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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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(Postmark, July 4th, 1832.) " Wednesday.

"My son is in a most critical situation. Pennington told me yesterday, that four
or five days will decide, whether he will recover, or whether a termination must come,
the apprehension of which overwhelms me, in the state in which I atn myself. Poor
fellow ! he has sent to me to express his wish that I should take the sacrament with him."

On the forenoon of that day, Lord Eldon, his son, and his daugh-
ters, took the sacrament together at William Henry's house in Park
Street : and there, early on the morning of the Friday, William Henry
breathed his last. Lord Encombe, on receiving the news, hastened
to Lord Eldon, in Hamilton Place, where he found several members
of the family assembled at the breakfast-table. William Henry's
death had thrown his failings into the shade and brought his virtues
into relief, in the view of his sorrowing father. " Well," said Lord
Eldon, " I must say of him, that whatever faults he had, and however
unfortunate they were for me, he had the best heart of any man I ever
knew in my life."

William Henry had never married ; and as the ample income, which
he derived from several offices conferred upon him by his father,
exempted him from the necessity of application, he led in general
what is called a life of pleasure, except for some little attendance at
the House of Commons, of which he was a member during the three
Parliaments from 1818 to 1830, representing successively, Heytesbury
in the first, Hastings in the second, and Newport (Isle of Wight) in
the third.

In society he indulged a sly humour, of which the effect was much
heightened by a handsome countenance, and an appearance of shy-
ness, under which, however, he maintained the most complete self-
possession. His agreeable qualities and natural talents rendered him
an especial favourite with his father, who thought so highly of his
innate capabilities as to have sometimes said, " If I had not been
chancellor, William Henry might."

The family vault at Kingston* was now complete. On the 13th of
this month of July, Lady Eldon's remains were removed to it ; and
on the following morning those of William Henry were laid there.

On the 26th of July, and on the 7th of August, with reference to
Lord Brougham's bill for abolishing Chancery sinecures, and increas-
ing the chancellor's retiring pension from 4000/. to 5000/. a-year in
consideration of the patronage thus superseded,

See Chap. LIV.; July 22d, 1831.


Lord Eldon briefly vindicated his own conduct in the distribution of the patronage
of the great seal, and objected to the haste with which so extensive a change was
pressed forward.

This is the statute 2 & 3 Will. 4. c. 111.

(Lord Eldon to Lord Stowell.')

(Post-mark August 1st, 1832.)

"I do not think I shall be able to persuade myself to go down to Parliament again.
God knows I have strength little enough left, to be able to afford wasting any portion
of it in an attendance utterly, absolutely and hopelessly useless. Uneasiness of mind,
produced by observing what is there going on, and how, weighs me down more than
I can endure, and I rather think that I shall not again think of enduring it."

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

(August l-lth, 1832.) "Tuesday.

"I am going to accompany, in the beginning of next week, my daughter Fanny
who is in a state of much weakness, and her three children, down to the rectory at
Corfe Castle, which is close to my house at Encombe, where, of course, I shall stay
for some time; and what I am to do with myself after that some time is elapsed, I do
not at present know. I had thoughts of seeing Eldon, in the county of Durham, but
in the stale of things there, a noted anti-reformer cannot, I apprehend, safely appear,
or at least prudently. It is thirty years and upwards since I have seen it; and if this
year I cannot see it, I am satisfied that I never shall be able to see it."

" Ever most affectionately yours,

On the afternoon of the 16th of August, his majesty, in person,
prorogued the Parliament, it being understood that, as soon as the
registrations under the Reform Act could be completed, a dissolution
would take place, to afford the opportunity of electing a reformed
House of Commons.

In the beginning of October, Lord Eldon fulfilled that desire of
visiting his estate in Durham, which he had glanced at in his letter
to Lord Stowell of the 14th of August, and which he had afterwards,
in a letter to his grandson (September 10th), described as " the crav-
ing anxiety I have to go to north." He was accompanied thither by
Mr. William Villiers Surtees, the late Lady Eldon's nephew. "His
spirits," says his great niece, Miss Forster, whose mother, Mrs. For-
ster, was the daughter of his brother Henry, were much affected,
every object he saw recalling the recollection of his wife, whom he
had recently lost, and other members of his family also dead, and in
consequence, he was very anxious it should not be known that he was
in the north, that he might remain completely private. He kindly
invited my mother and myself to join him; but his letters were not
even franked, and the answers went to him under cover to Mr. Wil-
liam Surtees. He was deeply affected the first time of seeing my
mother; but, after much private confidential conversation, he became
more composed.

"When I was first introduced to him he received me gravely, but
very kindly, telling me he was glad to see me, for many reasons, and
for the sake of many who were gone. The following dialogue at
dinner amused me :

"Lord Eldon. 'It was astonishing to see the immense flocks of
geese that we passed on our road down, all going up to London.
Surtees, how many did they say there were in that one flock?'
VOL. n. 18


"Mr. W. Surtees. 'Eight hundred, my lord.'

" Mrs. Forster. ' I wonder we have any geese left in the north.'

" Lord Eldon. ' Oh, Surtees and I were in the carriage they
could not drive us off.' '

Another little dialogue :

" Lord Eldon. ' Mr. Surtees, you and I know the value of a pinch
of snuff.'

"Mr. W. Surtees. 'Yes, my lord, I am sure I do, for I even go
so far as to lay my box on the pillow, that I may have a pinch the
first thing in the morning.'

" Lord Eldon. ' Oh, is that all ? I beat you hollow. I never wake
in the night without taking a pinch. Mary, do you know the origin
of my taking snuff? I was obliged to undergo an operation in the
nose, and the surgeon who performed it told me, that if I would take
three pinches of a particular kind of snuff the first thing every morning,
I should have no return of that complaint. I took the snuff, and have
had no return.'

" He made his head-quarters at Rusheyford. Among those of his
acquaintance who there paid their respects to him, was an ancient
friend from Newcastle, who pressed him to gratify the old inhabitants
of that town and its neighbourhood by a visit. ' Aye,' answered Lord
Eldon, 'I know my fellow-townsmen complain of my not coming to
see them ; but how can I pass that bridge?' The bridge looked upon
the Sandhill, the site of the house where Lady Eldon had lived with
her parents. His eyes filled with tears at these recollections, and,
after a pause, he exclaimed, ' Poor Bessy! if ever there was an angel
on earth, she was.' He then referred to his own progress, and the
course of their married life, and added, ' The only reparation which
one man can make to another for running away with his daughter is
to be exemplary in his conduct to her.' ' :

In his way homeward, he gave the following account of himself
in a letter to his grandson :

(Post-mark, Salisbury, Oct. 17th, 1832.)
"Dear Encombe,

"I have got here, Salisbury, and go on to Encombe to-morrow morning. The
gout has been exceedingly troublesome, and often exceedingly painful.

"But I am grateful for my sufferings they have worked out in my mind a better
opinion of the remains of strength than I have 'long had, and I have not that sad languor,
which has certainly made me a burthen to myself and I feel must have occasionally
given uneasiness to others. When I get to Encombe, I must have recourse to the
bed and the sofa."

Quitting Encombe in a few days for London, he remained in town
three or four weeks for medical advice, and during that visit, was a
good deal distressed by the loss of his dog Pincher, whom, however,
after a few days, he recovered. The particulars of Pincher's adven-
ture, as they were related by Lord Eldon, will be found among Miss
Forster's recollections of October, 1836. On the 3d of December,
Parliament was dissolved for the purpose of a new election under the
Reform Bill: and Lord Eldon, who divided his time in this November
and December between Encombe and Hamilton Place, wrote thus to


his grandson from London, before he went into Dorsetshire for the
close of the year :

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

" December 23d, 1S32.

" This I am sure of, as I can be of any thing not positively certain, that, if you have
not a House of Commons that will assist in suppressing, by necessary laws, popular
unions, popular unions will, at no great distance of time, suppress that House, and
the House of Lords, too; and the third and higher branch of the legislature into the
bargain. I hope England and Englishmen are not so debased and degenerated as to
let such things take place without a fight, in a battle-field, for it. Your demagogues
and popular union will, as it should seem, have such a fight, if the legislature objects
to what they mean further to propose."

Among the districts which did themselves credit in that season of
excitement, was the southern division of his native country. He
thus congratulates the lady of the Conservative member :

(Lord Eldon to Mrs. Bell.) (Extract.)

"The heart of an old gentleman of eighty-two is so overjoyed by the intelligence
you have been so kind as to send to him, that he is quite renovated in youth, health,
and spirits; and he thinks that if he had you for his partner, he could go down a
country dance, as in days of yore, to the tune of Bonny Northumberland."



Re-establishment of Lord Eldon's health. Letter from him to Lord Encombe. House
of Lords : Coercion Bill : bill for amendment of law: Irish Church Temporalities Bill.
Letter of Lord Eldon to Lord Stowell. Restoration by Lord Eldon of Kingston
Chapel. Letters from him to Lady F. J. Bankes. Enlistment of British subjects
in the wars of Portugal. Reception of Lord Eldon at the Middle Temple. Letters
to Lady F. J. Bankes. Political unions: local jurisdictions: 147th clause of Irish
Temporalities Bill. MS. of Lord Eldon upon the Application of Church Property to
Lay Purposes. Letters of Lord Eldon to Lady F. J. Bankes: his speeches against
Irish Church Temporalities Bill, and Portuguese enlistments. Second visit of Lord
Eldon to Durham : Mrs. Forster's recollections of it. Lord Eldon a witness inDicas
v. Brougham. Letter of Lord Eldon to Commissary Gordon.

THE new year, 1833, began well for Lord Eldon. It was now, for
the first time since his lady's death, that an improvement began to
show itself in his health. The following extract announces it: and
it proceeded so favourably, that when he was at Encombe in the
autumn of the same year, he was able again to walk to the top of
his favourite hills.

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

"I think myself, certainly, somewhat better than I have been. I can take a walk,
and a longer walk than, six weeks ago, I had any hope I should ever be able to take.
* * * * As I could not manage for Christmas day my usual bit of dinner for
the poor parishioners on this Sunday, to the amount of above 600 persons, men,
women and children, they dine upon rations of beef and plum pudding, which I
supply. And the cry of 'Ashley for ever!' 'Banks for ever!' 'Ponsonby for ever!'
' Calcraft for ever !' are all drowned in the universal cry of ' Beef and Plum Pudding
forever!'" * * *

About the end of January, Lord Eldon returned to London, and
on the 5th of February (1833), the business of the first Parliament
elected under the Reform Act was begun by a speech from the kins;
in person : in which, among other topics requiring the attention of
Parliament, the lawless state of the Irish people was emphatically
noticed. Accordingly, the ministers, without loss of time, introduced
a measure for the suppression of disturbances in Ireland, which has
been generally known by the name of the Coercion Bill. It was first
opened in the House of Lords, where Earl Grey, on the 15th of
February, explained its purport and outline.

The Earl of Eldon, in supporting the bill, expressed his deep regret for the cause
which had called it forth, and his desire to know for how long a period it was to re-
main in operation. No doubt, said he, it must continue in force as long as its cause:
I should wish it even to continue a little longer, that is. (and this, I think, will not
be found without its proper use in repressing agitation,) that is, I say, until justice be
done on all persons who shall have been convicted during its operation, so that i's


close may not be marked by the impunity of some who may have been guilty under
it. The noble earl will remember an instance of the kind, which occurred at the
expiry of the Proclamation Act, when a party who had pleaded guilty, and whose
case had stood over, escaped unpunished.

The defendant, to whom Lord Eldon here alluded, was Mr. O'Con-
nell, who, in the early part of the year 1831, had thus slipped through
the hands of the Irish government.

Earl Grey replied that if, after further consideration of the subject, any provision
should appear to him to be requisite for the purpose indicated, he should be happy to
avail himself of Lord Eldon's aid.

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

"Saturday, (Feb. IGlh, 1833.)

" We had last night a longish and interesting debate on, or rather two or three
speeches upon, Lord Grey's bill for putting an end to Irish disturbances, otherwise
properly called Irish rebellion. The measures are severe : whether they will be
effectual, and do not come much too late, is another question. The Duke of Wellington
made a good speech but neither he nor Grey could very easily, and certainly not at
all, get out of the scrape, by the Roman relief bill being the cause of all the disorders
and miseries, now to be checked and remedied if possible: and measures not ex-
plained were hinted at, but which, I fear, will turn out to be intentions to pay the
Roman Catholic clergy out of some parts of the annihilated Protestant archbishops'
and bishops' revenues. I said a few words, which, from the faintness of my voice.
I think were not heard for not one such word did I utter as the ' Morning Post'
reports so that I bid adieu now to speaking in Parliament."

When, on the 26th of March, the House of Lords were in com-
mittee on the bill for the amendment of the law, now the statute 3 &.
4 Will. 4. c. 42,

Lord Eldon objected to the provision for enabling the judges to make alterations
in the rules of pleading. Instead of the old practice, of the lord chancellor calling
on the judges to state their doubts as to the practice of their courts, and then, if he.
thought proper, undertaking to recommend the alterations to Parliament, it was now
proposed and that, too, in a bill which stated doubts as to the power of the judges
that they should make rules in their own conns; which rules were to have authority
for five years, and then to become the law. Why, this was legislating; and this bill
gave into the hands of the judges the power to make laws in very important cases.
The practice of the courts was a part of the law of the land, affecting property and
even personal liberty, and he protested, on the part of the subject, against giving to
judges this extensive legislative power.

Towards the conclusion of the committee's sitting,

Lord Eldon expressed his satisfaction that the arbitration clause had been with-
drawn, as, in his opinion, it was of the most injurious and oppressive character.
For fifty years, as a barrister, a judge, and a chancellor, he had been acquiring ex-
perience, and that forbade him ever to consent to compel suitors to submit to an arbi-

During this month of March, a bill, for that retrenchment of the
Irish Church Temporalities which was one of the measures recom-
mended to Parliament in the king's speech, had been originated by
ministers in the House of Commons. Against that bill, when it was
afterwards discussed in the House of Lords, on the 19th and 30th of
July, the Earl of Eldon will be found to have exerted his utmost
energy. Meanwhile, on the 1st of April, when a petition was
presented to the peers against the ministerial plan, he took occasion
to say,

He would oppose it to the last of his life and the utmost of his power. He thought
it adverse to every established principle of government, and full of spoliation. His


life had been spent in the defence of the Established Church, and he should be guilty
of a base dereliction of all his former principles if he did not resist so abominable
and infamous a measure.

At a later hour of the same evening, a debate took place upon the
Irish Coercion Bill, which had corne back from the House of Com-
mons, with some amendments rendering it less summary. These
relaxations being recommended by Earl Grey,

Lord Eldon questioned whether the ministers, by admitting that the bill would an-
swer its purposes without the powers which they had originally asked for, were not
abandoning that ground of urgent danger and imperious necessity, on which alone
any suspension of constitutional rights ought to proceed, and the assertion of which,
on the responsibility of ministers, had been his own motive for supporting them in
this measure. He must press the noble earl for an answer to the question, whether
the measure was necessary now?

Earl Grey answered that the necessity for it still existed, and maintained that the
proposed amendments might be adopted, without any departure from the principle
declared by Lord Eldon.

The amendments were adopted accordingly. This measure is now
the statute 3 & 4 Will. 4. c. 4.

Lord Wynford had introduced a bill to diminish expense and delay
in suits at law, of which the principal object was to enable plaintiffs
and defendants to examine each other on interrogatories. Lord Lynd-
hurst moved and carried the rejection of the measure, Lord Eldon
concurring with him, and grounding his objection mainly upon the
inexpediency of confounding the principles of legal with those of
equitable procedure.

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

(Post-mark, April 19th, 1833.)

"The chancellor must think the privy council, as heretofore attended, has been
a sad tribunal : for he has brought a bill into the House of Lords, in which he makes
all the judges, and even the principal commissioner of the new Court of Bankruptcy,
additional members of a committee of privy councillors, to hear ecclesiastical appeals,
prize court appeals, &c. &c. Either he or I am becoming very foolish.

" He has brought in another bill for establishing permanent courts in the different
counties, with sergeants or barristers of ten years standing, constantly sitting with
juries, in like manner as the judges when they go the spring and summer circuit
throughout the kingdom, each county, as it were, having, through the year, a county
Westminster Hall of its own. This odd scheme is at first to be tried only in two or
three counties, to see how it answers. I hope he won't select, as his trial or experi-
ment counties, Durham or Dorset ; perhaps you would not wish him to take Berks or
Gloucestershire. But there are no lords attending the house upon such matters, and
he will have his own way."

Lord Eldon, who had visited Encombe in February and at Easter,
repaired thither again at Whitsuntide. On this last occasion, Lord
and Lady Encombe were with him from Saturday the 25th of May to
the Wednesday following. This was Lady Encombe's first visit there :
and on Sunday the 26th, the newly-built chapel at Kingston, which
is a chapel of ease for the parish of Corfe Castle, was opened for
divine service, the solemnity being attended by Lord Eldon, Lord
and Lady Encombe, and other members of the family. The old
chapel had been a rude, ill-constructed building, the walls of which,
though thick and clumsy, were by no means impervious to damp.
The present edifice, which is of a plain Gothic character, was de-
signed by Mr. Repton, and executed under his superintendence, at


the expense of Lord Eldon, by virtue of a faculty from the Ecclesias-
tical Court.

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

(Written from London, not dated.)

"The Radicals here, and at Birmingham, &c. &c. &c., seem to be forming resolu-
tions to pay no taxes whatever, till the sovereign will of their high mightinesses 'the
people,' for a repeal of the window and house taxes, shall be obeyed by Parliament.
This is treason ; but no step is taken to treat it as treason was heretofore treated.

" Report says some of the ministers, when they were beaten in a vote a few nights
ago, offered their resignations, and that their master said, ' No if any go, all shall
go. All remained.

" There is a report, believed by some (7 know not what to make of it) that there
are movements towards forming a coalnion ministry of Whigs and Tories. If it is so
if we are to have the old hated junction, such as Lord North and Fox heretofore
made, and which was followed by public detestation I shall endeavour to enjoy the
blessings of a perfectly retired private life.

" Of Leopold in Belgium, it is said the Roman Catholics there expect him to turn
Catholic, or turn out."

The neutrality declared by the British crown, respecting the contest
then proceeding in Portugal, had been extensively violated by enlist-
ments of British subjects in the service of one and the other of the
contending parties ; and, the matter being brought before the House
of Lords on the 3d of June, by a motion of the Duke of Wellington
for an address to the king to enforce the observance of this neutrality
by his subjects,

Lord Eldon said that enlistments, in breach of a neutrality which his majesty had
enjoined by a proclamation, were contrary to the express law of the land : and
maintained it to have been the bounden duly of the government, as soon as they be-
came cognizant of what was going on, to put a stop to proceedings which he charac-
terized as a gross violation of the common law.

The duke's motion was carried against ministers by a majority of
79 against 69.

The following report is abridged from the "Morning Post" of June
7th, 1833:

" Yesterday being the grand day in Trinity Term at the Middle Temple, on which
it is usual for the judges and other distinguished members of the society to dine in
the hall, the Earl of Eldon, who has not been present on this occasion for several
years, dined at the bench table. The venerable earl was in excellent health and
spirits. In the course of the evening he proposed as a toast, 'The Bar;' and shortly
afterwards an intimation was made to the bench, that the bar then present were
desirous of testifying their respect for the distinguished member of their society and
of the profession who had that day gratified them by his presence. ' The health of
the Earl of Eldon' was then drunk with an unexampled enthusiasm. The hall rang
with acclamations, bench, bar and students appearing to vie with each other in their
manifestations of respect.

"The Earl of Eldon rose, evidently under the influence of considerable emotion, to
return thanks. He observed that he could not but feel deeply sensible of the honour,
or he would rather say the kind feeling, which the bar had just shown towards him,
when he called to mind that a period of half a century had elapsed since he first
became a member of that society. Long, he trusted, might the bar continue to main-
tain that high, and honourable, and independent character, which was essential to the
pure admiuistration of justice, and which, he would take leave to say, was one of the
main sources of the prosperity which this country had hitherto enjoyed. So long as
the profession maintained that high character, he was sure that the people of this
country would always look to Westminster Hall for the maintenance of their just
rights; and, looking to Westminster Hall, it is impossible, said the noble earl, turn-

Online LibraryHorace TwissThe public and private life of Lord Chancellor Eldon, with selections from his correspondence (Volume 2) → online text (page 41 of 65)