Horace Twiss.

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

. (page 33 of 65)
Online LibraryHorace TwissThe public and private life of Lord Chancellor Eldon, with selections from his correspondence (Volume 2) → online text (page 33 of 65)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

ever since the reign of Edward the Confessor. He could not he would not break
the oath he had so taken. He had no hesitation in admitting that, on a late occasion,
he did not like to oppose himself, under the influence of a teasing gout, to the formi-
dable alliance of those who took different views on this subject; but, if he were able
to attend on the third reading of the bill, he would go through it more largely.

Being called up again, by some observations of the Bishop of Llan-

Lord Eldon added, that a man who would not allow the right reverend prelate to be
a member of the Christian church, which the Roman Catholics denied him to be,
was not very fit to become the companion of the right reverend prelate as a member
of the legislature.

The lord chancellor combated the assertion that the Catholics denied the Church
of England to be a Christian church, upon which point he referred to the evidence
of Dr. Doyle. He controverted some of Lord Eldon's reasonings respecting the oath
of supremacy, and intimated that Lord Eldon had been arguing against his better
knowledge. " Now, my lords," continued the chancellor, "are we to be overborne
by the talent, the learning and the name of the noble and learned lord, who comes
down here and deals with subjects of so much importance in this way?"

Lord Eldon briefly defended himself against this imputation of uncandid dealing,
and said he had with him the authorities which he considered to bear out his argu-
ment. "I have now," continued he, "been twenty-nine years in this House, and
have, on all public questions, spoken my opinions, sometimes, perhaps, in language
too strong; but I have now to tell the noble and learned lord on the woolsack that I
have never borne down the House, and I will not now be borne down by him, nor
twenty such."

On the 10th of April, before the motion for the third reading of


the Relief Bill, many petitions were presented for and against it. In
the course of the discussions upon them, Lord Eldon having referred
to the opinions of Mr. Canning, was corrected by Lord Haddington ;
in reply to whom,

Lord Eldon said that he had long acted in office with Mr. Canning, and he begged
the noble earl to believe that he had not spoken of him with disrespect. He never
would speak disrespectfully of any great man after his decease.

Lord Grey having presented a petition from the students at law,

Lord Eldon took occasion to state, that he had himself forborne to present a peti-
tion against the Roman Catholics, most numerously and respectably signed by the
under-graduates and bachelors of arts in the University of Oxford, and drawn up in
excellent language, because, with the utmost respect for the petitioners, he considered,
having the honour to hold the distinguished office of high steward in that university,
that it was right to discountenance petitions of this kind from young persons in a
course of discipline and education.

The Duke of Wellington presently afterwards moved the third
reading of the Relief Bill. Lord Camden began the debate, and was
followed by Lord Granville.

Lord Eldon then addressed the House, probably, he said, for the last time. After
five-and-twenty years of conscientious opposition to measures like the present, he
was anxious to take this final opportunity of stating his opinion and the grounds of
it. He assured the House that after this bill should have passed, strong and deep-
rooted as were his objections to it, he should feel it his duty to endeavour, by every
means in his power, to soothe down the agitation which it had created, to let his
countrymen know that it was their duty to obey the laws, however they might have
been opposed to them while in their progress through Parliament. It was not his
desire God forbid ! to add in any way whatever to the agitation which he knew
existed in the country to an extent at which he was affrighted. He would be satisfied
to pass the remainder of his days in retirement from public life satisfied that, during
the many years in which he had been engaged in public life, he had endeavoured to
do his duty, and that he had done it sincerely and conscientiously in opposing the
present bill. During a long course of years he had considered the nature and ten-
dency of such a bill as this with all the attention in his power; and though he
admitted that consistency in error was one of the greatest blots which could attach
to the character of a statesman and though he should be ashamed to claim credit
for consistency in any opinion if he could for an instant see that it was one which
he could not justify, yet, with every disposition to discover the error in his opinion,
if error there was, he had considered this question over and over again in every
possible point of view; and after all that consideration, he would say that, so help
him God! he would rather perish that moment than give his consent to the bill
before their lordships. He thought this bill the most dangerous that had ever
been presented to the consideration of Parliament. Could it be a matter of plea-
sure or of comfort to him to stand in the situation he did, in opposition to the noble
duke and those other friends from whom he now differed so widely on this point?
He owned it would have given him pleasure to support them, if he could have
done so conscientiously. The noble duke would do him the justice to acknow-
ledge that he had not found him inflexible on other points, or in any public measure,
except on this. That he differed from him on this, he regretted; but his opinion, after
all he heard on it, was unaltered and unalterable. With respect to the right hon.
secretary, the leader in the other House,* he must say, that there never was a man
to whose feelings and opinions he was more sincerely attached, and no circumstance
of his life gave him more pain than the divulsion from him on this subject. He
adverted to the general impression from the publication of the Duke of Wellington's
letter to Dr. Curtis, that no concession to the Roman Catholics would be introduced
in that session, and complained of the present measure as being consequently a sur-
prise upon the public. He insisted upon the incompatibility of the pretensions of
the Irish priesthood with the law of the land. He blamed the government for not
having instituted prosecutions against Mr. O'Connell and other leading agitators, and

Mr. Peel.


foreboded that the bill then in progress for the suppression of the Roman Catholic
Association would be ineffectual for its purpose. He quoted a declaration of Dr.
Doyle, in his pastoral letter, that matters would never be set right until there were a
Roman Catholic king and a Roman Catholic legislature. In that opinion he could
not avoid coinciding. If the present law were considered an insult by the Catholics,
they would still feel themselves insulted so long as a Catholic was disabled from
sitting on the throne. When Roman Catholics were admitted to power, the principle
was conceded, and there could be no limitations as to number. When noble lords
looked at the manner in which the House of Commons was filled, he would ask
whether all that was stated, about only twenty Roman Catholic members getting
into the House, was not, in the opinion of every man who knew what was going on
in the world, downright nonsense 1 The forty shilling freeholders were to be dis-
franchised, but the influence of the priests would be exercised upon the electors who
remained ; and after the act was passed, what was to prevent as many Roman Catho-
lic members from getting into the House of Commons as there were means to pro-
vide seats for, whatever those means might bel The advocates of the measure
contended, that little danger was to be apprehended from it, because it was not likely
that a Protestant king would place a Roman Catholic in any important office of trust.
What would be the consequence] Why, that instead of the feeling of dissatisfaction
on the part of the Catholics being directed against the law of the country as hereto-
fore, the king would be placed in such a situation that it must be directed against
him. After reviewing and insisting upon the settlement made of the constitution by
the Revolution of 1688 and the Act of Union with Scotland, and indicating his doubts
respecting the fitness of the Irish disfranchisement which was intended to accompany
this Relief Bill, he protested against the present measure as fraught with ruin to the
purest church and the purest system of Christianity which the world had ever seen.
"I believe," concluded he, "that I know something of the Catholic clergy and of
their feelings towards our Protestant church : and though it is late in life for me to
alter my opinion, I should be willing to think better of them if I could. But I do
declare, my lords, that I would rather hear, at this moment, that to-morrow my exist-
ence was to cease an illustration, however, which I put as of no great force, since
I should look upon that event as any thing but an affliction than to awake to the
reflection that I had consented to an act which had stamped me as a violator of my
solemn oath, a traitor to my church, and a traitor to the constitution !"

At the close of this debate, the House_ divided for the last time
upon the great question involved in it. The third reading of the
Relief Bill was carried by a majority of 213 against 109; and a
protest, signed by many peers, of whose names that of Lord Eldon
is the first, remains upon the journals of that day, the 10th of April,
as the concluding memorial of his powerful efforts in this protracted

The passionate, but weak resistance of George IV. to the Catholic
Relief Bill, is described in a long memorandum, minuted by Lord
Eldon himself, of two interviews which he obtained from the king
for the purpose of presenting numerous addresses against the measure.
This paper portrays, very graphically, the fluctuations in the mind of
George IV., and exhibits, in a striking point of view, the contrast
between his character and that of his father. The first of Lord
Eldon's two visits was on the 28th of March, 1829, and lasted about
four hours.

"His majesty employed a very considerable portion of time in stating all that he
represented to have passed when Mr. Canning was made minister, and expressly
stated that Mr. C. would never, and that he had engaged that he would never, allow
him to be troubled about the Roman Catholic question.

" He blamed all the ministers who had retired upon C.'s appointment; represented
in substance, that their retirement, and not he, had made C. minister. He excepted
from this blame, in words, myself."


Lord Eldon's memorandum, after refuting this allegation of the
king's as to the cause of Mr. Canning's appointment, recapitulates
some other less important passages of the conversation, and then
reports his majesty to have said, with reference to the formation of
the Duke of Wellington's government in 1828,

" That at the time the administration was formed, no reason was given him to sup-
pose that any measures for the relief of the Roman Catholics were intendedor thought
of by ministers: that he had frequently himself suggested the absolute necessity of
putting down the Roman Catholic Association of suspending the Habeas Corpus
Act to destroy the power of the most seditious and rebellious proceedings of the mem-
bers of it, and particularly at the time that Lawless made his march : that instead of
following what he had so strongly recommended, after some (the exact time I can-
not recollect that he mentioned, but some) time, not a very long time before the pre-
sent session, he was applied to to allow his ministers to propose to him, as an united
cabinet, the opening the Parliament by sending such a message as his speech con-
tained : that, after much struggling against it, and after the measure had been
strongly pressed upon him as of absolute necessity, he had consented that the Pro-
testant members of his cabinet, if they could so persuade themselves to act, might
join in such a representation to him, but that he would not then, nor in his recom-
mendation to Parliament, pledge himself to any thing. He repeatedly mentioned
that he represented to his ministers the infinite pain it gave him to consent even so far
as that.


" He complained that he had never seen the bills that the condition of Ireland had
not been taken into consideration that the Association Bill had been passed through
both Houses before he had seen it that it was a very inefficient measure compared
to those which he had in vain, himself, recommended that the other proposed mea-
sures gave him the greatest possible pain and uneasiness that he was in the state of
a person with a pistol presented to his breast that he had nothing to fall back upon
that his ministers had threatened (I think he said twice, at the time of my seeing
him), to resign, if the measures were not proceeded in, and that he had said to them
'Go on,' when he knew not how to relieve himself from the state in which he was
placed: and that in one of those meetings, when resignation was threatened, he was
urged to the sort of consent he gave, by what passed in the interview between him
and his ministers, till the interview and the talk had brought him into such a state,
that he hardly knew what he was about when he, after several hours, said ' Go on.'
He then repeatedly expressed himself as in a state of the greatest misery, repeatedly
saying, ' What can I do? I have nothing to fall back upon :' and musing for some time,
and then again repeating the same expression.


"In this day's audience his majesty did not show me many papers that he showed
me in the second. I collected, from what passed in the second, that his consent to go
on was in writings then shown to me. After a great deal of time spent," (still in the
first interview,) " in which his majesty was sometimes silent apparently uneasy
occasionally stating his distress the hard usage he had received his wish to extri-
cate himself that he had not what to look to what to fall back upon that he was
miserable beyond what he could express : I asked him whether his majesty, so fre-
quently thus expressing himself, meant either to enjoin me, or to forbid me, consider-
ing or trying whether any thing could be found or arranged, upon which he could fall
back. He said, ' I neither enjoin you to do so, nor forbid you to do so ; but for God's
sake, take care that I am not exposed to the humiliation of being again placed in such
circumstances, that I must submit again to pray of my present ministers that they will
remain with me.' He appeared to me to be exceedingly miserable, and intimated that
he would see me again.

"I was not sent for afterwards, but went on Thursday, the 9th April, with more
addresses. In the second interview, which began a little before two o'clock, the king
repeatedly, and with some minutes interposed between his such repeated declarations,
musing in silence in the interim, expressed his anguish, and pain, and misery, that
the measure had ever been thought of, and as often declared that he had been most
harshly and cruelly treated that he had been treated as a man, whose consent had
been asked with a pistol pointed to his breast, or as obliged, if he did not give it, to


leap down from a five pair of stairs window what could he do! What had he to

fall back uponl


"I told him that his late majesty, when he did not mean that a measure proposed to
him should pass, expressed his determination in the most early stage of the business,
if it seemed to himself necessary to dissent, he asked no advice about dismissing
his ministers; he made that his own act he trusted to what he had to hope for from
his subjects, who, when he had placed himself in such circumstances, and protected
them from the violence of party, if party, meaning to be violent, should get upper-
most, could not leave him unsupported that, on the other hand, there could not but
be great difficulties in finding persons willing to embark in office, when matters had
proceeded to the extent to which the present measures had been carried, as was
supposed, and had been represented, after full explanation of them to his majesty, and
he had so i'ar assented.

"This led to his mentioning again what he had to say as to his assent. In the for-
mer interview it had been represented that, after much conversation twice with his
ministers or such as had come down, he had said, 'Go on ;' and upon the latter of
those two occasions, after many hours' fatigue, and exhausted by the fatigue of con-
versation, he had said, ' Go on.' He now produced two papers, which he represented
as copies of what he had written to them, in which he assents to their proceeding and
going un with the bill, adding certainly in each, as he read them, very strong expres-
sions of the pain and misery the proceedings gave him. It struck me at the time
that I should, if I had been in office, have felt considerable difficulty about going on
after reading such expressions; but whatever might be fair observations as to giving,
or not, effect to those expressions, 1 told his majesty it was impossible to maintain that his
assent had not been expressed,or to cure the evils which were consequential, after the
bill, in such circumstances, had been read a second time, and in the Lords' House
with a majority of 105. This led him to much conversation upon that fact, that he
had, he said, been deserted by an aristocracy that had supported his father that, instead
of forty-five against the measure, there were twice that number of peers for it that
everything was revolutionary every thing was tending to revolution and the peers
and the aristocracy were giving way to it. They (he said more than once or twice
more) supported his father; but see what they had done to him. I took the liberty
to say that I agreed that matters were rapidly tending to revolution that I had long
thought that this matter of Catholic emancipation was meant to be and would cer-
tainly be a step towards producing it that it was avowed as such with the Radicals
in 1794, '5, and '6: that many of the Catholic Association were understood to have
been engaged in all the transactions in Ireland in 1798 and what had they not been
threatening to do if this measure was not carried, and even if it was carried'? But
I thought it only just to some of the peers who voted for the bill to suppose that they
had been led, or misled, to believe that his majesty had agreed and consented to it.

"He then began to talk about the Coronation Oath. On that I could only repeat
what I had before said, if his majesty meant me to say any thing upon the subject.
Understanding that he did so wish, I repeated that, as far as his oath was concerned,
it was a matter between him, God and his conscience, whether giving his royal as-
sent to this measure was ' supporting, to the utmost of his power, the Protestant
reformed religion.' That it was not my opinion, nor the opinions of archbishops,
bishops or lay peers (all which he must know, as well as the opinions in favour of the
measure as those against it) that were to guide and govern him; but he was to act.
according to his own conscientious view of the obligations under which such an oath
placed him.

" Little more passed except occasional bursts of expression, 'What can I do?
What can I now fall back upon? What can I fall back upon? I am miserable,
wretched; my situation is dreadful; nobody about me to advise with. If I do give my
assent, I'll go to the baths abroad, and from thence to Hanover: I'll return no more to
England I'll make no Roman Catholic peers I will not do what this bill will enable
me to do I'll return no more let them get a Catholic king in Clarence.' I think he
also mentioned Sussex. ' The people will see that I did not wish this.'

"There were the strongest appearances certainly of misery. He, more than once,
stopped my leaving him. When the time came that I was to go, he threw his arms
round my neck and expressed great misery. I left him about twenty minutes or a
quarter before five.

"I certainly thought, when I left him, that he would express great difficulty when


the bill was proposed for the royal assent (great, but which would be overcome) about
giving it. I fear that it seemed to be given as matter of course."

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

(April llih,1829.)

"The fatal bills received the royal assent yesterday afternoon. After all I had
heard in my visits, not a day's delay ! God bless us, and His church!"

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

(April SO'.h, 1829.)

"I went to the levee in consequence of a communication that it was much de-
sired that I should do so by the king. I was grieved that my visit was a visit of duty
to a sovereign whose supremacy is shared by that Italian priest, as Shakspeare calls
the pope. But I heard that he much wished it, and I understood that it would be a
relief if I would go. I was certainly received with a very marked attention. I fol-
lowed those who are in the high places of office, to whom one bow was made. When.
I was about to pass, expecting the same slight notice, he took me by the hand and
shook it heartily, speaking with great kindness. It was very much remarked that he
showed to the late minority a degree of attention not manifested to those who, I un-
derstand, he much complained of, as having forced him to the late disastrous mea-
sure. I have been told this morning, that, at his dinner, he expressed great pleasure
at having had his friend Lord Eldon by the hand at his levee

He is certainly very wretched about the late business. It is a pity he has not the
comfort of being free from blame himself. The ladies to-day are swarming to the
drawing-room: but I don't go to-day, my visit of yesterday being occasioned by parti-
cular circumstances which I have mentioned."

" May 2d, 1829.

" The universal talk here is about the manner in which the king, at the levee, re-
ceived the voters for the Catholics most uncivilly markedly so towards the lords
spiritual, the bishops who so voted, and the civility with which he received the
anti-Catholic voters, particularly the bishops. It seems to be very general talk, now,
that his ministers went much beyond what they should have said in Parliament as to
his consent to the measure. Consent, however, he certainly did; but with a language
of reluctance, pain and misery, which, if it had been represented, would have prevented
a great deal of that ratting, which carried the measure.

" The Duke of Cumberland dined with me yesterday. No company but mamma
and Bessy."

(Probably May, 1829.)

"If your scrap, laudatory of your father, which came in your letter, is not returned
in this, you may be assured it will be returned in some other epistle. I fought as
well as I could, but I am not what I was ; and I never was what a statesman an
accomplished statesman ought to be. Indeed, a lawyer hardly can be both learned
in his profession and accomplished in political science. The country will feel
deeply feel the evils arising from this late measure. Not that those evils will be felt
in its immediate effects. Those in whose favour the measure has taken place are too
wary far too wary to give an alarm immediately; but few years will pass before
its direful effects will be made manifest in the ruin of some of our most sacred, and
most reverenced and most useful establishments."

(May 9th, 1829.)

"We have had an instance of the great uncertainty of human judgment, even
where it is the judgment of the most able to judge, as to the matter of which they
judge. Lord Colchester has been long ill: Pennington told us on Thursday after-
noon, that, though he was still very unwell, he was sure to get well. Poor fellow! he
died yesterday morning. He was a worthy man very laborious and had acquired
very considerable knowledge, particularly of parliamentary and Constitutional mat-
ters. He was somewhat vain but who is without faults? We had a great loss
from his absence, from illness, during the late debate in the House of Lords upon
the Catholic Bill. He understood that business well, and was quite alive to all the
evils of it."

The only subject upon which Lord Eldon entered into debate
between Easter and the close of this session was the bill of Lord


Chancellor Lyndhurst, for expediting the business of the Cour's of
Equity. This bill proposed that the crown should have power to

Online LibraryHorace TwissThe public and private life of Lord Chancellor Eldon, with selections from his correspondence (Volume 2) → online text (page 33 of 65)