loathed to a purpose


Why did they hate him so? It is hard to think of another great British political figure who is remembered mostly for being loathed. “I met Murder on the way – / He had a mask like Castlereagh.” But even Shelley is not quite as relentless as Byron, who hounded Castlereagh to the grave and beyond it. In the Dedication to Don Juan, “the intellectual eunuch Castlereagh” is denounced as a “Cold-blooded, smooth-faced, placid miscreant! / Dabbling its sleek young hands in Erin’s gore”, not only a callous, neutered killer always referred to as It but, almost worse, an incorrigible mangler of the English language: “An orator of such set trash of phrase / Ineffably – legitimately vile”. Castlereagh was as notorious in his day for his mixed metaphors and fractured syntax as George W. Bush and John Prescott were to be in theirs. Hazlitt did have some appreciation of Castlereagh’s strengths, but his portrait of the Foreign Secretary sitting in the House of Commons is almost more sinister because it is so vivid: “with his hat slouched over his forehead, and a sort of stoop in his shoulder . . . like a bird of prey over its quarry . . . coiled up like the folds of its own purposes, cold, death-like, smooth and smiling – that is neither quite at ease with itself, nor safe for others to approach”.

more from Fredinand Mount at the TLS here.