1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Lyttelton, George Lyttelton, 1st Baron

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LYTTELTON, GEORGE LYTTELTON, 1st Baron (1709–1773), English statesman and man of letters, born at Hagley, Worcestershire, was a descendant of the great jurist Sir Thomas Littleton (q.v.). He was the eldest son of Sir Thomas Lyttelton, 4th bart. (d. 1751), who at the revolution of 1688 and during the following reign was one of the ablest Whig debaters of the House of Commons.[1] Lyttelton was educated at Eton and Oxford, and in 1728 set out on the grand tour, spending considerable periods at Paris and Rome. On his return to England he sat in parliament for Okehampton, Devonshire, beginning public life in the same year with Pitt. From 1744 to 1754 he held the office of a lord commissioner of the treasury. In 1755 he succeeded Legge as chancellor of the exchequer, but in 1756 he quitted office, being raised to the peerage as Baron Lyttelton, of Frankley, in the county of Worcester. In the political crisis of 1765, before the formation of the Rockingham administration, it was suggested that he might be placed at the head of the treasury, but he declined to take part in any such scheme. The closing years of his life were devoted chiefly to literary pursuits. He died on the 22nd of August 1773.

Lyttelton’s earliest publication (1735), Letters from a Persian in England to his Friend at Ispahan, appeared anonymously. Much greater celebrity was achieved by his Observations on the Conversion and Apostleship of St Paul, also anonymous, published in 1747. It takes the form of a letter to Gilbert West, and is designed to show that St Paul’s conversion is of itself a sufficient demonstration of the divine character of Christianity. Dr Johnson regarded the work as one “to which infidelity has never been able to fabricate a specious answer.” Lord Lyttelton’s Dialogues of the Dead, a creditable performance, though hardly rivalling either Lucian or Landor, appeared in 1760. His History of Henry II. (1767–1771), the fruit of twenty years’ labour, is not now cited as an authority, but is painstaking and fair. Lyttelton was also a writer of verse; his Monody on his wife’s death has been praised by Gray for its elegiac tenderness, and his Prologue to the Coriolanus of his friend Thomson shows genuine feeling. He was also the author of the well-known stanza in the Castle of Indolence, in which the poet himself is described. A complete collection of the Works of Lord Lyttelton was published by his nephew, G. E. Ayscough in 1774.

His son Thomas (1744–1779), who succeeded as 2nd baron, played some part in the political life of his time, but his loose and prodigal habits were notorious, and he is known, in distinction to his father “the good lord,” as the wicked Lord Lyttelton. He left no lawful issue, and the barony became extinct; but it was revived in 1794 in the person of his uncle William Henry, 1st baron of the new creation (1724–1808), who was governor of S. Carolina and later of Jamaica, and ambassador to Portugal. The new barony went after him to his two sons. The 3rd baron (1782–1837) was succeeded by his son George William Lyttelton, 4th baron (1817–1876), who was a fine scholar, and brother-in-law of W. E. Gladstone, having married Miss Mary Glynne. He did important work in educational and poor law reform. He had eight sons, of whom the eldest, Charles George (b. 1842), became 5th baron, and in 1889 succeeded, by the death of the 3rd duke of Buckingham and Chandos, to the viscounty of Cobham, in which title the barony of Lyttelton is now merged. Other distinguished sons were Arthur Temple Lyttelton (d. 1903), warden of Selwyn College, Cambridge, and bishop-suffragan of Southampton; Edward Lyttelton (b. 1855), headmaster of Haileybury (1890–1905) and then of Eton; and Alfred Lyttelton (b. 1857), secretary of state for the colonies (1903–1906). It was a family of well-known cricketers, Alfred being in his day the best wicket-keeper in England as well as a fine tennis player.

For the 1st baron see Sir R. Phillimore’s Memoirs and Correspondence of Lord Lyttelton, 1734–1773 (2 vols., 1845).

  1. Sir Thomas (or Thomas de) Littleton, the jurist, had three sons, William, Richard and Thomas. From the first, William, was descended Sir Thomas Lyttelton, 1st bart. of Frankley (1596–1650), whose sons were Sir Henry, 2nd bart. (d. 1693), and Sir Charles, 3rd bart. (1629–1716), governor of Jamaica. The latter’s son was Sir Thomas, 4th bart., above mentioned, who was also the father of Charles Lyttelton (1714–1768), bishop of Carlisle, and president of the Society of Antiquaries. The male descendants of the second, Richard, died out with Sir Edward Littleton, bart., of Pillaton, Staffordshire, in 1812, but the latter’s grandnephew, Edward John Walhouse (1791–1863) of Hatherton, took the estates by will and also the name of Littleton, and was created 1st Baron Hatherton in 1835; he was chief secretary for Ireland (1833–1834). From Thomas, the third son, was descended, in one line, Edward, Lord Littleton, of Munslow (1589–1645), recorder of London, chief justice of the common pleas, and eventually lord keeper; and in another line, the baronets of Stoke St Milborough, Shropshire, of whom the best known and last was Sir Thomas Littleton, 3rd bart. (1647–1710), speaker of the House of Commons (1698–1700), and treasurer of the navy.