Lord Castlereagh, by Sir Thomas Lawrence: He never confused negotiation with appeasement
"There is nothing dramatic in the success of a diplomatist," the 3rd Marquess of Salisbury wrote of his hero, Lord Castlereagh, in a book review in 1862. "His victories are made up of a series of microscopic advantages; a judicious suggestion here, or an opportune civility there: of a wise concession at one moment, and a far-sighted persistence at another; of sleepless tact, immovable calmness, and patience that no folly, no provocation, no blunders can shake." As a result, Salisbury feared, "A diplomatist's glory is the most ephemeral of all forms of that transient reward. There is nothing in the achievement which appeals to the imagination; nothing which art can illustrate, or tradition retain, or history portray." In the last sub-clause at least, Salisbury was wrong, because Dr John Bew of the War Studies Institute at King's College London has now portrayed the glory of Lord Castlereagh, who — besides Salisbury himself — was the greatest of all Britain's foreign secretaries.
The reason that Castlereagh has not been accorded his rightful place in the highest pantheon of British statesmen, despite his central role in creating and maintaining the coalitions that defeated Napoleon, and then in negotiating the most durable European peace settlement for 130 years, was because he was the first victim of demonisation by the liberal media. "I met Murder on the way;" rhymed Shelley in his 1819 poem "The Masque of Anarchy", "he had a mask like Castlereagh." Byron called Castlereagh "an intellectual eunuch" and a "tyrant" and when he died suggested that travellers should "stop...and piss" on his grave. So hated was the great Tory that a hired gang of louts cheered at the gates of Westminster Abbey as his coffin was carried inside (to be interred, such were his achievements, between Pitt the Younger and Charles James Fox).
One of the accusations that the Romantic poets such as Thomas Moore, Radical MPs such as John Cam Hobhouse and Francophile journalists and editors such as William Cobbett regularly made against Castlereagh was that he was ignorant and ill-read, which Bew destroys in this well-researched, well-written and riveting book. Castlereagh in fact read voraciously — Rousseau, William Godwin, Edgeworth, Walter Scott, all the Scottish Enlightenment authors. This could also be divined from the classical and literary allusions and references he dropped in his speeches. (He was not a practised orator, however, and seemed to believe that people should care more about what he said than how he said it, a fatal misjudgment in a politician.)
On top of his intellectual interests, Castlereagh added much real-world experience. Unlike many of his critics, he actually saw the French Revolution at first hand, living in Paris in 1790-91, an experience that soon turned him against a phenomenon he had initially supported in principle. The Tory minister and writer John Wilson Croker praised Castlereagh for his "unostentatious sagacity", contrasting him to the more pompous of the Whigs. The Revolution gave Castlereagh a Hobbesian view of the world, and small wonder by the time of the Jacobin Terror. Both in France and in his native Ireland, he saw the ultimate nightmare that haunted British statesmen of the day, a combination of religious frenzy and utopian fanaticism.