Wyse, Thomas (DNB00)

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Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 63
Wyse, Thomas

no contributor recorded
Contains subarticles Napoleon Alfred Bonaparte Wyse (1822–1895) & William Charles Bonaparte Wyse (1826–1892).

WYSE, Sir THOMAS (1791–1862), politician and diplomatist, born on 9 Dec. 1791, was the eldest son of Thomas Wyse of the manor of St. John, co. Waterford, by his wife Frances Maria, daughter and heiress of George Bagge of Dromore, co. Waterford. The family claim descent from a Devonshire knight, Andrew Wyse, who is said to have accompanied Strongbow to Ireland in 1171, and to have received from his leader land in the neighbourhood of Waterford, a small portion of which is still held by his descendants. The manor of St. John, which includes property within the city walls, was originally held by the Wyses from the priory of St. John, founded by King John outside Waterford. On the dissolution of the monasteries, the manor and all its rights and the property in the city were given in fee simple to Sir William Wyse, then attached to the court of Henry VIII. In the reign of Philip and Mary, Sir Andrew Wyse, a younger member of the family and prior of the order of St. John of Jerusalem, was appointed by Philip ambassador from Spain to Naples. The family, in addition, owned extensive estates throughout the south of Ireland and near Dublin, but, in consequence of their steadfast adherence to the catholic faith, these were in great part lost by successive confiscations under James I, Charles I, and Cromwell. The influence of the family in Waterford was nevertheless great, and they gave to the city from 1400 onwards no fewer than thirty-three mayors and other municipal officers; Francis Wyse paid for the citizens out of his own resources the fine of 1,500l. imposed by William III during his stay in Ireland in 1690.

At the age of nine Thomas, heir to the family estates, was sent with his younger brother George to the newly founded jesuit college at Stonyhurst in Lancashire. There he rapidly developed that ardent love of literature and the classics which formed a marked trait of his character through life. The penal law which excluded catholics from Trinity College, Dublin, had been repealed by the Irish parliament in 1793. Accordingly, Thomas and his brother George after nine years at Stonyhurst entered that university with Richard Lalor Sheil, Nicholas Ball [q. v.], Stephen Woulfe [q. v.], and others who had been their school companions. Here Thomas soon distinguished himself, carrying off the chancellor's prize and many others, and holding first rank in the Historical (Debating) Society which had just been revived. Even then he took a keen interest in politics, spoke at meetings of the Catholic Association, and was chairman of one in 1810. He graduated B.A. in 1812.

On leaving the university Wyse went to London with his band of friends who were studying for the law; and, merely for his own improvement—not intending to follow the profession—he was entered for a year as a student at Lincoln's Inn on 19 June 1813. When the continent was open to travellers after Waterloo, Wyse spent some time in Paris, where he made many noteworthy acquaintances, ultimately pursuing his journey with Ball and Woulfe across the Alps in 1816. Love of art and of classical scholarship, to which he now added a study of Italian literature, led him to spend two years in Rome and Florence. He then joined a party to the east, where another two years were profitably spent in visits to Athens, Constantinople, Egypt (up to the second cataract), Palestine, the Greek Islands, and Sicily. Charles (afterwards Sir Charles) Barry [q. v.] accompanied the party as artist, and with him Wyse and his friends measured the temples and sketched views.

On his return to Rome Wyse renewed acquaintance with Napoleon's brother Lucien, prince of Canino, whom he had met on his first sojourn in Rome. Prince Lucien and his family shared Wyse's literary and artistic tastes, and were much attracted by him. Eventually, in March 1821, he married Lætitia, the eldest daughter of Lucien Bonaparte by his second wife, Marie Alexandrine. After his marriage Wyse, while often visiting Rome and Canino, resided at Viterbo, where Lucien Bonaparte offered him a villa. Here he occupied himself in writing a learned book on the ‘History and Topography of Jerusalem,’ at the same time composing an epic poem entitled ‘Azrael,’ neither of which was printed.

In 1825 the agitation for catholic emancipation revived in Ireland, and Wyse, returning with his family to Waterford, instantly took a leading part in politics. At the first great provincial meeting in Limerick, consisting of liberal protestants as well as catholics, he was unanimously elected chairman. He also became chairman of the election committee of 1826, formed in his native county in order to overthrow the Beresford influence. The committee's efforts were successful, mainly through Wyse's enthusiasm and his talent for organisation. The most novel feature of the election campaign was his ‘crusade,’ as it was called, among the 40s. freeholders, who hitherto had voted like slaves at the bidding of their landlords. He made a tour all over the county, accompanied by a priest, who, when necessary, translated his speeches into Irish, explaining to the peasants their rights as free citizens, and their duties to vote according to their consciences. The result was the triumphant return of Henry Villiers Stuart, the liberal candidate; and the system pursued by Wyse with the 40s. freeholders was adopted by O'Connell's supporters at the celebrated Clare election in the following year.

Thenceforward in the struggle for emancipation Wyse ranked near O'Connell and Sheil. Lord O'Hagan states that of all the politicians of the day, Wyse was the most accomplished and highly cultured. When the Catholic Association, which Wyse's great-grandfather and the O'Conor Don first founded in 1760, decided on issuing an address to the people of England, he was chosen to compose it. He also originated a system of liberal clubs, but opposed exclusive dealing. He, too, was principally instrumental in getting up the great Rotunda meeting in 1828 to petition for emancipation, and to him was entrusted the drawing up of an address to the king, which the Earl of Glengall moved and Wyse seconded. When it was resolved to send a deputation to England to confer with liberal protestants as to the development of the agitation, Wyse, O'Connell, and Sheil were chosen for the mission, but ultimately he did not accompany them. In the following year (1829), as soon as emancipation was granted, Wyse published ‘A Letter to my Fellow Countrymen,’ recommending the dissolution of the Catholic Association, since its object had been achieved and the country needed quiet. Immediately afterwards he published the ‘Historical Sketch of the Catholic Association’ (London, 1829, 2 vols. 8vo).

Simultaneously with these political occupations Wyse pursued his literary work, and before 1830 he had published ‘Walks in Rome,’ ‘Oriental Sketches,’ and other volumes of spirited description, while he contributed articles on graver subjects to the reviews.

At the general election of 1830, the first after catholic emancipation, Wyse stood for co. Waterford, but O'Connell also presented himself as a candidate, and objected to a second liberal, whereupon Wyse resigned in his favour. But he stood for co. Tipperary, and was enthusiastically returned without a canvass, after a severe contest of eight days. Wyse thus effectually broke up the tory aristocratic influence in Tipperary. Throughout his parliamentary career Wyse was an ‘enlightened liberal,’ voting for the great Reform Bill of 1832, abolition of slavery, repeal of the corn laws, and the extension of popular education. He was keenly interested in both imperial and purely Irish questions; but he especially devoted himself to national education. On the assembling of parliament in December 1830, he presented a detailed plan for Irish education to Earl Grey through Mr. Stanley (later Earl of Derby), then Irish secretary. In the following September Stanley, who had previously ignored Wyse's suggestions, unexpectedly announced his intention, at some subsequent date, of abolishing the Kildare Place Society, and establishing in its stead a national board of education in Dublin. In spite of the government's independent adoption of one of Wyse's leading educational reforms, Wyse on 29 Sept. brought in a bill on the subject, which he had long been preparing, after consultation with the bishops and others in Ireland. The bill was dropped when Stanley issued ‘Instructions’ to form in Dublin a board of national education, and to adopt an educational system which repro- duced verbatim the provisions of Wyse's bill. No acknowledgment of indebtedness to Wyse was made by the government, and Stanley reaped fame which was Wyse's due.

Wyse retired from Tipperary after the passing of the Reform Bill, and was defeated in his candidature for the city of Waterford. He advocated in the abstract a subordinate parliament for Ireland, but would not pledge himself to follow O'Connell's dictation in details. In 1835 he stood again for Waterford city on the understanding that he would give no pledge on the repeal question, nor accept the benefit of O'Connell's influence. He was triumphantly returned at the head of the poll, and from that period he continued to represent the city, despite many contests, until 1847. Regarding Stanley's educational policy as inadequate, Wyse in 1835 brought in a bill for national education in Ireland, more complete than his previous one. While vesting the directing power in the national board of Dublin, the co-operation of the people was insured by local committees in conformity with those self-governing principles which he always strongly advocated in the administration of Ireland. On the second reading he obtained a committee of inquiry, of which he was appointed chairman. It sat for two sessions, and finally he drew up an elaborate report, which, among other matters, pointed out how the royal, diocesan, and other foundation schools in Ireland and the endowments could be with justice utilised under the new system; it also recommended intermediate education by the establishment of provincial colleges and a second university in Ireland. In 1837 he published an exhaustive work on ‘Education Reform,’ helped to found the Central Society of Education, and wrote several papers in its publications. He attended numerous meetings on the subject in Manchester, Liverpool, Bolton, and other places. On one occasion he was the guest of Cobden, who afterwards wrote to him that he had produced a sort of ‘moral intoxication’ on the people regarding education. He was present at a meeting at Cork which petitioned the queen to establish a provincial college in that town on the lines laid down in his report.

In the session of 1839 Wyse was about to introduce a bill for education in the United Kingdom (the basis of the system that has since been adopted), when Lord John Russell introduced resolutions to the like effect, which, though falling short in many points of Wyse's proposals, literally adopted the scheme he had been urging. The two main principles he had been fighting for were conceded—namely, state control and school inspection, the education of the country being now placed under the management of a committee of the privy council. There was a keen contest over the clauses regarding religious instruction. From first to last Wyse was strongly opposed to education without religion, but advocated that religious instruction should be imparted separately by the pastors of the various denominations. He also laid special stress on the necessity of training teachers; and mainly at his suggestion Mr. Kay, the new government official, established on Wyse's principles a training college at Battersea [see Kay-Shuttleworth, Sir James Phillips]. In 1836 a bill for municipal reform in Ireland was rejected on Lord Lyndhurst's motion by the House of Lords. Wyse made an eloquent protest in parliament. The liverymen of London, anxious to mark their resentment of the conduct of the House of Lords towards Ireland, invited Wyse to allow himself to be nominated for the office of sheriff for the city. Owing to his father's recent death, he reluctantly declined the nomination. The corporations of Waterford and Cork sent addresses of thanks to the liverymen of London.

The leaders of the liberal party recognised Wyse's abilities and influence, and he was admitted to office. From 1839 to 1841 he was a lord of the treasury in Lord Melbourne's administration. He was a member of the fine arts committee appointed to consider the advisability of decorating the new houses of parliament and subsequently sat on the royal commission to carry this object into effect under the presidency of the prince consort.

In Irish politics Wyse showed great activity during the conservative administration of Sir Robert Peel (1841–5). He seconded Sir Richard Musgrave's bill for county boards, was a vigorous opponent of the arms bill, seconded Smith O'Brien's motion for redress of Irish grievances in 1843 during the repeal agitation (which was lost after an animated debate), and drew up with O'Brien a manifesto to the people of England embodying Irish grievances. Although Wyse had advocated since 1832 a federal parliament, he declined to join the Repeal Association under O'Connell. In 1844 he made an eloquent speech on the state trials in Ireland, demanding O'Connell's liberation; and in the same year he advocated at Cork the establishment of provincial colleges. Next year a bill for this purpose was passed by the government, when Sir Robert Peel complimented Wyse as ‘the consistent promoter of education in all its gradations.’ On 6 July 1846, on Lord John Russell's assumption of office, Wyse was appointed secretary for the board of control (India). At the general election in 1847 he was defeated at Waterford owing to his refusal to join the Young Ireland physical force movement. He retained his place at the board of control until January 1849, when Lord Palmerston conferred on him the diplomatic post of British minister at Athens. Wyse, who was made a privy councillor on 8 Feb. 1849, arrived in Athens in June, and the remainder of his life was identified with the affairs of Greece.

The relations of the British government with Greece were very strained when Wyse became minister. For years the Greek government had refused to consider several serious claims made by the English government on behalf of English subjects—Don Pacifico and George Finlay among others—who had been outraged by Greek subjects [see Pacifico, David, and Finlay, George]. In view of the recent obduracy of the Greeks, Lord Palmerston, within a year of Wyse's settlement at Athens, sent the fleet, under the command of Sir William Parker, to the Piræus in January 1850, and ordered Wyse, should an ultimatum prove unsuccessful, to go on board the admiral's ship (Finlay, Hist. of Greece, vii. 209–14). France intervened in behalf of Greece, and peace between England and that country was at one moment jeopardised, but it ended in a signal triumph for Lord Palmerston [see Temple, Henry John, third viscount], who, in his famous defence of his policy in the House of Commons, warmly praised Wyse's management of the difficult task of bringing King Otho and his ministers to reason; a C.B. was bestowed upon him in approval of ‘the skilful manner in which he had conducted the negotiations and brought them to a successful issue.’ When the struggle ended, Wyse devoted himself to helping the Greeks in literary and artistic undertakings, and strenuously urged upon them the obligation of honesty in all mercantile and political relations.

On the approach of the Crimean war, however, when the Greeks attempted to aid Russia by invading Turkey, Wyse advocated and obtained a joint occupation of the Piræus by English and French troops; and, securing a ministry favourable to tranquillity, he and the French envoy virtually governed Greece until the return of peace. For the successful management of these delicate proceedings he was made K.C.B. on 27 March 1857, and from the rank of minister plenipotentiary was raised to that of envoy extraordinary. Greece had never paid any interest on the loan that had been guaranteed by the three protecting powers—England, France, and Russia—in January 1833. Consequently in 1857, on Wyse's proposal, the British government caused a commission to be appointed by the three interested powers to inquire into the financial resources of the country. Experts were sent out by England and France—Russia was only represented by her envoy. The meetings, which were distributed over two years, were held at the British legation under Wyse's presidency. Several of the reports were written by him, and they covered all aspects of the economic and social condition of the country. One of Wyse's most important contributions was his report on education. For the purposes of the commission he travelled through the greater part of Greece and recorded his experiences in two works that were published after his death, one entitled ‘An Excursion in the Peloponnesus’ (1865, 2 vols.), and the other ‘Impressions of Greece’ (1871). These works were edited by his niece Miss Winifrede M. Wyse, who resided with him at Athens, and accompanied him on these travels.

Wyse died at Athens on 16 April 1862. The king ordered a public funeral, and, with the queen, stood on the balcony of the palace as the procession passed; the French envoy, M. Bourée, pronounced an affectionate eulogium at the grave. His portrait, painted in 1846 by John Partridge (1790–1872) [q. v.], was exhibited in 1868 at the third loan exhibition at South Kensington (No. 390).

Wyse had remarkable oratorical gifts. His range of reading was wide, especially in modern languages. In addition to French and Italian, which he early spoke like a native, he learned, when travelling in the East, sufficient Arabic to translate with a master the ‘Catechism of the Druses;’ at the age of forty he taught himself German and Anglo-Saxon (of which he wrote a grammar), and subsequently Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch, and Danish. He published a translation from the Anglo-Saxon of ‘The History of King Lear and his Three Daughters,’ and from the German of Tieck he rendered ‘Little Red Riding Hood,’ a drama in five acts. At Athens he re-read the Greek classics and the twelve volumes of sermons by St. John Chrysostom, of whom he was a great admirer; while modern Greek literature was thoroughly familiar to him. For his own amusement he commemorated in verse almost every passing event, and he devoted his leisure during his later years to a work on the antiquities of Athens, which was not published.

Wyse's marriage (March 1821) with Lætitia, daughter of Lucien Bonaparte, prince of Canino, by his second wife, proved unhappy. After the birth of two children, both sons, Napoleon Alfred and William Charles, Wyse's wife left him in 1828, and a deed of separation was signed. They never met again. The lady died at Viterbo in 1872.

Of Wyse's two sons, the elder, Napoleon Alfred Bonaparte Wyse (1822–1895), born in January 1822, succeeded by a family arrangement to the manor of St. John's, Waterford. He was high sheriff of Waterford in 1870, but spent much time abroad, and is said to have issued privately two books, ‘Notes sur la Russie’ (Paris, 1854) and ‘Flores Pictavienses’ (Périgueux, 1869). He died at Paris on 7 Aug. 1895.

The younger son, William Charles Bonaparte Wyse (1826–1892), born at Waterford in February 1826, travelled as a young man in the south of Europe, and while at Avignon was much attracted by the work of the Félibres, who claim descent from the ancient troubadours of Provence. He joined the society and became an ardent student of the dialect, in which he published in 1868 a series of lyrics under the title ‘Parpaioun Blu’ (i.e. Papillon Bleu), with a French translation and an introduction by Frédéric Mistral (Paris, 8vo). This was followed by a fragment of verse entitled ‘La Cansoun Capouliero’ (Plymouth, 1877), and ‘Uno Japado Cerberenco’ (in French, English, and Provençal), printed at Avignon, but dated St. John's, Waterford, 15 Aug. 1878. In English Wyse wrote some very indifferent sonnets: ‘In Memoriam: the Prince Imperial’ (1879), and ‘Loyal Staves,’ to celebrate the jubilee of the queen in 1887. He was for some years a captain of the Waterford militia, and became in 1855 high sheriff of his county. He died at Cannes on 3 Dec. 1892, when his brother-Félibres issued an account of his career in Provençal (see Times, 5 Dec. 1892). He married, in 1864, Ellen Linzee, daughter of W. G. Prout of St. Mabyn, Cornwall, and left issue four sons, the eldest of whom, Lucien William Bonaparte Wyse, captain of the Waterford artillery, succeeded to the manor of St. John's, Waterford, upon the death of his uncle, Napoleon, in 1895.

[Eminent Reformers, 1838, vol. i.; Lord O'Hagan's Address on O'Connell's Centenary; Freeman's Journal; Morning Register; Walpole's Life of Lord John Russell, 1891, ii. 55, 221; Blue Books; Hansard; Wyse's Speeches; his Works on Greece; private papers.]