Horace Twiss.

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

. (page 16 of 65)
Online LibraryHorace TwissThe public and private life of Lord Chancellor Eldon, with selections from his correspondence (Volume 2) → online text (page 16 of 65)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

"The poor Duke of Cumberland came in to me here on Saturday afternoon. He
is hardly treated. In the improvements at St. James's Palace, they are about to take
away his apartments; so that, as he says, if he can ever return to stay, he will not
have where to lay his head. He was greatly affected."

This month of June had given birth, in both Houses of Parlia-
ment, to debates of much interest for Lord Eldon. In the House
of Commons, on the 4th, Mr. John Williams, now one of the judges
of the Queen's Bench, brought forward the first of those motions
respecting the Court of Chancery, which were framed as party attacks
directly inculpating the chancellor. A review of the substance of
Mr. Williams's allegations will be found in the second volume of this
biography, where Lord Eldon's judicial character is considered. The
motion was keenly debated for two nights, and then negatived by 174
against 89.

The second reading of a bill for relieving dissenters from the ne-


cessity of solemnizing their marriages in the face of the Established
Church, was moved by Lord Lansdowne on the 12th of June. The
chancellor opposed it, not so much on*the ground of general objec-
tion to the principle of relaxation, as by reason pf the inexpedient
provisions of that particular bill and the then late period of the ses-
sion. The measure was rejected.

Lord Lansdowne, on the 9th of July, moved the second reading of
a bill sent up from the Commons, for repealing so much of the sta-
tute of 7 & 8 Will. 3. c. 27 as related to the administration of the
oath of supremacy to electors. The Roman Catholic electors of Ire-
land having been relieved from the necessity of taking that oath, the
object of the present bill was to confer the same relief upon the Roman
Catholic electors of England.

The lord chancellor opposed the measure. He said, that he should have considered
it a sufficient reason for his opposition, that the bill had been introduced too late in
the session for a full discussion of its merits. But he opposed it also on the ground
of its general nature. He eulogized the principle upon which these questions had
been placed by the Revolution of 1688. That Revolution, he contended, was no inno-
vation, but a restoration of the constitution of the country. From the time of the
Reformation until that Revolution was accomplished, there was a constant squab-
ble between the Established Church and the Dissenters ; and it had been well observed
by Bishop Hoadly, that the Reformation would have been no blessing without the
Revolution, which, by giving a supreme head to the church,had established the union
between the church and the state.

Lord Liverpool, though adverse to what have been usually called
the Catholic claims, supported this particular bill. It was, however,
rejected by a majority of 80 against 73.

A committee had been appointed in the preceding April, to consider
the best means for facilitating the dispatch of appeals in that House,
and preventing the delay in other courts arising from the mode in
which their lordships then heard those appeals. Lord* Liverpool,
in moving for that committee, informed the House, that since the
arrangement of 1813 had been proposed, which had been rigidly
adhered to, of devoting to those appeals three days in each week,
the number of the new ones lodged had actually much exceeded the
number of the old ones decided. The committee having reported,
Lord Liverpool, on the 26th of June, in pursuance of their recom-
mendation, proposed that a deputy speaker of the House of Lords
should be appointed, and that their lordships, so assisted, should hear
appeals five days in each week. For the Scotch appeals he sug-
gested a separate measure, in the form of a bill, which passed as the
4th Geo. 4. chap. 85. The resolution for increasing the number of
sitting days was discussed on the 30th. Lord Grosvenor having
opposed it, and referred, apparently, however, without bitterness, to
the chancellor's habit of doubting, and Lord Erskine having spoken
of himself as a man more than seventy years of age, who could not
be expected to take part in the judicial business of the House,

The lord chancellor said, he did not see that his noble and learned friend, because
he was more than seventy, should withhold his assistance from the business of the
appeals. In the case of any future chancellor retiring, the minister should make his
attendance a condition of his pension. A noble earl (Grosvenor,) in the plentitude of


his knowledge, might have no doubts on any point of the English, Irish or Scotch
law; but, when the noble earl took upon himself to taunt him with hesitation and
doubting, he would tell that noble earl, that when they were deciding causes in the
last resort, and their decisions were to give the law to other courts, they could not be
too cautious. The time was fast approaching when his natural life must terminate;
and for his judicial life, it had already been too long; but, when the termination of his
natural life did arrive, that degree of caution which was called doubt and hesitation
would be his greatest comfort; because, by means of that caution, he had reversed
decrees, and prevented the injustice of A keeping possession of property which of
right belonged to B. If their lordships would compare his conduct during the twenty
years which he had sat on the judicial bench, with the conduct of any of his illustri-
ous predecessors and he did not fear the comparison, on the contrary, he invited it
he was sure that the comparison would not turn out to his discredit. On that
account he could not but feel indignation, when he was informed of the language in
which his conduct had been arraigned in another place by those who ought to have
known better. It had been publicly asserted, that appeals in the House of Lords were
nothing more than appeals from the lord chancellor in one place to the lord chancel-
lor in another. He should like to know whether the persons who dealt in such
assertions were aware that there were many appeals to their lordships from the
chancery, in cases which had never been heard at all by the lord chancellor, but
which had been decided by the master of the rolls, or the vice-chancellor! For in-
stance, the great case of Clinton v. Cholmondely was not an appeal from the lord
chancellor: and there were a number of other appeal cases now before their lordships
of a similar description. Besides this, he should like to know whether the gentlemen
in Westminster Hall had yet to learn, that lord chancellors were not ashamed to re-
tract their opinions, when they had reason to believe that those opinions were formed
upon erroneous grounds. He would undertake to say, that not one of the distinguished
characters who had sat before him upon their lordships' woolsack had ever shown
the slightest reluctance to reverse his judgment when it was shown to be incorrect;
and he would fearlessly ask, whether he himself had ever exhibited any unwillingness
to reconsider before their lordships any of the decisions to which he might have pre-
viously come in another place? He could say most conscientiously that he never
had; and for that very reason, the insinuations which had been thrown out against
his judicial conduct were as cruel and vexatious as they were unfounded and unjust.
He had never upon any occasion declined, on the contrary, he had made it his continual
practice to state at length the various grounds upon which he rested his decisions,
in order that the bar might be enabled to declare to their clients whether those deci-
sions were correct or not. And he defied any man to point out a single case where
the correctness of them had been doubted, in which he had not expressed his grati-
tude to the party who suggested the doubt. If persons acquainted with the practice
of his court had made upon his conduct the observations which had been made upon
it by those who were totally unacquainted with it, he should, indeed, have felt them
acutely; but he was happy to say, that those observations did not proceed from those
who had the best opportunities of marking his conduct. They came from those who
knew little or nothing of the subject, who had scarcely ever put a foot into his court,
and who were not, therefore, particularly well qualified to judge of its proceedings.
He would add that, upon that very account, they were bound, in common honesty, to
abstain from throwing out random insinuations which were calculated to hurt, in the
opinion of the king's subjects, an individual who, if he was not a great judge and
he did not venture to call himself a great judge at least filled a great judicial situ-

He then addressed himself to the question of the Scotch appeals; and after express-
ing his opinions upon the remedy for their arrear, he adverted to the state of the
business in the Court of Chancery, which, he said, could not be kept down by the
chancellor, if he afforded to it only three days a week. The question then was what
relief could their lordships afford to the individual who had to discharge the twofold
duty of the Court of Chancery and the speakership of their lordships' House. One
project, sometimes recommended, was to prevent the offices of lord chancellor and
speaker of the House of Lords from being ever again vested in the same person.
Against that project he opposed, not merely his own individual opinion, but the col-
lective judgment of ihe whole bar. Nor did he think it expedient to remove from the
great seal the business of bankruptcy, or of lunacy, or the jurisdiction of appeal. He
had not intended any thing personally offensive to any noble lord; but he could no
always remain silent when taunted about his doubts and hesitations.
VOL. II. 8


The resolutions were passed, and the arrangement of a deputy
speakership was carried into effect.

The bill which had originated in the House of Lords, on the sub-
ject of Scotch appeals, gave rise to some discussion in the House of
Commons, on the 16th of July, when it came to its third reading.
Mr. Brougham took this occasion to deliver a very amusing satire on
Lord Eldon:

This bill, he said, had been carried through the other House with the support of a
noble and learned lord, who would have done well to consider whether its principles
might not be applied to the administration of justice in another part of the United
Kingdom; for he believed the forms of process in Scotland were not more prolix or
objectionable than those of the English Court of Chancery. When the noble and
{earned lord at the head of that court did, in the other House, in carrying the resolu-
tions on the appellate jurisdiction, evince a great anxiety to facilitate the proceedings
of Scotch law, he ought not to have forgotten that the process of the court over which
he himself presided was as fit an object for inquiry as that to which those resolutions
referred. But, perhaps, the noble and learned lord would not agree with him, that in-
quiry, like charity, ought to begin at home. Yet he ought surely to have kept in view
the Christian maxim; and before he proceeded to remove the mote out of the eyes of
our Scotch brethren, he should have taken the beam out of his own. The proceed-
ings might be prolix in Scotland, but he defied them to be more prolix than were the
proceedings in our own Court of Chancery. An hon. and learned friend opposite
(Mr. Wetherell) afforded daily proof of this fact. No man made longer speeches
there, though always, unquestionably, highly to the advantage of his clients. Why
was not he to be examined upon this point before a commission, that he might give
there, as he was in the constant habit of doing in that House, a fair, candid, and
impartial opinion, uninfluenced by any wish to please persons in authority? [Hear,
hear.] Why had not the attorney-general and the great ornaments of the Court of
Chancery been called upon to state their ideas of its abuses and of the remedies 7
In looking over the report which he had mentioned, it was curious to observe how
summarily it disposed of a matter of grave dispute, which elsewhere was still vexata
gusestio. It declared unreservedly, that it was impossible for the lord chancellor to
discharge all his duties in the House of Lords and in the Court of Chancery. Such
had not been the opinion of Sir S. Romilly. In 1813 Sir S. Romilly had not thought
that a vice-chancellor was necessary, but a new chancellor: he had admitted the
great legal talents of Lord Eldon, but denied his fitness for the office he filled: he had
complained that Lord Eldon did not confine himself to his judicial duties, but that
his ministerial duties crossed and jostled them on the way, and interfered with their
progress: he had objected that Lord Eldon was required to be not only in his own
court, but in the cabinet, in the privy council, and in the king's closet: in short, that
his other avocations took up so much of his time, that Lord Eldon could not devote
his high talents and his unequaled learning to the cases of suitors in equity. He
(Mr. B.) joined in these sentiments most heartily. He wished to speak with all due
respect of the incorruptible integrity of the learned lord in the discharge of ordinary
judicial business. A man who stood exposed to the eyes of all the world could not
well be guilty of any acts of corruption ; but the appointments made by him to judi-
cial offices formed quite a different question. There the politician interfered, and it
was the opinion of all Westminster Hall that Lord Eldon carried the politician too
much into court, in disposing of the patronage attached to his station. Let it be re-
membered, also, that he had taken upon himself another office; namely, that of prime
minister. "As to Lord Liverpool being prime minister (continued the learned gen-
tleman), he is no more prime minister than I am." I reckon Lord Liverpool a sort
of member of opposition; and, after what has recently passed, if I were required, I
should designate him as "a noble lord in another place, with whom I have the honour
to act." [A faugh.] Lord Liverpool may have collateral influence, but Lord Eldon
has all the direct influence of the prime minister. He is prime minister to all intents and
purposes, and he stands alone in the full exercise of all the influence of that high
situation. Lord Liverpool has carried measures against the lord chancellor. So have
I; therefore I say that we act together. If Lord Liverpool carried the Marriage Act,
I carried the Education Bill ; and if Lord Liverpool succeeded against Lord Eldon in
some points on the queen's trial, I say that I totally defeated him on that odious bill


of pains and penalties. I might just as well call myself prime minister as Lord
Liverpool. He has no more claim to the distinction than I have. He acts with me,
and I with him ; and I call him my noble coadjutor, and I trust we shall enjoy a long
course of co-operation. I am sincerely glad of it; and, long as I have sat and fought
on this side of the House, I never welcomed a recruit to our body with greater satis-
faction than my Lord Liverpool. Lord Westmoreland's accession may have given
me more surprise, but certainly not more pleasure. With such powerful assistance,
and especially with the highly classical eloquence of Lord Westmoreland, I should
not much wonder if we were to make head against our opponents, and, in time, turn
out this prime minister. The right honourable gentleman opposite appears to enter-
tain some doubt upon the point; and truly, I must myself admit, that Lord Eldon
seems to possess a grant of the place " for the term of his natural life."

****** *

In 1813, (continued Mr. Brougham,) the chancellor sent down a bill; he then tried
to do the job in that way : but he grew tired of it, and he had now prevailed upon the
Peers to pass resolutions behind the backs of the Commons. In 1813 he said, "I
want a journeyman chancellor, that I may get to the House of Lords ;" and in 1823
he declared, " I want a journeyman speaker that I may get to the Court of Chancery."
If this last demand were acquiesced in, Lord Eldon might, indeed, attend in Chancery
or in the House of Lords, at his pleasure; but he would be relieved effectually from,
all the burthens of his office, and the result might be, that the practice would termi-
nate of appointing a great and enlightened lawyer to the dignity of lord chancellor.
Once sever his judicial and political capacities by giving him only the last, and a
second Lord Shaftesbury might be made chancellor; such a man as Charles II. made
his friend, for turning into ridicule that illustrious statesman Lord Clarendon, for
imitating his manners and his gait, and for employing a man to carry the fire-irons
before him in mockery of the insignia of office. Lord Shaftesbury the virtuous and
pure Lord Shaftesbury had, indeed, turned out a more honest chancellor than he
was a politician; and an instance of the same kind in our own time was not wanting.

* * * *

The people of Scotland (proceeded Mr. Brougham), were very unceremoniously
used in this substitution of a deputy speaker for the lord chancellor. They were
completely satisfied with the decisions of Lord Eldon upon their appeals, and must be
dissatisfied with any new arrangement. The professional men of Scotland had the
highest confidence in the learning, skill and integrity of Lord Eldon. They were even
satisfied with his decisions, when he differed from a large portion of them, as he some-
times did, on the law of Scotland, as affecting certain descriptions of property. ISfay,
some of them had gone round to that learned lord's opinions on those points; and he
(Mr. B.) believed that, if the lawyers of Scotland were polled, the majority would be
in favour of the learned lord's opinions on those points. The same sentiments were
entertained with respect to Lord Redesdale, whose attention to subjects of appeal was
unremitting. Nothing, therefore, could be less satisfactory to the Scotch than to be
deprived of the advantage of having their causes determined by individuals of such
high station and character.

The session of Parliament was closed by commission on the 19th
of July, the lord chancellor delivering the royal speech.

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

(Probably 21st July, 1823.)

"All the world here is running on Sundays to the Caledonian Chapel, in Hation
Garden, where they hear a Presbyterian orator from Scotland, preaching, as some
ladies term it, charming matter, though downright nonsense. To the shame of the
king's ministers be it said, that many of them have gone to this schism shop with
itching ears. Lauderdale told me, that when Lady * is there, the preacher never
speaks of an heavenly mansion, but an heavenly pavilion. For other ears, mansion
is sufficient. This is a sample !"

(King George IV. to Lord Eldon.}

"King's Lodge, August 18th, 1823.
" My dear friend,

" I have now to thank you for two letters ; the expressions in the first bespeak so
well those kind and affectionate feelings of your heart towards me, and so long known


to me, as to ensure you a thorough reciprocity on my part towards yourself. With
respect to the letter, which I received from you this morning, I can only say, that I
hope you will not neglect availing yourself of the very first moment of release that
you can seize from all your arduous and laborious occupations, to indulge in a little
tranquillity and repose in the country, and which, I pray God, may be the means of
very long preserving a life so very invaluable, both to me as a friend, as well as to
the public service. With sincere affection, I remain always

" Most truly yours,

"G. R."

(Lord Eldon to Lord Stowdl.') (Extract.)

"Friday night: (probably written in the beginning of September, 1823.)
" The appointment of Lord Francis Conyngham in the foreign office has, by female
influence, put Canning beyond the reach of any thing to affect him, and will assuredly
enable him to turn those out whom he does not wish to remain in. The king is
in such thraldom that one has nobody to fall back upon. The person that has got
* * * *, after having in conversations, I believe, uttered nothing that was kind about
Canning, was one of his voters for his cabinet office. The devil of it is, there is no
consistency in any body. Again, upon ' ne cede malis,' it is better to go out than
to be turned out! ! which will assuredly be the case. God bless you,

" Yours affectionately,


"You will be sorry to hear that since I left town I have had two attacks of giddi-
ness in my head unable to see, &c. &c. affects my spirits."

The following squib, on the often-repeated announcements of the
chancellor's intended resignation, has very little merit ; but he had
noticed it enough to copy it, probably from some newspaper ; and it
is here printed from his manuscript :

"The chancellor vows he'll depart, as they say:
(So Derry sometimes, if his crew disobey.)
But when his resigning a minister mentions,
We think how hell's paved with mankind's good intentions:
For still being in, though so oft going out,
We feel much inclined, like his lordship, to doubt."

The lines which succeed are from a more cordial muse, that of his
grandson, who contributes them with this introduction :

" I have found a few lines written at Winchester in the autumn of
1823, containing a tolerably accurate prediction of the close of Lord
Eldon's life without a struggle, though that event occurred at a period
of more than fourteen years afterwards. The seniors of the school
were usually ordered at the conclusion of their Virgil lesson to com-
pose eight or ten verses off-hand, and to repeat or read them to the
master as they quitted their places. On this occasion the subject was
given from the ^Eneid (Book vi. line 304.) ' Viridis Senectus.' My
lines were the following :

Jam gravis annorum serie longoque labore,

Dilectas sedes, rura Senator amat ;
Haud illi mentis florentem animique vigorem

Nee validas vires dura senecta domat:
Qualis ubi princeps regalia tecta relinquens,

Emeritus ve senex otia miles agit;
Illic solicitse jucunda oblivia vitae

Ducit, nee fatum sentit adesse necis,
Dura facili Isetum condat mors alma sepulcro,

Gaudentemqne ferat sub sua regna Deus.


"'Very well, very well!' said Dr. Gabell to me, as I ended; 'I
understand what you mean.' '

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

(Oct. or Nov., 1823 )

"As to myself, I am so well that my friends rejoice in me, and my foes don't like
my visage and looks at all."




Lords' rota. Attacks on the chancellor: Mr. Williams's motion: letters of Mr. Peel
to Lord Eldon, and of Lord Eldon to Lady F. J. Bankes and to the Rev. Matthew
Surtees: Mr. Abercromby's complaint. Appointment of Mr. Farrer to a master-
ship : letters of Mr. Farrer to Lord Eldon, and of Lord EMon to Sir M. W. Ridley.
Letters of Lord Eldon to Lady F. J. Bankes. Advancement of Lord Gifford : his
legal character: his title: letters of Lord Liverpool to Lord Eldon. Memorandum
of Lord Eldon on pretensions of law officers. Unitarian Marriages Bill. Lord
Encombe's entrance at the university: letter to him from Lord Eldon. Bills re-
specting aliens : joint-stock companies: English Roman Catholics : earl marshal:
king's remonstrance. Letters of Lord Eldon to Lady F. J. Bankes. Scotch law.
Dorsetshire cunning, and simplicity. Letters from Lord Redesdale to Lord Eldon
upon Ireland.

THE chancellor opened the session of 1824, by delivering the king's
speech in the House of Lords, on the 3d of February. A few days
afterwards he writes thus :

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

(February, 1824.)

"Nothing of news picked up, either in Chancery or at the House of Lords, where
the afternoon was employed in balloting for lords to attend the Scotch causes, as long
as they should endure this session. It was amazing, in counting and calling them
over, how many, looking fresh and lively, excused themselves as above seventy how
many, who looked rosy and well, sought to excuse themselves on account of very
infirm health and how many, figuring off daily in Hyde Park and the Green Park,
could not, without fatal consequences, bear three or four hours' confinement unless
it was confinement for five or six hours at White's or Boodle's at night. However,
we fixed lords enough to serve till the 12th July, at three lords a day."

A feeling of uneasiness, on the subject of his court and of the im-

Online LibraryHorace TwissThe public and private life of Lord Chancellor Eldon, with selections from his correspondence (Volume 2) → online text (page 16 of 65)