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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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from the ground, the bishop looked at the people, who had ranged
themselves quietly and respectfully round the railing and the walls of
the churchyard, and asked me whether he should say a few words to
them of Lord Eldon, whom he supposed to have been often at church
there. I write them down from memory:

" ' My Friends,

" ' You have, this evening, witnessed the consecration of a piece of ground, destined
to be the burial place of a great and good man, who has lived among you, who has
for many years supported the laws and liberties of your country wiih firm and unde-
viating integrity. Having deposited here the mortal remains of the companion of
his life, the beloved object of his constant affection and attention, he would that here
also his own ashes should repose. Long may it be yet before he shall come to lie
here but, in the mean time, you will hold sacred a spot which he has chosen to be
the place of interment: and many will, even now, come to look at the future grave of
Lord Eldon. For you who have so often seen him, coming to worship God with you
in his village church, I have only to bid you, remember this, and lead such good
and holy lives yourselves, as may (through His grace) fit and prepare you for the
hour of death and the day of judgment: and so, good bye to you all !' "

Lord Eldon, under this heavy blow, abandoned himself to no un-
manly dejection, but sought the earliest possible respite from private
sorrow in the performance of his public duties. On the 19th of July,
only three weeks after his loss, he gave the benefit of his experience
to the House of Lords upon a question relating to the removal of a
magistrate from the commission of the peace.

Again, on the 23d of August, with reference to an apology made
by Lord Chancellor Brougham for his absence from the House of
Lords, on the plea of evening sittings in the Court of Chancery to
clear the arrears there,

Lord Eldon stated the rule as to the chancellor's duty to the House of Lords. He
had no doubt that Lord Brougham had been very usefully employed; but he must
say, that according to the standing orders of their lordship's House, the paramount
duty of the lord chancellor was to be in his place there during the sittings of their
lordships : and there were many precedents of refusal to permit a chancellor's
attendance elsewhere during those sittings.


A new Reform Bill had been introduced by ministers into the House
of Commons on the 24th of June, and was proceeding there amidst
the same excitement which had marked the progress of the former

(Extracts of three Letters from Lord Eldon to Lord Stowell.)

"August 4th, 1831.

" The firmness of the speaker,* in prevailing upon the House, in two instances, to
reject petitions praying the House forthwith to decide in favour of the Reform Bill,
(the second being from the Birmingham Unions,) and to lose no more time in
debating, produced, at the great meeting of the livery of London, a vote in the
negative against the livery pressing any such petitions, together with its being
likely that petitions would have been presented by other bodies, praying the House
to be firm in the discharge of their duties."

"August 5th, 1831.

"The work of mischief is going on, the House of Commons disfranchising and
enfranchising every night, but, in a manner abominable; majorities, by votes without
a word said, deciding against arguments, which they neither can nor attempt to

" Mr. Hobhouse, on Wednesday night, held a language respecting the House of
Lords, if they dared to oppose the bill, which, I think, has confirmed that House in
determination, at all risk to its members, to resist, and throw out the bill. It has
awakened the members of the House of Lords to a conviction that their existence
depends upon their firmness."

(Postmark August 16th, 1831.)

"The ministers are themselves proposing to destroy, by many alterations, that
which was to be 'the bill, the whole bill, and nothing but ike bill,-' and it is now, the
bill, not the whole bill, and almost any thing but the bill, somewhat better in some
points and worse in others."

Toward the close of this month of August, Lord Eldon yielded to
the strong impulse of indulging his grief in a visit to the burial-place
of his wife. He left London on Saturday the 27th, slept at South-
ampton, and reached Encombe on the Sunday. Early on the Monday
morning he wrote thus to his brother :

(Lord Eldon to Lord Stowell.)

"Encombe, Monday, (29th August, 1831.)
" Dear Brother,

" I arrived here last night. My first approach to this place, so often the scene of
great happiness in former days, has, at present, most deeply and painfully affected me.
I shall have many trials during my short stay here, which I know not how to bear.
I have, however, designedly exposed myself to this present state of suffering, because,
some time or other, if I live, I must meet what I have at present exposed myself lo.

"I pray God, daily and incessantly, for all that can contribute to your health, com-
fort, and happiness, and am, with all possible affection,

" Yours, dear brother,


At a later hour of the same day, he again endeavoured to relieve
his feelings by communicating with his brother :

(Lord Eldon to Lord Stoweli)
" My dearest Brother,

"I write a short line, being unable to do more. I have this morning visited the
spot where the remains of my ever dear departed are deposited, and where, when
God pleases to summon me hence, I shall repose till the day of judgment. I have
been nervous, and in some degree hysterical, through the day, but am better this
evening. I have been constantly reproaching myself for not having attended the
funeral, and my mind has been ever at work in representing to me the spot, which I

* The present Viscount Canterbury.


have seen to-day, and the seeing of which, however painful to memory, is less so
than contemplation before having seen it. I am now satisfied from vision, that all
has been respectfully done that the sad occasion would admit of. I am sorry to
write you a melancholy letter, but I cannot help it. May God's best blessings ever
attend you. Yours, with all possible affection,


On the 8th of September, 1831, the coronation of King William IV.
and his queen took place in London. "That ceremonial," says the
present earl, " afforded to the late Queen of Hanover, then Duchess
of Cumberland, an opportunity of testifying her regard for Lord
Eldon, by appointing me to carry her coronet on its cushion of purple
velvet, in the procession to Westminster Abbey. The royal duchesses
wore their coronets on returning, and it then became the duty of those
who had carried them, to bring home the books of the coronation
service 011 the same cushions. Her royal highness, on arriving again
at her residence in St. James's Palace, desired me to retain her cushion
in remembrance of the day, and added, with a smile of meaning, that
Lady Encombe might find it useful."

This was an allusion to a marriage then shortly about to take place
between Lord Encombe and the Hon. Louisa Buncombe, daughter
of the late, and sister of the present Lord Feversham. It was an
union in every respect pleasing to Lord Eldon. There was nothing
unsuitable in the age, the rank, the fortune, of the contracting parties
upon politics, the great subject of Lord Eldon's thoughts and con-
versation, the opinions of the two families were almost, if not quite,
identical : and among the many attractions, mental and personal, which
distinguished the object of Lord Encombe's choice, her gentleness of
manner was peculiarly acceptable to a grandsire who had completed
his eightieth year.

"I have no recollection," says the present earl, "that before this
engagement, Lord Eldon ever expressed to me any wish that I should
marry, except on one occasion, when, during Lady Eldon's illness in
October, 1829, I was talking to him upon a favourite topic, that of
planting, and happened to mention that the gardener was about to sow
some remarkably large walnuts from a neighbouring farm of Mr. Cal-
craft's. Lord Eldon, without the slightest connection with the subject
that I could perceive, yet in a tone as of reply, said, ' Get a wife :
whatever her recommendations may be, at all events let her be a good
one.' I merely smiled and called back his attention to the subject of
the trees. Some years afterwards, I was mentioning these circum-
stances to Mr. Edward Bankes as furnishing a remarkable and an
unusual instance of absence of mind in Lord Eldon, when he sug-
gested, justly I believe, though my thoughts were originally too full
of my planting to perceive it, that this was no case of absence of mind,
but a hidden chain of ideas. My walnuts had reminded my grand-
father of the couplet,

'A spaniel, a wife, and a walnut-tree,
The more you beat them the better they be.' "

Lord Eldon returned to London from Encombe on the 10th of
September, and devoted himself assiduously to the business of the


House of Lords. On the 14th, Lord Grey, adverting to a motion
which had been made for the production of an opinion given to the
government by the king's advocate, acquainted the House that he had
obtained the consent of that officer to lay it on the table ; but begged
them to remark that this was a disclosure, to which government
acceded under particular circumstances and which was not to be
regarded as a precedent; the rule being, that the communications
between the crown and its law officers are to be deemed strictly con-

Lord Eldon rose to confirm this statement of the rule. He laid it down as unques-
tionable that the opinions of the law officers of the crown are altogether confidential
between them and the existing administration: and referred to the unauthorized dis-
closure of an opinion given by Sir Fletcher Norton, on which occasion that learned
person declared that he would never give another opinion in writing.

Lord Brougham's Bankruptcy Court Bill was now in progress
through the House of Lords. Lord Eldon's opinion of it appears to
have been intimated by him to the chancellor, in a letter on the subject
of the compensation to be assigned to Mr. Thurlow as holder of the
office for the execution of the statutes of bankrupts, which office the
reforms of Lord Brougham were about to abolish. The following
passages are extracts from a draft of that letter, found among Lord
Eldon's papers : its precise date does not appear.

( Lord Eldon to the Lord Chancellor Brougham.) (Extract.)
"Dear Lord Chancellor,

" Mr. Thurlow has called upon me, probably considering me the only surviving
friend of Lord Chancellor Thurlow, to whom Mr. Thurlow, in common with all who
have attended to the history of persons in our profession during fifty years, know that
I have been indebted for very much that is valuable in the course of that period."

(The letter, after reserving to Mr. Thurlow the ground of right,
goes on thus:)

"You are probably aware, also, without my mentioning it, that my humble opinion
is, that the proposed change in the administration of law in matters of bankruptcy is
a change that ought not to be adopted. And it seems respectful to you here to men-
tion, that, if it becomes necessary, I shall be obliged, as at present advised, however
reluctantly, to express that such is my opinion. I am aware that that opinion will
now have little weight.

"The grants, that appear to have been made from time to time of this office, bear
date at different periods, from the 14th James I., grants, by different sovereigns, to
the families of chancellors, at different period.

"The grant under which Mr. Thurlow claims, bears date in November, 1792, the
immediately antecedent grant being made to one of Lord Cowper's family, and one of
Lord Hardwicke's.

" It will be found, I believe, to be a fact, that before the time of Lord Loughborough,
there was no retiring pension for a chancellor. Lord Thurlow had no pension.
Loughborough should have provided a better retiring pension for a chancellor, unless,
like Lord Eldon, a chancellor happened to hold the office insufferably long.

"Lord Camden was very fortunate being chancellor not I think four years com-
plete. His family was provided for by a grant of a tellership of the Exchequer,
when it was a most extremely valuable office. After a considerably long enjoyment
of it as such, he* very handsomely gave up the excess of the old profits above the
modern profits of the present day; but before that took place, he had held it, at the
original great value, I think, for many years.

"There seems to have been an understanding, that whenever Lord Thurlow quitted
the chancellorship, he should have a tellership with the then usual benefits of it,

* Not Lord Chancellor Camden, but his son.


great and ample as they were; and I think I remember Mr. Fox saying in the House
of Commons, that he ought to have that, if he would declare that he had bargained
for it. Such a declaration Thurlow refused to make. Whatever the fact was, he
could not avow that he had made a bargain. He had no pension : and as the peerage
and title was, by a re-grant, to be extended to his brother's family, he granted the office
of bankruptcy, as his predecessors had done, to two of his family; of whom Mr. Thur-
low is the survivor, and now in possession of the office."

(The draft, which is a very long one, then proceeds to state the
circumstances of Lord Thurlow's surviving family ; and after quoting
various precedents of liberal compensation upon abolitions of offices,
and recommending the principle of such compensations upon public
grounds, it concludes with these words:)

" Again let me ask your indulgence, if I am misled by a grateful recollection of the
first Lord Thurlow's kindness to me."

On the 20th of September, when the bill was about to be re-com-

Lord Eldon said he thought it necessary, that before a change so extensive and
violent was made, the subject should be referred to a committee. His opinion in
some degree coincided with Lord Brougham's in respect to the patronage of the great
seal. The services of chancellors could not be adequately compensated by mere
wages, and it was not fit that, after they quitted the woolsack, they should be left, in a
state of destitution. Upon this point, his own opinion was confirmed by the opinions
of Lord Somers and Mr. Burke. He insisted on the importance of filling up thecom-
missionerships which this bill created, from the Equity bar. The chief discussions
in bankruptcy turned upon matters of equity: and those, whose whole professionallife
had been directed to the consideration of such subjects, were the most fitted to decide
upon them.

If Lord Eldon had lived to the present day, he would probably
have acknowledged the great benefit conferred on the public by this
bill of Lord Brougham, which was enacted as the 1st and 2d W. 3.
c. 56. Its two main principles, the commutation of the old lists of
commissioners into fixed tribunals, and the appointment of official
assignees, have so facilitated the dispatch of business and the re-
covery of dividends, that hardly any desirable object is now uneffected
in the administration of bankruptcy.

The second Reform Bill having passed the House of Commons,
was read a first time in the House of Lords on the 22d of September,
1831, without debate, but with a studied solemnity, and in the pre-
sence of a great concourse of members of the House of Commons, who
crowded the bar. This seems, from the following letter, to have been
a premeditated piece of effect.

(Lord Eldon to Lord Siowell.)

"Thursday, (Sept. 22d, 1831.)

"The Reform Bill passed the Commons at a late hoar this morning for it, 345,
against it, 236 majority, 109.

"I presume we shall have it brought up with as much pomp and ceremony of
attending members of the House of Commons as may be, this day, when the day pro-
posed for the second reading in the House of Lords will be fixed. The majority in
the House of Commons is, as nearly as possible, such as from the beginning has been

The Marquis of Westminster (formerly Lord Grosvenor), having
asked, on the 26th of September, in presenting a petition in favour
of the Reform Bill, why their lordships should interfere with that
which most peculiarly belonged to the other House of Parliament,


Lord Eldon said, that so far from thinking that the peers of England had no interest
in this question, he was ready^o maintain that the country would have no constitution
left to it, if the peers of England had no interest in such a question as this. The
proposition that the peers of England had no interest in this question, was the most
absurd one that had ever been uttered or propounded there or elsewhere. He hoped
and believed, that when that question came to be discussed by their lordships, they
would do their duty fearlessly and manfully, and at the hazard of all the consequences.
He should be utterly ashamed of himself, if, at his time of life, he should give way
to the imputation of being prevented by fear from doing his duty. He would dis-
charge his duty with regard to it, because he believed that in it were involved, not
only their lordships' interests, but the interests of the throne.

A little later in the same day, on the third reading of the Plurality

Lord Eldon regretted that he had to call their lordships' attention to the fact, that
during the discussion of a measure so important, the lord chancellor was absent from
the woolsack, without the plea of indisposition, and contrary to the standing order.

The Plurality Bill having passed, and the standing order before
mentioned having been read, on the motion of the Marquis of Lon-

Lord Eldon repeated the doctrine which he had stated on the 23d of August. In
one instance, he said, a chancellor had pleaded as a reason for his absence, that he had
been sent for by the sovereign; but the House voted that this was no sufficient reason,
and that it was his paramount duty to be in attendance there.

On the following day, Lord Chancellor Brougham, upon a question
formally put to him, defended his absence, on the ground that he had
gone into the country to recruit his health, after very severe labour:
and then

Lord Eldon insisted on the necessity that chancellors, when absent, even for justifi-
able cause, should give notice to the deputy speaker of that absence, and of the cause
of it. When that absence was necessary, some one of the most eminent judges of
Westminster Hall should perform the duties of speaker. He thought that after what
had passed, this conversation should be suffered to drop: but he would not let the next
session pass, without submitting some provision against the inconvenience com-
plained of.*

The 1st of October was the day fixed for Lord Encombe's marriage.
Lord Eldon felt the deepest interest in this union ; but after the afflic-
tion he had himself so lately sustained, he could not muster sufficient
spirits to attend the ceremony in person, although it was solemnized
in London. The two following are the notes addressed by him
on the eve of the wedding-day, to the bride's father and the bride-
groom :

(Lord Eldon to Lord Feversham.')

"My dear Lord,

"Though probably Encombe will have explained to you the circumstances which
cause my absence from the ceremony which is to take place to-morrow, I feel an
extreme anxiety to assure you and Lady Feversham, that that absence is occasioned
only by the fact that my mind is distressed beyond what lean represent, by a dissolu-
tion of that union between myself and the departed, which had existed for nearly sixty
years, of the same nature as that union, which I trust and believe will produce happi-
ness, and may it long, very long, produce it! to the parties who are to enter to-morrow
upon the state of husband and wife. I confide in your kindness to accept, and to offer
to Lady Feversham and the family, my apologies. I am, my dear lord,
Very faithfully, and with great regard and respect,

"Yours, ELDOS."

* Lord Eldon does not appear to have ever executed this intention.


(Lord Eldon to Lord Encombe.}
"Dear Encombe,

" The fausta ac felicia to you, and yours who is to be to-morrow! God bless you
both. My head aches much to-day: my heart rejoices on your account to-morrow.
Yours, most affectionately. My love to the young Louisa.

"Ever affectionately yours,


The marriage took place accordingly, to the great happiness of all
parties ; but its first fortnight was nearly disturbed by a very unro-
mantic interruption. A call of the House had been moved by Mr.
O'Connell, and postponed by him from day to day, that the pendency
of it might keep members in town ; and these postponements had been
repeated so often, that Lord Encombe thought he might safely, on the
completion of his marriage, leave town with his bride. After their
departure, the pending call was given up by Mr. O'Connell and
adopted by Lord Ebrington, on whose motion it was actually enforced
on Monday the 10th, Lord Encombe being absent. In the common
course of things, he would have been in the custody of the serjeant-
at-arms ; but the House appears to have known and given credit for
the cause of his absence : for when his name was called upon the roll
of defaulters, there was a good-humoured laugh which seemed to say
it would be too much to disquiet a honeymoon by an arrest : and so,
with a kind of general connivance, the name was allowed to pass.

The debate in the House of Lords, on the second reading of the
Reform Bill, began on Monday the 3d of October. Next morning
Lord Eldon wrote this account of the discussion to his grandson :

(Lord Eldon to Lord Encombe.} (Extract.)
" My dear Encombe, (Oct. 4th, 1831.)

" Accept my kindest thanks for your letter this moment received. I repeat to you
and I beg you will state, on my behalf, to the lady whom I have now the happiness
to call my granddaughter, my heart's best wishes for the felicity of both.

" I got to bed about a quarter before three, much fatigued, and oppressed beyond
measure with the heat of the house, and my head is in a bad state this morning.

" My own conjecture is, that our debates will not terminate before Thursday even-
ing. It may, however, be, that they will finish on Wednesday.

" Lord Grey spoke very well, but his speech, I thought, betrayed an opinion that
he would be in a minority.

" Wharncliffe did very well, but made a sad mistake in moving that the bill be
'rejected;' a word that seemed to many to be too strong as to a bill passed by the
Commons, and a great deal of time was spent in getting the House to agree to change
what he had moved into a motion ' that the bill be taken into consideration on that
day six months.'

"Lord Mansfield spoke most ably and admirably against the bill.

"Lord Mulgrave acted his part tolerably,

Then we all retired. My head is painful. I hate the sight of food. All seem to think
the bill will be lost."

The adjourned debate on the Reform Bill continued on the 4th and
5th of October. A petition having been presented against it on the
5th, some observations were made, imputing a breach of the peace to
an assembly then lately held by the Political Union of Birmingham.
It was stated that an orator, in addressing that body, had recommended
it to them, should the Reform Bill be rejected by the Lords, to refuse
the payment of taxes : that he had called on those present, who would


support this resolution, to hold up their hands : and that thereupon
"a forest of hands were held up, amidst an immense cheer." The
lord chancellor,

Lord Brougham, having declared, that all those hands might have been held up and
yet he could not say that there was any breach of the king's peace or any offence
that the law knew how to punish,

Lord Eldon said he should be ashamed of himself if, after living so long in his
profession, he did not now offer a few words. He fully admitted that a meeting was not
answerable for the declarations of an individual; but if, by holding up their hands or
in any other way, the meeting had endangered the peace of the country, he knew no
reason for believing that they had not made themselves responsible to the laws. As
a lawyer, he would ask the Chief Justice of the King's Bench (Lord Tenterden),and
the late Chief Justice of the Common Pleas (Lord Wynford), whether, if those hands
could be proved to have been held up in the manner described, every individual so

Online LibraryHorace TwissThe public and private life of Lord Chancellor Eldon, with selections from his correspondence (Volume 2) → online text (page 37 of 65)