years' standing.' From school Lingen brought a high reputation for scholarship, which was fully sustained at the university. In 1838 he gained the Ireland scholarship, in 1839 the Hertford. In 1840 he took a first class in the final classical school, and next year became a fellow of Balliol. In 1843 he won the Latin essay, and in 1846 the Eldon scholarship. In 1881 he received the hon. degree of D.C.L., and in 1886 he was made hon. fellow of his old college, Trinity.
Lingen, who became a student at Lincoln's Inn on 4 May 1844, read in chambers until 6 May 1847, when he was called to the bar. Shortly afterwards he entered the education office, than under a committee of the privy oouncil, and in 1849, when he was only 30 years old, became secretary in succession to Sir James Kay-Shuttleworth [q. v.], the first holder of the office. 'This post he filled for twenty years, and during the creation of our elementary education system he was the controlling executive force, if not also the virtual creator of successive codes' (Ann. Reg. 1905). While Lingen was serving under Kay-Shuttleworth, the latter remarked to him, in respect of some change, 'Get it done, let the objectors howl' (Abbott and Campbell's Jowelt, i. 185). As secretary, Lingen acted on this maxim, though his strength lay perhaps not so much in his capacity to make changes as in his ability to negative claims upon the public purse. The growth of educational expenditure led to the appointment in 1858 of a commission on the subject ; the Duke of Newcastle served as president and the enquiry lasted nearly three years. At this time Lord Granville was president of the council, and the vice-president, in charge of education, was Robert Lowe, afterwards Lord Sherbrooke [q. v.]. With Lord Granville and more especially with Lowe, whom at a later date he joined at the treasury, Lingen worked with loyalty and in entire harmony (Fitzmaueice's Lord Granville, i. 426 ; Patchett Martin's Robert Lowe, Viscount Sherbrooke, ii. 478). The staunch adherence to 'sound principles,' with which Lingen credited Lowe, was equally characteristic of himself, and he proved fearless and tenacious in the face of public criticism.
The Newcastle commission, which reported in March 1861, gave a lead in the direction of payment by results, but the revised code which was first issued at the end of July in that year, though it did not come before parliament until the following February, went far beyond the committee's recommendations. All assistance from state funds to the schools of the country was merged in a capitation grant depending upon the children passing an examination in the three R's. Examination was, according to the opponents of the scheme, substituted for inspection. Financial considerations were paramount in Lowe's and Lingen's minds in drawing up the revised code. 'As I understand the case, you and I [wrote Lowe later] viewed the three R's not only or primarily as the exact amount of instruction which ought to be given, but as an amount of knowledge which could be ascertained thoroughly by examination, and upon which we could safely base the parliamentary grant. It was more a financial than a literary preference . . . One great merit of the scheme, as it seems to me, was that it fixed a clear and definite limit' (Life of Lord Sherbrooke, ii. 217). Matthew Arnold reckoned Lingen, while in charge of the education office, as 'one of the best and most faithful of public servants, who saw with apprehension the growth of school grants with the complication attending them, and was inclined to doubt whether government had not sufficiently done its work and the schools might now be trusted to go alone' (Humphry Ward, Reign of Queen Victoria, ii. 258).
The publication of the code aroused a storm of criticism, among its opponents being the late secretary. Sir James Kay-Shuttleworth ; a compromise was arrived at, but the authors of the scheme were not forgiven, and on 12 April 1864 Lord Robert Cecil, afterwards Lord Salisbury [q. v. Suppl. II], moved a vote of censure in the House of Commons on the education department for alleged mutilation of the inspectors' reports in favour of the views which the revised code had embodied. He was supported among others by W. E. Forster [q. v.], the motion was carried, and Lowe resigned, demanding a committee of inquiry, whose report exonerated the education office and showed the allegations to be groundless. The attack was clearly directed as much against Lingen as against Lowe himself, and it is testimony to Lingen's power and strength of character that he attracted the animosity which is usually reserved for the parliamentary chiefs of a government department. 'If rumour does not much belie him,' wrote the 'Saturday Review' (16 April 1864), 'Mr. Lingen is quite as powerful (as Mr. Lowe) and a good deal more offensive. It is from Mr. Lingen that all the sharp snubbing replies proceed' (Patchett Martin, ii. 223). It was alleged by his opponents 'that the whole department over which Mr. Lowe and Mr. Lingen presided was in a state of revolt' (p. 221), which no doubt meant that Lingen upheld discipline and kept a strong hand on the public purse strings. The result of the committee of inquiry was necessarily to strengthen his position, which he continued to hold till towards the end of 1869, when he was given the C.B. and promoted to be permanent secretary of the treasury, the highest post in the home civil service.
Gladstone was then prime minister and Lowe chancellor of the exchequer. Lingen was well qualified to preside over the treasury under a government which carried almost aggressively into practice the old liberal doctrine of economy. He was head of the treasury under the first Gladstone government, then under Disraeli's government from 1874 to 1880, and again under Gladstone's government from 1880 to 1885. On the fall of that government he retired. During the conservative tenure of office he had as chancellor of the exchequer his old Oxford contemporary. Sir Stafford Northcote [q. v.], and that his services were appreciated by both parties in the state is shown by his being given the K.C.B. in 1878. On his retirement in 1885 he was raised to the peerage as Baron Lingen.
At the treasury Lingen, although he was concerned with administrative control rather than with purely financial questions, proved himself an enemy of growing expenditure and a vigilant guardian of the public purse, who neither cared for nor sought popularity. Like Gladstone, with whom he was largely brought into contact, he combined scholarship with business capacity, and brought principle and character to bear upon details in a high degree. After his retirement he was an alderman of the first London County Council (1889-92), and chairman of the finance committee, a most important post in the early days of the council ; but he gradually withdrew from public life in consequence of growing deafness. He died at his London house on 22 July 1905, and was buried at Brompton cemetery. In 1852 he married Emma, second daughter of Robert Hutton, at one time M.P. for Dublin. She died on 27 Jan. 1908. There was no issue of the marriage, and the peerage became extinct on Lingen's death.
[Authorities cited; The Times 24 July 1905; Osborne Gordon, a memoir with a selection of his writings, edited by Geo. Marshall, M.A., with sketch of Gordon's school and college life by Lingen, Oxford, 1885 ; Evelyn Abbott and Lewis Campbell, Life and Letters of Benjamin Jowett, 1897 ; Patchett Martin's Life and Letters of Robert Lowe, Viscount Sherbrooke, 2 vols. 1893; Letters of Matthew Arnold, 1848-88, by G. W. E. Russell, 1901 ; G. W. Smalley's London Letters, 1890, ii. 192 ; private information.]