CURZON, Hon. Robert II (1810-1873), of Welbeck Street, Mdx.
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Family and Educationb. 16 Mar. 1810, 1st s. of Hon. Robert Curzon I* and Harriett Anne (s.j. Baroness Zouche), da. and coh. of Sir Cecil Bisshopp†, 8th bt., of Parnham Park, Suss. educ. Charterhouse 1824; Christ Church, Oxf. 1828. m. 27 Aug. 1850, Emily Julia, da. of Sir Robert John Wilmot Horton*, 3rd bt., of Osmaston, Derbys., 1s 1da. suc. fa. 1863; mother as 14th Lord Zouche 15 May 1870. d. 2 Aug. 1873.
Curzon was born at the family’s London house in Welbeck Street. Having failed responsions, he left Oxford without taking a degree and replaced his father as Member for Clitheroe on their interest at the 1831 general election, shortly after coming of age. He was an anti-reformer, with no more than a passing interest in politics, and made no reported parliamentary speeches. He divided against the Grey ministry’s reintroduced reform bill at its second reading, 6 July, voted to use the 1831 census to determine English borough disfranchisements, 19 July, and divided against Chippenham’s inclusion in schedule B, 27 July, and the bill’s passage, 21 Sept. 1831. He voted against the revised reform bill at its second and third readings, 17 Dec. 1831, 22 Mar., and in the minority of 27 for an amendment awarding certain Lincoln freeholders county votes, 23 Mar. 1832. He voted against administration on the Dublin election controversy, 23 Aug. 1831, and the Russian-Dutch loan, 26 Jan., 12 July, a division he dismissed in a sarcastic letters (of which 506 survive) to his lifelong friend Walter Sneyd, as ‘amazing sport - fun may I say’.1 He became a founder member in March 1832 of the Carlton Club.2 The Reform Act ended his family’s interest at Clitheroe and with it Curzon’s undistinguished parliamentary career.
Devoting himself to his chief passion, collecting ancient manuscripts, particularly those of the East, on which pioneering work his fame rests, he toured Egypt, Greece, Albania, Turkey and the Holy Land in 1833-4 and 1837-8, and became one of a circle of bibliophiles cultivated by Sir Thomas Phillips, whose regular correspondent he became.3 He described his experiences in the East in Visits to Monasteries in the Levant (1849), which ran to six editions by 1881. His publications for the Philobiblon Society include a Catalogue of Materials (1849) and An Account of the Most Celebrated Libraries of Italy (1854). Sir Robert Peel turned him down for government employment in September 1841,4 but afterwards, possibly through the influence of his cousin the 1st Earl Howe, lord chamberlain to the queen dowager, he became attaché and private secretary to Sir Stratford Canning* at Constantinople. In addition to manuscript hunting, in January 1843 he was made a commissioner to settle the Persian-Turkish border at Erzurum, for which the shah and the sultan honoured him with the Orders of the Lion and the Sun and the Nishan respectively. He related his experiences, which included surviving an assassination attempt by the Turks, in another best seller, Armenia (1854). An illness of the brain nearly killed him in 1844 and put an end to his Eastern travels. Another reason for staying at home, he later confided to Sneyd, was that ‘wives were a heavy travelling commodity’.5
On the death of his father in 1863 he succeeded to the 50-acre Staffordshire estate of Ravenhill, but not the valuable property of Hagley, which, as his father had willed, was sold to provide an income for his younger brother. The will became a bone of contention within the family, and Curzon refused to stay at Parham with his mother, whom he accused of plundering their slender resources.6 After succeeding her as 14th Lord Zouche in 1870 he took the Conservative whip and attended the Upper House sporadically. He tried to rectify the architectural damage he felt his parents had done to Parnham, where he informed Sneyd that it seemed almost ‘sacrilege’ to move their ‘shabby rubbish’.