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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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ruptcy, already heard but not decided."

This order, moved by Sir Francis Burdett, was passed without a
word of observation. When it became known to the chancellor, he
was much displeased at the implied censure, and some correspond-
ence took place respecting it between him and Lord Liverpool.
Lord Eldon, continuing to be very uneasy on this head, revived that
correspondence in November, by a letter, of which a corrected draft
has been found in his handwriting. This draft is as follows :

" Dear Lord Liverpool,

"In our little correspondence during the vacation, you advised me not to trouble
myself about Sir Francis Burdett's motion. I can most sincerely assure you that I
feel the greatest uneasiness on account of the trouble which my colleagues and friends
endure on my account. If your lordship recollects for how many sessions I have
been assailed in the House of Commons, and looks to the effect, as I know it, of its
proceedings upon the business of the court and upon the minds of the public, you
may make some estimate of their effect upon myself. If that motion, as made in the
last session, is to command obedience from the officers of my court, that obedience
must either be paid to it, or the order must be rescinded: if the order is to be con-
sidered as falling at the close of the session, and is to be renewed by Sir F. B. with
the concurrence of the House, obedience must then be given to it Now, my dear

* See letter of March 19th, 1824, and note,
t The death of his father, Dr. Ridley.


lord, allow me to say, with perfect kind feeling, that I cannot reconcile it to any notions
which lean form of my duty to the public, to sit at the head of one high court of justice
in the kingdom, if I either continue to be, or am again, placed in such circumstances
as that order placed me in, or a renewal of it will place me in. It is impossible to
consider it otherwise than as a resolution accusatory in its nature, and meant to be, if
the result of the inquiry will authorize it, the foundation of a positive and express
accusation. If this be so, how can I, with honour, continue to preside in the court
in which I sit, prejudiced and damaged in public opinion, by a vote of the House of
Commons, unopposed by any individual in it? Or how can I continue to sit in that
court, with all the subordinate officers employed in collecting the materials, under an.
order of the House of Commons, for an accusation against the person at the head of
the court, aided by the bitterness of every solicitor or counsel whose conduct I have
had occasion to reprehend? As to the abuse of the public prints, the licentiousness
of which against the judges of the land and chancellor, appears to me, as to all mat-
ters, sanctioned by the sufferance which is given to it, and the correspondence which
this vote of the House of Commons brings to me every day from every part of the
kingdom, more blameable than the licentious press, if possible, I repeat that they
would rather provoke me to remain in office, if permitted, than to think of quitting it.
But, my lord, I find myself placed in my court by this proceeding in a state in which
it is unfit that a chancellor should be placed; and, with respect to the public, I fear I
am doing very wrong, in letting down the dignity and respect due, not to me, but to
the chancellor, who holds an office which should be filled with a person respected by
the public, and protected, if he deserves so to be, against resolutions which clearly
mean to impute, or to lay the grounds of imputation against him. I do assure your
lordship that I have every feeling of good will and kind regard towards every indivi-
dual with whom I am associated as a servant of his majesty; and I trust I need not
mention what are my feelings towards yourself, but to all of them and to you I owe
it as a duty to take care that the abuse thrown upon me daily should not, through me,
affect their and your utility. What obedience to that vote might furnish, of informa-
tion with respect to my conduct, I know not, but if it furnished all that I could wish,
the mischief that must be done before its result could be known is incalculably great.
That in the course of eighteen years, for such is the period to which this vote refers,
I cannot doubt (I cannot, however, but hope that they may be such as my general
conduct in office might atone for) that there may be many things represented as
omissions of duty during eighteen years which are not such, but which it is impossi-
ble to find the means at this day of satisfactorily accounting for, must be obvious: I
cannot doubt that the multiplicity of my engagements may have led to omission and
neglect as to some of them.

" Under these circumstances, my dear lord, I wish very much to know, and to know
now, whether the motion of Sir F. B., if it does not require renewal, is to be attempted
to be discharged by government by any proceeding when the House meets; or, if it
does require renewal, whether it is then to be suffered to be renewed without opposition
on the part of government. My object, in seeking this now, is, that I may so apply
myself (without engaging further than I must in new business) to what is depending
as to be able to retire about the time of Parliament's meeting, if the king will graci-
ously please to dismiss me, and not then to leave causes which have been heard to
be either heard over again, or the judgments of a retired chancellor to be given in fact
though not in form, as I myself have formerly assisted in acting for a retired chancellor.
I know well that Sir F.'s motion was passed (at least I sincerely so believe) without,
on the part of government or its friends, any ill-will, I can almost say without any
positive inattention, to me, but by actual surprise. The effects, however, the evil
effects of it, are very great as great as if the causes of it were different, and many
have been the mortifying inquiries made of me by those who do not know how this
happened, how I account for not having, as they supposed, one person in the House
of Commons to say one word against such a proceeding; for of the fact that this was
effected by surprise the public cannot be conusant. If out of office, I can't take the
situation of deputy speaker of the House of Lords but I should attend the Scotch
causes, and I might be voted into the chair as a peer.
" I am, my dear lord,

" Most sincerely your attached friend and servant,


The following are extracts from Lord Liverpool's answer on the
subject of the obnoxious motion:



"It was made without notice, on the 30th of June, one of the very last days of the
sitting of the House of Commons, in the absence of all the ministers and of the law
officers of the crown. The motion has, however, certainly dropped with the session.
It must be renewed to have any force; and, considering how it was carried, you are,
I think, perfectly justified in waiting for its renewal, before you act upon it.

"Mr. Peel assures me that he would have opposed it, if he had been in the House,
and that he will be prepared to oppose the renewal of it, if it is again brought forward
in the beginning of the next session. But in order to make impossible for him to carry
his intention into effect, the report of the commission of inquiry as to the Court of
Chancery must be ready, and be laid before Parliament immediately upon its meeting.

"In saying this, I am not giving you Mr. Peel's opinion only. Some time before I
received your letter I was urged by others, well acquainted with the House of Com-
mons, to take measures for securing the productions of this report, as the point upon
which would turn all the difficulties or facilities of the next and last session of the

"Let me entreat you, therefore, to spare no effort for the completion of this report
without further delay. It is really become a question of vital importance, and there
is no inconvenience that ought not to be incurred for the attainment of this object.

"Independent of the complaint of neglect and of the suspicion which the very delay
in making the report occasions, the report is really necessary, in order to enable
ministers in the House of Commons to resist effectually the unjustifiable attacks daily
made upon the Court of Chancery.

"The business of that court is not like other business, of which every person may
be supposed to have, or may easily acquire, at least a superficial knowledge. Except
persons engaged in the profession of the law, all others are wholly ignorant of what
relates to chancery; they do not even know where, or how, to obtain information.

"The report would not only speak with more or less authority to the House, but it
would inform your friends, and would furnish them with a text upon which they could
defend you.

"I hope I do not appear to press this matter with too much importunity, but I am
so deeply sensible of its importance, that I should not do my duty if I did not urge it in
the strongest manner.

"Let us but have the report, and all other difficulties may be fairly encountered ;
but, without that, no person (in the present heated state of the public mind upon the
subject) can answer for the consequence.

"Believe me to be, with sincere regard,
" My dear lord,

" Very faithfully yours,


"Nov. 16th, 1825."




Honse of Lords: slavery: local notes. Chancery arrears. Corn Laws. Letters of
Lord Eldon to the Rev. Matthew Surtees and to Lady F. J. Bankes. Chancery
commission: proposals arising out of it: letters of Mr. Robinson, Lord Liverpool
and Mr. Peel. Death of Lord Gifford: letters respecting the arrangements conse-
quent upon it from Lord Liverpool and Mr. Peel to Lord Eldon, and from Lord
Eldon to Lady F. J. Bankes.

THE session of Parliament being opened by commission on the 2d
of February, 1826, the place of the lord chancellor, who was absent
through indisposition, was supplied by Lord Gifford.

On the 7th of March, the House of Lords adopted, at the instance
of the government, the resolutions which had been passed by the
House of Commons on the 15th of May, 1823, for abolishing slavery
at the earliest period " compatible with the well-being of the slaves
themselves, with the safety of the colonies, and with a fair and equi-
table consideration of the interests of private property."

The chancellor supported the resolutions, questioning, however, the broad asser-
tions that the state of slavery was contrary to the genius of the British constitution,
and to the spirit of the Christian religion. He did not anticipate opposition on the
part of the colonial legislatures ; if any obstacle should be thrown in the way, it
would be for the wisdom of a British Parliament to consider what was the course to
be adopted for the benefit of the slaves, consistently with the security of the colonies
and the interests of those who had embarked their property under the sanction and
encouragement of the British legislature. He would conclude by repeating his hearty
concurrence in the motion.

In a discussion upon country bank notes, on the 25th of April,
some question rose about the circulation upon the borders of Scotland.

The chancellor jocularly confessed that he saw some difficulty in legislating for
the places between Yorkshire and the borders ; for, as the notes in question were
Scotch, it would be in their very nature to travel south.

A petition presented to the House of Commons on the 18th of April
from a person confined for a contempt of the Court of Chancery, was
made an opportunity for attacking the court and the chancellor. Mr.
Hume declared that the greatest curse which ever fell on any nation
was to have such a court and a judge who perpetuated such a system.
Similar language was held in the same place on the 21st, when the
petition of another complainant was brought up. The chancellor,
however, was now become so far familiar with these annoyances as
to endure them with considerable good humour.

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

" Monday, (May 8th, 1826.)

u We have fine bustling work in Parliament. * * To-morrow, I under-
stand, they are to have the chancellor and his court (as our north country phrase is)


over the coals. You see Mr. Hume called your grandfather a curse to the country. He
dignified also the quietest, meekest man in the country with the title of a firebrand,
i. e., the Bishop of London. I met the bishop at the exhibition,* and as it happened
to be an uncommonly cold day, in this most unusually cold weather, I told him that
the curse of the country was so very cold that I hoped he would allow him to keep
himself warm by sitting next to the firebrand; and so we laughed, and amused our-
selves with this fellow's impertinence."

Meanwhile the chancery commissioners had produced their report,
dated the 28th of February, 1826 ; respecting which Mr. Peel lost no
time in addressing the chancellor.

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

" March ffth, t826.

"I have spoken to the attorney-general on the subject of the report, and entreated
him as the first law officer of the crown in the House of Commons, to take into his
own hands any measures which may necessarily grow out of the report, should it be
fitting for those measures to originate in the House of Commons."

In compliance with that wish of Sir R. Peel, the then attorney-
general, (Sir John Copley, now Lord Chancellor Lyndhurst,) addressed
his mind so promptly to the subject, that by the 18th of May he had
digested a plan which, on that day, he opened to the House of Com-
mons in a lucid speech, introductory of a bill to regulate the practice
of the Court of Chancery. The lateness of the season, however, and
the probability that a considerable pecuniary grant would be wanted
for making good the compensations and other arrangements involved
in the bill, impeded its progress and the matter was put off to the
following session.f

Much distress having for some time prevailed in the manufacturing
districts of the north, and there being at Hull, Liverpool, and other
ports, several hundred thousand quarters of bonded wheat, which,
under the existing law, could not enter the market, the ministers in-
troduced two bills ;| one for enabling the bonded corn to come into
consumption, and the other for investing the government with a dis-
cretionary power, during the approaching recess, to admit the import-
ation of foreign corn at a fixed duty. The second reading of these
bills in the House of Lords became a subject of discussion on the
23d of May, when the chief objection was directed against the latter
of them.

The chancellor declared himself firmly convinced, that every other interest which
entered into the constitution of the country, that the manufacturing, the commercial,
the professional interests, rested so strongly on the agricultural interest, that Parlia-
ment would do infinite mischief to every rank and class in the community, if they
did not carefully foster the interests of agriculture. But he could by no means look
on the measures under consideration as correctly represented, when they were de-
scribed as affecting, or leading to any important change in the system of Jaws which
governed our trade in corn. The chief measure, to which objection was made,
seemed to him to be so founded on constitutional principles, that he hoped their lord-
ships would allow him to say a few words respecting it. No man could feel more
strongly than he did the inexpediency, on the part of his majesty's government, of
committing any act of power against the law. Yet, sure he was, that circumstances
might arise, in which it would be absolutely necessary, for the salvation of the coun-
try, that his majesty's government should commit an act of power against the law,
provided always, that they were warranted by necessity in so doing. In fact, the

* Dr. Howley, now Archbishop of Canterbury, at the Academy dinner,
f See Feb. 27th, 1927. * 1 Geo. 4. c. 70 and 71.


constitutional doctrine seemed to him to be this ; if a case could be foreseen, in which
it would be necessary to commit an act of power in violation of the law, it was their
duty to remove the objectionable part of that act, by divesting it of its illegality. But
even that proposition ought to be limited; for his majesty's government ought, in no
case, to apply for such a measure in advance, if it was probable that more mischief
would result to the public from the application than from waiting until the necessity
for the act should arrive. The bill before them was a bill to enable his majesty, by
an order in council, to do certain acts therein mentioned. But it did not lake away
the obligation ou his majesty's government to abstain from such acts, unless on the
spur of an urgent necessity. It only authorized them to do such acts as his majesty
ought to be, and would be, advised to do, if Parliament had not interfered at all on
the subject. There was one point on which he wished to be clearly understood;
namely, that the proposed law had not, and could not have, any connection whatever
with any measure affecting the existing system of the Corn Laws. If, either directly
or indirectly, it had that tendency, nothing on earth should induce him to vote for it;
for he looked upon the maintenance of the landed interest as a question not affecting
A. or B. or C., but affecting in substance and effect the whole constitution of the coun-
try. Suppose the bill did not pass, was there a single member of his majesty's govern-
ment, who, if a necessity should arise for committing an act even against the law,
would hesitate to advise the commission of that actl And would such a step tend,
in any way, to affect ihe system of the Corn Laws'? Yet, that was only what the bill
rendered it legal to do. If the measure pledged that House, or any man in that House,
to any alteration unfavourable to the Corn Laws, he would be the last man to stand
up as its advocate.

The session was closed by commission on the 31st of May; and the
king's speech, which was delivered by the lord chancellor, announced
the dissolution of the Parliament.

The letter from which the following extracts are given is without
date, but appears to have been written during, or on the eve of, the
general election.

(Lard Eldon 1o the Rev. Matthew Surtees.") (Extract.)

"Friday (probably June, 1826.)

"Fame, upon such a subject as who is to be a chancellor's successor, is not at all
to be trusted to not in the least. The slightest change in a cabinet the most trifling
change in the views of an administration the introduction of a new component part
of it a hundred other matters, apparently the most trifling as to any possible conse-
quences may overset the most apparently well-founded expectations.

"I dare say I have myself been twenty times within an hour, or a day, of being out
of office. The partiality of two sovereigns has kept me in it, when nothing else could.

"Nobody wishes G. (Gifford) better than I do. On such subjects as your letter
relates to, we often converse. I suspect we are both aware that, upon this subject,
there are wheels within wheels at work. I believe he well knows my opinion as to
what should happen ; but it is a rule, and a very proper one, that an outgoing chan-
cellor should not be allowed to have any thing to say as to who should succeed him
and in truth, the circumstances of the moment, when a vacancy takes place, must
decide that. Before that moment, as to such a matter, there ever will be absolute

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

(August, 1826.)

"Many thanks for your letters. They bring absent persons, in a sense, into each
other's society, and that is a blessing, when it takes place between persons bearing
strong affection to each other. It is, therefore, that though every scrap one can write

is but a scrap of repetition, yet I like to write it, and I know you like to receive it


" I have worn out my counsel pretty completely. They seem all as tired as a pack
of hounds at the end of a long chase, whilst I remain, like a well-disciplined and well-
trained huntsman, not the least fatigued with the labour of keeping up with them.
They wish, perhaps, to make the world think that I put an end to business. I heartily
wish it was at an end but I had rather that the world should believe that the cessa-
tion of work is their doing."


(Probably 1826.)

"The Bishop (of Norwich) is a very agreeable man, and always talks delightfully
about you. If the days of Popery should return, we will vote him into the Papal

Meanwhile the ministers had been actively attending to the subject
of the chancery commission. On the 21st of August, Mr. Courtenay,
(now Earl of Devon,) who was then a master in chancery and a lead-
ing member of the commission, addressed a letter respecting the
necessary steps to the lord chancellor, who lost no time in circulating
it among his colleagues of the cabinet ; and the earnestness with
which they gave their attention to the matter will be seen from the
letters which passed among them.

(Mr. Robinson* to Mr. Peel.*)

"August 26th, 1826.
" My dear Peel,

"I return you Courtenay's letter. I am satisfied that we shall be involved in inex-
tricable difficulties, and much public mischief will follow, if we have nothing to pro-
pose next session upon the subject of chancery; and if the satisfactory arrangement
of that something depends upon the readiness of the treasury to find pecuniary means,
the means must be found."

Mr. Robinson's letter then proceeded to suggest that these means
might be provided out of the Suitors' Fund.

(Lord Liverpool to Mr. Pee/.)

"Fife House, Sept. 2d, 1826.
" My dear Peel,

"I return the enclosed papers, and I can entertain no doubt that it is our duty, at
the very earliest practicable period of the next session of Parliament, to bring in
measures for giving effect to the recommendations of the chancery commissioners.

"There may, undoubtedly, be points on which there may be difference of opinion;
but, in all cases where we have not the most clear and satisfactory reasons to urge
against the opinion of the commissioners, we ought in this, as we have done in other
commissions, to assume that the commissioners are right.

"Indeed, the value of such commissions is, that they are a mode of bringing points
of difference to a decision which are never likely to be decided in any other way.

" With respect to the necessary funds: it will be the duty of the Chancellor of the
Exchequer, and of myself, to propose to Parliament whatever may be requisite for
any just and equitable purpose. Judging from the past, I do not think there would
be any disposition in Parliament to be illiberal on this head; but, if we should be
mistaken, let the blame then lay with Parliament, and do not let us bring it upon our-
selves. Believe me, &c.


"P. S. I think Robinson's suggestions very well worthy of consideration."

(Mr. Peel to the Chancellor.')

"Whitehall, Sept. 7th, 1826.
" My dear Chancellor,

"I sent to Lord Liverpool and the Chancellor of the Exchequer the letter which
was addressed to you by Courtenay, and which you sent to me.

"I begged their immediate consideration of that part of Courtenay's letter in parti-
cular, which referred to the expense which the adoption of some of the recommenda-
tions of the chancery commission might entail.

"Enclosed are copies of the answers which I received from them. They intimate a
readiness on their part to provide the pecuniary means of giving effect to the report
of the commission.

"You will perceive that Robinson suggests that the Suitors' Fund might possibly,
without injustice, be drawn upon but should there be valid objections to the appro-
priation of that fund to the purposes in question, neither he nor Lord Liverpool would,

* Then Chancellor of the Exchequer, now Earl of Ripon.
tThen Secretary for the Home Department.


I am confident, object to propose to Parliament to make the necessary provision out
of the public funds.

"The enclosed letters appear to me to give full authority to proceed in making such
arrangements as can be made without the intervention of Parliament's authority; of
course I mean so far as considerations of expense are concerned.
" Believe me ever,

" My dear chancellor,

" With true esteem and regard,

" Most faithfully yours,


About this time, Lord Eldon's favourable disposition towards Lord

Online LibraryHorace TwissThe public and private life of Lord Chancellor Eldon, with selections from his correspondence (Volume 2) → online text (page 23 of 65)