Horace Twiss.

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

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They told us that they would look to America, and set up their constitution for ours.
While seeking admission to the constitution, they endeavoured to destroy it. In fact,
their object was far beyond emancipation. Parliament should see that there was a
mighty difference between granting a share in the benefits of the constitution, and
allowing its destruction.

On the 9th and on the 19th of February he presented great num-
bers of petitions, and on both these occasions, as well as on other
discussions preliminary to the debates upon the Relief Bill, he sup-
ported his opinions with his usual earnestness. The total number of
petitions intrusted to him against this measure, in the course of its
progress, is said to have exceeded 900.

Mr. Peel, having felt himself constrained by public duty to take a
course contravening the opinions which, at the time of his election to
represent the University of Oxford in Parliament, were understood to
be held by him in common with its electors, considered it a point of
honour in this altered state of circumstances, to surrender his trust
into the hands of his constituents. A large body of them were anxi-
ous for his re-election ; but a still more numerous party were resolved
upon an anti-Catholic representative. Many of these last were turn-
ing their thoughts upon Lord Encombe, whose rank and personal cha-


racter recommended him on general grounds, while his descent from
the Earl of Eldon was an especial pledge for his resistance to the
Roman Catholic claims ; and three heads of colleges expressed to the
Anti-Catholic committee their readiness to support him if he should
be proposed. Lord Encombe was just then at Oxford, in residence
for the purpose of taking his degree of Master of Arts, and had no
conception that he could in any way be personally affected by Sir
Robert Peel's resignation, until he was informed by Mr. Risley,
a member of convocation, that he had been spoken of as a candi-
date against the leader of the House of Commons. The intelligence
was followed by a suggestion that, as it is against the etiquette of the
university for one who aims at the honour of representing it to be in
Oxford during the canvassing and polling, it would be expedient that
Lord Encombe should be away. This advice he took by making a
visit of some days at Mr. Risley's own residence, a few miles distant.
During this absence, however, it was considered by his well- wishers,
in reference to his youth and want of political experience, (for he had
not yet been in Parliament,) and in regard also to the state of the
interests in the great College of Christ Church, that his claims should
not be pressed.

Some days elapsed before Lord Eldon was apprised of any inten-
tion in favour of his grandson ; and he at once felt all the difficulty
of the young candidate's position.

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

(Feb. 17th, 1S29.)
"Dear John,

" It's a long time since I heard from you. I hope you are well. Oxford must afford
a great deal of news after all that has been passing, and I should be glad to hear of
it: if by return of post, so much the better.

" I am told here that some well-wishers had written to Oxford to think of you on the
vacancy. This was entirely without my knowledge ; for though my warmest affections
and best wishes will ever attend you, I should not have thought that such a proposition,
at your standing and time of life, would do in opposition to Mr. Peel, (if any thing would
do in opposition to him,) and it is very essential that the attempts to change their mem-
ber at Oxford should not fail. But infinite exertions of great men will be made for
that purpose.

"I presume your opinions and sentiments are anti-Catholic; indeed, T think I am
sure of it; but I have this question so often put to me that whether this is so or not,
speaking according to the real dictates of your own heart, pray tell me, in a line from
you as immediately as you can. Why I am so often asked it I can't say. I dare say
you agree with me that if anybody asks it with a view to Parliament, a person should
go there unshackled and unpledged as to his general future conduct; but as to conduct
upon this depending measure, no man will be sent there by anybody who does not
speak out plainly what he would do as to this depending measure. The curiosity to
which I allude may have no distinct object respecting you, but if I should be mistaken
in this, and even though it is not probable thai I am mistaken, I don't think it right to
give any answer upon it without your authority."

By the time when Lord Encombe received this letter, it had been
finally resolved to put Sir Robert Inglis in nomination ; and Lord
Encombe gave an immediate answer to Lord Eldon as follows :

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

" Wednesday, Feb. 18th, 18:9.
"My dear Grandfather,
"I lose no time in answering your letter, reieived this morning; and I have gocd


reason to hope that you will not be dissastisfied with the causes of my not having
written so recently as you have expected. On the Friday before last,* I sent you a
letter to announce all I could about Mr. Peel's resignation, and though I preferred in
that letter to omit expressly alluding to the probability of my being named to succeed
him, (thinking that possibly you might wish to show my letter to any one respecting
the facts mentioned in it,) I was daily hoping and expecting to receive from you
instructions what my conduct ought to be in case of this being proposed to me. Not,
however, receiving any intelligence from you, I at last began to think that you wished
me to act on my own judgment and to let me try my chance, without involving your
name or character in a defeat which might possibly ensue, but which could not hurt
my character, youth and inexperience being the only objections to me. Under the
impression, therefore, that you wished to drop all further communication with me for
the time, I abstained from writing to you ; and being asked by a friend of mine if I
would authorize him to state, that I had no objection to stand the contest should my
name be proposed, I gave him that authority on my own determination, and without
involving you or any one else. With regard, finally, to my opinion on the Catholic
question, it is almost needless, after what I have stated above, to add, that, having
professed myself ready to take the field even against Mr. Peel, I am as much pledged
by that act to oppose the measures in favour of the Catholics as if I had, at this mo-
ment been sitting in Parliament as the member for the university in the place of Mr.
Peel. I will now merely add that I intended to be in town on Monday next, February
23d, having been for the last few days at Mr. Risley's, at Souldern.

"It is still doubtful whether Mr. Peel or Sir R. Inglis (now the avowed opposition
candidate) will succeed. At the opposition committee his name and mine were the
only two discussed."

The contest terminated in favour of Sir Robert Inglis, the present

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

( Feb. 19th, 1829.)
"My dear John,

"I don't know whether I may be able to write to you again to-day: to-morrow I
certainly will write.

"I grieve that things have been so unluckily managed about Oxford. I quite ap-
prove of your consenting to be nominated; I think you did quite right. But I am
very anxious to stand acquitted of any inattention to you. If I had heard from any
person that there was a probability of your being thought of, I should have used all
possible means of forwarding your success ; but no one person in the world ever men-
tioned it to me, though, since the idea was dismissed, I have been informed, that
people here thought of it, and now think that you might have succeeded, and that Sir
R. H. I. will not. My earnest entreaty is, that you will not suppose that my silence
was owing to any thing but absolute ignorance that the matter was at all thought
of by anybody. I now hear that Lord Siowell had written to some person at Oxford
about it ; but this he did without informing me of his intention."

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

( Franked Feb. 20ih, 1829.)
"My dear John,

"I hope my letter of yesterday would relieve you from any tendency to a feeling
that I had been wanting in attention to you about Oxford. It is impossible that I
could knowingly be so. I cannot blame myself, and I have only, as to you, to say
that I thoroughly approve your conduct.

"Your statement and conduct fully justify the conviction, that if you were now in
Parliament, you would oppose, in the House of Commons, the present Catholic mea-
sures. They will commence again there, after Mr. Peel, for some place, Oxford or
Some other, is returned to Parliament.

" A seat was mentioned to me, with a question whether, if you came into Parlia-
ment, you would immediately begin a vigorous and active attack and leading conduct
as to the Catholic business. I thought that though you would be very zealous upon
that and other points, it required not only abilities, but great experience, to manage
such attack and conduct that it would be dangerous to attempt it that failure at
first in Parliament is generally the effect of not waiting to learn by the experience

* Feb. 6th.


which observation, carefully thrown upon what passes there, furnishes; and nine
persons out of ten, indeed a greater proportion, fail by such early attempts, and after
failure never recover. I was clear, therefore, that this could not do."

But the grandson of Lord Eldon was not long without a seat.
The two members for Truro, Lord Fitzroy Somerset and Mr. Tom-
line, having vacated, an arrangement was made through Lord Fal-
mouth, who had a leading interest in that borough, that Lord En-
combe should be one of its representatives. He was accordingly
returned for it on the 6th of March, and continued to represent it in
that and the two succeeding Parliaments: after which, in consequence
of the passing of the Reform Act, he withdrew from the House of

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

( 1829.)

"The newspapers seem all employed in endeavouring to rouse the country to peti-
tion against the Roman Catholic relief measures, and the language those papers
address lo the public on this matter seems proof enough that the country cares very
little about the matter. We fear there is a falling off in the Lords, which will reduce
the former majority. Some say, after what you have done for the Dissenters, the
republicans, we won't vote against the Roman Catholics, who are, at least, friends to
monarchy: other lords say, we can't continue forever in a contest of the kind we
have been so long engaged in ; and though some folks tell us that there is a great
Anti-Catholic feeling in the people, we perceive no signs of it; and it looks as if,
ere long, the great body, who belong to the Established Church, will wake some
morning from their sleep, and hearing the news that the Roman Catholics have suc-
ceeded, will dispose of the matter with ' Oh dear, who could have thought it !' "

The Birmingham petition against the Roman Catholic claims was
presented on the 10th of March by Lord Eldon; and on the 13th, he
moved for an account of the Roman Catholics who, from the year
1815, had taken the oath and declaration in England, under the act of
1791, or in Scotland under the act of 1793 ; but, at the suggestion of
the Duke of Wellington, he withdrew this motion. In the course of
the debate, the chancellor attacked Lord Eldon with some severity ;
and the latter was so much displeased, that, after having addressed
himself to some observations of Lord Plunkett, he finished by saying,

"I will not answer what has fallen from the noble and learned lord on the wool-
sack. If he says that my honest opinions were uttered with an insidious design,
my character, known to my country for more than fifty years, is, I feel, more than'
sufficient to repel so unfounded an insinuation."

On the 19th of March, when Lord Eldon presented some petitions
from Newcastle,

Lord Grey threw out some animadversions upon the character of the Anti-Catholic
petitions in general, and upon the junction which appeared to have been formed be-
tween the Wesleyan Methodists and the Church of England.

Lord Eldon defended the clergy of Newcastle for the part which they had taken in
these petitions. Having now presented six hundred, not one of which, with the ex-
ception of one which he had presented the other evening for a noble lord, he had
omitted to look at, he might venture to say that there were many names attached to
those petitions, of individuals who would do honour to either House of Parliament.
As to the junction of the Church of England with the Wesleyan Methodists, when
those by whom Parliament were addressed were Protestants, he should like any one
to tell him why the Wesleyan Methodists were not Protestants, and had not a right to
join in such addresses] For his own part, having had multitudes of provincial papers
transmitted to him, containing reports of the debates which had taken place at nume-


rous meetings in the country for the purpose of petitioning Parliament against further
concession to the Catholics, he had been astonished to observe the ability and know-
ledge manifested by the ministers of the Wesleyan Methodists who had taken part in
those debates. The petitions were not presented to their lordships as the petitions
of members of the Church of England; they were presented as the petitions of Pro-
testants, protesting against the introduction of measures which, in their opinion,
were hostile to the Protestant constitution of the realm. Adverting to the conduct
of the clergy, he begged to remind their lordships that the late Archbishop of Can-
terbury had reprimanded a clergyman in the city of London, for inviting persons
into his church after the service for the purpose of signing a petition. But, had any
noble lord said a single word respecting the conduct of the Catholic clergy of Ire-
land, who, it was well known, during a late celebrated election in that country, had
allowed their churches to be applied to the furtherance of political objects?

Lord Mountcashel, on the following day, observed, upon a petition
which had been presented by Lord Plunkett, as " signed by about one
half of the Protestant members of the Irish bar," in favour of the Re-
lief Bill, that " no doubt they had done so to preserve their fees."
Lord Eldon, though opposed to the views of the petitioners, did not
suffer this aspersion upon them to pass unnoticed.

He expressed his belief that the bar was as independent a body as any in the
kingdom. He had now ceased to be "a learned lawyer:" but his recollection of the
English bar enabled him to bear testimony to the integrity of that profession.

To the opponents of Roman Catholic Relief, the measure was ren-
dered the more obnoxious by the sudden change in the opinions of
various members of both Houses, who had up to that time been stre-
nuous Anti-Catholics. Lord Eldon, however, unlike some of his
party, had preserved his temper throughout. One of the petitions
which he had presented was from some tailors at Glasgow, who dis-
approved of the change in the opinions of the leaders of the govern-
ment. When he laid it on the table, Lord King, who was very
zealous for the bill, cried out, "What! do the tailors trouble them-
selves about such a change?" "No wonder," replied Lord Eldon;
" you can't suppose that tailors like turncoats!"

This story Lord Eldon himself used to relate. Another, in a some-
what similar vein, is reported in the Parliamentary Debates of 19th
February, 1829. On that day, after presenting a great number of
petitions against further concessions to the Roman Catholics, he said,

There was one of them which he did not well know how to treat. It was a peti-
tion signed by a great many ladies. He was not aware that there was any precedent
to exclude the ladies from their lordships' house; but he would look into the Jour-
nals, and see whether there existed any precedent to prevent the ladies from for-
warding their remonstrances to that House, against measures which they considered
injurious to the constitution.

Lord King inquired whether the petition expressed the sentiments of young or old
ladies? [A laugh.]

The Earl of Eldon said he could not answer the noble lord as to that point ; but
of this he was sure, that there were many women who possessed more knowledge
of the constitution and more common sense ihan some descendants of chancellors.
[A laugh.]

It was on the afternoon of the 31st of March, that the Roman Ca-
tholic Relief Bill, having passed the House of Commons, was read a
first time in the House of Lords : and Lord Eldon and other peers
contended, but without success, against the appointment of so early


a day as the 2d of April for the second reading. On the 2d of April
the debate began, and continued during that and the two succeeding
nights ; on the last of which, Lord Eldon made another stand against
the principles of concession to Roman Catholics, although, being
oppressed by gout, he avoided going at large into the question.

After giving credit to the duke, to Mr. Peel, and to other members of government
who had formerly resisted the admission of the Roman Catholics, for the motives
which had induced them to change their policy, and after defending himself upon
some points on which he considered himself as having been unfairly attacked by
Lord Chancellor Lyndhurst, he reviewed the course of his own life in regard to
these claims, and adverted to the obloquy which he had experienced in office by
reason of his resistance to them. He had hoped to be freed from that obloquy now that
he had withdrawn into private life ; but regretted to find that it was still thought a plea-
sant thing in Parliament to have a dash at the old chancellor. " It brings to my mind,"
continued he, " an anecdote, which, though not perhaps well suited to this serious ques-
tion, I will, with the patience of the House, take the liberty to mention. I was once at
Buxton with my venerable friend Lord Thurlow, who went there for the benefit of the
waters. I called on him one evening at the inn where he was sitting, when he told me
that he had heard there were six or eight persons in the house who meant to have
a dash at the ex-chancellor in the bath next morning. I asked him what course he
intended to take, and he replied prudently, that he meant to keep out of the way. The
misfortune is, I have not been able to keep out of the way of those who have been
anxious to have a dash at me." [Hear, and a laugh.] He went on to say, that the
government he belonged to had been taunted by the lord chancellor with having,
some years since, acceded to a large measure of relief, which that same government
had previously refused on its accession to office in 1807.* The fact was simply this:
He had been of opinion that officers of the army or navy, qualified to serve in
Ireland, were qualified to serve in the same capacities in England. But doubts ex-
isted upon this point: and it had not been thought prudent that such a matter should
be rested on any authority less conclusive than an act of Parliament. Therefore it
was that he had concurred in a statute which removed this doubt, and with which
his opinion exactly accorded. He would not in that place enter upon any considera-
tion of the Coronation Oath: that question was one to be settled between the king
and his God. He admitted the strict right of the legislature to dissolve, if necessity
should require it, the constitution which had been settled at the dates of the Revolu-
tion and of the Union with Scotland: but the necessity should be proved, and there
ought to be no strong and reasonable apprehension as to the consequences. The
constitution of 1688 was the pride and honour of the country; and they could not
make an alteration in it without, in some degree, altering the notions of the people
as to its excellence. To produce doubt, alarm and discontent among the people was
a practical evil which it was difficult to counterbalance by any theoretical good. The
people were justly attached to the constitution of 1688; they looked to it as the foun-
dation and bulwark of their freedom. If a part were changed, there might be a
change of the whole; and that change they dreaded. Perhaps the state of the
opinions of the people might be more manifest to one who had risen from the
people, and who had been long in communication with the people, the strength and
ornament of the empire, than to most of their lordships, the proprietors of heredi-
tary titles. The people felt it to be their lordships' duty, and a duty the most para-
mount that they had to execute, to preserve in this Protestant kingdom the Protestant
religion. He desired to reserve himself upon the accompanying measure for the
alteration of the elective franchise in Ireland: but, as to the securities offered by
that measure, his humble opinion was that they were a perfect nullity. He recurred
to his often-declared opinions respecting the necessity for a strict union between the
church and the state, enforced the duty of the state to provide for its subjects the
present system of Christianity, and contended that the Established Church of Ire-
land could not be endangered without some peril to the Established Church of Eng-

* The statute 57 Geo. 3. c. 92 was referred to as the act giving this relief. But that
act merely abolished tests precedent to the delivery of naval or military commissions,
retaining all tests required to be taken after such commissions should have been ac-
cepted. The act which enabled officers, qualified in Ireland, to serve in England and
elsewhere, was the 53d of Geo. 3. c. 128. See Chap. XXXV. of this work.


land. He insisted on the necessity for maintaining:, and on the duty of the ministers
to maintain, the supremacy of the king which this bill proposed to abandon. He
scouted the notion that this bill, any more than the repeal of the Test and Corpora-
tion Acts, would bring round to the support of the church those opponents, who,
whether Roman Catholics or Dissenters, alike regarded her with abhorrence, though
for different reasons. He regretted the apathy both of the people and of the clergy
in this great crisis.

The second reading was carried by a majority of 105. The 7th
and 8th of April were occupied in committee on the bill, Lord Eldon
taking an active and frequent part. On the former of these two days,
the first clause having been read,

Lord Eldon said he considered each clause of the bill as being open to the ex-
ception that the oath of supremacy was superseded. No less a man than Lord
Chatham had said, that the legislature had as good a right to repeal the Bill of
Rights as the oath of supremacy. But by this bill the Protestant alone was required
to take il, and the Roman Catholic was absolved both from that oath and from all the
declarations against those doctrines of the Romish Church which had until that time
been designated as idolatrous. ***** A right reverend prelate had that evening
said, and said very truly, that we were all members of the Christian church. If that
was inserted into the oath to be taken under this bill by the Roman Catholics, then,
indeed, there would be something admitted by them. But who ever found that the
professors of the Roman Catholic religion admitted any such thing as that the Pro-
testant church was a branch of the Christian church, or its members, members of
the Christian church? If they would admit that into the oath, it would be a very
great satisfaction to him ; but looking at the proceedings that had taken place, and
the doctrines lately preached in Ireland, every noble lord must see, that if such a
passage were admitted into the oath, the Roman Catholics would not much admire
the bill. By this bill, Catholics were not required to admit the supremacy of the
crown in ecclesiastical matters; but let their lordships look at their history, their
constitution, their acts of Parliament, and their law books, and tell him if the
supremacy of the crown, in matters ecclesiastical, was not a material part of the
British Constitution? He begged their lordships to think indulgently of him, who
had sworn over and over again aye, forty times that his majesty had this supremacy,
he begged of them to think indulgently of him, if he could not presume to take
away a supremacy which had been recognized as an indisputable right of the crown

Online LibraryHorace TwissThe public and private life of Lord Chancellor Eldon, with selections from his correspondence (Volume 2) → online text (page 32 of 65)