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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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ment of Arden, not because, or not merely because he was attorney-general, to be
promoted to a judicial situation, but because he was also continuing his services in
Parliament. And it is important to observe, that ministers and law officers may be,
and often are, placed with respect to public measures, in such relative circum-
stances, that the law officer ought neither to be removed nor to wish to be removed.

"The same view of public interest promoted Eyre to be the Chief Justice of the
Common Pleas: Macdonald then became chief baron.

"It is not merely the interest of the public in the article of the promotion that is to
be attended to: the solid interests of the public may frequently imperiously require
the law officer to be continued in his situation, as well as the promotion of another
individual to some vacant office.
VOL. II. 9


"Eyre died: then Scott pressed for the chief justiceship of Common Pleas. Mr.
Pitt would not listen to this for a long time. He told the attorney-general that he
deemed his services in Parliament necessary. His health, however, required much
relaxation. The matter was compromised by his becoming chief justice, at the ex-
pense of being a very poor peer; but whatever was incurred by that, was a condition
annexed to giving way to the pretension. Gibbs was made chief baron, afterwards
Chief Justice of Common Pleas; and Thompson, chief baron, against the pretensions
of the law officers of the time, by no means overlooked or nol considered.

"Sir James Mansfield's case is an instance, if not against the attorney-general
waiving the office, against the next heir, the solicitor-general.

"Many persons have thought, and not without reason, at least seeming reason, that
the decision in favour of the pretensions of an attorney-general to the office of vice-
chancellor was a decision against the public interest; but it should be recollected that
the case was a very peculiar one, as far as intellect went, more fit for other judicial
situations, bodily complaint made it impossible for him to accept any other, and
feeling had therefore much to do in the appointment. The three last chiefs in West-
minster Hall co-existing together, Abbot, Dallas and Richards, never had been attor-
ney-general. The present vice-chancellor* never was attorney-general or solicitor-
general. Every instance in which the pretension has been made to give way to the
judgment of what was for the public interest is the stronger, because in every instance
it is not the case of one law officer, but of two. The attorney-general's own personal
consequence in his office may make it a duty on his part to remain: so the individual
may be affected. The great general mischiefs arising from very frequent changes of
law officers is one, among many, most weighty considerations to be attended to, when
a promotion of a law officer is proposed. There never should be wanting, in one at
least of the law officers, considerably long official experience. Attending to all this,
is Lord L. expressing the reserve (for, in whatever terms it was expressed, this ex-
planation I take to have been meant) at all inconsistent with the real nature of the
pretensions, or is what is so stated pro majori cnutela a new term proposed, or other-
wise than in conformity with things as they were, and always have been, and ought
to be? giving great weight to the pretensions of the law officers, but a just, and if
just, a preponderating weight to the public interests.

"Since Scott was attorney-general there have been all these: 1. Mitford. 2.
Grant.f 3. Perceval. 4. Shepherd. 5. Plumer. 6. Gibbs. 7. Garrow. 8. Gif-
ford. 9. Law4 Solicitors-general also as constantly changing about eighteen law
officers in twenty years."

Lord Lansdowne, on the 2d of April, moved the second reading of
a bill for enabling Unitarians to marry in their own chapels. The
principle of the bill was supported by the Archbishop of Canterbury.

The lord chancellor, notwithstanding his sincere respect for the most reverend pre-
late, could not concur with him on this important subject. The Unitarians denied
the doctrine of the Trinity: and as there was reason to believe that under the consti-
tution of the then existing law such a denial was penal, the first question he should
have to ask would be, whether this measure ought not to be preceded by some decla-
ration removing all doubts upon that head. The repeal of the 9th and 10th of Wil-
liam 3 had in that respect been much misunderstood. It was supposed that their
repeal made it legal to deny the doctrine of the Trinity. He was not of that opinion ;
he did not consider that the repeal of those acts, though an extremely proper measure
in itself, had any operation at all upon the common law. The great objection which
he had to the bill was, that it proposed, in a marriage between a member of the Church
of England and an Unitarian, to consult the conscience of the latter in preference to
that of the former. It was evidently impossible to reconcile the religious opinions of
the two parties. They were as different as light from darkness. Now, as to the ex-
isting legislative provisions with respect to Jews and Quakers, it must be recollected,
that, in the cases for which those provisions were enacted, both parties must be Jews
or Quakers. If, however, the present principle of granting this relief, where only one
of the parties dissented from the church, was to be allowed, where would it stop! If

* Sir J. Leach.

j- Sir W. Grant was only solicitor, never attorney-general. See 1 East's Reports, 350.
$ According to order of time, the name of Law should stand between those of Grant
and Perceval.


it were granted to the Unitarians, could it be denied to the Roman Catholics'? Why
should such a privilege be granted exclusively to the Unitarians, who, of all classes
of Dissenters, dissented the most widely from the doctrines of the Church of England 1
Nor had he less objection to allow the marriages made under such circumstances to
be registered by ministers of the Church of England. It was to make the Church of
England the servant and handmaid of those who denied her h'rst doctrines.

The bill was read a second time ; but, on the 4th of May, when the
motion was made for its commitment,

The lord chancellor again opposed it. It contained principles, he said, which were
not consistent with the protection of the Established Church. If that church were
lost to the people, they would lose the best security for toleration, which could never
be enjoyed liberally and extensively unless the church established was of liberal and
enlarged principles: and such, in his opinion, was the character of the Church of
England. On account of the Dissenters themselves, therefore, he should feel it neces-
sary to protest against every thing which should degrade the Established Church. If
this bill were passed for the Unitarians, a like bill could not be refused to any other
class of Dissenters.

It was said that the persons calling themselves Unitarians had real scruples of
conscience on the doctrine of the Trinity. So had Deists, Atheists and others. If he
understood the doctrines of the Church of England at all, it was impossible that there
could be a greater repugnance between any doctrines than there was between the
doctrine of the Church of England and that of the Unitarians. The Unitarians must
think the Church of England idolatry. What, therefore, would be the sort of com-
prehension that it would effect] Their lordships might pass the bill, but he had
discharged his duty in giving his opinion on it; and he thought a worse bill had never
been submitted to Parliament.

This opposition was successful, and the bill was rejected, on a
division, by 105 against 66.

In April, 1824, the chancellor, accompanied by Lady Eldon, took
Lord Encombe to Oxford, and entered him of New College. The fol-
lowing affectionate admonitions were soon afterwards addressed to
the young under-graduate by his grandfather :

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

(Received May 1 1th, 1S24 )
" My very dear John,

"I hope that this will find you quite well, and settled in comfort in academical life,
and that you find your rooms and accommodations satisfactory.

"You are now, my dearest John, in perhaps the most critical period of your life.
To me it is a most precious consolation, that you go forth to the university with a
disposition, principles and judgment, so formed and regulated by the care antecedently
thrown around you in the course of your education, that, with the blessing of God,
those who dearly love you may confidently hope that, whilst you remain there, you
will never lose sight of this incontestable truth, that if your time is not well spent there,
it cannot but be ill employed. The management of time in the university cannot be
attended with indifferent consequences: it must produce eithergreat, important, lasting
benefits, or create evils which will be severely felt in all that is to come of after-life.

"The society of the university always consists of great numbers; and it can never
be too strongly stated to you, that much, very much, depends upon a judicious selec-
tion of your associates, and more especially of those who are to enjoy your con-
fidence and intimacy. Providence has been pleased to call you to a station in life
which is too likely to bring around you, for their own ends and purposes, and not for
your good, many whom you cannot too resolutely keep at a distance from you.

"The proper companions at Oxford are your books, and such students as love
books, having, also, their minds stored with sound moral and religious principles.

" Of the books I need say nothing. I have seen enough to know that you agree
with him who has told us, Deledant domi, non impediunt forls. The quantity of atten-
tion to books must, indeed, be so regulated as to admit of a due attention to health
of the devotion of a just and reasonable portion of time to that bodily exercise which
is as necessary to mental as to bodily health. Addison, I think, somewhere observes,
very justly, that the morning and evening walk of a person whose mind is well stored


with great truths may, in the eye of Heaven, have all the qualities of a morning and
evening sacrifice.

"As to students, observe closely, and for some time, before you establish intimacies,
how they employ their time, and whether their language and conduct demonstrate
that their principles are those of industrious, well-disposed, honourable, moral and
religious young men. Be civil to all be intimate only with such.

"In the opportunities which you will have of attending a chapel, in which the ser-
vice of our Established Church is constantly and beautifully performed, you will be
furnished with constant reminiscences of the great duties of religion. In mention-
ing, as often as I have mentioned, religion, don't suppose that I recommend or approve
that morose, canting, fanatical temper, which is formed by principles which lead men.
to forget that the great and merciful Being who is the object of our adoration, has
so formed us as to make it incumbent upon us to remember that we have great duties
to execute here among our fellow-men. We can never be justified in supposing that
\ve are doing our duty to God, whilst we are neglecting or incapacitating ourselves for
the discharge of our duties to our neighbours in this life. A truly religious temper
is a cheerful temper. Of true religion it is most true, that 'her ways are ways of

"Excuse me, my ever dear John, for the communication of this advice. I have, I
thank God, reason to believe, that all I can suggest to you you will probably have
suggested to yourself. The intenseness, however, of my affection for you, and my
anxiety about you, are such, that I could not restrain myself from thus addressing you,
under the conviction certainly that the next three years, well spent, will secure to you,
in future, happiness, credit and honour; ill spent, would render you miserable in
yourself and honoured by none. You may depend upon my affection and sense of
duty for the most kind and liberal treatment throughout this important period, in.
which and after which I convince myself that you will richly deserve that treat-

Talking one day with his grandson, while the latter was an under-
graduate, Lord Eldon proposed a new translation for the phrase,
"Bene discessit," which occurs in the certificate given to a student
when he leaves one of the universities to be entered of the other.
The propriety of the expression had been questioned by certain scru-
pulous people, with reference to the sort of circumstances under which
these migrations not infrequently took place. Lord Eldon, for the
relief of their consciences, suggested that the true translation of the
words might be, " It's well he's gone."

In the debate of the llth of May, respecting the Alien Act Con-
tinuation Bill, 5 Geo. 4. c. 37,

The lord chancellor, who supported the measure, desired to re-assert what he had
often before affirmed, that the right of sending aliens out of the country was a part of
the royal prerogative; but that, as the practical exercise of that prerogative was
attended with difficulties which could not be effectually obviated without some legis-
lative interposition, the aid of Parliament was required in furtherance of the consti-
tutional powers of the crown. If such a prerogative ought not to reside in the crown,
let it be abrogated; but as long as it should continue to exist, Parliament was bound
to provide for making the exercise of it effectual.

The lord chancellor took the occasion of a motion for the second
reading of the Gas Company's Bill to express, on the 21st of May,
his general disapprobation of bills for chartering joint-stock companies.

There was a practice, he said, with respect to speculations of this kind, which
called loudly for some legislative prohibition. Persons formed schemes for the esta-
blishment of a company, and, while they speculated on obtaining a charter, went into
the market with shares, which were sold at a given price, though they might, in the
result, prove to be of no value whatever. This was a subject not undeserving of their
lordships' attention: it was worthy of their consideration whether it would not be
proper to annul by a legislative act all such contracts. He objected to the incorpora-
tion of any company, except by a charter from the crown. In that case, if the com-


pany acted improperly, the crown could at once put them down, by withdrawing the
charter; but when they were established by act of Parliament, it required the passing
of another act to repeal the former, before any remedy could be applied to the evil.

On several subsequent occasions he warned the legislature of the
dangers arising from these speculations : and the disapprobation with
which he was known to regard them, and his vigilance against all
attempts at jobbing this kind of bills through Parliament, formed a
very operative check upon the bubble-mongers of the day.

In successfully resisting, on the 24th of May, the two bills intro-
duced into the House of Lords by the Marquis of Lansdowne for the
relief of the English Catholics, of which the one had for its main ob-
ject to give them the exercise of the elective franchise, and the other
to enable them to hold civil offices,

The lord chancellor observed that the first of the two bills, which was upheld on
the ground that the English Catholics ought not to be denied the immunity enjoyed
by the Catholics of Ireland, was not so framed as to justify that argument: for there
were separate tests imposed on the Irish Roman Catholics, by the bill of 1793 con-
ferring on them the elective franchise: they were bound to take certain oaths, and
to bring a certificate that they had done so : but upon the English Catholics those tests
were not imposed, either by the already existing law or by the now proposed bill.
The Irish Catholics, too, had by various acts obtained a right to various privileges
which these bills did not profess to bestow on the Catholics of England. The Irish
and the English, therefore, would not be placed by this measure upon that equality
which was urged as its recommendation. With respect to that enactment by which
it was proposed that the Duke of Norfolk, a Roman Catholic peer, should be admitted
to the exercise of his hereditary office of earl marshal, the chancellor stated his own.
objection to be merely this, that if their lordships were to go step by step, taking a little
here and taking a little there, they would be doing gradually what they could not have
done at once, and creating danger, without the salutary alarm which should precede
it.* If they gave to the Catholics of England a portion of the privileges conceded
to the Irish Catholics, they must go on and give them all the other privileges which
the Irish Catholics possessed : and he saw no reason why more mischief should be
done now because there had been some mischief done before. The truth was, that
their former progress, from one step to another, was what made it difficult for them
to stop now. For his own part, however, in the particular situation which he held,
he felt it his bounden duty to take care of the supremacy of his sovereign. If their
lordships would look back at the struggle which had been maintained, not only in the
times of Henry VIII., of Elizabeth and of James, but at the Revolution, to support
the sovereign's supremacy, they would see what importance had always been at-
tached to it. Let them read the statute of the 1st William and Mary, and he was sure
they would be convinced of its vast importance; but this bill had no provision pre-
scribing that the persons enfranchised by it should take the oath of supremacy. In
Ireland an oath, equivalent to the oath of supremacy, had been required, as a condi-
tion of the exercise of the elective franchise there: and the necessity of such a sanc-
tion was evident from the great difficulty, if not impossibility, of separating the pope's
ecclesiastical and spiritual authority from temporal power. For the last twenty years
there had been incessant attempts to take the Church of England by storm: these
shocks it had withstood : let it not now be destroyed by sapping and mining. With-
out injury to that church. such measures as these could not be effected: this was the
opinion which he had long formed, and on which, with all proper deference to the
opinions of others, he must continue to act, as long as he possessed the power of

This speech, very meagerly reported in Hansard, is probably that
to which he refers in the following passage of the Anecdote Book :

"In one of my speeches in the House of Lords upon the Roman
Catholic question, I stated what had been the conduct of the Roman

* The chancellor afterwards conceded the exception in favour of the earl marshal
See below, 24th June, 1824.


Catholics from the time of Henry VIII. to the present day, with short
observations as to what had happened in different periods, with a view
to prove that the occurrence formed a just fear of the subversion of
our civil estate, and of the subversion of our church and religion,
insisting that a short rehearsal of these matters, with suitable obser-
vations, were due matters to be represented for admonition to Parlia-
ment; and then argued the case as to the probabilities of what would
happen, giving all the weight that could possibly be due to change of
times, and modern opinions, (as we knew them,) opinions of modern
Catholics. In the House of Commons, Mr. Canning or Mr. Plunkett,*
or both thought it proper to treat this as a sort of speech which an
almanack maker, f reciting past events, might make, and which,
therefore, might deserve no answer. And Canning, I think, called it
a 'pettifogger's speech,' as he thought all lawyers' speeches were.
It is very remarkable that Bacon, in his speech concerning a war with
Spain in his time, follows exactly the same course of statements of
the Papists' transactions in days then passed, as justifying such a war,
and then raises himself the self-same objection, that this sort of state-
ment is only 'an almanack for old years ;'| and then proceeds to state
the necessity and duty of attending to what had passed in former times,
as I think I should have done, if any one had had the courage, in my
presence, to xise such language. As to Mr. Canning's ' pettifogging
lawyers,' I should have treated that, if the terms had been applied to
me in my presence, with the scorn and contempt which insolence
merits. Politicians are fond of representing lawyers as most ignorant
politicians : they are pleased, however, to represent politicians as not
being ignorant lawyers, which they, most undoubtedly, generally are
and this was never more clearly demonstrated than by Mr. Can-
ning's speeches on the Roman Catholic question."

The failure of the bills for the enfranchisement of the English Ca-
tholics in general was followed by a separate attempt in favour of the
Duke of Norfolk, who, as a Roman Catholic, was prevented by the
then existing law from the execution of his hereditary office of earl
marshal. A bill was introduced by Lord Holland into the House of
Lords on the 18th of June, for enabling the earl marshal to act in his

* Parl. Deb., Feb. 28th, 1825, p. 808.

f No sentence ever uttered in Parliament has been more misqnoted and misappre-
hended than the passage of Mr. Plunkett's speech to which Lord Eldon here adverts.
That passage, as really delivered, had no reference to any argument of Lord Eldon :
neither did it import, as was commonly given out at the time, that history was to he
regarded but as an old almanack. The object of the illustration was to sho\v the
necessity of profiting by historical experience in a really philosophical spirit. The
words actually spoken were nearly as reported in Hansard's Debates, Feb. 28th, 1825,
(vol. vii. of the new series, p. 808) : " While man would sleep or stop in his career,
the course of time was rapidly changing the aspect of all human affairs. All that a
wise government could do was to keep as close as possible to the wings of time, to
watch his progress, and accommodate its motion to their flight. Arrest his course
they could not; but they might vary the forms and aspects of their institutions, so as
to reflect his varying aspects and forms. If this were not the spirit which animated
them, philosophy wouM be impertinent, and history no better than an old almanack."

* See "Considerations touching a War with Spain;" Bacon's Works (Montagu's
edition), vol. v. p. 253.


office, on taking the oath of allegiance, without the oath of supremacy
or the declaration against transubstantiation. Next day, Saturday,
the chancellor recommended the postponement of the measure to a
future session ; but on a division, the second reading was carried by
24 against 10. The bill, which contained but two clauses, was read
a third time on the 21st, at a little after five o'clock. The Duke of
Newcastle and Lord Abingdon entered a protest against the principle
of the bill, and against the third reading of so important a measure
at so early an hour, which they complained of as a surprise. The
king, too, took alarm at a concession to the Catholics, which he ap-
prehended might lead to indefinite results ; and addressed a note to
the lord chancellor, in a style exceedingly different from that of his
usual communications to that highly-favoured minister.

" Carlton House, June 23d, 1824.

"The king desires to apprise the lord chancellor, that the king has learnt, through
the medium of the newspapers, what has been passing in Parliament relative to the
office of Earl Marshal of England.

"The king cannot suppose that the Lord Chancellor of England can approve of the
king's dispensing with the usual oaths attached to that or any other high office; but
if the king should be mistaken in this supposition, the kins: desires that the lord
chancellor will state his reasons in writing why the king should be expected to give
his consent to such an unusual and unprecedented measure.

" G. R."

The lord chancellor appears to have succeeded in allaying the
king's apprehensions, by convincing him that the particular conces-
sion proposed in this bill would work no general disadvantage to the
Protestant cause. Not only was his majesty induced to give the
royal assent, but, on the evening of the 24th, when Lord Holland

Online LibraryHorace TwissThe public and private life of Lord Chancellor Eldon, with selections from his correspondence (Volume 2) → online text (page 19 of 65)