Edward Smith-Stanley, 14th Earl of Derby

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It is a bungling fisherman who strikes at the first nibble; I shall wait till my fish has gorged the bait and then I am sure to land him.

Edward George Geoffrey Smith-Stanley, 14th Earl of Derby KG GCMG PC PC (Ire) (29 March 1799 – 23 October 1869), known as Lord Stanley from 1834 to 1851, was a British statesman and Conservative politician who served three times as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. To date, he is the longest-serving leader of the Conservative Party. He is one of only four British prime ministers to have three or more separate periods in office. However, his ministries each lasted less than two years and totalled three years and 280 days. Derby introduced the state education system in Ireland, and reformed Parliament.



  • I am convinced that the old and stubborn spirit of Toryism is at last yielding to the increased liberality of the age—that Tories of the old school—the Sticklers for inveterate abuses under the name of the wisdom of our ancestors, the "laudatores temporis acti," are giving way on all sides—that the spirit which supported the Holy Alliance, the friend of despotism rather than the advocate of struggling freedom, is hastening to the fate it merits, and that all its attendant evils are daily becoming matters which belong to history alone.
    • Speech in the House of Commons (18 February 1828)


  • We shall, doubtless, have divers declamations in praise of liberty, which no man wishes to gainsay; but the question is—is it from a state of liberty that Ireland is to be rescued? Is she not to be rescued from a state of great and severe tyranny? Is she not to be rescued from a state of anarchy, where life has no safety, and property no security? Liberty is something more than a name, and the benefits of liberty are the protection of life and property—the protection of every man in doing that which pleases himself, and is not detrimental to society. This is liberty and its benefits; and it is not liberty for a people to do justice neither to themselves nor to their neighbours, but to be subjected to the authority of self-constituted regulators.
    • Speech in the House of Commons (27 February 1833)
  • In me you will find one ready to assist in removing all blemishes and deformities from the best and holiest institutions of the country with the most uncompromising zeal—while, at the same time, I will oppose, with all the might and energy of which I am capable, those whose measures, whose objects, and whose intentions are not to reform, but to destroy. (Vehement and long-continued cheering.)
    • Speech at his installation as Lord Rector of Glasgow University (21 December 1834), quoted in The Times (22 December 1834), p. 3
  • I will venture to give one word by way of advice, and to express a hope that the study of the ancient classics will not be abandoned when they are no longer compulsory. Believe me, that to the man who wishes to study politics, or the art of persuasion, nothing can be more necessary than to imbue his mind with the spirit of the ancient poets and historians, that he may be able to infuse into his own arguments and compositions, and to draw from that pure and crystal fountain, some of the copious diction, high sentiment, and masculine thought, which so eminently distinguished those great men, but whom there is no hope of successfully rivalling.
    • Speech at his installation as Lord Rector of Glasgow University (21 December 1834), quoted in The Times (22 December 1834), p. 3
  • But this he must say, and he said it in a voice of warning and counsel...that if they relaxed in their endeavours, if they became lukewarm in their support of the church; if, while they admitted, and supported, and encouraged the reform of the church and the removal of abuses, they relaxed and flinched from the first principles by which that church was maintained and upheld, they had an adversary ever vigilant to take advantage of the slightest concession, ever watching for an unwise admission, ever desirous to entrap them into the adoption of some insidious expression which would afterwards be used against them in a different sense, and ever ready to assault and to assail everything they held most sacred.
    • Speech to the banquet held for Robert Peel in the Merchant Tailors'-hall (12 May 1834), quoted in The Times (14 May 1838), p. 6


  • [I]f you search the records of our history from the earliest times, you will find in the most distinct form, from the preambles of successive statutes in successive ages, that the principle which guided the Ministers of this country was, the principle of encouraging the domestic industry and protecting the agriculture of this country.
    • Speech in the House of Lords against the repeal of the Corn Laws (25 May 1846)
  • My Lords, these are the aristocracy of this country to whom I allude. Reduce these men, and you inflict an irretrievable and irreparable injury upon the country. Lower them in the scale, and you have deranged the social machine beyond the power of correction. God forbid that the successful manufacturer or that the princely merchant should not take his place among the landed aristocracy of this country! Such infusions add fresh vigour and power to that class of the community; but depend upon it, if you sweep that class away at once with all the associations attached to their names, their families, their histories, and the previous associations which belong to the character of their families, and substitute a new body of capitalists, to come amidst an unattached tenantry, and a neighbourhood where no associations are connected with their names, their moral influence and effect will be irretrievably lost.
    • Speech in the House of Lords against the repeal of the Corn Laws (25 May 1846)
  • Well, what are these real principles of free trade? They are, to dismiss every useless and unprofitable hand; they are to employ no men beyond those who are absolutely required to make a profit to their employer... I do not believe that under the pressure of the greatest difficulty the landlords of England as a body would adopt, even for their own protection, the cold and selfish and calculating doctrines of political economy and free trade.
    • Speech in the House of Lords against the repeal of the Corn Laws (25 May 1846)
  • Now, destroy this principle of protection, and I tell you in this place that you destroy the whole basis upon which your Colonial system rests. My Lords, if you do not know the advantages of your Colonies, Napoleon Bonaparte knew them well. It is by your Colonial system, based upon the principles of protection, that you have extended your arms—I do not mean your military arms, I mean your commercial arms—to every quarter and to every corner of the globe. It is to your Colonial system that you owe it that there is not a sea on which the flag of England does not float; that there is not a quarter of the world in which the language of England is not heard; that there is not a quarter of the globe, that there is no zone in either hemisphere, in which there are not thousands who recognize the sovereignty of Britain—to whom that language and that flag speak of a home, dear, though distant, of common interests, of common affections—men who share in your glories—men who sympathize in your adversities, men who are proud to bear their share of your burdens, to be embraced within the arms of your commercial policy, and to feel that they are members of your great and imperial Zollverein.
    • Speech in the House of Lords against the repeal of the Corn Laws (25 May 1846)
  • You are the trustees for far more than your personal interests; you are the trustees for your country, you are the trustees for posterity, you are the trustees for the Constitution of the Empire. My Lords, you each, and all of you, live amongst your neighbours, by whom you are looked up to as the guides for their political opinions; from you your neighbours take the colour of their opinions and their views; to you they look, to your opinions a respectful deference is paid, and it is you who have encouraged and promulgated the opinion that for the great interests of the country agricultural protection is essential.
    • Speech in the House of Lords against the repeal of the Corn Laws (25 May 1846)
  • Peel's great error has always been disregarding the opinion of his party, whenever it did not exactly square with his own; and I am confident that no man in these days can hope to lead a party who cannot make up his mind sometime to follow it.
    • Letter to Lord George Bentinck (27 October 1847), quoted in Robert Stewart, The Politics of Protection: Lord Derby and the Protectionist Party, 1841–1852 (1971), p. 222


  • It is a bungling fisherman who strikes at the first nibble; I shall wait till my fish has gorged the bait and then I am sure to land him.
    • Remarks to his son explaining why he declined to form a government (22 February 1851), quoted in Disraeli, Derby and the Conservative Party: Journals and Memoirs of Edward Henry, Lord Stanley, 1849–1869, ed. John Vincent (1978), p. 44
  • The time is very critical—the game is, I believe, in our hands; but in order to be played with ultimate success, it must be played honestly and manfully, and to take office with the purpose of throwing over, voluntarily, the main object of those who have raised us to it is to follow too closely an exemplar vitiis imitabile, to which I never can submit.
    • Letter to Benjamin Disraeli (18 January 1852), quoted in William Flavelle Monypenny and George Earle Buckle, The Life of Benjamin Disraeli, Earl of Beaconsfield. Vol. I. 1804–1859 (1929), pp. 1132-1133


  • Bored to the utmost power of extinction.
    • Last words to his son, who had asked him how he was feeling (15 October 1869), quoted in A Selection from the Diaries of Edward Henry Stanley, 15th Earl of Derby (1826–93) Between September 1869 and March 1878, ed. John Vincent (1994), p. 37

Quotes about Lord Derby[edit]

He abolished slavery, he educated Ireland, and he reformed Parliament. ~ Benjamin Disraeli
  • [T]he true type of the British political nobleman is Lord Derby—eloquence, high feeling, and good intentions—but the ideas of a school-boy.
    • Matthew Arnold to Jane Martha Arnold Foster (22 May 1859), quoted in The Letters of Matthew Arnold, Volume 1: 1829–1859, ed. Cecil Y. Lang (1996), p. 456
  • Disraeli told me that Lord Stanley broke up Peel's Government in the first instance by saying, "It is no use arguing the matter. We cannot do this as gentlemen," meaning repeal the Corn-laws.
    • Lord Broughton, diary entry (22 December 1848), quoted in Lord Broughton, Recollections of a Long Life, Vol. VI. 1841–1852, ed. Lady Dorchester (1911), pp. 228-229
  • One after one the lords of time advance,—
    Here Stanley meets,—how Stanley scorns, the glance!
    The brilliant chief, irregularly great,
    Frank, haughty, rash,—the Rupert of Debate!
    Nor gout, nor toil, his freshness can destroy.
    And Time still leaves all Eton in the boy;—
    First in the class, and keenest in the ring,
    He saps like Gladstone, and he fights like Spring!
    Ev'n at the feast, his pluck pervades the board.
    And dauntless game-cocks symbolize their lord.
  • Stanley is a host in himself. He has marvellous acuteness of intellect and consummate power in debate. There is no subject which he cannot thoroughly master and lucidly explain. His voice and manner are so good that no one can hear him without listening to him. He is powerful both in attack and defence. But he is neither a great statesman nor the discreet leader of a party. Although he inspirits his followers, he does not fill them with confidence. I do not think that he is likely soon to be Prime Minister, or that he would long retain the post if by any chance he should once get possession of it.
    • Lord Campbell, journal entry (25 July 1849), quoted in Life of John, Lord Campbell, Lord High Chancellor of Great Britain, Vol. II, ed. Mrs. Hardcastle (1881), p. 255
  • With respect to Lord Stanley, I take this opportunity to remark that although he gave offence now and then by a sort of schoolboy recklessness of expression, sometimes even of conduct, his cheerful temper bore him out, and made him more popular than others who were always considerate but less frank.
    • Stratford Canning, quoted in Stanley Lane-Poole, The Life of The Right Honourable Stratford Canning, Viscount Stratford de Radcliffe, Vol. II (1888), p. 37
  • Had studied him ever since he [Clarendon] was in the House of Lords. No generosity, never, to friend or foe; never acknowledged help; a great aristocrat, proud of family wealth. He had only agreed to this [the Reform Act] as he would of old have backed a horse at Newmarket; hated Disraeli, but believed in him as he would have done in an unprincipled trainer; he wins, that is all. He knows the garlic given, &c. He says to those without, "All fair, gentlemen."
    • Lord Clarendon, remarks to Samuel Wilberforce (23 October 1867), quoted in Reginald G. Wilberforce, Life of the Right Reverend Samuel Wilberforce, Vol. III (1882), p. 235
  • The fourteenth Earl of Derby, an aristocrat of great wealth and social position, a celebrated Parliamentary debater and a tough political fighter, was the only possible Conservative leader after the schism of 1846, but he lacked the qualities of ambition and dedication normally necessary for successful party leadership.
    • J. B. Conacher, 'Party politics in the age of Palmerston', in Philip Appleman, William A. Madden and Michael Wolff (eds.), 1859: Entering an Age of Crisis (1959), p. 166
  • Allow me to mention a passage which Lord Derby read to me out of a letter to himself from Lady Jane Houston, who lives very near Huskisson... "Houston saw Huskisson yesterday, who talked to him of his return to office as of a thing quite certain, and of Edward Stanley doing so too. Indeed he spoke of the latter as quite the Hope of the Nation!" As the Hope of the Nation was present when this was read, it would not have been decent to laugh; but the little Earl gave me a look that was quite enough.
    • Thomas Creevey to Miss Ord (1 November 1829), quoted in The Creevey Papers: A Selection From the Correspondence & Diaries of the Late Thomas Creevey, M.P. Born 1768—Died 1838. Vol. II, ed. Sir Herbert Maxwell (1903), p. 203
  • Lord Malmesbury told me that Stanley, "who never pays compliments, you know, that's not his way," said it [Disraeli's speech] was one of the best things that was ever done.
    • Benjamin Disraeli to his sister (11 March 1849), quoted in Lord Beaconsfield's Correspondence With His Sister, 1832–1852 (1886), p. 221
  • He astonishes me – his mind always clear – his patience extraordinary – he rises in difficulty, and his resources never fail.
    • Benjamin Disraeli, remarks to Lord Stanley (June 1852), quoted in Disraeli, Derby and the Conservative Party: Journals and Memoirs of Edward Henry, Lord Stanley, 1849–1869, ed. John Vincent (1978), p. 72
  • His fiery eloquence, his haughty courage, the rapidity of his intellectual grasp,—which probably never was surpassed; his capacity for labour, and his mastery of detail—which never were sufficiently appreciated, because the world was astonished by the celerity with which he despatched public affairs—all these combined to produce a man who must have become celebrated... He abolished slavery, he educated Ireland, and he reformed Parliament.
    • Benjamin Disraeli, speech to the unveiling of the statue of Lord Derby in Parliament Square (11 July 1874), quoted in The Times (13 July 1874), p. 10
  • Derby's reputation as a statesman suffers from the fact that he changed front so often. A whig, a Canningite, a strenuous whig leader, a strenuous conservative leader, the head of the protectionists, the opponent of democracy, and the author of the change which upset his own policy of 1832 and committed power to democracy in 1867, all these parts he filled in turn. He was not a statesman of profoundly settled convictions or of widely constructive views. He was a man rather of intense vitality than of great intellect, a brilliant combatant rather than a cautious or philosophic statesman. The work with which he was most identified, the re-creation of the conservative party after its disintegration on the fall of Peel, was Disraeli's rather than his own; and the charge of a timid reluctance to assume the responsibilities and toil of office is one that may fairly be made against him.
  • Derby's personality was full of charm. He was handsome in person, with striking aquiline features; in manner he was somewhat familiar and off-hand, but beneath this facility lay an aloofness from all but social equals and intimates which stood considerably in his way as a party leader.
  • When in office his application was indefatigable; nor was he insensible to the dignity of power. But he did not love politics for their own sake; and when he took office, did so rather from an over-ruling sense of duty than from any liking for his task. But he never neglected business; and the quickness of his parts enabled him to master details in a much shorter space of time than would have been required by ordinary men. His heart, however, was not upon the Treasury Bench; nor had he any taste for those strategical manœuvres which are as necessary in politics as in war. The soul of honour himself, he was incapable of suspecting either falsehood or trickery in others, and was, perhaps, a little impatient of the precautions which are necessary to counteract them.
    • T. E. Kebbel, A History of Toryism: From the Accession of Mr. Pitt to Power in 1783 to the Death of Lord Beaconsfield in 1881 (1886), p. 332
  • A little hesitation at the beginning of a speech is graceful; and many eminent speakers have practised it merely in order to give the appearance of unpremeditated reply to prepared speeches; Stanley speaks like a man who never knew what fear, or even modesty, was.
    • Thomas Macaulay to Hannah Macaulay (29 August 1831), quoted in George Otto Trevelyan, The Life and Letters of Lord Macaulay, Vol. I (1876), pp. 241-242
  • [Lord Derby at Eton had] an iron will and unbounded self-confidence.
    • Edward Bouverie Pusey to John Keble before Easter 1864, quoted in Henry Parry Liddon, The Life of Edward Bouverie Pusey, Vol. I (1800–1836) (1893), p. 13
  • The magnanimity of the emancipator of the slaves, the liberalism of the supporter of the Reform Bill, the generous sentiments actuating the advocate for the removal of disabilities from both Catholics and Dissenters, still, judging from the obvious policy of his cabinet, remain vital in the nature of the leader of the Derby government. His antagonists in discussion still find, no less, that there, in the midst of his varied oratorical powers, lurks yet the sting of sarcasm which extorted from O'Connell the designation of "Scorpion Stanley,"—an epithet, coming from the outspoken lips of Dan, complimentary rather than the reverse, remembering those other charming flowers of rhetoric flung about him with such lavish prodigality and such refined taste by the Liberator; such as "the base, bloody, and brutal Whigs," or, as "old buccaneering Wellington!"
    • Mark Rochester, The Derby Ministry: A Series of Cabinet Pictures (1859), p. 28
  • He explained with admirable clearness the insecure and alarming state of Ireland. He then went over, case by case, the more dreadful of the outrages which had been committed. He detailed, with striking effect, the circumstances attending the murder of a clergyman, and the agony of his widow, who, after seeing her husband murdered, had to bear the terror of running knocks at the door, kept on all night by the miscreants who had committed the crime. The House became appalled and agitated at the dreadful picture which he placed before their eyes; they felt for the sorrows of the innocent; they were shocked at the dominion of assassins and robbers. When he had produced a thrilling effect by these descriptions, he turned upon O'Connell, who led the opposition to the measure, and who seemed a short time before about to achieve a triumph in favour of sedition and anarchy. He recalled to the recollection of the House of Commons, that at a recent public meeting, O'Connell had spoken of the House of Commons as 658 scoundrels. In a tempest of scorn and indignation, he excited the anger of the men thus designated against the author of the calumny. The House, which two hours before seemed about to yield to the great agitator, was now almost ready to tear him to pieces. In the midst of the storm which his eloquence had raised, Stanley sat down, having achieved one of the greatest triumphs ever won in a popular assembly by the powers of oratory.
    • Lord John Russell, Recollections and Suggestions 1813–1873 (2nd ed. 1875), pp. 137-138
  • [B]esides the Irish Coercion Bill, which he had carried by the force of his eloquence, he had to conduct through Parliament and defend, clause by clause, the Irish Church Temporalities Bill, and the Colonial Slavery Abolition Bill, two of the largest and most important measures that were ever proposed for the consideration of Parliament. He performed these tasks with infinite skill, readiness, and ability; and for my part I felt and expressed to my friend the Duke of Richmond, the opinion which I firmly entertained, that whenever Lord Althorp should retire, or, by his father's death, be removed to the House of Lords, Mr. Stanley would be fully qualified to assume his place as leader of the Liberal party in the House of Commons.
    • Lord John Russell, Recollections and Suggestions 1813–1873 (2nd ed. 1875), pp. 139-140
  • Lord Derby had no very consistent or thoroughgoing theory of politics, that he never gave himself the trouble to make one, that he would not improbably have been hampered and irked by one if he had had it.
  • I think that Stanley, though brought up to think nominal Toryism pigheaded and foolish, was always a Tory at heart, and that the consequences of the Reform Bill made him, though he would not for a long time acknowledge it, a Tory in fact, on all, or almost all, points. But, in the first place, he had a mind very much averse from the metaphysics of politics, as, indeed, of all things, and never cared or dared to argue questions back to their first principles.
  • It has been said of him that he was the only brilliant eldest son produced by the British Peerage for a hundred years. This is an exaggeration, but there can be no doubt as to the exceptional character of his abilities, and as to the brilliancy of the promise with which his friends regarded him.
    • 'Lord Derby', The Times (25 October 1869), p. 7

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