Horace Twiss.

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

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on the 6th as a chancellor, and, determined not to stay longer, and under apprehen-
sion that I shall expose myself if I do, I must do the best I can, in a very short time, and
with very scanty means, for those who have claims already formed upon what has
passed; and to new applications I must give negative answers. As chancellor I will
not meet another session of Parliament.

" I have been reading a book, written by a man of the name of Prescott, of Liverpool,
in support of the History of Creation, as given in Genesis, against the Newtonian and
other systems of philosophy, astronomy, &c. He sent it to me. Do you know any
thing of him? He seems (to a man as little of a scholar as I am) a learned man
and I can say, with more confidence in my own judgment, a man who, if not learned,
is naturally able."

(Lord Eldon to Lady F. J.Bankes.) (Extracts of four letters.)

" Westminster, April 27ih, 1822; half-past eight.

"I am down here to give a charge to my old friends the Pix Jury, as to-day is the
trial of the coin, and the Goldsmith's dinner. I am always a little nervous before I
make this sort of address, and such a strange being is man, that, though I could talk
before a parliament with as much indifference as if they were all cabbage plants, a
new audience has ever borne an appalling appearance."

(Probably April or May, 1822.)

" Before I went to the drawing-room yesterday, to my surprise in comes Dr. Baillie ;
and I was about sending him away, when I found that Pennington and mamma had
agreed that he should come, and I was to know nothing of the intention ; but, un-
luckily for their plot, most kindly intended towards me, the doctor came at the wrong
time. The intention of Pennington was to learn Baillie's opinion, whether his (P.'s)
treatment had been all right, and the doctor stated that he had nothing to add to it, and
nothing to take away from it that it must be persevered in no meat, except a mor-
sel every other day, and no wine on any day, and bleeding three or four times a year.
The doctor made mamma sit down before him, put on his spectacles, surveyed her
face and her eyes very particularly, and felt, I think, every vein in every part of
her head, most anxiously and repeatedly. Care he thought very necessary he did

* Mr. Wynn was among those members of the Grenville party who had accepted
office under the new arrangement.



not think, with care, there was danger he said he could be of no use: P.'s pro-
ceedings were all right. This business fluttered mamma very much, and brought the
roses into her cheeks, till she looked quite young and beautiful, and put me in mind
of fifty years ago. **


"The drawing-room, yesterday, was like all such things. Since hoops were left oft',
everybody comes to court, which is quite wrong: it was for that, among other rea-
sons, very full.

"At a meeting in Bedfordshire, according to some of the newspapers, they have
been reporting some coarse jokes about the Duke of Buckingham, and declaring
them to be the chancellor's, in which there is not a syllable of truth. They are ill-
natured and vulgar, and don't belong to me such as, 'There was formerly a Shef-
field Duke of Buckingham, and now we have got a Birmingham Duke of Bucking-
ham,' and other like things."

"Sunday, (probably May oth, 1822.)

" We had a great meeting at the Royal Academy's opening yesterday. I sat be-
tween the French and Russian ambassadors: my French talk was about as good as
their English conversation.

***** * *

"I am going as usual to Carlton House; the king is still confined with the gout.
How he is to manage, with some ministers servants of the pope, and others foes of
his holiness, I can't tell ; but if I was a king, I would have my servants all of one

"Monday morning.

" P. S. I found the king in bed yesterday. He has had a pretty severe gout. He
has been in a bodily condition not enabling him to bear well (what has greatly hurt
him) the knocking ofifthe post-master, after knocking on the head the admiralty lord.
I don't wonder that he feels, for they are stripping the crown naked, and the Commons,
by addressing instead of proceeding by bills, are putting the House of Lords out of
the system."*

" May 8th, 1822.

"Great uncertainty as to the event of next Friday on the Catholic business. I
think it will pass the Commons, and whilst individuals are voting for it there under a
conviction that it will be lost in the Lords, there is reason, very much, I am sorry to
say, to doubt that, for lords are beginning to think it foolish to be the instruments by
which other persons may vote dishonestly."

The measure Lord Eldon here refers to was Mr. Canning's bill for
enabling Roman Catholic peers to sit and vote in the House of Lords,
which was read a second time in the House of Commons on Friday
the 10th.

(Lord Eldon to Lady F. J. Bankes.)

" May I6th, 1822.

"To check the efforts making to pull down all the establishments of the crown,
ministers declared in the House of Commons last night, in a debate upon the civil
list, their intention to resign if those efforts should succeed again. This seems to have
brought the country gentlemen to their senses, and the government succeeded by a
majority of 127. Tierney seems to have made fun by representing that Liverpool and
the chancellor would never resign, and that the face of the chancellor would be irre-
sistibly comical after resignation. There is no harm in such fun."

The Marquis of Lansdowne having moved a resolution on the 14th
of June, respecting the general state of Ireland, which, if suffered
to pass, would have implied a censure on the administration, Lord

* This letter refers to two votes of the House of Commons: the first on the navy
estimates, March 1st, when that House, by curtailing the grant for the salaries of the
lords of the admiralty, declared its opinion that one of those officers ought to be dis-
continued: the second, on a motion made May 2d, when the House determined to ad-
dress the crown for the discontinuance of one of the postmasters-general.


Eldon, opposing him, took occasion to express his deep regret that
the noble marquis, in dealing with the subject of tithes, had never
mentioned them but under the descriptions of tax and impost.

"With the utmost deference," said he, " I will tell that noble marquis, that the other
nine-tenths of the proceeds arising from the estates belonging to him might be so
characterized with just as much fairness as the one-tenth which is the property of the
clergy. To the noble earl who has just spoken (Lord Limerick) I will also say, that
I have just as much right to interfere with the receipts of his estates as he has to in-
terfere with the tithes of the clergy. One-tenth of the proceeds of those estates which
the noble earl calls his own is not his property."

Lord Encombe being now of sufficient age to receive confirmation,
his o-randfather thus addresses him upon that approaching solemnity:

(Lord Eldon to Lord Encombe.} (Extract.)

(About May 24th, Ig22.)
"My very dear John,

"It will be quite right for you to be confirmed at Winchester; and I trust thai, with
God's blessing, you will fulfil the great Christian duties, and discharge the important
Christian obligations, which, when confirmed, you take upon yourself, as those which,
in after life, are to be discharged and fulfilled. And, I hope, that, confirmed in the
Church of England, you may, in and through life, be a zealous supporter of that
established church, with every inclination to a liberal and enlightened toleration of
those who dissent from it."

The Roman Catholic Peers' Bill having passed the House of Com-
mons, the time now drew near for the discussion of it in the House of
Lords. Expecting an important division on this subject, Lord Eldon
writes thus to Lady F. J. Bankes:

(Probably May or June, 1822.)

"I am sorry to hear that your bishop (the Bishop of Norwich) is coming, though I
am far from wishing him to be indisposed. He brings his own vote, and the Bishop
of Rochester's proxy; and two is two too much."

On the 21st of June, the Duke of Portland moved in the House
of Lords the second reading of this bill. Lord Colchester and Lord
Erskine having spoken, the lord chancellor said,

"This bill demands nothing more nor less than unlimited concession to the Roman
Catholics. Give them this, and you can hereafter resist nothing which you ought to
resist. I should act most unworthily if I could hesitate one single moment to grant
any thing which they could request, provided the Protestant church were secure. But
I never could learn what securities are to be given to the Protestant church; and that
is the reason why I never could assent to the concessions asked." After commenting
upon the insufficiency of the securities proposed in the bill of the preceding year,
which, he said, were, in his view, no belter than nonsense and trash, he proceeded,
"I can avail myself of the authority of Mr. Pitt, of Mr. Grattan, of many noble lords
in this House, of every celebrated advocate of concession during the last twenty years,
and even of the respectable gentleman who is supposed to be the author of this bill,
to bear me out in asserting, that, until the end of last session, not one of them ever
asked concessions to the Roman Catholics without securities to the Protestant church.
It may be said, that this is a particular measure, and has nothing to do with the gene-
ral one; but that I deny. When your lordships shall have passed the bill now before
you, it will be out of your power to deliberate as you ought upon any further conces-

"On looking at the bill in its original shape, I was disposed to think I had been
misled by some foolish fellow of a printer, who had been working from the wrong
manuscript; for that original bill, to my great astonishment, proposed to repeal a cer-
tain act of the reign of Charles II. It is not a little extraordinary, that the right hon.
gentleman (to whom I wish well, whatever part of the world he may go to,*) assisted

* Mr. Canning, the author of this bill, was then preparing to proceed to India as
governor-general. See the end of this chapter.


as he has been by the labours of many lawyers, should have pretended to repeal an
act which had been repealed a hundred years before.* That absurdity, however, has
been got over; and now the advocates of the bill rely upon this, that the circumstances,
and the causes for exclusion, which existed in the time of Charles II. are removed;
without ever considering whether, with the disappearance of the circumstances and
causes which existed in the time of Charles II., those other circumstances and causes
which have called forth repeated enactments since that period have disappeared also.
No man can look at the history of this country prior to the Reformation, without feel-
ing that our ancestors, however nobly they may have conducted themselves in other
respects, submitted ignominiously to the see of Rome. From the Reformation to the
Revolution, the public mind took another turn, and the country was afflicted with all
those miseries which naturally resulted from the unsettled condition of its religion,
and the difficulty of determining whether the Catholic or the Protestant creed was to
be ultimately adopted by the state. If the decide in favour of the present
measure, they will place the country in the same difficulties, and expose it to the same
calamities, until another revolution shall determine whether the Catholic or the Pro-
testant religion shall predominate. If you are of opinion that the Catholic religion
ought to predominate, you should say so: if you think the Protestant religion ought to
predominate, you should say so : one or other you are bound to say. An act to repeal
the acts by which, at different times, restrictions have been imposed on the Catholics,
is an act to restore the supremacy of the pope. Lord Chief Justice Hale has distinctly
stated, that it is impossible for Protestants and Catholics to take the oath of allegiance
in the same sense, if the Catholic refuse to take the oath of supremacy. In the reigns
of Henry VIII. and of Elizabeth, the struggle was between these parties. But there
afterwards arose another sect, the Protestant dissenters from the Protestant church;
and then came the Corporation Act and the Test Act. It is impossible that you can
give the Catholics what they ask, and leave the Protestant dissenters in their present

"In the fifth year of Elizabeth, by a strange anomaly, the House of Commons was
at liberty to have Roman Catholic members, while the House of Lords was prohibited.f
It is with perfect astonishment I hear it insinuated, that all the great men con-
cerned in the Revolution were seized with such a terrible fright at the Popish plot, as
to have been led, by those fears alone, into continuing the provisions of the Act of
Charles II. as a part of the settlement of 1688. In my opinion, if Titus Gates had
never been born, the same enactments would have been judged requisite. I cannot
forget what Russel said of Popery, what Sidney said of it. The question with me is,
whether the measures of William, of Anne, of George I., and of George II., for the
security of the Protestant establishment, shall, or shall not, be repealed. To those
measures it was that allusion was made in all the acts of indemnity, and never to the
Act of Charles II. As for the confidence to be placed in a king, I look upon his word
to be as sacred as his oath; but that will not do as a security for the constitution.
James II. said often, that nothing could be nearer to his heart than the protection of
the Protestant religion; yet he went on making his own will the law, and dispensing
with the Act of Charles II., and with all other acts that ought to have bound him. I,
therefore, should be unwilling to trust a king any further than the law has trusted
him. I am anxious to provide for to-morrow as well as for to-day; and not being
able to foresee what may happen, I am desirous to retain the securities which 011?
ancestors, at the Revolution, considered to be necessary. I may be told, indeed, that
no acts, not even those of the Revolution, can be considered fundamental, and' that
the legislature of one day cannot bind the legislature of another; but it is not dis-
cordant with the principles of legislation to say of cerirfih acts that posterity should
be cautious of disturbing them. The acts of which I speak were stated, at the time,
to be fundamental and for ever binding; and this marks, at least, the importance
attached to them by our ancestors. What was the language of King William in all
his communications! Over and over again he stated, that some permanent settle-
ment must be made, in order that the religion and liberties of the country might
never again be put in danger. And what did our ancestors do? They re-enacted
the disability of the Catholic peers to sit in Parliament; they provided that the Lords
should be Protestant, that the Commons should be Protestant, and that the king should

* The oaths of allegiance and supremacy prescribed by 30 Car. 2. c. 2. s. 2. were
repealed by 1 W. & M. 1. c. 1. s. 3 : and see sections 4, 5, 6, 7 and 8, substituting new
oaihs of allegiance and supremacy.

f 5 Eliz. c. 7. s. 17.


be Protestant also; nay, they even took care to provide that he should marry none
but a Protestant; and, not content with all that, they added a coronation oath, by
which the king bound himself to support the Protestant religion as by law established.
That is, at the time of the Revolution, they made the church and state Protestant ;
they took care that the king could not take his seat upon the throne, without pledging
himself to protect both church and state, under the obligation of an oath; they deter-
mined that the Parliament should be Protestant as well as the king; and they declared
by the Bill of Rights that this should be the law for ever. Therefore, without mean-
ing to say that Parliament has not the power to alter a law if it think proper, I will
express my opinion that we ought lo proceed with great caution in a question of such
vast importance, and hesitate before we pass this censure on the authors of the Revo-

" But I now come to the union with Scotland ; and I must say that if we are at
liberty to do that which is now proposed, the Parliament of Scotland made a bargain
with the English legislature so exceedingly foolish, that I do not know how to desig-
nate it by any appropriate epithet. The English enactments, on the subject of that
union, are very few: those passed by the Parliament of Scotland are more numerous.
I will call on noble lords to read the enactments both of England and of Scotland
relative lo the union: and when they shall have done that, they will harbour no doubt
that a pure Protestant legislature was intended. It is expressly stated, that no man
shall be elected, and that no man shall elect, to a seat in either House, who is not a
Protestant. It appears utterly impossible that, under those statutes, we can agree to
this bill. If we can, we may, at our own pleasure, overbear the whole of the enact-
ments connected with the union of Scotland and England.

" I have to remind your lordships that soon after the Revolution an act had been
passed,* which, though it had nothing to do with the causes of the Act of Charles II., did
yet recognize the provisions of that measure. In the same way, the Act of George \..\
without referring to the Revolution as necessary or not, without adverting to the
causes which produced that Revolution, did yet refer to all the acts and declarations
which had sprung out of it, and did re-enact them all. It is impossible for your lord-
ships to concur in the present proposal, without affirming that all the causes and cir-
cumstances which occasioned the various acts passed since the reign of Charles II.,
have now ceased to exist. But how can this be affirmed by those who, year after
year, when bringing bills into Parliament on this subject, have always ushered them
in with a declaration that they could not think of trenching on the Protestant esta-
blishment in church and state, and have therefore proposed to protect it by what they
called securities, but which I certainly consider to be no securities at all? How any
man can introduce such a measure as this, and say it will have no effect upon the
general measure of emancipation, is what lam unable to conceive; and, submis-
sive as I am sure the people of this country will be to whatever the Parliament shall
enact, still I hope that, on this important subject, the people's general feelings will
not be forgotten. I know not what it means, that one body of people shall be excluded
from the House of Commons, while another body professing the same faith, are ad-
mitted into the House of Peers. If they come into this House, they must sit in the
other; it cannot be otherwise. Will the noble mover of this bill* abrogate any of
those enactments, with respect to religion, which affect the sovereign 7 Will he allow
the king to marry a Papist] If the noble duke, from a conscientious feeling, would
prevent his sovereign from marrying a Papist, he must equally, from a conscientious
feeling, object to the introduction of Papists into this House. I am quite sure that if
I agree to this measure I can resist no other. It is neither more nor less than a mo-
tion for general emancipation, and therefore I cannot consent to its adoption. In a
short time, it will be of very little consequence to what I do consent, or to what I do
not; but while I retain the power, I will endeavour to discharge my duty firmly. It
is constantly urged that the question of emancipation will be carried sooner or later.
I do not believe it; and I think that the oftener the assertion shall be made, the less
will be the chance of its being fulfilled. Though these were the last words I had
ever to speak, I would still say that, if this measure be carried, the liberties of my
country as settled at the Revolution, the laws of my country as established by the
securities then framed for the preservation of her freedom, are all gone; but I shall
have the pleasure to reflect that I have not been accessary to their destruction. Those
laws and liberties of England I will maintain to the utmost, and therefore I will give
my decided opposition to this measure."

* 13 Wm. 3. c. 6. \ 1 Geo. 1. stat. 2. c. 13. * The Duke of Portland.


The bill was negatived by a majority of 171 against 129.

It seldom happened, during the chancellorship of Lord Eldon, that
on any subject connected with the rights of property, the House of
Lords adopted a measure which he opposed. One of the few excep-
tions took place in the instance of what was called the retrospective
clause of the Marriage Act Amendment Bill. The Marriage Act, 26
Geo. 3. c. 33. s. 11, had enacted, that the marriage of any minor by
license, not being a widower or widow, should be absolutely null and
void, unless with consent of parent or guardian, as therein particular-
ized. The attempt made in 1820, to repeal this clause, had been
defeated with the aid of the chancellor ; and was now renewed in the
present bill, which had passed the House of Commons. Now the
proposed repeal, by setting up a great number of marriages otherwise
invalid, went retrospectively to annul certain rights of property which
the invalidity of those marriages had already let in ; and against this
ex post facto legislation the lord chancellor continued to express the
strongest objection. On the 18th of June, when the bill was in com-
mittee of the House of Lords, the clause embodying the repeal was
pressed by the present Lord Ellenborough, and resisted by Lord
Stowell, who, addressing their lordships for the first time, recom-
mended the postponement of the subject till another session. Lord
Westmoreland earnestly supported the repeal.

He was answered by the lord chancellor, who began by expressing his opinion that
the bill ought to be divided, and the retrospective and prospective clauses made sepa-
rate measures. He said it had been assumed that the marriages which the retro-
spective clause would legalize were real ones ; but that was not the case ; they were
no marriages at all, and the parties, if they pleased, might marry other persons
to-morrow. He objected, also, to certain prospective clauses, which provided that
future marriages, solemnized by license without the prescribed forms, should be
voidable only and not absolutely void.

These prospective clauses were finally omitted. On the 20th of
June, the Lords having resumed the committee on the bill,

The chancellor repeated his objection to the retrospective clause, as unsettling the
rights of property.

The report being brought up on the 25th,

He expressed his approbation of a change which had been made in the prospect-
ive part of the bill, and which, instead of leaving future marriages voidable for
irregularity, as had at first been proposed, was based upon the sounder principle, that
a marriage once contracted ought to be indissoluble; but the retrospective clause he
still resisted. He said it was a partial measure, giving validity to illegal marriages
solemnized by license, which were the marriages of the higher classes, but leaving
wholly uncured the defects in marriages by banns, which were those of humbler
people. But his principal ground of opposition was its injustice to persons who
having, by the invalidity of particular marriages, acquired certain rights of property,
would now, by this new law, be deprived of those rights ex post facto.

For the purpose of putting his opinion upon record, he moved that
the retrospective clause should be omitted ; which motion was nega-

The 2d of July was the day fixed for the third reading; and Lord
Stowell then moved the omission of the retrospective clause. He,
too, was defeated. The lord chancellor then proposed a proviso that


no past marriage, by license, without consent of the natural or pu-
tative father, should be deemed valid if the parties knew, at the
time of the marriage, that such father was living and had refused his
consent. This proviso having been rejected, he moved a clause for
giving validity to deeds, assignments and settlements made by per-
sons having claims on any property affected by the bill.

The Marquis of Lansdowne opposed this clause, which, he said, would give to
the bill the effect of declaring children legitimate, and yet disinheriting them of

Online LibraryHorace TwissThe public and private life of Lord Chancellor Eldon, with selections from his correspondence (Volume 2) → online text (page 14 of 65)