Edward Bulwer-Lytton: Wikis


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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The Right Honourable
 The Lord Lytton 

In office
5 June 1858 – 11 June 1859
Monarch Victoria
Prime Minister The Earl of Derby
Preceded by Lord Stanley
Succeeded by The Duke of Newcastle

Born 25 May 1803 (1803-05-25)
Died 18 January 1873 (1873-01-19)
Nationality British
Political party Whig
Spouse(s) Rosina Doyle Wheeler
Alma mater Trinity College, Cambridge
Trinity Hall, Cambridge

Edward George Earle Lytton Bulwer-Lytton, 1st Baron Lytton PC (25 May 1803 – 18 January 1873), was an English politician, poet, playwright, and prolific novelist. He was immensely popular with the reading public and wrote a stream of bestselling novels which earned him a considerable fortune. But, like many authors of the period, his style now seems florid and embellished[citation needed] to modern tastes. He coined the phrases, "the great unwashed", "pursuit of the almighty dollar", "the pen is mightier than the sword", and the famous opening line, "It was a dark and stormy night."



Bulwer-Lytton was born on 25 May 1803 to General William Earle Bulwer of Heydon Hall and Wood Dalling, Norfolk and Elizabeth Barbara Lytton, daughter of Richard Warburton Lytton of Knebworth, Hertfordshire. He had two elder brothers, William Earle Lytton Bulwer (1799–1877) and Henry (1801–1872), later Lord Dalling and Bulwer.

On 20 February 1844, in accordance with his mother's will, he changed his surname from 'Bulwer' to 'Bulwer-Lytton' and assumed the arms of Lytton by royal licence. His widowed mother had done the same in 1811. But, his brothers remained plain 'Bulwer'.

When Edward was four his father died and his mother moved to London. He was a delicate, neurotic child and was discontented at a number of boarding schools. But he was precocious and Mr Wallington at Baling encouraged him to publish, at the age of fifteen, an immature work, Ishmael and Other Poems.[citation needed]

In 1822 he entered Trinity College, Cambridge, but shortly afterwards moved to Trinity Hall. In 1825 he won the Chancellor's Gold Medal for English verse.[1] In the following year he took his B.A. degree and printed, for private circulation, a small volume of poems, Weeds and Wild Flowers.

He purchased a commission in the army, but sold it without serving.

In August 1827, against his mother's wishes, he married Rosina Doyle Wheeler (1802–1882), a famous Irish beauty. When they married his mother withdrew his allowance and he was forced to work for a living.[2] They had two children, Lady Emily Elizabeth Bulwer-Lytton (1828–1848), and (Edward) Robert Lytton Bulwer-Lytton, 1st Earl of Lytton (1831–1891) who became Viceroy of British India (1876-1880).

His writing and political work strained their marriage while his unfaithfulness embittered Rosina;[3] in 1833 they separated acrimoniously and in 1836 the separation became legal.[3] Three years later, Rosina published Cheveley, or the Man of Honour (1839), a near-libellous fiction bitterly satirising her husband's hypocrisy.[3]

In June 1858, when her husband was standing as parliamentary candidate for Hertfordshire, she indignantly denounced him at the hustings. He retaliated by threatening her publishers, withholding her allowance, and denying access to the children.[3] Finally he had her committed to a mental asylum.[3] But, after a public outcry she was released a few weeks later.[3] This incident was chronicled in her memoir, A Blighted Life (1880).[4][5] For years she continued her attacks upon her husband’s character.

Bulwer-Lytton in later life

The death of Bulwer-Lytton's mother in 1843, greatly saddened him. His own "exhauston of toil and study had been completed by great anxiety and grief", and by "about the January of 1844, I was thoroughly shattered".[6][7] In his mother's room, Bulwer-Lytton "had inscribed above the mantelpiece a request that future generations preserve the room as his beloved mother had used it"; it remains essentially unchanged to this day.[8]

By chance he encountered a copy of "Captain Claridge's work on the 'Water Cure,' as practised by Priessnitz, at Graefenberg", and "making allowances for certain exaggerations therein", pondered the option of travelling to Graefenberg, but preferred to find something closer to home, with access to his own doctors in case of failure: "I who scarcely lived through a day without leech or potion!".[6][7]

After reading a pamphlet by Doctor James Wilson, who operated a hydropathic establishment with James Manby Gully at Malvern", he stayed there for "some nine or ten weeks", after which he "continued the system some seven weeks longer under Doctor Weiss, at Petersham", then again at "Doctor Schmidt's magnificent hydropathic establishment at Boppart", after developing a cold and fever upon his return home.[6][7]

In 1866 Bulwer-Lytton was raised to the peerage as Baron Lytton.

The English Rosicrucian society, founded in 1867 by Robert Wentworth Little, claimed Bulwer-Lytton as their 'Grand Patron', but he wrote to the society complaining that he was 'extremely surprised' by their use of the title, as he had 'never sanctioned such'.[9] Nevertheless, a number of esoteric groups have continued to claim Bulwer-Lytton as their own, chiefly because some of his writings—such as the 1842 book Zanoni—have included Rosicrucian and other esoteric notions. According to the Fulham Football Club, he once resided in the original Craven Cottage, today the site of their stadium.

Bulwer-Lytton had long suffered with a disease of the ear and for the last two or three years of his life he lived in Torquay nursing his health.[10] Following an operation to cure deafness, an abscess formed in his ear and burst; he endured intense pain for a week and died at 2am on 18 January 1873 just short of his 70th birthday.[10] The cause of death was not clear but it was thought that the infection had affected his brain and caused a fit.[10] Rosina outlived him by nine years. Against his wishes, Bulwer-Lytton was honoured with a burial in Westminster Abbey.[11]

His unfinished history, Athens: Its Rise and Fall, was published posthumously.


Bulwer-Lytton began his career as a follower of Jeremy Bentham. In 1831 he was elected member for St Ives in Cornwall, after which he was returned for Lincoln in 1832, and sat in Parliament for that city for nine years. He spoke in favour of the Reform Bill, and took the leading part in securing the reduction, after vainly essaying the repeal, of the newspaper stamp duties. His influence was perhaps most keenly felt when, on the Whigs’ dismissal from office in 1834, he issued a pamphlet entitled A Letter to a Late Cabinet Minister on the Crisis.[12] Lord Melbourne, then Prime Minister, offered him a lordship of the admiralty, which he declined as likely to interfere with his activity as an author.

In 1841, he left Parliament and didn't return to politics until 1852; this time, having differed from the policy of Lord John Russell over the Corn Laws, he stood for Hertfordshire as a Conservative. Lord Lytton held that seat until 1866, when he was raised to the peerage as Baron Lytton of Knebworth in the County of Hertford. In 1858 he entered Lord Derby's government as Secretary of State for the Colonies, thus serving alongside his old friend Disraeli. In the House of Lords he was comparatively inactive. He took a proprietary interest in the development of the Crown Colony of British Columbia and wrote with great passion to the Royal Engineers upon assigning them their duties there. The former HBC Fort Dallas at Camchin, the confluence of the Thompson and Fraser Rivers, was renamed in his honour by Governor Sir James Douglas in 1858 as Lytton, British Columbia.[13]

Literary works

Bulwer-Lytton's literary career began in 1820 - with the publication of a book of poems - and spanned the rest of the nineteenth century. He wrote in a variety of genres, including historical fiction, mystery, romance, the occult, and science fiction. He financed his extravagant life with a varied and prolific literary output, sometimes publishing anonymously.[3]

1849 printing of Pelham with Hablot K. Browne (Phiz) frontispiece: Pelham's electioneering visit to the Revd. Combermere St Quintin, who is surprised at dinner with his family.

In 1828 Pelham brought him public acclaim and established his reputation as a wit and dandy.[3] Its intricate plot and humorous, intimate portrayal of pre-Victorian dandyism kept gossips busy trying to associate public figures with characters in the book. Pelham resembled Benjamin Disraeli's recent first novel Vivian Grey (1827).[3]

Bulwer-Lytton admired Benjamin’s father, Isaac D’Israeli, himself a noted author. They began corresponding in the late 1820s and met for the first time in March 1830, when Isaac D'Israeli dined at Bulwer-Lytton’s house (also present that evening were Charles Pelham Villiers and Alexander Cockburn. The young Villiers was to have a long parliamentary career, while Cockburn became Lord Chief Justice of England in 1859).

Bulwer-Lytton reached the height of his popularity with the publication of Godolphin (1833). This was followed by The Pilgrims of the Rhine (1834), The Last Days of Pompeii (1834), Rienzi, Last of the Roman Tribunes (1835),[3] and Harold, the Last of the Saxons (1848).[3] The Last Days of Pompeii was inspired by Karl Briullov's painting, The Last Day of Pompeii, which Bulwer-Lytton saw in Milan.

He also wrote The Haunted and the Haunters or The House and the Brain (1857), which is included in Isaac Asimov's anthology, Tales of the Occult.[14] It also appears in the The Wordsworth Book of Horror Stories.[15]

Bulwer-Lyton penned many other works, including The Coming Race or Vril: The Power of the Coming Race (1871), which drew heavily on his interest in the occult and contributed to the birth of the science fiction genre. Its story of a subterranean race waiting to reclaim the surface of the Earth is an early science fiction theme. The book popularised the Hollow Earth theory[citation needed] and may have inspired Nazi mysticism.[citation needed]

His play, Money (1840), was produced at Prince of Wales's Theatre in 1872.




Bulwer-Lytton's most famous quotation, "the pen is mightier than the sword", is from his play Richelieu where it appears in the line,

beneath the rule of men entirely great, the pen is mightier than the sword

In addition, he gave the world the memorable phrase “pursuit of the almighty dollar” from his novel, The Coming Race.

He is also credited with "the great unwashed". He used this rather disparaging term in his 1830 novel, Paul Clifford:

He is certainly a man who bathes and ‘lives cleanly’, (two especial charges preferred against him by Messrs. the Great Unwashed).

The Last Days of Pompeii has been cited as the first source, but inspection of the original text shows this to be wrong. However, the term "the Unwashed" with the same meaning, appears in The Parisians: "He says that Paris has grown so dirty since the 4 September, that it is only fit for the feet of the Unwashed." The Parisians, though, was not published until 1872, while William Makepeace Thackeray's novel Pendennis (1850) uses the phrase ironically, implying it was already established. The Oxford English Dictionary refers to "Messrs. the Great Unwashed" in Lytton's Paul Clifford (1830), as the earliest instance.


Bulwer-Lytton's name lives on in the annual Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest, in which contestants think-up terrible openings for imaginary novels, inspired by the first seven words of his novel Paul Clifford:

It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents—except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness.

Entrants in the contest seek to capture the rapid changes in point of view, the florid language, and the atmosphere of the full sentence.[citation needed] The opening was popularized by the Peanuts comic strip, in which Snoopy's sessions on the typewriter usually began with It was a dark and stormy night. The same words also form the first sentence of Madeleine L'Engle’s Newbery Medal–winning novel, A Wrinkle in Time.


Several of Bulwer-Lytton's novels were made into operas, one of which, Rienzi, der Letzte der Tribunen by Richard Wagner, eventually became more famous than the novel. Leonora by William Henry Fry, the first opera composed in the United States of America, is based on Bulwer-Lytton's novel, The Lady of Lyons.


In 1831 Bulwer-Lytton became the editor of the New Monthly but he resigned the following year. In 1841, he started the Monthly Chronicle, a semi-scientific magazine. During his career he wrote poetry, prose, and stage plays; his last novel was Kenelm Chillingly, which was in course of publication in Blackwood’s Magazine at the time of his death in 1873.


Bulwer-Lytton's works of fiction and non-fiction were translated in his day and since then into many languages, including German, Norwegian, Swedish, French, Finnish, and Spanish. In 1878, his Ernest Maltravers was the first complete novel from the West to be translated into Japanese.[citation needed]

Works by Edward Bulwer-Lytton


  • Falkland (1827)[3]
  • Pelham: or The Adventures of a Gentleman (1828)[3]
  • The Disowned (1829)
  • Devereux (1829)
  • Paul Clifford (1830)
  • Eugene Aram (1832)
  • Godolphin (1833)
  • Falkland (1834)
  • The Last Days of Pompeii (1834)
  • Rienzi, the last of the Roman tribunes (1835)[3]
  • The Student (1835)
  • Ernest Maltravers (1837)
  • Alice (1838)
  • Night and Morning (1841)
  • Zanoni (1842)
  • The Last of the Barons (1843)
  • Lucretia (1846)
  • Harold, the Last of the Saxons (1848)[3]
  • The Caxtons: A Family Picture (1849)[3]
  • My Novel, or Varieties in English Life (1853)[3]
  • The Haunted and the Haunters or The House and the Brain (1857)
  • What Will He Do With It? (1858) [3]
  • A Strange Story (1862)
  • The Coming Race or Vril: The Power of the Coming Race (1871)
  • Kennelm Chillingly (1873)
  • The Parisiens (1873 unfinished) [3]


  • Ismael (1820)[3]
  • The New Timon (1846) (An attack on Tennyson published anonymously)[3]
  • King Arthur (1848-9) [3]


  • The Lady of Lyons (1838)
  • Richelieu (1839) adapted for the 1935 film Cardinal Richelieu
  • Money (1840)

See also


  1. ^ Bulwer [post Bulwer-Lytton], Edward George [Earle] Lytton in Venn, J. & J. A., Alumni Cantabrigienses, Cambridge University Press, 10 vols, 1922–1958.
  2. ^ World Wide Words - Unputdownable
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v Drabble, Margaret (2000). The Oxford Companion to English Literature (sixth edition) pp.147. Oxford, New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-1986-6244-0. 
  4. ^ Lady Lytton (1880). A Blighted Life. London: The London Publishing Office. http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/A_Blighted_Life. Retrieved 28 November 2009.  (Online text at wikisource.org)
  5. ^ Devey, Louisa (1887). Life of Rosina, Lady Lytton, with Numerous Extracts from her Ms. Autobiography and Other Original Documents, published in vindication of her memory. London: Swan Sonnenschein, Lowrey & Co. http://www.archive.org/details/liferosinaladyl00devegoog. Retrieved 28 November 2009.  Full text at Internet Archive (archive.org)
  6. ^ a b c Lord Lytton (Published posthumously, 1875). "Confessions of a Water-Patient". in Pamphlets and Sketches (Knebworth ed.). London: George Routledge and Sons. pp. 49-75. http://www.archive.org/stream/pamphletsandsket00lyttuoft#page/48/mode/2up. Retrieved 28 November 2009.  Full text at Internet Archive (archive.org)
  7. ^ a b c Bulwer (April 1863). "Bulwer's Letter on Water-Cure". in R.T. Trall (ed.). The Herald of Health, and The Water-cure journal (see title page of January edition, pp.5). vol.35-36. New York: R.T. Trall & Co. pp. 149-154 (see pp.151). http://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=mdp.39015066610265;q1=captain;start=1;size=100;page=root;view=image;seq=141;num=149. Retrieved 26 November 2009. 
  8. ^ "Mrs. Bulwer-Lytton's Room", Knebworth House Antique Photographs, http://www.knebworthhouse.com/specialtours/antiquephotos/page7.html, retrieved 28 November 2009 
  9. ^ R. A. Gilbert, 'The Supposed Rosy Crucian Society', in Caron et. al. (eds.), Ésotérisme, Gnoses et Imaginaire Symbolique, Leuven: Peeters, 2001, pp. 399.
  10. ^ a b c Mitchell, Leslie George (2003). Bulwer Lytton: the rise and fall of a Victorian man of letters, pp. 232. London, New York: Hambledon Continuum. ISBN 1852854235. 
  11. ^ Westminster Abbey monuments and gravestones
  12. ^ Lord Lytton (Published posthumously, 1875). "The Present Crisis. A Letter to a Late Cabinet Minister". Pamphlets and Sketches (Knebworth ed.). London: George Routledge and Sons. pp. 9-48. http://www.archive.org/stream/pamphletsandsket00lyttuoft#page/viii/mode/2up. Retrieved 28 November 2009.  Full text at Internet Archive (archive.org)
  13. ^ The Canadian Press (17 August 2008). "Toff and prof to duke it out in literary slugfest". CBC News. http://www.cbc.ca/arts/books/story/2008/08/17/writing-bad.html. Retrieved 18 August 2008. 
  14. ^ Asimov (Ed.), Isaac (1989). Tales of the Occult. Prometheus. ISBN 0-87975-531-8. 
  15. ^ The Wordsworth Book of Horror Stories. ISBN 1-84022-056-2. 

Further reading

  • Christensen, Allan Conrad (1976). Edward Bulwer-Lytton: The Fiction of New Regions. Athens, Georgia: The University of Georgia Press. ISBN 0820303879. 
  • Christensen (Ed.), Allan Conrad (1976). The Subverting Vision of Bulwer Lytton: Bicentenary Reflections. Newark, Delaware: The University of Delaware Press. ISBN 0874138566. 
  • Escott, T. H. S. (1910). Edward Bulwer, First Baron Lytton of Knebworth; a Social, Personal, and Political Monograph. London: George Routledge & Sons. 
  • Mitchell, L. G (2003). Bulwer Lytton: The Rise and Fall of a Victorian Man of Letters. London & New York:: Hambledon and London. ISBN 1852854235.  (Distributed in the U.S. and Canada by Palgrave Macmillan)

External links

Bulwer-Lytton ebooks

Other links

Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
William Pole-Tylney-Long-Wellesley
James Morrison
Member of Parliament for St Ives
1831 – 1832
With: James Halse
Succeeded by
James Halse
Preceded by
Charles Delaet Waldo Sibthorp
George Fieschi Heneage
Member of Parliament for Lincoln
With: George Fieschi Heneage 1832–1835
Charles Delaet Waldo Sibthorp 1835–1841
Succeeded by
Charles Delaet Waldo Sibthorp
William Rickford Collett
Preceded by
Thomas Plumer Halsey
Sir Henry Meux, Bt
Hon. Thomas Brand
Member of Parliament for Hertfordshire
1852 – 1866
With: Thomas Plumer Halsey 1852–1854
Sir Henry Meux, Bt 1852–1859
Abel Smith 1854–1857, 1859–1865
Christopher William Puller 1857–1864
Henry Edward Surtees 1864–1865
Henry Cowper 1865–1866
Succeeded by
Henry Edward Surtees
Henry Cowper
Abel Smith
Political offices
Preceded by
Lord Stanley
Secretary of State for the Colonies
Succeeded by
The Duke of Newcastle
Academic offices
Preceded by
The Duke of Argyll
Rector of the University of Glasgow
Succeeded by
The Earl of Elgin
Peerage of the United Kingdom
New creation Baron Lytton
Succeeded by
Robert Bulwer-Lytton
(of Knebworth)


Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

Edward George Earl Bulwer-Lytton, 1st Baron Lytton (May 25, 1803 – January 18, 1873) was an English novelist, playwright, and politician.



  • A good heart is better than all the heads in the world.
    • The Disowned (1828), Chapter xxxiii.
  • The easiest person to deceive is one’s own self.
    • The Disowned (1828), Chapter xlii.
  • The magic of the tongue is the most dangerous of all spells.
    • Eugene Aram (1832), Book i., Chapter vii.
  • Fate laughs at probabilities.
    • Eugene Aram (1832), Book i., Chapter x.
  • Rank is a great beautifier.
    • The Lady of Lyons (1838), Act ii, Scene i.
  • Curse away!
    And let me tell thee, Beauseant, a wise proverb
    The Arabs have,—"Curses are like young chickens,
    And still come home to roost."
    • The Lady of Lyons (1838), Act v, Scene ii.
  • The man who smokes, thinks like a sage and acts like a Samaritan.
    • Night and Morning (1841), Chapter vi.
  • Happy is the man who hath never known what it is to taste of fame—to have it is a purgatory, to want it is a hell.
    • Last of the Barons (1843), Book v., Chapter i.
  • The brilliant chief, irregularly great,
    Frank, haughty, rash,— the Rupert of debate!
    • The New Timon (1846), Part i. In April, 1844, Benjamin Disraeli thus alluded to Lord Stanley: “The noble lord is the Rupert of debate.”
  • Alone!— that worn-out word,
    So idly spoken, and so coldly heard;
    Yet all that poets sing and grief hath known
    Of hopes laid waste, knells in that word ALONE!
    • The New Timon, (1846). Part ii.
  • There are times when the mirth of others only saddens us, especially the mirth of children with high spirits, that jar on our own quiet mood.
    • Kenelm Chillingly; His Adventures and Opinions (1873).

Paul Clifford (1830)

  • It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents - except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness.

Richelieu (1839)

A play, first performed in 1839.

  • You speak
    As one who fed on poetry.
    • Act i, Scene vi.
  • Beneath the rule of men entirely great,
    The pen is mightier than the sword.
    • Act ii, Scene ii. This is the origin of the much quoted phrase "the pen is mightier than the sword". Compare: "Hinc quam sic calamus sævior ense, patet. The pen worse than the sword", Robert Burton, Anatomy of Melancholy, Part i. Sect. 2, Memb. 4, Subsect. 4.
  • Ambition has no risk.
    • Act iii, Scene i.
  • Take away the sword;
    States can be saved without it.
    • Act iii, Scene i.
  • In the lexicon of youth, which fate reserves
    For a bright manhood, there is no such word
    As "fail".
    • Act iii, Scene i.
  • Our glories float between the earth and heaven
    Like clouds which seem pavilions of the sun.
    • Act v, Scene iii.

Caxtoniana: Hints on Mental Culture (1862)

Essays on strange conjunctions of the terrible and the beautiful.

  • Truth makes on the surface of nature no one track of light - every eye looking on finds its own.
  • In science, read, by preference the newest works; in literature, the oldest. The classics are always modern.

The Coming Race (1870)

  • My father died shortly after I was twenty-one; and being left well off, and having a taste for travel and adventure, I resigned, for a time, all pursuit of the almighty dollar, and became a desultory wanderer over the face of the earth.
    • Chapter 1. This is the origin of the phrase "pursuit of the almighty dollar". Washington Irving coined the expression almighty dollar itself.


  • Two lives that once part are as ships that divide
    When, moment on moment, there rushes between
    The one and the other a sea;—
    Ah, never can fall from the days that have been
    A gleam on the years that shall be!
    • A Lament. Compare: "Ships that pass in the night", Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Tales of a Wayside Inn, Part iii. "The Theologian’s Tale: Elizabeth" iv.
  • Memory, no less than hope, owes its charm to “the far away.”
    • A Lament.
  • When stars are in the quiet skies,
    Then most I pine for thee;

    Bend on me then thy tender eyes,
    As stars look on the sea.
    • When Stars are in the quiet Skies.
  • Buy my flowers,—oh buy, I pray!
    The blind girl comes from afar.
    • Buy my Flowers.
  • Every man has his price,
    I will bribe left and right.
    • Walpole (1785).
  • No weapon that slays
    Its victim so surely (if well aimed) as praise.
    • Lucile (1860).

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