The Times/1906/Obituary/Sir Mountstuart Grant Duff

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Death of Sir Mountstuart Grant Duff  (1906) 

Mountstuart Elphinstone Grant Duff (1829-1906)
The Times, Saturday, Jan 13, 1906; Issue 37916; pg. 17; col A — Death Of Sir Mountstuart Grant Duff.


We regret to announce that Sir Mountstuart Elphinstone Grant Duff died yesterday in London. He had been lying ill for some time.

By the lamented death of Sir Mountstuart Grant Duff a notable figure disappears from London political and literary society. Both in the political and in the literary world he has long been well known and universally respected, though he never attained in either of them a position of the first rank. Born in February 1829, he was the son of James Cuninghame Grant Duff, of Eden, Aberdeenshire, a distinguished Bombay Civilian, whose name is still remembered in India and by India scholars all over the world as the author of "The History of the Mahrattas." With India he was connected also on the maternal side, for his mother was a daughter of Sir Whitelaw Ainslie, author of the "Materia Indica." From the Edinburgh Academy and the Grange School he went to Balliol College, Oxford, where he took a second class in Literæ Humaniores in 1850. In 1854 he was called to the Bar (Inner Temple) after gaining a studentship offered for competition by the united Inns of Court, but he never thought seriously of practising as a barrister. His tastes lay rather in the direction of politics, and in 1857 he gained a safe seat in the House of Commons as Liberal member for the Elgin Burghs. This seat he retained uninterruptedly for 24 years. During that long period he not only fulfilled conscientiously his ordinary duties to his constituents, but he attended to their political education and sought to instil them a knowledge of foreign politics by annual addresses, which were collected and published as a volume in 1871. Though addressed directly to his constituency, these speeches were intended for larger public, and they may still be read with interest and profit as a clear and comprehensive statement of the well-informed opinion of the time regarding the most important political problems.

With the object of getting a closer and firmer grasp of these problems than can be obtained by the mere reader of newspapers and Blue-books, Mr. Grant Duff, as he was then, frequently went abroad and got into touch with the leading statesmen and diplomatists on the Continent, and no one ever took better advantage of his opportunities, for he was not only a keen observer and most attentive listener, but also an indefatigable note-maker, and was always careful to verify the information collected. In this way he established a considerable reputation as an authority on foreign politics, and he was always listened to with respect; but his parliamentary career cannot be said to have been a brilliant success. Nature had not provided him with certain things which are required for the rough-and-tumble life of party politics. Handicapped by a far from robust constitution, by weak eyesight, and by a thin, high-pitched voice, he was incapable of becoming a powerful orator at public meetings; and even in the House of Commons his keen intelligence, many-sided knowledge, wonderful memory, and strong, healthy common sense failed to obtain the recognition which they deserved. His mind was too philosophical and too subtle to suit the taste of the ordinary British legislator. Certainly he had in him some of the stuff of which practical politicians are made. His philosophical turn of mind did not make him a dreamer; his habit of considering questions from various points of view did not prevent him from forming strong opinions; and the subtleness of his intelligence did not paralyse his force of will. All this, however, did not suffice to open for him the door of the Cabinet, and, not withstanding his intimate personal relations with all the leading members of the undivided Liberal party, he never rose to higher official rank than that of Under-Secretary of State for India (1868-74) and for the Colonies (1880-81). Gradually the House of Commons which no longer deserved be call "the best club in London," lost for him its original charms, and he began to think that he might employ his energies elsewhere. In 1881 the Governorship of Madras was offered to him; and, after consulting confidentially a few of his intimate friends, he determined to accept the appointment.

An Indian governor, especially when his lot is cast in what is jocularly called "the benighted Presidency," has rarely an opportunity of making his mark, and during Sir Mountstuart's tenure of office no great question came up for his decision. All that can be said, therefore, of his administration is that he was most assiduous and conscientious in the fulfilment of his official and social duties, and that he made no serious mistakes. Towards the end of his tenure of office he received as a recognition of his services the Grand Cross of the Star of India.

After his return to England, Sir Mountstuart eschewed active political life, though he made no secret of his opposition to Mr. Gladstone's home Rule policy, and occupied himself with literary and scientific pursuits. He was President of the Royal Geographical Society from 1889 to 1893, and of the Royal Historical Society from 1892 to 1899. At the same time he wrote, beside, numerous magazine articles of high quality, "Studies in European Politics" (1886), a Memoir of his old friend Sir Henry Maine (1892), of Ernest Renan (1893), and of Lord de Tabley (1895); and he published at short intervals a series of numerous volumes entitled "Notes from a Diary" (18097-1905), which give a faithful picture of his life and habits down to the close of Queen Victoria's reign. One of the traits of character prominently brought out by the diary and well known to his friends was his love of making interesting acquaintances in all branches of culture and of collecting interesting things such as historical anecdotes, pithy sayings and literary curiosities. The list of his acquaintances included almost every one worth knowing among his contemporaries, and many of them were to be met at his charming week-end parties in the country houses which he successively occupied — Hampden, Knobworth, York House, (Twickenham), and Lexden-park, near Colchester. At these little gatherings in his own house, as well as at Grillon's, at The Club, at the Breakfast Club, which he himself founded, and at the dinner tables of his numerous friends, he was always on the look-out for something piquant to be noted; and when he heard anything worthy of being preserved he was at infinite pains to verify it. No misdemeanour seemed graver in his eyes than intentional falsification or embellishment on such occasions. If he ever allowed the sun to go down upon his wrath it was when he found that misdemeanours of this king had been committed. In The Club, a dining society founded by Sir Joshua Reynolds, with whom were associated Samuel Johnson, Edmund Burke, Oliver Goldsmith, and other noted men of the time, he took a special interest, and he did much to prolong its existence. Only a few weeks ago — December, 1905 — he printed for private circulation a short history of the venerable institution, in which he describes himself as "its only permanent official and the guardian of its records."

Considering how little he could read with his own eyes, in consequence of weak sight complicated by astigmatism, his acquaintance with literature was marvellously wide and accurate. Among the physical sciences botany was his favourite study.

In the great issues recently raised by Mr. Chamberlain he did not take any active part, but he was a keen observer of the struggle, and there is no doubt on which side his convictions and sympathies lay. To the end of his life he remained a staunch and thoroughgoing Cobdenite , and he had a great difficulty in imagining how any one endowed with an average share of intelligence and a rudimentary knowledge of political economy could call in question the principles of Free Trade: but, in the discussions into which he sometimes allowed himself to be drawn, he always showed the kindly consideration and exquisite courtesy which were among his most prominent characteristics. By surviving friends he will be remembered as one fo the most sympathetic and intellectually cultivated men of his generation.

Sir Mountstuart Grant Duff married in 1859 Anna Julia, only daughter of North-lodge, Ealing, by his wife Hannah, daughter of Mr, Richard Ainsworth, of Smithills-hall, Bolton-le-Moors. Two of his sons are in the Diplomatic Service.

This work was published before January 1, 1926, and is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.