Fryston Hall, Fryston Ln & Wheldale Ln, Castleford WF10 2PN, UK
University of Cambridge, 4 Mill Ln, Cambridge CB2 1RZ
St. Andrew's Old Churchyard Ferrybridge, Metropolitan Borough of Wakefield, West Yorkshire, England
Richard Monckton Milnes, 1st Baron Houghton, FRS (19 June 1809 – 11 August 1885) was an English poet, patron of literature and politician. He was part of the Cambridge Apostles and The Cannibal Club. The Cannibal Club was populated by several somewhat eccentric personalities of the time: along with Richard Burton, vice president of the Anthropological Society, founder of the Club and one of the most famous translators of pornographic Oriental literature of his time, members included Richard Monckton Milnes, owner of the Fryston Library, nicknamed Aphrodisiopolis because it contained the largest collection of erotic and illegal works in Britain. The term ‘cannibalism’ eventually came to function as a shorthand for male–male desire within the group. Parodic references to Priapus abounded in the private correspondence among the Cannibals with explicit references to male–male desire. For example, Algernon Charles Swinburne began a letter to Richard Monckton Milnes, 1st Baron Houghton with the salutation: ‘Salus in X Priapo et Ecclesia / Sub invocatione Beatissimi Donatiani De Sade (Salvation in Christ, Priapus and His Church / by the Intercession of the most blessed De Sade).’ Other recurring expressions in the letters written between the Cannibals were ‘swishing’, which was used as a slang word for effeminate and a disparaging term for homosexual. It was also used with double reference to flagellation and homosexuality.
Milnes was born in London, the son of Robert Pemberton Milnes, of Fryston Hall, Castleford, West Yorkshire, and the Honourable Henrietta, daughter of Robert Monckton-Arundell, 4th Viscount Galway. He was educated privately, and entered Trinity College, Cambridge, in 1827. There he was drawn into a literary set, and became a member of the famous Apostles Club, which then included Alfred Lord Tennyson, Arthur Hallam, Richard Chenevix Trench, Joseph Blakesley, and others. After graduating with an M.A. in 1831, Milnes travelled abroad, spending some time at the University of Bonn. He went to Italy and Greece, and published in 1834 a volume of Memorials of a Tour in some Parts of Greece, describing his experiences.
Milnes returned to London in 1837, and was elected to Parliament as member for Pontefract as a Conservative. In parliament he interested himself particularly in the question of copyright and the conditions of reformatory schools. He left Prime Minister Sir Robert Peel's party over the Corn Law controversy, and was afterwards identified in politics with Lord Palmerston. His easy good nature had the effect that his political career was viewed with less seriousness by his contemporaries than it might otherwise have been. In 1848, he went to Paris to see something of the revolution, and to fraternise with both sides. On his return he wrote, as a ‘Letter to Lord Lansdowne,' 1848, a pamphlet on the events of that year, in which he offended the conservatives by his sympathy with continental liberalism, and in particular with the struggle of Italy against Austria. During the Chartist riots of 1848, Matthew Arnold wrote to his mother: Tell Miss Martineau it is said here that Monckton Milnes refused to be sworn in a special constable, that he might be free to assume the post of President of the Republic at a moment's notice. In 1863, Palmerston elevated Milnes to the peerage as Baron Houghton, of Great Houghton in the West Riding of the County of York. George W. E. Russell said of him: "As years advanced he became not (as the manner of most men is) less Liberal, but more so; keener in sympathy with all popular causes; livelier in his indignation against monopoly and injustice."
Milnes' literary career was often influenced by church matters. He wrote a tract in 1841, which was praised by John Henry Newman. He took part in the discussion about "Essays and Reviews", defending the tractarian position in One Tract More (1841). He published two volumes of verse in 1838, Memorials of Residence upon the Continent and Poems of Many Years, Poetry for the People in 1840 and Palm Leaves in 1844. He also wrote a Life and Letters of Keats in 1848, the material for which was largely provided by the poet's friend, Charles Armitage Brown. Milnes' ballads were among the most popular of their day. In 1868, Lord Houghton was elected to the Royal Society. In 1870, he was elected a member of the American Antiquarian Society. Despite his piety, he had apparently an almost unsurpassed collection of erotic literature, which he bequeathed to the British Library, a collection known to few in his lifetime. A man whom his biographer Saunders said, "had many fine tastes and some coarse ones," Milnes authored The Rodiad, a pornographic poem on the subject of flagellation. However, his chief distinctions were his sense of literary merit in others, and the way he fostered it. He was surrounded by the most brilliant men of his time, many of whom he had been the first to acclaim. His reputation rests largely on the part he played, as a man of influence in society and in moulding public opinion on literary matters, in connection with his large circle of talented friends. He secured a pension for Tennyson, helped to make Ralph Waldo Emerson known in Britain, and was one of the earliest champions of Algernon Charles Swinburne. He helped David Gray by writing a preface for The Luggie. He helped to obtain a job for Coventry Patmore at the British Museum. He was, in the traditional sense, a patron of literature, who never abused the privileges of his position. He likewise admired the literacy brilliance in female writers and was a firm friend of the Gaskell family of Manchester. A believer in the advancement of women, he supported Meta, the daughter of novelist Elizabeth Gaskell in her work as the Representative of the Manchester Ladies' Educational Association and on The North of England Council for Promoting the Higher Education of Women. The Spectator reported upon Meta's death in 1913 that, "Lord Houghton once said that the conversation and society to be met with in the house of the Gaskells at Manchester – Plymouth Grove – were the one thing which made life in that city tolerable for people of literary tastes".
Milnes was a persistent suitor of Florence Nightingale (who finally refused to marry him), and one of her staunchest supporters along with the statesman Sidney Herbert. On 30 July 1851, he married the Honourable Annabella Hungerford Crewe, daughter of John Crewe, 2nd Baron Crewe. Together they had three children: Hon. Amicia Henrietta Milnes (d. 4 Jul 1902). She married Sir Gerald FitzGerald. They had one known son, archaeologist Capt. Gerald Milnes FitzGerald (b. 5 October 1883). Hon. Florence Ellen Hungerford Milnes (d. 4 Apr 1923). She married Maj.-Gen. Arthur Henry Henniker-Major, son of John Henniker-Major, 4th Baron Henniker. They had no issue. Lord Robert Offley Ashburton Crewe-Milnes, 1st and last Marquess of Crewe (12 Jan 1858 – 20 Jun 1945).
She died in 1874. Lord Houghton died at Vichy, France, in August 1885, aged 76, and was buried at Fryston. He was succeeded in the barony by his son, Robert, who became a prominent Liberal statesman and was created Earl of Crewe in 1895 and Marquess of Crewe in 1911. Richard and Annabella's two daughters were Amicia Henrietta and the novelist Florence Henniker. Milnes took interest in parapsychology, he was a member of the Society for Psychical Research.
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