The Rowers of Vanity Fair/Dilke CW

Dilke, Charles WentworthEdit

“A Far Advanced Radical” (Coïdé), November 25, 1871Edit

Sir Charles Dilke is a far advanced Radical, a skirmisher who is ever ready to throw himself out far away from support, and to engage single-handed with the most portentous questions, which he attacks with a jaunty agility that leaves no doubt as to the contempt he feels for them. As a man not yet thirty, he believes in “dear races,” in women, in the English language, and in Greater Britain, the destinies of which he has disposed of airily in a work wherein he has published all that he heard and thought in a rapid voyage around the world. In the House of Commons he has displayed a marked want of reverence for age and prescription; and he is but too well known to whips as the founder and secretary of that compact body of kindred male and female politicians, the Radical Club -- the birth-place of all subversive ideas, and the cradle of all projects for forcing the unwilling Government to carry them into effect.

It was to be hoped that age and greater tactical experience would have made Sir Charles at least an endurable Radical, but his last exploit shows that any such hopes are not likely to be realised. Himself the first inheritor of a title which was conferred through the personal friendship of a Royal Personage, he has, with a singular want of taste, attacked Royalty in a singularly wanton and unjust manner. Sir Charles Dilke is unhappy when dealing with facts. He asserts that the Queen’s pages do not pass examination when they enter the army; whereas they do pass examination. He asserts that the Queen pays no income-tax upon her income; whereas She does pay it. He asserts that the appropriation of savings out of the sums voted by Parliament for the Civil List to the Privy Purse is “directly in the teeth of the Act of Parliament”; whereas the Act expressly authorises such an appropriation. Nevertheless, upon such assertions as these he has founded a suggestion so presented that it almost amounts to a charge of a conspiracy between Her Majesty and the Treasury to form a large private Royal fortune in an unlawful manner. Seldom has so unwarrantable an attack been made, or one so ill-calculated for its purpose. It has found an echo throughout the country which has unexpectedly proved the attachment of the English people to Royal Institutions, and above all to the Lady in whom they are personified; and Sir Charles Dilke in endeavoring to promote a Republic has but disclosed the strength of the Monarchy.

Unlike his Cambridge contemporary C.B. Lawes, Charles Wentworth Dilke (1843-1911) had no rowing experience on going up to Trinity Hall in 1862 but found, according to one of his biographers, that “it offered exactly the sort of purposive, vigorous, comparatively non-time-wasting athleticism which he wanted.”[1] In this effort Dilke found a perfect role model in Leslie Stephen, his academic tutor and rowing coach, who founded the Dictionary of National Biography and had coached Hall crews while running alongside them on the towpath.[2] By the end of the first year Dilke was No. 4 in the Hall crew that entered the 1863 Grand and Ladies’. The next year he was secretary of the club and rowed at No. 3 in the crew that again entered the Grand and Ladies’ and went head of the river (“the ever-memorable May 12th, 1864,” he wrote his father). The boat was later cut up and Dilke kept his section on the wall of his Sloane Street study for the rest of his life. In 1865, Dilke’s crew got bumped the second night by Third Trinity with Lawes and four other university oars. Dilke had a chance to row at No. 7 in the 1865 and 1866 university boats, but “declined on the score of constitution,” he later wrote. “I was strong, but afraid of the rowing in training over the long course, although perfectly able to stand up to the short course work of Cambridge or of Henley. . . . I believe that I was unduly frightened by my doctor, and that I might have rowed.”[3] None of this came at the expense of academic success, as Dilke was Senior Legalist in his third year, the highest honor open to him, and twice served as both vice-president and president of the Union Society. His “methodical bee-like industry,”[4] and ability to read in quantity and remember most of it served him well both at Cambridge and after.

On leaving Cambridge, Dilke toured the world. His Greater Britain: A Record of Travel in English-Speaking Countries During 1866 and 1867, published in 1869 to popular and critical acclaim, included a moment with the 1866 Harvard crew. Dilke measured them, like others whose paths he crossed en tour, with Darwin’s new yardstick of natural selection:

They were in strict training for their University race with Yale, which was to come off in a week; and as Cambridge had been beaten twice running, and this year had a better crew, they were wishful for criticisms on their style. Such an opinion as a stranger could offer was soon given; they were dashing, fast, long in their stroke; strong, considering their light weights, but terribly overworked. They have taken for a rule the old English notions as to training which have long since disappeared at home, and, looked upon as fanatics by their friends and tutors, they have all the fanatic’s excess of zeal.

Rowing and other athletics, with the exceptions of skating and base-ball, are both neglected and despised in America. When the smallest sign of a reaction appears in the New England colleges, there comes at once a cry from Boston that brains are being postponed to brawn. If New Englanders would look about them, they would see that their climate has of itself developed brains at the expense of brawn, and that, if national degeneracy is to be long prevented, brawn must in some way be fostered. The high shoulder, head-voice, and pallor of the Boston men are not incompatible with the possession of the most powerful brain, the keenest wit; but it is not probable that energy and talent will be continued in the future generations sprung from the worn-out men and women of to-day.[5]

Vanity Fair featured Dilke in 1871 just before the less spectacular of the two great crashes in his political life. Elected three years earlier (at age twenty-five) as a Liberal M.P. for Chelsea, he came to see Gladstone’s government as unduly conservative, and in 1870 organized the Radical Club of like-minded members to press for more aggressive reforms in such areas as voting rights and education. At the same time, republican sentiment was on the rise, due in part to the declaration of the French Republic and, at home, an economic slump and working class disillusionment with the Reform Act of 1867. In the summer of 1871, an anonymous pamphlet entitled What Does She Do With It? appeared questioning the Queen’s disposition of her budget, the Civil List. Dilke responded, likely influenced both positively by his grandfather (who had been a mentor and lifelong republican) and negatively by his father (who received a baronetcy for service as a royal commissioner for the 1862 exhibition). In a speech at Newcastle, Dilke called for a parliamentary audit of the Civil List, relying on the pamphlet and an 1855 report by the Financial Reform Association, and concluding: “If you can show me a fair chance that a Republic here will be free from the political corruption that hangs about the Monarchy, I say, for my part -- and I believe the middle classes in general, will say -- let it come.” From an M.P. who shared the podium with working-class leaders at a time of industrial unrest, his remarks were considered beyond the pale. But rather than retreat in the face of such critiques as Vanity Fair’s, Dilke continued to speak on royal finance (with appropriate factual corrections) for the next several months. Tissot’s caricature for Vanity Fair captured the penetrating eyes and aggressive posture of a man on a mission. In March 1872, Dilke formally moved Parliament for an inquiry into the Civil List. Gladstone, a fellow Liberal, cheered on from the Conservative bench, “went ‘smashing’ into him as if he were Chelsea china.”[6] In the end Dilke lost 276 to 2, thereby not only killing parliamentary republicanism but also strengthening the constitutional monarchy, Gladstone’s goal all along.

It took Dilke the better part of a decade to recover. By 1880, his relative moderation on domestic issues and unsurpassed competence in foreign, military, and colonial affairs earned him the Under-Secretaryship at the Foreign Office in the second Gladstone administration. He excelled. Disraeli not only described Dilke as “the rising man on the other side,”[7] but used him as the fictional hero of Endymion (1881): a novel about an under-secretary of state for foreign affairs who becomes premier. In 1882 Dilke entered the Cabinet as head of the Local Government Board, from which post he appeared in Vanity Fair’s 1883 Winter Number, “The Gladstone Cabinet” by Chartran. By 1885, he and Joseph Chamberlain were the recognized co-leaders of the radical wing of the Liberal party, bent on the further democratization of central and local government. In June Dilke drew this barb from Vanity Fair after he and the rest of the Gladstone cabinet resigned, having lost a Parliamentary vote of confidence:

Let any conscientious man Dear Charles, pray take no further pains:
Think of our words, and leave our acts, You’ve reasoned, ranted, thundered, wailed,
Weigh the perfection of our plan, And yet the solid fact remains
And never mind the stupid facts. That everything you’ve tried has failed.
I fancy that he will be driven If nations could be ruled by tongue,
To own that such a set of sages Then your success would be most splendid;
Never before by heaven were given But now we’re glad your knell has rung,
To draw our happy country’s wages. Glad that your plague of words has ended.
Peace and goodwill we’ve always preached, Fly to some realm where earthly rules
We have gone in for arbitration; Are dead. Go off (with Weg) to Saturn.
Our manly eloquence has reached There you may find some simple fools
The heart of every righteous nation. Who pine for statesmen of your pattern.
The wicked ways of despot kings But we down here have had enough,
We have denounced with noble candour, We find your sentiments a bore;
And, in our zeal for holy things, So, Charles, pray talk no further stuff,
We even raised Prince Bismarck’s dander. Take yourself off, and come no more.
Read through our miles and miles of jaw,
Choose any speech for your selection,
I challenge you to pick one flaw
That mars our round of sheer perfection.

Weeks later, before Dilke could regroup from this modest political setback, disaster struck: one Donald Crawford filed for divorce on the grounds of adultery, naming Dilke as the co-respondent. Mrs. Crawford was Dilke’s sister-in-law, quite young, and among the allegations was that Dilke taught her “every French vice” and orchestrated a ménage-à-trois with one of her servants. To make matters worse, Dilke had in fact twice had an affair with her mother: for a time before he married, and again after he was widowed. The revelation of the details, through the course of two proceedings, made for “the most sensational trial that has taken place [in the New Law Courts],” Vanity Fair declared afterward, “a trial that will be mentioned years hence in the same breath with the Tichborne case, the Mordaunt case, the Belt case, and other causes célèbres associated with Westminster Hall.”[8] (Vanity Fair’s coverage is excerpted below.)

This time Dilke never fully recovered. He lost his Chelsea seat at the July 1886 general election, though defeat had less to do with the then-pending Crawford case than with more purely political matters. For several years following the scandal he avoided office but turned to his pen, especially in foreign and military affairs. That he might be content as a bystander to history was “a misfortune,” wrote Vanity Fair (January 7, 1888). “There was no clearer head than his in the whole House of Commons, and his grasp of details was phenomenal. ‘Literary and historical work,’ which he has mapped out for himself for some years to come, are useful pursuits in their way, but Nature did not intend the author of ‘Greater Britain’ for a bookworm. He is essentially a man of action, and in his present sphere his powers are to a great extent frittered away.”

Dilke’s self-enforced absence from public life did free up time to row. In 1883 he bought property at Dockett Eddy, an island in the Thames near Shepperton. At his bungalow there, completed just before the lawsuit, Dilke enjoyed a structured regimen of rowing, riding, and fencing, all of which he had continued in true Leslie Stephen fashion since Cambridge days. Among his guests were oarsmen from Trinity Hall (such as Reginald McKenna) and a handful of other Oxbridge colleges (such as S.D. Muttlebury from Trinity, Cambridge). One guest, Charles Boyd, recalled one of these “happiest and healthiest of week-ends or more extended summer holidays,” where “the black and white blazer of his old college carried a certain prescriptive right to share in every belonging of the most famous of old Hall men”:

C.W. Dilke and Bill East, c.1904

Less a country-house, indeed, than a camp of exercise. You did as you pleased, but under Sir Charles’s guidance you were pleased to be strenuous. He called everybody to bathe at 7 a.m., and where was ever better -- fresh-water -- bathing-place than the floating raft below the boat-house at Dockett? Etiquette required you to dive in and go straight across to the other bank, touch, and return; when, like as not, Sir Charles, in shorts and sweater, might be seen very precisely preparing tea on the landing-stage for the deserving valiant. His little kindnesses had an added and affecting quality from his reserve and sternness. A rare figure of an athlete he was, and a rare athlete’s day his was in that retreat. For hours before he called and turned out the morning guard he had been up busy gardening, or reading, or writing. At a quarter to nine he breakfasted. Very shortly after breakfast an ex-champion sculler, the admirable Bill East, would arrive from Richmond, and he and Sir Charles would row in a racing skiff a measured mile or more of the river. One summer at least he changed from the rowing kit to boots and breaches after his rowing, and rode till luncheon. At four o’clock there would be a second bout with East, and thereafter, having changed from his rowing kit into flannels and his Hall cap, he would take Lady Dilke in her dinghy, which nobody else has ever used or will use.[9]

Dilke returned to Parliament in 1892 as Liberal M.P. for the Forest of Dean, where he pursued an independent blend of social radicalism in domestic policy and power politics in foreign affairs until his death in 1911. A recent comprehensive biography credits him with a great deal during this final stage, which historians formerly overlooked due to the denigration he suffered by his contemporaries at the time of and well after the Crawford divorce. Indeed, even the centenary history of the Trinity Hall Boat Club, published in 1930, virtually omits Dilke while showering notice on every other alumnus who made rank in the judiciary, clergy, or politics. For his own unpublished memoir, Dilke chose an epigram from Ibsen that Leslie Stephen could have penned: “We are all of us run over, sometime or other in life. The thing is to jump up again, and let no one see you are hurt.”[10]

Crawford v. CrawfordEdit

On the success of Greville’s Memoirs, Dilke remarked that it made one think that “the art of biography consists solely in the reviving of forgotten scandals.”[11] About himself the record has been mixed: his literary executrix who was also his niece did her level best to skip the Crawford case entirely in her 1917 biography, Roy Jenkins did the opposite in 1958, and David Nicholls took a middle path in 1995. The first mention of the case in Vanity Fair (August 1, 1885) reported on Dilke’s withdrawal from public life, his immediate reaction to the refusals of Crawford to agree to a private investigation and of Mrs. Crawford to a retraction:

The very sudden and very unexpected withdrawal of Sir Charles Dilke from all his engagements, from his place in the House of Commons, and from all political activity whatever, is a very serious blow to the Radical section of the Liberal Party. It involves the loss of action in Parliament for which Sir Charles had been counted upon, and will probably involve also the abandonment of that campaign in Ireland from which so much had been expected. It is in every sense a remarkable phenomenon and a portentous one, for Sir Charles Dilke has justly been regarded as the most possible and practicable of all the Radicals. He has governed himself with great judgment and caution, his deliverances have been entirely free from that offensive character which has made so many of his late colleagues to be personally hated, and he has shown much statesmanlike ability in the elaboration and the conduct through Parliament of some of the most important practical measures that have been passed in our time.

It is inevitable that the sudden self-effacement of so important a politician should give rise to gossip and to rumours, and accordingly the town is full of stories affecting to be precise and circumstantial, accounting for it on special personal grounds. It would be however extremely unfair to accept, much less to adopt, any such stories. When a public man retires from public life, either temporarily or permanently, the only reasons for the course he takes which can fairly be entertained or canvassed are those which he publicly assigns for it himself; and in this case the reason assigned is the very probable, natural, and sufficient one of ill-health arising from overwork. It is a reason which must therefore be freely accepted, and which it is equally unfair and ungenerous to question or to override by the adventurous whispering of irresponsible gossip.

Within two weeks, the Crawford case and the allegations concerning Dilke had become public, and Vanity Fair (August 15, 1885) offered its legal and political prediction:

The “Dilke Scandal” seems already to have become a permanent department of news with some of the papers, and the Tories appear to expect that it will be the end of Sir Charles Dilke’s career, and to expect this with all the greater confidence since the publication of Sir Charles’s own letter on the subject.

I do not share these anticipations. My expectation, on the contrary, is that the affair will either be settled out of Court altogether, or else that, if it comes into Court, it will be so conducted as to cause the least possible scandal. My reasons are these:-- This is in every sense a family quarrel. The principal parties to it are all connected by ties of relationship, and all the parties belong to the Liberal ranks. Sir Henry James, the counsel for Sir Charles, is a Liberal who has achieved a high position; Mr. Inderwick, the counsel for Mr. Crawford, is a Liberal who has three times fought constituencies in the Liberal interest, and who is ambitious to achieve a high position; Mr. Crawford is a Liberal who was to have contested East Lanarkshire in the Liberal interest; and Mr. Eustace Smith is the Liberal Member for Tynemouth. Now Sir Charles Dilke is held by all Liberals to be of absolute necessity to their Party. It is certain, therefore, that superhuman efforts will be made to avoid anything that would fatally discredit him and cause the Liberal Party to lose the service of his undoubted talents. It is equally certain that the greatest pressure will be brought to bear upon everybody here concerned to do anything that can possibly be done to arrange the affair either without scandal at all or with as little scandal as possible; and, finally it is no less certain that everybody concerned will only be too anxious to do anything humanly possible to bring about this result. From the chiefs of the Party downwards all will use their best exertions and even Mr. Crawford himself may be expected to be ready to adopt any action in this direction which will at once save his honour and avoid for his Party what would be regarded as a fatal disaster.

Later in the same issue Vanity Fair reviewed the main allegations, declining to take a position on them (due perhaps less to Bowles’ innate editorial restraint than fear of another libel case), but taking a stand on the eternal question of the link between private conduct and public office:

We dismiss therefore wholly any consideration of the truth or untruth of these charges; but what is worthy of attention is the general question of how far charges against the private conduct of a public man should be allowed to weigh in dealing with his public career. It is far too often assumed that the two should be kept entirely separate; that the public man is one entity, and the private man another; and that the one ought to be considered and dealt with wholly apart from the other. Nothing can be more false or more absurd. A man is not two beings; he is one; and if it be proved that he is false, dishonest, cowardly, disloyal, and base in his private capacity, it would be nonsensical to suppose that he could be true, honest, brave, loyal, and noble in his public capacity. All that part therefore of a man’s private doings which comes to public knowledge, fairly may be, and most properly should be, taken into account, so far as it discloses the real character of the man himself, and consequently his fitness or unfitness for the public service. He who is clearly shown to have betrayed private trust may reasonably be held likely to betray also a public trust; he who is clearly shown to be corrupt in private matters will probably also be corrupt in public matters; and if it be that such proof of private misdeeds comes before the public as warrants an evil opinion of the character of a public man, it is not wrong and unnecessary, but eminently right and necessary, that the knowledge thus acquired should be brought to bear upon the claim of the man to public confidence. But if, on the other hand, the facts established only go to show that the man in question is moved by ordinary venial human weaknesses, or has been guilty of ordinary venial indiscretions, then it would be eminently unfair to visit upon him a public penalty for private faults of such a character. The whole question turns upon the character of the acts established. If they be such as affect his character for honesty, honour, and trustworthiness, they are necessary elements in estimating his fitness for public affairs; if they merely affect his discretion or his strength of mind, they are rather to be generously disregarded. A bank manager would be wrong in refusing to take into account proofs that one of his cashiers had cheated a friend; he would be right in refusing to take into account proofs that he had eaten himself into an attack of jaundice.

Thus it may well be that a case of the kind alleged against Sir Charles Dilke may prove to be of such a character as may, upon a right judgment, be regarded as irrelevant to his public position, and unnecessary to be taken into account; or, on the other hand, it may prove highly relevant to it, and very necessary to be taken into account. It all depends upon the complexion of the case, and the degree to which it is established, if at all. It is right to bear these considerations in mind, and especially to bear them in mind now, because the matter is now sub judice, and because in all probability it cannot possibly be brought to a decision until after the General Election takes place. Sir Charles is therefore entitled to the benefit of the doubt that hangs over every undecided case, and of his own denial of the charge.

Mr. Justice Butt heard the case on February 12, 1886. It consisted solely of Crawford’s account of his wife’s confession and the testimony of two witnesses that she had spent certain nights away from home. Mrs. Crawford was not present; Dilke was, but on his lawyers’ advice did not testify. Under the rules of evidence Mrs. Crawford’s confession helped prove Crawford’s case for a divorce, but could not be used against Dilke himself. In addition, Dilke’s lawyers feared that his reputation would suffer more from questions into his private life were he to take the stand (even if overruled as objectionable and thus not requiring an answer), than it would if none were asked. Sir Charles Russell, Dilke’s chief counsel who had also been C.B. Lawes’ in the Belt case, said so to the court, gratuitously noting that “in the life of any man there may be found to have been some indiscretions.” In the end, Justice Butt found the record sufficient to prove Mrs. Crawford’s adultery (Crawford got his divorce) but not to prove Dilke’s (so he was dismissed from the case and awarded his legal costs). To the newspapers, including Vanity Fair (February 20, 1886), this outcome was ridiculous, and proved Mrs. Crawford a fallen but honest and courageous woman, Justice Butt a Liberal patsy who ought to be impeached, and Sir Charles Dilke either dishonest, not a gentleman, or both:


This is what Society says:--

Society is far from being censorious or over-severe in cases of what Mr. Attorney-General Charles Russell very prettily calls “indiscretions.” It is, on the contrary, most long-suffering and indulgent with regard to them, as many a man and woman now in Society, who otherwise would not be there, can testify. Neither is Society at all disinclined to allow a man -- so long as he “behaves like a gentleman” -- to escape on a flaw in the indictment. There was, not so long ago, a general rejoicing in Society over a case in which it was held that a certain person had “rushed old Hannen,” and avoided, together with the lady, punishment for an offence which all Society nevertheless thought most likely to have been committed.

But Society draws the line nevertheless somewhere, even in cases of this description. Nobody in Society can be found to defend the conduct of a man who debauches a child of eighteen to whom he has access by virtue of his kinship and of his intimate relations with her parents. Society condemns that as being beyond the limits of the fair “indiscretion” at which it may fairly wink. And it condemns such conduct still more uncompromisingly if the man has added to the offence by debasing the child’s mind and by initiating her into the obscene practices of French refinement. All this however, and no less, is what is charged against Sir Charles Dilke by Mrs. Crawford’s confession. The Judge believed that confession and Society believes it too, and (whether rightly or wrongly) treats the matter as though there were no doubt remaining whatever about any part of the confession.

How the confession arose Society holds that it knows exactly. And the belief in Society is this: That Mrs. Crawford, having given up her “indiscretion” with Sir Charles Dilke -- having, in fact, been abandoned by him -- for eleven months, was living, and intending to live, as many another has done, happy ever afterwards with her husband in domestic felicity and forgetfulness. But when that last fatal anonymous letter arrived, she saw it and reflected. She saw that she was pursued by a pitiless, unrelenting enemy, whom she believed to be no other than her mother. She felt that if, after so long as a whole year of good conduct and desire to atone for the past, she was not left alone by her enemy, she never would be left alone. She might indeed destroy this letter before her husband saw it -- but others would reach him (as others had) at his Club or his office. It was clear that there was no peace or truce for her. What should she do? She would do this. She would make a clean breast of it, and would thus at once bring to an end the strain she could no longer bear, and at the same time be avenged both on the man who had debauched and deserted her, and also upon her mother who was so evidently determined to hunt her to despair and ruin. And so it was that she told her story -- and told it, not merely in bare outline, but with all the horrible details which take it outside any common story of debauchery and desertion.

And now, with regard to Sir Charles Dilke, what Society blames is, not his “indiscretion,” nor even so much the fact that this indiscretion was so great and exceptional as to take it beyond the time of all possible toleration; but rather that, when he was brought to book, his conduct was not what Society holds it should have been, but quite otherwise. “Voyou tant que tu voudras -- mauvais genre jamais”[12] is the principle that Society lays down, and it holds that, under the most trying circumstances, a man must behave “like a gentleman.” And Society holds that Sir Charles Dilke has behaved like one who has taken and acted upon the advice of a sharp attorney with an eye to virtuous dissenters; there is nothing about his conduct either of the magnificent impudence or of the generous assumption of blame which in these matters Society expects a gentleman to show.

Suppose the charge to be false -- the mere false invention of an hysterical woman. In that case Sir Charles’s duty, as a gentleman, was to go into the box and deny it all, to prove that the lady was hysterical and deluded, and thus to save her as well as himself -- but her above all. As a gentleman it was his duty to do this -- his duty for his own sake; his duty for her sake; his duty for the sake of her mother, whose name had been so terribly handled in the affair.

Or, again, suppose the charge to be true. Suppose it to be so thoroughly and completely true that Sir Charles could not dare to go into the witness-box to deny it and to expose himself to having brought against him the proofs which in that case would have been easily accessible. Here would be a situation in which his testimony could not avail either to save the lady or to save himself, and in which therefore he could not go into the witness-box at all. But in that case the only course for a gentleman to take was to stand wholly aside; neither to enter an appearance nor to make a defence, but to let the case go by default, and to suffer in silence any penalty that the Court might impose upon him.

But Sir Charles did none of all this. What he did was to deny, and yet not to make his denial in the only effective, the only useful way. And what is worst of all is that his friends, whom Society believes to be prompted by himself, go, and have gone, industriously about to declare that he is an injured innocent; that he is as pure as the driven snow; that the whole charge has originated in no indiscretion of his, but only in the utterly unfounded imaginings of an hysterical woman; that Sir Charles is a maligned man, and Mrs. Crawford a malignant, mad woman -- that all the faults are hers, and none of them his. Society would be quite ready to believe this if Sir Charles had brought any evidence of it, or if he had successfully sworn it; but to ask Society to believe it in the absence of all evidence whatever, and to persevere in asking it, is to act in a way in which Society holds that no gentleman should act.

Moreover, Society does not view with favor any man who, under any circumstances, puts the fault in a case of this kind wholly upon the woman, and refuses to bear any part of it himself. It holds that men and women are alike liable to “indiscretion”; but that if ever such indiscretions are discovered, or alleged, the stronger should shield the weaker vessel, and the man should take upon himself a fair share, and even the major share of the blame. In connection wherewith it remembers the case of Valentine Baker, who, as it holds, did behave like a gentleman.

Under all these circumstances, Society distinctly holds that Sir Charles Dilke has not come up to the necessary standard, and it reprobates him severely.

The case could have ended there but for Dilke’s decision to instigate a second proceeding in a desperate attempt to reclaim his reputation. The legal vehicle was to have the Queen’s Proctor, who represented the Crown in divorce and probate matters, intervene to attempt to show that Mrs. Crawford had not committed adultery with Dilke. The ensuing trial ran from July 16 to July 23 before Mr. Justice Hannen, Dilke testifying “with a complexion not unlke Mrs. Crawford’s dress -- light olive-green” (Vanity Fair (July 24, 1886)):


The original suit of “Crawford versus Crawford and Dilke,” heard last February before Mr. Justice Butt, had a good deal to recommend it to the evening newspapers; but, compared with the present week’s sensation of “Crawford versus Crawford, the Queen’s Proctor showing cause,” it was tame, inconclusive, shadowy, and unsatisfactory. Dramatically, the first trial was deficient. The principal characters -- good, bad, and indifferent -- were not seen; they did not strut the stage or mount the witness-box. They were merely talked about. That, of course, was a grave fault, but it has been set right in the later proceedings, which have kept all London, and indeed all England, on the alert for a full week. Mrs. Crawford has now told her story in open Court. Sir Charles Dilke has been examined and cross-examined. The redoubtable “Sarah” has shown herself to be possessed of a treacherous memory. We have seen the much-talked-of Mrs. Rogerson in the flesh, and heard about her very, very hospitable house. “Fanny,” it is true, has made another of her mysterious disappearances; but her photograph has been handed round from juryman to juryman, the Junior Bar meanwhile craning their necks to get a glimpse of the scrap of cardboard upon which the lineaments of the interesting absentee were imprinted. That “Fanny’s” presence in Court would have given the finishing touch to a very thorough-going sensation is unquestionable; but it is perhaps captious to complain when the whole wretched story has been so fully and nauseously narrated.

It took the jury of propertied London men fifteen minutes to reject the Proctor’s (and Dilke’s) case and affirm the first decision. Again, Vanity Fair (July 24, 1886):

The daily newspapers have, during the whole of this week, held a daily orgy of filth and foulness in their reports of the Crawford case, and, as usual, these prints, who are always so extremely virtuous and proper in their leading articles, have been as disgusting as the case would allow them to be throughout the rest of their columns. And now the case has been ended by the inevitable verdict which stamps Mrs. Crawford as the witness of truth and so gravely discredits Sir Charles Dilke, these same daily papers will be lifting up their pious eyes and hands at the wickedness out of which they have been coining money every morning and evening by sending it into every household in the land.

It is however too much to suppose that the case is ended with the verdict which merely affirms that Mr. Crawford was rightfully entitled to and shall have his divorce, under circumstances which dismissed Sir Charles Dilke from the case. There are already rumours abroad of prosecutions for perjury, which however I expect will come to nothing. But there will certainly be very strong comments made upon the matter, and it will be a long time, which will probably be marked by startling events, before the excitement is abated.

“Historians who have studied the divorce case in any depth have concluded that Dilke was in all probability innocent of any adulterous relationship with Mrs. Crawford,” David Nicholls concluded in his 1995 biography. Evidence assembled after the second case “leaves no doubt that the divorce court had been misled and had based its verdict upon false information. That Mrs. Crawford wove a net of fabrications in which Dilke became inextricably enmeshed is beyond dispute. . . . [Historians] have therefore been left wondering why she chose him as her victim. Their accounts at this point inevitably enter the realm of speculation.”[13]


  1. ^ R. Jenkins, Sir Charles Dilke: A Victorian Tragedy, p. 27.
  2. ^ H. Bond, A History of the Trinity Hall Boat Club, p. 24.
  3. ^ C.W. Dilke, quoted in S. Gwynn & G. Tuckwell, Life of Rt. Hon. Sir Charles W. Dilke, Vol. I, p. 44.
  4. ^ Master of Trinity Hall, quoted in S. Gwynn & G. Tuckwell, Vol. I, p. 28.
  5. ^ C.W. Dilke, Greater Britain: A Record of Travel in English-Speaking Countries During 1866 and 1867, Vol. I, p. 54. Harvard went on to beat Yale that year, 18:43.5 to 19:10, over three miles at Worcester.
  6. ^ Punch, March 30, 1872, quoted in D. Nicholls, The Lost Prime Minister: A Life of Sir Charles Dilke, p. 55.
  7. ^ Barrington letter to Dilke, Dec. 25, 1882 (attributing W.E. Gladstone), quoted in D. Nicholls, p. 105.
  8. ^ Vanity Fair, July 24, 1886, p. 47.
  9. ^ Charles Boyd, quoted in S. Gwynn & G. Tuckwell, Vol. II, pp. 319-20. About riverside cottages in general and Dilke’s in particular, Theodore Hook reportedly quipped that its advantage is that “in the summer you had the river at the bottom of your garden, and that in the winter you had the garden at the bottom of your river.” A Journalist, Bohemian Days in Fleet Street, p. 288.
  10. ^ H. Ibsen, John Gabriel Borkman, quoted in D. Nicholls, p. 312.
  11. ^ C.W. Dilke, quoted in D. Nicholls, p. xi.
  12. ^ Roughly, “Slum as much as you like -- but never in bad form.”
  13. ^ D. Nicholls, pp. 193, 195.