Many of us have a weakness for biographies of the more eccentric, fantastic or rackety Victorians. Trevor-Roper’s hilarious account of Sir Edmund Backhouse is a great favourite. Ian Anstruther’s biography of Oscar Browning, that naughty public-school master, is another, while his account of the Eglinton Tournament in the Knight and the Umbrella has become a cult book. Now he has produced a biography of the original of Disraeli’s Sir Vavasour Firebrace in Sybil: Sir Richard Broun, Victorian champion of the baronets against the plebeians.
Broun makes an ideal subject. His obsessions were matched by his pretensions, making him deliciously and unselfconsciously ridiculous. Having encouraged his father to reclaim and revive the lapsed family baronetcy, a landless title, he devoted his life to advancing the unique privileges of the order to which he belonged, seeking