Warren, John Byrne Leicester (DNB00)

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Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 59
Warren, John Byrne Leicester

by Richard Garnett
1904 Errata appended.

WARREN, JOHN BYRNE LEICESTER, third and last Baron de Tabley (1835–1895), poet, the eldest son of George Warren, second baron de Tabley (1811–1887), was born at Tabley House, Cheshire, on 26 April 1835. Sir John Fleming Leicester, first baron [q. v.], was his grandfather. His mother was Catherina Barbara, daughter of Jerome, count de Salis-Soglio, by his third wife, Henrietta, daughter of William Foster, bishop of Kilmore. From her he appears to have inherited the sensitive melancholy of his temperament, augmented by long sojourn with her in Italy and Germany during his childhood. Returning to England, he received his education at Eton and at Christ Church, Oxford (matriculating on 20 Oct. 1852, and graduating B.A. in 1859 and M.A. the next year), where he formed an intimate friendship with a fellow-collegian, George Fortescue, whose death by an accident in 1859 produced an ineffaceable impression upon his mind. A short time before this event the friends had jointly published a small volume of ‘Poems’ under the pseudonym of George F. Preston. It contained nothing remarkable, but several of Warren's poems were afterwards remodelled by the author and treated with more effect. ‘Ballads and Metrical Sketches’ (1860), ‘The Threshold of Atrides’ (1861), and ‘Glimpses of Antiquity’ (1862) followed under the same pseudonym, and all fell dead from the press. More power was evinced in ‘Præterita’ (1863), ‘Eclogues and Monodramas’ (1864), and ‘Studies in Verse’ (1865), all published under the pseudonym of ‘William Lancaster.’ The blank-verse poems of which these volumes chiefly consist are Tennysonian in style and substance, but the freshness of the natural descriptions reveals a man who had looked on nature with his own eyes. Upon leaving Oxford, where he had gained a second class in classics and history, Warren, after a brief interlude of diplomacy under Lord Stratford de Redcliffe at Constantinople, was in 1860 called to the bar from Lincoln's Inn; but probably had no serious intention of following the law, for which he laboured under every imaginable disqualification. He manifested some interest in country life, became and long continued to be an officer of the Cheshire yeomanry, and in 1868 unsuccessfully contested Mid-Cheshire in the liberal interest. Upon his father's second marriage, in 1871, he took up his residence in London.

The interval had been distinguished by three considerable efforts in verse. ‘Philoctetes,’ a tragedy, published anonymously in 1866, is the most powerful of Lord de Tabley's works. It departs from the Greek model in the introduction of a female character and in its gloomy pessimism, as remote as possible from the reconciling effect which Greek art aimed at producing. But these divergencies at all events preserve it from being a mere copy of Sophocles; nor is the influence of either Tennyson or Browning very apparent. The principal character seems in not a few respects a portrait of the author himself. ‘Orestes,’ a tragedy, published anonymously in 1868, was hardly less powerful than ‘Philoctetes,’ but attracted little attention. The volume of poems modestly entitled ‘Rehearsals,’ and also published under the pseudonym of ‘William Lancaster,’ indicates that the influence of Tennyson, though still strong, was yielding to that of Browning and Swinburne. ‘The Strange Parable,’ however, and ‘Nimrod,’ blank-verse poems very finely conceived, strike an original note, and ‘Misrepresentation’ is intensely individual. In another miscellaneous collection, entitled with equal modesty ‘Searching the Net’ (1873), the author for the first time placed his name upon the title-page. Here the poet's power, his dramatic efforts apart, culminates in the grandiose ‘Jael,’ the singularly intense ‘Count of Senlis,’ and the pathetic ‘Ocean Grave;’ and as the volume is mainly concerned with the description of nature and the expression of subjective feeling—departments in which he was entirely at home—he is less indebted than formerly to his predecessors. Had he now done what he did when, twenty years afterwards, he published a carefully winnowed selection of his poems, he must have taken a high place; but he unfortunately gave his time to the most hopeless of all poetical undertakings—the composition of a very long and entirely undramatic tragedy. Not one copy of ‘The Soldier's Fortune’ (1876) was sold, and Warren's disappointment, aggravated by private causes of sorrow, for a long time paralysed his activity as a poet. ‘Seized,’ as Mr. Watts-Dunton expresses it, ‘with a deep dislike of the literary world and its doings,’ he became almost a hermit in London, though retaining his regard for many old friends, and for some, such as W. Bell Scott and Sir A. W. Franks, to whom he was united by a community of tastes. His pursuits were many and interesting; he was a skilled numismatist, and already (1863) the author of an essay on Greek coins as illustrative of Greek federal history; an enthusiastic botanist, which accounts for much of the minute description observable in his poems; and one of the earliest amateurs of the now favourite pursuit of collecting book-plates, upon which he produced a standard work, ‘A Guide to the Study of Book Plates (ex-libris),’ London, 1880, 8vo. His ‘Flora of Cheshire’ was prepared from two posthumous manuscripts by Mr. Spencer Moore, and was published in 1899 with a prefatory memoir by Sir Mountstuart Grant-Duff.

In 1887 Warren succeeded to the title of De Tabley by the death of his father, and at once found himself immersed in a multitude of business cares which seemed to render the pursuit of poetry more difficult than ever. An impulse, however, was at hand from an unexpected quarter. In 1891 Mr. A. H. Miles published in his ‘Poets of the Century’ an excellent selection from Lord de Tabley's poems, with an appreciative criticism. The author could not but feel encouraged; and, although still sincerely reluctant to make another trial of the public he had hitherto found so uncongenial, suffered himself to be persuaded by Mr. Watts-Dunton and Mr. John Lane to republish the best of his poems with additions. The volume, entitled ‘Poems Dramatic and Lyrical’ (London, 1893, 8vo, with illustrations by C. S. Ricketts), obtained full public recognition for one who had seemed entirely forgotten. A succeeding volume, issued in 1895 as a second series of the foregoing, could not rival the selected work of thirty years, but proved that much might still have been expected from the author if his physical powers had not begun to forsake him. A naturally delicate constitution, undermined by an attack of influenza, gradually gave way, and he died somewhat suddenly on 22 Nov. 1895. He was buried at Little Peover, Cheshire. He was unmarried, and the peerage became extinct, while the baronetcy devolved on a distant cousin. De Tabley was equally regretted as a poet and as a man. In the former capacity he cannot be named among those who have been possessed by an overmastering inspiration. He has little lyrical gift, his poems usually convey the impression of careful composition, and his principal claims as a mere writer are the ‘brocaded,’ as Mr. Gosse happily expresses it, stateliness of his diction, the vivid originality of his natural descriptions, and an occasional pungency of phrase. But if the poet sometimes disappears, the man is ever visible. His emotions are always genuine, and when the feeling becomes intense the writer is thoroughly himself, discards imitative mannerism, and emancipates himself from the influence of other poets. This is especially the case in his dramas and in the monologues approximating to the drama which form so large a portion of his poetical work. He will live as an impassioned writer who chose poetry for his medium, though not inevitably a poet. As a man his character was one of singular charm. His most intimate friends, Mr. Gosse, Mr. Watts-Dunton, and Sir Mountstuart Grant Duff, exhaust themselves in eulogies of his gentleness, considerateness, urbanity, and high-minded disinterestedness, and only lament the anguish he inflicted upon himself by excessive sensitiveness.

[Reminiscences by Mr. Edmund Gosse in the Contemporary Review for 1896, republished in the writer's Critical Kit-Kats; notice by Mr. Theodore Watts-Dunton in the Athenæum of 30 Nov. 1895; Sir Mountstuart Grant Duff's memoir prefixed to the Flora of Cheshire, 1899, and his notice in the Spectator of 7 Dec. 1895; personal knowledge.]

R. G.

Dictionary of National Biography, Errata (1904), p.275
N.B.— f.e. stands for from end and l.l. for last line

Page Col. Line  
415 i 16 Warren, John B. L., 3rd Baron de Tabley: for Salis-Saglio read Salis-Soglio
416 i 22  for Mr. W. H. Miles read Mr. A. H. Miles