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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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ing towards the window of the Middle Temple Hall, which is decorated with the
armorial bearings of Lords Clarendon, Somers, Talbot, Hardwicke, Ashburton, Ken-



280 LIFE OF LORD

yon, Tenterden, &c., that they can ever forget the Middle Temple. The venerable
earl was, at the conclusion of his speech, and on retiring from the hall, greeted with
enthusiastic and continued cheering by the whole society.

" We believe this is the only instance in which the health of an individual, other
than the king or queen, has been drunk at any of the regular term dinners by this
society."

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

" Friday; (June 7th, 1833.)

"I yesterday, being much pressed so to do, dined at the Middle Temple, at the
benchers' anniversary dinner. It was right that I should conquer, if I could, my
great reluctance to every thing of that sort, and I was repaid for my struggle to con-
quer that reluctance, by my reception. All the younger members of the society
dined, as well as the old ones, the benchers ; and as I walked down the great hall, in
which we dined, there was a general sort of acclamation of kindness from them all,
which cheered an old gentleman."

The 8th of June was the last day on which he ever sat judicially
as a privy councillor. It was in a committee of the privy council,
upon the very peculiar case of Drax and Grosvenor.

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

"Sunday; (June 1 6th, 1833.)

"The Whig and Radical newspapers are doing all they can to carry the Church Bill
against the church in the House of Lords, and to recommend, if that cannot be ac-
complished, the destruction of the House of Lords itself, either by direct dissolution,
of it by the force of the people, or by indirect dissolution of it by swamping it with
a creation of a sufficiently numerous body of new peers.

" Of dinners, and attempts of speeches, I have had more than enough. The din-
ners I cannot digest; of speeches I can make none to my own satisfaction, or with-
out regretting that I attempt to make any sometimes sorely regretting it. I will,
however, do what I can when the Church Bill comes. When that is done, I am done :
my character requires that I should become a private man : I am sure my peace of
mind does. How I happen to be so well as I am in health, though weak, I cannot
tell."

A question being put on the 17th to Lord Grey, upon the subject
of political unions,

Lord Eldon pressed upon the government the duty of employing the law to put
down these combinations, and to suppress the inflammatory and seditious libels which
had been circulated for the last two years. If ministers had acted as they ought to
have done with respect to the riots and burnings at Nottingham, those which occurred
at Bristol three months afterwards, would have been prevented. He might now be
allowed to ask Lord Grey, whether the "good sense" of the country had experiment-
ally justified his confidence]

On the 24th, Lord Eldon spoke, and divided the House, but for that
time without success, against the Local Jurisdiction Bill. In the
following month another stand was made against it, and it was then
defeated. Of the first struggle, Lord Eldon writes thus:

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

"June 25th, (1833.)

"I went down yesterday to denounce a most abominable law bill of the chancellor's:
spoke as strongly against it as an old lawyer's mind and body could enable him to
speak, and moved to put off the bill for six months. His friends brought together a
majority against me, those, many, who ought to have been my friends, to many of
whom I had been a friend indeed in past life, would not take the trouble to come, or
to stay, and I was beaten; a thing I don't relish much, and the less because the mea-
sure I opposed is, I think, one of the most objectionable I have ever seen proposed
i Parliament. I shall attend on the day when a third reading of it will be proposed,
vote against it, and record my opinions and objections in a protest. That done, I
shall attend no more, except when the Church Reform Bill comes to us, as to which,



CHANCELLOR ELDON. 281

I think, nobody is acting discreetly and prudently on either side. I know I am gone
by, and can do no good; but I will not, in so very important a matter, shrink from
making an attempt, however feeble or useless it may be, to do my duty."

In the month of June, the ministers, conducting the Irish Church
Temporalities Bill through the House of Commons, abandoned in
committee the 147th clause of it, which proposed the application to
temporal purposes of funds to be obtained from ecclesiastical property.
The following paper, of which the original was found in the hand-
writing of Lord Eldon, appears, from the reference to that clause, to
have been written shortly before the abandonment of it, that is, in
May or June, 1833.

"It seems difficult to maintain, upon attentively considering all these matters, that
the perpetual establishment of the Protestant religion in England, and the perpetual
established Protestant Presbyterian religion in Scotland, were not intended to be
mutual and united provisions, for the maintenance of Protestantism, and for the sup-
port and preservation of the respective governments, discipline and rights of those
respective Protestant churches, their ministers and clergy, and fences respectively
against the inroads of Popery in either part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain.

"It seems, therefore, that the question which has been lately agitated, as to a church
reform bill, may be as aptly said to be a breach, to an important extent, with the
antecedent compact with the Protestant legislature of Scotland, as it has been repre-
sented to be with the Protestant legislature of Ireland, and a breach of good faith
alike to both.

" It is undoubtedly, too, matter of mighty weight, if what has by some been argued can
be maintained, viz., 'that the king's oath or solemn declarations, being required by Par-
liament, may cease to be requisite, if the Houses of Parliament tender for his consent
a measure not consistent with those which it would seem to appear he had in the
most solemn manner engaged even by the solemnity of oaths to maintain and
preserve.'

" How would such a proposition have been received if, immediately after the Union
of Scotland, forming the kingdom of Great Britain, the very measures had taken place
again, which the people of Scotland had taken the most pains to prevent, and placed
the sovereign under the most lawful engagements to prevent] If the majority of the
English Lords and Commons had voted, in each of their Houses, what would have
done their utmost to destroy, wholly or partly, the Scotch Protestant Presbyterian
government, its church, its discipline and government, or any of its rights, or any
part of its property]

"Notwithstanding what any reputedly great lawyer* may have stated, as to the
obligation of the sovereign's oath being removed by the act of Parliament, it must be
recollected that the act of the two Houses, till more is done, is not an act of Parlia-
ment. The act of each House amounts only to advice: and, after that advice is
given, the consent must be conscientiously given before there can be any act of Par-
liament, and it is to be hoped that the time is gone by when even an archbishop could
advise a sovereignf that his private conscience must give way to something called a
public conscience; advice unfortunately, which was followed, and the monarch's
attention to which embittered his last moments, and rendered, according to his own
dying declaration, an unjust sentence^ what Providence might have permitted to be
pronounced against himself; because, disregarding the dictates of his private con-
science, he had acted according to what he had been persuaded to think, that what
was termed his public conscience had justified him in sanctioning an unjust sentence

* This is believed to refer to Lord Brougham.

f This alludes to the advice given by the Archbishop of York to Charles I. upon
Stafford's attainder.

t That is, rendered an unjust sentence, upon himself, what -Providence might well
permit, by way of retribution, against himself. The king's words, on the scaffold, were
these: "God forbid I-should be so ill a Christian, as not to say God's judgments are
just upon me: many times he doth pay justice by an unjust sentence that is ordi-
nary. I will only say this, that an unjust sentence that I suffered to take effect, is
punished now by an unjust sentence upon me." Howell's Slate Trials, p. 1138.



LIFE OF LORD



a-ainst one of his subjects. It has often been observed, that stating extreme cases
does not assist sound argument; but on the other hand it cannot be denied, that what
is sound reasoning may frequently be shown by putting extreme cases.

"If, upon the very day after (in any king or queen's reign) the sovereign in the
be^innin- of the week had taken the Coronation Oath, a House of Commons had
pas ed aWll to destroy epi S co P acy,or to remove all bishops from the House of Lords,
or to olace in that House bishops professing the Roman Catholic and not the Pro-
testant 'faith could it possibly have been conceded, in deference to the opinion or
reasoning of any great or reputedly great lawyers, that these proceedings in the two
Houses justified the future act of the king's consent, though these proceedings could
never be an act of Parliament till that consent was given, and the oath prescribed by
an antecedent act of Parliament, properly understood, was intended to prevent his
individual consent being given to such inchoate proceedings, not yet acts of Parlia-
ment? How could the legislature, which enabled the members of each House o
liament to pass bills not under the sanction of their oaths, be understood, because
they did not act under the sacred obligations of oath to tender to the king or queei
the bills they had passed, therefore to sanction his consent to those bills without
careful exercise of his own judgment regulated by the obligations of his oath, as hi
should himself consider what those obligations required of him? To say, therefore,
that what is called an act of Parliament, (but which, previous to the sovereign s cor
sent constituting it an act of Parliament, is no act of Parliament,) justifies a construe-
tion of the king's oath, whether that construction is or not conformable to the real
meaning of the oath, seems to be a proposition, not reconcilable to common sense,
sound reason or religious considerations.

"Let us now suppose, that, immediately after the act for establishing the ireaty o,
Union between England and Scotland was passed, under the sanction and obligai
of the two preceding acts of England and Scotland, and the king's oath, a bill had
been brought into the House of Commons and passed in that House, by which u
episcopal sees of the Church of England were proposed to be abolished the obi
Cation upon the king's subjects in general, to maintain the fabrics of the natic
Established Episcopal Church had been destroyed, and that obligation had been throw
wholly on the revenues of the clergy and by which, as in the 147th proposed clause,
the revenues should be declared to be at the disposal of Parliament for any state or
civil purposes as temporal property and that a bill of such a nature had also been
passed by the House of Lords, and was then tendered to the sovereign for his "k Rot
le veuf could the king, laying aside all consideration of the sacred and solemn obli-
gations laid upon his conscience by the treaty and the acts which had been passed
before the treating parties would treat, look at what had passed in the two Houses as
an act of Parliament freeing him from those obligations which both English and
Scotch Parliaments had imposed by parliamentary enactments, and from the solemn
oath which was by many supposed to bind his conscience? If he was to be liberated
from that oath by an act of Parliament, the united acts of the two Houses created no
such act,- and his conscientious obligations, if such were imposed upon him before
an act passed, could not very rationally be said, even by a lord chancellor, to be duly
observed by his creating it himself, by his royal assent to the bill which never could
be an act of Parliament, till he had, before there could be an act of Parliament, adopted
that very step on his part which was stated in argument by some, to be sanctified
by an act of Parliament.

"If the lieges of Scotland would not trust, as it is apparent that they would not
place their trust in, the Houses of Parliament, in one of which they were only to
have 45 members and in the other only 16, never was there folly so completely
foolish, if they did not deem it to be clear that they had no security but in the con-
science of the sovereign, inducing him to withhold his assent to the advice given by
the Houses, and refusing to consider that advice, according to the arguments above
mentioned, as dispensing with what they could not but consider as their main secu-
rity, and which the natives of Scotland never could have thought that he could con-
sider as an Act of Parliament, till he had, under the influence of his own conscience,
by the royal assent, created and made it an act of Parliament. It seems clear,
therefore, that the true question would be this and this only whether his own
conscience would allow him, consistently with his oath, to give his assent to the
measure, which they advised him, following that consent and advice, to consent to.
If the sovereign's conscience, upon his own examination of what that conscience
required of him, did not satisfy him that he might conscientiously give his royal
assent, the solemn expression of that consent on his part could not, as some thought,



CHANCELLOR ELDON. 283

be justified by the mere acts of two Houses, which, without his assent, could create
no act of Parliament.

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

" Friday evening ; (July 12ih, 1833.)

" I have had a levee of politicians with me all day long and, as I shall set out early
for my brother's to-morrow morning, I begin my Saturday's letter to-day, leaving a
place for a few but very warm affectionate words, after I receive my daily comfort in a
letter from you by to-morrow's post. I hope I have done some good to the cause of
the church to-day, changing the opinions of some who were likely to think wrong,
and fixing aright the opinions of some of those sad poor fellows who waver much.
I set myself down therefore to-day, as having gained some ground in a good cause.
*******

"I have had two bishops with me this morning for a considerable time one of
them, the Irish Bishop of Clonfert : I was particularly happy to see him. In the year,
I think, 1771, he spoke his beautiful prize poem on the Love of our Country, in the
theatre at Oxford, on the same day in which I spoke my prize essay on the Advan-
tages and Disadvantages of Foreign Travel. This meeting delighted me. Our
sovereign lord has been much talked of in common conversation and report (and
that has kept up people's hopes and spirits) as totally disapproving the Church Bill.
Alas! Lord Grey told us publicly yesterday in the House that he had his majesty's
authority to declare his consent to it. The bill is not so bad as it was at first ; but it
is a sad bill."

Speaking afterwards to Miss Forster of the Irish bishop's visit,
Lord Eldon said :

" He told me what I am sure I had forgotten, that I was a very
modest boy, a very modest boy, indeed: I am sure he said that ; I think
he added, 'You have become a sad impudent one since? of this last
I am not sure. ' I,' said he, ' recited my prize poem first; and when
I came out, you hesitated so much about going in, that I actually had
to take you by the shoulders and push you in."

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

(i Tuesday ; (July 16th, 1833.)

" Our news, domestic, is very bad. The Duke of Wellington, and a lot of adhe-
rents who act with him, mean to vote for, and not against, the Church Reform Bill
to-morrow on the second reading. The few of us who can't consent to church spo-
liation will vote, from our hearts, against it; but beaten we must be, as this most
unexpected change has taken place. What is to become of all that is worth pre-
serving is known only to Him who ruleth in heaven. I shall fight for my old prin-
ciples to the last.

" The fatigues of the debate, which may be long, and perhaps night and night, to
me will be, probably, very fatiguing indeed; but I shall nurse myself in the day-
time, and keep in as good order as I can. In some part of the proceedings I shall
speak."

Lord Eldon was mistaken in his expectation, that the Duke of
Wellington would vote for the second reading of the bill. His grace
did, indeed, recommend that it should be allowed to go into committee,
but pointed out parts of it which he regarded as objectionable, and
went out of the House without voting. The discussion in this stage
of it occupied three nights, on the last of which, the 19th of July,
the adjourned debate was begun by Lord Eldon.

He said that, conscious of the approach of that time when, in the course of nature,
his existence must close, he felt himself, upon his oaih and his honour, imperatively
called on to occupy their lordship's attention for some short space, while he stated
the grounds of his opposition to this measure; and he trusted their lordships would
receive his sincere acknowledgments for the uniform respect and attention which
they had bestowed upon him during the very long time for which he had sat upon



LIFE OF LORD

the woolsack. It was a fallacy to talk of the Irish Church as something distinct
from the English: from the time of the legislative union between the two countries,
there was ONE UNITED CHURCH of England arid Ireland. He urged the objections
founded on the king's Coronation Oath, and on the engagement with Ireland and
Scotland at the respective times of the two unions. With respect to the union of
England and Ireland, the king, when he gave his consent to that act, was called on
by the most solemn rites and ceremonies, not merely to say, " Le Roi le veui," but he
was also called on to say, in the most solemn manner, "So help me God! I will main-
tain this act." And so help him God, he would not consent to any act of Parlia-
ment that would disturb or affect the interests of that establishment, to which he
vowed his constant and eternal attachment. He must be allowed to say, whatever
consequences it might expose him to, for he was driven to it by what had passed in
the House, that, if the great seals had been in his hands at the present time, which
would have bound him to tender his humble advice on this subject to his majesty,
and if the king had declined accepting that advice which, in his conscience, he might
have given, so help him that God before whose tribunal he had soon to appear, he
would, with all dutiful respect, have said, " Sire, it is my duty to assume that you
understand that which I think your duty better than I do; the advice I have given is
from my soul and conscience what I ought to give you; I am bound to defer to your
judgment, but I cannot entangle myself with the consequences which, in my after-
life, must attach to other advice, and I cannot go out of this room without resigning
into your hands the seals of office which compel me to tender you my advice. I have
given my sovereign my best advice, according to my humble judgment, and as it is
not approved of, it is my duty to resign." Could their lordships suppose, knowing
as they must what was going on in this country, that this measure was the limit to
which they would be obliged to go if they acceded to it? The present bill destroyed
the church-rates as now collected in Ireland; and every man who read the news-
papers must perceive, that the moment was not far distant when no church-rates
could be collected in England. The principles of the constitution called on every
man to come forward in support of the church. He conceived that it should be
taken as an axiom, that every man ought to be a member of some church or other ;
for if the obligations of religion were loosened, then every man might be told to think
as he pleased on religion, and what, he would ask, could be expected to result from
such a license"! He admitted that there ought to be a free toleration in religion,
because religion was a question between a man's conscience and his God ; but that
toleration ought not to be allowed to disturb the established religion of the country,
or to bring it into such contempt as to prove its destruction. If God gave him suffi-
cient length of life, he would enter his protest against the bill, being determined that
his countrymen should know he was no party to such a proceeding: and he was
determined not to be self-convicted of having neglected his duty.*

The Portuguese enlistment question was again before the House of
Lords on the 30th of July, when the part taken in the debate by the
Duke of Sussex, in reference to Captain Napier, having appeared to
favour the principle of foreign enlistment, contrary to the king's pro-
clamation,

Lord Eldon said he could not admit that the illustrious duke, or any other peer, was
at liberty, by countenancing the conduct of that gallant individual in this respect, to
assist in counteracting his majesty's proclamation.

The Duke of Sussex intimated that there were peers ready enough to enlist men on
the opposite side of the Portuguese contest.

Lord Londonderry called on the illustrious duke to name those peers.

Lord Eldon, amidst cries of " Order," told the illustrious duke, that whoever might
be pleased to countenance acts of disobedience to the sovereign, he would, from first
to last, resist any such attempt.

Soon afterwards, on the same evening, Lord Grey moved the third
reading of the Irish Church Temporalities Bill. After a few words
in its support from Lord Headfort,

* No protest of Lord Eldon against this bill appears to have been put upon the
Journals.



CHANCELLOR ELDON.

Lord Eldon addressed the House against it. He said he founded himself on the
experience of a long life, in affirming that the prosperity of this country was insepa-
rably interwoven with the maintenance of an established religion. The Protestant
religion he considered to be the best form of religion; and he had no more doubt than,
he had of his own existence, now drawing very near to a close, that the present bill
was calculated to undermine the established religion of this country. He hoped the
argument, that this was a measure calculated to strengthen the church by its libera-
lity, would not prevail in that House. He held religious belief to be a thing between
God and a man's own conscience; but it must, at the same time, be allowed that a
man, having acquired the liberty of his own conscience, was not therefore permitted
to disturb the national peace and the national conscience. His first objection to this
bill was, that it removed the payment of the vestry-cess, and placed it upon a different
class of persons. He objected to this, as taking from the country the liability to give
that support to the church which, he contended, every man was bound to give. What-
ever might be the opinion of their lordships as to the religious feeling of the commu-
nity, they might rely upon it that if the principle of non-payment of rates, because of
a difference in religious belief, were once established, many would be found to leave
the church for the purpose of evading the burthen. The union between the two coun-
tries never would have taken place if this measure could have been foreseen. The
Protestants of Ireland never would have given their consent to the measure of the
Union, if they could have anticipated such an attack upon the established Protestant
Church. This bill was a direct fraud upon the Protestants of Ireland, he could give
it no other name. His next objection to the bill was, that it laid a tax upon the clergy.
He could not help looking back to the bill of 1 829, the Catholic Relief Bill, as the cause
of the present measure. Having regard to the present state of Ireland, and especially
to the number of Roman Catholic bishops in that country, he must add, that he would
rather increase than diminish the number of Protestant bishops. He would say no-
thing upon the subject of the Coronation Oath; but he declared that he would rather
forego his existence than support a bill which, in his opinion, was calculated to de-
stroy the Established Church of Ireland.

The bill was passed that night by a majority of 135 against 81;



Online LibraryHorace TwissThe public and private life of Lord Chancellor Eldon, with selections from his correspondence (Volume 2) → online text (page 42 of 65)