The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume XIV. The Victorian Age, Part Two.

II. Historians, Biographers and Political Orators

§ 62. The Greville Memoirs

Among the numerous memoir-writers proper of the century, there can be no doubt that, notwithstanding the habit of self-depreciation, at times truly pathetic, to which his fastidious and complicated nature was secretly prone, Charles Cavendish Fulke Greville bears away the palm. The three series of The Greville Memoirs (1874–87), which comment on the course of English politics and society from the accession of George IV to the year 1860, in some measure differ from one another; in the earlier volumes, the writer adheres to the principle of leaving time to soften, and even to arrest, his judgments; in the second, and, no doubt, in the third, series occasional suppression was, in consequence of the relative nearness of events, found necessary by the editor, Henry Reeve; while, on the other hand, the years brought with them a gentler tone, together with an occasional weariness of the great world. For the rest, Charles Greville was always ready to play the part of mediator as well as that of confidant; and his essential qualities as a memoir-writer remained to him throughout. He was gifted with an insight into character hardly surpassed by any of the great predecessors whom he could never quite keep out of view. His style, though, as it were, instinctively polished, was free from all desire for epigrammatic effect; he never says either too much or too little. Neither personal goodwill nor personal dislike hindered him from perceiving the failings of Wellington or ignoring the merits of Peel; and the vagaries of Brougham diverted him too much to allow of his even here lapsing into caricature. The set characters which, on the occasion of their deaths, he drew of the former two, and of personages so diverse as Melbourne, Althorp and Harrowby, Talleyrand and Macaulay, lord George Bentinck and Charles Butler, lady Harrowby and Mme. de Lieven, Luttrell, Alvanley and D’Orsay, are all, more or less, masterly, and this list is by no means exhaustive. When he occasionally tried his hand at a political pamphlet or letter, neither his force nor his self-restraint deserted him, and his anonymous book The Policy of England to Ireland (1845), in which he advocated a policy of concurrent religious endowments in Ireland, was a rare instance of political foresight as well as of historical judgment.