William George Frederick Cavendish Bentinck (1856-1948)
Private journal of an English aristocrat, recent Cambridge graduate, Mayfair-resident, avid ball and theatre-goer and, paradoxically, future husb… Read more
Published in 1878 by Unpublished.

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‘GILDED AGE’ DIARY OF AN ENGLISH ARISTOCRAT: ‘F Cavendish Bentinck. Private’ by William George Frederick Cavendish Bentinck (1856-1948)

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Private journal of an English aristocrat, recent Cambridge graduate, Mayfair-resident, avid ball and theatre-goer and, paradoxically, future husband of the socialist and suffragist Ruth St Maur with whom he parented the 8th and 9th Dukes of Portland. Known by his third given name, Frederick - William George Frederick Cavendish Bentinck (1856-1948) - was a member of the immensely wealthy family of the Dukes of Portland but was training as a lawyer at the time of this diary. His future wife, Ruth St Maur, was a Mayfair neighbour and grand-daughter of the Duke of Somerset - her library forms the basis of the Women’s Library.

PHYSICAL DESCRIPTION: Cavendish-Bentinck has used the pre-printed T.J. & J. Smith’s Large Quarto Manuscript Diary for 1878 with three days to the page and a single line for Sunday. Bound in quarter cloth, worn, hinges tender. The writer’s name appears in ink to the upper cover with the designation, ‘Private’. Diary leaves interleaved with blotting paper; written in an easily legible round hand, mostly devoid of punctuation. The diary runs from March 25-December 31st 1878 although the preliminary sheets of blotting paper have been used, despite their empty pre-printed pages. On the verso of the title page, FCB gives his address as ‘3 Grafton Street, London W’, just off Berkeley Square in Mayfair. A copy of his future wife, Ruth Cavendish Bentinck’s ‘The Point of Honour: A Correspondence on Aristocracy and Socialism’, 1928, is loosely inserted. The diary proper is preceded by a page of ‘Expenses at Aldershot’ and a diagram of an urn.


Frederick Cavendish-Bentinck wrote this diary in his early twenties when he was living in the family’s London house in Mayfair, and moving in the most exalted social circles in London and the houses of the British aristocracy, visiting his father in Brownsea Island and once making a return visit to see friends at his alma mater, Cambridge as well as undertaking military training at Aldershot in the early part of the diary. His older brother George (who married an American heiress) and his sister, Mary Venetia, future society hostess and mistress of the Prince of Wales - ‘take Venetia to a singing master to arrange about lessons’ (during their Paris trip in September) are frequently present in the diary.

Just occasionally a version of life that his future wife would have recognised breaks in as when Frederick witnessed the horrific aftermath of the sinking of the SS Alice on the Thames: ’steam launch… takes us down the river to where the collision between the Princess Alice and Bywell Castle took place we see innumerable boats dragging for dead bodies and about 7 are recovered whilst we are on the spot on our return to Deptford we stop at Wadwick to view 75 bodies of the unclaimed drowned a ghastly and terrible sight’ (Sept 5th). Still more jolting to this privileged young man was his experience of walking down from Lincoln’s Inn to call on a friend whom he refers to as ‘the Greasy who I discover is living in a garret off the Strand reading for the church under Vaughan and doing Slum work.’

But it is Frederick Cavendish Bentinck’s social life that dominates this diary. He attends good balls: ‘a great success’ is registered at the Cavendish-Bentinck’s own soiree (July 17th), a mediocre ‘party at Devonshire house great crowd then ball given by Lady Cornelia Guest [daughter of John Winston Spencer-Churchill, 7th Duke of Marlborough] not a very great success home by 2.30’ and downright poor such as the ’Ball at Dorchester house rather disappointing.’ The same goes for London’s theatrical season: ‘Go to the Globe theatre see the ‘Cloches de Carneville’ [Clocks of Normandy] much better sung than before but with the xception [sic] of “Shiel Barry” whose performance is magnificent the acting is atrocious..’ (2 Nov.) But his return trip to watch friends perform at the Amateur Dramatic Club in Cambridge is a revelation: ‘A.D.C. begins at 7.45 the “Ticket of Leave Man” [1863 play by Tom Taylor] is played and admirably done for amateurs. The stage management (by H Wigan) very good. James did Brierly capitally though the part was a hard one for him to play. Brookfield’s Tiger was most artistic, evidently the result of very careful study and the best thing I ever saw at the A.D.C.’ (Cambridge’s Amateur Dramatic Club was going through hard times in the late 1870s so this was high praise.)

The son of a politician, FCB regularly attended Parliament in Westminster, taking a special interest in the ‘Eastern Question’ - the Decline of the Ottoman Empire - as discussed on July 30 in the House of Commons where ‘Gladstone makes a splendid speech for two hours and a half on Lord Huntington’s resolution on the Eastern question.’

Wherever young Frederick went he was welcomed by a web of aristocratic friends and acquaintances, as when he made his way back from Scotland in late August via a country house weekend at Bolton Percy and north Yorkshire’s great and good: ‘Mrs L Lascelles, C Lascelles [Harewood House]… C Duncombe, A Fitzgrey…’ And the same applies to his continental trip undertaken with father and sister in September 1878 during which he gambled in Monte Carlo - 'gaming tables and band til 11.30…. The casino itself is being enlarged considerably’ and staying near Lord Leighton in Florence where he was personally assiduous in his gallery-going ‘visit to museum of St Marco and see all Fra Angelicos, Ghilandaios & Fra Bartolomeo frescoes and pictures’ followed by a call from ‘the Duke of Sermoneta who pays us a long visit amusing and clever old man’ ( Michelangelo Caetani, XII Duke of Sermoneta was a scholar and friend of Liszt, Balzac, Longfellow etc). Gilded age indeed.

Full details

Added under Manuscript
Publisher Unpublished
Date published 1878
Subject 1 Manuscript
Signed Yes
Product code 8512

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