Horace Twiss.

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

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that they ought to be viewed he could not but feel a deep sense of humiliation in
recollecting the pledges under which they had permitted themselves to be returned
to the House of Commons. At the time of the Revolution of 1688, when the convention
came to pass an act of Parliament by which the best rights of the subject were
secured, they set out by a declaration, affirming that they were not delegates from this
place or from that place, but, clothing themselves with a character more elevated
and a higher duty, they declared that they were the representatives of all the Commons
of England. To convert a member of the other House of Parliament into the mere
representative of the particular place for which he was returned, instead of the repre-
sentative of the whole of the Commons of England, was a perversion of one of the
best principles of the constitution; and if there were members of the other House,
who would indeed submit to the degradation of being called to account by their par-
ticular constituents, it was high time to take measures to prevent such men from
continuing to sit in Parliament. It had been stated, that he had declared himself in
that House an enemy to all reform. He begged to repeat what he had stated upon a
late occasion in that House, that he was bound, as a peer of Parliament, to pledge
himself not at all; but, in the conscientious discharge of his duty, to consider and
determine upon each measure separately, according to its merits. He opposed this


bill in discharge of a sacred duty which he owed to the constitution and Jo the peo-
ple It was a VM fallacy to state, lhat either the former or the present bill could
be a final settlement of the question of reform. He had heard much of an exercise
of the royal prerogative, by which the passing of this bill was to be secured. He
did not deny the right of the sovereign to the free exercise of that prerogative. He
would admit that, at the next recorder's report of personscondemned at the Old Bailey,
the sovereign possessed not only the right to grant a free pardon to any number of
such convicts, but to make peers of them if he pleased. At the same time he con-
tended, that no censure would be too severe, no punishment too great, for any minis-
ter who should advise his sovereign to destroy the House of Lords by an enormous
creation of new peers. It had been proposed by some of those who wished to set
aside the constitution as it existed, that writs should be issued by the sovereign to
new boroughs and great towns, and that the writs which had been usuallly issued
should be withheld from others: and he would say, without hesitation, that, if the ad-
vice <nven by one of the newspapers to swamp that House with a number of new
peers^was adopted by the minister, he would not pursue a course less unconstitu-
tional than if he was to advise the king to exercise his prerogative with respect to
the writs in the manner he had stated. Borough property was a species of property
which had been known in this country for centuries: it had been over and over again
made the subject of purchase and sale in all parts of the kingdom, and they might as
well extinguish the right of private individuals to their advowsons, as their right to
exercise the privileges which they derived from the possession of burgage tenures.
He could not separate from this bill the two bills for amending the representation of
the people in Scotland and Ireland. If he had those bills with him, he could de-
monstrate to the conviction of all who heard him, that the Scotch bill would create a
perfect revolution in Scotland, and that the Irish bill would destroy all those bulwarks
which were essential to the safety of the Protestant establishment in Ireland. Be-
sides, whatever might be the case in England, it was quite clear that the holders of
borough property in Scotland and in Ireland were entitled to a compensation for the
loss of property which these bills would respectively inflict upon them. In Scotland,
when the heritable jurisdictions were destroyed, the greatest caution was observed
by the legislature, that those who then held them should not be damnified in property
by the loss of them ; and, in Ireland, when the Union was passed, and the number of
Irish boroughs was diminished, a liberal compensation was granted to those who
then were in possession of them. If the principle, which was adopted in those two
countries at those two periods, were adopted on the present occasion, then would the
holders of Scotch and Irish boroughs, which these bills disfranchised, be entitled to
receive compensation also. Any Irish nobleman, who had received compensation
for the destruction of his Irish borough, who voted for the present bill, was bound, as
an honest man, to go and return back to the treasury the money which he had re-
ceived some thirty years ago as a compensation for his loss. He had stated it to be
his sincere opinion, that the great mass of intelligence and property now in the coun-
try were adverse to this bill, and he still thought his assertion correct. He did not
mean to deny, that the lower class of people were anxious for the measure; but, in
his judgment, they would not be satisfied until much more was done than was now-
proposed. The associations called political unions explicitly declared they had fur-
ther objects in view. Moreover, if the labouring classes and the operatives still
continued to subscribe a portion of their scanty wages to support contests against the
aristocracy in counties some hundreds of miles from the place in which they earned
their subsistence, things would soon be reduced to a condition incompatible with the
existence of good government. He thought that sufficient promptness and energy
had not been displayed by the administration in putting down the political unions.
They had, indeed, issued a proclamation against them, but they had not seriously en-
deavoured to give effect to that proclamation. The consequence was, that a degree
of excitement prevailed among the lower orders in favour of this bill, which was
without a parallel in the history of this country. He maintained that, during all these
discussions, the name of the king had been shamefully and unconstitutionally used.
The sovereign was constitutionally advised to recommend the consideration of this
measure to his Parliament: but he was not constitutionally advised when he was
brought forward, almost personally, to say that he was determined to have it carried
into law. For the sake of the higher, thte middle and the lower orders of society,
for all of whom, and more particularly for the last, he considered himself a trustee,
he was determined, as far as in him lay, to preserve, the blessings of that constitution,
under which they had all been born and spent their lives, which had rendered them


happier than any other people on God's earth, and which had given to their country a
lustre and a glory that did not belong to any other nation in the world.

The debate proceeded through the whole of the night. Between
six and seven in the morning, the House divided, when the second
reading was carried by a majority of 184 against 175.

On the 17th, the House adjourned for the Easter recess: of which
Lord Eldon again availed himself by changing the air from London
to Encombe. From the latter place he writes to his grandson, about
the 22d :

"As it was recommended that I should travel through a great column of air, or
keep continually moving from place to place, or go to the sea-side, I thought it better
to brave a journey to this place. Some changes have taken place, which I think you
would not dislike, and which I hope will make the place worthy in the summer of
receiving Louisa,* and that place must be indeed unexceptionable, if it is worthy of
receiving her."

Lord Eldon returned to London on the 1st or 2d of May. On the
2d he was to have presented Lord Encombe at the levee ; but excused
himself by a note, in which he says,

" I sincerely and anxiously hope that you will excuse my attendance at the levee.
I am aware that my name, having been given in, as your introducer, has the very
same effect as if I was present, or otherwise I should attend you."

For his non-attendance on Lady Encombe at the drawing-room of
the following day, he apologizes in a sadder strain :

(May 3d, 1832.)

"I wish to apologize to you and Louisa, to whom give my best affections, for not

appearing at the drawing-room to-day, but I shall never be able or willing, whilst I

exist, to throw off my sable garments, and, on such an occasion, I could not attend in

such garments.

" I am also under the necessity of spending to-morrow afternoon with Lord Stowell."

"I remember," says the present earl, " that this was the last year
Lord Stowell came to stay in London. I called one day, and saw him
at his house in Grafton Street ; and I proposed to call again and intro-
duce Lady Encombe to him. He said that, being then unwell, he
would appoint a day when he was better. But he left town very
shortly, still unwell; and I never saw him again until I went to
Earley Court, the day before the funeral of his son William Scott, who
died November 26th, 1835. On that occasion Lord Stowell, whose
mental faculties had failed, seemed, as Lord Sidmouth then expressed
it, to have an idea that I was a person of whom he was very fond ;
but apparently he was not capable of forming any clearer notion."

The House of Lords, re-assembling on the 7th of May, proceeded,
the same afternoon, to commit the Reform Bill. In committee, the
ministers were defeated on a motion, made by Lord Lyndhurst, to
postpone the disfranchising to the enfranchising portion of the bill :
and thereupon, under all the circumstances of the case, they judged
it expedient to acquaint his majesty, that unless he would announce
a resolution to create such a body of new peers as would carry the
measure in the form which its authors deemed essential, they must
request him to accept their resignations. The king at first resisted ;

* Lady Encombe


but, after some days had been unsuccessfully occupied by him in an
endeavour to form a new government, he found himself under the
necessity of re-establishing Lord Grey's ministry on their own terms.
It was now intimated to the leading opponents of the bill in the House
of Lords, that the proposed creation of peers could be prevented only
by the forbearance of a sufficient number of them from any further
opposition to the measure before the House. The Duke of Newcastle,
on the 21st of May, gave notice of a motion respecting the fitness of
such an exercise of the prerogative : and a conversation arose, in the
course of which,

Lord Eldon argued that though the existence of the prerogative could not be ques-
tioned, it was open to the House to question the fitness of its exercise on any particu-
lar occasion : and protested against the application of it for the purpose now threat-
ened, as being at once injurious to the people and perilous to the crown.

There remained, however, but a choice of evils. Lord Eldon and
the anti-reformers in general, resolved, therefore, to abstain from fur-
ther resistance, and the bill went rapidly through committee. On the
4th of June it was read a third time, after a division, in which 106
supporters of it recorded their votes against only 22 of its opponents.
The remainder of those adverse to it persevered in the quieter policy
of absenting themselves : and so saved the peerage, with what else
was left of the constitution.




Letters from the Duchess of Cumberland to Lord Eldon, and from Lord Eldon to
Lord Stowell. House of Lords: capital punishments: state of Ireland. Letters
from Lord Eldon to Lord Stowell. Death of Mr. W. H. J. Scott. Bill for abolish-
ing Chancery sinecures. Letters from Lord Eldon to Lord Stowell. Visit of Lord
Eldon to Durham : Miss Forster's recollections of it. Letters from him to Lord
Encombe and to Mrs. Bell.

( The Duchess of Cumberland to Lord Eldon.}

"St. James's Palace, June 4th, 1S32.
" My dearest Lord,

"I cannot let this day* pass without expressing to you my most sincere good
wishes for your health, long life and happiness. I pray to God that so valuable a
life may be prolonged, and I trust this prayer will be heard, if it is God's pleasure
that England shall be longer preserved as it is with king and constitution.

" It seems very ungrateful in me not to have returned you my thanks immediately
after having received your valuable picture, so beautifully framed; but I begged the
duke to express my gratitude, as I was afraid of becoming troublesome writing so
soon again.

"I brought a few flowers from Kew, which I beg of you to accept, and the cups
which accompany this note, and which I beg you will not trouble yourself to answer,
as you have better things to do, and a night of great business in prospect.
" Believe me, with the highest regard,
" My dearest lord,

" Yours, very sincerely,


The letters and extracts of letters from Lord Eldon to Lord
Stowell, written during the months of June, July and August, 1832,
reflect many of the passing events of this period.

(Lord Eldon to Lord Slowell.)



" It should now seem to be obvious that the political unions have found themselves
strong enough to teach Lord Grey that his reliance on the good sense of the people
is downright nonsense. They avow that they will force universal suffrage, vote by
ballot, pledges from candidates to promote all their objects, rendering the members
pure delegates; and that nobility, or at least hereditary nobility, shall no longer exist.

"A reformer in the country, where I have been, said, that there was not time for
bringing about a change in- the present possessors of property, but that it was sure to
take place, and not later than between the children of the possessors and the children
of those who now possessed nothing but the fruits and wages of work and labour
that that change could not be prevented."

(Postmark, June 19th, 1832.) " Tuesday.
" Dear Brother,

"Yesterday gave us a remarkable specimen of the uncertainty and mutability of
human affairs, and of what is deemed popularity. It was the anniversary of the
great and glorious Waterloo battle. The illustrious soldier who achieved the unpa-

* Lord Eldon's birthday.


ralleled feats of that day happened to go, as constable of it, to the Tower. Upon his
return, on horseback, all through the city, he was hooted, hissed at, &c., without a
voice in his favour, or a finger held up to protect him from insult. When out of
the cily, he got to Lincoln's Inn, and took refuge in somebody's chambers there.*
Thence, having the protection of a very large body of police, through hisses, groans,
&c., he got safe to his house, Apsley House, the windows of which are no longer
boarded, but protected by iron, strong enough to be proof against ball and bullet, and
which protecting iron, I have been told, cost him 1500/. So passeth away the glory
of this world! The doctrine of 'No king' is reviving here! to which is added, what
Queen Charlotte in George III.'s time escaped, 'No queen.' The unions all over the
country are issuing their proclamations for further revolutionary measures. They
receive neither check nor punishment. The lawyers, of all parties, behaved well to
the Duke of W. whilst in Lincoln's Inn and, in his transit, people with better coats
on their backs than those of the mob, cheered him, except in the city. He acted with
great coolness and spirit.

"The unionists are, it seems, unanimous for a repeal of the Corn Laws. The
abused and misled lower orders are all for this. It will ruin them. Suppose the
repeal lowers rents one half what is the consequence of that! The landed gentle-
men can neither keep one half of the number of the servants they now keep, or spend
one half of what they now spend with tradesmen and manufacturers. Of course the
tradesmen and manufacturers must lower the wages one half, of all the servants and
workmen they employ, or only employ one half of them. The system that the work-
ing class and servants are now pushing, must ruin themselves."

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

" Thursday, (June 21st, 1832 )
" Dear Brother,

"You will read, in your 'Standard' of to-morrow, a most interesting account of
what passed last night in the House of Commons, relative to the stone-throwing at the
king at Ascot. Hardly a soul of the Tories in the House of Lords being present
when Grey moved the address upon the same subject, we should all have been
thought devoid of loyalty, if I had not, in a few words, said how warmly they would,
one and all, have expressed their abhorrence of personal attack upon their king, if
they had had notice that the subject was to be mentioned. It was merely accidental
that I was there. I am not fit for any work."

On the 25th, the House of Lords being about to go into committee
upon the bill for abolishing the punishment of death in cases of horse-
stealing and of stealing to the value of five pounds in a dwelling-

Lord Eldon expressed his disapproval of so great a relaxation. According to his
experience, the fear of death did very often operate to prevent the commission of those
crimes against which it was directed. He remembered, at a particular lime, that the
judges, having found a great number of horses stolen, declared, that on the next cir-
cuit they would leave every man for execution who should be found guilty of that
offence. He believed that between that and the next circuit not one horse was stolen
in all England; so that the judges were saved from putting into execution the denun-
ciation they had previously made. Many crimes, of the same denomination, differed
so much in circumstances, and were so different in degrees of guilt that the legislature
had been compelled to make a sweeping law to embrace them all. He need not go
further than the subjects mentioned in the bill to find an illustration of this fact. One
part of the bill related to horse-stealing; and he remembered two cases of horse-steal-
ing which would explain what he meant. One was the case of a man who stole a
horse in the neighbourhood of London, and afterwards sold it to some person near
the small-pox hospital, who killed it. That horse, it was proved on the trial, was not

* Mr. Farrer says that the duke passed into Lincoln's Inn, not to escape the mob,
but merely to make an affidavit, for which purpose he called at Sir C. Wetherell's
chambers in Stone Buildings: and Mr. Farrer, who was the sitting master on that
day, went thither to administer the oath. The space before the door was much
crowded, and the lawyers were shouting, " We'll see him safe home!" Mr. Farrer
adds, "I found many persons in the room much excited: the duke was sitting very
quietly at the end of it."


of the value of 5s., except to be killed. The crown extended its mercy to the man,
and it certainly would have been a hard case if the law had been suffered to take its
course. He then related the case of another horse-stealer (mentioned in his speech
of 30th May, 1810), on whom were found the skeleton keys of the turn pike-gates round
London, and who was left forexecution. The same difficulty, he observed, was found
with respect to forgery. Suppose a man was to forge a check upon him for 10/.; he
should as soon think of hanging himself as hanging the man for that single offence.
But forgery might be committed with some most aggravated circumstances: there
might be great breaches of confidence a person might be intrusted with powers of
attorney, and might defraud all his customers a man might do as Fauntleroy did,
forge all the names of the customers for whom he was trustee, and might take out of
the pockets of those customers, in a few months, 250,000/. or 300,000/. ; and to say
that such a man was not to be punished with death, out of respect for human life,
was carrying the doclrine too far. Again, the bill exempted from the punishment of
death individuals found guilty of stealing to the amount of 5/. in a dwelling-house.
Was this, as a general regulation, a wise one? A man might come to his house, and
steal 5/. Now if he prosecuted that man to conviction, he did not think that the man
was likely to be visited wilh the extreme penalty of the law; because the offence would
not seriously affect his fortune. But let them put the case in another way. Let them
suppose that the person despoiled was a poor industrious man, who had found it ex-
tremely difficult to amass such a sum. Did not this make a wide and marked dis-
tinction in the case? Did not ihe act that reduced this man to utter penury deserve
condign punishment? The lightnings of heaven might consume the poor man's
cottage, the thunders of heaven might destroy his dwelling, but still the law said, "It
is his castle, and the hand of violence shall not touch it." But what did this bill* de-
clare? It said, that the robber might enter the poor man's abode, almost with im-
punity. The ruffian who deprived the poor man of 51. robbed him, perhaps, of every
shilling he possessed in the world, look from him more, perhaps, than he would be
able to acquire in five or ten years, by his most anxious exertions. The laws of this
country were justly framed to meet all these circumstances, and any severity, that
might appear to be attached to them, was fairly balanced by the prerogative of mercy
which was placed in the hands of the crown. Before their lordships attempted to
alter the criminal code of the country in this manner, they ought to see what was a
proper secondary punishment. He could only say, that having had opportunities,
year after year, for nearly half a century, to consider this difficult question, he had
never yet found one single man, bred in the study of the law, or one politician know-
ing a great deal of the law, as many of them undoubtedly did, who was able to point
out to him what, to his mind, was a satisfactory secondary punishment. The law
provided general enactments to prevent enormous crimes. Now, they could not have
those general enactments to prevent such crimes, without classing under them offences
of a nature with reference to which it might sometimes be necessary to suffer the law
to take its course. It did not, however, follow that they ought, therefore, to abrogate
the law altugether. In such cases as those to which he had alluded, it was left to the
crown to exercise the prerogative of mercy; and, so far as his knowledge extended,
mercy never had been refused in any instance where it ought not to have been with-
held. He, therefore, was not favourable to this measure.

On the 2d of July, Lord Eldon was among the supporters of Lord
Roden's unsuccessful motion for an address to the crown on the state
of Ireland. In reply to the plea that the disturbances of that country
had existed from early times,

Lord Eldon said that the law ought to have been put in force by the government
against them. To leave matters of this kind to be settled by the progress of good
sense and calm reflection was, in critical circumstances, a rather unsafe mode of
proceeding; for if calm good sense had been absent for so many centuries, it was not
very likely to return in time to be of service now. The common law must become
utterly useless, if, before it could be brought into operation, it were necessary to
wait and see the mischief done. He was convinced that the resistance to payment
of tithes began in a conspiracy, which, if prosecuted with vigour, might be easily

2 & 3 Will. 4. c. 62.


(Extracts of Letters from Lord Eldon to Lord Stowell.}

(Post mark July 3<i, 1832.)
"Dear Brother,

"I got home so as to retire to bed about three this morning, very weary and much
fatigued. The debate was about Ireland; the state of it, the wretched condition in
which it is, the consequences which must follow if vigorous measures are not adopted,
were strongly pointed out. I took a part, in order to contradict the law laid clown by
Plunkett, the chancellor of Ireland, as to conspiracies, the common law of the country,
and the neglect of applying that law.

"In the papers, the debate is most wretchedly and imperfectly given.

"My son is some little, very little, better. His behaviour, under his. situation, of
which he is perfectly apprized, is very affecting. His resignation, and pious feelings,
do, as far as they can afford me comfort, afford it."

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