This selection from over four hundred letters that Salisbury wrote mainly to successive viceroys, governors and lieutenant governors in India shows the development of his thought on a number of Indian and imperial issues of the day. They can be read both for the insight they provide into the workings of one of the finest political minds of the nineteenth century as well as for the window they open on to the concerns and difficulties of governing a complex empire. Issues that seem dry in official memorandums are enlivened by the freedom Whitaker general classification permitted in these letters. The life of Robert Cecil, third Marquess of Salisbury, has in recent years attracted renewed and searching attention. In the process, Salisbury's reputation, not only as one who held some of the highest offices of state as Secretary of State for India, Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, and Prime Minister, but as a political thinker and party leader, has undergone a positive re-evaluation.
This has been illustrated most notably in two major biographies, David Steele's outstanding portrait, Lord Salisbury: A Political Biography (London, 1999), and Andrew Robert's Lord Salisbury (London, 1999). Richard Shannon's two volumes on the later nineteenth century Conservative Party also have much to tell us about Salisbury, building as they do on earlier studies by Michael Pinto-Duschinsky and Peter Marsh, and the illuminating volume of essays by Lord Blake and Hugh Cecil. One consequence of this development has been to highlight the relative paucity of edited primary source material and of published contemporary documentation derived from Salisbury's career. Despite the invaluable material contained in Lady Gwendolen Cecil's four-volume Life of Robert Marquis of Salisbury (London, 1921-32), there has been no systematic collection of either his letters or speeches. Paul Smith's edited selection of Salisbury's articles from the Quarterly Review, Lord Salisbury on Politics (Cambridge, 1972) is a splendid exception to this general state of affairs.
In Britain's management of India, it had long been a common practice for Presidents of the Board of Control (1784-1858) to carry on a private correspondence with their Governor-General and Viceroys. These letters paralleled their official and necessarily more public communications, and often offers a more frank and reflective commentary on the major India questions of the day than that contained in official despatches. Dr Paul Brumpton's edited selection of Salisbury's private letters, dating from his two periods as Secretary of State for India and addressed mainly to the viceroys with whom he had to work, with its substantial introduction thus promises to contribute most usefully to a deeper understanding of both Salisbury's own developing career and the conduct of imperial affairs. Among the issues that loom large in this selection are the management of India's famines, agricultural development, political negotiations with India's princely rulers, and relations with Afghanistan. The collection should also stimulate further interest in the exceptionally rich collection of Salisbury's own papers at Hatfield House.
Andrew Porter Rhodes Professor of Imperial History King's College London