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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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responding were not as much answerable for the language used, as the man who had
used it. "And I beg," said he, "to tell the noble and learned lord, with the greatest
respect, that his seat on the woolsack will not be a seat which any one can maintain
for six months, if the doctrines now circulated through the country, and placed every
morning under the review of every one, are suffered to be promulgated any longer.
That is my opinion; I alone am answerable for my opinions; and for this, I am pre-
pared to answer, at all hazards."

Instantly the lord chancellor rose, with the view, as he said, io prevent Lord Ten-
terden from answering Lord Eldon's question. If the matter were indictable, Lord
Tenterden, he observed, might be called upon to try it, and would therefore feel the
impropriety of at present delivering any opinion respecting the law as applicable to
the acts done.

In this view Lord Tenterden acquiesced.

The petition being disposed of, the House proceeded with the dis-
cussion on the second reading of the bill. The debate was again
adjourned. Lord Eldon gives a short sketch of it in his letter of the
next morning to his brother :
"Dear Brother, (Postmark Oct. 6th, 1831.)

"I got to bed last night about half past two much fatigued and overcome with
heat, &c.

" We had some excellent speakers Lord Dudley and Lord Haddington quite sur-
prised me. They spoke admirably against the bill.

'Lansdowne and Goderich spoke for it: in their speeches, however, rather con-
tending for going into a committee to amend and alter it, than for passing the bill in
its present shape. From all I can judge upon such information as I have, the bill
will be thrown out by a majority greater than I had, till yesterday, heard mentioned.

"As yet, none of the profession to which I belonged have spoken, and I suppose
the House will have enough of us before we have finished. Some think the vote will
take place on Friday, some on Saturday, and some on Monday; I can't conjecture on
which. God bless you.

"I am very weak. Yours ever affectionately,


On the evening of the 6th, before the adjourned debate,
Lord Eldon took the opportunity of a discussion upon a petition from Belfast against
the bill, to urge the un fitness of proceeding with the consideration of the measure pro-
posed for England, without a knowledge of what was intended to be done with Ireland
and Scotland; observing upon the extensive effect which a change in the representa-
tion of one part of the empire must produce upon the rest.

The debate on the second reading was, however, continued, and
again adjourned. Next morning he sent, as before, a short notice of
the night's proceeding to his brother :

"Friday, (October 7th, 1831.)
" Dear Brother,

" We have survived one more fatiguing night, passed in hearing some heavy,


some moderate, one most excellent speech, which surprised me, from Lord Carnarvon ,
and one, not very excellent, from Lord Plunkett, from whom I expected something
better. In the course of the evening, I tendered myself to the House ; but, Lord
Carnarvon stating his just pretensions to be heard, as he was too ill to hope to speak
at any other time, I was obliged to give way, and I was too ill to speak at a later
period of the night.

" We adjourned to five o'clock this evening, and, in case the debate does not finish
to-night, we are to attempt to finish it to-morrow, Saturday, by meeting at one o'clock
instead of five, and sitting till near twelve on to-morrow, Saturday, night; if we do
not then finish, the debate, I think, must conclude on Monday. At present I have all
the reason which, in such matters, we can have, to be confident that the bill will not
pass. Making new peers to pass it has been much talked of; but, unless our calcu-
lation of numbers is erroneous, and most grossly so, audacity itself could not venture
to attempt a sufficient supply of new peers.

" Yours most affectionately,

The debate was resumed on the 7th, and Lord Eldon then spoke
to the following effect :

My lords, if I did not feel it an incumbent duty on me, lean assure your lordships
I should have spared you, and not encountered the hazard and difficulty, which I feel
in addressing you, in consequence of my age, and of that infirmity which has been
occasioned in some degree by my constant attendance on this House. I well re-
member that on another question and I would take this opportunity of declaring,
before God and my country, that on that question I mean the Roman Catholic ques-
tion I took no part which I did not feel it my duty to take both to God and my
country but I very well remember that, at the period when that measure was under
discussion, I stated that it was probably the last opportunity of which I should ever
avail myself of addressing your lordships. I thought so at the time, and consi-
dering that I was then advanced to fourscore years, I had scarcely any right to ex-
pect to have been able again to address your lordships; but as the kind and indul-
gent providence of God has allowed me to continue in the enjoyment of a certain
degree of health for a short period longer, I am able again to take my seat in this
House. My lords, I was taunted for appearing again before your lordships, after
the declaration I had made; but I felt myself called upon by a sense of duty which
I could not resist, from the moment when my sovereign called me to a seat in this
House as long as my strength permitted me, to offer myself and my opinions to the
suffrages and approbation, or to the dissent and reprobation, of my fellow-subjects.
Doctrines have now been laid down with respect to the law of this country and its
institutions which I never heard of before, although I have spent a long life in con-
sidering what the law of this country is, and some time in considering how it might
be improved. Those considerations, my lords, have satisfied me that alterations
are not always improvements: but when I find it stated in the preamble of this bill,
that it is expedient that all the acknowledged rights of property, that all the rights
arising out of charters, that all the rights of close corporations, and the rights of
corporations which are not close, should be swept away, though it does come
recommended by the name of reform, I find it impossible to give it my assent. I do
not think this property can be taken away, and I never can consent to hear the prin-
ciple of expediency put forward as the justification of a measure, which is not con-
sistent with the principles of British law and of the British Constitution. I know,
my lords, and I am ready to agree, that there is a popular notion with respect to the
boroughs in this country, that they are not property but trusts. I say, my lords,
that they are both property and trusts. Those old-fashioned gentlemen, whose names
will be held in lasting remembrance after the delirium of this day shall have passed
away, I mean such men as my Lord Holt and my Lord Hale, what have they said
with respect to those unpopular things called boroughs? My lords, they said they
were both a franchise and a right. Now let me ask your lordships what is to be the
consequence with respect to property of any species whatever? for there is no pro-
perty in the country which is not accompanied with some trust for its due application.
Is it possible for any man to have the boldness to say that property is secure, when
we are sweeping away near one hundred boroughs, and almost all the corporations
in the country because we have a notion that those who are connected with ihem
have not executed their trust properly ? Will you not hear the individuals against
whom the allegation is made, as well as those who made it? Will you not hear the


matter argued in your presence, and allow the right of calling witnesses on whose
evidence you may decide! This new doctrine, I repeat, affects every species of
property which any man possesses in this country. I have heard, in the course of
the last two or three months, a good deal about close corporations. I will now say
that close corporations are hereditary rights, held by charter from the crown ; and
they have as good a right to hold their charters under the great seal, as any of your
lordships have to your titles and your peerages. I do not object to the courtesy of
creating peers on the occasion of the coronation. I should, on the contrary, be
happy to see individuals introduced to the House, if the members so created had not
already voted for the bill in the other House, and then come here to vote for it again :
and I should be still more happy to find that they did not vote at all on this question.
But there is a rumour abroad, that the opinion of this House is to be, somehow or
other, finally overruled. My lords, I do not credit it. I do not believe that the
noble earl, to whom I have been opposed throughout the whole course of my politi-
cal life honestly on my part, and honestly on his, because I know his opinions are
as honest as mine, I do not believe that that minister, whose name will be illustrious
in future generations, whatever may be the fate of this bill, will ever taint his cha-
racter by recommending a measure which means neither more nor less than what, if
you pass this bill, will be done in due time namely, to annihilate this House. With
respect to the proposition of his majesty's ministers, or any object connected with it,
I hope, before the lords of this House strip off their robes, they will let their sove-
reign know their sentiments. Now, my lords, let us suppose, for a moment, that
there are some corporations in which a few influential individuals elect the mem-
bers of Parliament. Has it ever been heard of in the history of this country, or will
it ever be heard of in the history of this country, that the lords of this House should
take upon themselves, on a bill stating it to be expedient to do so and so, to destroy
the constitution which has been preserved from age to age, and which it has never
been thought expedient to destroy until this experiment was proposed, that now you
are about to sweep away all the corporations in the kingdom, because they are close
and there may be abuses in them 1 My lords, let us take any objectionable borough,
any close corporation that can be named, and I will venture to say, that if your
lordships' House disfranchise one or other of them without calling in aid your legis-
lative or judicial functions, without hearing what objections are to be made to it, and
hearing its defence, such a proceeding goes further to abrogate a nation's privileges,
and to limit those of your lordship's House, than any other which I have ever known
to be proposed to Parliament My lords, I now come to one of the many considera-
tions which have influenced me in the humble opinion which I have formed on this
subject. I well remember, my lords, (although it is a long time ago, I have a perfect
recollection of it,) that I fought under the banners of no less a man than Mr. 'Fox in
the House of Commons, and feebly supported him against a proposition of this kind.
I had the honour of so fighting under Mr. Fox against my own political friends. I
was then what is now called a nomination-borough member; but I would not have
sat one moment in that House if I had not been at liberty to act upon my own opinions.
No man would have dared to ask me to sit in Parliament otherwise than upon that

The noble earl was proceeding, in a very low tone of voice, to describe the mode
in which the franchise had been originally acquired, and was endeavouring to show
that it first sprang up in the agricultural districts, and that it was intimately, if not
solely, connected with the land, when

The Earl of Oxford rose to express a regret that the noble earl confined his address
to those immediately about him, so that he and others on the ministerial side of the
House could scarcely catch an occasional sentence of what he said.

(Cries of " Order, order ! " " Lord Eldon is on his legs." Lord Rolle, the Marquis
of Salisbury, and others, rose to order, and a considerable period elapsed before the
noble earl could resume, after the Earl of Oxford had disclaimed all intention to
interrupt, saying he only wished the noble earl to raise his voice so that he might be
heard. The Earl of Eldon, resuming, said : )

A thousand other considerations, of enormous weight on my mind, might be added on
such a momentous occasion, without travelling into the details of minor objections : bat
I am not disposed to reiterate what has been in many cases so ably argued, or fatigue
the House. It is, I confess, my lords, an all-engrossing subject; and the bill will be
found, I fear from my soul, to go the length of introducing in its train, if passed, uni-
versal suffrage, annual parliaments, and vote by ballot. It will unhinge the whole
frame of society as now constituted. Will you then, my lords, consent to introduce


into the constitution a measure which is at war with the preservation of that constitu-
tion, and which is more particularly remarkable for being altogether incompatible
with the existence of a House of Lords. I, my lords, have nearly run my race in this
world, and must soon go to my Maker and my dread account. What I have said in.
this instance, in all sincerity, I have expressed out of my love to your lordships ; and
in that sincerity I will solemnly assert my heartfelt belief that, with this bill in opera-
tion, the monarchy cannot exist, and that it is totally incompatible with the existence
of the British Constitution.

The next day produced, as usual, its missive from Lord Eldon to
Lord Stowell:

'"Saturday (Oct. 8th, 1831.)
" Dear Brother,

" The debate began last night, continued till between six and seven this morning,
and I got to my bed about half-past seven, and left it about noon to-day, fatigued be-
yond all belief, bodily. You will see from the papers that our division was against
the second reading of the bill. The fate of the bill, therefore, is decided. Those for
the bill were 158, against it 199, leaving a majority of votes against the bill of 41 ;
which I have reason to believe, exceeded by one-half of what ministers thought it
would. I voted for you, by your proxy, against the bill.

" Those who spoke last night were, 1. Wynford; 2. Eldon; 3. the chancellor; 4.
Lyndhurst ; 5. Tenterden ; 6. the archbishop ; 7. Duke of Sussex ; 8. Duke of Glouces-
ter; 9. Marquis of Hastings; 10. Barham ; 11. Grey; 12. Wellington. Those I have
marked 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 8, and 12, against the bill; those I have marked 3, 7, 9, 10, 11,
for it.

"The night was made interesting by the anxieties of all present. Perhaps fortu-
nately, the mob would not on the outside wait so long, as it was, before lords left the
inside of the house. God bless you: I am very so so.

" Yours, ever affectionately,


The news of this rejection was received with joy in some quarters,
and with rage in others. The 8th of October, the day on whose
early morning the Reform Bill had been rejected, gave birth at Nor-
wich to a society of young tradesmen, called the Eldon Conservative
Club, of which Lord Eldon was patron till his death, and since that
period the present earl. At Nottingham, Derby, and other places,
the reformers rose, and in their zeal for pure government and free
opinions, demolished the windows, and, in some cases, even the entire
residences of the leading Conservatives. London itself was not left
without some striking commentaries on the theory of the constitution,
executed in a style a good deal severer than that of Blackstone or
De Lolme. On the 12th a mob assembled calling itself a procession
of parishes, and marched upon St. James's palace to present addresses
to the king. A large force assailed the houses of several noblemen,
not sparing even that of the great commander to whom they owed the
very liberties they were abusing. Lord Eldon appears to have had
a narrow escape.

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

" October 13th, 1831.

"Our day here yesterday was tremendously alarming. Very fortunately for me,
the immense mob of reformers (hardly a decent-looking man among them) proceeded,
first, to the Duke of Wellington's, and set about the work of destruction. This, after
some time, brought to this end of Piccadilly some hundreds of the police in a body;
and, the Blues coming up from the levee, the appearance of this large body of force
was a complete protection to me, dissipating the multitude that were a little higher up
Piccadilly. They had also probably heard that the soldiers had behaved with great
firmness in or near St. James's Square. The civil power being on the alert, and the


military being known to be ready, the night was passed, most unexpectedly, quiet
hereabouts; and now, I think, we have nothing to dread. Londonderry has been very
seriously hurt. We hear that the mob (but I cannot answer for the truth of it,) hanged
in effigy the Duke of Wellington and the Duke of Cumberland at Tyburn. The Duke
of Newcastle's house, Lord Bristol's, &c. &c. and other anti-reforming lords, have
been visited, and left without glass in their windows. All the shops in the town were
shut yesterday. The accounts from Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire, and other places
are very uncomfortable. I heard last night that the king was frightened by the ap-
pearances of people on the outside of St. James's. As to myself and my house, as
we have escaped the first night, I have no apprehensions at all now none.
"Some friends very urefully spread a report (not true, however), that there was a
large armed force stationed in my house."

The ministers, having resolved to repeat their experiment of a Reform
Bill in the ensuing winter, now hastened to close the session, which
was prorogued on the 20th of October ; and Lord Eldon took advan-
tage of this opportunity to revisit Encombe. On the 17th, after fifteen
days of polling, Lord Ashley carried the representation of Dorsetshire,
vacant by Mr. Calcraft's death, against Mr. Ponsonby : and Lord
Eldon, who reached home on the succeeding day, wrote during his
sojourn there, the letters, and extracts of letters, which follow, re-
specting that election and other matters :

(Lord Eldon to Lord Stowell.)

" Encombe, Tuesday night, (Oct. ISth, 1831.)
" Dear Brother,

" I can make use only of this scrap of paper, finding no other, upon my arrival
here safe to-night. I came through Southampton and Christ Church, at both which
places all was perfectly quiet. When I got to Poole, where they are all, with a few
exceptions, Ponsonby men, there were appearances of disquiet, and I am informed
that they had destroyed a nearly finished new house of an Ashley man. I then saw
Ashley, in chalk, exhibited on a gallows in different places. I heard ' Ponsonby for
ever ! ' cried by several. I stopped to change horses and I was glad when that change
was over, because people were collecting a little about the door of the inn and the
carriage. However, the change of horses was soon effected, and I was driven off
without disturbance. From that place I was saluted by no cries but those of' Ashley
forever!' The bells were rung as I passed through Corfe; the people assembled
were loud in their cries of 'Ashley for ever!' I am sorry to find that things went off
very ill at Blandford, near to which, you know, Mr. Portman, the other member for
the county and a reformer, lives. They nearly (that is the mob nearly) destroyed the
house of the registrar of the Bishop of Bristol, and, as I am told, scattered into the street
all the papers belonging to the affairs of the diocese in his possession. This is melan-
choly; but, take it for all in all, the contest in this county is a matter of great public
consequence, both as it shows great reaction of opinion here touching reform, and an
example of what may be done almost everywhere, if gentlemen would act as if they
were not in a sound sleep.

"I found my poor daughter Fanny somewhat better, but suffering by fainting fits
very much.

"God's best blessings attend you, is the wish and prayer of your ever affectionate

" ELDOX ."

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

"Monday, (Oct. 24th. 1831.)

" Dear Brother,

"Your short letter, which I received yesterday, though short, was very acceptable
to me. I don't, however, think, because what I communicated to you must have come
from the lowest of the low, that it is therefore not entitled to a good deal of attention.
I don't like my correspondent Ignis; when I recollect that I have had repeatedly, when
in London, communications that my house and buildings here should be burnt to the
ground when I see incendiarism begun in other counties, and in this at no material
distance from my habitation, * * * * and that I was obliged, for several months toge-


ther, to have a considerable body of men employed, at an expense which, I find,
upon looking now at my accounts, to be very considerable, I own that I do not ihink
the threats, even of the lowest of the low, other than extremely alarming; and, as well
as I can recollect, the handwriting of the correspondent of several months ago being
the same as that of my present correspondent, I cannot bring myself to think that the
letter of my correspondent is not a fair ground of alarm. But this must be met as
well as circumstances will admit. I see the Darlington people have grossly abused
Lord Tankerville in his passage through that place, on account of his voting against
the Reform Bill. At Blandford, in this county, there have been most serious riots, on
the same account, suppressed only by military.

"It happens fortunately for me that with an exception of a single individual, all
Purbeck are 'Ashley for ever!' but notwithstanding this, we are obliged lo support a
very considerable body of yeomanry at a considerable expense somewhat allevi-
ated by a good advance in the price of sheep.

"God bless you, and be assured that,

"I am ever yours most affectionately,


The blow inflicted on Lord Eldon by the death of his wife had
effected a great change in his constitution. Until that event, though
he was eighty when it happened, he had retained much of the robust
look of his manhood ; but during the next six months he grew so
rapidly thinner, that he seemed fast following her to the grave. His
habitual equanimity, likewise, had been in some degree shaken by
grief; and he was disconcerted and rendered uncomfortable by things
which, in his stronger days, he would never have suffered to fret him
for a moment. The circumstances of the time and place he lived in,
the threats of incendiarism and riot, the irksome vigils which these
demanded, the non-payment of rents, and the progress of political
intimidation throughout the kingdom, were matters which, of course,
would, in any state of his mind, have filled him with serious disquiet ;
but even small matters would now annoy him. His grandson received
a long letter from him on the 1st of November, touching on all these
topics ; but dwelling with more especial dissatisfaction upon what he
had found done in respect to the planting and thinning of his trees at
Encombe. "A part of this feeling," says his grandson, "regarded
me, though his letters and conversations continued to retain, as usual,
his expressions of love and affection. The facts were these : Lord
Eldon came to Encombe, after nearly two years' absence; what
planting and thinning had been done, though in this letter its extent
is much magnified, he, being in an uncomfortable state of mind, found
fault with ; the gardener, naturally enough, stated that the things were
done with my knowledge and sanction, which they were, I having
had Lord Eldon's authority to attend to such matters in a general way,
and in some of these cases specifically. I, however, was not on the
spot to clear up the difficulties at once, for, unsettled as Lord Eldon
was as to staying there, he was not conveniently able to have Lady
Encombe and myself to visit him then. He began to think that the
servants who formed his establishment there, might rather be looking
to their future than their present master; and although, as soon as I
had the opportunity, I explained each point to him, and gained from
him the admission that things had not been done without his authority
to the extent he had supposed, yet probably the mischief was never
VOL. n. 17


quite eradicated. In earlier times his great object had been that I

Online LibraryHorace TwissThe public and private life of Lord Chancellor Eldon, with selections from his correspondence (Volume 2) → online text (page 38 of 65)