Victor Alexander G. R. Bulwer-Lytton, 2nd Earl of Lytton (1876 –1947), was a British politician and pupil of F. M. Alexander.
Lytton worked in the Admiralty 1916–20, before being appointed Under-Secretary of State for India 1920–22. He was Governor of Bengal 1922–27 and in 1926 served briefly as Viceroy (a post his father had held as well). He chaired the Lytton Commission, which was sent by the League of Nations on a fact-finding mission to determine who was to blame in the 1931 war between Japan and China in Manchuria. The commission’s report, officially issued on 1 October 1932, blamed Japanese aggression and caused Japan to withdraw from the League of Nations in protest. Lytton was made a Knight of the Garter in 1933.
Lytton was an active supporter of several causes, among them progressive education, boarding schools for disadvantaged children, and the creation of Garden Cities (e.g. Welwyn). He spoke at several New Ideals in Education Conferences, and was a member of the committee for the educational community, The Little Commonwealth, from 1916, chairman of the (first) Montessori Society, chairman of the the Caldecott Foundation School’s trustees, and trustee of the F. Matthias Alexander Trust Fund (for the purpose of supporting Alexander’s children school).
Connection with F. M. Alexander
Lord Lytton started having lessons c. 1926 (see diary entry below) and was a friend and public supporter of Alexander and his technique for the rest of his life.
Lytton published a letter in support of Alexander in 1928, wrote a letter in support of Alexander starting the first teachers training course which was subsequently published, became a trustee of the F. Matthias Alexander Trust Fund c. 1934, was a co-signatory to a letter in support of re-establishing the Little School (at Penhill) after World War II, and also a co-signatory to a letter for the purpose of obtaining paper for the printing of Alexander’s books during the war. Lytton testified for Alexander in the South African Libel Case, and he wrote private letters to Lord Horder in support of Alexander in 1947.
1926 diary entry on Alexander
Saturday, September 25th [1926, onboard S. S. Ranpura]
I went to Alexander because of the great good that he had done to Symons and I have no reason to regret having done so. I had read his book, Man’s Supreme Inheritance, some years ago and had not been very much impressed by it. Nor was I very much impressed by the man himself when I first met him. I must admit, however, that he has done for me just what I wanted and I regard him as one of the great benefactors of the world. He has given me a new body and a new philosophy of life.
. . .
He does not admit that the mind and body can be separated, claims that for every physical defect he can discover a corresponding defect in the mind and maintains that complete health is only to be found in the perfect co-ordination of mind and body. The root principle of his teaching is that through many generations of misuse man has lost his natural erect position, and in consequence much unnecessary fatigue is caused by excessive muscle tension where it is not required. This is difficult to correct, because we have lost the sensory appreciation of a great deal of our physical mechanism and are the slaves of unconscious impulses which have become ingrained by long habit. It is not possible for us, therefore, to obey a simple order because we have lost the power of conscious control. If at golf we want to keep our head still or our eye on the ball we cannot do it because we do not know how to overcome our unconscious impulse to move. He teaches his pupils to recover conscious control in the following way:
(1) By disregarding the end and concentrating exclusively upon the means whereby.
(2) By inhibiting the impulse to act and move in accordance with past habit.
(3) By substituting for the unconscious impulse the conscious and controlled action which is best suited to the attainment of the desired end.
He places the centre of control in the head and therefore the poise of the head is of the utmost importance. This ought to complete the spine instead of being crooked backwards as it is with most people. Alexander’s movements and manipulations therefore are directed towards straightening the spine, filling in the hollow of the back, raising the abdomen and putting the head forward and upward with the chin kept inwards. The effect of these movements is to expand the intercostal arch of the chest, broaden the back, strengthen the big lifter muscles of the torso, relax the muscle tension of the neck, back and legs and improve the breathing. He does not prescribe any exercises to accomplish this end, but merely places the body of his pupil in what he considers the position of maximum mechanical advantage and trusts to the newly-created sensory appreciation to keep it there. This new position at first feels awkward, cramped and conspicuous, but gradually one becomes accustomed to it and discovers that it is the most restful position possible. The torso becomes firm and rigid and takes all the weight of the body leaving the head, arms and legs free to move without any effort.
I began to derive benefit from this treatment from the very first day and so long as I was living in London I felt better than I have ever been in my life. I started the treatment on July 5th and went to him every day (except Saturdays) until we left London on July 24th. After that I went up to London and saw him once a week. My headache which had been so persistent for the last year had been cured by the sea voyage, and I landed at Marseilles entirely free from pain for the first time since last September. With the added efficiency given me by Alexander I was in tremendous spirits. I could play all games better than before. I could be about all day without feeling tired and wake fresh in the morning. My holiday therefore seemed to be thoroughly worth while and I felt that I should return to India with enormously increased energy.
Writings on the Alexander Technique
- Privately printed diary of the Earl of Lytton, while in India (1922–27).
- ‘What does mental age mean?’ by Lord Lytton.
Victor Alexander George Robert Bulwer-Lytton, 2nd Earl of Lytton, *9 August 1876 – †25 October 1947.