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THE RIGHT HONOURABLE

SPENCER PERCEVAL



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I UK UIl.ll r HONOURABLK SPENCER PERCEVAL
[A posthumous portrait by George Francis Joseph, A.R.A.]



THE RIGHT HONOURABLE

SPENCER PERCEVAL



By
PHILIP TREHERNE

AUTHOR OF "from VALET TO AMBASSADOR," ETC.









T. FISHER UNWIN
LONDON: ADELPHI TERRACE
LEIPSIC: INSELSTRASSE 20

1909









b



To

THE MEMORY



OF MY UNCLE,

CLIFTON PERCEVAL



« ! - . . .' . -T ; '

• • ' - • . .



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\All rights reserved^



PREFATOEY NOTE

It has been urged in the course of after-
dinner oratory, that lawyers have risen to
high places in politics under Democratic
Government, but Spencer Perceval cannot
be included among the number.

There was no question of a Tory Democracy
when " a champion of monarchical and ecclesi-
astical establishment " became First Lord of
the Treasury ; from the republican standpoint
he was a reactionary, an upholder of Church
and State, endowed with a tenacity of purpose
that carried him from the Midland circuit, to
the leadership of the Tory party.

During his boyhood the policy of George III.

and his Ministers paved the way for the

foundation of a most enlightened American

5

253294



' ' .'






6 PREFATORY NOTE

Democracy, an example to Europe and the
outer world.

The Declaration of Independence was signed
while Perceval was at Harrow. The French
Eevolution had come to pass before he
entered Parliament.

Carlyle, in the '^Latter-day Pamphlets,"
found the ideals, and the result of American
Democracy, as unsatisfactory as the methods
of Downing Street.

" My friend, brag not yet of our American
cousins. Their quantity of cotton, dollars,
industry, and resources I believe to be almost
unspeakable ; but I can by no means worship
the like of these : what great human soul, what
great thought, what great noble thing one
could worship, or loyally admire, has yet been
produced there ? None : the American cousins
have as yet done none of these things. . . .
And so we leave them for the present, and
cannot predict the success of Democracy on
this side of the Atlantic from their example."

If the spirit of Democracy inclines to



PEEFATORY NOTE 7

favour the legal element in politics, Perceval
may be taken as an exception to the rule ;
the lawyer who has risen to the leadership
is comparatively rare in the history of Anglo-
Saxon Parliaments. Perceval's political life
differs in most respects from those of his
contemporaries. He succeeded to the leader-
ship of the Tory party upon the death of
Pitt, and after six eventful years his tenure
of office was cut short by the pistol of
Bellingham.

The political paragraphist has drawn atten-
tion to the fact, that Perceval commenced
his career at the Bar, and a hundred years
elapsed before another barrister became First
Lord of the Treasury.



CONTENTS



I. EARLY TEARS



11. THE LAST DECADE OF PITT. 1796-1806
III. "all THE TALENTS." 1806-1807



IV. CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER. 1807-1809 73



V. THE PERCEVAL MINISTRY. 1809-1810 .

VI. THE king's malady. 1810-1811



VII. THE SESSION OF 1811 .



VIII. PERCEVAL'S FINAL SESSION. 1812



IX. THE llTH OF MAY. 1812 .



X. THE TRIBUTE OF PARLIAMENT



APPENDIX A. — THE HOUSE OF YVERY



APPENDIX B. — " NAUNDORFF "



PAGE

13
31
63



105
187
151
175
193
217
233
243



EARLY YEARS



1 ^ > »



THE RIGHT HONOURABLE

SPENCEE PERCEVAL



I

EARLY YEARS

An eighteenth-century genealogist traced the

descent of the Baronies of Luvel, Perceval,

and Gournay, of the Norman house of Yvery.

In "Anderson's History," published in 1742,

there is a complete account of the Perceval

branch from Ascelin, who received a grant

of lands in Somersetshire after the Conquest,

to John, second Earl of Egmont, and father

of Spencer Perceval. The early part of this

work contains the records of men who fought

in the Crusades, and in the first invasion of

Ireland.

13



14 SPENCER PERCEVAL

Kichard Perceval, a friend of Lord Bur-
leigh's, was the first Parliamentarian, and sat
for Eichmond, in Yorkshire. He deciphered
the despatches containing the first news of
the Armada. His son, Sir Philip, was a
distinguished statesman in the reign of
Charles L From the point of view
of heredity, there was every reason for
Spencer Perceval to enter Parliament. The
Percevals had played a considerable part in
the political life of the eighteenth century.
His grandfather, the first Earl of Egmont,
sat for the borough of Harwich, and was
an active opponent of Sir Eobert Walpole's,
and received a certain amount of attention
from the pen of Horace Walpole. He was
the first President of Georgia, wrote many
pamphlets, and it was to him that Anderson
addressed the florid dedication at the begin-
ning of the first volume of *' The House of
Yvery." Spencer Perceval's father entered
the Irish Parliament in his twentieth year.
He contested Harwich and Haslemere at a



EAELY YEAES 15

later date without success, and was finally
elected for the borough of Westminster in
May 1741. A contemporary account of the
Haslemere contest throws a light on the
electioneering methods of Walpole and the
now suburban resort, with its red brick villas,
known as Haslemere.

Lord Perceval received an invitation from
a "large majority of the electors of the
Borough of Haslemere, in Surrey, who, in a
very handsome and respectful Letter, desired
his Lordship's presence there, previous to
the future Election, assuring him of their
attachment and service to that end. His
Lordship complied with their Request, went
down thither, and was declared a Candidate
upon the Country's interest in opposition to
General Oglethorpe and Peter Burrel, Esquire,
Sub -governor of the South Sea Company,
who were supported by the Minister.

"As it may be curious in future ages to
know in what conditions this Nation stood
at this period to the Freedom of Election



16 SPENCER PEECEVAL

and the Insolence of Power, it may not
be improper to mention here, that as soon
as these two Gentlemen had come to this
Determination, a Man in great Office sent
a Gentleman to the Earl of Egmont to advise
his Son to desist from his Pretensions in
that Borough, for that the Minister desired
him to understand that all his Endeavours
should avail him nothing, for that he would
open the Exchequer against him, and that
if by this Means he could not defeat his
Election, he would bring the Cause to the
Bar of the House of Commons, and would
have him voted out, though he should be
returned by a Majority of fifty-nine out of
sixty, of which number the Voters were then
supposed to consist."

In spite of these threats Lord Perceval
" continued an expensive and powerful Opposi-
tion for some months. But at length, per-
ceiving that the Exchequer was a Force not
to be contended with in a Borough habituated
to Corruption^' he decided to reserve his



EARLY YEAES 17

energies for Westminster, leaving the corrupt
sixty voters to the care of the Exchequer. In
the session of 1748-1749 he became the most
prominent leader of the House of Commons.
He succeeded his father as Earl of Egmont,
was created Lord Lovel and Holland in the
peerage of England, and took his seat in the
House of Lords. Lord Egmont disapproved
of Chatham's foreign policy and refused office
in 1767, declining to join any administration
of which Chatham was a member. His dislike
to the foreign policy of Chatham shows a
strong contrast to his son Spencer's support
of the younger Pitt. Lord Egmont was a
firm believer in the power of the Lords as a
legislative body. He is reported to have
made on one occasion " a warm and able
speech against riots and on the licentious-
ness of the people," and declared that " the
Lords alone could save the country ; their
dictatorial power could, and had, authority
to do it."

Overburdened by the cares of State, he was

£



18 SPENCER PEECEVAL

rarely seen to smile, except when playing a
game of chess. Lord Egmont had a desire
to revive feudal tenure. A true lover of
the past, he would have lived in the past
if possible, — a paladin of the Middle Ages
born into the political life of the eighteenth
century. When building Enmore Castle, near
Bridge water, *' he mounted it round, and
prepared it to defend itself with cross-bows
and arrows, against a time in which the fabric
and the use of gunpowder shall be forgotten."
In event of a revival of feudal tenure, he
wished to fortify his stronghold in Somerset,
on a scale worthy of his castle Lohort in
Ireland : with its massive keep and walls
ten feet thick. Lord Egmont wrote many
successful pamphlets, was an able debater,
and " gifted with great power of application
and a large stock of learning." As First Lord
of the Admiralty he was exceedingly popular
at the dock-yards among the shipwrights ; his
birthday was celebrated at Deptford and
Woolwich with acclamation.



im



EAELY YEAES 19

He married twice, first, in 1736, Lady
Katharine Cecil, a daughter of Lord Salis-
bury's, who bore him five sons and two
daughters, whose descendants are extinct.
He married secondly, in 1756, Katharine
Compton, a daughter of Charles Compton
and sister to Lord Northampton, created
Baroness Arden in her own right, by whom
he had three sons and four daughters. The
sons were Charles, afterwards Lord Arden,
and Spencer, born the 1st of November
1762 at his father's house in Audley Square,
and Henry, who died at the age of seven.
Spencer was a Compton name, and came
into the family through the marriage of
the first Lord Northampton with Sir John
Spencer's daughter.

Perceval's childhood was spent at Charlton
House, near Woolwich, which his father had
taken, to be within easy reach of the dock-
yards. It was described at the time of Lord
Egmont's tenancy as " a long Gothic structure,
with four turrets on the top ; it has a spacious



20 SPENCER PERCEVAL

courtyard in the front, with two large Gothic
piers to the gates, and on the outside of the
wall is a long row of some of the oldest
cypress trees in England." The house was
built in the reign of James I.

Lord Egmont died when his son Spencer
was ten years old ; and shortly after the
boy was sent to Harrow to enjoy all the
advantages of a lengthy classical education.
At that time Eton and Harrow received
boys at an age, which in these days is
generally associated with a thoroughly com-
fortable preparatory school. Nothing is
known of his life at Harrow. His greatest
friend was Dudley Ryder, a friendship which
lasted throughout his life ; from Harrow he
went to Trinity, Cambridge, where he gained
the English declamation prize, and took his
degree in 1781. His mother died in 1783,
and Lord Arden rented a house at Charlton,
near the home of their boyhood, a place of
pleasant associations for the brothers.

Spencer Perceval's prospects were by no



EARLY YEARS 21

means brilliant. The time-honoured law of
primogeniture, the fairy godmother of the
eldest son, is apt to overlook the daughters
and younger brothers, and a sense of pro-
portion is lacking except in rare instances.
Perceval chose the Bar as a profession. Born
in the days of privilege he relied on his
own efforts, and for some years the political
road was closed to him.

The capitalist will cry that poverty is a
spur to ambition, will air his views, and
platitudinise in the Press upon the joys of
starting life with the proverbial half-crown.
Commercially speaking, the early half-crown
is a triumphant matter, politically it is of
no value. In the history of English politics
Pitt shines as the solitary example of an
early success in Parliament. The precocious
Cabinet Minister who struts his time upon
the stage is not as a rule a hero to posterity.
In Spencer Perceval's case the law was a
necessity, though his particular gifts would
have secured him a high place in politics



22 SPENCER PERCEVAL

at a comparatively early age, if he could
have afforded the expense of an election.
He experienced none of the advantages of
an early political training in common with
Pitt and Canning ; the law developed his
debating powers, and enabled him to hold
his own with Fox when he first entered
Parliament, and had won his spurs as an
advocate. Spencer Perceval and his elder
brother, Lord Arden, fell in love with two
pretty Miss Wilsons, daughters of their
neighbour. Sir Thomas Spencer Wilson, of
Charlton House. Sir Thomas welcomed Lord
Arden as a suitor gladly enough. In Spencer
Perceval he saw a briefless barrister, and
acted accordingly. Brains cannot always
command success at the Bar, or provide the
necessary marriage settlements. Sir Thomas,
like the father of tradition, frowned upon
the suit. If he could have foreseen in
Perceval a future Chancellor of the Exchequer
and First Lord of the Treasury, it is possible
that he would have welcomed the younger



EAELY YEAES 23

brother and accepted him as a son-in-law
in the first instance. Human nature when
brought into contact with marriage settle-
ments will only recognise one argument :
the lover's qualities are weighed in the
romantic scale of stamp duty. But love in
this instance triumphed over stamp duty ;
Spencer Perceval had made up his mind on
the subject. Determination was the key-
note of his life.

The lovers waited till 1790, when Miss
Wilson came of age, and were married at
East Grinstead, the bride dressed for the
ceremony in her riding habit ; they com-
menced housekeeping in lodgings over a
carpet shop in Bedford Kow. Considering
the amount of family interest on both sides,
it stands greatly to Perceval's credit that
he succeeded entirely by his own skill as
an advocate. It was an age of sinecures,
and in the Plymley letters Sydney Smith
wrote of Perceval's sinecure office at the
mint, as if it realised a judge's salary at



24 SPENCER PERCEVAL

least. Perceval succeeded George Selwyn as
" Surveyor of the Meltings and Clerk of
the Irons," and this important oJ0S.ce brought
in £123 per annum, and was performed by
deputy.

The prosperous-sounding title of Surveyor
of the Meltings conjures up visions of mint
perquisites ; but in reality it was the most
harmless sinecure of them all. The year
before Perceval received this surveyorship
of untold wealth, he was appointed deputy
Kecorder of Northampton. His anonymous
pamphlet, entitled " A Keview of the
Arguments in Favour of Continuance of
Impeachment notwithstanding a Dissolution "
(which dealt with the prolonged delay in the
impeachment of Warren Hastings), attracted
the notice of Pitt.

Perceval had already gained distinction as
a barrister on the Midland circuit. He was
counsel for the Crown in the Paine trial in
1792, and again in the Home Tooke trial
in 1794. He was made counsel to the



EAELY YEARS 25

Admiralty Board, and it is a significant
example of his progress, in the estimation of
Pitt ; that he received the offer of the Chief
Secretaryship for Ireland while still a junior
at the Bar. This offer, which from the
point of view of personal ambition was a
flattering one, he declined.

In the correspondence between Pitt and
Spencer Perceval on the subject, it is evident
that his first thoughts were for his family,
and that he intended to continue his work
at the Bar. He was unable to afford the
luxury of a government appointment.

At the beginning of 1796 Perceval received
his silk, and that year marks the commence-
ment of his political career.

Lord Compton, who represented North-
ampton, went to the Lords on the death
of his father in April of that year ; and
Perceval was selected as his successor for
the borough.

He encountered no opposition in his first
venture, but a dissolution took place immedi-



26 SPENCER PERCEVAL

ately after, necessitating another election.
There were two other candidates : Edward
Bouverie, and Walcot representing the Whig
interest. Perceval and Bouverie were re-
turned. He entered the House of Commons
on the threshold of a most stirring period
of English history. The life - and - death
struggle with France was fast approaching,
and fortunately for the country the war party
was in the ascendant, with Pitt at the height
of his power, and the Opposition in a practi-
cally demoralised condition. The country at
large felt no sympathy for the revolutionary
theories of Fox. Pitt was essentially a peace
Minister, but his brain was taxed to the
utmost to raise the sinews of war. By the
end of the century all the wealth of England
was required in the long devastating fight
with Napoleon. Pitt laid the foundation for
the long rule of the "vile Tories" during
the first quarter of the nineteenth century.
The Whio^s found no chance of fulfilling



EAELY YEAES 27

election pledges, of reforming Parliament,
and averting war in the Peninsula.

When Byron's Don Juan returned from his
sentimental journey on the Continent, he
found the Tories still in power, and exclaimed :

" Nought's permanent among the human race
Except the Whigs not getting into place."



THE LAST DECADE OF PITT

1796-1806



II

THE LAST DECADE OF PITT

1796-1806

In May 1797 Perceval made his first speech

in the debate concerning the Mutiny of the

Fleet, in the Channel and at the Nore, and

gained the approbation of the House. In

appearance he was of slight build, short and

very pale — a striking contrast to the generous

proportions and ruddy colouring of many

of his contemporaries, whose rubicund faces

glowed in every direction. Country squires,

the port - wine - drinking, fox - hunting types

of Powlandson and Gilray, were strongly

represented in Parliament. The medical

faculty, whose knowledge of medicine centred

on port, the great stimulant for oratory,

31



32 SPENCER PERCEVAL

prescribed port for tlie debater, and port for
the Member who dozed through the session.
Pallor was the exception at the close of the
eighteenth century ; a pale face attracted the
pen of Sydney Smith, and that accomplished
wit and diner - out refers to Perceval as
*'the Sallow Surveyor of the Meltings," and
" Sepulchral Spencer Perceval."

Sheridan, in a skit, draws attention to
Perceval's physique :

" I, the chance poet of an idle hour,
With thee in verse will battle, when George Rose
Shall hate employment and demand repose ;
When Trotter shall the prince of lies outfib,
And Spencer Perceval shall challenge Cribb."

Cribb was at the time the champion prize-
fighter of England.

The portraits of Spencer Perceval by
Beechey and Joseph are posthumous, and
consequently all sense of expression is lost.
A portrait painted after death unavoidably
resembles a coloured death mask. One
portrait by Joseph bears a strong likeness to



THE LAST DECADE OF PITT 33

the head of the " incorruptible Maximilian,"
and might easily pass for Eobespierre ; this
portrait was painted from the death mask
taken by Nollekens.
Lord Holland wrote :

''It is singular that his features, with the
exception of a winning smile when he pleased,
so much resembled those of Eobespierre,
that the portraits of that bloody fanatic
of democracy might pass for those of our
English champion of monarchical and ecclesi-
tical establishments."

It is the exception for a Prime Minister
to evade the portrait painter during his life-
time : marble memorials and lifeless paintings
convey little but the empty shell.

From the very commencement his policy

w^as characterised by a steadfast support of

the war. The Government had acted with

extreme moderation in their foreign policy

regarding France ; Fox readily adopted the

doctrine of Liberty, Equality, Fraternity,

and the Eights of Man. The Leaders of the

c



34 SPENCER PERCEVAL

Opposition determined to patcli up a peace
at any price and prevent a continuance of
the war. Whenever Fox saw an opportunity
of hampering the Government, he appeared
and made use of melodramatic language ; a
revolutionary spirit hung over the Opposition.
A scheme for Parliamentary reform was intro-
duced by Grey, who had already made one
attempt to bring the same measure before
the House in 1793 ; it comprised the en-
franchisement of copy holders and lease
holders of a certain value, and the constitu-
tion of household suffrage in boroughs.
Sweeping reforms were not acceptable at
the close of the eighteenth century. It
would have been impossible for a statesman
during the reign of George III. to play the
reformer, to try and eflfect sudden changes
in the existing order of things, even for
party purposes. Considering his father Lord
Egmont's views on feudal tenure and the
spirit of the age, it is not surprising that
Spencer Perceval was opposed to these reform



THE LAST DECADE OF PITT 35

measures. Men of that day had seen and
realised the effect of French Socialism, and
any progressive movement heralded the
same state of affairs in England.

In December 1797 Pitt proposed his scheme
for trebling the assessed taxes. It was ar-
ranged to raise the yield of assessed taxes
from £2,700,000 to £8,000,000 a year, and
it was to fall as lightly as possible on the
poorer class of tax-payers. In the cause of
a great national issue both rich and poor
accept the burden of heavy taxation. It
became evident to the nation at large that
such a sacrifice was necessary for the country ;
the struggle with France required our utmost
resources, and the tax-payers saw some return
for their money. It was an age of great
leaders both on land and sea, an age of
decisive victories.

" But what am I to say of heaven-born
Pitt, the son of Chatham ? " wrote Carlyle.
" England sent forth her fleets and armies ;
her money into every country : money as if the



36 SPENCER PERCEYAL

heaven-born Chancellor had got a Fortunatus
purse : as if this island had become a volcanic
fountain of gold, or a new terrestrial sun
capable of radiating mere guineas."

In spite of this expenditure, Pitt was
able to consider the claims of the poorer
tax - payers in 1797. Such forethought is
not generally attributed to a Tory leader,
who lived in those unregenerate days.

In theory the protector of the down-trodden
tax - payer would naturally be a labour agit-
ator, or a serio-comic socialist armed to the
teeth with promises — for election time.

Fox returned from a temporary exile to
oppose the Bill, having been urged to do so
by his constituents. The principal supporters
of the Opposition were loud in their denuncia-
tions of Pitt's scheme, but it was welcomed
by a large majority. Perceval intended to
reply to Fox on this occasion, but no oppor-
tunity occurred, however, until the third
reading of the Bill on the 3rd January 1798.
In the first part of his speech he dealt with



THE LAST DECADE OF PITT 37

Sir Francis Burdett and the conduct of the
war with France, then he proceeded to reply
to Fox and his appeal for reform.

*'The right honourable gentleman," said
Perceval, " is fertile in explanation when
any phrase that he has adopted seems to be
rather too strong and hard for the public ear,
too highly seasoned for the public taste ; and
perhaps this ingenuity and adroitness may
be exercised on this very phrase. Perhaps
we may hear that a reform of the whole
system means an alteration only in some
of its parts, that a radical reform meddles
only with the branches and the trunk, and
has no concern with the roots ; that a funda-
mental reform leaves the foundations entirely
untouched. But, sir, put it for the moment
that it is capable of this innocent inter-
pretation, the mischief and danger of this
ambiguous expression . . . arises from this
— that it is capable of, and most easily
offers, an interpretation of a very different
description, and — let the right honourable



38 SPENCER PERCEVAL

gentleman explain away the meaning of it
as much as he can — every reformer in the
country, be his plan ever so wild, let it
reach to whatever extent of revolutionary
violence and subversion — will find in these
words of the right honourable gentleman
countenance for his opinions."

Perceval's reply to Fox made a considerable
impression, and established his reputation as
a Parliamentary debater. The most valuable
evidence concerning the speech in question is
contained in Pitt's letter to Lord Mornington
(afterwards Lord Wellesley), written 26th
January from Wimbledon, giving an account
of the political situation and his appreciation
of Perceval's speech :

** You will hear, I trust, from various other
correspondents who have more leisure, a much


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