Horace Twiss.

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

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putations connected with it, still continuing to be uppermost in his
mind, he now made it an indispensable point with his colleagues, that
he should be efficiently defended in the House of Commons. The
following extract is from a letter of Mr. Peel, on whose assistance he
would naturally throw himself, rather than upon that of the then leader,
Mr. Canning:

(Mr. Peel to Lord Eldon.) (Extract.)

" February 10th, 1824.
" My dear Chancellor,

"I shall be most happy to confer with you on the motions respecting the Court of

"Every consideration arising out of my sincere esteem for you, and my know-
ledge of the motives of those who attack you, would induce me, zealously at least,
to co-operate with more able and competent defenders in resisting these attacks.

"Depend upon it, my dear chancellor, they can make no impression. Men ask
themselves who is the ablest and the honestest man who ever presided m the Court


of Chancery, and the decisive answer to that question, if it does not silence malignity
and political hostility, at least disarms them of the power to rob you of your hardly-
earned and justly-acquired honours. Believe me,

" With sincere attachment and regard,
" Most faithfully yours,


(Extracts of Letters from Lord Eldon to Lady F. J. Bankes.)

" Monday, (February 23d, 1824.)

" Sir Thomas Lawrence has had two hours of my company, and Mr. Peel and four
lawyers two more; the former, to make my face look as well on canvass as might
be, the latter, to be enabled to make me look as well as might be in the debate on
chancery to-morrow night, which will be carried on with great acrimony on one side,
and, I think, with much zeal on the other."

"Wednesday (February 25th, 1S24.)

" Mr. Williams made his attack last night* as savage as the Dey of Algiers, with
whom we are gone to war. He told a great many * * * which dissatisfied
attorneys had thrown into his mouth, and a great many things which neither I nor
any person interested about me ever heard of before, mentioning, however, some
things which, in the lazy moments of twenty-two years, appeared like (and, perhaps,
really constituted) negligence on my part, which, however, could not much affect or
sully the tenour and character of a long industrious life. He then abused all the mas-
ters of the court, and, indeed, every body belonging to the court; and then moved for
a committee to inquire into the misdeeds and misdoings of all of us.

"In June last, I had communicated to the House of Lords my purpose of having
not a committee of inquiry and vengeance, but a commission to inquire whether
any and what improvements could be made for the future in the practice of the Court
of Chancery, or any part of it, and whether the chancellor could be relieved of any
part of his business, by sending such parts to other courts. At my instance, therefore,
Mr. Peel, in a most admirable speech, moved for such a commission, as a great merit
on my part in aiming at improvement, instead of this committee of vengeance; and
this threw Mr. Williams, &c., upon their backs, and they did not venture to divide. So
for the present this storm is over, and matters will be tolerable till the next begins to

(February 26th, 1824.) " Thursday, from the Bench.

"I have reason to think that the debate in the Commons has done me much good.
Peel's speech was, I understand, most eloquent, and towards me expressive of regard
amounting to affection: Lord Stowell came out of the House of Commons in tears,
he was so affected by it The speech did much good, by informing the House that
the chancellor's income was hardly more than a third of what nine-tenths of the
members thought it was by informing them how much I had paid out of my own
pocket to save the public. The newspapers, too, had charged me with hearing lunatic
and bankrupt petitions rather than other matters, in order to get money. He let the
House of Commons know, that I had, for twenty-two years, administered all matters
in lunacy without receiving one farthing j and as to petitions in bankruptcy, 12*. Gd.^
was all that was paid for a petition, which sometimes occupied four, five, six, seven,
eight or even ten days. In short, he set me up, in the public opinion, against what I
hold in utter detestation, being influenced by sordid motives and feelings ; and so do
I detest such meanness, that being set right in this view of my character, will render
me happier than I have been as long as I live."

" Saturday. (February 28th, 1824.)

"Peel tells me that the people he lives with most are quite astonished to find the
chancellor's income so very far short of what they had always believed it to be; and
he will have it that the late House of Commons' business has been a most fortunate
thing for your father. How that may be I cannot be sure ; but I am sure that he
could not have taken more pains about it if I had been his father. I still regret, how-
ever, that there was no division, notwithstanding that before they could have got to a
division there must have been an immense quantity of foul abuse. There are thoughts
of publishing, in a small pamphlet, contradictions to Williams's and Abercromby's

* See the observations on Lord Eldon's judicial character, in Vol. II. of this Bio-
j- See motion of Mr. D. W. Harvey, 13th March, 1827: Chap. XLIX.


misrepresentations. I was surprised at the language of the latter. Upon his father's
fall in Egypt, I sent him a commissionership of bankrupts, which he keeps to this
hour. He might, therefore, have been commonly civil, if not just."

These frequent attacks on him were now defeating their own main
object, by rousing in him a spirit of resistance which counteracted
his inclination to resign.

(Lord Eldon to the Rev. Matthew Surtees.") (Extract.)

"You will see that I have been lalely the object of much persecution. But, impa-
vidum ferient. In a life such as mine has been, that there should have been some
things neglected, that there have been, is too true. But take the whole together, I
have done more business in the execution of my public duty than any chancellor ever
did ; yea, three times as much as any chancellor ever did.

"The fact is, from year to year, party is attempting to drive me out of the chan-
cellorship. God knows I should be very happy, if I had nothing to do with it. If
these malignant attacks had not been made against me,year%fter year, I should have
been in retirement; but to hatred, malice and uncharitableness, I will not give way.
I will not gratify those who revile me. My rule through life has been to do what I
think right, and to leave the consequences to God.

"I should not have troubled you so much about myself when I am inquiring about
you. But feeling injury, I fear I could not help it.

" February 28th, 1824."

A passage in Mr. Abercromby's speech of Tuesday, 24th of Febru-
ary, on Mr. Williams motion, had been misreported in a newspaper,
which the chancellor did not happen to read till the Saturday, just as
he was going into court. Much irritated at an imputation upon him,
which this erroneous report conveyed, of hearing cases by way of
appeal from Sir John Leach under circumstances unfair to the reputa-
tion of that judge, Lord Eldon on the moment expressed himself from
the bench of the Court of Chancery in these unguarded terms :

With respect to appeals and rehearings, it is supposed that I have heard them on
new evidence and thereby brought discredit on some part of the court. It is an utter
falsehood ! On rehearings, it is always competent to read the evidence given in the
cause, though it was not read in the court below either by the counsel or the judge.
Further than that, the court does not go. On appeals, it only reads what has been
read in the court below, and that practice I have never departed from in any one in-
stance. Therefore, really, before things are so represented, particularly by gentlemen
with the gowns on their backs, they should at least take care to be accurate, for it is
their business to be so.

Of these expressions, taken down by Mr. Farquharson, an eminent
short-hand writer, Mr. Abercromby complained to the House of Com-
mons as a breach of privilege :

Lord Eldon says, that with respect to appeals and rehearings he does not hear them
on new evidence. Not appeals from decrees and further directions, certainly. I
never said that he did. Quite the contrary. I put them in distinct contrast to motions,
which I again declare the lord chancellor frequently hears on fresh evidence. I think,
therefore, sir, that the House will agree with me, that Lord Eldon, at the very moment
when he says, I have been guilty of "an utter falsehood," puts into my mouth not only
what I did not say, but the very reverse of what I did say. [Hear, hear!] The noble
and learned lord altogether abstains from noticing my distinctions and confounds that
which I stated on the subject of motions with that which I stated on the subject of
decrees. Lord Eldon has, therefore, falsely put into my mouth what I did not utter;
and has declared, that in what I felt it to be my duty to state in my place in Parlia-
ment, I imposed on the public. These, sir, are the facts. But are there no aggrava-
tions of them 1 I ask when it was, and where it was, that Lord Eldon uttered this
foul calumny against me 1 Was I present 1 Had I any notice of the noble and learned
lord's intention 1 Before whom did he utter the calumny 1 Before persons whose


unfavourable opinion, if I had no means but what I derive from my profession, must
effect my entire ruin. [Hear, hear.'] In what form did this calumny go forth to the
people of England 1 ? In that of a report made by a reporter in a court of justice,
attending on behalf of the public, who took down the words as soon as they were
uttered and sent them to an office where they were printed before the ink with which
they were written was dry. Such was the place, such was the occasion, such were the
means by which the Lord High Chancellor of England sought to vilify an individual,
one of the humblest members of his own court. If, sir, I had chanced to be in the
court at the time, what might have happened? I hope and I believe I should have
been able to control my feelings. If, however, I had not done so, it would have been
in the power of the noble and learned lord to silence me. If I had persisted in ad-
dressing him, he might have committed me to the Fleet. If the noble and learned lord
had stopped me, would it not have been an act of the grossest injustice and indecency,
after having calumniated a member of his own profession and of his own court, by
doing what he could to induce the public to believe that that individual had been,
guilty of" an utter falsehood," to prevent him from replying to so monstrous and in-
jurious an accusation? But if Lord Eldon had thought fit as he could not have
abstained from so doing without the grossest injustice to have allowed me to have
replied upon him, what a spectaele it would have been to have seen the Lord Chan-
cellor of England engaged in a controversy with one of the humblest practitioners in
his own court, respecting words used in the House of Commons. Lord Eldon thought
fit to impute to me that I did not use due caution before I made those statements
which he attributed to me. In which case was the defect of caution most signal? In
the case of myself, sir, who was speaking in the presence of honourable and learned
gentlemen, every way my superiors, especially in the knowledge of the practice of the
Court of Chancery, who, if I had been guilty of any misrepresentation, would have in-
stantly detected and refuted it, to my utter confusion and shame? or in the case of Lord
Eldon, who, invested with all the power and patronage and authority of the office of lord
chancellor, presumed, on the seat of justice, to take advantage of a false representa-
tion of the words of an humble individual, to pronounce upon him, without inquiry,
the sort of censure best calculated to destroy his fame, and at a time when no one had
the means of interfering to avert the effect of that most unjust censure ? [Hear, hear!]
We have heard a great deal, sir, of the delicacy of Lord Eldon, of his anxious desire
of justice, of that amiable weakness of mind, too sensitive to the fear of possible wrong
to others and too cautious to decide lest he should decide erroneously. If this had
been a case in which the right of private parties had been concerned, there would
have been, no doubt, argument after argument, affidavit and supplemental affidavit,
months and years would have passed, and the "too sensitive" mind of Lord Eldon
would have abstained from settling those claims which it is his duty to decide on.
But what, sir, was his mode of proceeding, when there was an occasion to pronounce
from the seat of justice an anathema founded on a fiilse statement of facts, to destroy
the character of an individual whom he supposed to have censured himself? Then,
indeed, to the just mind of the just Lord Eldon, there seemed no room for caution no
time for inquiry [hear, hear.'}. He at once proceeded to decide, to pronounce and to
execute his sentence. From whom, I should be glad to know, did Lord Eldon receive
his information? From what legitimate source did he derive it? The attorney and
solicitor-general were present in the House; neither of them could have given the learn-
ed lord the statement which he dared to attribute to me. My honourable and learned
friend, the member of Exeter, (Mr. Courtenay,) and my honourable and learned friend
whom I saw just now in the House, the member for Tewkesbury, (Mr. Dowdeswell,)
were also present during my speech ; and if the lord chancellor had chosen to resort
to them for information as to what had passed in these walls, he would have learned
how unlike what I uttered was that which he attributed to me [hear, hear!].

But now, sir, let me ask what authority, what right, has the Lord Chancellor of
England, or any other judge, to undertake to comment on the judgment-seat on the
debates of this House? Where does Lord Eldon, who is so cautious, find a precedent
for this? How can he say he is not guilty of a gross breach of the privileges of this
House? It is not a formal but a substantial breach of privilege, a direct attack on the
security and freedom of debate, which is the only legitimate object of privilege. What
is the situation of any member of this House, if the lord chancellor or Lord Chief
Justice of the King's Bench, may presume to put false statements into his mouth and
send him forth a disgraced, and as far as the authority of the judgment-seat can go, a
ruined individual? By what tenure shall we then hold the freedom of debate, but
at the will and caprice of any lord chancellor and any chief justice ? If this condition


be intolerable to all the members of the House, how much more fatal must it be to
those members who also belong to the profession of the law, if they are subject for
what they say in this House to be denounced by the lord chancellor from the bench
if any of the judges, when any thing is ultered in the House which touches their feel-
ings, are to denounce in the court where he practises a man who exists only by his
honest exertions in his profession, and to destroy, in a moment, by a false statement,
his character, not only as a professional man, but as a gentleman and a man of
honour [hear, hear.'] 1 If the House do not protect its members from this tyranny and
despotism, (for what can be greater tyranny and despotism I cannot conceive,) nay,
if it do not secure itself against all control of this kind if Lord Eldon be allowed to
extinguish any member of this House, by uttering these things of him from the judg-
ment-seat, of what avail is the freedom of debate particularly to any man who shall
at once be a member of the House and of the profession of the law 1 If the House
shall think the facts which I have stated to be clearly proved, (and I will adduce evi-
dence to put them out of doubt,) it must be incumbent on it to take decided and
vigorous steps to secure its own privileges, to vindicate the freedom of debate and to
put on a secure footing the independence, the spirit and the usefulness of Parliament]
If, on the other hand, the House pass by this gross violation of its privileges without
interfering, how, I ask, can we expect that there shall remain any vestige of independ-
ence, public spirit or usefulness in this House] If my appeal be neglected, what
wrong can be offered to a member of this House against which he can think there is
any hope in calling on the House for protection ] The result will be, to lay the bar
of England prostrate at the feet of Lord Eldon. The conduct of Lord Eldon, which I
shall substantiate, is a gross attack on the freedom of debate; for if I had uttered a
thousand falsehoods in this House the Lord Chancellor of England had no right to
animadvert on them on the judgment-seat. It is on this ground that I offer the conduct
of the lord chancellor to the notice of the House, and if the House be prepared to pass
it by, let it say distinctly that there shall be no longer freedom of debate. The
course I shall take is to move, in the first place, to call evidence to prove the expres-
sions used by the lord chancellor. This being done, it will be for the House to de-
termine what step it will next take. I move you, sir, "That Mr. Farquharson do
attend this House to-morrow."

Mr. Secretary Canning said, "Sir, there is no man who heard the honourable and
learned gentleman's speech no member of the profession to which he belongs no
one of the friends by whom he is surrounded, who is ready to make more allowance
than I am for the feelings which he has evinced, or to render a more sincere tribute
of praise for the moderation and propriety with which he has expressed them. He
has displayed an anxiety that is highly creditable to free himself from an imputation
which, as far as my testimony goes, he is not subject to ; for, without being enough
of a professional man to be aware thoroughly of the importance of the distinction
between what the honourable, and learned gentleman stated the other night, and what
he elsewhere was understood to have stated, I can most unequivocally declare, that
in his argument that night, the impression on my mind was, that he did not go out of
his way for the purpose of throwing imputations on the lord chancellor, or of making
what has happened in the Court of Chancery, matter of individual blame, and not
the result of a faulty system. Such, sir, was the impression on my mind ; and if my
testimony had been required, I should have been as ready to state elsewhere as I am
to state here, that there was nothing uttered by the honourable and learned member
on that occasion, which went beyond the fair line of discussion, or which could jus-
tifiably furnish a ground of personal offence. Admitting this, sir, I can feel also that
the honourable and learned gentleman, strong in the recollection of his purpose at
the time, and of his mode of executing that purpose, could net have avoided feeling
surprise and indignation at finding his speech stamped with terms of so gross a cha-
racter as those which have been applied to it. But, sir, in his statement to the House,
the honourable and learned gentleman has dropped one link of the transaction ; he
has dropped the consideration, whether what he said justifiably was reported correctly
to the lord chancellor, as if there could be nothing, in the channel in which what was
said here was conveyed to the noble and learned lord, which might have perverted
its meaning. Here, again, as an unlearned person, I must remark, that I am not
capable of discriminating the difference between what has been reported and what
the honourable and learned gentleman actually said; but those on whose knowledge
of the subject I fully rely, assure me, that while, in the speech actually made by the
honourable and learned gentleman, there was nothing of which the lord chancellor
could justly complain, yet, in the report conveyed to the noble lord, there was that


colour given to the honourable and learned gentleman's observations, which, though
not materially different to an unprofessional eye, was false and incorrect, and calcu-
lated to excite, in the breast of the judge to whom they referred, the same feeling of
indignation for which he had made a not less generous allowance when manifested
by the honourable and learned gentleman. What then, sir, is the conclusion to which
the honourable and learned gentleman comes at lastl That whatever is said here,
and misrepresented elsewhere, affecting any person high or low, the person against
whom it is directed must put up with it quietly and unresistingly] 'Sir, if there be
any fault in what has happened, the fault is in our own practice, or rather in our own
connivance; a fault which I do not indicate with any wish to see it corrected; a fault
which has produced incalculable benefits to the country, but which, amidst all its
advantages, has this inconvenience that when the characters of individuals are
under discussion here, the smallest variation, the most unintentional misrepresenta-
tion, of what is here uttered, may harrow up the feelings of the most just and right-
eous man in the country, by the imputation of principles or practices which he abhors.
The honourable and learned gentleman has said that a judge had no right to take
cognizance of what is said of him here. What ! is it of no consequence that in
courts in which a judge administers justice he should be known to sit with clean
hands? Is it unnatural that he should be anxious to refute, before those who are
the best judges of their truth or falsehood, the imputations which he may suppose
have been levelled at him? The honourable and learned gentleman will acquit me
of the charge of contending, that either on this or on any other occasion a judge
should discharge his duty to himself without reference to his duty towards others, or
that he should make observations on statements of the authenticity of which he is
not satisfied. As readily, I am sure, will he acquit me of the idea of sheltering my-
self under the technicality of denying that what was said by the lord chancellor had
reference to what passed in this House. But it had not reference to it, I am sure, in
the sense which the honourable and learned gentleman has attributed to it not in
the sense of a great officer of the crown attempting to intimidate a member of the
House of Commons but of an individual, feeling, perhaps too sensibly, for his cha-
racter, after a public life of great and spotless and irreproachable merit, and of whom
it might be said that he wore his heart upon his sleeve " for daws to peck at," and
dreaded too much every trifling attack, as striking at the vitals of his reputation. It
is a fault to be so sensitive it is a fault in a public man but it will be hard on
public men that it should be so severely visited as the honourable and learned gentle-
man proposes; for I am sure that the course he points out can lead us to little less
than an accusation of the most serious kind. I certainly wish that a different course
had been taken by the noble and learned lord, and that in the time that elapsed
between the debate in this House and the end of the week he had recurred to other
testimony, which might have set him right as to the words actually uttered by the
honourable and learned gentleman [hear! hear.' from the opposition]. That it is to
be regretted that the noble and learned lord neglected this precaution, I admit; bnt
that he could treasure up the mis-statement to take an opportunity of wreaking his
vengeance on an individual, is what no man would believe of another, and what any
one who knows the character of the noble and learned lord will not dream of attribut-
ing to him. [The solicitor-general here whispered to Mr. Canning.] I have made
this observation, supposing it to be true that the lord chancellor had seen the reported
observations of the honourable and learned gentleman soon after they were uttered;
but my honourable and learned friend, who is acquainted with the fact, tells me that
the newspaper containing the expression attributed to the honourable and learned
gentleman was put into the hand of the lord chancellor only on Saturday morning, at
the moment of his going into court. Then, sir, are the honourable and learned gen-
tleman and the lord chancellor so situated that the character of one or the other must

Online LibraryHorace TwissThe public and private life of Lord Chancellor Eldon, with selections from his correspondence (Volume 2) → online text (page 17 of 65)