Campbell, George Douglas, eighth Duke of Argyll 1823-1900, second son of John Douglas, seventh duke, and Joan, daughter of John Glassel of Long Niddry, East Lothian, was born on 30 April 1823 at Ardencaple Castle, Dumbartonshire. It was here that he was brought up and privately educated. As a youth he read widely, and deeply interested himself in natural science. In May 1837 he became Marquis of Lorne and heir to the dukedom by the death of his elder brother, John Henry (b. 11 Jan. 1821). His first contribution to public questions was a Letter to the Peers from a Peer's Son, a work which, though published in 1842 anonymously, was soon known to be by him. The subject was the struggle in the church of Scotland, which resulted in 1843 in the secession of Dr. Chalmers and the foundation of the Free Church. In 1848 he followed this work by another, entitled Presbytery Examined: an Essay on the Ecclesiastical History of Scotland since the Reformation. His view was to some extent favourable to that which had been held by Chalmers, but not to the point of secession, his ultimate conclusion being that the claim of the Free Church to exclusive jurisdiction in matters spiritual was a dogma not authorised by scripture. He had already, on the death of his father in 1847, taken his place in the House of Lords among the Peelites, for he was a convinced free-trader and gave an independent support to the Russell ministry, then engaged in carrying out the doctrines of 1846, the legacy of the government of Sir Robert Peel. His maiden speech was delivered in May 1848, in favour of a bill for the removal of Jewish disabilities, and later in the session he took occasion to declare that he was no protectionist. His abilities began to attract attention; he made a reputation as a writer on scientific subjects, and on 19 Jan. 1851 he was elected F.R.S. In the same year the university of St. Andrews elected him its chancellor, and in his address he spoke regretfully of having never enjoyed at public school or university the training which produced a wise tolerance of the idiosyncrasies of others and broad catholicity of sentiment. In 1854 Glasgow University also elected him lord rector, in the following year he presided over the British Association at Glasgow, and later, in 1861, he became president of the Royal Society of Edinburgh. Meanwhile Lord Derby's brief-lived ministry had come and gone in 1852, and in January 1853 the duke became privy seal in the coalition ministry of whigs and Peelites formed by Lord Aberdeen, though he was not yet thirty years of age. The Crimean war began, and in February 1854, the month when France and England sent their ultimatum to St. Petersburg, the duke came forward as a supporter of the government, asserting that the real question is whether you are to allow a weaker nation to be trodden under foot by a stronger, ie. Russia (Hansard, 14 Feb. 1854). In January 1855 the Roebuck motion for inquiry into the war was carried in the House of Commons, and Lord Aberdeen at once resigned; but the Radical Duke, as he was sometimes called, retained his office under the new whig prime minister, Lord Palmerston. In the course of the same year he exchanged his office for that of postmaster-general in succession to Lord Canning, remaining in that position until February 1858, when Lord Palmerston's government fell, and was succeeded by that of Lord Derby. At the end of June 1859, however, Palmerston returned to office, and with him the duke, who reverted to the post of privy seal.
     In 1860 he took charge of the post office for a few months during the absence of Lord Elgin, but resumed the privy seal in the same year. Palmerston died in October 1865, but the duke retained office under his successor, Earl Russell, retiring with his chief on his defeat in June 1866. Meanwhile he had performed considerable service to the government in the House of Lords, where the conservatives were not only formidable in numbers, but also, under the leadership of Lord Derby, formidable in debate. Thus, for instance, in 1857, when a resolution was debated condemning the policy of the government in China and their conduct in the affair of the Arrow, the duke defended Palmerston on an occasion when many of the party broke away, causing a defeat both in the Lords and the Commons. Again, he and Russell were the only members of the cabinet in 1862 who advocated, in vain, though how wisely was proved later, the detention of the Alabama. In respect of the American civil war then commencing the duke was strongly favourable to the cause of the north and of the union, gaining from Bright approval of the fair and friendly utterances of one of the best and most liberal of his order. The duke defended his opinions in characteristic language: There is a curious animal in Loch Fyne which I have sometimes dredged up from the bottom of the sea, and which performs the most extraordinary and unaccountable acts of suicide and self-destruction. It is a peculiar kind of star-fish, which, when brought up from the bottom of the water, immediately throws off all its arms; its very centre breaks up, and nothing remains of one of the most beautiful forms in nature but a thousand wriggling fragments. Such undoubtedly would have been the fate of the American union if its government had admitted what is called the right of secession. I think we ought to admit, in fairness to the Americans, that there are some things worth fighting for, and that national existence is one of them. There spoke the man of science as well as the statesman, for the duke was both. When the paper-duty repeal bill was introduced into the Lords, as part of the programme of Gladstone's budget of 1860, the duke warned the peers, though in vain, not to reject a supply bill, or take an action for which there was no precedent since the revolution. Evidently there was a future for such a man, of character as lofty as his lineage, of long and early experience in affairs, and gifted with an austere and commanding eloquence. The way seemed to be clearer before him now that Palmerston was dead and Russell in retirement. It might well be that the thoughts of Gladstone, the new liberal chief and the greatest of the Peelites, would turn with favour upon the posthumous heir of that decaying line.
     But from 1866 to 1868 the conservatives were in power, and the two questions of the time were the franchise and the Irish church. The duke spoke with indignation against the conservative reform bill: These attempts to bamboozle parliament and to deceive the people are new in the history of English politics. They tend to degrade the noble contests of public life and the honourable rivalries of political ambition. The tones of moral indignation are healthy tones (Hansard, 13 March 1868). On another occasion he made a declaration of whig ecclesiasticism: Tithes are a fund charged upon the land of the country, entirely at the disposal of the supreme legislature of the country. They are not private property, they are not even corporate property; they are not, as Sir James Graham argued in 1835, trust property, but revenue at the disposal of the state (ib. 24 June 1867). In 1868 Gladstone succeeded the Derby-Disraeli government, and formed his first administration; the duke became secretary of state for India, remaining in that office until the fall of Gladstone's government in 1874. His under-secretary, Sir M. E. Grant Duff, thus writes of his chief: He was not only an orator, but an excellent man of business. He had the first merit of a minister in great place and at the head of a huge organisation; he knew what he could leave to others. The ordinary business passed through his hands in a steady and unbroken stream, but on an occasion great enough to call forth the energies of a philosopher he was great also (Banffshire Journal, 8 May 1900). It was that hour when a foreign policy for India had to be created. India could no longer be another Thibet. Relations were established with Khelat, Afghanistan, Yarkand, Nipal, and Burma; they were to be the free friends of an all-powerful India. Annexations of them by Great Britain, as well as their absorption by Russia, were to cease or to be checked. In finance the policy known to financiers as decentralisation was carried out—that is, the local governments were given an interest in economising the public expenditure and raising the public revenue within their area. There was peace and progress. Later, famine began, but the crisis was not reached during his term of office, and adequate preparations were made for dealing with it. In other directions also he actively supported the government, particularly the measure for Irish church disestablishment. We desire, he said, to wipe out the foulest stain upon the name and fame of England—our policy to the Irish people (Hansard, 18 June 1869).
     For twenty-one years, with the exception of the two short Derby ministries, the duke had been in office; now he was to be out from 1874 to 1880, during the conservative administration. The Eastern question shortly became prominent; Gladstone left his tent and put on his armour; so did Argyll. Early in 1877 the latter, now a mature statesman, opened fire on Lord Derby, the foreign secretary, even as in old days as a youth he had scandalised the Lords by opening fire upon the father. The Eastern question presented the problem of the desirability of forcing Turkey to make internal reforms. There were the Bulgarian atrocities. So Lord Derby agreed to the Constantinople conference of December 1876, to put pressure upon the Porte. Russia put pressure of another sort, and in April 1877 began war on Turkey. This was progress of an unacceptable order; the English government began to think of war with Russia; the fleet was ordered to pass the Dardanelles in January 1878, and England refused to recognise Russia's imposition of terms by her San Stefano treaty with Turkey in March. Accordingly there was the Berlin conference, whence the English plenipotentiaries returned, bringing peace with honour. In May 1879 the duke made perhaps his best speech. Lord Beaconsfield, who had entered the Lords in the autumn of 1876, called it a criticism not malevolent but certainly envenomed. It reviewed the past four years: the nation, though no longer shopkeepers but warriors, thanks to the government's rule, must take stock, for even warriors at the end of a campaign look to the roll-call of the living and the dead; true the opposition was weak, but we have not been repulsed indeed by what is called a fire of precision; we have been beaten rather by a sort of Zulu rush. We have been mobbed and assegaied right and left. Yet Lord Salisbury was not at ease; the other night when he came down to explain in dulcet tones the entire fulfilment of the treaty of Berlin, he shone like the peaceful evening star. But sometimes he is like the red planet Mars, and occasionally he flames in the midnight sky, not only perplexing nations but perplexing his own nearest friends and followers. What had it all been about, these ringing cheers and imperial perorations? There was the wonderful blue-book, giving the territory restored to Turkey on one page, like the advertisement of a second-rate theatre. The treaty of Berlin was nothing but a copy, with slight, comparatively unimportant, and sometimes mischievous modifications of the treaty of San Stefano. As for peace with honour, it was really retreat with boasting. In the earlier stages of the Eastern question this government was no better than a respectable committee of the society of friends, with all its helplessness but without its principles. Later we armed at the wrong time and in a wrong cause. And then came the startling and prophetic close: My lords, you are beginning to be found out. Time is your great accuser; the course of events is summing up the case against you. Whether correct in its conclusions or not, it was a speech of which Bright might have been proud, the reference to the society of friends always excepted.
     In 1880 the conservative government fell. The duke had taken a strenuous line against it on the Afghan crisis, and to few men, Gladstone excepted, could the result of the elections be more correctly attributed. In 1879 he had published his important political work ‘The Eastern Question,’ a survey of eastern policy since the Crimean war. Its conclusion was: ‘Unjust and impolitic as I think the conduct of the government has been in the east of Europe, it has been wisdom and virtue itself in comparison with its conduct in India’ (ii. 516). He returned to his former post of privy seal, since his health, always delicate, did not admit of a more arduous office. A compensation for disturbance bill was introduced; he supported it with reluctance, as a temporary and charitable measure. In March 1881 the duke, who had created the phrase ‘Mervousness,’ attacked the ‘forward’ policy of the late government in Afghanistan, and it was in reply to ‘one whose ability is equal to any emergency, and who invariably delights the audience which he addresses,’ that Lord Beaconsfield uttered the phrase, ‘The key of India is not Merv, or Herat, or Candahar. The key of India is London.’ On 8 April 1881 the duke closed his ministerial career with a personal explanation. It was very brief; the subject was the Irish land bill. His ground for objecting to it was pithily expressed: ‘I am opposed to measures which tend to destroy ownership altogether, by depriving it of the conditions which are necessary to the exercise of its functions.’ ‘In Ireland ownership will be in commission or in abeyance.’ Then followed a tribute to Gladstone; it was an old connection of twenty-nine years, ‘a connection on my part of ever-increasing affection and respect.’ Long after, in 1887, he broke out against this land act: ‘I ask, Was there ever such accursed legislation? Conquerors have wronged the cities of a country and plundered its princes, but you have cursed Ireland with a perpetual curse.’
     In the month succeeding his retirement the Transvaal question came forward, and the government's policy after Majuba, following upon the annexation in 1877, was discussed. The duke had approved of the annexation, because he understood that the Boers assented to the measure. ‘There is no public man in this country, belonging to any party, who would have cared to annex the Transvaal if he had believed that it was against the assent of the population.’ The battle of Laing's Nek, he stated, occurred when Gladstone's government had already ‘entered into indirect communications with a view to peace’ (Hansard, 10 May 1881). Later in the year he moved for papers on the subject of landlord and tenant in Ireland. ‘I am myself a Celt, and, more than that, in our country we are Irish Celts. The time when our people in the western highlands of Scotland came over from Ireland still lives in the memory of the people. I have often stood on the shore of my own country looking to the opposite coast of Ireland, divided by a strait so narrow that on a clear day we see the houses, the divisions of the fields, and the colours of the crops; and I often wondered at the marvellous difference in the development of the two kindred peoples.’ The secret of the progress of Scotland and of the stagnation of Ireland was that in the former ‘nothing now remains of that old Celtic character except a certain sentiment of the clan feeling, which still sweetens our society very much as the clouds on a stormy morning are the brightest ornament of a peaceful day. What was the cause of the change? It was the gradual invasion and the firm establishment against the old Celtic habits of those higher customs and better laws which came from the Latin and Teutonic races.’
     He lost office, but not influence. Irish land, Egypt, India were his subjects. In 1884, speaking of India, he had occasion to refer to the Crimean war: ‘I have never been ashamed of the part which the English government took upon that occasion. We did not fight for the resurrection of Turkey. I for one never would.’ They fought that the fate of Turkey ‘might not rest in the hands of Russia, but might be decided by Europe’ (Hansard, 10 March 1884). Later in the year he spoke in favour of the reform bill. There was a reminiscence of the Peelites. He had, he said, a cross-bench mind, and ‘when I first came into this house I sat on the bench opposite with that group of statesmen of whom Lord Aberdeen was the centre and the most distinguished ornament. That group of men were essentially cross-bench men. They had come out of the great conservative party.’ Home rule came forward in 1886, and the third Gladstone government was beaten in June. Here was a subject which stirred the duke to profound hostility, and completed his severance from his old chief. In 1888 he moved in the House of Lords, and carried unopposed, a vote of confidence in the Irish policy of the conservative government, and in 1891 he supported the land purchase bill on the ground that it contained the principle of ‘restoration of ownership.’ All these years since 1886 he had been labouring outside parliament with the greatest energy against home rule. Perhaps his best performance in these years was his Manchester speech of 10 Nov. 1891. With 1892 came the fourth Gladstone government, and presently another home rule bill. The duke was roused as before, speaking finely at Edinburgh in March 1893; in June at Leeds he described Gladstone as ‘no longer a leader, but only a bait.’ With the defeat of the home rule bill in September the parliamentary discussion closed; but at Glasgow on 1 Nov. of that year the duke entered upon a review of Gladstone's whole career. It was bitter, and an estrangement followed, though the quarrel was eventually made up, and disappeared when in 1895 they both were roused to defend the case of the Armenians. On the tenant's arbitration (Ireland) bill he made an interesting speech on 13 Aug. 1894; Lord Rosebery had referred to his position on the cross-benches: ‘I sit on this bench because I opened my career in this house on that bench in the year in which he was born.’ Clearly, amid new men and strange faces his career was drawing to its end.
     The duke died on 24 April 1900, and was buried at Kilmun, the ancient burial-place of the Argylls on the Holy Loch, on 11 May. He had been created K.T. in 1856, D.C.L. of the university of Oxford on 21 June 1870, and K.G. in 1884. He married first, on 31 July 1844, Lady Elizabeth Leveson-Gower, eldest daughter of the second Duke of Sutherland, and by her, who died in May 1878, he had five sons and seven daughters. The eldest son, the present duke, then Marquis of Lorne, K.T., married in March 1871 Princess Louise, fourth daughter of Queen Victoria. The eldest daughter, Lady Edith Campbell, married in December 1868 the seventh Duke of Northumberland. The duke married secondly, on 13 Aug. 1881, Amelia Maria, daughter of Thomas Claughton [q.v.], bishop of St. Albans, and widow of Colonel Hon. Augustus Anson; she died in January 1894. He married thirdly, on 26 July 1895, the Hon. Ina McNeill, extra woman of the bedchamber to the queen, and youngest daughter of Archibald McNeill of Colonsay.
     The following portraits of the Duke of Argyll are in the possession of the family: chalk drawings by George Richmond, R.A., and by James Swinton; a three-quarter length oil painting by Angeli, in highland dress; oil paintings of the head by Watson Gordon and by Sydney Hall; and a profile in oils by Princess Louise, Duchess of Argyll. A portrait in oils, by Mr. G. F. Watts, R.A., is in the National Portrait Gallery, London.
     As an orator the Duke of Argyll stood among his contemporaries next to Gladstone and Bright; he was the last survivor of the school which was careful of literary finish, and not afraid of emotion (cf. Mr. Alfred Lyttelton in Anglo-Saxon Review, December 1899, p. 158).
     In estimating Argyll's career the most pregnant question that can be asked is why he did not rise to supreme place in the state. Was it that he was a Peelite and so out of touch both with liberals and conservatives? But during his lifetime there were two Peelite prime ministers, Aberdeen and Gladstone. Was it that his convictions were not as liberal as those of the party to which he belonged? But on the leading questions of free trade, Irish church, reform, Turkey, the Crimea, and Afghanistan, their views were his, and, besides, he had all the prestige that a lofty character, a noble eloquence, and a famous lineage can bestow. Or was it that he was a Scotchman and thus unsympathetic to the English people? But the past and the present have seen Scottish prime ministers. Or may there be said of politics what Plato said of virtue, that it owns no master, and did the duke give something to science when he should have given all to statesmanship? Yet there have been cases where literary and theological pursuits have not barred the way. Was it that his lot was cast like that of Fox, for instance, in an age averse to his ideas, and that this excluded him and his friends from office? Precisely the reverse; the year before he entered politics the conservative party was broken up for nearly a generation, and the liberals with brief interludes were to hold office until 1874. Did he prove inelastic to new ideas, and was he too much rooted in 1846 to feel the enthusiasms of 1848? Not so; as his utterances on the minor nationalities of the Balkan States, of the Transvaal, of Armenia, of Afghanistan, and even of Ireland, testify. If it was none of these things, was it the predominance of Gladstone? That was undoubtedly the obvious and efficient cause: there was one more deep. Emerson said of the British elector that he makes his greatest men of business prime ministers. The duke's Celtic blood, his youthful training, or want of it, his seclusion from the busy press of affairs at Ardencaple Castle during his youth and during his maturity in the House of Lords, set his intellect on another plane. His best memorial will be the lines which Tennyson addressed to him, beginning: ‘O patriot statesman, be thou wise to know The limits of resistance,’ and ending with the description of ‘thy will, a power to make This ever-changing world of circumstance, in changing chime with never-changing law.’
     From boyhood to the end of his life the Duke of Argyll spent much of his time among the islands, firths, and sea-lochs of the west of Scotland, where his instinctive love of nature had ample scope for its development. He became fond of the study of birds, and grew familiar with their forms and habits. Into the domain of geology he was first led by the discovery which one of his tenants made in the island of Mull, of a bed full of well-preserved leaves, intercalated among the basalt-lavas of that region. He at once perceived the importance of this discovery, and announced it to the meeting of the British Association in 1850. The leaves and other vegetable remains were subsequently studied by Edward Forbes [q.v.], who pronounced them to be of older tertiary age. The deposit in which they occur, and its relations to the volcanic rocks, were described by the duke to the Geological Society in 1851 in a paper of great interest and importance, which paved the way for all that has since been done in the investigation of the remarkable history of tertiary volcanic action in the British Isles. This memoir was by far the most valuable contribution ever made by its author to the literature of science. Unlike the controversial writings of his later years, its purport was not argumentative but descriptive, and it raised the hope, unhappily not realised, that the duke, in the midst of his numerous avocations, might find time to enrich geology with a series of similar original observations among his own Scottish territories, regarding which so much still remained to be discovered. He continued, indeed, up to the end of his life to take a keen interest in the progress of the science, and to contribute from time to time essays on some of its disputed problems. These papers, however, became more and more polemical as years went on, and though always acute and forcible, often failed to grasp the true bearing of the facts, and to realise the weight of the evidence against the views which he had espoused.
     Having grown up as a follower of the cataclysmal school in geology, he could find no language too strong to express his dissent from the younger evolutional school. There were more particularly three directions in which he pursued this antagonism. He saw in the present topography of the land, more particularly of its mountainous portions, records of primeval convulsions by which the hills had been upheaved and the glens had been split open. In vain did the younger generation appeal to the proofs, everywhere obtainable, of the reality and rapidity of the decay of the surface of the land, and show that even at the present rate of denudation all trace of any primeval topography must ages ago have disappeared. He continued to inveigh against what he contemptuously nicknamed the ‘gutter theory.’ Again, he threw himself with characteristic confidence and persistence into the discussion of the problems presented by the records of the ice age. The geologists of Britain, after vainly endeavouring to account for these records by the supposition of local valley-glaciers and of floating ice during a time of submergence, were at last reluctantly forced to admit and adopt the views of Agassiz, who, as far back as 1840, had pointed out the irresistible proofs that the mountainous tracts of these islands had once been buried under snow and ice. As the evidence accumulated in demonstration of this conclusion, the vigour of the duke's protest against its growing acceptance seemed to augment in proportion. The universality and significance of the polished and striated rock-surfaces were never recognised by him, so that to the end he clung to the belief, long since abandoned by the great body of geologists, that the marks of glaciation are local and one-sided and can quite well be accounted for by local glaciers and floating ice.
     The third domain of scientific inquiry into which the duke boldly plunged as a controversial critic was that of the evolution of organised creatures. From the first he was strongly opposed to Darwinian views. The strength of his convictions led him to pen many articles and letters in the journals of the day, and to engage in polemics with such doughty antagonists as Mr. Herbert Spencer and Thomas Henry Huxley [q.v.]. It may be admitted that the keen critical faculty of a practised debater enabled him to detect a weak part here and there in his adversary's armour and to take full advantage of it. But here again, in the broader aspects of the subject, he seemed to labour under some disqualification for framing in his mind and reproducing in words an accurate picture of the chain of reasoning that had led his opponents to their conclusions. To him the modern doctrines of evolution were deserving of earnest reprobation for their materialism and their want of logical coherence. With energy and often with eloquence he maintained that the phenomena of the living world and the history of life in the geological past are inexplicable except on the assumption that the apparent upward progress and evolution have from the beginning been planned and directed by mind. On the basis of this fundamental postulate he was willing to become an evolutionist, though with various reserves and qualifications.
     Though the Duke of Argyll can hardly be ranked as a man of science, he undoubtedly exerted a useful influence on the scientific progress of his day. His frequent controversies on scientific questions roused a widespread interest in these subjects, and thus helped to further the advance of the departments which he subjected to criticism. It is perhaps too soon to judge finally of the value of this criticism. There can be no doubt, however, that it was in itself stimulating, even to those who were most opposed to it. A prominent public man, immersed in politics and full of the cares of a great estate, who finds his recreation in scientific inquiry, must be counted among the beneficent influences of his time.
     The duke began his writings on scientific subjects in 1850, and continued them almost to the end of his life. They include various papers and addresses read before learned societies or communicated to popular journals; likewise a few independent works consisting partly of essays already published. Of these works the more notable are: ‘The Reign of Law’ (1867; 5th ed. 1870), ‘Primeval Man’ (1869), ‘The Unity of Nature’ (1884), and ‘Organic Evolution cross-examined’ (1898).
     The Duke of Argyll wrote a private memoir of his career for publication; this was edited by the Dowager Duchess of Argyll and was first published in 1906 (2 vols.). This article is based on Hansard, memoirs appearing on the day subsequent to his death in the Times, Standard, Daily Telegraph, and other leading papers; as well as on his own works and private information from former colleagues and friends.

     The Duke of Argyll wrote a private memoir of his career for publication; this was edited by the Dowager Duchess of Argyll and was first published in 1906 (2 vols.). This article is based on Hansard, memoirs appearing on the day subsequent to his death in the Times, Standard, Daily Telegraph, and other leading papers; as well as on his own works and private information from former colleagues and friends.

Contributor: G. P. [George Peel], A. G-e. [Archibald Geikie]

Published:     1901