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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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Gifford appears to have influenced him in resuming his design of re-
tirement. Contemplating and approving him as the probable succes-
sor to the great seal, though, of course, (for the reasons mentioned in
his foregoing letter to Mr. Surtees,) unable absolutely to secure the
succession, he thought he could now give way to his growing desire
for a release from the long labours of official life. But his views
were not destined to be realized ; for early in the September of this
year, 1826, a short illness terminated the life of Lord Gifford.

( Lord Liverpool to Lord Eldon.)

" Coombe Wood, Sept. 5th, 1826.
"My dear Lord,

"You will, of course, have heard the melancholy and unexpected death of Lord
Gifford. He is a very great loss at this time, boih public and private. I send yon the
accounts which I have received of his illness, which I will be obliged to you to return
when I see you.

"I shall be in town to-morrow morning: may I request of you to call upon me either
at one or two o'clock, as may best suit, or, if any thing should detain you at home, I
would come to you in Hamilton Place.

"I promise you that I will speak to no one upon ihe consequences till I have seen
you. Having, however, received, by the attention of my friend VI r. Latham, of Dover,
an account yesterday of Lord Giffbrd's extreme danger, it was impossible I should
not turn in my mind, during the night, what was to arise if we were so unfortunate as
to lose him.

"I confess to you the present inclination of my mind is, that the attorney-general*
should be made to accept the mastership of the rolls. He has no competitor at the
bar, at least on our side, nor any on the bench, who can compete with him in the
highest honours of the profession. Indeed, I know not what else can be done which
would not increase all prospective difficulties to an immen>e degree.

"Do not return any answer to this letter, or at least to this suggestion; but turn it
well over in your mind, and let us talk of it when we meet to-morrow.

" Believe me to be, my dear lord,

" Very sincerely yours,


It will be seen from the next letters that the chancellor, under the
alteration of circumstances occasioned by the death of Lord Gifford,
had consented to postpone his often-recurring intention of retirement.

(Mr. Peel to the Lord Chancellor.} (Extract.)

" Drayion Manor, Sept. 10th, 1826.

"My dear Chancellor,

"I am confident that, on every account, public and private, you hare determined
wisely in not now pressing your resignation. By private account, I mean that you
have consulted what is due not to your ease, but to your high and unblemished
character, by consenting for a time to give to the public the continued benefit of your
knowledge and experience, rather than subject them to the inconvenience of having
two new equity judges at the same time.

* Sir John Copley, now Lord Chancellor Lyndhurst
VOL. II. 11


" Supposing Copley to accept the rolls, what must be done as to the attorney and
solicitorship-general? Anything which you may write to me on that head I will, if you
shall wish it, consider most strictly confidential. Believe me, my dear chancellor, no
man, whose good opinion you value, will hear of your continuance in office with any
other feelings than those of satisfaction.

"I doubt whether, under present circumstances, you could overcome' the king's
reluctance to lose your invaluable services. I really doubt whether he would accept
the seals from your hands.

" Believe me ever, my dear chancellor,

" With sincere esteem and personal regard and affection,

" Your faithful friend,


(Lord Eldon to Lady F. J. Santo.) (Extract.)

(About Sept. llth, 1826.)

"Copley is to be the new master of the rolls. He has accepted. Upon this occa-
sion, as I thought it more for the public interest, and certainly for my comfort and
happiness, that they should attempt a general and permanent arrangement of the law
offices, instead of making appointments from time to time as vacancies happen, I
have strongly and repeatedly pressed for my own retirement now from the labours I
undergo; but, notwithstanding all my efforts, I am unable to succeed, and, abused and
calumniated as I have been, they are puzzled how to supply my place, if they let me
go. So I suppose I must wait a while longer.

" I am going this morning to attend poor Gifford's funeral. What a distressing loss
to his family!"




Antagonist principles in the cabinet: extract from Cobbett. Majority of Lord En-
combe: letters to him from Lord Eldon. Duke of York's death: Lord Eldon's
reminiscences of him. Fatal illness of Lord Liverpool: letters from Lord Eldon.
to Lady F. J. Bankes and Lord Encombe. Catholic question. Profits and arrears
of the great seal: bill to remodel chancery practice. Political character of Lord
Liverpool. Negotiations for the formation of a new ministry: letters from Mr.
Peel to Lord Eldon. Construction of Mr. Canning's government: letters from Lord
Eldon to Lady F. J. Bankes : explanations of the retiring ministers : letters connected
with Lord Eldon's retirement addressed to Lord Encombe by Lord Eldon, Lady E.
Repton, and Mr. Farrer, and to Lady F. J. Bankes by Lord Eldon : his answer to the
farewell address of the masters in chancery. Anecdotes of his chancellorship pre-
served by himself and several of his friends.

THE session of 1826-7 was destined to terminate the official, though
not the public life of Lord Eldon. George the Fourth, in person,
opened the new Parliament, on the 21st of November, 1826. Dur-
ing the remainder of that year there occurred, in the House of Lords,
no debate in which Lord Eldon took a prominent part. But a speech
was delivered by Mr. Canning in the House of Commons, on the 12th
of December, which tended materially to widen the differences of
opinion subsisting between certain sections of the cabinet. Calling
upon Parliament to uphold Portugal against aggression from Spain,
Mr. Canning delivered himself in terms of which the warmth and
eloquence were regarded by the Tories as amounting to a demonstra-
tion in favour of liberalism. The occasion was seized by the enemies
of the administration for sowing dissension among its members. Mr.
Cobbett, then one of the most popular of the periodical writers, was
peculiarly active and pertinacious in this endeavour. Among other
invectives directed by him against Mr. Canning in his "Weekly
Register," the following passage occurs in the number published
on the 30th of December, 1826.

"If the chancellor be sound, wind and limb, and thus continue (as I am told he is
likely to do) for several years longer, he will beat you, and every other enterprising
free trader, whatever may be the quantum of noise that nature has enabled him to
make with his tongue. The lord chancellor, and his brother still less, is not a great
talker: they are none of Cornelius Agrippa's* men; they never shone much in the
art of haranguing; but they have had three-fourths of the governing of this country
in their hands fora srea.t many years ; and while the chancellor has the full confidence
of a very great majority of the noblemen and gentlemen, he has at his back, sticking
to him everlastingly, that body called the church,of which you, great talker as you are,
appear to think so little."

* The motto to this number of the "Register" is quoted from Cornelius Agrippa,
ch. vi.


Lord Encombe, on Sunday, the 10th of December, 1826, which
was the day of his majority, received from his grandfather a letter, of
which the following is an extract :

" Friday evening.
" My dear John,

"Thanks for your letter. If I mistake not, Sunday is your birthday, at an important
period of your life. May Heaven grant you, dear John, many, many happy returns of
that clay; and in the rational hope I entertain, founded on what is past, I trust that in
so many of the returning years, in which Lady Eldon, I and you shall all exist, that we
shall be engaged in a struggle which of us can most contribute to the happiness of the
others of us. I trust I shall meet with the fullest persuasion on your part that we shall
feel it to contribute largely to our happiness to add to yours. And I should feel it
reflecting upon the past, but an act of justice to you, to express our conviction that it
will contribute largely to your happiness to add to ours. May God bless you, dear
John, is the often-offered-up prayer of both of us!

" I need not tell you that we shall be most happy to see you upon your return here.

"Lady Eldon sends her warmest love. Accept mine, and believe me,

" Ever your most affectionate, ELDON."

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

" January 2.!, 1827.

" My dear John ,

" Though the first day of the year is gone by, it passed not away without affection-
ate remembrances of you. I express them again on mamma's* behalf and my own, in
telling you that we most heartily and cordially wish you many, a great many returns
of happy new years in the enjoyment of health and all other blessings.

" Mamma is as she was. If I had my gun in my hand, accompanied with Bill and
Co. at Encombe, I should defy the gout's preventing me to-day exhibiting the ardour
and vigour that I could have displayed half a century ago in the field. It is wiser,
Pennington would say, to sit musing over the authors and the papers; so, as a pru-
dent one, I am hunting for amusement and sport in the volumes and pages of the
publications of the day, and of the days of yore of the modern and the olden times.

" I have now reached, in 1827, a good old age, with strength of body and mind yet
remaining, for which I ought to bless God, as I trust I do bless God. To you, my
dear John, at twenty-one, let me say what I am sure you will remember, that, at the
advanced period of life to which I have arrived, the sincerest, the sweetest pleasure
I can enjoy is the recollection of that part of life which may be said to have been,
"bene acta;" and the greatest happiness I look for here is what I may derive from
your good conduct and that of the other members of my family. In the beginning of
the year 1827, accept my thanks for your good conduct in the years that are no more.

" The poor Duke of York still exists, contrary to what medical men said, as long ago
as Sunday last, could be the case. My account last night, from Arlington House,*
intimated, that his constitution was still so strong, that his existence might endure for
some days. His resignation, his composure, the fortitude with which he bears his
present state, are very, very great. Now his death is certain, there is an universal
gloom, I understand, everywhere in this town, very striking. His death must affect
every man's political situation, perhaps nobody's more than my own. It may
shorten, it may prolong my stay in office. The 'Morning Chronicle' has, I hear,
advertised my resignation."

The duke's death, anticipated in the foregoing letter, took place on
the 5th of January. The Anecdote Book has the following reminis-
cences of him :

" I saw a great deal of his royal highness in some weeks preceding
his death; and his anxiety upon the subject of the Catholic question
occupied, and, indeed, engrossed, as far as I could judge, the whole
of his thoughts. He particularly lamented that so many of the great
nobility of this kingdom, naming some with whom he was very in-

* Lady Eldon.

j- The Duke of York's abode during his last illness.


timate, though possessed of such excellent dispositions and qualities,
would not make themselves men of business, and he appeared to
think that this circumstance was, with reference to the result of the
Catholic question, or might be, exceedingly detrimental to the great
cause on which he thought the civil and religious liberties of this
country so mainly depended."

" His death occasioned an irreparable loss to the nation. His own
personal example, as to great political questions, would have done
much for the country. He had, moreover, great influence with his
majesty; he showed me a correspondence he had had with his ma-
jesty upon political questions, and the proper persons to be continued
or to be appointed his ministers, in which, as well as I could judge,
his judgment was much governed by what had been, and what he
thought would be, the conduct of each person as to the Catholic claims.
This was shown to me shortly before his death ; and very shortly
before his death he predicted that change of ministry which soon after
his death took place. I firmly believe that that change would not
have taken place if he had lived ; we never shall look upon his like
again. His existence appeared to me to be essential to the effectually
counteracting that influence which soon after his death prevailed, to
place at the head of the administration the great advocate in the House
of Commons of the Roman Catholic claims, to whom the greatest
aversion had been often expressed in the highest place, and to con-
tinue that advocate in that station, although it was found necessary
to his support in it that he should have the aid of all those whose
principles, save with respect to that question, he had been combating
in youth and in manhood, as an anti-Jacobin and an anti-radical ; till,
within a short period before his advancement, he had been, as some
thought, obviously and apparently courting them in debates."

Mrs. Forster has preserved a story of the Duke of York in a more
mirthful vein. It was thus related to her by Lord Eldon : " I dined
once with the duke, when I and another were the only guests not
connected with the army. One of the party was the army agent, Mr.
Greenwood, of whom most of the others, including the duke himself,
had borrowed money. After the wine had gone round a few times,
one of the young officers begged his royal highness's permission to
give, as a toast, the health of a gentleman at the table, ' a gentleman
to whom they were all much indebted, and to whom they were likely
long to owe much, whom, indeed, they never could hope to repay.'
The duke said, 'Certainly, sir.' 'Then,' said the young officer, 'I
give you the health of Mr. Greenwood.' '

" There was a report," says Lord Eldon in his Anecdote Book,
" that the Duke of York said to Mr. Coutts, ' I think, sir, you have
been my banker for more than twenty years;' and that Coutts replied,
' Your royal highness, I think, may be said to have been my banker
during the whole of that time ; as my money has been in your hands,
not your money in mine.' "

In a letter of 2d of April following, Lord Eldon says to his grand-


" We had a lock of the duke's hair sent us, and we have each had some put into a
little gold case which we wear with our watch-chains. Mamma would not trust the
lock of hair out of the house, and therefore had a person from Hamlet's come to the
house to put the hair into the golden receptacles."

The funeral of the Duke of York took place on the night of the
20th of January, 1827, in St. George's Chapel. Some of those who
were present suffered seriously from the cold of the season and of the
place ; but Lord Eldon, recollecting his own tendency to gout, pro-
tected his feet by laying down his hat on the flagstones and standing
upon it ; and his precaution was completely successful.

The Duke of York was succeeded as commander-in-chief by the
Duke of Wellington, who continued to hold also his office of master-
general of the ordnance, and his seat in the cabinet.

{Lard Eldon to Lady F. J. Bankes.)

(February 18th, 1827 )

"I write this on Sunday. We are, at present, from Lord Liverpool's state, in great
trouble. Poor fellow! yesterday morning, after breakfast, the servant, surprised that
he did not ring his bell, went into the room and found him on the floor in a violent
apoplectic fit, quite senseless. I never saw him better or more cheerful than he was
on Friday afternoon in the House of Lords.

"He is very little, perhaps a shade better to-day, but his life is very uncertain, and
it is quite certain that, as an official man, he is no more. This is a most tremendous
blow, under present circumstances, to the public, and its effects upon individuals must
be important. Heaven knows who will succeed him. Peel went down to Brighton
to inform the king of the event; at the time I write he is not returned. If other things
made it certain that he would otherwise succeed him, I should suppose Canning's
health would not let him undertake the labour of the situation. But ambition will
attempt any thing."

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

(Written February 20th, 1827.)

"On Saturday, Lord Liverpool was seized with a fit, as I understand, both apoplectic
and paralytic; he has lost the use of his right side; and though there are hopes that
his natural existence may not be immediately terminated, there is an end of his official
life. This, at any time, would be an event of importance: so immediately after the
Duke of York's death, and upon the eve of the days when the great questions of the
Corn Trade and Catholic Emancipation are to be discussed and decided, it is of im-
portance so great, that nobody can be certain whether it is not of so much importance
as to render almost certain wrong decisions upon those vital questions.

"Nobody knows, and nobody can conjecture with probability, how soon the illness
of the minister will, as it seemingly must, dissolve the administration, or how another
is to be formed and composed. Speculation as to this is very busy, and politicians
are all at work. The opposition are in high spirits and confidently expecting to enjoy
the loaves and the fishes. They may but they also may not be disappointed.

"May God's blessing ever attend you!"
"Tuesday morning."

Lord Eldon having made a few observations upon a petition pre-
sented on the 20th of March by the Duke of Devonshire from the
Roman Catholics of Dungarvon, and the Marquis of Lansdowne hav-
ing then attributed to the noble and learned lord's influence in that
House the repeated rejection of all the measures which, from time to
time, had been proposed for the relief of the Roman Catholic body,

The lord chancellor observed, that if the noble marquis meant to state, that the
decisions of that House were made under the influence of the person whom he called
the "noble and learned lord," he could only say, God forbid that that should be the
fact! His own confident opinion was, that their lordships' decisions were those of a
Protestant House of Parliament, in a Protestant empire, paying only a proper atten-


tion to the honest declarations of the opinion of one of the members of that House:
for he was too well acquainted with his own imperfections and defects, and he said
that, as a man approaching to his grave, to suppose that their lordships had thought
proper to adopt his opinion on a matter of such great importance. He only wished
so to conduct himself, that the subjects of a Protestant king and a Protestant Parlia-
ment might be convinced that he went to the grave, without having lessened the
security which the country had for the enjoyment of civil and religious liberty. He
did not presume to state, or to think, that the sentiments of the humble individual, con-
vinced of his imperfections, who now stood before their lordships, could have such
influence as to direct their decisions; and he thought that the noble marquis who
stated that he had influence, paid no compliment to the lordships. With respect to
security for a Protestant country.and fora Protestant church, he had long made up his
mind that their lordships must do one of these two things, they must grant what was
asked without any securities at all, or they must have much better securities than
those which had hitherto been offered.

No man in the kingdom was a greater friend to toleration than he was ; and it was
upon that ground that he hoped and trusted and he should say so if these were
the last words he should utter, and he was approaching quickly to the end of his days
he hoped and trusted that their lordships, both for the sake of the Protestant subjects
as well as the Catholic subjects of this empire, would preserve that constitution which
had been earned by the exertions of their ancestors at the time of the Revolution ; and
he would state to the Roman Catholics that, with his consent, they should have every
thing except power in a Protestant state.

Mr. D. W. Harvey, on the 13th of March, in the same session,
did some service, though very unintentionally, to the chancellor, by
moving, in the House of Commons, for a return of his emoluments in
bankruptcy, which Mr. Hervey represented as amounting to 30,000^.
a year. To this the government readily acceded, calling at the same
time for some other information, which would be explanatory of that
return, and from which it would be seen that the average of the
chancellor's receipts in bankruptcy was only from 3000/. to 4000^. a

The same member moved, on the 5th of April, for returns of the
business set down before, and disposed of by, the chancellor in equity,
bankruptcy and lunacy, and in the House of Lords: the object being
to fix him with the responsibility of all the arrears. This motion was
negatived by a majority of 132 against 66. The subject of these
general arrears is fully considered in the review of Lord Eldon's
judicial character, toward the close of this biography.

Meanwhile, on the 27th of February, Sir John Copley, who was
then become master of the rolls, had obtained leave to introduce into
the House of Commons, with the sanction of the chancellor, a bill,
founded on the measure of 1826, for remodeling the practice of the
Court of Chancery. This new bill, which obviated some of the
practical difficulties of the preceding one, particularly those of a
pecuniary nature, had not proceeded far in that house, when it be-
came obvious that Lord Liverpool would never be able to resume
his functions, and that the responsibility of remodeling the practice
of the Court of Chancery must devolve upon another ministry. In
fact, though his natural life was prolonged to the December of the
following year, his political existence, and that of the administration
which he had headed, were at an end from the month of April, 1827,

See Lord Eldon's letter of Feb. 26th, 1824 : Chap. XL VI.


\vhen Mr. Canning received the king's commands to form a govern-

Lord Liverpool had been, for almost fifteen uninterrupted years,
the first minister of the crown. Trained to politics from early life,
by his father, the first Earl of Liverpool, a man of great abilities and
attainments, he thoroughly understood what may be called public
business, both foreign and domestic. He was not wont to indulge
in very large or bold views; but he had considerable judgment,
much facility in debate, and the talent, a very useful one in those
times, of keeping matters as they were. Tendencies towards change
had begun to be apparent in all quarters ; and careful observers could
discover that whensoever and howsoever the Liverpool ministry might
be broken up, at that breach a formidable tide was rising to rush in.
Thus the perplexity occasioned by the sudden loss of Lord Liverpool's
services was much more than in proportion to the actual measure of his
ability. He had held office so long and so respectably, and was per-
sonally so well regarded by his colleagues, that men, the most highly
gifted in various ways, the Duke of Wellington and Mr. Canning, '
Lord Eldon and Mr. Peel, were all content to serve with and under
him, constituting the strength of that fabric of which he was not so
much the capital as the keystone. The difficulty, therefore, of pro-
viding a successor was not in finding talents equal to those of Lord
Liverpool : the real embarrassment lay in the state of public feeling,
particularly upon the Catholic question. The anti-Catholic portion
of the cabinet would acquiesce in no nomination but of an anti-Ca-
tholic prime minister. Mr. Canning, on the contrary, would be no
party to a reconstruction which should not place at the head of the
ministry some statesman friendly to the Catholics. Thus the second
week of April had arrived without any decisive steps towards the
readjustment of the cabinet.

(Lord Eldon to Lady F. J. Bankes.) (Extract.)

" Wednesday, (probably April, 1827.)

" This must be a short scrap. I cannot help it in the distressed state in which the
unsettled state* of administration is, and the necessity of speedily settling it. I think

Online LibraryHorace TwissThe public and private life of Lord Chancellor Eldon, with selections from his correspondence (Volume 2) → online text (page 24 of 65)