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Lord Thomas of Swynnerton: My Lords, a lifetime ago, it seems, I came up to London in the company of a distinguished Cambridge graduate, Percy Cradock—later Ambassador in China and, later still, chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee and adviser to the Prime Minister. He was just about to launch his publication on the history of the Cambridge Union. That admirable volume had as an appendix a list of ex-presidents of the Cambridge Union and against some of them Percy Cradock had put an asterisk. I asked him the meaning of the asterisk, particularly as I was in the list as a president, but I did not have an asterisk. He said, "Ah, you must realise, those who have asterisks are those who can be found in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography". We all aim for that. More important than the K, the G or the OBE, the asterisk for Percy Cradock was the centre of our ambitions.

Like other noble Lords, I welcome the initiative of the noble Lord, Lord Baker, in introducing the debate on this magnificent publication. I am particularly pleased to hear—only today—that there are so many illustrations and portraits of the subjects in the dictionary. Perhaps we should bear in mind that an earlier version, like this version, has inspired many other countries to do the same thing. The Spanish Royal Academy of History, for example, has embarked on a similar publication to be published in a few years. There will be fewer names—perhaps 25,000 names—and fewer volumes, but nevertheless it will be an admirable act of recognition of the importance of Britain in initiating such a publication.

I have three points to make. First, I hope that there will be more businessmen and entrepreneurs included than in the earlier volumes. There was quite a remarkable neglect of such individuals, particularly those who were active in the 18th century. One sticks in my mind: the absence of a gentleman called John Kennion, a great entrepreneur in Lancashire, who played a part in the conquest of Cuba against the Spaniards. He introduced a great many slaves into the then Spanish colony. He is not to be found, but his nephew—a minor water colourist—who accompanied
 
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him on his journey to Havanna in 1762 in Lord Albemarle's expedition, is included. I hope that kind of imbalance will not be seen in this new edition.

Secondly, although I welcome the number of women and provincially distinguished people whom we expect to be included, I hope that that is not at the cost of generals, admirals, colonels, governors and proconsuls who, after all, have been the bones of English national history.

Thirdly, I hope that we shall find some of the more distinguished essays of the past still there; for example, the essays of the one-time librarian of this House, Sir Edmund Gosse, who wrote many essays, or the famous essay of the historian EA Freeman on King Alfred, not to forget the essay by Sir Theodore Martin on Prince Albert.

I suppose it is right to say that the British contribution to world history has four aspects: first, our contribution in creating a political democracy of which we are so proud; secondly, our Empire; thirdly, our contribution to the beginning of the industrial revolution; and, fourthly—what I believe will be recognised in the long run, as more important than anything—our role in literature and particularly in poetry. Those are the pillars of our heritage. The publication of the new Oxford Dictionary of National Biography shows that we are still proud of our heritage. I hope and I am sure that we shall be very proud of the publication of this dictionary.

Viscount Falkland: My Lords, I, and I think others, have looked forward to this debate for some days. I do not think that any of us have been disappointed. The noble Lord, Lord Baker, who admirably introduced the debate, paid tribute to those speakers who put their names down. I do not think he will be disappointed either because the display of erudition and wit has been a real treat, certainly for me and I imagine for those who have been fortunate enough to be in other parts of the House this afternoon.

I have to remind your Lordships that I am only standing here because were Lord Jenkins of Hillhead to be alive he would almost certainly have been standing where I am today. The noble Lord, Lord Briggs, mentioned my late noble friend in relation to his work on Gladstone and the use he made of the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. But of course he did much more than that when he was Chancellor of Oxford University. He had other input as well.

It would be remiss of me not to say today that my noble friend Lord Russell would also be here were he not indisposed and ill. He has also contributed largely to the new Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. I am sure that we all wish him a speedy return to your Lordships' House.

I share with the noble Lord, Lord Baker, that in my formative years the first stage performance that I ever saw was the first stand-up comic Max Miller, cheeky chappy. To my mind, he has never been surpassed. I
 
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did not know, but I am delighted, that he is now included in the dictionary. It is only to the good that we are including comics, clowns and others.

I have for many years, and particularly since I have been in your Lordships' House, which is longer than I dare admit, constantly been to the excellent dictionary in your Lordship's House, not least because my family—not recently I have to say—is not short of what were described colourfully by the noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky, as "the bad and the louche". I do, however, have a couple of 17th century ancestors who are included. One of whom is a woman. I was interested to hear that originally only 4 per cent of those included in the dictionary were women. Even she is added on as an adjunct to the contribution about her husband, the first holder of my title, whose career in public life was not an unqualified success. Nevertheless, he was a colourful and impecunious figure—nothing changes in my family.

My ancestor was remarkable. So the standard was high. She had parents with whom she did not get on at all. She was an heiress that my ancestor married in the hope of expectations which never arrived. According to history, she locked herself in her room because her parents were so disagreeable. That is not in the dictionary, but I found it elsewhere. She set herself to her studies so that she was actually in complete command of six languages, which included Latin, Hebrew and Transylvanian as well as Italian, Spanish and French. Her services were often sought for translations.

She was also a playwright in her own right. In fact, I believe she is recorded as being the first woman to write a play and have it publicly performed. She is very much valued by feminist historians in the United States, with whom, I might say, I have a lively correspondence from time to time.

So there have been women. That is a high standard to set for women and it will be met because public life now is not the same as it was in the 19th century, as other speakers have said. Women now play a much more prominent and admirable part in our lives. They will find their place, and have done I imagine—I have not yet seen the foretaste of the new edition, which runs, as noble Lords have said, to 60 volumes. The price I believe is £7,500, which makes it limited to institutions. I cannot see many individuals being able to spend that money.

The dictionary is online, which is only to be expected in this modern age. One has to pay tribute to its preparation because online we have the entire contents of the 19th century edition. Much tribute has quite rightly been paid to its authors, Sydney Lee and Leslie Stephen. I believe that the National Portrait Gallery has also contributed portraits which are to be published both in the volume and online. I did not ask the Librarian of the House, who told me that today, whether that included photographic portraits. If it is only painted portraits, they will be much more prolific in earlier volumes.

This is a gigantic undertaking and it is unique—I believe that the French tried it but could not maintain the effort—I think because of the extraordinary
 
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relationship between publishing and universities. I was interested to hear what the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Swynnerton, said about the Spanish attempt and I hope that it will be successful.

Lord Thomas of Swynnerton: My Lords, on a matter of information, France has embarked on a dictionary of national biography, but it has not yet got further than "M".

Viscount Falkland: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that enlightenment.

Celebration is certainly in order, whether the Minister can tell us that the Government will give it their support or not. I know that he has enjoyed this debate as much as I have because I have watched the expression on his face from time to time—one could hardly fail to do so. It is an unparalleled undertaking. I hope that those who go online and only dip into it will not fail to go back to the original publication, because it is quite eccentric. Peers who have spoken have mentioned the number of clergymen who wrote books and who seemed to be favoured in their original inclusion. They will probably have been weeded out, but I do not know. The articles on members of my family are absolutely wonderful and I treasure them greatly because they were both extraordinary characters. TFH, whoever that was—I think that his name was Henderson—whose initials come underneath, did a wonderful job.

There is not much more for me to say about the dictionary. A good job has been done. Librarians have exerted a lot of pressure to ensure that everything is consolidated in one publication rather than having to have two sets and two sets of expense. I am sure that noble Lords with interest in these things will dip into them. I have always been fanatical about reference books. In fact, I worked for a while as a very junior editorial assistant for a publication called the Authors and International Writers Who's Who, but a tension grew up—I am sure that it will not in this case— between the managing editor and one of the senior editors. His way of revenge against what was the man's unparalleled pomposity, I must agree, was to include an entirely fictitious entry. Being a man of published work, he did so with some delicacy. I recall one completely fictitious entry about a man who purported to be a travel writer. One of the books that he was supposed to have published, which was very cleverly thought-out and subtle, was entitled 1936: Across Ethiopia with Pan and Pen. I dare say that no frivolities of such kind will occur in this volume, to which we all look forward when it is published in two weeks' time.


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