Biography of Wilfrid Scawen Blunt
Wilfrid Scawen Blunt
Wilfrid Scawen Blunt
|Born||(1840-08-17)17 August 1840|
Petworth, Sussex, England
|Died||10 September 1922(1922-09-10) (aged 82)|
|Known for||Poetry, political activist, polemicist, adventurer, Arabian horse breeder|
|Spouse(s)||Anne Isabella Noel Blunt, née King-Noel, 15th Baroness Wentworth|
|Children||Judith Blunt-Lytton, 16th Baroness Wentworth|
Wilfrid Scawen Blunt (17 August 1840 – 10 September 1922), sometimes spelled "Wilfred", was an English poet and writer. He and his wife, Lady Anne Blunt travelled in the Middle East and were instrumental in preserving the Arabian horse bloodlines through their farm, the Crabbet Arabian Stud. He was best known for his poetry, which was published in a collected edition in 1914, but also wrote a number of political essays and polemics. Blunt is also known for his views against imperialism, viewed as relatively enlightened for his time.
Blunt was born at Petworth House in Sussex and served in the Diplomatic Service from 1858 to 1869. He was raised in the faith of his mother, a Catholic convert, and educated at Twyford School, Stonyhurst, and at St Mary's College, Oscott.
Blunt in his 20s
Blunt caricatured by Ape in Vanity Fair, 1885
In 1869, Blunt married Lady Anne Noel, the daughter of the Earl of Lovelace and Ada Lovelace, and granddaughter of Lord Byron. Together the Blunts travelled through Spain, Algeria, Egypt, the Syrian Desert, and extensively in the Middle East and India. Based upon pure-blooded Arabian horses they obtained in Egypt and the Nejd, they co-founded Crabbet Arabian Stud, and later purchased a property near Cairo, named Sheykh Obeyd which housed their horse breeding operation in Egypt.
As an adult, he became an atheist, though he would walk in and out of episodes of faith. His writings, and some of his close friendships, show him to have also espoused a serious interest in Islam. Before he died, he agreed to see a priest, Father Vincent McNabb, and received Communion; thereby fulfilling the prediction of Sir William Henry Gregory, as recollected by his wife: "You will see Wilfrid will die with the wafer in his mouth."
In 1882, he championed the cause of Urabi Pasha, which led him to be banned from entering Egypt for four years. Blunt generally opposed British imperialism as a matter of philosophy. His support for Irish causes led to his imprisonment in 1888 for chairing an anti-eviction meeting in County Galway that had been banned by the Chief Secretary, Arthur Balfour, being successively incarcerated in Galway Prison, then at Kilmainham Gaol in Dublin.
He attempted to enter Parliament three times, unsuccessfully. He stood as a "Tory Democrat" supporting Irish Home Rule at Camberwell North in 1885, and as a Liberal at Kiddermister in 1886 where he lost by 285 votes. While in prison in Ireland, he contested a Deptford by-election in 1888 but lost by 275 votes.
His most memorable line of poetry on the subject comes from Satan Absolved (1899), where the devil, answering a Kiplingesque remark by God, snaps back:
‘The white man's burden, Lord, is the burden of his cash’
Here, Longford explains, 'Blunt stood Rudyard Kipling's familiar concept on its head, arguing that the imperialists' burden is not their moral responsibility for the colonised peoples, but their urge to make money out of them.'
Wilfrid and Lady Anne's only child to live to maturity was Judith Blunt-Lytton, 16th Baroness Wentworth, later known as Lady Wentworth. As an adult, she was married in Cairo but moved permanently to the Crabbet Park Estate in 1904.
Wilfrid had a number of mistresses, among them a long term relationship with the courtesan Catherine "Skittles" Walters, and the Pre-Raphaelite beauty, Jane Morris. Eventually, he moved another mistress, Dorothy Carleton, into his home. This event triggered Lady Anne's legal separation from him in 1906. At that time, Lady Anne signed a Deed of Partition drawn up by Wilfrid. Under its terms, unfavourable to Lady Anne, she kept the Crabbet Park property (where their daughter Judith lived) and half the horses, while Blunt took Caxtons Farm, also known as Newbuildings, and the rest of the stock. Always struggling with financial concerns and chemical dependency issues, Wilfrid sold off numerous horses to pay debts and constantly attempted to obtain additional assets. Lady Anne left the management of her properties to Judith, and spent many months of every year in Egypt at the Sheykh Obeyd estate, moving there permanently in 1915.
Due primarily to the manoeuvering of Wilfrid in an attempt to disinherit Judith and obtain the entire Crabbet property for himself, Judith and her mother were estranged at the time of Lady Anne's death in 1917. As a result, Lady Anne's share of the Crabbet Stud passed to Judith's daughters, under the oversight of an independent trustee. Blunt filed a lawsuit soon afterward. Ownership of the Arabian horses went back and forth between the estates of father and daughter in the following years. Blunt sold more horses to pay off debts and shot at least four in an attempt to spite his daughter, an action which required intervention of the trustee of the estate with a court injunction to prevent him from further "dissipating the assets" of the estate. The lawsuit was settled in favour of the granddaughters in 1920, and Judith bought their share from the trustee, combining it with her own assets and reuniting the stud. Father and daughter briefly reconciled shortly before Wilfrid Scawen Blunt's death in 1922, but his promise to rewrite his will to restore Judith's inheritance never materialised.
Blunt was a friend of Winston Churchill, aiding him in his 1906 biography of his father, Randolph Churchill, whom Blunt had befriended years earlier in 1883 at a chess tournament.
Work in Africa
In the early 1880s, Britain was struggling with its Egyptian colony. Wilfrid Blunt was sent to notify Sir Edward Malet, the British agent, as to the Egyptian public opinion concerning the recent changes in government and development policies. In mid-December 1881, Blunt met with Ahmed ‘Urabi, known as Arabi or 'El Wahid' (the Only One) due to his popularity with the Egyptians. Arabi was impressed with Blunt's enthusiasm and appreciation of his culture. Their mutual respect created an environment in which Arabi could peacefully explain the reasoning behind a new patriotic movement, 'Egypt for the Egyptians'. Over the course of several days, Arabi explained the complicated background of the revolutionaries and their determination to rid themselves of the Turkish oligarchy. Wilfrid Blunt was vital in the relay of this information to the British empire although his anti-imperialist views were disregarded and England mounted further campaigns in the Sudan in 1885 and 1896–98.
Blunt was a leading critic of British imperialism in Africa, as expressed in three widely circulated books: The Secret History of the English Occupation of Egypt... (1907), Gordon at Khartoum (1911), and My Diaries: Being a Personal Narrative of Events, 1888-1914 (2 vols. 1919-20). Historian Robert O. Collins says:
The most vigorous English advocate of Egyptian nationalism, Blunt was both arrogant and irascible, his works scathing, discursive, and at times utterly ridiculous. Immature and unfair, both he and his writings must be used with caution, but even the dullest of men will come away stimulated if not aroused and with fresh insights to challenge the sometimes smug attitudes of British officials in Whitehall and Cairo. Of course, to them Blunt was anathema if not disloyal and Edward Mallet, the British Consul-General at Cairo from 1879 to 1883, replied to Blunt's charges in his posthumously published Egypt, 1879-1883 (London, 1909).
Egyptian Garden scandal
In 1901, a pack of foxhounds was shipped over to Cairo to entertain the army officers, and subsequently, a foxhunt took place in the desert near Cairo. The fox was chased into Blunt's garden, and the hounds and hunt followed it. As well as a house and garden, the land contained the Blunt's Sheykh Obeyd stud farm, housing a number of valuable Arabian horses. Blunt's staff challenged the trespassers – who, though army officers, were not in uniform – and beat them when they refused to turn back. For this, the staff were accused of assault against army officers and imprisoned. Blunt made strenuous efforts to free his staff, much to the embarrassment of the British army officers and civil servants involved.
- Sonnets and Songs. By Proteus. John Murray, 1875
- Aubrey de Vere (ed.): Proteus and Amadeus: A Correspondence Kegan Paul, 1878
- The Love Sonnets of Proteus. Kegan Paul, 1881
- The Future of Islam Kegan Paul, Trench, London 1882
- Esther (1892)
- Griselda Kegan Paul, Trench, Trübner, 1893
- The Quatrains of Youth (1898)
- Satan Absolved: A Victorian Mystery. J. Lane, London 1899
- Seven Golden Odes of Pagan Arabia (1903)
- Atrocities of Justice under the English Rule in Egypt. T. F. Unwin, London 1907.
- Secret History of the English Occupation of Egypt Knopf, 1907
- India under Ripon; A Private Diary T. Fisher Unwin, London 1909.
- Gordon at Khartoum. S. Swift, London 1911.
- The Land War in Ireland. S. Swift, London 1912
- The Poetical Works. 2 Vols. . Macmillan, London 1914
- My Diaries. Secker, London 1919; 2 Vols. Knopf, New York 1921