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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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appoint an additional Equity judge. The lord chancellor, in moving
the second reading of it, on the 12th of May, did justice to Lord
Eldon's labours in the following terms :

"I owe it to the noble and learned lord to say, that the same evil exists, to the
same extent, in my time, as it existed in his. It is impossible for me, notwithstand-
ing the political differences which now divide us, it is impossible for me, I say, hav-
ing once mentioned the name of that noble and learned lord, not to add, that no man,
sitting on the same bench which he so long filled, and considering the nature of his
decisions, can refrain from admiring his profound sagacity, his great erudition, and
his extraordinary attainments. It has been often said in the profession, that no one
ever doubted his decrees, except the noble and learned lord himself. I am sure, from
the short opportunity which I have had of judging of them, that none of his predeces-
sors ever had a more complete command of the whole complicated system of equity
than that noble and learned personage. I therefore feel myself bound to say, that I
do notascribe the delays which have taken place in the Court of Chancery to the noble
earl, but to the system established in that court. I say that there has never been
sufficient power in the judge, to dispose of causes when ready for hearing, since the
first establishment of the Court of Chancery."

Lord Eldon, after requesting that time might be allowed for a due consideration of
the measure, adverted to the complimentary language employed by the lord chancellor,
and said, that whatever might have been the political differences between himself and
the noble lord, he was not the person unwilling to be reconciled; particularly when
more had been said in his praise than he deserved. He had, indeed, done all in his
power to administer justice with industry, diligence and fidelity: beyond that, he must
claim no credit. He then dwelt upon the importance of frequent sittings by the lord
chancellor in the Court of Chancery ; not, he said, for the purpose of insinuating that
the present lord chancellor was inclined to be remiss in this respect, but in order to
induce some alteration in the existing arrangement of the business in the House of
Lords, which made it impossible for any lord chancellor to give to the Court of Chan-
cery a sufficient portion of his time. He suggested that a Court of Error should be
constituted in Scotland, which he thought would have the effect of diminishing the
appeals from that country : as, in English cases, it was found that parties were gene-
rally satisfied with the opinion of the twelve judges of Westminster Hall. He concurred
in the observations which the lord chancellor had made upon the necessity that the
leading counsel should discontinue the practice of attending more courts than one.
Without such a regulation, the increase of courts would be an evil rather than a
benefit. He had himself been blamed for not deciding cases until he had personally
looked into the papers; but the necessity had been imposed upon him by the modern
practice of the bar. He himself and Sir James Mansfield, when they were the leaders
of the Court of Chancery, had made it a rule to decline holding briefs in the Exchequer,
except when they could do so without detriment to their Chancery clients. But at the
present day, not only were causes impeded by the absence of leading counsel, but
replies were made to speeches of which not one word had been heard by the replying
barrister, who had all the while been engaged in another court. It was not likely that
this could satisfy the conscience of a judge; and he had therefore been obliged to take
the papers home, and so endeavour to get at the information which it was the duty of
counsel to have given him. He was willing that the bill should now be read a second
time, on the understanding that opportunity was to be given for full consideration of
it in its further stages. No man could deny that something must be done with respect
to the Court of Chancery, whatever the difficulty of discovering what that something
ought to be.

The bill was read a third time on the 21st of May, when


Lord Eldon, without opposing it or denying the necessity of additional force for the
administration of equity, objected to the appointment of any new equity judge, until it
should be known what changes were contemplated in the Exchequer and other courts.
He observed also upon the great assistance which the standing commission of the
Court of Chancery had formerly afforded, when worked by a common law judge and
two masters: speaking in high terms of the services thus rendered by the masters in
Chancery, whose opinion had sometimes overruled that of the common law judge


associated with them, and been ultimately sustained by the chancellor. Further, he
took occasion to say that some judges from the common law courts had formed almost
as good judges in Chancery as had ever sat in that court.

The bill was read a third time ; but, the session being far advanced,
the subject was postponed to the following year.

In this month of May, the first steps were taken toward the foun-
dation of the Eldon Law Scholarship now established at Oxford.
Several noblemen and gentlemen, admirers of the character of Lord
Eldon, assembling at the house of the late Lord Arden in St. James's-
place, on the 14th and 18th of May, 1829, agreed to open a subscrip-

For the purpose " of manifesting, by a suitable and lasting testimony, the deep and
grateful sense" entertained by themselves and their countrymen "of the eminent
services of John, Earl of Eldon, throughout a long and laborious public life, during
which his exertions" had " been ably and uniformly directed to the preservation and
maintenance of the Protestant constitution of his country."

A subscription was opened accordingly, of which the particular
application will be stated hereafter, in reference to the corresponding
period of the succeeding year.

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

" Tuesday, (19th May, 1829.)

" You will see in the papers that some persons have advertised to form an Eldon
memorial, and have published their names and subscriptions, and have desired all
other well-disposed persons to do the like. I have been informed that the Catholic
friends say they would very readily have subscribed, if the advertisement had not
made my Anti-Catholic Protestant principles the prominent feature in the advertise-
ment. To be sure the Catholic friends, if there are any, can't subscribe, and the
advertisers would not subscribe, if they could and would. So the thing, which was
unknown to me till I read the newspaper, must take its chance. No subscription
to be above 20/.; there are subscriptions to about 1500/. to begin with, on the first

In the year 1829 was also established the Eldon School at Vauxhall,
founded and supported by Charles Francis, Esquire, " to perpetuate
the memory of John, Earl of Eldon, Lord High Chancellor of Great
Britain ; and to commemorate his able, zealous and constant defence
of the Protestant Reformed religion against every innovation." The
school-house is a neat Gothic structure, capable of accommodating
150 boys. The principal front has a niche containing a statue of the
earl. The school is conducted on the system of Dr. Bell.

About the end of May, some new arrangements of the cabinet took
place, in consequence of the resignation of the office of lord high
admiral by the Duke of Clarence. Lord Melville again became first
lord of the admiralty and was succeeded at the Board of Control by
Lord Ellenborough, who had held the privy seal.

(Lord Eldon to Lady F. J. Banket.) ^_

*~3fc(Jsi June, 1829.)
"We understand that Lord Rosslyn is to be privy seal.

"It is believed that the wish was to have Lord Grey; but, that not being likely to be
agreed to by the K., they took Rosslyn as another Whig.

"The prevailing notion now is, that the ministers will seduce, out of the three par-
ties, 1, the Whigs 2, the party of Goderich and Huskisson and 3, the seceding
TOL. II. 15


Tories not a batch of any one of them but will pick, out of each, such individuals
as are open to kind embraces, and so decimate each."

(Extracts of Letters from Lord Eldon to Lady F. J. Bankes.}

(June, 1829.)

"I amused myself yesterday morning with a visit to duchesses, in number two,
both violent anti-papists the Duchess of Richmond and the Duchess of Rutland.
They have each an immense quantity of speeches the latter, some in gold letters,
made in betterdays in favour of Protestantism; but they may as well now throw them
all into the fire. Report gives the young Duke of Richmond, who warmly opposed
the Catholic Bill, a fixed purpose of general opposition to the present government.
You may remember he did very well in all he said during the debates in the last ses-
sion. I hear that he is a great favourite with the K., which seems not to be the for-
tune, be it good or bad, at this moment, with those addicted to his ministers."

(June or July, 1829.)

" Bessy wrote, I understand, yesterday, as I was shut up nearly the whole day in a
committee of the House of Lords:


afterwards in an opposition to a bill to authorize the sale of game, and to allow every
man who had twenty acres of land to kill game. The prime minister opposed this
bill also, and we old Tories thought ourselves safe in our views of defeating it; but
many of the old Tories being very much out of humour, would not buckle'' to, and the
Whigs, the old opposition, all sticking together, and, I suppose, courting popularity
with the lower orders by their vote, let the duke have something like a proof that
they were mightier than he, and so he was in a minority."

Lord Eldon now suffered some uneasiness, from the indisposition
of his son William Henry, whose eccentricities seem not to have
abated his father's interest in him.

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

"30th July, 1829.

"I rejoice to hear that W. H. is looking better. When he was in town, William
Surtees tells me he looked bloated, which William regretted; but that his behaviour
was as good as possible. May that Being, who is the source of all happiness, lead
him to right ways of thinking, and by them, to that happiness which no man ever
wished a son to enjoy more than I have most anxiously wished him to enjoy."

About this time an inflammatory letter upon Irish politics, purport-
ing to be written and franked by Lord Eldon, was sent by the post to
some person in Ireland, through whom it found its way to the public.
This forgery was the subject of many comments in the newspapers.

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

(August 23J, 1829.)

"I am sadly plagued with inquiries from different persons about my supposed letter
to Ireland. Sir Francis Freeling at the Post Office states the frank to be, as it is, a
palpable forgery; and his surprise that it could pass those who there marked it "free,"
as it is so plainly such and my hand-writing and mode of franking is so perfectly
known there: but he does not seem to hope that the forger can be discovered."

The vacation was passed at Encombe : and here follow specimens
of its gossip.

"I dor

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

(Post mark, 21st Sept. 1829.)

on't know what state you are in, in London, but here, one should think that a
second deluge has been ordained : and a tenant of mine, of a house in Kingston here,
says, 'It is all owing to the bill in favour of the Romans:' like unto what was reported
of a maid servant of Lady Goderich who, complaining of wet weather, was informed
by the servant. ' Why, madam, you know that Lord Eldon said, if " the bill" passed, the
sun of Great Britain would set for ever."


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

" Thursday (Oct. 29th, 1829.)

"I was amused to find here, working in the garden, now something of a man, a
person, formerly, when a boy, a favourite with William Henry, and christened by
him Jack Nasty. He does his work well, and the gardener, moreover, informs us,
that he is ' a droll subject,' and is very useful at all hops and dances in this neighbour-
hood as a musician. He retains, I understand, a very warm affection for W. H.,
though he has not got him a place in the Victualling Office, which Jack N. supposes
to be a mere place for eating and drinking."

Early in this October, Lady Eldon was seized with a violent affec-
tion of the brain, arising from a determination of blood to the head,
and producing, for the time, a total aberration of the mind. "I shall
long remember," says the present earl, "the distress in which Lord
Eldon, to whom such a thing was wholly new, came down stairs
to me, and told me that my grandmother did not know him. Mr.
Everingham, her medical attendant, being pressed by Lord Eldon to
state the truth, expressed his fear that she would not survive the night,
perhaps not many hours. No one but myself was visiting at En-
combe at the time, and we sat up during a wretched night, in the
course of which my grandfather's mental anxiety considerably aggra-
vated a fit of gout which had already threatened him. It pleased
God, however, to ward off the fatal blow. The application of a
strong blister at the back of the patient's head had drawn away, by
morning, the chief cause of alarm, and a gradual, though not uninter-
rupted, amendment enabled her, in November, to return with Lord
Eldon to London, which, for the remainder of her life, she did not

One day, toward the period when he finished the Anecdote Book,
which was about the end of 1827, he happened to say, looking over
a volume of Sayers's Caricatures, in his library, that an interesting
account might be written in illustration of them. His grandson, to
whom the observation was made, immediately provided a book for
this purpose, like that in which the anecdotes had been written ; but
Lord Eldon made no insertion in it till the 16th of October, 1829.
By the 5th of November he had written twenty-four pages ; but he
never afterwards resumed the occupation. Among these illustrations
of his, the two following may, perhaps, amuse the reader:

"John Lee, a member of the House of Commons, and one of the
law officers of the crown, in his politics was a warm supporter of
Charles Fox, and acted as such, in common with most of those mem-
bers who had supported Lord Rockingham's administration. He was
born of a dissenting family, and educated as a Dissenter. But his
moderation as a Dissenter was great, and through life he manifested
that moderation. In private and public, he always spoke of the
Established Church with great respect, and he often attended the
service of it. His conversation and conduct at all times were such
as proved him to be a person of great suavity of temper, and remark-
able kindness of heart. He was not, perhaps, a deep-read lawyer,
but he had a most vigorous understanding, and the English bar never
furnished a more powerful Nisi Prius advocate. It ought to be re-


corded of him that he was the sincere and active friend of young men
at the bar, rejoicing in promoting and witnessing their success in the
profession. In the debates upon the India Bill, he unfortunately spoke
most contemptuously about charters, particularly that of the East India
Company ; and expressed in strong terms his surprise that there could
be such political strife about what he called ' a piece of parchment,
with a bit of wax dangling to it.' This most improvident expression,
uttered by a crown lawyer, formed the subject of comment and re-
proach in all the subsequent debates in Parliament, in all publications
of the times, and in every body's conversation. Few men could have
survived the odium this expression created ; but the man was beloved,
and his fault was forgotten."

" Lord Grantley, before his creation as a peer, was Sir Fletcher
Norton. He was, in politics, an adherent of the Marquis of Rocking-
ham and his party : though probably not much to be depended upon
by any party. He was bred to the bar, and was, for many years,
leader of the northern circuit, had the principal business in the Court
of King's Bench, and was promoted to the office of attorney-general.
He was nevertheless not a lawyer, but by force of a very quick and
vigorous understanding, and a most bold, if not most impudent man-
ner, and not being troubled with many scruples, as to assertions or
conduct, he rose to the eminent station he held in the profession.
He was much known by the name of Sir Bull-face Double Fee. He
was remarked as betraying the same inaccuracy in his assertions in
conversation as in his pleading. Probably conscious of not being
deeply versed in professional learning, it has been reported that he
never gave his opinions, as attorney-general, in writing.* He became
speaker of the House of Commons, and after he was removed from
that office he was created Baron Grantley. It was understood that
there had been some quarrel between him and Lord North about the
office of Chief Justice of the Common Pleas, when Loughborough was
appointed to it. He is said to have spoken disrespectfully of Lord
North, and Lord North had no respect for him. The latter having heard
that Sir Fletcher had spoken of himself as not in good health, and
Sir F. being supposed to have made that representation with some
particular view, though he was perfectly well, took occasion, after
Parliament was dissolved, and a new speaker was to be chosen, to
express his deep concern that the health of Sir F. Norton made it
impossible to propose him again, and his conviction that the House
could not expect that in Sir F.'s state of health, he should, at the risk
of his existence, again undertake the arduous duties of the speaker's
office, and then proposed that another gentleman should be placed in
the chair. Sir Fletcher, again, and again, and again assured the
House that he was never in better health that he was perfectly able
to undertake and execute the duties, however arduous, of the office,
and that the House, he hoped, would not discard him, who had before
been their servant and speaker. Lord North rose again, and stated

* But see Lord Eldon's Speech, 14th Sept. 1831, Chap. LIV.


his extreme reluctance to resist the importunity of a gentleman who
had been so valuable a servant of the House, but that humanitv for-
bade him to think of gratifying, however anxious he was to gratify,
Sir F.'s wishes. The majority of the House did not like Sir Fletcher ;
they were under the influence of Lord North, and they voted another
gentleman into the chair."

This was the last year in which Lord Eldon took his once favourite
diversion of shooting. The "Sporting Magazine" of February, 1838,
observes that "to the last he did not like shooting in company, and
entertained a good old gentlemanly contempt for battues." His grand-
son, w r ho was an exception to the venerable earl's dislike of company
in the field, says, that in the autumn of 1829, he twice went out at
Encombe with his gun but never again resumed it. This discon-
tinuance of his old amusement was occasioned, in the first instance, by
the above-mentioned illness of Lady Eldon. In the succeeding year,
it was not judged prudent that she should forego the benefit of London
advice, even during a few weeks of autumn ; and when, after her
death in 1831, Lord Eldon resumed his visits to Encombe, he had no
longer strength or spirit for the amusements of the field. His activity
in following his game at a late period of his life had obtained for him
in public report the character of a better shot than his skill quite
justified. He then shot with a single-barreled percussion gun, made
by Manton. He used to declare that he was far from being so good
a shot in later life as he had been when a young Oxonian, without a
qualification. "By the time I got a qualification," said he, " I found
myself disqualified."

J^"His conclusion of each season at Encombe," says the present
earl, " is recorded to have been a general jubilee for all his dogs.
Pointers, Spaniels, Newfoundlanders, &c., of whatever species and
in whatever number they happened to be, were alike permitted to
share in making or marring the fortunes of the day."

"I have been told," says Miss Forster, "that one day, during a
vacation, when Lord Eldon was going out to shoot, the gamekeeper
ordered back some useless dogs of the establishment, which immediate-
ly uttered a whine of lamentation. On Lord Eldon's desiring that they
should be allowed to accompany him, the gamekeeper respectfully
remonstrated, saying, they would destroy all chance of sport. ' Oh,
never mind,' answered his kind-hearted master, ' let them go, poor
things ; it is a pity they should not have the enjoyment.' '

Lord Eldon told his niece, Mrs. Forster, that Lord Stowell, who
never was a sportsman, being asked what his brother, Lord Eldon,
who was very fond of shooting, usually killed when he was at En-
combe, answered, "Nothing but time."

Toward the close of his stay at Encombe, in 1829, he wrote several
letters to his grandson ; and in one of them, written during a fit of
gout which had confined him for some days to the house, he says, "I
shot yesterday fourteen rabbits and a hare." This looked a little
strange from a man who could not set foot to ground. But the next
line explains that he had performed this feat by deputy, to wit, by his


gamekeeper ; and he justifies his claim to the credit of the game
killed, by adding, " Qui facit per aliurn, facit per se." The gout
continued importunate for some days longer, but even in pain he had
always kind thoughts of his friends. He writes to his grandson,

" Pray be so good as to let me know how Oliver Fanner is!* I am bound to inquire
after him, he is so good-tempered, and always so kind to us. I wish his gout was as
mild as mine."

Mr. Morton Pitt, when he sold Encombe to Lord Eldon, held out,
as one of its advantages, that the principal turnpike road in the Isle
of Purbeck, the road by Kingston Hill, passed near it; but afterwards,
having parted with all his estate in that neighbourhood and bought
property in Swanage, he tried hard, under the plea of a shorter cut,
to get the main road carried away from Kingston Hill in a direction
by which Swanage would be more accommodated, enforcing his object
on the public mind by long printed letters. Lord Eldon thought this
attempt an unfair one. He alludes to it in a note to Lady F. J. Bankes,
not dated, but written apparently about the beginning of November,

"Sunday Morning.

"Our affections to Mr. Bankes. Tell him his friend at Swanage is continuing the
trade of authorship, and, as Hannibal reduced the Alps by vinegar, seems determined
to break down Kingston Hill by the application of ink. What a strange thing it is
that the Pitt family never found out that there was a hill of tremendous steep acclivity
and that the road from Corfe to Swanage would be much shorter in its present
intended course than it was through Kingston and Langton, till they left Encombe,
and Eldon came there! But nothing astonishes me much."

The part which Lord Eldon had taken, in the session of 1829,
against the admission of the Roman Catholics to political power,
procured for him innumerable marks of respect and confidence from
those who saw in that measure, as tie did, an ill omen for the Church
of England. Among those indications of feeling was an address from
the clergy of York and of the West Riding of Yorkshire : a testimo-
nial the more grateful to him, because, as he was known to have
given up the prospect and even the wish of returning to his former
office, no views of preferment were likely to have influenced the
subscribers. In his letter of thanks, addressed to the clergyman who
brought it to London, he says :

"03a Nov., 1829.

"I cannot express the satisfaction with which I have received this testimony of the
approbation of those whose approval of my public conduct I must ever consider as
a most valuable proof that a body of persons, entitled to the highest respect, have
considered that conduct as establishing that I have intended to act as a faithful ser-
vant to the king, and as a friend of my country. That the apprehension that the
interests of the Established Church and the State are brought into danger may eventu-
ally prove to be ill-founded, cannot but be the anxious wish of every friend to the
country. Such I profess to be my most anxious wish. But, not being able to remove

Online LibraryHorace TwissThe public and private life of Lord Chancellor Eldon, with selections from his correspondence (Volume 2) → online text (page 34 of 65)