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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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that apprehension from my mind, I must continue to regulate my conduct with re-
spect to the Established Church and the State, as far as it is now possible, by the same
principles as have hitherto governed my conduct. May I take the liberty to request
you, sir, to communicate the substance of this letter in such manner, as you may think
most proper and most respectful, to the clergymen who have signed the address, as I
know not how to act for that purpose, but by writing to you, who did me the honour

* Brother of the Master in Chancery.


to bring the address to Hamilton Place. I regret that my absence prevented my pay-
ing my respects to you personally when you were in town. I am, sir, with much
respect, Your obliged servant,


The present earl relates, that, from the same feeling which had
influenced the clergy of Yorkshire, several persons totally uncon-
nected with him named their children after him. When such com-
munications were made to him, he would reply, in obliging and
suitable terms, in a manner of which the following may be taken as
an instance. The letter is addressed to John Jn. Butler, Esq., 17
Amiens Street, North Strand, Dublin :

(Franked Corfe Caslle, September 27th, 1S29.)
" Sir,

"I thank you for the favour of your letter, which I received here two days ago.

"I hope my young namesake will be, hereafter, as anxious as I have been, to form
just opinions with respect to the demands which the country has upon all that belong
to it; and that he may succeed in avoiding any errors, into which I may have fallen,
however anxiously I have endeavoured to ascertain what is right, and to act accord-
ing to what has appeared to me to be right. Wishing him all happiness in future
life. I am, sir, Your most obedient servant,


Lord Eldon had the gratification likewise, both before and after
this final struggle with the Roman Catholics, of receiving municipal
freedoms and other testimonials of public approbation from many
important corporations, such as those of the cities of Bristol, Cork,
Exeter, Dublin and the Merchant Tailors' Company of London. A
specimen of the manner in which he acknowledged these tributes
will be found hereafter, in his letter to the Mayor of Exeter, under
the date of September, 1834.



House of Lords : Welsh judicature: Production of opinions of law officers : state of
the nation. Letter from Lord Eldon to LordStowell. Hastings' Estate Bill: Lord
Eldon's continuing influence in the legal business of the House of Lords. Eldon
Law Scholarship. Bill to constitute equity judge. Demise of George IV. Debate
on provision for the contingency of an infant sovereign Forgery Bill: Scotch Jury
Bill : East Retford Bill. King William IV. and Lord Eldon. Dissolution : unfa-
vourable feeling towards the ministry. Letters of Lord Eldon to Lady F. J. Bankes>
Lord Encombe and LordStowell. Reported overtures to Lord Palmerston. Meet-
ing of Parliament. Ministers defeated on the civil list: dissolution of the duke's
government: formation of Earl Grey's.

LORD ELDON took part in the business of the House of Lords on
several occasions during the year 1830. On the 25th of February,
when a petition was presented against the projected alteration of the
Welsh judicature,

He expressed his disapprobation of the proposal, on this among other grounds, that
the Welsh circuit courts, as then constituted, with an equitable as well as a legal
judicature, brought home the administration of equity to the doors of the inhabitants
of the principality, and this so satisfactorily, that in twenty-five years he remembered
only one appeal : whereas the new arrangement would force all Welsh suits in equity
to the metropolis.

Lord Clanricarde having asked, on the same evening, for the pro-
duction of an opinion, given to the crown by its law officers on the
affairs of Portugal, and quoted by the Duke of Wellington in a recent

Lord Eldon supported the Duke of Wellington and the chancellor in resisting the
request. Considering, however, that the opinions of the law officers must necessarily
have an influence with the House, he thought that, as they could not be produced by
the ministers, the ministers ought not to quote them.

Later in the same evening, upon Lord Stanhope's motion for a
committee to inquire into the internal state of the country, then labour-
ing under extreme distress, Lord Eldon again addressed the House,
condemning the language employed in the king's speech, and censur-
ing the tone of the ministers ; but as these topics were of a temporary
nature, the repetition of them here would hardly interest the reader.
The same observation is applicable to the greater part of his speech
of March the 18th, in support of the Duke of Richmond's motion for
a committee on the condition of the working classes and the effect of

The following extracts, from a letter to Lord Stowell, will show the
uneasiness with which Lord Eldon now contemplated the state of


public affairs. It is not dated, but appears to have been written
shortly after the meeting of the French Chambers, about April, 1830.

(Lard Eldon to Lord SloweU.")- (Extract.)
"My very dear Brother,

" Of Lady Eldon I have better hopes than I have had for the last four years vast
as is that space of time which is gone by, at her age.

" It is impossible to contemplate what is passing, and to which you refer, without
apprehensions of a very serious kind. What is so passing is a renewal of a more
frightful kind than the prospects of 1791, 2, 3, 4 and 5. The occurrences of those
days, involving the crown as well as the Houses of Parliament, by express mention,
in revolutionary projects the language 'No King' gave a treasonable character
to the proceedings of that era, which enabled government to deal with it by law. This
is now, in their revolutions, and declarations, and petitions, carefully avoided; and
the proceedings of this day, therefore, are more difficult to be dealt with, because
more difficult to be met by the existing laws. They are, of course, more dangerous.
The sacrifice, too, of the Test Act, and the passing of the Roman Catholic Emancipa-
tion Bill, to the intimidation effected by the unpunished the rewarded threats, of
the Irish Association of O'Connell and Co., have established a precedent so dangerous,
so encouraging to the present attempts at revolution under name of Reform, that he
must be, in my judgment, a very bold fool, who does not tremble at what seems to be
fast approaching.

"Look, too, at France. The ministers beat in the Chamber, on the first day, by a
very considerable majority ! What the Duke of Wellington will do, I pretend not to
guess. What will be said now about the fact that all the occasional laws against
sedition have been suffered to expire? Heaven save us now! for in man there is no
sufficient help. Yours, in very low spirits,


Though his political position was no longer a commanding one, his
influence with the peers upon legal subjects was undiminished. There
was an instance of this during the session of 1830, upon a private
bill respecting the estates of the Marquis of Hastings. It was pre-
sented to the House of Lords by Lord Eldon himself, during whose
chancellorship a former bill had passed in 1826, relating to the same
estates ; and he now came down to the committee to support the prin-
ciple of the bill, and to advise that, under the circumstances of the
particular case, the committee should recommend it to the House to
dispense with the standing orders, none of which the promoters of
the bill had complied with. Mr. Preston, the celebrated conveyancer,
was in readiness to give the necessary explanations ; but Lord Eldon
having briefly opened the object of the bill, with an intimation of
his own opinion that it was justified by general principle, and that its
circumstances required the suspension of the standing orders, the
peers present, who were unusually numerous, at once said: "Since
your lordship is satisfied, the committee is satisfied, and there is no
occasion at all to trouble counsel." They reported in favour of the
dispensation, 24th of May, 1830, and the orders were dispensed with
accordingly. Now, of course, some allowance must be made for the
natural disinclination of their lordships to hear a long argument fibout
the bearing of the standing orders, and the technicalities of convey-
ancing, even from so profound a lawyer as Mr. Preston (by whose
kindness this anecdote is furnished :) but, at least, it was a strong
recognition of Lord Eldon's legal supremacy, to accept his single
opinion in full of all the customary precautions of the House.

In the month of May, 1830, the subscription which had been opened


in the preceding year for the Eldon testimonial amounted to almost
7SOO/., of which, after all expenses were deducted, a clear sum of
7562/. remained applicable to the object of the subscription.*

It has since received still further additions, and, at the end of 1843,
it consisted of 873S/. consols, and 350/. cash.

Lord Lyndhurst, whose bill of the preceding year, for facilitating
the disposal of suits in equity by means of an additional judge, had
failed from the lateness of the season, introduced, in the present ses-
sion, another bill having a similar object.

On the motion for the third reading, 26th of May, Lord Eldon repeated his opinion
that the appointment of a new judge might be dispensed with by due recourse to the
Court of Exchequer and to a commission of assistance, composed of a puisne baron
and two masters in Chancery: setting great value upon the masters, who disposed, he
said, of more questions of importance in the course of the year than any of the puisne
barons. Therefore, until the decision of the legislature upon the then pending pro-
posal for the appointment of an additional judge in each of the common law courts,
which, if executed, would make one of the Exchequer barons available forequity.and
thus render it unnecessary to appoint the additional judge whom this bill proposed to
constitute, he would rather postpone the consideration of the present bill; and he
moved that its third reading should take place on that day fortnight.

This amendment was negatived, on a division, by 11 against 4,
and the bill w r ent down to the Commons, where it was strongly op-

* At a general meeting of the subscribers, held at the Thatched House Tavern, on
the 12th of May, 1830, the Duke of Richmond being in the chair, a series of resolu-
tions were passed, of which the following are the most material:

That it appears to this meeting, that a testimonial at once creditable to the sub-
scribers and honourable to the Earl of Eldon, would be the establishment of an Eldon
Law Scholarship at Oxford, thereby recording Lord Eldon's connection with the pro-
fession of the law, and with the university of which he was so distinguished an
ornament; and at the same time conferring a real benefit, as well as a distinction,
upon meritorious individuals who may have to struggle with difficulties in the early
part of their professional career.

That the candidates be Protestants of the Church of England and members of the
University of Oxford, who, having passed their examination for the degree of Bachelor
of Arts, shall have been rated in the first class in one branch at least of examination,
or shall have gained one of the chancellor's prizes, and who shall intend to follow
the profession of the law.

That the trustees, at a meeting at which not less than five shall be present, shall
select one of these candidates, and that the election take effect from the 4th of June,
being Lord Eldon's birth-day.

That the trustees shall pay a sum not exceeding 200/. per annum, for three years,
to each Eldon scholar, by which time he may be called to the bar; that the payment
be made half-yearly, and that the scholar must produce proof that he has regularly
kept his terms at one of the Inns of Court, or that he has been prevented by such ill-
ness as the trustees consider to justify and require a departure from this rule.
That upon the death or resignation of an Eldon scholar, or upon his failing to keep
his terms as above provided, the trustees shall withhold their payments, and shall
elect another scholar.

That whenever, and as often as, by accumulation, by donations which have not
yet been received, but which may be expected, or by bequests, the sum in the hands
of the trustees shall be increased, so as to afford the means of establishing an ad-
ditional scholarship of equal value, the trustees shall elect another scholar upon,
similar conditions.

That the entire management of the funds and the arrangement of all details, be left
to the trustees.

That the Right Hon. Lord Tenterden, Lord Chief Justice of England, be requested
to accept the office of visitor to this foundation, and that whenever a vacancy shall
occur, the trustees shall appoint another visitor, who must be a Protestant of the
Church of England.


posed, and ultimately abandoned by reason of the premature termina-
tion of the session, consequent upon the demise of the crown.

Although the official career of Lord Eldon had finally closed in the
year 1827, he now saw, with much regret and sympathy, the decay
in the constitution of King George IV., who, for many years, had
distinguished him not only with his political, but with his personal
favour. At the end of May, 1830, the pain and weakness under which
his majesty laboured had made it necessary to pass an act of Parlia-
ment allowing the substitution of a stamp for his manual signature, in
the case of those documents which, by common law, required the
sign manual. In the following month the progress of dropsy became
rapid : and on Saturday, the 26th of June, the king expired.

King William IV., on succeeding to the crown, sent a message to
Parliament, in the latter part of which he recommended that provision
should be made for the public service in the interval that might elapse
between the close of that session and the meeting of another Parlia-
ment. When this part of the message was brought under the con-
sideration of the House of Lords on the 30th of June, Lord Grey
moved an adjournment, in order that time might be afforded for
deliberating upon the best way of providing for the possible demise
of the crown before the assembling of the new Parliament, in which
event an infant sovereign would succeed to the throne.

Lord Eldon supported the motion. The ministers, he said, might like to have an
infant sovereign, a little king or queen that one might play with: if he were a prime
minister, there was nothing he should like more. But surely some provision ought
to be made beforehand for the administration of the government in a manner less ob-
jectionable than by the direct agency of a child of tender years. If an infant sovereign
were to be on the throne, whose head could not be seen over the integument which
covered the head of his noble and learned friend on the woolsack, he would, by what
the Scotch called a fiction of law, and by what the English called presumption, in
favour of a royal infant, be supposed to have as much sense, knowledge and experi-
ence, as if he had reached the years of threescore and ten; but admitting the truth of
the supposition in a constitutional sense, was it unreasonable to ask that there should
be some party acting for the sovereign, during what might be termed his natural,
though not his political, minority? But there were other cases for which it was the
duty of Parliament to make some provision, and he admitted the prudence of con-
sidering that to which a noble earl (Harrowby) had adverted, the possibility of a
successor to the throne, though not yet visible, being in existence at the demise of
the crown. There must, then, be a real or a phantom king, and it was just the same
in principle whether this little king was not able to speak or walk, or whether he was
only in venire so. mere. To prevent the difficulty to which this would give rise, re-
course should be had to the authority of a sovereign, who was really, as well as con-
stitutionally, able to exercise the prerogatives of the throne.

The motion for adjournment was negatived.

July was a busy time in the House of Lords. Among the bills
sent up from the House of Commons, was one on the subject of
forgery, containing a clause which went to abolish capital punish-
ment for the forgery of negotiable securities, stock transfers, or stock
receipts. On the 1st of July, the chancellor having moved the
omission of this clause,

Lord Eldon expressed his concurrence in the proposal of the noble and learned
lord. This was not an offence to be treated lightly. In very many instances, it
would be committed only by some person in whom the injured party placed the fullest
confidence. If noble lords would look to the public stocks, they would see how easy


it was to commit a forgery and abscond, and how all but impossible, when the criminal
was once out of reach, to lay hold of him again.

The amendment was carried ; but the session closed before the
alteration thus made in the bill could be considered in the House
of Commons.

Some discussion took place on the 12th of July, when Lord Chan-
cellor Lyndhurst moved the second reading of a bill for the introduc-
tion of trial by jury into the proceedings of the Court of Sessions in

Lord Eldon wished to have the measure postponed with a view to a more mature
consideration of it. After pointing out several objections to the bill, he said he had
derived one great consolation from reading it : for, by one of its clauses, he found it
to be taken for granted, though not positively enacted, that his learned friend, the
Right Hon. William Adam, was to live three years longer. Thus, as he and his
learned friend were of much the same age, he had parliamentary authority for ex-
pecting that he himself had three years longer to live.

This bill appears to have been lost by the prorogation of Parliament
in the succeeding week.

The bill for the disfranchisement of East Retford was frustrated by
the same cause. When it was discussed on the 19th of July, Lord
Eldon opposed it, on the same grounds on which he had resisted the
disfranchisement of Stockbridge, Grampound and other boroughs.

King William the Fourth had been of all the royal family the least
known to Lord Eldon. The aged earl, a year or two before his own
death, told Mr. Farrer that he had never conversed with King William
but twice, adding : "I went with Dr. Gray, the late Bishop of Bristol,
to present an address. After it had been presented, as I was passing,
the king stopped me and said, ' My lord, political parties and feelings
have run very high, and I am afraid I have made observations upon

your lordship which now' 1 immediately said, 'I entreat your

majesty's pardon, a subject must not hear the language of apology
from the lips of his sovereign' and passed on."

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

(July, 1830.)

" Our lord the king came to the chapel royal yesterday, to take the sacrament, as
the proof that he is in communion with the Established Church. He took great pains
to secure the attendance of the archbishops, and laid his wishes before, if not com-
mands upon, them, to bring all the bishops they could muster.


"All the world here is engaged about elections and contests, of which it is said
there will be a vast many, and I hear that seats in the next Parliament are very high-
priced indeed much beyond any price in former parliaments. So much for corrup-
tion !"

Before the death of George IV., Lord Eldon had entered his 80th
year ; but was still robust and hale enough to take exercise on foot.
One day, soon after the commencement of the new reign, he was
walking in St. James's Street, where a crowd had gathered to see the
carriages of some gentlemen, going to the palace with an address.
Amidst the throng he felt the hand of a man in one of his pockets :
but as it luckily was not that which contained his purse, he contented
himself with the thief's disappointment, and, quietly turning to him,


said, " Ah ! my friend, you were wrong there : this other was the

Parliament was prorogued on the 23d of July: and on the follow-
ing day, dissolved by proclamation. The circumstances, accompany-
ing the general election, were of a character the most unfavourable
for the ministers. Their natural enemies, the Whigs, had resumed
the active hostility which, for a time, had been suspended by the
progress and accompaniments of the Roman Catholic measure : and
the Anti-Catholic party, who had never forgiven the duke and Mr.
Peel for that bill, were eager to mark their distrust and dislike. This
was the temper of parties at the dissolution : and before the elections
began, the public mind was thrown into a state of the most violent
excitement by that outbreak of the Parisian populace, which drove
Charles X. from the throne of France, and stimulated the malcontents
of all countries, by the unwonted spectacle of a mob prevailing against
a military force.

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

" 19th August, 1830.

" To get a thorough insight into the effect of the French Revolution here, you have
only to read the proceedings at meetings in London, and all that is stated in them.
It will require a master-head, such as Pitt had and nobody now has in this country,
to allay what is brewing, a storm for changes here, especially for reform in Parlia-
ment. Every body here seems to think that the borough members of Parliament
can scarcely be preserved until another Parliament. Such a change, considering
that the present system is the support of a floating aristocracy, must, if it takes place,
deeply affect the higher orders, and perhaps the monarchy itself. My head is full of
thought upon this subject. I care not who rules, provided our system of government
can be preserved."

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

" 21sl August, 1830.
" William Henry, who I find has been staying at Salt Hill, called here this morning.

"In his rides out from Salt Hill, he happened to meet our sovereign, the king, and
with him he dines to-morrow at Windsor Castle."

The precarious state of Lady Eldon's health in the autumn of 1830
having prevented the accustomed visit to Dorsetshire, Lord Eldon
remained with her in town, continuing to take a lively interest in the
stirring events of the time. He received morning visits from a few
of his friends, and amused himself with writing a good deal to his
grandson and his brother.

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

" 23.1 August, 1830.

"The Frenchmen are making, what can't long exist, a republican government,
with a king at the head of it. They will soon find that such things can't co-exist,
and revolution has not yet done its work in that country, I persuade myself. I fear
that, to a certain extent, it will do work here."

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

(Received Sept. 2d, 1830.)

" Calcraft called upon me yesterday. He told me that Polignac had been in pro-
gress through some part of France with the ex-king, and being in fright lest he should
be seized, though one of that party, he quitted it, and that mistake led to his being
laid hold of. He told me also that Marmont, who has been in London, has declared
that he had no reason to suppose that there was to be any such mischief as happened


in France, till the morning on which it happened, and he was in this state of igno-
rance though the person who xvas to command the military in Paris. That a minis-
try should think of measures so indefensible, and preparing no means calculated to
carry them into execution, is one of the most astonishing things that ever happened.
This French business has all possible bad effects here. It poisons the minds of multi-
tudes among the different orders in the country and town."

(Lord Eldon to Lord Encombe.) (Extract)

(Received Sept. 8th, 1830.)

"People here, as far as I can learn from the very, very few whom I see, are in a
state of consternation as to the events now taking place in Europe.


"Matters appear to me to be in a state far from settlement in France. In Spain,
revolution, civil war, is begun. In Portugal, it is said, it is not likely to be avoided.
In the Italian States there is a portentous grumbling. In Germany, in many parts of
it, a muttering. In Belgium there is what I call positive revolution: for when the

Online LibraryHorace TwissThe public and private life of Lord Chancellor Eldon, with selections from his correspondence (Volume 2) → online text (page 35 of 65)