George Grote, the eldest of the eleven children of George Grote (1762–1830), banker, and Selina Mary Peckwell (1775–1845), was born on 17th November 1794 at Clay Hill, near Beckenham, Kent. (1)
Grote's grandfather Andreas had arrived in England from Germany "for the purpose of seeking his fortunes, to which end he at once became naturalised as an Englishman" and was the founder of the bank, Prescott and Grote, in Threadneedle Street, London. (2)
George Grote's education began at Sevenoaks Grammar School when he was five. In 1804, at the age of nine, he entered Charterhouse, where his father had been a student. (3) The curriculum was almost entirely classical, and he emerged six years later thoroughly trained in Latin and Greek. Instead of proceeding to university, he was placed by his father, at the age of fifteen, in the family bank. (4)
George Grote became a partner in the family bank at the age of twenty-one. However, he disliked banking intensely and complained that it "stupifies the mind" and "is dull and wretched… to a mind which has a glimpse of a nobler sphere of action". (5) Joseph Hamburger commented that he "made time to pursue his true calling - study and scholarship - by rising early and reading widely in the literature of Greece and Rome, philosophy, and political economy." (6)
In 1815 George Grote met Harriet Lewin. She lived 6 miles from Grote's home, and they met at a dance that followed a Sunday cricket match in which Grote took part. They both shared a love of music and gradually she became interested in his radical views on politics. They wanted to get married but this was not possible because of the objections of his father, on whom he was financially dependent. Eventually, the young couple took matters into their own hands and they were secretly married on 5th March 1820. Eleven months later they suffered misfortune when a prematurely born son died after a week, and this was followed by a threat to Harriet's life from puerperal fever (a fever caused by uterine infection following childbirth). The marriage remained childless. (7)
In her book, The Ascent of Women (2003) Melanie Phillips she described Harriet Grote as "a brilliant thinker" who "was tall and robust and towered over her husband, who resembled a Dresden china figurine". Harriet had a habit of calling George Grote the "Historian". (8) Harriet took a keen interest in politics and became a a supporter of women's suffrage. Harriet later explained how she became a suffragist: "When I discovered that the purse in my pocket and the watch at my side were not my own but the Historian's, I felt it was time women should have the power to amend these preposterous laws." (9)
James Mill was a close friend of George Grote and he deeply influenced his political thinking. "Mill's theorizing was compelling, for he provided closely reasoned and far-reaching explanations which Grote eagerly accepted. Mill was especially persuasive in discussions which resembled Platonic dialogues." (10) Grote wrote: "Conversation with him was not merely instructive, but provocative to the dormant intelligence", and this gave him "powerful intellectual ascendancy over younger minds". (11)
As a result of James Mill's teaching. "He (George Grote) became a utilitarian in philosophy, an associationist in psychology, an advocate of democratic reform in his politics, and a confirmed atheist." Harriet recalled that after a year or so, "there existed but little difference, in point of opinion, between master and pupil". Harriet claimed that Mill's influence on Grote was so great that he "may be said to have inspired and directed many of the important actions of his life". (12)
The Grote's home became the centre of a group of radicals that believed in progressive reform. This enabled Harriet engage in debate with a wide range of left-wing intellectuals in London. This included James Milll, Jeremy Bentham, Francis Place, William Molesworth, John Stuart Mill, John Roebuck, David Ricardo, John Romilly, John Austin, Sarah Austin and Joseph Parkes. Some of these joined together to form a small reading group for discussion of works on political economy, law, and philosophy. Their meetings took place in Grote's house in Threadneedle Street. This group became known as the Philosophical Radicals or the "Grote conclave". (13)
According to Bertrand Russell, the author of History of Western Philosophy (1946): "The doctrines of the French revolutionary philosophers, made less enthusiastic and much more precise, were brought to England by the philosophical radicals, of whom Bentham was the recognized chief. Bentham was, at first, almost exclusively interested in law; gradually, as he grew older, his interests widened and his opinions became more subversive. After 1808, he was a republican, a believer in the equality of women, an enemy of imperialism, an uncompromising democrat. Some of his opinions he owed to James Mill." (14)
Jeremy Bentham argued that what he came to call "utilitarianism" imposes an obligation on legislators as well as individuals to "minister to general happiness", an obligation which, he said, is "paramount to and inclusive of every other". He used the term "utility" to denote whatever "tends to produce benefit, advantage, good or happiness". These ideas were developed by John Stuart Mill who regarded happiness as the greatest good, and each person's happiness as being equal in value to anyone else's. (15)
Harriet Grote had no problem discussing these philosophical issues. Richard Cobden called her "a remarkable woman, desperately blue in the stocking". He added that "had she been a man, she would have been the leader of a party". (16) Harriet Grote's friend Sydney Smith called her the "Queen of the Radicals". Francis Place claimed "she was the philosophic radicals". (17) Harriet later told her friend, Harriet Martineau, that this was an exciting time as it was "'a pregnant decade, if ever there was one'". (18)
George Grote and the other Philosophical Radicals explained political conduct in terms of self-interest, arguing that in the absence of democratic institutions, governments inevitably will abuse power in the interest of the few and to the detriment of the "numerous classes". To guarantee that government will serve the entire populace, they insisted that the electorate must be large enough to have an interest similar to that of the community, which meant there should be universal, or at least a greatly extended, suffrage. They also urged the need for secret ballot and frequent elections. (19)
In 1831 George Grote published Essentials of Parliamentary Reform, in which he proposed a greatly extended suffrage, secret ballot, and frequent, preferably annual, elections to parliament. "Men fasten upon some special incongruity or abomination, as if the removal of it were the grand object to be effected by a Reform. Manchester, Leeds, and Birmingham, are great cities, important enough to have their interests protected by Representatives of their own: Old Sarum, Gatton, and Weobly, are insignificant hamlets, yet their interests are better protected than those of the three greatest manufacturing cities in England. As long as the argument for Reform is thus put, its opponents meet it satisfactorily, by showing that, if the suffrage were transferred from the three hamlets to the three cities above-mentioned, all things else remaining unchanged, the residents in the latter would be neither better nor worse protected than they are at present. In like manner some persons exclaim against the open bribery at the Liverpool election, or against the severity of the Duke of Newcastle in expelling his tenants at Newark, and are anxious that such transactions should be prevented in future. But here, too, it is easy to reply, that little would be gained by tying men down to bribe in secret, and with some degree of coyness and ceremony. Nor is it without reason that the Duke of Newcastle complains of having been held up as a single and unique tyrant, while other landlords are accomplishing the same end with greater certainty and good fortune." (20)
Joseph Hamburger pointed out: "Grote was above average height and had a spacious brow, which many associated with his intellectualism. Others were struck by his manners and temperament more than by physical appearance. Unfailingly he was described as modest, gentle, courteous, considerate, perhaps somewhat formal, and gentlemanly. He showed no asperity towards those who disagreed; was careful to avoid giving pain; and appeared open and free from prejudice." (21) However, several friends described him as gloomy, prone to depression, and JM described him as having !constitutionally low spirits". (22)
The Whigs in the House of Commons used Grote's arguments to support parliamentary reform and it played a role in the passing of the 1832 Reform Act. Voting in the boroughs was restricted to men who occupied homes with an annual value of £10. There were also property qualifications for people living in rural areas. As a result, only one in seven adult males had the vote. Nor were the constituencies of equal size. Whereas 35 constituencies had less than 300 electors, Liverpool had a constituency of over 11,000. "The overall effect of the Reform Act was to increase the number of voters by about 50 per cent as it added some 217,000 to an electorate of 435,000 in England and Wales. But 650,000 electors in a population of 14 million were a small minority." (23)
In December 1832, George Grote stood for the City of London seat in the first reformed parliament. Popular enthusiasm for reform allowed him to head the poll. Along with other radicals, Grote sat not on the government side but on the opposition benches. The Whigs government was regarded as representing aristocratic interests and therefore as adversaries of those representing popular, democratic interests. "Grote was widely regarded as leader of the radicals in parliament, this by virtue of his position in the City, his gravitas, and his being somewhat older than many of his fellow radicals." (24)
George Grote argued in favour of secret ballots because he had heard stories of how landlords and employers had put pressure on their tenants and workers to vote for particular parties. "The landlord has himself the power of enforcing his own dictation, and of inflicting a penalty on disobedience, much more serious than any which the law would provide rejectment from house and home. What necessity is there to decree, that customers shall have power over the votes of their tradesmen, and employers over the votes of their labourers? The power exists as surely, and the penalty is as imminent and as terrible, whether you legalise it or not... Secrecy of voting, and freedom of voting, are necessary and inseparable companions: where the one is, there will the other be also; and conversely, where the one is not, the blessings of the other will never be known." (25)
Another subject that concerned Grote was the 4d. stamp duty to all newspapers and journals that sold for less than 6d. As most working people were earning less than 10 shillings a week, this severely reduced the number of people who could afford to buy radical newspapers. He told the House of Commons: "He (Grote) attributed a great deal of the bad feeling that was at present abroad amongst the labouring classes, on the subject of wages, to the want of proper instruction, and correct information as to their real interests.... Nothing could be more important than instructing the people, and opening their minds to a proper view of their own and the country's interests." (26)
Harriet Grote was critical of her husband's approach in the House of Commons. Most of the philosophic radicals favoured hard bargaining, even if their withholding support were to cause the fall of the government and accession to office by the Tories; whereas others like Grote were prepared to give grudging support to the government, settling for whatever less than radical reforms the government might concede. John Stuart Mill called him "faint-hearted" and Joseph Parkes said that he needed to be more critical of the Whigs. (27)
During his years in the House of Commons he campaigned strongly for secret ballots. In his maiden speech and on five other occasions he introduced motions proposing secret voting in parliamentary elections. Grote argued that secret ballots would counter bribery and intimidation of voters, therefore making election results an authentic reflection of the electorate's wishes. He regarded it as the most important part of the radical programme, but he was unable to convince the majority of MPs and complained about the "profound slumber" of Parliament. (28)
In 1841 George Grote resigned from Parliament. Two years later he retired from the the family bank, Prescott and Grote. "The lure of scholarship overcame his sense of public duty, especially as the quest for radical political change appeared to be futile." He had began writing the History of Greece in 1823. He now decided to concentrate all his efforts to complete this major project. (29) Alexander Bain described George Grote as "a Greece-intoxicated man". (30)
Grote was inspired by the work of the historian William Mitford. However, he thought that his History of Greece (1784–1810), which was then regarded as authoritative, neglected important sources and was insufficiently critical of those he did use, and worse, he defended monarchy, and, as the next best kind of rule, oligarchy, and argued in The Westminster Review that Mitford had heaped "hatred and contempt on... the democratical communities" of ancient Greece. This made him "eminently agreeable to the reigning interests in England". (31)
Joseph Hamburger has argued: "The scope of the History is vast. Grote begins with a description of myths and legends, even though he regarded surviving accounts of them as unreliable and therefore beyond the jurisdiction of history. His historical analysis begins with the early eighth century BC, a period for which there is sufficient evidence, and it continues until the period of Macedonian domination late in the fourth century BC... Although he describes all Greek communities, including those in Asia and in the western Mediterranean and Gaul, Grote's focus is on Athens, especially in the fifth century BC, and his work is a celebration of Periclean Athens for being a republic, for its autonomy, its large measure of tolerance, creative genius, and cultural accomplishments, even its imperial achievements, and above all its democracy." The first two volumes were published in March 1846, and the final twelfth volume appeared only ten years later. (32)
History of Greece was well received and a commercial success; it was used at English universities, went through several editions, and became the standard work in English for the next half century; it was also translated into German and French. Profits from the book paid for the building of a new residence at East Burnham, Buckinghamshire. The main gratification for Grote, however, was living a scholarly life, and in spite of the endless hours devoted to the book, he observed, "My day is always too short". (33)
After completing the History of Greece, Grote turned to Greek philosophy, and after nine years published in three formidable volumes on the work of Plato, Socrates and Aristotle. His wife reported that nothing delighted him more than philosophical conversations with his friends John Stuart Mill or Alexander Bain. He was a spokesman for empiricism against intuitionism and, on ethical questions, he defended utilitarianism. (34)
In 1869 William Ewart Gladstone offered Grote a peerage. Officially he "declined the honour, stating that his time must be dedicated to his trusteeship of the British Museum and to his office of Vice-Chancellorship of the University of London." (35) However, his close friends claimed that the real reason was that he was a republican who had a "long-standing aversion to aristocracy." (36) (14)
After forty-four years of marriage, Harriet Grote discovered that George Grote, was romantically attached to Susan Durant, the sculptor who created the marble medallion of Grote that now hangs in University College London (UCL). The infatuation lasted three years. The relationship only came to an end after she threatened separation. (37) Although she complained to close friends about this disloyalty, she made no allusion to it in her many writings. (38)
George Grote died at 12 Savile Row, London, on 18th June 1871 leaving effects valued at around £120,000. (39) He was highly respected as a writer and was interred in Westminster Abbey. As one newspaper reported: "This afternoon there will be interred in Westminster Abbey, among the illustrious dead of many generations, the remains of a great English worthy, whose reputation has fairly entitled him to that noble sepulture. A year ago there was laid in Poet's corner all that was mortal of the greatest of our English humourists. Twelve years ago there was consigned to his honoured grave in St Peter's Abbey the greatest of our English essayists; and now, on the 24th of June, 1871, a last resting-place hard by is fittingly allowed to one who ranks as high as any among the numerous throng reposing there under those grand old roof beams as a scholar, a historian, and a philosopher, George Grote, who attended eminence in those three capacities, passed a long life, nevertheless, here, in the midst of us, as a wealthy banker of London, taking the keenest interest in the affairs of his own immediate generation." (40)
Harriet Grote published her book, The Personal Life of George Grote, in 1873. It received an interesting review in The London Evening Standard. "Not only does it contain many interesting facts concerning Mr Grote's own earlier career and later opinions; the struggles and disadvantages through which he found his way to the first place among the historians of the age and country, and the ripening process ever active in his native from boyhood to old age; not only does it exhibit in an instructive light the steps by which the banker's clerk became the politician and scholar, and the charms of character and manner which made him an estimable in private life as he was honoured in politics and admired in literature."
However, it goes on to comment: "Still, for our own credit's sake, and in justice to our readers, we are bound to say that there are faults in their volume which jar upon us now and then with a sensation that more unpleasant that they present so remarkable a contrast to the style and tone of Mr Grote's own letters and life, to his perfect simplicity and manly abhorrence of everything affected and theatrical; little tricks of phrase, adapted apparently to enhance the importance of the subject of the memoir by reminding us at every page what a great man he was and what a great work he had achieved - as if any one who had read the work could ever forget it. (41)
Sir, I rise to submit to you the Motion of which I have given notice, respecting the mode of taking votes at elections for Members of Parliament: and I do so with peculiar satisfaction and encouragement, after the very weighty petition which has just been presented. It is my intention to move that the votes be taken by Ballot, instead of openly.
Aware, as I am, of the interest which this question excites amongst many of your constituencies, in all parts of the country, I could have wished that it had been taken up by some gentleman abler and more practised in the business of this House, than I can boast of being. But though many persons might be found better qualified to do justice to the subject, there is none who takes in it a warmer or a deeper interest. My conviction of the necessity of a secret suffrage, and of the gross mischiefs inseparable from an open suffrage, is now of long standing: and all subsequent reflection upon the matter - all enlarged acquaintance with the detail of elections - has only tended to confirm and corroborate that opinion.
But, Sir, though I feel strongly the importance of the change which I am urging, I should have hesitated in bringing it forward, if it had violated or contravened in any way the principles of the great measure of Reform passed last year - a measure to which I cannot allude without my humble tribute of gratitude and admiration. The noble Lord who first brought forward the measure, in 1831, glanced in his opening speech at the question of the Ballot, with the express view of stating that he pronounced no opinion either for or against it, and that it must be reserved for consideration at some more appropriate season....
Sir, it was with reference to this end that you last year re-organized your constituent body; you gave it a new form, you increased it in number, and you distributed it into new classes and detachments. You discarded the ancient constituency, because it was not calculated to secure to you a Legislature possessing the confidence of the people; you created a new constituency, specially adapted for that express object. I call upon you now to review your mode of taking votes upon the same simple, precise, and momentous principle. I call upon you, no less in consistency with your own professed aim, than with a view to the settlement of a most important question, to consider - whether you are most likely to obtain a Legislature possessing the confidence of the people by taking the votes of electors secretly or openly? And further - whether the benefits promised by the Reform Bill may not be intercepted and nullified, by an unwise or mischievous method of taking; votes?
You are aware, that secret suffrage is preferred in France, and in twenty out of the twenty-four states of the American Union; open suffrage has been hitherto the practice in your un-reformed parliamentary elections. But, however happily an open suffrage may have chimed in with that borough-holding ascendancy, under which your unreformed Parliament was cast, I think I shall be able to show you, that secret suffrage is the only arrangement compatible with the genius and purposes of Parliament, as it has now been reformed.
Sir, the Reform Bill has given you a numerous and intelligent constituency, amounting perhaps to something near a million of voters.... What if the Bill had numbered all the tenants on a great man's estate, and all occupiers of houses under him, as so many lip-voters, necessary, indeed, as mechanical instruments for transmitting his will to the hustings, but legally incapable of expressing any other determination than his? What if it had imposed on all clerks, or journeymen, or labourers, the obligation of voting in the way that their masters prescribed, under the sanction of a pecuniary fine in case of disobedience?
Sir, if any one of such enormities had been comprised in the Reform Bill, it would have been torn in pieces amidst the execrations of the whole community. Tories, Whigs, and Radicals, would have denounced it with one unanimous voice; there would not have been one single hand held up, from any political party, in favour of this abolition of the right of private judgment even amongst the humblest portion of the electors. No one would then have talked of the right of the landlord to control the votes of his tenants, in recompense for the permission granted to them of residing upon his land. Every man would have been full of indignation at the bare thought of according a vote without formal liberty of disposing of it.
But it is not by law alone that the freedom of voting can be subverted. That same state of biassed, dependent, and subjugated voting now exists among you, in full malignity, by the mere force of natural causes. What need is there to enact by law, that the landlord shall have power over the vote of his tenant? The landlord has himself the power of enforcing his own dictation, and of inflicting a penalty on disobedience, much more serious than any which the law would provide rejectment from house and home. What necessity is there to decree, that customers shall have power over the votes of their tradesmen, and employers over the votes of their labourers? The power exists as surely, and the penalty is as imminent and as terrible, whether you legalise it or not...
Throughout the county elections, you have the landlord putting the word into the mouth of his tenants, for whom they shall vote, and against whom they shall vote. In the towns, you have the rich customers sending round circulars to their tradesmen, and exercising a similar constraint, by plain hints of the impending consequences, if the circular remains unheeded... In many cases, even the semblance of request is dispensed with; the employer promises away the votes of his labourers without the ceremony of asking them; or a large body of the population of a town are seen signing peremptory declarations of exclusive dealing, thus threatening poverty and ruin to any tradesman whose conscience may lead him to vote against them. All these are manifold results of the same great cause: interference and coercion left open by your present system. Many a voter, too, evades this collision between his duty and his interest, by refusing to register his name or by keeping away from the poll; and you have thus a large self-inflicted disfranchisement, resulting purely from the unguarded condition of the voter.
Now, Sir, whence arises this power of constraining the votes of others, exercised amongst us with such deplorable effect? We need not investigate its various sources, for there is one condition indispensable to its agency - I mean the publicity of votes. However hardly the hand of power may bear on a voter in other ways, it will not reach his vote, if he votes in silence and darkness. Secrecy of voting, and freedom of voting, are necessary and inseparable companions: where the one is, there will the other be also; and conversely, where the one is not, the blessings of the other will never be known...
Gentlemen do indeed argue, that though an elector's vote may be concealed, his political feelings will be known from other evidences. Suppose they are known: I contend that his vote will be just as much emancipated as if they were not known. He may be punished or rewarded for any overt expression of his sentiments; he cannot be punished or rewarded for his unseen vote. I, as a landlord, may, if I please, eject a tenant for real or suspected political sentiments; but I cannot eject him for an unknown vote, and, therefore, I cannot create in bun any motive to vote against his conscience. "This is the direct and specific virtue of the Ballot, that it destroys all motive for an elector to falsify his sentiments at the poll, because, under no circumstances can he attract favour or avert injury by doing so. Nobody will give him credit for a vote contrary to his sentiments, when nobody can possibly know how his vote was really given.
Others, again, there are who object to the Ballot, not on the score of inefficacy, but from pure dislike of secrecy in general. It leads (they tell you) to mendacity and promise-breaking: for a tenant, after having promised his vote to his superior, may break his promise with impunity, and vote against him at the poll.
Now, Sir, it is very true that a tenant, voting by Ballot, may thus break his promise: But why should you suppose that he will do so? There can be but one answer: because the promise has been given contrary to his genuine and conscientious feeling. In no other case can he be tempted to violate it. For had it been given of his own free-will, and coincident with his judgment and conscience, he would feel pleasure in performing it, and pain in violating it, whether performance were open or secret. The mere supposition, therefore, that the voter will be disposed to break his promise, implies that he has promised contrary to his genuine inclination, and therefore by some extraneous force or compulsion. It is from these compulsory promises alone that the chance of promise-breaking arises.
Mr. Grote said, that he should not detain the House long; nor should he have troubled it all had he not been intrusted with a petition praying for the repeal of the duties that were now the subject of discussion. He certainly entertained very strong feelings on the subject, for he attributed a great deal of the bad feeling that was at present abroad amongst the labouring classes, on the subject of wages, to the want of proper instruction, and correct information as to their real interests. From the absence of this useful knowledge, which could never be conveyed to the people while the present system of Stamp-duties prevailed, arose all the evils of the Unions that now disturbed that proper harmony that ought to subsist amongst the labouring classes in the relations of masters and workmen; and, he was sorry to say, that he feared those Unions were likely to increase and spread wider, rather than to subside. If there were proper channels through which the real interests of those men and the position in which they stood, could be fairly and candidly stated to them, they might very soon have their minds disabused of the erroneous notions as to wages which they now entertained and acted upon, but this could never be accomplished so long as the present Stamp-laws continued. He looked upon this as one of the most important subjects that could be brought under the consideration of the Government, not much less so than that very important measure respecting the Poor-laws which the noble Lord had introduced to the House. Nothing could be more important than instructing the people, and opening their minds to a proper view of their own and the country's interests. He should not prolong the discussion further than to observe, that he was sure, if the noble Lord would only exercise a little of that ingenuity which was supposed to belong to all Chancellors of the Exchequer - he would be able very readily to find the means of supplying any deficiency in the Revenue, arising from the repeal of the Stamp-duties, to which the present Motion applied.
Not since the death of Samuel Rogers, the poet, has the country had to record the loss of a banker and a literary man in one person. Mr George Grote died on Sunday in the seventy-seventh year of his age, at his residence in Saville Row. An ardent politician in his younger days, a ripe scholar, a gentleman, whom to know was to love and respect, few men have lived and died in such general esteem. Mr Grote was born at Beckenham, Kent, and was a pupil at Thackeray's old school, Charterhouse. He represented the City of London from 1832 to 1841; and, as an advanced Liberal, laid the foundation of the vote by ballot agitation, to which Mr Henry Berkeley succeeded as leader. Mr Grote's fame rests chiefly on his History of Greece, and he was as fond of the Greek language as was the late Lord Derby when he translated his labour of love. Two years ago, the Premier offered Mr Grote a peerage, but the great historian declined the honour, stating that his time must be dedicated to his trusteeship of the British Museum and to his office of Vice-Chancellorship of the University of London. With his political convictions it was but natural that Mr Grote should take so great an interest as he did in the Gower Street institution where his loss will be greatly felt. Unfortunately, Mr Grote has passed away, leaving but one volume of his Aristotle completed. He married, in 1820, Miss Harriet Lewin, the authoress of a Lady of Ary Scheffer Mr Grote leaves no issue, his only child, a boy, having died young.
This afternoon there will be interred in Westminster Abbey, among the illustrious dead of many generations, the remains of a great English worthy, whose reputation has fairly entitled him to that noble sepulture. A year ago there was laid in Poet's corner all that was mortal of the greatest of our English humourists. Twelve years ago there was consigned to his honoured grave in St Peter's Abbey the greatest of our English essayists; and now, on the 24th of June, 1871, a last resting-place hard by is fittingly allowed to one who ranks as high as any among the numerous throng reposing there under those grand old roof beams as a scholar, a historian, and a philosopher, George Grote, who attended eminence in those three capacities, passed a long life, nevertheless, here, in the midst of us, as a wealthy banker of London, taking the keenest interest in the affairs of his own immediate generation. While his fame rests chiefly on the fact that he told anew, as no other has ever so well related it, the history of Ancient Greece, he was a Liberal so advanced in politics, a reformer so daring and thorough, that forty years ago he stood forward as the champion of the Ballet, when secret voting was a byword, and he was regarded then by all but a very few in the House of Commons or indeed, for that matter, out of it, as a sort of Pariah among Radicals! Yet now, at the very time when, upon his expiring full of years and of honour, he is accorded the distinction of a public funeral in Westminster Abbey, that very innovation of the Ballot has been submitted at last to the consideration of Parliament in the form of a measure emanating directly from the councils of her Majesty's Government.
George Grote was born in 1794, that is, as many as seventy-six years ago, at Clayhill, near Beckenham in Kent. His father was then one of the firm of bankers originally established, more than a century past, in Threadneedle Street, where it has ever since been carried on most prosperously.
The grandfather of the historian of Greece had been one of the founders of the establishment. He had arrived in this country from Germany for the purpose of seeking his fortunes, to which end he at once became naturalised as an Englishman. His family were German, but his descendants, British born and British bred, have long ago become thoroughly Anglicised.
He studied, hardly less earnestly, finance, politics generally, and in an especial manner political economy. He thus became an advanced Liberal, a radical innovator, and a philosophic reformer. The changes he advocated were of the most daring description, and had particular reference to the expansion of the whole scheme of the national representation.
We cannot say that we are altogether satisfied with the execution of a task so interesting, so worthy, in every way of every excellence of style that the most diligent care and the purest taste could bestow upon it, as the biography of Mrs Grote will easily understand that, speaking of a work of this kind, we feel reluctant to enter into anything that might look like carping or ungenerous criticism. There is something sacred, something of the double sanctity attached to love and to sorrow, about a wife's memoir of a husband; and when the husband is one like George Grote and the wife a lady so deeply and so deservedly respected on her own account, so doubly entitled to respect as the worthy and beloved partner of such a man, there is a peculiar difficulty in expressing any thing that sounds like censure. Still, for our own credit's sake, and in justice to our readers, we are bound to say that there are faults in their volume which jar upon us now and then with a sensation that more unpleasant that they present so remarkable a contrast to the style and tone of Mr Grote's own letters and life, to his perfect simplicity and manly abhorrence of everything affected and theatrical; little tricks of phrase, adapted apparently to enhance the importance of the subject of the memoir by reminding us at every page what a great man he was and what a great work he had achieved - as if any one who had read the work could ever forget it - and were other errors of the same calibre, which seem to us hardly in accord either with the dignity of the subject or the general spirit of the memoir. At the same time, these are things which in a work of less merit we should have passed over as trifles unworthy of mention, making allowance for the sex and circumstances of the writer; and if we make no allowance for Mrs Grote it is because she has need of none, but writes with an clear expression, an vigorous facility, and generally in pure a taste, as the wife and biographer of Grote ought to write…
Not only does it contain many interesting facts concerning Mr Grote's own earlier career and later opinions; the struggles and disadvantages through which he found his way to the first place among the historians of the age and country, and the ripening process ever active in his native from boyhood to old age; not only does it exhibit in an instructive light the steps by which the banker's clerk became the politician and scholar, and the charms of character and manner which made him an estimable in private life as he was honoured in politics and admired in literature.
(1) David Simkin, Family History Research (19th September, 2023)
(2) The Morning Advertiser (24th June 1871)
(3) The Sun & Central Press (19th June, 1871)
(4) Joseph Hamburger, George Grote: Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (14th November 2018)
(5) Harriet Grote, The Personal Life of George Grote (1873) page 13
(6) Joseph Hamburger, George Grote: Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (14th November 2018)
(7) Joseph Hamburger, George Grote: Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (14th November 2018)
(8) Melanie Phillips, The Ascent of Women (2003) page 120
(9) Millicent Garrett Fawcett, What I Remember (1924) page 56
(10) Joseph Hamburger, George Grote: Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (14th November 2018)
(11) Alexander Bain, The Minor Works of George Grote (1873) page 284
(12) Joseph Hamburger, George Grote: Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (14th November 2018)
(13) The Examiner (28th January, 1838)
(14) Bertrand Russell, History of Western Philosophy (1946) page 695
(15) A. C. Grayling, The History of Philosophy (2019) page 281
(16) Jessie K. Buckley, Joseph Parkes of Birmingham (1926) page 151
(17) Joseph Hamburger, Harriet Grote: Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (24th May 2008)
(18) Harriet Grote, letter to Harriet Martineau (2nd February, 1867)
(19) Joseph Hamburger, George Grote: Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (14th November 2018)
(20) George Grote, Essentials of Parliamentary Reform (1831)
(21) Joseph Hamburger, George Grote: Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (14th November 2018)
(22) M. L. Clarke, George Grote: a Biography (1962) page 173
(23) J. F. C. Harrison, The Common People (1984) page 259
(24) Joseph Hamburger, George Grote: Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (14th November 2018)
(25) George Grote, speech in the House of Commons (25th April 1833)
(26) George Grote, speech in the House of Commons (22nd May 1834)
(27) Joseph Parkes, letter to John Lambton, 1st Earl of Durham (26th January 1835)
(28) Harriet Grote, The Personal Life of George Grote (1873) page 130
(29) Joseph Hamburger, George Grote: Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (14th November 2018)
(30) Alexander Bain, John Stuart Mill (1882) page 94
(31) George Grote, The Westminster Review (5th April 1826)
(32) Joseph Hamburger, George Grote: Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (14th November 2018)
(33) M. L. Clarke, George Grote: a Biography (1962) page 79
(34) Joseph Hamburger, George Grote: Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (14th November 2018)
(35) The Sun & Central Press (19th June, 1871)
(36) Joseph Hamburger, George Grote: Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (14th November 2018)
(37) Harriet Grote, letter to Helen Taylor (29th November 1868)
(38) Joseph Hamburger, Harriet Grote: Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (24th May 2008)
(39) David Simkin, Family History Research (19th September, 2023)
(40) The Sun & Central Press (19th June, 1871)
(41) The London Evening Standard (9th May 1873)