Horace Twiss.

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

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(TJie Prince Regent to Lord Eldon.)

"Brighton, Pavilion, April 2d, 1817.
" My dear friend,

" When last I had the pleasure of seeing you, you left me not without the hope that
I might possibly see you here for a day or two, your old friend Smith* having givea
up his house in the country: but now something has occurred and has reached me,
which presses much upon my mind, which I am extremely desirous of imparting to
you, and of having a most confidential conversation with you upon: wherefore I must
and do most earnestly desire of you to come here the earliest day that you can pos-
sibly do so, and when you may find it least inconvenient either to your business or
yourself. Always, my dear lord,

"Your very affectionate friend,


" P. S. I will be much obliged to you, if you will send me a line by return of post,
to say when I may expect you."

( The Prince Regent to Lord Eldon.)

' Pavilion, Brighton, April 18th, 1817.
" My dear Lord,

"I have just received your note conveying the melancholy tidings of the death of
that most excellent and worthy man, Sir A r . Thompson, and whose loss is certainly a
very severe blow to the bench, however great may be the abilities of that person who
will have to succeed him in the high office which he filled with so much respectability
and eminence. Any recommendation from you, you may be certain, my dear friend,
ever will and must meet with my entire concurrence and approbation, and, therefore,
I authorize you to acquaint Mr. Baron Richards, as soon as you may choose to do so,
of your having received my sanction to his nomination upon the present vacancy.
Believe me always, Very affectionately yours,


( The Prince Regent to Lord Eldon.}

" Carlton House, May 2il, 1817.

" My dear friend,

"I have only just now received your note, and which I lose not a moment in reply-
ing to. In a former answer of mine to you, upon a similar application, I already
assured you, that any recommendation proceeding from you could hardly ever fa
meeting with my fullest approbation and sanction, and I am, therefore, particularly
happy, upon this occasion, also, to afford you a further proof of my highest esteem
and most affectionate regard, in signifying to you my thorough acquiescence
arrangement you have proposed, of placing Mr. Attorney-general, Sir William G(

Then accountant-general of the Court of Chancery. See close of Chap. XXV.


in the Court of Exchequer, in succession to the present lord chief baron, Sir Richard
Richards. After having said thus much, I cannot resist adding one short word more,
and which is this, expressing my earnest desire and hope to you, that you will suffer
as little time as possible further to elapse before you nominate the attorney-general's
successor (which, I trust, will be our present most admirable solicitor-general,*) and
if so, his successor also ; for I am sure that if there is much, or, indeed, even any,
delay in these nominations, after the appointment of Sir William Garrow is known
to the public, there will be no end or measurement to the plague you and I shall both
of us experience from the various applications we shall receive, arising out of the
numberless (and, in most instances,) most extravagant and absurd pretensions of
different individuals. Forgive me, also, my dear friend, if I add and bring to your
recollection (and I can hardly do so without its forcing, at the same time, a smile on
my countenance), that a snail's gallop is but a bad thing, and a very poor pace at
best, in most of the occurrences of life, and I am sure that you would particularly
find it such in the present.

"I remain, my dear lord, always

"Your very affectionate friend,

"P. S. I shall expect to see you as usual on Sunday morning."

Lord Eldon well knew, that a subject who desires to continue in
the good graces of a royal person, must beware of making familiarity
reciprocal ; that the courtier must only await, not meet, the free-
doms of his master. The following note from Lord Eldon to Sir W.
Knighton, who was immediately about the person of the regent, is
thus prefaced in the " Law Magazine" of November, 1838 :

Of the courtier-like anxiety with which he sought to consult the ease of the royal
Sybarite, a curious specimen is afforded in the following letter to Sir William
Knighton, who stood as near to the throne as himself in kingly favour, and by the
same legitimate means. Though of humble birth and strict integrity (no safe pass-
ports at a luxurious court), they were both patterns of high-bred courtesy, scrupu-
lously observant of all the nice etiquettes and forms in which regal pomp finds shelter,
and resembling, in their mild and polished gravity, the manners of aGrandison, when
he had donned his ruffles and embroidery. The letter is full of those official details
which make the crown heavy:
" Dear Sir William,

" Accept my best thanks for the relief to my anxiety which your letters afford. I
am very apprehensive, from your accounts, that his majesty may not be sufficiently
recovered to nominate the sheriffs on Saturday at the council; though gout, however,
sometimes abates its violence considerably in three days, and my anxious wish is
that great progress may be made in that period in recovery. I should myself have
attended on Saturday, if my absence from the court on that day had not necessarily
been very inconvenient and expensive to parties. I must give you the trouble to say
that I propose to take the liberty, for that is necessary, of sending by the clerk of the
council a commissioner to receive the royal sign manual for opening Parliament on
Tuesday, and should his majesty not sign it, and direct it to be returned by the clerk
of the council on Saturday, you will be pleased to take the most convenient time to
his majesty for tendering it for his signature, that I may be enabled on Monday night
to put the great seal to it, or to put the seal to it early on Tuesday morning. Be
pleased to offer my most humble duty to his majesty, my warmest thanks for his
kind expressions conveyed to me in your letters, and my assurances that I most
anxiously and cordially wish his majesty's speedy recovery.

" Yours, my dear sir, truly,


" Thursday noon.

"Pray let me know that you have received this. I am afraid I shall be obliged
also to trouble his majesty for his royal sign manual to authorize the judges to go their
respective circuits ; but that I shall delay as long as possible to avoid inconvenience
to his majesty.

" Lincoln's Inn Hall, from the bench."

* Sir Samuel Shepherd.


In the course of the month of May it was arranged that Mr. Abbott,
the speaker of the House of Commons, should be created a peer.
The event was of some consequence, as vacating the seat for the
University of Oxford, for which Mr. Abbott was then member. Mr.
Canning, it was known, had looked long and anxiously to the honour
of this representation; but the chancellor, Lord Stowell, and the
other leading opponents of the Roman Catholic claims, considered it
an object of great importance that the representative of the university
should be anti-Catholic, and their choice fell naturally upon Mr. Peel,
as the worthiest antagonist to Mr. Canning. They got the first intel-
ligence of the completion of the arrangement for Mr. Abbott's promo-
tion ; and on the very day when that was decided, as Lord Stowell
was wont to relate with some glee, they sent down an express, con-
veying the intelligence to some of the most influential persons at
Christ church. The communication was accompanied with such re-
commendations and counsels, that by the middle of the following day
that great college had been effectually enlisted in Mr. Peel's cause ;
and when, in the afternoon, the friends of Mr. Canning began their
canvass for him, they had the mortification to find the election virtually

In furtherance of the legislative measures introduced by the govern-
ment for the suppression of sedition, Lord Sidmouth, as secretary of
state for the home department, had issued a circular letter to the
lieutenants of counties, acquainting them with the opinion of the law
officers that a justice of the peace may hold to bail for libel, in order
that, through the lieutenants, the magistrates might be informed of
the law and recommended to act upon it. On the 12th of May this
letter was made the subject of a motion in the House of Lords by
Earl Grey for the production of the case laid before the law officers.

He denied the proposition of law conveyed in it, and censured as unconstitutional,
the issuing of any instruction to magistrates from a secretary of state, respecting
the manner in which they should administer the law as to any particular class of

The lord chancellor gave it as his opinion that the law had been correctly stated
in the circular. He said so, subject always to his right and duty of retracting that
opinion, should he be led to alter it by any argument which, in case of a writ of error
upon an action by any of the persons held to bail, might be addressed to him sitting
judicially in that House. In this particular instance, there might be no evil in pro-
ducing the case submitted to the law officers, because their opinion had been stated
in the circular itself; but to the production of such documents in general he had the
strongest objection, because the ministers of the crown must constantly have occa-
sion to state to their legal advisers particulars which it would be highly inconveni-
ent and improper to disclose to the public. He explained the reasons of law on
which he had formed his opinion respecting a justice's authority to hold to bail for

The motion was negatived by a large majority. On the 3d of June,

The chancellor affirmed, in opposition to a motion of Lord Holland's, the right of
the secretary of state to inhibit the visiting magistrates of any prison from visiting
prisoners confined there for state offences.

On the 19th,

He defended the suspension of the Habeas Corpus, expressing his opinion that the
dangers of the country were greater at that time than at any of the former per
of such suspension. With respect to spies, he maintained that government, knowing


of any plot, was bound to employ such persons, if their aid was necessary for de-
tecting and defeating it: to stimulate any such individual to go further was quite
another thing.

The session was closed on the 12th of July, by the prince regent
in person.

Mr. Courtenay, now Earl of Devon, being appointed this summer
to a mastership in chancery by the lord chancellor, (in whose gift these
offices lay until the remodeling of them by Lord Brougham's Act, 3 &
4 W. 4. c. 94,) asked Lord Eldon whether it would be necessary
for him to resign his retainer for Queen Anne's bounty, to which he
was then the standing counsel. " Why, speaking as a friend," an-
swered Lord Eldon, " I should advise you to do no such thing: the
true rule, I fancy, is to get what you can and keep what you have."

The affair of his eldest daughter's marriage occasioned in him a
displeasure which must be admitted to have been very much over-
proportioned to the offence, both in degree and duration ; especially
when it is considered under what circumstances Mr. John Scott and
Miss Surtees became husband and wife some five-and-forty years
before. The following is the present earl's account of the occur-
rence :

" The chancellor's care and vigilance in preventing elopements
among the young ladies who were wards in chancery did not protect
him against a domestic visitation of a similar description. His eldest
daughter Elizabeth, after some unsuccessful attempts to obtain his
consent to her marriage with Mr. George Stanley Repton, made her
escape from Lord Eldon's house in Bedford Square, on the morning
of the 27th of November, 1817 ; and, the bridegroom having made
all requisite preparation, they w r ere married by license at St. George's,
Hanover Square. Although, in this instance, the lady had only fol-
lowed the example of her father and mother, yet the head of the law
would not allow the validity of his own precedent ; and it was not
until the year 1820 that a reconciliation took place."

The confinement of the Princess Charlotte was to take place in the
beginning of November, 1817. Mrs. Forster has preserved Lord
Eldon's account of its circumstances, and of its melancholy result on
the 6th of that month. After relating the particulars of the young
princess's elopement from Warwick House, and of his own interfer-
ence to bring her home to Carlton House (as given in Chap. XXXVI),
Lord Eldon proceeded to say :

"Afterwards she became much attached to me. When she was
to be confined, I was here at Encombe, but went up to London to be
ready to attend her at that period. Poor thing she was very much
charmed at this piece of kindness, as she considered it ; and when I
went to Claremont, I found she had herself given orders that the best
bed in the house was to be prepared for Lord Eldon; and I slept in
it while some of the other lords had to sleep on the carpet. When
her labour was over, I saw the babe, and a noble infant it was, as like
the royal family as possible. I then went into the room where the
surgeons were consulting what bulletin of the princess they should


send, and they had actually drawn one up, stating that she was going
on as favourably as possible, when Baillie came in, and, after reading
it, he refused to sign it, for such was not his opinion. We returned
to our homes about two o'clock in the morning, and, before six, a
messenger arrived to let us know the princess was dead."

Of the judges presiding over any of the courts of equitable juris-
diction in the chancellorship of Lord Eldon, the only one at all com-
parable to him in the administration of equity was Sir William Grant,
the master of the rolls, who retired in the Christmas vacation of 1817.
He had not enjoyed an extensive practice at the bar, but Mr. Pitt,
wisely deeming that consideration a secondary one in the case of a
person possessing such capacity and such acquirements, selected him,
in 1799, for solicitor-general. After discharging, with an unsur-
passed credit, the legal as well as the parliamentary duties of his
office, he was advanced, in 1801, to the dignity of master of the rolls.
He came to the bench without the benefit of that experience in matters
of court-practice, which not unfrequently forms the main stock in
trade of inferior advocates. But his care and industry soon supplied
that one deficiency, and there was then nothing left to be desired.
If he did not possess the almost intuitive perception and universal
range of legal learning, by which Lord Eldon, as soon as the facts
were before him, saw their w r hole relation and result in connection
with all the law which bore upon them, yet Sir William Grant was
profound in the great principles of our equitable jurisprudence, and
had, like Lord Eldon and Lord Lyndhurst, the rare and high power
of holding his mind until the very close of all the arguments, unbiased
for or against any view of the case or any party in it, and open to any
light from whatever quarter. Availing himself of these faculties, he
maintained on the bench an almost unbroken reserve, and, except
w r hen explanation of some fact was wanting, forbore from any inter-
ruption of counsel, either by question or by observation ; insomuch
that, among the junior wits of the law, he bore the technical appellation
of " Equity reserved." His closeness, however, savoured nothing of
incivility, and he enjoyed, in the fullest degree, from the bar, the re-
spect and regard ever paid by that justly jealous body to those judges,
but to those alone who duly observe the reciprocal courtesies of their
station. His judgments were models of judicial composition, and the
master of the rolls had no more earnest admirer than the lord chan-
cellor. Sir William Grant, for many years after his elevation to the
bench, retained his seat in the House of Commons. He spoke there
seldom, but always with great impression, from the vigorous plainness
of his style, and that great faculty of giving effect to argument which
was aptly termed in him "the genius of common sense."

Sir Thomas Plumer, who, by good sense and great application, had
done much to justify, ex post facto, his appointment to the vice-chan-
cellorship, was now promoted to the rolls; and Mr. Leach, then a con-
siderable leader in the Court of Chancery, received the honour of
knighthood, and succeeded to the office of vice-chancellor.

This last appointment was one with which Lord Eldon had little or


nothing to do. Sir John Leach, who was chancellor of the duchy
of Cornwall, appears to have obtained his promotion to the equity
bench on the distinct nomination of the prince regent, and to have
held himself accordingly free from all obligation for it to Lord Eldon.
He continued vice-chancellor until 1827: and then Mr. Canning, on
arriving at the head of the government, made him successor to Sir J.
Copley at the rolls, where he remained till his death in 1834.

This judge had a great desire to unite, with the distinction which
he had earned as a man of talents, the reputation also of a man of ton.
Having mixed but little in his early days with the higher classes of
society, for whose conversation, indeed, neither his original educa-
tion nor his subsequent acquirements had very well adapted him, he
made the mistake of supposing that a gentleman ought to have some-
thing artificial in demeanour and delivery ; and thus he contracted
an affectation of manner, in which levity and primness were some-
what fantastically blended. The Prince of Wales, always a nice
observer upon taste and manners, was particularly diverted with this
foible in a man of Sir John Leach's station and abilities. The Anec-
dote Book relates the following story:

" It has long been the habit to give the chancellor, carrying his
purse, the nickname of Bags. When Sir John Leach was chancellor
to the prince, he also had a purse ; and the prince said, as Sir John
was not so rough in his manners as a king's chancellor usually was,
but a much more polite person, he should call him ' Reticule.' '

Some of his talents were extraordinary, and had gained him a just
distinction in Parliament as well as at the bar. He delivered himself
with great clearness and neatness of expression, and his judgments
showed an extensive knowledge of the practice of his court. He,
however, trusted too much to his quickness, and sometimes suffered
it to hurry him from his propriety. From the readiness with which
he apprehended facts the most numerous and complicated, he fancied
that the same rapid glance had made him master of all their legal
bearings too. The consequence was, that, jumping to his conclu-
sions, he often heard with impatience the arguments at the bar, and
when points were pertinaciously pressed, was not always courteous
to counsel. If he would have suffered himself to suppose it possible,
that any conception of his own could be mistaken, he might have
held a high place among the judges of our courts of equity; but, from
his haste to dispose of the causes before him by breaking them down
prematurely, his decisions have failed to obtain the full praise which,
perhaps, they intrinsically deserve.

Though his address was not agreeable, his disposition was friendly,
and, in spite of some littlenesses, he was a high-spirited and firm man.
There were no misgivings, no qualms in his courage ; and severe
afflictions of bodily disease, which more than once required the ap-
plication of the knife, were borne by him with unflinching fortitude.




Letter from the prince regent to Lord Eldon upon the conduct of the Princess of
Wales. Letter from Lord Eldon to Sir William Scott, on his own position and
prospects. Indemnity Bill. Liberality of Lord Eldon. Debates on Regency Act
amendment, cotton factories, educational charities, arrest for libel. Dissolu-
tion of Parliament. Newcastle election: Letter from Lord Eldon. Royal mar-
riages: Letter from Lord Liverpool. Resignation and letter of Lord Ellenborough:
Appointment of successor: Question of peerage. Death of Sir Samuel Romilly:
Of Queen Charlotte. Accession of the Duke of Wellington to the cabinet.

THE prince regent, though he had viewed some passages in the con-
duct of the Princess Charlotte with a certain degree of dissatisfaction,
felt the shock of her death severely. It is one of the circumstances
referred to in the letter, of which an extract follows :

(The Prince Regent to Lord Chancellor Eldon.')

" Pavilion, Brighton, Jan. 1st, 1818.
" My dear friend,

" It must always be a mortifying as well as painful circumstance to me, whenever
I am deprived the pleasure of your society ; but when I learn the reason of such
privation, that it is to be attributed to bodily indisposition, arising entirely from dis-
tress of mind, it is then truly that I do tenfold regret the absence of my friend, and
that I do feel more deeply for him than I can find words to express. Perhaps, (and
in addition to what I have just written,) there never was a moment when (and in
which also from private and personal reasons towards myself) I not only could have
regretted and lamented your absence more or so much as that late one (but when I
at the same time am sensible that you could not possibly come to me); for you can-
not fail to know how much I depend upon you at all times, and how firmly I rely
upon your support and affection in whatever can concern my tranquillity, my happi-
ness and my honour."

The letter proceeds to explain that the regent was desirous of con-
ferring with the chancellor upon the steps to be taken with reference
to the conduct of the Princess of Wales, who is therein described as
having given by her behaviour much scandal on the continent, and
especially at Vienna where the court had refused to receive her. The
letter then continues thus :

"You cannot, therefore, be surprised (much difficulty in point of delicacy being
now set aside in my mind by the late melancholy event which has taken place in my
family) if I therefore turn my whole thoughts to the endeavouring to extricate myself
from the crudest, as well as the most unjust predicament, that ever even the lowest
individual, much more a prince, ever was placed in by unshackling myself from a
woman who," &c. &c.


"Is it, then, my dear friend, to be tolerated that **"** is to be suffered to
continue to bear my name, to belong to me and to the country, and that that country,
the first in all the world, and myself its sovereign, are to be expected to submit
silently to a degradation under which no upright and honourable mind can exist?


This, then, was my main object for collecting certain of my confidential servants


"I shall now take my leave of you, wishing you from my heart many happy returns
of the season, and assuring you that if it depended upon me alone, your happiness
should never know interruption.

"I remain, my dear friend,

"Always most affectionately yours,

"Pavilion, Brighton, Jan. 1st, 1818.

"P. S. I hope that you will be able to make out my scrawl."

The result of the deliberations that succeeded this letter was the
celebrated Milan commission. For a general narrative of the cir-
cumstances which attended it, and for an outline of Queen Caroline's
subsequent history, the reader is referred to that part of this biography
which connects itself with the year 1820.

The death of the Princess Charlotte had placed the Duke of York,
as heir presumptive, in a very prominent position. He was under-
stood to entertain insuperable objections against the removal of the
Roman Catholic disabilities ; and his approximation to the throne
brought no small addition of political strength to Lord Eldon, who
was now the leading parliamentary champion of the anti-Catholic
opinions. Lord Eldon himself, however, was beginning to be weary
of the toils and anxieties of office. The following uneasy letter ap-
pears, from internal evidence, to have been written about this time :

(Lord Eldon to Sir William Scott.) (Extract.)

(Not dated ; probably Jan., 1813.)
" Dear Brother,

" Whilst / am ignorant of what you hear in all quarters, you are not the only person
ignorant of it.

"A paragraph appeared in a morning paper about a week ago, which informed me

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