Ward, Robert Plumer (DNB00)
WARD, ROBERT PLUMER (1765–1846), novelist and politician, born in Mount Street, Mayfair, on 19 March 1765, was son of John Ward by his wife Rebecca Raphael. His father was a merchant living in Gibraltar, and for many years was chief clerk to the civil department of the ordnance in the garrison. Robert was educated first at Mr. Macfarlane's private school at Walthamstow, and afterwards at Westminster school, whence he entered Christ Church, Oxford, matriculating on 12 Feb. 1783. In 1785 he became a student of the Inner Temple. He now passed a considerable portion of time abroad, and travelled in France during the early part of the revolutionary period. He was called to the bar by the Society of the Inner Temple on 17 June 1790, and soon after went the western circuit. In 1794 he fortunately came under the notice of Pitt and the solicitor-general, afterwards Lord Eldon, through his accidental discovery of the elements of a Jacobinical plot. Probably at the suggestion of the solicitor-general, in 1794 he determined to write on international law, and published in 1795 ‘An Inquiry into the Foundation and History of the Law of Nations in Europe from the Time of the Greeks and Romans to the Age of Grotius.’ This work, though rather of abstract interest than practical utility, was well reviewed, and served the reputation of its author.
By his marriage, on 2 April 1796, with Catherine Julia, the fourth daughter of Christopher Thompson Maling of Durham, Ward became intimately acquainted with Henry Phipps, first earl of Mulgrave [q. v.], who had but a short time before married the eldest daughter. He now changed from the western to the northern circuit, in order to benefit by the influence of his new relations. Though at this time he had a small common-law practice in London and before the privy council, his natural inclination was towards politics. In 1800, when the question of maritime neutrals was exciting public opinion, he undertook, at Lord Grenville's request, to represent the rights of belligerents from the English point of view. This work was published in March 1801, and Lord Grenville wrote to Ward on 2 April 1801 expressing his gratification at the result. A reward in the shape of a judgeship in Nova Scotia was about this time nearly accepted by Ward; but in June 1802 he received from Pitt an offer of a seat in the House of Commons for the borough of Cockermouth, which he accepted without hesitation. The minister, in recommending him to Viscount Lowther for the seat, declared he possessed such promising talents that he could hardly fail to distinguish himself (Hist. MSS. Comm. 13th Rep. App. vii. 152). Ward was returned on 8 July 1802, but did not speak in the house till 13 Dec., when, somewhat to the annoyance of his friends, he supported Addington. He, however, effectively displayed his loyalty to Pitt by publishing towards the end of 1803 a pamphlet entitled ‘A View of the relative Situations of Mr. Pitt and Mr. Addington previous to and on the night of Mr. Patten's Motion,’ in answer to a somewhat damaging account of Pitt's negotiations already in print. For this effort Pitt wrote him a letter of thanks, dated 31 Jan. 1804. Ward next proved himself of service to Pitt's new administration by defending the seizure of the Spanish treasure-ship (6 Oct. 1804) in a treatise entitled ‘An Enquiry into the Manner in which the different Wars of Europe have commenced during the last two Centuries,’ which was read and approved by Pitt before publication.
When Lord Mulgrave succeeded Lord Harrowby at the foreign office at the beginning of 1805, Ward was offered and accepted the post of under-secretary. He resigned a sinecure post he held as Welsh judge on entering the office, which he only held until Fox's advent to power. On the formation of the Duke of Portland's ministry, however, and the appointment of Lord Mulgrave as first lord of the admiralty, Ward was given a seat on the admiralty board. In 1809 he commenced his political diary, portions of which are published in the memoir by Phipps, and are of historical value, as Ward was on intimate terms with Perceval. Although he had an offer of a treasury lordship, Ward remained at the admiralty till June 1811, when he was appointed clerk of the ordnance. He served in this office under Lord Mulgrave, who was head of the department, till 1823. He made a lengthy report on the state of the ordnance department in Ireland, which was published on 9 Nov. 1816. The following year he made a survey of the eastern and southern coast of England for the same purpose, and in 1819 was similarly engaged in the north of England. From 1807 he sat in parliament for Haslemere in Surrey, but retired after the session of 1823, and was then appointed auditor of the civil list, a post created by Perceval.
His varied experiences in politics and society encouraged him to employ his leisure in the writing of a modern novel. ‘Tremaine; or the Man of Refinement,’ his first composition, occupied him two years, and was published anonymously in 1825. The book made a considerable sensation in the fashionable world, owing to the evident acquaintance of its unknown author with the scenes he described. It rapidly went through several editions. Though a somewhat dull novel, owing to weakness of plot and lack of incident, yet the language is often clever and epigrammatic, and the close analysis of character and the serious purpose exhibited in its philosophic and religious discussions made the work a new type. Ward's second novel, ‘De Vere; or the Man of Independence,’ on similar lines, was published in 1827, with a dedication to Lord Mulgrave. ‘De Vere’ was a study of a man of ambition, and the main character was supposed by many to be intended to represent Canning, then about to become prime minister. An article in the ‘Literary Gazette,’ entitled ‘Mr. Canning from “De Vere,”’ drew, however, from Ward a disavowal of the suggestion in a letter to Canning. From a confidential letter of the novelist's, written about the time of publication (Patmore, My Friends and Acquaintances, ii. 43), he appears to have sketched his hero bearing in mind Pitt, Canning, and Bolingbroke; other characters in the book were, however, he confesses, drawn from life; the president was a skilful portrait of his old friend Dr. Cyril Jackson, dean of Christ Church, Lady Clanellan of the Duchess of Buckingham, and Lord Mowbray of the Duke of Newcastle. Generally the book was favourably received, and the opinion expressed in the ‘Quarterly Review’ (xxxvi. 269) was that deficiency of imaginative power alone prevented the author from taking his place among the classics of romance. Ward was, however, and indeed affected to be (Patmore, Friends and Acquaintances, ii. 111), rather an essayist than a novelist both in style and matter. There was some reason for Canning's witticism that his law books were as pleasant as novels, and his novels as dull as law books.
On 16 July 1828 Ward married, secondly, Mrs. Plumer Lewin of Gilston Park, Hertfordshire, and on this occasion took the surname of Plumer in addition to Ward. He now took up his residence at Gilston, and acted as sheriff of the county in 1830. His office as auditor of the civil list was incorporated into the treasury in January 1831. His second wife died in 1831, and after marrying, thirdly, in 1833, Mary Anne, widow of Charles Gregory Okeover and daughter of Lieutenant-general Sir George Anson, a lady of fortune, he spent a considerable portion of his time abroad. He, however, still continued to write, and after the publication of a number of minor works, published his novel, ‘De Clifford; or, the Constant Man,’ in 1841, at the advanced age of seventy-six.
Early in 1846 he moved with his wife to the official residence of her father, Sir George Anson, the governor of Chelsea Hospital, and there died on 13 Aug. the same year. There is a portrait of Ward by Henry P. Briggs, R.A., an engraving of which by Turner is prefixed to the ‘Memoirs.’ Ward, by his first wife, left one son, Sir Henry George Ward [q. v.]
Besides the above-mentioned works, Ward wrote:
- ‘A Treatise of the relative Rights and Duties of Belligerents and Neutral Powers in Maritime Affairs, in which the Principles of the armed Neutralities and the Opinions of Hübner and Schlegel are fully discussed,’ London, 1801, 8vo.
- ‘An Essay on Contraband; being a Continuation of the Treatise of the relative Rights and Duties,’ &c. 1801, 8vo.
- ‘Illustrations of Human Life,’ 1837; 2nd edit. 1843. ‘Saint Lawrence’ in this work is an elaboration of a true story (see Hunter's Alienation and Recovery of the Offley Estates, p. 3).
- ‘An Historical Essay on the real Character and Amount of the Precedent of the Revolution of 1688,’ 1838, 2 vols. 12mo. On this work being badly reviewed in the ‘Edinburgh Review’ and styled a tory pamphlet in the disguise of history, Ward answered the reviewer in an anonymous pamphlet entitled ‘The Reviewer Reviewed.’
- ‘Pictures of the World at Home and Abroad,’ 1839, 3 vols. 8vo. Selections from his unpublished works are contained in vol. ii. of Phipps's ‘Memoir;’ these are short essays on different subjects under the title of ‘The Day Dreamer.’
The published portion of Ward's ‘Diary’ extends from 1809 to 22 Nov. 1820; the remaining portion was not published owing to the editor regarding it (in 1850) as comprehending a period too recent. Many of his letters to Peter George Patmore [q. v.], who acted for him as a critical adviser in literary matters, are contained in Patmore's ‘Friends and Acquaintances’ (ii. 8–202). Ward edited ‘Chatsworth, or the Romance of a Week,’ a number of tales by Patmore.
[Gent. Mag. 1846, ii. 650; Times and Morning Post, 18 Aug. 1846; Hansard's Parl. Debates, and Phipps's Memoir of the Political and Literary Life of R. P. Ward.]