The Prince of Wales may have exaggerated a little when he said that Hugh Lowther, the fifth Earl of Lonsdale, was "the greatest liar in my kingdom." Douglas Sutherland's suave biography, The Yellow Earl (Coward-McCann, $6), says that Hugh, liar or not, was the greatest sportsman and the greatest spender of his time. His life was on such a lavish scale that its bare facts seem fanciful imaginings. A younger son, Hugh was scarcely educated. Ordered to study under a tutor, he got Jem Mace, the barefist champion of England, to teach him to box. Sent to school in Switzerland, he ran away and spent a year with the circus.
In 1882, at the age of 25, Hugh unexpectedly inherited the title, a castle with 365 rooms, two steam yachts, two London mansions and an income of �4,000 a week. Somehow he managed to run through the whole fortune before he died in 1944. His pocket money—tips and such—came to �80,000 a year. His carriages and his coachmen's livery were bright yellow. Showmanship, generosity and, above all, his enthusiasm for sports, especially prizefighting, made him a favorite with the common people, who called him the Yellow Earl and delighted in the scandals that attended his amorous adventures.
The aristocracy was less enthusiastic, however. He was said to be "almost an emperor and not quite a gentleman." When Hugh began courting Lily Langtry, the mistress of the Prince of Wales, he aroused the antagonism of Sir George Chetwynd, who was courting her himself. Shouting, "Don't meddle with my Lily!" Sir George struck Hugh with his riding whip. Then they fought with their lists, rolling in the dust, until they were separated by the Duke of Portland. Subsequently, Queen Victoria "let it be known she expected Lord Lonsdale to leave the country."
Hugh made a remarkable exploring trip through the Northwest Territories and Alaska, later spoiling his creditable achievement by insisting he had reached the North Pole.
As boxing chairman of the Pelican Club, which was trying to legalize prizefighting, he virtually created the modern sport, insisting on the Marquess of Queensberry rules and inaugurating timed rounds. The present Earl of Lonsdale in the preface says rather sadly that the castle is now a ruin, but graciously adds of his predecessor: "As long as boxing is tolerated, so long as the British people enjoy coursing, hunting, shooting and racing, not to forget the circus, show jumping and the more mundane world of agricultural shows, sheep-dog trials and hound trials, his name will live on."