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RICHARD MONCKTON MILNES.
! (1809–1885.) Richard Monckton Milnes—called by his familiars “Dicky Milnes,” and known in his later life as Lord Houghton, was a man well worth knowing when he lived, and whose biography by T. Wemyss Reid is one of the most delightful of books. Poet, politician, and man of the world, he knew everybody and everybody knew him. He was at home in every capital of Europe and America and in a long lifetime he made many friends and not a single enemy. He possessed the friendship of Carlyle, Thackeray, Tennyson, Gladstone, Browning, Macaulay, Sydney Smith, Walter Savage Landor, Frederick Maurice, Fanny Kemble, and a hundred others of like eminence. He had the sunniest of natures and even Carlyle, who really liked him, could find nothing unpleasant to say about him. He was born in 1809 in Yorkshire, where his father had large estates, and was educated at Cambridge. At the university he had for friends and classmates, Tennyson, Bulwer, Thackeray, Spedding, Trench, Brookfield, Edward FitzGerald and others, and all these were his lifelong friends. He inherited great wealth and was for many years a member of parliament. Later he was raised to the peerage as Lord Houghton. He died in 1885 at the age of seventy-six. Walter Savage Landor thought Milnes was the greatest poet then living in England, but this was before Tennyson and Browning had made their way. Great poet he was not, but he was a charming lyrist, whose verses had considerable vogue, and some of them are still remembered. His first book was “Memorials of a Tour in Greece,” printed in 1834, and this was followed by “Memorials and Historical Poems,” and “Poems of Many Years,” in 1838, and “Poetry for the People” in 1840. Two of his most famous poems are “The Brookside" and “Strangers Yet,” both of which have been set to music and long been favorites. The latter has always been and always will be greatly admired.
After passions fierce and tender,
Strangers yet !
He wrote the following on the death of Thack
O gentle Censor of our age,
In 1836, after extensive travels in France, Germany, Italy, and Greece, he returned to London where he made his entrée to society, and as heir to a great estate, and as a poet, he was received with open arms. He topk apartments and gave breakfasts, and he had the faculty of bringing together all kinds of people, who if they were not congenial elsewhere certainly were for the time being when with him. He was a singularly complacent and self-sufficient man, never flustered at anything, so that Sydney Smith gave him the sobriquet of “The cool of the evening.” Few celebrities ever visited London without being entertained by Mr. Milnes. Carlyle was once storming away in his usual style about the decadence of humanity and the loss of reverence for great men, and said that if Jesus Christ were to return to earth and come to London nobody would pay him the least attention. Then considering a moment, he added: “Yes, I think Dicky Milnes would ask him to breakfast.”
At the entertainments he gave he broke up as far as possible the habit of monologue, and made the conversation general. He brought people together of widely different tastes and made them agreeable. Once he was complaining to Carlyle that Peel had not offered him a post in his cabinet, to which Carlyle replied: “No, no, Peel knows what he is about ; there is only one post fit for you, and that is the office of the perpetual president of the Heaven and Hell Amalgamation society.”
In a letter to his wife Carlyle describes Milnes' methods of drawing out his guests:
He pricks into you with questions, with remarks, with all kinds of fly tackle, to make you bite—does generally contrive to get you into some sort of speech. And then his good humor is extreme ; you look into his face and forgive him all his tricks.
W. E. Forster draws a similar picture of him:
Monckton Milnes came yesterday and left this morning—a pleasant, companionable little man, well fed and fattening, with some small remnant of poetry in his eyes and nowhere else; delighting in paradoxes, but good-humored ones; defending all manner of people and principles, in order to provoke Carlyle to abuse them, in which laudable enterprise he must have succeeded to his heart's content, and for a time we had a most amusing evening, reminding me of a naughty boy rubbing a cat's tail backward and getting in between furious growls and fiery sparks. He managed to avoid the threatened scratches.
I must quote another Carlyle anecdote which is given in the “Life of Lord Tennyson.” It was Milnes who persuaded Sir Robert Peel to bestow a pension on Tennyson by inducing the prime minister to read “Ulysses,” but it was Carlyle who suggested it:
“Richard Milnes,” said Carlyle one day, withdrawing his pipe from his mouth, as they were seated together in the
little house in Cheyne Row, “when are you going to get that pension for Alfred Tennyson 2"