Charles Greville (1794-1865) made his first occasional diary entries in 1814, but the diary only became a regular habit in the mid-1820s, continuing with occasional breaks, about which he is self-reproachful, through the reigns of George IV, William IV and Victoria. Finally, in 1860, after shaking his head over the worrying triumphs of Garibaldi, he closed it, once and for all.
The grandson of a duke, Greville looked with a level and scornful eye upon royalty. George was 'the most worthless dog that ever lived'; William 'the silliest old gentleman in his own dominions, but what can be expected of a man with a head like a pineapple?' The diaries roused Queen Victoria - 'an odd woman' - from the lethargy of her widowhood. She spoke of Greville's 'indiscretion, indelicacy, ingratitude toward friends, betrayal of confidence and shameful disloyalty'.
Greville's circle included Talleyrand, Wellington, Macaulay, Sydney Smith, Princess Lieven, Lord Grey, Melbourne, Guizot and Disraeli, as well as 'jockeys, bookmakers and blackguards'. As Clerk of the Privy Council, Greville works for a compromise on the Reform Bill. He witnesses Covent Garden theatre burning down. His closest friend, Lord De Ros, is caught cardsharping.
Visiting Balmoral, he finds Albert and Victoria living 'not merely like small gentlefolks, but like very small gentlefolks'.
When cholera comes, he writes laconically of 'Mrs Smith, young and beautiful, taken ill while dressing for Church and dead by nightfall.'Not a chatterbox, Charles Greville brilliantly assembles everyone else's chatter.
This is the intelligent voice of another age, an uneasy aristocrat catching history on the turn and looking dubiously at the future.