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The public and private life of Lord Chancellor Eldon, with selections from his correspondence (Volume 2) online

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(Nov. 1820.)

"Sir William heard so much of my cabinet dinner, that he invited himself to dine
yesterday on the scraps."

(1820 or 1821.)

" Sir William is complaining much and has been at home since Monday in a feverish
complaint. I hope he will soon get about again; but at his years, it is impossible he
should be well, if he does not live more carefully by that I mean more, much more
abstemiously; and, upon the necessity of so doing, all my sage advice is thrown
away upon him, though I give him great plenty of it and all without fee or reward.
His mornings, therefore, are spent in complaining his evenings in laying the founda-
tion of complaint when he can go out; this week he has been obliged to stay at
home and we must make much use of that fact as the ground of a lecture, which may
have some lasting effect."

Even when Sir William stayed at home, he seems to have lived
well. One very liberal contributor to his larder was Mr. Commis-
sary Gordon, who seems, indeed, to have been unremitting in the con-
signment of grouse to both the brothers. Sir William writes thus to
him at the close of 1820 :


(Sir W. Scott to Mr. Commissary Gordon.') (Extract.)

"Many thanks for your excellent grouse, which arrived in the best order, for my
brother and myself. I know they are the last of the season and a most productive
season it has been to us by the aid of your friendship.

"I shall be very glad to hear of your loyal addresses coming up. We want to be
reinforced in our spirits by friendly declarations from respectable bodies and indi-
viduals. The Whigs appear too much disposed to a coalition with the radicals, in
order to compel the king to dismiss the ministers, and that coalition is of itself a suffi-
cient reason for a firm resistance to their admission into power; for they will be com'
pelled to make very unpleasant concessions to their new allies, at the expense of the Consti-

(Lord Eldon to the Hon. Mrs. E. Bankes.} (Extract.)

" Saturday morning (probably 1820.)

"I should like to have been with you, either at little canny Petty France, or at a
place I think they call it Froster (Frocester) a village below a hill, from which
there is a wonderfully fine view of the vale which divides England and Wales. I
used, in days of yore, to enjoy those snug inns. Bath is very well worth seeing and
York House used to furnish very pretty eating and drinking but the quiet of those
little places which I have mentioned, with their homely fare, used to delight me more
than the seats of the fashionable and the luxuries of the great ; and so they do still."

( The same to the same.)

(Not dated ; written probably Dec. 12th, 1820.)

"I had not mentioned to you that I was the only cabinet minister and councillor
who was in time to attend the Duchess of Clarence on Sunday evening,* when she
brought into the world a presumptive heiress to the crown. She is christened by the
name of Elizabeth Georgiana. I hope the bairn will live : it came a little too early
and is a very small one at present: but the doctors seem to think it will thrive; and
to the ears of your humble servant it appears to be noisy enough to show it has great
strength. Nobody in the room at its birth but the doctors, the nurse and the chan-

The chancellor's good wishes for the little princess were not ful-
filled : she died in early infancy.

(Lord Eldon to the Hon. Mrs. E. Sanies.) (Extract.)

"Jan 8th, 1821."

" I have had a letter from a Welsh-woman, sending me, in a basket, a copy of a
will and pedigree, for rny advice. You will say, why send the papers in a basket 1 !
Therein she sends also a goose; but, in her letter, expresses a grave hope that her
munificence will not incline me to be therefore more favourable in my opinion, and
assuring me that she does not mean it as a bribe. I think Taffy, the Welshwoman,
will be much surprised when she receives my letter, informing her, that being a judge
she might as properly apply to her goose for advice as to me."

Lord Eldon records this Welsh present in his Anecdote Book;
adding, " This was, I think, the only thing in my chancellorship that
looked like an application for undue favour : except, that an anony-
mous person offered me twenty per cent, upon several thousand
pounds, if I would decree in his favour; but I never could find out
who that person was."

The proceedings in the House of Lords against the queen had not
long determined, before her popularity began to decline, f The well-
meaning part of the nation, who had taken an interest in her favour,
by reason of the hardship of her case, very naturally ceased to concern
themselves with her affairs, when they had seen her safe through her

* Dec. 10th.

fSee Lord Eldon's letter to Mrs. E. Bankes, of April 26th, 1620.


dangers, and had become calm enough to weigh the evidence affecting
her : and those designing persons, who had upheld her for the mere
purposes of party or of revolution, did but follow their nature in aban-
doning her when she was no longer available for their purposes. And
as the multitude are seldom content with a just moderation, the tide
of their zeal not only left her aground, but turned almost immediately
in the opposite direction, and overflowed with a capricious enthusiasm
for the king and government. George IV. was not slow to perceive
his advantage, and resolved to avail himself of it, for the purposes
pointed out in the following letter :

(King George IV. to Lord Eldon.)

" Brighton, Jan. 9th, 1821.
" My dear Lord,

"As the courts of law will now open within a few days, I am desirous to know the
decision that has been taken by the attorney-general upon the mode in which all the
venders of treason and libellers, such as Benbow, &c. &c. &c., are to be prosecuted.
This is a measure so vitally indispensable to my feelings, as well as to the country, that
I must insist that no further loss of time should be suffered to elapse before proceed-
ings be instituted. It is clear beyond dispute that the improvement of the public mind,
and the loyalty which the country is now every where displaying, if properly cultivated
and turned to the best advantage by ministers, that the government will thereby be ena-
bled to repair to the country and to me those evils, of the magnitude of which there can
be but one opinion. This I write to you in your double capacity, as a friend and a
minister ; and I wish, under the same feelings to Lord Sidmouth, that you would com-
municate my opinions and determinations to him.

"Always, my dear lord,

" Very sincerely yours,

" G. R."

(Lord Eldon to the Hon. Mrs. E. Sanies.) (Extract.)

(Middle of Jan. 1821.)

" This morning I am going forth to my work and labour, and so expire those holidays
which (being passed in frost, nipping frost and rain, constant rain, since for the rain,
it raineth every day), have been spent by the fireside; and many an hour has passed
on the hearth in meditation, with the fancy very busy in finding out likenesses of the
human visage in the fire. This, however, is what Cowper, I think, somewhere calls
a sleep of the mind, very refreshing to it; and I am sorry, very sorry, that even such
holidays are now no more.

" In an hour's time I shall be among the lawyers, who are no favourites of yours;
and I would much rather see my pointers, &c., and listen to the sounds with which
they express their joy at seeing their master, than to the eloquence of the most elo-
quent of the babblers, to whom now, for a long time possibly, I must lend unwilling
ears. I say possibly, because till the temper of Parliament is tried in the subsequent
week, our fate remains mighty uncertain."

The session of Parliament was opened on the 23d of January, 1821,
by the king in person. The debate in the House of Lords had rela-
tion principally to foreign affairs. The chancellor took no part in the
general discussion ; but at its close, when some little altercation was
arising between Lord Ellenborough and Lord Holland about the tone
which it behoved England to take for the prevention of a war by
Austria against Naples, he dissipated the mutual displeasure by ob-
serving that if one noble lord were Austria and the other England, it
would be extremely difficult to determine whether they might or might
not be prevented from going to war.

The Whigs, who had entertained a lively hope that the unpopu-
larity of the proceedings against the queen would force the ministers


out of office, were unable, on the meeting of Parliament, to suppress
the spleen of disappointment, and vented themselves in bitter petitions
and fierce debates. They not only censured the general course pur-
sued by ministers against her majesty, but contended that the exclu-
sion of her name from the Liturgy was positively illegal. An allegation
to that effect, after having been disposed of in the House of Commons,
was renewed in the House of Lords* on the second reading of a bill
for granting to her an annuity of 50,000.

The lord chancellor, in answer to this argument, declared the law in the most un-
qualified terms. He said, that if he had any doubt as to the legality of the omission,
of the queen's name, he would be the first to advise its restoration ; that he had pos-
sessed himself of all the information attainable on the subject and had applied to it
the deepest research ; and that the consideration of the statutes relating to it and of
what had been done under them, had perfectly satisfied his mind.

In the following April, Lord Castlereagh, who led the government
in the House of Commons, succeeded, by his father's death, to the
title of Marquis of Londonderry.

The measures introduced by Mr. Plunkett for the relief of the
Roman Catholics were embodied in a bill, which, having been carried
through the House of Commons, was read for the first time in the
House of Lords on the 3d of April.

The lord chancellor expressed his belief that it would be impossible for the pro-
moters of that measure to introduce any modifications which could bring him to
acquiesce in it. He added, that he would, however, bestow his best reflection on the
subject, before the discussion on the second reading.

The second reading was moved on the 17th, w r hen the Duke of
York briefly declared himself opposed to the bill, as tending to
change the constitution of 1688, and the system which had seated the
reigning family on the throne. Lord Darnley advocated the bill : and
then the lord chancellor delivered the celebrated argument in opposi-
tion to it, of which the principal passages are printed at length in the
Appendix to this work from the edition published with his own cor-
rections. Lord Grenville answered the chancellor in a long and skil-
ful speech. On a division, the peers who voted for the second reading
were 120; against it, 159; so that 39 was the majority by which the
bill was rejected. This debate forms the principal topic of the fol-
lowing letter, which is without a date.

(Lord Eldon to Sir William Scott.) (Extract.)

(Post-mark, 1821; written shortly after April 17th.)

"I have reason to be confident that when Plunkett made his first motion, he had
not the least notion that he should be in a majority. To his surprise, however, he
found himself in that state. It then became necessary to do what had not before been
thought of to set about drawing acts of Parliament. And I have also reason to be-
lieve that they were very conscious, in both Houses, that, being unexpectedly hurried
into and through that operation, they perceived blunder after blunder and inaccuracy
after inaccuracy, till, amending a few, they found it too exposing to amend all they dis-
covered in their bills and therefore risked what they did not amend. It was quite clear
inLordG.'s (Grenville's) speech that.professing that the bill must be GHEATLT amended
in the committee, he did most carefully abstain from pointing out one single enactment
that could be left untouched or one that he would introduce as one of his great amend-
ments. He was very dexterous in avoiding saying that he would have no securities

Feb. 20th.
VOL. II. 6


but I think it clear that is now his meaning. The Duke of York has done more to
quiet this matter than every thing else put together. It has had a great effect. I have
nothing further to delay your drinking to the thirty-nine, who saved the thirty-nine
articles a very fashionable toast. Lady Eldon recruits but very slowly: I had looked
for a little country air for her during some part of the recess: but that is quite out of
the question. Lord S. (Sidmouth) tells me that P. (Plunkett) was fully aware, before
he came here, of the opposition of the Irish clergy; he seems to have been taken in
by his first motion succeeding. John is doing well.

" Yours affectionately,

" No Irish expedition : probably no coronation."

The next extract, from a letter also addressed to Sir W. Scott is
remarkable, not only for the light which, in the conclusion of it, is
thrown upon Lord Eldon's personal feelings and motives in the matter
of the Catholic question, but also for the wise and memorable warn-
ing which it holds out to the young fortune-hunters of the legal
profession :

(Lord Eldon to Sir William Scott.') (Extract.)

(April 27th, 1821.)

" Dear Brother,

"I observe what you state about F. I fear that my powers are very limited: for I
cannot sacrifice my existence to any considerations ; and I know, when I go out of
office, I can be of no service to him or any other person, and in office I cannot remain.
It is not fit I should, after 70. I am going on under a conviction that I ought to quit
for the sake of the public, which is both distressing and uncomfortable, if not dis-
graceful to me. The truth is that upon F. there must be impressed the necessity of
his working for himself. These lads, who give each other great dinners, with their
claret, champagne, &c., must learn that this will not do, if they are to pursue a pro-
fession, and they must learn that if they want the aid of a profession, they must sub-
mit to the privations, which young men, who are to get forward in professions, have
always submitted to. This is a truth of which they are not aware. I am sure the
time is about over when I can do any thing as to patronage. I cannot remain in a
situation to which it is annexed. The truth is, what our relations may fairly claim is
a subject we should set about settling between us, and not leave to accidents which
may happen every day. I am conscious that I cannot count about years or months,
and I feel that I ought, with reference to claims such as I allude to, to make provision,
if we understand each other, which can regulate those claims when we are no more.
But upon this we can converse when we meet.

"I have no great appetite for printing. At the same time the papers have printed
such nonsense that I am uneasy about it. As to Liverpool, I do not know what he
means. To please Grenville, he makes a regius professor, friend to the Catholics.
To please Lansdowne, he makes a Bishop of Bristol and regius professor, friend to
the Catholics. He, therefore, I dare say, will not stir a step beyond pronouncing in
words his speech. I am not quite content with this and yet I don't know what to do.
But what he does or does not do, I think, should not regulate me. Can a man who
makes such a secretary for Ireland as we have, and two such regius professors and
such a bishop, be serious 1

"With me this thing about the Catholics is not a matter of consistency, but of con-
science. If there is any truth in religious matters, I cannot otherwise regard it."

The Grampound Disfranchisement Bill was one of those not infre-
quently attempted measures, by which purist politicians sought to
extinguish the rights of many for the wrong of a few. Their logic
was, that if a bare majority of the voters in any constituency were
convicted of bribery, the conviction of these was the condemnation
of the whole, and that the whole must therefore bear the penalty.
The lord chancellor was ever among those who resisted the perpetra-
tion of such justice. On the 14th of May, 1821, when the order of
the day for the commitment of the Grampound Bill was read,


He asserted it to be a bill completely irreconcilable with the law and constitution
of this country. It was both a bill of pains and penalties, and an ex post facto law.
It inflicted on the innocent a punishment merited only by the guilty, and a punish-
ment larger than even the guilty were liable to suffer by any existing law. The rights
of individuals ought never to be sacrificed for the fault of a corporation whereof they
might be members. The right of voting was given to the corporation, but the benefit
belonged to individuals, insomuch that, if any of the freemen of Grampound had been
prevented from voting at the late elections, they could have brought actions for pecu-
niary damages. What would be the moral effect of such a bill? It would afford
ground for the corrupt electors to say to their incorrupt brethren, "Why do you con-
tinue incorrupt? In case we be disfranchised for being guilty, you will equally be
disfranchised being innocent."

The bill was ordered to be committed on the 21st, on which day
the lord chancellor proposed, in order to prevent the injustice of
punishing persons not proved to be guilty, that instead of disfranchis-
ing the entire borough, the bill should confine the franchise to the
unconvicted burgesses. His interposition, however, was unavailing,
and the bill was finally passed into law.*

Mr. M. A. Taylor took the field again on the 30th of May, when
he moved a resolution purporting that the House of Commons would,
in the next session, adopt some measures on the subject of the arrears
of business in the Court of Chancery and in the House of Lords.
This motion was negatived ; but by only 56 against 52.

(Lord Eldon to the Hon. Mrs. E. Bankes.)

"Lin. Inn Hall, June 4th, 1821.
" My dearest Fan,

" No news. I only write, therefore, on my birthday, to send you both my love and

" At threescore years and ten, I have to bless God that I have better health than I
had fifty years ago. Yours ever affectionately,


It was determined, before the prorogation of Parliament, that the
king's coronation should take place during the recess. Some trouble
then arose from a claim preferred by Queen Caroline to be a partaker
in the ceremonial.

(Lord Eldon to the Hon. Mrs. E. Bankes.)

"July5ih, 1821.

"I have been at the privy council all the morning hearing Brougham argue the
claim of the queen to be crowned. His argument seemed, to most there, to prove the
very reverse of any such claim, as a right. She claims to be crowned with the king,
on the same day, and at the same place.

"William the Conqueror's queen was crowned two years after he was crowned.

'Henry I.'s queen ditto.

'Stephen's queen ditto.

'Richard I.'s queen crowned abroad.

'John's queen not crowned with him, but crowned.

'Henry III.'s queen, not with him, but afterwards alone.

"Edward HI.'s queen crowned alone.

" Henry I V.'s queen crowned, not with him.

"Henry V.'s ditto.

" Henry VI.'s queen, not crowned with him, but alone.

"Henry VII.'s queen crowned long after him.

"Henry VIII.: some of his queens crowned, some not crowned.

" Charles I.: his queen not crowned at all.

" Charles II. : his queen not crowned at all.

* 1 & 2 Geo. 4. c. 47.


"George II.'s queen, or George I.'s, I am not sure which, not crowned at all.
"So there's the whole history for you, dear Fan, as picked up from his speech to-

(Lord Eldon to the Hon. Mrs. E. Bankes.)

(July 7th, 1821.)
"Dearest Fan,

"I should hardly trouble you with a letter to-day, if I did not think it right that you
and Edward should first hear, from myself, what you will learn by other means, to-
morrow or next day, that a patent will be sealed, this evening, I believe, creating me
Viscount Encombe and Earl of Eldon. I have earnestly begged off, for my fortune is
not more than equal to my present rank; but in vain. To the king's determination,
therefore, and to my having held the office of chancellor so long, my present and
future descendants must attribute all inconveniences that may result from this, and
not to any imprudent ambition of mine. I must say, notwithstanding he would not
let me off, the king was very gracious. He seals my patent first, with some special
recital in it, which I have not yet seen. I write this whilst I am listening to the attor-
ney-general against the queen's claim, and must therefore finish. God bless you both.

" Your ever affectionate


The circumstances of this promotion are thus minutely recorded by
himself in the Anecdote Book :

" His majesty, George III., repeatedly offered to confer upon me the
dignity of an earldom : I, as repeatedly, stated to his majesty my
humble advice, that the crown should not confer more than one title
of peerage upon the same individual, or, in other words, more than
one title of peerage in one generation. I frankly told him that a peer
had, as a principal object of expectation from the favour of the crown,
advancement in the peerage, and had little but that to look for, and
that an additional rank in the peerage ought to be made as much and
as considerable a favour on the part of the crown as the first grant of
a dignity. That this must of course admit of exception in extraordi-
nary cases. The Duke of Wellington, for instance, when he was first
introduced into the House of Peers, came into it a baron, a viscount,
an earl, a marquis and a duke, every one of these dignities having
been conferred for eminent services performed from time to time : and
upon that introduction, I, as speaker, communicated to him the thanks
of the House for all those services. This was a rare case, and I
don't recollect another instance of such a case, except in the royal
family, who receive usually all dignities, I believe, upon their first
elevation to the peerage. His majesty, George III., was pleased to
allow me to decline any higher rank in the peerage than that of a
baron. His majesty, George IV., allowed me also to prevail upon him,
for the same reasons, to decline further advancement in the peerage,
repeatedly offered to me by him; but, having given some marks of
his favour to his ministers upon the cessation of war, he, at length
made such a point of ray receiving a mark of his favour by accepting
an earldom, and pressed it upon me with so much earnestness and
anxiety, that I was compelled to accept it. But that it might not be
drawn frequently into example, it was recited in the patent that it was
granted in consideration of my very long services, I think nineteen
years, in the office of lord chancellor, to which office I had been three
times promoted."

Lord Eldon, relating the same facts to Mrs. Forster, added,



" We argued pretty strongly for some time, when he put an end to
it by declaring ' if you will not make out your own patent, I will
get some one else to do it, and when I send it to you, I will see if
you dare to return it.' Thus I became an earl without my own

The chancellor's letter of thanks, and the king's answer, are as
follows :

"Hamilton Place, Saturday, July 7th, 1821.

"The lord chancellor having been informed that your majesty has been pleased to
sign the warrant for his promotion in the peerage, cannot permit himself to delay the
expressing to your majesty his most grateful thanks. He is too sensible of the many
imperfections which, during ihe vigour of life, have occurred in his attempts to dis-
charge the duties of that great station, in which his gracious sovereigns have been
pleased to place, and so long to continue him, not to feel (hat he is wholly and entirely
indebted for this distinction to royal favour; and he cannot hope, in the decline of
life, to render any services which can be in any degree an adequate return for it. He
trusts that your majesty will permit him to offer to your majesty his warmest grati-
tude, to tender to you the duty and attachment of a devoted servant, and the homage
and loyalty of a faithful subject."

" Carlton Palace, Saturday night, July 7th, 1821.
" My dear friend,

"I must thank you for your affectionate letter, which is very acceptable to my feel-
ings : God grant that you may long live to enjoy the honours so justly due to your
eminent talents and distinguished services. I shall hope to see you early in the morn-

Online LibraryHorace TwissThe public and private life of Lord Chancellor Eldon, with selections from his correspondence (Volume 2) → online text (page 11 of 65)