Horace Twiss.

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

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of my intention to resign. This may have occasioned much of what you have heard.
There are other causes which may have contributed to the gossip of all quarters.
There is a malignity, natural enough, and sufficiently manifest, I think, that leads to
observations not met in any manner, that a man, who has been sixteen years and
upwards in possession of the great seal, is no longer fit to hold it: and this acquires
a mighty effect, when it is seconded by a conviction in the holder's mind, sometimes
betrayed (from the fatigue of what is passed and the dread of what is coming) in ex-
pressions (of which you have heard more than any other person) that he has become
and is becoming more and more unfit, both with respect to himself and the country,
to hold it. In addition to this, the public are very well aware that, as I had no assist-
ance from Ellenborough, and little from Redesdale, in Parliament last session, I
have none to look for in the next stormy session, from any lawyer in the House: and
how I was dealt with towards the close of the last session in the other House, or
rather how I should have been dealt with by Brougham & Co., if I had not myself
personally interfered to produce something more decent towards myself, I need not
mention. These things also suggest probabilities to all quarters. There are also
persons who have strong interest in first making resignation probable by talk in all
quarters, and so accomplishing it. Perhaps, too, it is pretty well known that, growing
unequal to my judicial duties, I have no influence as to other matters, and this may
induce many to represent resignation as probable. The truth, too, is, that I have long
wished to resign that I am conscious that I am unable to execute the great duties of my
office as they ought to be executed, and that, at my time of life, my insufficiency must
daily increase and be more apparent. Sir William Grant's resignation, too early for
himself, and much too early for the public, has made a sort of call for my resignation,
which I am certainly conscious has been too long delayed. I am, moreover, impressed
with a conviction that no presumption can warrant me in supposing that I can, even,
if I live through another Parliament, live through it with any credit in office; and this


leads to a general notion that I should not begin it in office. I am likewise strongly
impressed with a persuasion that, at my time of life, I should be thinking much
oftener and more seriously of another world and its concerns than it is possible for
me to address my thoughts to them, in possession of the most laborious office in the
kingdom. I add, that I wish, too, for a little more comfort in this world ; for I feel the
labours of this office to be such, and myself to be growing so unequal to them, as to
feel now the necessity of refusing all invitations out of my house, that I can with any
decency refuse, that I may have all my time for purposes to which I feel the whole of
it to be insufficient. I have made Grant's for Tuesday next an exception to this. The
newspaper paragraph has set the world in all quarters a-talking on this subject.
Whatever may be my wishes on this subject, when they became fixed purpose, as
such, they would have been first communicated to my wife, to you, and the regent.
In truth, till the meeting of Parliament, it would be nonsense to suffer wish to ripen
into purpose. If it would have matured into purpose, it should seem as if it would be
in vain. When I attended at Carlton House on Wednesday to seal the consent to a
royal marriage, the prince, led by the newspaper paragraph to the subject, held a lan-
guage to me (as to his confidence that I would not, to use his expression, 'desert him.'
repeating that expression often), which, I foresee, whenever the attempt is made to
' abolish' my 'slavery/ it will make it no easy matter to effectuate it. But my time
of life will compel it against all difficulties, before much longer time can pass, though
the conversation to which I allude may postpone it longer than I like. If, to serve
my master, I am compelled to remain somewhat longer, he must prevail upon my
fellow-servants to take a little more care of my character in the House of Commons
than they have hitherto done."

The session of Parliament having been opened by commission, on
the 27th of January, 1818, in a speech delivered by the lord chan-
cellor on behalf of the prince regent, certain papers relating to the
state of the country were delivered to the House of Lords by his
royal highness's command, and referred to a secret committee of their
lordships. They reported the attempts at insurrection which had
been made in the counties of Derby and Nottingham and the West
Riding of Yorkshire ; the conviction of some of the offenders ; and
the arrest of others who had been discharged without trial ; adding,
that all the arrests had taken place under circumstances fully justify-
ing them, although the evidence in some of the cases had not been
sufficient to warrant the government in going before a jury. In these
circumstances, it was judged expedient to apply to Parliament for a
bill indemnifying those who had acted in the detention of suspected
persons, and in the suppression of unlawful assemblies. Such a bill
was introduced by the Duke of Montrose, but warmly opposed. Upon
its second reading in the House of Lords, (February 27,)

The lord chancellor defended it, as the legitimate sequel of the last year's bill for
the suspension of the Habeas Corpus, which he maintained to have been a necessary
measure. Its fitness was not disproved by the fact stated in the committee's report,
that the great body of the people had proved to be sound. Were they not sound in
the reign of William TIM Yet the suspension of the Habeas Corpus was passed three
times during that reign, and those enactments were respectively followed by three
acts of indemnity, which employed the same words as this bill. Those acts did not
deny that there might be individual grounds of complaint, but admitted that there were
violations of law, and went on to justify and cover them. So here, those who had
acted under this suspension might have injured individuals; but it was for the public
safety and from public necessity. Then, surely, upon the same principle upon which
the suspension itself was necessary, it was also necessary to take away from indi-
viduals the right of complaining or prosecuting for the exercise of it. But not only
were acts of indemnity passed in the days of King William those days which were
spoken of as most favourable to the liberty of the people but also in 1715 and 1746.
In those two years, too, if he recollected right, the indemnity acts employed the same
terms with the present bill. Saluspopuli, the public safety, the highest object of law,


was the salutary principle of such measures. He now proceeded from 1746 to 1794.
When the Suspension Act was passed in the latter year, the exclamation was, "Oh,
how can you suspend the palladium of our liberties, on account of the London Cor-
responding Society, and a few meetings at Sheffield." Parliament did not, however,
think so lightly of the matter. The legislature, perceiving a great portion of the lower
orders of ihe people to have imbibed an opinion that they could do better without
king, Lords or House of Commons, rightly concluded that such an opinion, so pre-
vailing, was more dangerous to the existence of the state than the temporary suspension
of any law. That act expired in 1795, and till 1798 no new suspension took place. In
1801 an indemnity bill was brought in. But, during all the intermediate period, from the
expiration of the act to the introduction of the bill, not a single person thought of bringing
an action or commencing a suit. The moment, however, that the indemnity bill was
proposed in 1801, then all those who were previously silent who had made no com-
plaint whatever came forward with statements of their grievances. But Parliament
thought an indemnity was due to those concerned in that great business and did indem-
nify them. Was it then to be contended, when the history of the constitution, at the pe-
riod of the Revolution and ever since, had recognized the fitness of the proceeding in
which they were now engaged, that they were to adopt a new system and without suffi-
cient cause to depart from that long-recognized practice! He justified the principle of a
reference to secret committees on such subjects ; for if inquiries of this kind were con-
ducted publicly, those who gave information to government would be made known and
exposed to their enemies. Nor did he see any objection to the appointment of such a
committee by way of ballot: that mode of appointment had long been established and
he knew not why a different course should now be adopted, unless in compliment to
those who thought that the whole constitution of Parliament ought to be changed. He
then recurred to the necessity of the Suspension Act itself. It was no good argument,
he observed, to say that the actual disturbances had not been sufficient to justify that
measure: their lordships should consider how much of disturbance that act had pre-
vented. To that act he believed that the tranquillity of ihe country had been chiefly
owing. It had been a mild and merciful measure, preventive of miseries, not product-
ive of them. The indemnity to those who had executed the law was indispensable,
by reason that such defendants could justify themselves only by the disclosure of the
evidence they had proceeded upon, but of which evidence the public interest required
the concealment. He regretted thus to take away the remedies of those who had
suffered and in some cases, perhaps, suffered unjustly but the safety of the country
required this risk of some individual hardship. He concluded by repeating his refer-
ence to precedents, adding, that they could not be given up without consequences
which would strike at the roots of the greatness and freedom of our country, which
never would have been thus great and free if Parliament had not possessed the power
and the wisdom occasionally to suspend its liberties.

When the bill was about to be committed, Lord Holland made
some strictures upon it: in answer to which,

The lord chancellor explained, that he had not meant to represent this bill as
founded upon precedent in all its provisions. The principle of the indemnity in the
time of King William had been that persons having done things under the Suspension
Act, which the legislature admitted to be illegal, but deemed to be necessary for the
safety of the country, were not to be put to the expense of defending themselves. The
principle of the indemnity in 1801 was that the names of those who had given infor-
mation ought not to be disclosed, as they must have been, had actions been brought
against the persons who had acted on that information. In the present case there
was another most important consideration, the protection of the magistrates who had
executed the laws. When a general rising had been apprehended, it was to be ex-
pected that the arrests would be numerous; and to leave the individuals who had
caused those arrests to contend with the multitude of actions which might be insti-
tuted against them, would be to allow them to be overwhelmed and crushed with an
incalculable expense.

The bill was read a third time on the 5th of March, when

The chancellor exposed the fallacy of the doctrine that libels on the law and con-
stitution ought to be left unpunished, lest the notice of them should give them greater
publicity; and applauded the exertions made by the then attorney-general, Sir S.
Shepherd, to suppress the seditious and blasphemous publications of the day.


The following instance of Lord Eldon's liberality, as exercised
about this time in circumstances which certainly raised not the slight-
est claim upon him, is given in the words of Mr. Richard White, of
Essex Street, formerly a solicitor in extensive practice, from which
he has now retired to enjoy, in advanced years, the respect due to his
character, understanding and urbanity:

"Many years ago, I proved a debt in a suit in the Court of Chan-
cery for a captain in the army, who soon afterwards was sent abroad
on service. He returned in 1813, and, upon inquiry at the ac-
countant-general's office, it was stated that the debt had been paid
under a power of attorney, granted to Mr. Edmunds, of Chancery
Lane, an old and very respectable practitioner: the debt was 82/.
10s. IQd. Upon investigation it turned out, that the letter which I
had some time before ordered to be sent to the captain, had fallen
into the hands of a needy person, of the same name and residence as
the party entitled. That person sent the letter to Mr. Edmunds, de-
siring him (as he was too unwell to attend to receive the money) to
procure a power of attorney, to enable him (Mr. Edmunds) to receive
it for him. Mr. Edmunds did so, received the debt, and paid it
(after deducting the sum paid for the power of attorney) to the as-
sumed captain, who shortly afterwards died. On application to the
court for the payment of this debt by the accountant-general, the Lord
Chancellor Eldon (in July, 1813), intimated his opinion that the per-
son who received the money was liable to pay it. A statement of
facts was agreed upon between Mr. Edmunds and myself, and the
subject came again before Lord Eldon, who said he would consider
it. Frequently Lord Eldon was reminded of it ; but, from that time
till March, 1818, no decision was made. I then wrote to his lord-
ship, stating the great hardship of the case that my client had bor-
rowed the money was paying interest, &c. At his request I waited
on him at the rising of the court. He said he had no doubt that Mr.
Edmunds was liable to pay the money ; but he had known him many
years he knew him to be a most respectable man that he was then
near the latter end of his life and that he felt so much repugnance at
making an order of this nature, and in such a case, which would dis-
turb the last days of such a man's life, that he had determined to pay
the money himself. He did so, by giving me a draft on his banker
for 100/., the excess being to cover the interest, from the payment
being so long delayed."

In May, the lord chancellor introduced a bill for the amendment of
the Regency Acts. The objects of it were to increase the number of
the queen's council, and to dispense with the necessity of an imme-
diate meeting of Parliament in case of her majesty's death. In the
course of the month there were several discussions on it, in which
the chancellor took part ; but they involved no important question of
principle. The bill added four members by name to the council, and
passed into law, as the 58 Geo. 3. c. 90.

The bill, of the first Sir Robert Peel, for abridging the labours of
children in cotton factories, was in committee of the House of Lords


on the 19th of May, when Lord Kenyon, a warm supporter of the
measure, proposed, after a speech of counsel in opposition to it, that
there should be no further hearing of counsel or evidence.

The lord chancellor hoped he should not be suspected of hard-heartedness, if he
confessed himself one of those who really thought that philanthropy had not taken
its right course in modern times. Varied and conflicting interests should be well
balanced, before a rnan of discretion and honesty could pronounce a fair decision.
The legislature was not, indeed, here interfering inconsistently with the principle of
the common law, for at c6*mmon law it was an offence in masters to overwork chil-
dren, and in parents to connive at such misconduct; but he did think it hard that
noble lords should conclude in favour of this bill, without hearing what was to be
advanced against it by those whose interests it went to dispose of.

It was agreed to continue the hearing of counsel on the following
day. The supporters of the bill, however, afterwards found that the
examination of witnesses was likely to occupy too much time to allow
the enactment of it in that session.

The bill for appointing commissioners to inquire into educational
charities was before the House of Lords in the month of May. The
chancellor, who regarded it as being, in the shape it then bore, a
vexatious measure, likely to deter men of honour and character from
taking the responsibility of charitable trusts, took much pains to miti-
gate and amend it. It became a temporary law, as the 58 Geo. 3.
c. 91, and was continued for some time longer by subsequent enact-

Lord Erskine, on the 2d of June, moved the second reading of a
bill, reciting that doubts had arisen as to the lawfulness of commit-
ment by justices of the peace for libel before indictment found, and
declaring and enacting that it should not be lawful for any justice of
the peace to make such commitment. He said, at the outset of his

My noble and learned friend on the woolsack, when I moved the first reading of
this bill, disposed at once of the main question in a single word, by asserting that
there was no such doubt upon the law as the preamble recited, although it was the
principal foundation of the enacting part. My noble and learned friend, with great good
nature and pleasantry, frequently adverts to his supposed propensity to doubting; and
I can account for that propensity more distinctly than it would be decent for him in
speaking of himself. No man, I believe, who has sat in the court where he presides,
ever brought to the public service a more consummate knowledge of all its princi-
ples and practice. By nature a man of talents, from education a scholar, and bred
from his very youth in the study and experience of all its possible transactions, no-
body could be better qualified to decide in that forum, with the same rapidity as he
did the other day here on the subject now before us ; yet how often does he there pause
and re-pause, consider, and re-consider, and why] From the justest and most
amiable of all motives. He even runs the risk of sometimes appearing undecided
and dilatory, rather than mistake the rights of the meanest individuals, in the most
inconsiderable concerns, whose interests are in his hands. How much the rather
then ought he to extend the same anxious reserve and caution to a case like the
present, where the interests of the whole people of this land are in question, where
he has not merely to decide upon a right of property, but where freedom and repu-
tation are to be asserted and defended, where men are to be rescued from oppression
and ignominy, and from a severer punishment (upon the bare suggestion of an almost
undefinable offence) than in most cases would follow after a conviction and judgment.
My noble and learned friend ought, besides, to have recollected that he does not, though
in this numerous assembly, pronounce only a single judgment; he must know the
weight it must have with others; and we are but too apt, after having delivered an
opinion, rather to combat in its support than to open the mind to impartial consider-


ation. Yet I ought not to be afraid of this. My noble and learned friend can surely
well afford to say he was mistaken: it would not at all affect his reputation for learn-
ing, but would, on the contrary, exalt it.

The chancellor resisted the bill. Before such a measure should be sanctioned,
some question (he said) should be argued in the courts below to show a necessity for
the interposition of the legislature. When the House found that since the time of
Queen Anne there had been 128 cases in which the judges of the Court of King's
Bench had, as magistrates, held to bail in cases of libel, their lordships would hardly
proceed at once to declare the practice illegal.

The bill was rejected by 31 against 18.

The second reading of a bill for mitigating the capital penalty upon
the offence of shoplifting was moved on the 3d of June.

The chancellor declared that his objection toils principle was unchanged; but
professed his willingness to enter upon the subject in some future year when there
should be enough of the session remaining to give a fair opportunity for discussing it.

The motion for the second reading was then negatived.

The session was closed by the prince regent in person, and con-
tained an announcement of his intention to dissolve the Parliament
forthwith. After he had delivered his speech from the throne, the
lord chancellor, by his direction, said,

" My lords and gentlemen,

"It is the will and pleasure of his royal highness, the prince regent, acting in the
name and on the behalf of his majesty, that this Parliament be now dissolved; and
this Parliament is dissolved accordingly."

The usual mode had been to prorogue Parliament in presence of
both Houses, and to dissolve it by a subsequent proclamation. The
course taken in 1818 had, however, a precedent in the dissolution of
the last Parliament of Charles II., in 1681, and was followed in the
dissolutions of 1826 and 1831.

The succeeding letter refers to an intention of putting Lord Eldon's
son, William Henry John Scott, in nomination for Newcastle. That
intention was not followed up ; but at the same general election he
was returned for Heytesbury, and as member for that borough he made
his first entrance into Parliament.

(Lord Eldon to Mrs. Former.) (Extract.)

"London, June 2~ih, 1S13.
" Dear Mrs. Forster,

"My situation, as speaker of the House of Lords, don't admit of my interfering,
myself, much in elections; but, as that of Newcastle is over, I feel myself at liberty to
say to you and Mr. Forster, that I am very sensible of the kindness of both with
reference to my son. Many, many unfortunate circumstances have led to an unfortu-
nate result; but, upon a review of what is past, I think it was impossible for William
Henry, without advice here, and without the possibility of obtaining it in due time, to
act otherwise than he did. Whatever may be the circumstances that led to the result,
for the kind intentions of Ihose who wished him well, acknowledgments and thanks
are unquestionably due, and I wish to offer them to you both. To many others they
are due, but my situation will not allow me to interpose myself in this matter, except
as such interposition may be excused where it goes no farther than in communica-
tions to near relatives."

There being no longer any grandchild of George III. to inherit tho
crown, it became an object of importance that matrimonial alliances
should take place in the royal family, which might raise up issue for
the succession ; and it was with great satisfaction that, in the year
1818, the English people saw the successive marriages of three of the


royal dukes. The first in order of time was that of the Duke of
Cambridge, whose marriage with the Princess Augusta, of Hesse,
previously solemnized at Hesse Chapel in May, was again performed
at Carlton House on the 1st of June. On the llth of July, his late
majesty, then Duke of Clarence, was married to the Princess Ade-
laide, of Saxe Meiningen, the present queen dowager, at Carlton
House. And at the same time and place was repeated that auspicious
marriage of the Duke of Kent with the Princess Victoria, Dowager
of the Prince of Leiningen, which had been first celebrated at Co-
bourg in the preceding May, and of which her present majesty is the
illustrious issue.

On each of these occasions, at Carlton House, Lord Eldon was
present ; and the prospect of a succession to the crown in the family
of the Duke of Cambridge became, in a few months after his royal
highness's marriage, the subject of the following communication:

(Lord Liverpool to Lord Eldm.)

"Fife House, Aug. 29th, 1818.
" My dear Lord,

" I received the letter, of which the enclosed is an extract, when I was at some dis-
tance from London; and I was unable to answer it before the Duke of Cambridge left
England, and unwilling to do so until I had had some communication with you.

"It appears to me that it can be by no means necessary that the Duchess of Cam-
bridge should return to England for her confinement. It would be a most severe bur-
then upon the royal family in general, to oblige them not only to come over to Eng-
land to be remarried, but to be compelled to return here on every occasion of the
nature referred to; and, as to the latter case, there is no law whatever upon the ques-

"I think, at the same time, if it can be done without inconvenience, it would be ad-
visable that some British subject should be in the house at the time of the delivery, in

Online LibraryHorace TwissThe public and private life of Lord Chancellor Eldon, with selections from his correspondence (Volume 2) → online text (page 3 of 65)