Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Harris, James Howard

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HARRIS, JAMES HOWARD, third Earl of Malmesbury (1807–1889), born on 25 March 1807, was the grandson of James Harris, first earl [q. v.], and the eldest son of James Edward Harris, second earl, by his wife Harriet Susan, daughter of Francis Bateman Dashwood of Well Vale, Lincolnshire. His father, the second earl, was in 1807 under-secretary for foreign affairs under Canning, and subsequently governor of the Isle of Wight; but his chief interests were sport and literature. He died 10 Sept. 1841, having lost his wife in 1815. Harris was educated at a private school at Wimborne and at Eton, but was never very studious. In 1825 he proceeded to Oriel College, Oxford, where Copleston was provost, and Newman tutor. (His comments on Newman's conduct as tutor, published in the ‘Memoirs of an Ex-Minister,’ were contradicted by Lord Blachford and the cardinal himself in the ‘Daily News’ of 13 and 28 Oct. 1884.) After taking his degree in 1827 Lord Fitzharris, as he was then styled, travelled abroad, and at Rome made the acquaintance, through the Countess Guiccioli, of Queen Hortense, and her son, Louis Napoleon. He returned to England in 1829. Compelled, owing to his father's wishes, to decline to stand for the Isle of Wight in 1834, he was an unsuccessful candidate for Portsmouth in 1838, and was returned in the conservative interest for Wilton in June 1841, but his father's death in the following September raised him to the upper house. Malmesbury did not at first take an active part in politics, though he possessed considerable knowledge of foreign affairs, gained partly through his wife's relatives, the De Gramonts, and partly through numerous visits to the continent, among which may be mentioned a trip in 1845 to the castle of Ham. where Louis Napoleon was imprisoned (Memoirs, i. 157–60).

On the disruption of the conservatives in 1846 Malmesbury played an important part in rallying the protectionists, and became their whip in the House of Lords, where Lord Stanley (afterwards earl of Derby), whose friendship he had formed in 1834, was speedily established as leader of the party. In 1848 he published a letter on ‘The Revision of the Game Laws,’ addressed to the home secretary, Sir George Grey. In 1851, when Stanley attempted in vain to form a government, he offered Malmesbury the colonial office. In the following year Malmesbury and Disraeli failed in their efforts to induce Lord Derby to meet the government measure by a counter Reform Bill. The whigs, however, were defeated on the Militia Bill, the conservatives came into office, and Malmesbury was appointed secretary of state for foreign affairs 22 Feb. 1852.

He had gained some accidental education for his work through preparing for publication ‘The Diplomatic Journal and Correspondence of the first Lord Malmesbury,’ which appeared in 1844. He also acknowledged much good advice from the queen and the prince consort, and from his predecessors, the Duke of Wellington, Lord Palmerston, and Lord Granville. Though comments were passed on the badness of his grammar (Bulwer, Palmerston, ii. 236) it was not long before Greville, the diarist, learnt that he was doing very well, and displaying great firmness (Journals, 2nd part, iii. 472–3). The Austrian ambassador, Count Buol, attempted in vain to play on his inexperience (Memoirs, i. 313, 320). Among the congratulations he received was one from his friend the prince president of the French republic, and Malmesbury, who stood almost alone in believing in the pacific intentions of Napoleon, was the first to recognise officially the creation of the second empire after raising some difficulties about the numeral adopted in the emperor's title. Another important event was the signature of the treaty of London, guaranteeing the Danish possessions to Prince Christian of Glücksburg, but in signing Malmesbury was only endorsing Palmerston's diplomacy, as the arrangement was based on the protocol of 1850 (Count Vitzthum, St. Petersburg and London, ii. 222, English trans.). But, able though his management of affairs was, it was violently attacked. The Peelites were annoyed at his prompt recognition of the empire, and Lord John Russell made party capital out of the case of a Mr. Mather, who stood in the way of some Austrian soldiers in Florence, and was cut over the head by their officer. Both Lord Derby and Disraeli amply defended him, and the former paid a handsome compliment to his diligence, ability, and good judgment when the ministry resigned (20 Dec. 1852). In March 1853 Malmesbury was once more in Paris, and had some interesting audiences with the emperor (Memoirs, i. 387–96). During the session he made a curiously violent speech on the Succession Duties Bill, but appeared to greater advantage in March 1854, when he ably defended one of his former subordinates, accused by Lord Aberdeen of official indiscretions.

When Lord Derby, on the resignation of Lord Aberdeen, attempted to form a government (February 1855), he offered Malmesbury the foreign office a second time, but Derby's negotiations broke down, and Disraeli rather absurdly attempted to fix the responsibility on Malmesbury, whom he accused of forsaking Derby at the critical moment. In the same year he declined to entertain suggestions for making Disraeli or Lord Stanley leader of the party. On 5 May he opened the debate on the treaty of Paris in the House of Lords, and during the next two years spoke frequently on foreign and Indian topics. In February 1858 Palmerston was overthrown on the Conspiracy to Murder Bill, and the conservatives coming into power Malmesbury was again appointed foreign secretary. His old friendship with the emperor, combined with Lord Cowley's able diplomacy at Paris, speedily removed all traces of ill-feeling between England and France, and the recall of Persigny, who was violent and indiscreet, from the French embassy in London was a change for the better. Malmesbury was convinced that both he and the Sardinian minister Azeglio acted in Palmerston's interests, and relations with the latter became very strained when, following the advice of Lord Shaftesbury, Azeglio published in the ‘Times’ the English lawyers' opinion on the ‘Cagliari’ affair, a difficulty created by the illegal detention at Naples of a Sardinian ship on board of which were two English engineers. The foreign secretary roundly characterised the proceeding as ‘unfair’ (see the correspondence between Cavour and Azeglio published by N. de Bianchi in La Politique du Comte C. de Cavour, p. 279 et seq.), and both Azeglio and Cavour were at first convinced that Malmesbury was hostile to the Italian cause. Malmesbury promptly exacted damages and an apology from the Neapolitan government while foiling the Sardinian attempt to make the affair a casus belli, and relations with Sardinia improved to such an extent that Cavour, writing to Azeglio on 1 Dec., expressed a hope that the tories would stay in power. The war of Italian liberation was now inevitable, but as an interlude came the ‘Charles et Georges’ affair, caused by the high-handed conduct of Napoleon III on the occasion of the seizure by the Portuguese government of a French ship on the ground that she was a slaver. The English government helped to compose the dispute, and though Malmesbury was attacked in the House of Lords by Lord Wodehouse, the opposition gained little by the proceeding, and the vote of censure was withdrawn. The foreign secretary outwardly maintained what Count Vitzthum called a ‘pleasing but astonishing optimism’ about Italian affairs (St. Petersburg and London, vol. i. ch. xv.); but he recorded, as early as 16 Jan. 1859, his private opinion that war could not be avoided. Nevertheless he was unceasing in his attempts to avert it, taking his stand on the arrangements of 1815 (Official Correspondence on the Italian Question, published by Malmesbury, with an introduction, in 1859). So far from acting, as he was accused at the time, in the interests of Austria, he fully recognised the grievances of Central Italy and Sardinia (despatch to Sir J. Hudson of 18 Jan. 1859). On 13 Feb. Lord Cowley was sent on a mission to Vienna with the object of securing (1) the evacuation of the Roman states by Austria and France; (2) reforms in the administration of the same states; (3) a security for better relations between Austria and Sardinia; (4) the abrogation or modification of the Austro-Italian treaties of 1849. The Russian government promptly adopted these bases of negotiation in its proposal that a congress should be convoked for the settlement of the questions at issue, a proposal accepted by the powers. ‘A congress once assembled,’ said Malmesbury to Azeglio, ‘I become, what I have always been, a friend of Italy.’ Napoleon, however, as Malmesbury knew, was only playing with the Russian proposal in order to gain time for his military preparations, and with considerable skill foiled Malmesbury's attempts to bring about a disarmament. The foreign secretary's suggestion that Sardinia should disarm in return for a guarantee by England and France against her invasion by Austria was rejected by the emperor without ceremony, and when the British government proposed a simultaneous disarmament the emperor accepted the proposal for his own part, but declined to make any representations to Sardinia. On 19 April Austria brought matters to a crisis by sending an ultimatum to Turin, and the war began. Malmesbury did his best to localise it by strongly urging the states of Germany to remain tranquil, but gained no credit at the Tuileries by the despatch, as it was suppressed by the French foreign minister, Count Walewski (Memoirs, ii. 176). His policy as formulated on 4 May to her majesty's ministers abroad was one of strict neutrality, combined with a readiness to exercise good offices in the cause of peace.

The government was beaten on the address on 10 June 1859. Malmesbury maintained that the defeat would have been avoided if Disraeli had laid the Italian blue-book on the table. His statements on the point are, however, to be received with caution. Cobden cannot, as he says, have been one of the dozen or more members who subsequently expressed their regret at having voted against him, as Cobden had not returned from America (Morley, Cobden, ii. 226). And though Malmesbury asserts in his ‘Memoirs’ that the reason of Disraeli's conduct was that he had not read the book (p. 192), the real reason seems to have been that it was not printed, and that, as they were certain to be defeated sooner or later, Malmesbury's colleagues did not care to wait for it (Kebbel, Derby, in the ‘Statesman Series,’ p. 210). When the blue-book did appear Count Vitzthum thought that Malmesbury was not quite equal to his task (St. Petersburg and London, chap. xvi.); but it contained evidence of able and straightforward, if somewhat fidgetty, diplomacy. On his retirement from office Malmesbury was created G.C.B.

In May 1860 Malmesbury made an offer to Lord Palmerston in the names of Lord Derby and Disraeli of support against his own colleagues, Lord John Russell and Mr. Gladstone, if they resigned on the postponement of the Reform Bill, and in 1861, during a visit to Paris, attempted to remove the emperor's prejudices against the conservative party. In 1863 he made a creditable effort to induce the French government to surrender the statues of Henry II, Richard I, and their queens, which are in the vaults of the abbey of Fontevrault, but without success, though the attempt was renewed in 1866. In the absence of Lord Derby, Malmesbury moved, on 8 July 1864, the vote of censure on Lord Palmerston's government for its management of the Danish question, and carried it by a majority of nine; but the opposition was defeated by eighteen in the lower house, and the liberals remained in power until 1866. On the formation of Lord Derby's third ministry, in June of that year, Malmesbury declined the foreign office in consequence of ill-health, and accepted the post of lord privy seal. During the Reform Bill agitation he made a speech at Christchurch in denial of Mr. Bright's statement that the House of Lords was hostile to reform, and in the following session attempted to dissuade Lord Derby from introducing the ‘Six Minutes’ Bill. He conducted the Reform Bill through the House of Lords, where an amendment was carried against him by Lord Cairns raising the lodger franchise from 10l. to 15l. In February 1868, on the resignation of Lord Derby, he became leader of the House of Lords, and proved successful, in spite of his somewhat slipshod oratory; but in December he retired in favour of Lord Cairns. On 27 April and 8 July 1869 he made important speeches on the Life Peerages Bill, and succeeded in getting it rejected by 106 votes to 77. He was again lord privy seal in 1874, under Disraeli, but resigned in 1876 owing to increasing deafness. One of his last appearances was in 1881, when he supported the proposal to place a statue of Lord Beaconsfield in Westminster Abbey.

Besides his grandfather's journal mentioned above, Malmesbury published in 1870 a selection entitled ‘A Series of Letters of the First Earl of Malmesbury, his Family, and Friends, from 1745 to 1820.’ In 1884 his own ‘Memoirs of an Ex-Minister’ appeared in two volumes, and promptly went into a fourth edition. They comprise a preface dealing with events between 1807 and 1834, and ‘a macédoine of memoranda, diary, and correspondence,’ concluding with an account of an interview with Napolean III at Chislehurst on 21 March 1871. His principal object was to sketch ‘the three administrations of the late Earl of Derby, whose colleague I was, and also some incidents respecting one of the most remarkable men of this century, namely, the Emperor Louis Napoleon.’ The book also gives us a good idea of Disraeli's earlier career as a conservative leader, and incidentally depicts Malmesbury himself as a man of considerable abilities and statecraft, of much urbanity and amiability in private life, and a devoted sportsman. The non-political portion of the book contains accounts of visits to the continent, court and society gossip, and well-told, if sometimes racy, anecdotes (see letters to the ‘Times’ by Lord Granville of 7 Oct., Sir A. Borthwick 14 Oct., Earl Grey 22 Oct., Lord Malmesbury, embodying a correction from Mr. Gladstone, 3 Dec.)

Malmesbury married, first, on 13 April 1830, Lady Emma Bennet, only daughter of the fifth Earl of Tankerville; she died 17 May 1876. Her portrait, painted by Edwin Landseer in 1833, which was received by Malmesbury from Landseer's executors in 1877, now hangs at Heron's Court, Hampshire; secondly, in 1880, Susan, the daughter of John Hamilton of Fyne Court House, Somersetshire, but leaving no issue was succeeded on his death, on 17 May 1889, by his nephew, Colonel Edward James Harris, son of his second brother, Edward (see below).

Harris, Sir Edward Alfred John (1808–1888), admiral, second brother of the above, was born 20 May 1808, and educated with his brother till 1822, when he went to the Royal Naval College, Portsmouth, and next year entered the royal navy as midshipman on board the Isis; he became lieutenant in February 1828, and rose through the various ranks till he was appointed admiral on the reserved list in 1877. From 1844 to 1852 he represented Christchurch in parliament; in 1852 he was appointed consul-general in Denmark, but was in the same year transferred to Lima as chargé d'affaires and consul-general; the latter post he exchanged for a similar one in Chili in January 1853. In 1858 he was appointed consul-general for the Austrian coasts of the Adriatic, and afterwards minister at Berne; in 1867 he was transferred to the Hague. He was made a K.C.B. in 1872, and retired on a pension in November 1877. He died 17 July 1888; having married (4 Aug. 1841) Emma Wyly, daughter of Captain Samuel Chambers, R.N., he left, with other issue, Edward James, now fourth earl of Malmesbury (Times, 18 July 1888, p. 7).

[Lord Malmesbury's Memoirs of an Ex-Minister, 3rd ed.; Times, 18 May 1889. For reviews of the Memoirs see the Satruday Review, vol. 58; Macmillan's Magazine, vol. 51; The Edinburgh Review, vol. 160; The Westminster Review, vol. 123.]

L. C. S.