The English statesman and author John Morley, Viscount Morley of Blackburn (1838-1923), was one of the principal Victorian expositors of the ideas of the Enlightenment. He was a leader of the Liberal party, which drew nourishment from those ideas.
John Morley was born at Blackburn on Dec. 24, 1838. He left Lincoln College, Oxford, in 1859 to pursue a literary career in London. He was editor of several periodicals and was known as an incisive reviewer with radical sympathies. His major achievement in journalism was his conduct of the Fortnightly Review, which he edited with great distinction from 1867 to 1883. He was also editor of Macmillan's Magazine for a short time. For Macmillan's, Morley also edited the "English Men of Letters Series," starting in 1878. To it he contributed the volume on Edmund Burke (1879), one of the best of the series.
Morley's career as a critic generally either preceded his election to Parliament in 1883 or filled up the intervals between office thereafter. His chief works were the books Voltaire (1872), Rousseau (1873), Diderot and the Encyclopaedists (1878), and Walpole (1889). His Life of Cobden (1881) was primarily a defense of the ideas of that radical politician. After the death of William Gladstone, Morley undertook to write his biography. The Life, which appeared in 1903, drew on a vast collection of materials and presented the life of the eminent Liberal prime minister with sympathy and perceptiveness. The book is Morley's major work.
His career in politics overshadowed Morley's literary life. He entered Parliament at a by-election in Newcastle-on-Tyne in 1883, and his capacities soon earned him a prominent position in the Commons. He became secretary for Ireland in Gladstone's governments of 1886 and 1892 and was an ardent supporter of Irish home rule. He also sided with the Liberals in their anti-imperialist policies. In 1895 he lost his Newcastle seat but found another in Scotland for the Montrose Burghs.
Morley became secretary of state for India in Henry Campbell-Bannerman's Cabinet of 1905. He was firm in his handling of seditious tendencies in India but was a sympathetic advocate of Indian participation in government administration and he helped to decentralize the operations of the government. He retained his post in Herbert Asquith's Cabinet of 1908, and then, in 1911, he became lord president of the council. From 1908 he sat in the upper house as Viscount Morley of Blackburn. In the Lords he was active in persuading the house, much against its will, to pass the budget of November 1909.
At the outbreak of World War I Morley, who was a well-known pacifist, resigned his office. During his retirement he wrote his Recollections (1917), a valuable late defense of Victorian liberalism. At the time of his death on Sept. 23, 1923, he was accounted one of the venerables of English letters.
Useful biographical and critical works are Francis Wrigley Hirst, Early Life and Letters of John Morley (2 vols., 1927, 1978), and Frances Wentworth Knickerbocker, Free Minds: John Morley and His Friends (1943). See also the chapter on Morley in Basil Willey, More Nineteenth Century Studies: A Group of Honest Doubters (1956). Two studies of Morley's period in India are Manmath Nath Das, India under Morley and Minto: Politics behind Revolution, Repression and Reforms (1965), and Stanley A. Wolpert, Morley and India, 1906-1910 (1967). Recommended for general historical background are George Macaulay Trevelyan, British History in the Nineteenth Century, and After, 1782-1919 (1937; new ed. 1962), and Walter Houghton, The Victorian Frame of Mind, 1830-1870 (1959).