Glorious Gossip

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In my piece on Elizabeth Grant, ‘The Highland Lady’ (SF no.44), I said that I had lighted on her when working at the publisher John Murray, and it was there that I also first bumped into Thomas Creevey. A glance at the back of the title page of The Creevey Papers showed that Murray had reprinted it ten times in as many years following the book’s first appearance in 1903 – a good indication that he was something special, and worth enquiring about within.

This bright young lawyer from Liverpool entered Parliament in 1802 and then for thirty years or more filled the corridors, dining-rooms and drawing-rooms of power with fresh air, sharp comment and hilarity. That same year he married a well-to-do widow but after she died in 1818, for many years he had £200 p.a. or less to live on. His younger friend and contemporary, the diarist Charles Greville, said in 1829 that he was ‘certainly living proof that a man may be perfectly happy and exceedingly poor’. He might possess no property of any sort, but what he did have were ‘a great many acquaintances, a good constitution and extraordinary spirits . . . He leads a vagrant life, visiting a number of people who are delighted to have him.’ And all the time he was writing letters to his stepdaughter Elizabeth Ord recording the gossip, the political manoeuvrings and back stabbings, the follies and triumphs of both friends and enemies. His interest in all going on around him was insatiable, sometimes fuelling his anger but much more often his incredulity and amusement.

There is a mystery about his parentage. On the face of it his father was captain of a Liverpool slave ship, but he died soon after Creevey’s birth in 1768. Who paid for him to board at a fashionable school in Hackney, to go to Cambridge, then to read for the Bar? Among his best friends in later life was the 2nd Earl of Sefton, to whom he bore a considerable physical likeness: John Gore, who produced further selection

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About the contributor

For the last four years Roger Hudson has written a feature in the magazine History Today called ‘In Focus’, around a different historic photograph each month.

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