The cult of political biography is gently withering with the decline in the number of its adherents. People still go out to buy the lives of prime ministers – especially if called Churchill, Thatcher or Lloyd George – but they are seldom interested in the tier below, the ‘nearly men’, politicians who may have accomplished great things without ever quite reaching Number Ten. Statesmen and diplomats, who a century ago would have merited a two-volume biography, might now not receive more than a hostile academic monograph about one controversial episode in their careers.
How pleasing and unexpected, then, to read about Lord Dufferin, the Victorian proconsul, in a scholarly, well-researched volume, elegantly written and published by John Murray, which in its ancien régime heyday issued many such tomes. Andrew Gailey is a fine historian who has spent the last quarter of a century