Horace Twiss.

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

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suffer? There is, it appears to me, an intermediate path. What the honourable and
learned gentleman said could not justly have given offence: while, in that misrepre-
sentation, not wilful and not inexcusable, of the honourable and learned gentleman's
observation, is to be found a justification of the warmth of the noble and learned
lord. The honourable and learned gentleman has vindicated himself in the face of
the House and of the country; and it would appear in him somewhat approaching to
the temper which he has attributed to the lord chancellor, if he were to press his
motion ; and I see nothing which need preclude him from receiving the best and most
substantial satisfaction, in the assurance, that what he really did say would not have
excited the feelings which the misrepresentation of what he did say has led to the
expression of. Sir, with these feelings, and to prevent the commencement of a pro-


ceeding, the termination of which we cannot anticipate, and with the fullest admission
that the honourable and learned gentleman has set himself entirely right with the
House and the country, I shall oppose his motion.

Mr. Tierney followed.

The defence set up, said he, is of a most extraordinary nature ; but, first of all, I may
be permitted to remark, that no honourable gentleman, or right honourable gentleman,
has said, that he has authority from the lord chancellor to vary a syllable of what he
is accused of having uttered. No man has come forward with any apology ; and if
the lord chancellor were disposed to humble himself before the House and to acknow-
ledge his error, I should think the right hon. secretary for foreign affairs would be the
last mouth-piece he would select to express his humiliation. For, after what has
passed, it would, indeed, be curious to find that he has arrested that right hon. gentle-
man from his foreign travels, in order to have the benefit of his defence at home. I
cannot find that the learned gentlemen who have spoken on the other side have con-
ferred any weighty obligation upon his lordship. They say that the lord chancellor
read a report in a newspaper, which was not founded in fact. This may be true ; but
it is somewhat extraordinary that this should be, perhaps, the only paper which the
lord chancellor, since he has been on the bench, did not take home to consider; that
this should be the only case in which he has been able to come to an instant decision,
and that the suddenness of his determination should be the only point relied upon for
his defence. On one night I am called upon in mercy to recollect the past services
of the lord chancellor, to make allowances for his amiable, hesitating nature and on
another I am told that I must acquit him of a charge of this serious kind, not because
he is a doubting man, but because he is a rash one. This sort of reasoning I cannot
understand; but, on such reasoning, rests the only excuse that the noble and learned
lord's friends have been able to furnish. It seems, too, that the lord chancellor only
saw the newspaper for the first time on the morning when he used this expression.
It is quite clear that he does not incur the heavy expense of taking in a newspaper,
or he could not have missed reading the speech of my hon. and learned friend on
Wednesday, Thursday, or Friday : for the debate on the delays in Chancery took place
on Tuesday, and the breach of privilege was not committed until the Saturday follow-
ing. Without saying any thing unkind or disrespectful of the newspaper in question,
which generally, I believe, reports faithfully, it will be sufficient for my purpose to
say, that the moment that the lord chancellor got hold of it, he exclaimed, "This will
do ; I want no more ; I will now go down to my court, and from the bench I will make
this attack upon a member of the House of Commons." " Oh," replies the attorney-
general, " his lordship meant to attack the newspaper, and not the barrister." What!
has a newspaper "a gown upon its back?" When it has, the answer may be a good
one; but not till then. Some excuse must be made, or the House has no plea for not
proceeding further. I am sure I mean to treat the lord chancellor with all possible
respect; no man admires more than I do the profound research of his mind: I believe
him to be a man of unimpeachable integrity ; but I do not take him to be a judge who
has conferred such endless blessings upon the country, that the privileges of the House
are to be thrust aside to make way for his escape. I am willing to pay my tribute to
the noble lord's learning and character, but I will take leave to say that his jurisdic-
tion has been so administered for two-and-twenty years, that, in common parlance, his
court has become a national grievance. I do not impute any bad motives to the lord
chancellor, but I state the effect practically: he is now, indeed, near the end of his
career I mean merely from his advanced age for otherwise it is impossible to say
when his career might end.

Mr. Secretary Peel answered this speech.

There were here, he said, two questions that seemed to have been confounded; first,
had there been any breach of the privileges of the House, or such a breach as it was
expedient to notice] Secondly, had there been any attempt to threaten any member
of the learned profession, in order to deter him from the discharge of his parliamentary
duty? The latter appeared to him infinitely the more important; for a breach of pri-
vilege was of far less consequence than it would be to consider whether there had
been an attack upon the independence of a member of Parliament. As to the first
question, it was certainly very difficult for any individual to say in how many in-
stances in the day the privileges of the House were infringed. Members themselves
were guilty of constant breaches ; and within the last two years constant and irregular
references had been made to the proceedings in the House of Lords. The grosser


offence was avoided by talking of "another place," and of speeches delivered there;
but this was a mere evasion; and perhaps it would be much better to make direct
allusions, and at once to answer remarks made by the peers, than to resort to this
apparently unworthy expedient. It was most material to this discussion to remember
that the origin of it was a direct breach of privilege, at which the House connived
namely, the publication of its proceedings. It had the power to enforce its orders ;
but he admitted that it was much wiser to continue the permission than to put a stop
to the practice. There was a balance of evils ; but the advantage predominated in
favour of the publication of debates. Yet great inconveniences sometimes arose, and
the present was a striking and pregnant proof of the mischief. The hon. and learned
member had made a speech reflecting on an individual: it was printed next morning,
and it was wafted, not only to every district of this kingdom, but to all parts of the
world where the English language was understood. The speech contained a charge
against the first judge of the land, that he had evaded an act of Parliament, in order
to disparage another judge, his coadjutor; afld a regard to common justice, independ-
ent of feelings of wounded honour, induced the lord chancellor to come forward and
deny the accusation. If, with the warm feelings of an Englishman, the party had
made use of intemperate language, he (Mr. Peel) maintained the distinction to be a
just one, that the lord chancellor had not been guilty of the first attack. Being him-
self accused, he claimed the ordinary right of being heard in his own defence, and he
had declared, "I am not guilty," or, in other words, "it is an utter falsehood."

After several other speeches, the House divided, ayes 102, noes
151 ; majority against Mr. Abercromby's motion, 49. The chancellor
is said* to have remained during the debate in the immediate neigh-
bourhood of the House, anxious and agitated; but his serenity re-
turned as soon as the charge against him had been disposed of, and
he shortly afterwards assured Mr. Abercromby through a gentleman
of their common acquaintance that he retained no resentment of what
had passed.f

The mastership in Chancery, which had become vacant by the death
of Sir John Simeon, was now conferred by Lord Eldon upon Mr. Far-
rer, whom he addressed, on this occasion, in the following letter.

(Lord Eldon to J. W. Farrer, Esq.')
"Dear Sir,

"In communicating to you my offer of the vacant mastership, I act under the influ-
ence of a recollection of what passed, during a very interesting part of my life, of
kindness towards me on the part of your father and uncle; of a conviction also of the
respect I owe to Mrs. Farrer; of the assurances which I have received of your quali-
fications for this office, important as I know it to be, assurances confirmed by my own
observation ; and of a recollection of the grounds upon which your letter, received
some time ago, stated your wish to be placed in it.

" These considerations have, at length, enabled me to pnt an end to a delay, which
the extreme pain which I cannot but feel, and have strongly felt, in disappointing the
views and wishes of many respectable gentlemen at the bar, has occasioned.

" I am, dear sir, yours truly,


" Monday morning," (March 8th, 1824.)

Here are excellent reasons for an excellent appointment ; but the
apology for the delay is a plainly insufficient one. The more nume-
rous the candidates, and the longer their suspense, the greater the
aggregate of the pain occasioned by the patron's hesitation, a pain
which, though he protracts it to all, he can at last compensate to
only one.

Mr. Farrer returned a suitable answer, of which an extract is sub-
joined :

Law Mag., No. xlii. { Law Mag., No. iliv.


" March 9th, 1824.

"I owe the happiness conferred upon me to-day to your lordship, in more senses
than one: for I cannot refrain from slating to your lordship that my professional edu-
cation was conducted upon a plan sketched by your lordship in a letter kindly writ-
ten to me from Encombe.* Allow me too to notice, in terms of the most heartfelt
gratitude, that kindness and condescension of manner to the young men of your
lordship's bar, which characterize your lordship, without which many men who
ultimately succeed in their profession, would sink under its first trials. I have felt
this so strongly, and have so often discoursed of it with my fellow-labourers, that I
could not pass it over without grateful acknowledgment."

Sir Matthew White Ridley, who, as the brother of Mr. Farrer's lady,
took a great interest in this promotion, conveyed the thanks of the
Ridley family to the chancellor, in a letter dated llth March, 1824.
The chancellor's answer, which ibllows, has no date:

(About March llth, 1824.)
"Dear Sir Matthew,

" If any act of mine is gratifying to you or your brothers, it will be a .source of
much gratification to me that I have done that act. That, to which I am referred by
your letter, I have the consolation also to think was an act of public duty, and I have
a sincere comfort in the determination upon which I have acted, to do what I think
I ought to have done, in despite of great interests called into action, to attempt, for
the benefit of other barristers, to induce me to act otherwise. My occupations have
obliged me to abstract myself almost from all society, and even from the common
intercourse in which mere civility engages almost every other person. To this you must
attribute the apparent inattention of not having returned your calls. I have blamed
myself for it more than you can have blamed me. The truth is, that my heart will
not allow me to remain unaffected by what memory often recalls to my thoughts.
Sixty years will have passed when 1826 comes, since I left Newcastle school, arid yet
I think I see, almost once every day, in remembrance of days of yore, your revered
father, my dear friend your uncle Nicholas, my intimate acquaintance your uncle
John, your yet existing uncle Dr. Ridley, and I think another brother of theirs, before
they flitted to Westminster School, riding upon their galloways from Heaton, past the
end of Love Lane, in their way to the Head School. These are pleasant remini-
scences, though they are accompanied by what belongs to the reflection, that so many
of those to whom one was attached are no more. I have not lost, in the course and
the changes and chances of a long life, (whatever differences of opinion there may
have been among us in political matters,) my regard and respect lor the name and
house of Ridley.

" I thank you and Mr. Ridley Colborne for your support of me on a late occasion.
Mr. Martin brings in a bill to prevent bull-baiting : the Bishop of London presents a
petition to prevent bear-baiting. Will no kind man introduce a measure to prevent
chancellor-baiting! Yours, dear Sir Matthew, sincerely,


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

" Carlton House, (March 19th, 1824); Friday, 12 o'clock.

" Here are John and I, waiting to do our king the honour of shaking hands with
him. when he may be graciously pleased to make his appearance. He fixed his re-
corder's report at twelve o'clock, but is not yet arrived from Windsor. John is in a
sort of tremulous state, not being conversant how so young a subject is to conduct
himself; and I, though a very old one, am quite unable to give him any useful infor-
mation, as I never saw a congress of a king and a boy of eighteen before. This
interview is what interests mamma extremely, and has withdrawn her from herself
comfortably for a few hours.

"Friday, 1 o'clock.

" Our sovereign lord arrived, and soon after sent for his loyal subjects, Lords E.
and E. The latter in a great fidge; but, being introduced, and mamma having made
him very smart, and the king receiving him most kindly, he looked well and per-
formed well. The king was excessively kind, and, I suppose, thinking he should

* See Letter of 14th Oct., 1807 ; Chap. XXV.


make John some present, he hit off what appeared to me to be very proper nothing
magnificent, but he gave him a handsome edition of all the Latin classics, desiring
him to make them useful to him by a diligent application to them and their contents.
In short, all went off vastly well, and John most highly delighted."*

"March 22d, 1824, (Monday).

" I was so profane, once more, as to sit to Sir Thomas yesterday for my picture,
which promises to be a capital painting, and a very strong likeness. To day, unfor-
tunately, I am chained to the woolsack, hearing appeals. The great Lord Hardwicke,
as he is justly called, decided (though his diligence is so much extolled, and mine so
little thought of,) fewer appeals in this House, by three hundred, than I have decided
in the same period of nineteen years and ten months, during which he was chancel-
lor. I don't reckon mine, decided in a period of my chancellorship subsequent to the
first nineteen years aud ten months."

In looking around, at the close of the preceding year, for assistance
in the judicial business of the House of Lords, the government had
turned its attention to the qualifications of the attorney-general, Sir
Robert Giffbrd. He was a lawyer of good abilities, and of still better
fortune. He had early distinguished himself in the Court of King's
Bench, by a terse way of putting his points, and had become a favour-
ite with the judges, if not by any great grasp of mind or depth of
knowledge, yet by the succinctness of his arguments, the readiness of
his apprehension, and the respectfulness of his demeanour. For the
technical part of his profession, his neat mind was remarkably well
qualified ; and having succeeded in little things, he was thought likely
to suffice for greater. He was, therefore, at the early age of about
forty, very strongly recommended by several of the common law judges
for the office of solicitor-general, and obtained it accordingly. In the
House of Commons, as he attempted nothing, he can hardly be said
to have failed. Quitting the courts of common law, to which he had
been bred, he started as a leader in the Court of Chancery, in the busi-
ness whereof it was apprehended that his acquaintance with the law
of real, that is, landed property, would give him some advantage.
He, however, had but little to do there, and gained no accession of
fame from his manner of doing it. Succeeding to the office of attor-
ney-general, he was, of course, entrusted with the conduct of the
queen's trial; and he discharged the important duty of opening that
great issue, just as might have been expected from a lawyer who was

* NOTE BY THE PRESENT EARL. The easy yet dignified bearing of the king speed-
ily dispersed any nervousness I might have felt before his arrival. After receiving
us, and addressing his conversation principally to my grandfather, he asked me how
I liked the appointment of the new master in chancery, and hoped I approved of it.
When he had stood talking to us for a few minutes, Sir William Knighton entered
the room carrying a mahogany box, which he placed on the table, saying, " This is
what your majesty ordered to be brought when Lord Encombe came." The king
then opened the box, which was lined with dark-blue velvet, and contained forty-one
volumes of the regent's edition of Latin classics, handsomely bound: he read a few
of the names, Cicero, Li vy, Tacitus, Juvenal; and, on coming to Justin and some
other, observed that these were, perhaps, below my reading. I expressed myself,
however, as not looking down upon any of the classic writers. The king then said,
that the case which contained them had been made without pretension to ornament,
but that I might like to put it at the bottom of my travelling carriage; adding, that
the box should be sent home to me, which was done accordingly. Afterwards I had
a table made, to receive the king's present, engraved with a suitable statement of the
circumstance, as the books contained no inscription to record his majesty's gift.


in no wise a man of the world, and who knew little, if any thing, of
the class of judges he was there addressing, or of the popular influ-
ences then beginning to work on the humours and the fears of the
legislature. He, however, acquired some insight into these matters in
the course of the trial, and acquitted himself with ability in his reply.
At the close of 1823, the resignation of Sir Robert Dallas having made
a vacancy in the chief justiceship of the Common Pleas, Sir Robert
Gifford was promoted to that office with a peerage ; and in the spring
of 1824, he was transferred from the Common Pleas to the rolls, as
the successor of Sir Thomas Plumer. The appointment was not
satisfactory to the Chancery bar; and their disfavour, joined to his
own want of early experience in equity practice, made the rolls court
somewhat difficult and uncomfortable to him. He took great pains,
however, and being naturally quick to learn, he would, probably, had
he lived for a few years, have surmounted many of his disadvantages;
although, in almost every thing he did, there was visible a constraint
which seemed to result from fear of getting beyond his depth, and
unwillingness that his depth should be too accurately sounded. It was
in the judicial business of the House of Lords, where the jurisdiction
is merely appellate, and where points, therefore, can seldom arise on
the sudden, that he was seen to the greatest advantage. In the dis-
posal of the Scotch appeals, more especially, he gave much satisfac-
tion, and was of material use in enabling Lord Eldon to devote a
greater portion of his time to the duties of the Court of Chancery.

On Lord Gifford's selection of his own name for his title of peerage,
Lord Eldon's Anecdote Book speaks thus :

" Mr. Clerk, when made a judge of the Court of Session in Scotland,
took the name of Lord Eldin ; for they are accustomed to take, as lords
of session, the names of their estates. Lord Gifford stated to me,
that he thought it a very improper thing that Clerk should have taken
a title so much the same as mine. I observed to him, that I thought
he should not blame Clerk, who had done the same thing himself.
He seemed astonished. I told him the Earl of Gifford was the son of
the Marquis of Tweedbale."

Lord Eldon has been much censured for the promotion heaped upon
Sir R. Gifford ; whose elevation to the peerage, in particular, has
been ascribed to the chancellor's jealous apprehension of other talents
more likely to bear a comparison with his own. But Lord Eldon
stands quite clear of any such blame in the matter ; the promotion of
Lord Gifford having, in fact, been a measure wholly of Lord Liver-
pool's. On the llth of November 1823, Lord Liverpool writes a
letter to Lord Eldon, which he finishes, after various references to
other possible arrangements, by this suggestion :

" Would the attorney-general take the Common Pleas with a peerage, and under-
take part of the judicial business in the House of Lords?"

Next day Lord Liverpool writes to Lord Eldon again :

" The more I reflect upon what I wrote to you yesterday, the more I incline to the
opinion, that (assuming Plumer immovable) the best arrangement will be to make
attorney Chief Justice of the Common Pleas and deputy speaker of House of Lords.
I shall say nothing of it to any one till I have seen you."


The chancellor, therefore, can at most have had no further concern
with this promotion than in not resisting it. To resist it, indeed,
would not have been very feasible ; for the state of the bench and of
the bar afforded just then but little choice. The mistake had been
the original selection of Mr. Gifford as solicitor-general in priority to
Mr. Serjeant Copley, a mistake attributable rather to the common law
judges than to the chancellor, who had no personal experience of
their respective qualifications. Had that selection been reversed, Mr.
Serjeant Copley would have been before Mr. GifTord in position, as
he was beyond all comparison before everybody at the bar in talents:
but, as matters stood at the end of 1823, it would have been difficult
to lift the Solicitor-General Copley over the head of the Attorney-
General Gifford.

In the general matter of judicial promotion, however, Lord Eldon
was not quite disposed to allow to the law officers of the day the sort
of absolute right which they have sometimes claimed. The following
extract is from a memorandum, kept by Lord Eldon, of what he ap-
pears to have said on this subject in a conversation with some of his
colleagues, or, perhaps, with the king. That conversation would
seem, from the conclusion of the memorandum, to have taken place
during the attorney-generalship of Sir R. Gifford ; but upon what
particular claim it arose is not distinctly apparent.

(Extract from Memorandum in Lord Eldon's hand-writing.')

" Friday stated in conversation.

" Pretensions, and claims as rights, are very different things. The former, entitled
to great weight, must nevertheless give way, if the judgment of those who are en-
trusted with all the interests of government fairly exercised, determines that preten-
sions should give way. This is what I understand is the full extent of what can be
stated, or ever could be fairly stated, as to pretensions of the law officers. What
Lord Liverpool, in his letter, calls ' reserve,' amounts, as it seems to me, to no more
than explanation which may be thought necessary on account of existing, or sup-
posed existing, misunderstandings upon this point.

"Let us look at facts. Mr. J. Bathurst, afterwards Lord Apsley, was made chan-
cellor, De Grey having been very nearly actually appointed. The chancellorship,
however, may be considered as a specialty.

" See what has passed as to the office of Chief Justice of the King's Bench. Ken-
yon was appointed master of the rolls. He was then out of the field as a law officer;
Arden, attorney-general, stood first in pretension as to future vacancies of judicial
offices, Macdonald next. The chief justiceship of King's Bench became vacant.
Kenyon succeeded to it, against the pretensions of both the law officers.

" The rolls then becoming vacant, Thurlow claimed the right of recommending to
it. He thought the pretensions of the law officers not strong enough to counteract
his judgment that the public interest required another individual than a puisne judge
to be sent there. In the result the minister in effect appointed, the judicial situation
being compatible with a seat in the House of Commons. He procured the appoint-

Online LibraryHorace TwissThe public and private life of Lord Chancellor Eldon, with selections from his correspondence (Volume 2) → online text (page 18 of 65)