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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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peopling the House of Lords with titled beggars.

Lord Redesdale insisted, that to destroy reversionary rights retrospectively was
simple robbery.

The clause having been negatived on a division, the chancellor
proposed another, repeating the same enactment, with the addition
of the words "for a good and valuable consideration." This also
was rejected by a considerable majority, and then the lord chancel-
lor, with a warmth which marked how little he was accustomed to
any check in that House, rose and said,

My lords, ten days ago, I believed this House possessed the good opinion of the
public, as the mediator between them and the laws of the country; if this bill pass
to-night, I hope in God that this House may still have that good opinion ten days hence.
But, to say the best of this measure, I consider it neither more nor less than a legal
robbery, so help me God. I have but a short time to remain with you, but I trust it
will be hereafter known that I used every means in my power to prevent its passing
into a law.

The bill then passed, after another division, in which its supporters
formed a majority of more than two to one. Protests were entered in
the journals by Lord Eldon, Lord Stowell and other peers.

The session did not pass without an attack by Mr. M. A. Taylor
on the administration of the Court of Chancery. His proposal on
this occasion was for a committee of the whole House to consider the
act by which a vice-chancellor had been constituted : but the motion
was negatived by more than two to one.

(Lord Eldon to Lady F. J. Banlces.) (Extract.)

(July, or August, 1822.)

" Wonders, they say, never cease. You'll be surprised to hear that I dined at Lord
Holland's yesterday, at the old house at Kensington, with Lords Grey, Lauderdale and
several of the opposition. We had a very good and pleasant party, and I was quite
delighted with the very curious old house. I never saw any that I thought better
worth seeing. You must recollect the outside of it: it is old and curious, and the
inside is in the same state as when it was first fitted up about the time of James I."

The king, having closed the session of Parliament on the 6th of
August, with a speech delivered by him in person, set off on the 10th
to visit Scotland.

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

(August 10th, 1322.)

'The king is to be off this morning, and there is every preparation to make his
embarkation and voyage down the river one of the finest exhibitions ever seen upon
the surface of old Father Thames. I should like much to see this, but it's impossible
that I should.

" I dine to-day with Shaftesbury, of whom I must say that, in London, no man of
any county, as to a good dinner, can eclipse this Dorset Lord."

On the following Monday, the 12th, the administration and the


country sustained a heavy and melancholy loss, in the death of the
Marquis of Londonderry. He had, for some days preceding, been
affected by a determination of blood to the head, arising from an un-
usual pressure of official business. Under the temporary excitement
thus produced upon the brain, he inflicted upon himself, with a pen-
knife, a wound in the throat, of which he died within a few minutes.
In early life, Lord Londonderry, then Lord Castlereagh, by the
measures which he took as a member of the Irish government for
suppressing the rebellion and effecting the union, had incurred the
virulent hatred of the demagogues of Ireland ; and his official reputa-
tion afterwards sustained much damage from the failure of the Wal-
cheren expedition fitted out under his management. But when, on
the death of Mr. Perceval, he succeeded to .be leader of the House
of Commons, he evinced powers, both of general counsel and of
departmental administration, which rapidly raised him into high
esteem ; and the ability with which he negotiated the great settle-
ment of Europe at the conclusion of the war, definitively placed him,
by general consent, in the foremost rank of the statesmen of his time.
Strangers visiting the gallery of the House of Commons in the expec-
tation of a rhetorical display from its leader, were generally disap-
pointed in Lord Castlereagh, whose ordinary language, abundantly
fluent, was wanting both in force and in correctness ; although now
and then, on subjects of special excitement, he would rise for a short
time into a strain which few of his adversaries could equal. In the
judgment, however, of persons who understood the practical objects
of parliamentary debate, his general defects of style were fully com-
pensated by those other more essential merits which he eminently
combined his long experience and accurate knowledge of public
affairs his leading spirit, his clearness and grasp of understanding,
his judicious selection of topics, his gallant adherence to his friends
and followers, and (which was by no means the least important with
such an assembly as the House of Commons) the dignity of his aspect
and bearing. So great, indeed, for many years was his influence,
political and personal, in that House and with the higher classes in
general, that, although not placed officially at the head of the govern-
ment, he enjoyed, perhaps, a larger share of its credit and power than
was possessed by the first minister of the crown ; and his loss, while
it was sincerely lamented on private grounds, became also, in refer-
ence to the consequential arrangements of the ministry, a subject of
the greatest political embarrassment.

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

(Aueust 13th, 1822.)
" In common with every body, I am oppressed and much affected by the loss of the

Marquis of Londonderry.


" Our own country and Europe have suffered a loss, in my opinion quite irrepa-
rable. I had a great affection for him, and he deserved it from me, for to me he showed
an uniform kindness, of which no other colleague's conduct furnished an example.
I learn, upon the best authority, that, for two or three days, he was perfectly insane;
and the medical men attribute that fact to the operation upon his head of the un-
ceasing attention to business which the last harassing session to him called for."


The news of Lord Londonderry's death reached the king in the
harbour of Leith, where he arrived on the 15th, on his visit to Edin-
burgh. He immediately wrote to Lord Eldon as follows :

(King George IV. to Lord Eldon.')

"Royal George Yacht, Leith Roads, August loth, half past 8, p. M., 1822.
" My dear friend,

" I have this moment heard from Liverpool of the melancholy death of his and my
dear friend, poor Londonderry. On Friday was the last time I saw him : my own
mind was then filled with apprehensions respecting him, and they have, alas! been
but too painfully verified. My great object, my good friend, in writing to you to-
night, is to tell you that I have written to Liverpool, and I do implore of you not to
lend yourself to any arrangement whatever, until my return to town. This, indeed, is
Lord Liverpool's own proposal; and as you may suppose, 1 have joined most cordially
in the proposition. It will require the most prudent foresight on my part relative to
the new arrangements that must now necessarily take place. You may easily judge
of the state of my mind. Ever believe me

" Your sincere friend,

" G. R."

(Lord Eldon to the Rev. Edward Bankes.} (Extract.)

" August 20th, 1822.

" My mind is confused by incessant labour, and my bar have been so respectful as
to make it a request of the whole of them, as a body, that I would conclude my sit-
tings. I am satisfied that they meant this as an act of great kindness, as it really is,
for though I am quite well, yet a continuance of labour would, I think, have been
very hurtful, and I am, therefore, very happy to cease from working.

" This morning I have been much affected by attending Lord Londonderry to his
grave. The concourse of people between St. James's Square and the Abbey was
very great, the great bulk of them behaving decorously, some behaving otherwise ;
but I protest I am almost sorry to have lived til) I have seen, in England, a collection
of persons so brutalized, as, upon the taking the coffin at the Abbey door out of the
hearse, to have received it with cheering for joy that L. was no more. Cobbett, and
the paper called the "Statesman," have, by the diabolical publications he and that
paper have issued, thus demoralized these wretches.

(Lord Eldon to Lady F. J. Banks.) (Extract.)

(21st August, 1822.)

" He (Mr. E. Bankes) writes with great kindness about dear John, who, I am sure,
would, in all that relates to you, manifest a good heart, for that he certainly has; and
I think I can venture to say that he would not occasion trouble in any circumstances,
for I have seen no instance of a young person who could keep himself constantly
busy and constantly amused with so very little trouble to other persons : he seems
disposed to give all he can to the rabbits, and I hope they have afforded him amuse-
ment enough, though not over-abundant.

" My bar took leave of me yesterday for the vacation, with great respect, and affec-
tionately and affectingly. I have, however, still an enormous load of papers to dis-
pose of at home before I can move, and a letter I have had from the king makes it
impossible, I think, that I should move till he comes.


" The changes in administration which must take place in consequence of the
late event, nobody at present knows any thing of, as the consideration respecting
them was to be, and has been, entirely postponed till his return."

When the king's return took place, the difficulty of supplying Lord
Londonderry's loss was in no degree diminished. Mr. Peel had not
yet had sufficient opportunity of evincing his great powers for the
conduct and discussion of public affairs, to command the station which
many of his colleagues would have gladly seen assigned to him;
while Mr. Canning, the leader whom the House of Commons might
be supposed at that time most likely to recognize and follow, was


unpopular with the Anti-Catholic party in general, obnoxious to the
lord chancellor in particular, and, in some degree, (as respected the
late queen, of whom he had been a friend and adherent,) objectiona-
ble to the king himself. But Lord Liverpool, who had been con-
nected with Mr. Canning from early life, and knew the value of his
extraordinary faculties, both in government and in debate, was reso-
lute in his behalf. He at length prevailed, and Mr. Canning, who,
having been appointed Governor-General of India, was on the point
of sailing, was detained by the offer of the vacant secretaryship of
foreign affairs, with the lead of the government in the House of
Commons. This change, though not acceptable to all parties in the
administration, gave much satisfaction to an important portion of the
country; for there was now growing up a desire of improvement in
various branches of political and civil constitution and government,
and to such improvement Mr. Canning was known to be cordially
favourable, although he lived and died the foe of that pseudo-libe-
rality which thrives by pandering to popular passion.



Letters from Lord Eldon to Lady F. J. Bankes, to Lord Stowell and to Lord Encombe.
Private property of the sovereign. French invasion of Spain. Letters of Lord
Eldon to Lord Encombe and to Lady F. J. Bankes. Mr. Wiiliams's first motion on
delays in chancery. Debates in House of Lords: Dissenters' marriages oath of
supremacy appeal business and speech of Mr. Brougham in the House of Com-
mons. Letters of Lord Eldon to Lady F. J. Bankes, of the king to Lord Eldon,
and of Lord Eldon to Lord Stowell. Lines on the chancellor.

' (Lord Eldon to Lady F, J. Bankes.) (Extract.)

" Jan. 4th, 1823.

"You will see, in this morning's paper, the account of the meeting in St. Andrew's
Hall, Norwich. Mr. Coke and the party had, acting properly, confined the purpose
of the meeting to petition Parliament upon agricultural distress, when in comes
Master Cobbett, and carries all before him, to petition against a corrupt House of
Commons, for reform. Coke, Rev. Mr. Glover, &c., all turned into cyphers, as men
of this description always will be when they are such fools as to suppose that they,
riding in a whirlwind, will be suffered to govern the storm they excite. To the mad-
ness of the people, as to the waves of the sea, Omnipotence only can say effectually,
' Thus far shall thou go and no farther.' The democrats have just made such fools
of these people as Wooler and others did of Lord Fitzwilliam and Fawkes, &c., at
York, about two years ago. It is quite impossible to teach some men wisdom. All
the lessons even of that great teacher, Experience, are thrown away upon them."

The next letter is not dated, but must have been written very
shortly afterwards, as Mr. Huskisson's appointment, mentioned in it,
was gazetted on the 31st of January.

(Probably written toward the end of Jan.)
"Dear Brother,

"The 'Courier' of last night announces Mr. Huskisson's introduction into the
cabinet of the intention or the fact I have no other communication. Whether Lord
Sidmouth has or not, I don't know, but really this is rather too much. Looking at the
whole history of this gentleman, I don't consider this introduction, without a word
said about the intention, as I should, perhaps, have done with respect to some persons
that have been or might be brought into cabinet, but turning out one man and intro-
ducing another in the way all this is done, is telling the chancellor that he should
not give them the trouble of disposing of him, but should (not treated as a chan-
cellor) cease to be a chancellor. What makes it worse is, that the great man of all
has a hundred times most solemnly declared, that no connection of a certain person's
should come in. There is no believing one word any body says and what makes
the matter still worse is, that every body acquiesces most quietly, and waits in all
humility and patience till their own turn comes.

"I have written to Liverpool (before this news came, and, therefore, not on the
ground of this fact), that I have no wish to remain chancellor; and, to say the truth,
I think those who do remain, and especially that officer, stand a very good chance of
being disgraced.

" I despair altogether of the appeal project doing any good. If they don't alter their
proceedings in Scotland, nothing can be done in the House of Lords. I believe it is
thought that shorter work might be made of causes there. I told Liverpool, in my
letter, that I cannot alter my course of conduct and practice in that respect : that I


hold the degree of caution, on which it is founded, essential to justice in every court,
and without it, that the House of Lords would be the worst tribunal in the land.

" Pray tell Lord Sidmouth (I am sorry to send bad news), that the accounts of Nat.
Bond are very bad. I must for to-day conclude. Bodily I am well, and looking
remarkably well: but I am puzzle-pated, and, in that respect, very awkward at times :
upon the whole, however, greatly better; full of plans as to locomotion nothing
determinate. Love of all to all,

" Yours most affectionately,


The dissatisfaction expressed in this letter appears to have passed
away without any result beyond a little murmuring ; for the parlia-
mentary session of 1823 was opened by commission, on the 4th of
February, in a speech delivered by Lord Eldon as chancellor. The
distress of the agricultural classes was one of its prominent topics,
against which was arrayed the hope of general improvement pre-
sented by the growing prosperity of manufactures. Some of the
Radical leaders, however, went about the country during the winter,
endeavouring, as usual, to unsettle the minds of the people. It is to
one of these attempts that Lord Eldon adverts in the next letter.

(Lard Eldon to Lord Encombe.') (Extract.)

"March 4th, 1823.
"My dear John,

" I see by the newspapers that you have had a county meeting at Winchester, where
Master Hunt, Cobbett, &c. &c.,are represented as attempting to do as much mischief
as they could effect. But there is too much good sense in this country to enable such
gents to lead astray honest and good Englishmen. Since the world was made, no
country has enjoyed under Providence such blessings as this kingdom has enjoyed :
felices nimium, we may say of our countrymen, sua si bona norint. Let us retain the
blessings we enjoy, notwithstanding the ^attempts of these demagogues, instead of
trying experiments upon the constitution of our country, the effects of which we
cannot see. 'Fear God, honour the king and meddle not with those who are given
to change,'* is scriptural doctrine, and we shall do well to adhere to it.

" Yours,


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

"March 17th, 1823.
" My dear John,

"I observe with much satisfaction what you write about books. They form copi-
ous sources of comfort and happiness. They travel with us, they domesticate with
us: ' delectant domi, non impediunt ftrris.' Some such words, I think, your friend
Cicero uses, though, perhaps, I may be now inaccurate in my Latin.

"Sheridan, in his 'School for Scandal,' and in 'The Critic,' in which I think our
acquaintance Burleighf says so much when he says nothing, exhibits great proofs of
bright talents. I knew him. I often heard him speak most eloquently in Parliament.
If he had applied his great talents to great and useful purposes in life, he would have
been one of the most useful and considerable of the men who have lived in my time,
or perhaps in any age. But he lived a life of great dissipation; and a remark which,
when you happen to read Dr. Johnson's 'Life of Savage,' (another man of brilliant
talents not duly applied,) you will find, at the close of the Doctor's observations upon
what Savage might have been, will probably appear to belong as much to Sheridan's
character as to that of Savage.

" Yours ever most affectionately,


* Proverbs xxiv. 21. 1 Peter, ii. 17.

f NOTE BT THE PRESENT EARL. This expression recalls to my mind the earliest
recollection I have of my grandfather. He would seat himself on the sofa in his
library in Bedford Square, applying the forefinger of his right hand to his cheek, and
thence slowly rise and move away, throwing me into fits of laughter by his mimic
gravity, though, like his prototype in the/'Critic, he spoke not a syllable.



An act had passed in 1800,* for enabling the king and his succes-
sors to dispose of private property; but it had been so worded as to
leave them without the power to dispose of lands belonging to them
before their accession. A bill was introduced into the House of
Commons in 1823 to remedy this inconvenience, on the motion of
Mr. Peel, who observed upon the strange anomaly of the law, as it
then stood, in treating the sovereign as a subject with respect to private
estate acquired by him when king, and as king with respect to private
estate acquired by him when a subject. This bill having come
up to the House of Lords, Lord Ellenborough, on the third reading,
March 24th, asked the chancellor's opinion as to the king's general
right of alienating personal chattels.

The chancellor stated his opinion to be decidedly that the king had the power of
giving away the personal chattels of the crown in his lifetime ; and that, before the
act of 1800, it was doubtful whether he might not have given them even by will.
Indeed, it was only by the express enactments of the statute of Anne and other acts
passed to restrain the crown's alienation of real property, that the crown had been,
deprived of its ancient and often exercised power of alienating its lands by grant.
He would say, speaking as a lawyer, that, before those restraining acts, the crown,
could lawfully make such grants ; but whether he should say that such grants were
lawful, speaking as a statesman, was wholly another matter.

After some further conversation, the bill was read a third time.

The public attention was at this time a good deal occupied about
the probability of an invasion of Spain by France ; and the opposi-
tion, though few of them durst affirm that England ought actually to
commence a war for the sake of preserving peace, were loud in their
invectives against the government for not backing its diplomacy by
at least the show of a warlike preparation. Mr. Canning's policy was
milder and more dignified ; and his opinions on this subject were
cordially shared by Lord Eldon, as will be seen from the following
extract :

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

"March Slat, 1823.

"I have nothing new to tell you. France and Spain are so foolish as to go to war
with each other, and probably they may both sorely repent it before it concludes. I
hope old England will have the good sense to know the value of peace and quiet, and
not suffer its repose to be disturbed. Dr. Johnson, in a pamphlet written many years
ago, says, that men forget the actual miseries of war the expenditure of blood and
treasure and delude themselves by supposing that it consists wholly in 'a proclama-
tion, a battle, a victory, and a triumph.' Of the soldiers' widows and the soldiers'
orphans, after the fathers and husbands have fallen in the field of battle, the survivors
think not."

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

"March 31 si, 1823.

"I saw a Newfoundland dog at Brighton, such and so much superior to all others
that I had ever seen, that I don't know what I would not have given for him. He
first attracted my notice by coming behind me to take my glove, which I was dang-
ling in my hand, into his mouth. I fell in love with him, and his*master,an officer,
came up to me and gave me his history, particularly his exploits in bringing drown-
ing men out of ihe sea. I never saw so amiable a creature vastly large. If you
had him at Cambridge, he would have had a diploma degree."

39 and 40 Geo. 3. c. 88.


(April 18th, 1823.)

"The whole proceeding of last night was calculated and contrived to make the
ministers quarrel among themselves ; and if I was a king I would, I own, have a
ministry all agreed, one way or the other, about this Catholic question; for such a
question ought not to be agitated every year to the utter disquiet of both Protestants
and Papists."

(May 1st, 1823.)

"Accounts from Spain shocking.

"The civil war there worse than the French invasion.

"Nine-tenths of the Spaniards in favour of their old government.

"They are not yet a people whom a free constitution will suit.

"A few of them have read a few theoretical French books on government, and
forgetting that man is a creature of habit, have totally forgot that civil institutions can
only be very gradually changed, and very slowly improved. From our accounts of
the interior of Spain, there never was a country in so dreadful a state."

(May, 1823.)
"I dined yesterday with Prince Leopold. The ladies were the Duchess of Kent,

the Baroness of , some German name, Lady Gwydir, and Miss Canning. I

think the Duchess of Kent is a very canny agreeable body. About twenty at dinner,
and that is, to my taste, three times as many as make even a good dinner a comfort-
able thing.


"Lady is to have a great party to-night: long expected. She has thought

proper to inform us this morning, that she is to be at home, this night. This is a little
impertinent, as her invitations to others have been circulating for weeks past, under
the head of fashionable parties. I shall send for answer, that as she is to be home,
so we intend also to be at home."

(Probably May 5th or 6th, 1823.)

"The post brings me an account that my poor sister died on Saturday last at four
o'clock. Though separated, from an early period in life, as residing apart and at a
great distance, I feel much on this event. And Lord Stowell, who came into this
world at the same time with her, naturally feels a great deal. He is also not well.

"She suffered much in her last illness.

****** *

"I received the account while sitting here in court."

(May 13th, 1823.)

* * * * *

"No news; my scraps would being full of nothing be tiresome, if there was not
something very delightful in receiving some evidence every day from those whom
we have long lived with, that we still, in a sense, live together."

"June 16th, 1823.

"Cabinet dinner went off amazingly well ! Mamma had directed things in capital
style. I have seen no such doings at any other minister's.

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