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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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crown that power which had always belonged to it, but calling upon every subject to
disclaim all obedience to the power of the pope. It was said that this advantage was
derived from the policy of Henry VIII.; he denied the truth of such a position, and
maintained that it was owing to the old common law of the country, which, in its
technical phrase, asserted the king's supremacy in ttmporalibus ac spiritualibus.
Lord Coke, in his treatise upon the laws of Edward III., recited a statute in which the
Bishop of Norwich was enjoined (and though he was specifically named, the statute
was intended for all other bishops) to keep in remembrance his duty, that all his
authority was derived from the common law or customs of the land, or the statutes,
and that he must not forget his obedience to the crown. That was the old principle
of the law. It was not the mere name, but the substance of the Protestant religion
that he wished to preserve. Indifference to religion generally led to great temporal
evils, and, if for no other reason, at least for this, ought the Protestant religion to be
supported, that it would be always a barrier against oppression, and a nursing mo-
ther to liberty and freedom. Ecclesiastical usurpation generally terminated in civil
tyranny. [Laud cries of hear, hear!} He said"Aeor" too, for he wished their lord-
ships to hear what he then said, as he should not long be able to address that or any
other assembly. He repeated, that any admission of supremacy not within the
realm, but out of the realm, was ecclesiastical usurpation, and precisely that against
which it was the object of the law to provide. It was that species of tyranny as well!
as usurpation which must terminate fatally for the liberties of the people. Such was
the opinion of Locke, such of Paley. It had been said that by the act of union with
Scotland, a church had been recognized and established which did not acknowledge


the king as its head: he wished to know how this argument applied to the case before
them? The Church of Scotland, it was true, did not acknowledge the king as its
superior, but then it did not, as the Catholics did, acknowledge another potentate, and
that potentate a foreigner, its superior in his stead. Supposing, however, that their
lordships had, on the union with Ireland, planted the Roman Catholic religion as the
dominant religion, they would only have to consider, for a moment, to be sensible how
inconsistent such a proceeding would have been with the interests of this Protestant
country, and the policy on which it had usually acted. The moment they had so plant-
ed it, what would have become of their allegiance, what of the securities which
their ancestors had interwoven around the pillars of their church, and what of their
own solemn pledges to support the supremacy of that church ? When the concessions,
on the propriety or impropriety of which they were then debating, were first thought
of, no man ever dreamt of granting them without the consent of the Protestant part of
the community, and without consulting what was due to their peace and happiness
and tranquillity. All that was great and illustrious in the country, all the venerable
names on both sides of the House, had been engaged in devising securities for the
Catholics to give, that they would not injure the establishment; and yet was there any
one of the proposed securities that was at all satisfactory 1 Did he look at the vetol
he found it unsatisfactory. Did he look at the scheme of domestic nomination? that
was as unsatisfactory as the former. They had the authority of Dr. Milner and of
others, that such arrangements were unsatisfactory and incomplete ; so that, for pros-
pective arrangements not satisfactory to the community in whose behalf they were
made, the whole state of the constitution must be altered, and a new system of laws
formed, not to satisfy one part of the community, but to alienate another. Looking
therefore at the veto, the system of domestic nomination, and the other plans which
had been proposed to Parliament, considering how unsatisfactory they all were to
all parties, recollecting that it was his duty as a privy counsellor and a Protestant
to express his sentiments humbly and sincerely to his sovereign (to whom, however,
he owed no allegiance if that sovereign was not a Protestant,) he could not help
reminding their lordships, that they would do well to soothe, and not to disturb, the
feelings which had been already excited during the course of these discussions. He
must again and again press upon their attention the insufficiency of all the securities
which had been offered. The privileges which the country had won by the Revolution.
of 1688 were not gained with ease, were not the result of a slight struggle, but were
long and arduously contested. Now that they were acquired, and that the value of
the acquisition was perfectly recognized, it behoved their lordships carefully to abstain,
from any step which could bring them into the slightest danger. The constitution
which ensured privileges to us all, when it acknowledged the right of every man who
acknowledged it to places of trust, power and emolument, did not acknowledge the
right of any man to them who did not acknowledge its full authority. The laws
which it was now sought to repeal had always been looked'upon as the best security,
not only for the civil and religious liberties of the Church of England, but for the civil
and religious liberties of every man dissenting from that church. The civil and
religious liberties of the one were best maintained by the establishment, and the civil
and religious liberties of the other by a toleration as free as the safety of the state
would allow. If he were a supporter of the Catholic claims, he should be sorry to
use any argument in favour of them which was derived from the numbers of those
who urged them. If their numbers were great, that was no argument to concede these
claims if they were unfounded; if their numbers were small, no argument to refuse
them if they were just. He had looked upon this subject with all the anxiety which
it demanded, and, in his investigations, had found that though certain canons, as
adverse to the spirit of religion as they were to the temper of the times, had been
renounced by individuals, they had not been renounced by the Church of Rome. He
saw nothing to induce him to believe that the Roman Catholics were changed, and
therefore could not give way to their pretensions or claims.

The motion was defeated by a majority of 147 against 106.

Lord Grey, having introduced a bill for dispensing with the decla-
rations prescribed by the acts of 25 and of 30 Car. 2, against the
doctrine of transubstantiation and against the invocation of saints,
4fnoved the second reading of it on the 10th of June, when

The lord chancellor again opposed the principle of such a measure, urging that the
law which had been introduced under Charles II. had been re-enacted in the first
Parliament of William III., the founder of our civil and religious liberties. It had


been thought necessary for the preservation of these, that Papists should not be
allowed to sit in Parliament, and some test was therefore necessary by which it might
be ascertained whether a man was a Catholic or a Protestant. The only possible test
for such a purpose was an oath declaratory of religious belief: and, as Dr. Paley had
observed, it was perfectly just to have a religious test of a political creed. He en-
treated the House not to commit the crime against posterity of transmitting to them, in
an impaired or insecure state, the civil and religious liberties of England.

The bill was rejected by a majority of 141 against 82.

Mr. Surtees, the father of Lady Eldon, had, by his will, dated
Dec. 3d, 1783, bequeathed her a considerable legacy; but the affairs
of his bank at Newcastle being involved at the time of his death,
which occurred about September, 1800, Lord Eldon, whom he had
nominated a devisee and executor, renounced the trust and executor-
ship, and all benefit to himself or his lady under the will : and now,
in 1819, executed a deed poll in formal confirmation of that dis-

The chancellor's attachment to ancient law did not prevent him
from promoting, on the 18th of June, a bill, which passed as the 59th
of Geo. 3. c. 46, for abolishing appeals of felony and wager of bat-
tle. In moving the committal of it he made a learned speech,
which is given at some length in Hansard's Parliamentary Debates,
and will be found entertaining by those who are curious in legal an-

On the 13th of July, the session was closed by a speech from the
prince regent himself. Little more than a month from the proroga-
tion had elapsed, when, on the 16th of August, a formidable meeting
took place at Manchester, which, with some difficulty, and unhappily
not without some loss of life, was at length dispersed by a military
force. The four following letters have reference to these events and
to the course of proceeding which, in Lord Eldon's opinion, they
called for.

(Lord Eldon to Sir William Scot I.)

(August, 1819.)
" Dear Brother,

" Yesterday's letter from you was more of the scrap kind than your former one.
Your exhortations to the king's servants, I doubt, can't reach many of them, for, with
exception of Liverpool, Castlereagh, Sidmouth, Wellington, Van and myself, they
are all, eight in number, in different parts of Europe. We meet daily, but can resolve
on nothing. In fact the state of our law is so inapplicable to existing circumstances
that we can't meet the present case : and I am as convinced as I am of my existence,
that if Parliament don't forthwith assemble, there is nothing that can be done but to let
those meetings take place, reading the Riot Act, if there be a riot at any of them.
Prosecutions for sedition spoken at them, we have now in plenty on foot and they
may come to trial nine months hence. They are not worth a straw: and, blamed
as I was in 1794 for prosecuting for High Treason, all are convinced here that that
species of prosecution can alone be of any use. I think, however, that it won't be
attempted : the case is as large and complicated as mine was in 1794, and nobody has
the spirit to attempt it. This will either be a quiet day, notwithstanding the meetings,
or it will be a tremendous one. I am to have an officer and forty soldiers in the
Museum Garden. I shall not leave town till the latter end of next week. Town or
this world, I must leave such is my state: and I hope, when I do leave it, to return
no more to labour without ceasing from seven in the morning of the 28th October to
nine at night of the 31st August. I can't bear it longer it's impossible. God bless
you. Yours,

" EtDOW.

" What think you of the letter of the Duke of Bedford and Coke of Norfolk, now


published, accepting the honour of being members of one of these Union Clubs at
Liverpool? Lord Fitzwilliam's letter, too, shows a heart palpitating with fear: in
fact the reformers would certainly demolish these great Whigs first. That I think
we have good evidence about."

(Lord Eldon to Sir William Scott.)

"Saturday, August 28th, 1819.
" Dear Brother,

" I write to say we have no news. The charges against the Manchester traitors
will, as I apprehended, dwindle into charges of seditious conspiracy. Sir Francis
Burdett is coming to town to have a Westminster meeting.

" I have not finished my business ; but my business has nearly finished me. Half
my time has been spent in hearing complaints that the V. O. would hear no counsel,
party, &c., nor give ear to anything he ought to listen to. This has produced scenes
very indecent, and I have done my best, ineffectually often, to put an end to them.
Wood, Baron, is too old for his work. It is a mischievous arrangement that has re-
quired, in judges, service of many years before they can have their pensions. It has
pleased God to distinguish some few extraordinary men by the full possession of great
talents to a great age : but this is a specialty, on which a general rule can't be esta-

" You will be sorry to hear that, in all present probability, you will see Sir Arthur
Pigott no more. Love to all. Yours affectionately,

(Lord Eldon to Sir William Scott.')

(August, 1819.)
" Dear Brother,

" Upon my return from Lincoln's Inn Hall yesterday, I received your letter, for
which I thank you ; but I was so faint with fatigue that I could not do what I have
generally done write once a day to you for I have seldom missed so doing Neither
the prince nor most of his ministers seem to act as you think they should. He came
here late on Thursday evening rather night and went off again on Saturday, to the
Marquis of Hertford's, I believe , that he went there or elsewhere is certain. Eight
out of fourteen ministers, I believe, abroad in that there is no harm: the other six
are full as many as can usefully converse upon any subject. So at least, I think
experience has taught me. Of the six, five are at their villas, and I alone am here.
They come, however, daily : not that I can see that there is much use in it. There
are but two things to be done to treat what is passing as high treason or as misde-
meanour; and when the law officers have said what THEY can do, what more is to be
done! They decide for misdemeanour; and who will be bold enough to command
them to institute prosecutions, such as they think they can't maintain! Without all
doubt, the Manchester magistrates must be supported; but they are very generally
blamed here. For my part, I think, if the assembly was only an unlawful assembly,
that task will be difficult enough in sound reasoning. If the meeting was an overt
act of treason, their justification is complete. That it was such and that the Bir-
mingham was such, is my clear opinion. Under Edward's statute, I know very well
it would be difficult to maintain that; but, under my act of the 36th of the king, in.
force at this moment, a conspiracy to levy war a conspiracy to depose him or a
conspiracy by force to make a change in either House of Parliament, manifested by
an overt act, is treason. Can any man doubt, connecting Birmingham and Man-
chester together, that these meetings are overt acts of conspirators, to~ instigate to such
specific acts of treason or some of them 1 I can't doubt it. But how ridiculously shall
I be reasoning in Parliament, if the prosecutions are for misdemeanour! An un-
lawful assembly, as such merely, I apprehend can't be dispersed ; and what constitutes
riot enough to justify dispersion is no easy matter to determine, where there is not
actual violence begun on the part of those assembled. As to my staying in town for
appearance sake, for at any rate it can be but for that, I certainly shall not; I cannot.
Sixty-nine and the chancellorship are utterly incompatible. A fair attention to my
health, I will add a fair concern for my life, requires, in my judgment, my retirement
altogether. That I can induce myself to stay here, the slave of those who are not here,
constantly assailed by business and more than probably to be employed daily in the
cases of persons charged with suspicion of treason, sedition, &c., and suing out their
writs of Habeas Corpus, and brought before me, because there is none of the twelve
judges so near as to be resorted to all at watering places is out of the question. I
caa't bring my mind to the thought that I am acting right, if I don't act upon, the con-


viction of that mind, that I am grown unequal to the duties of my office; but if I don't
secure a respite, relaxation for a time and complete relaxation for a time, the thing
must be instantly over. Fanny tells me that Mrs. Townsend mentions that the very
warm weather has been of use to Mr. T. You mention Sir Mathew White Ridley's
opinion I'll bet you any wager that, when Parliament meets, he will neither support
the Manchester magistrates, nor the law or laws which will be proposed. We hear
at least that the line of conduct, to be pursued by those with whom he generally acts,
is to be very different. Many ask why Parliament is not assembled. The reason is
plain : those who ask the question are themselves utterly unwilling to come. Here I
leave off to-night, with the warmest love of all to all.

"Your truly affectionate

(Lord Eldon to Sir William Scott.) (Extract.)

(Not dated ; probably August.)

" The accounts in general, from the disturbed districts, very gloomy, portending
storms and those not afar off. The better sort cf people in the kingdom are, as it
seems to me, insane they are divisible into two classes. The one insane and mani-
festing that insanity in perfect apathy, eating and drinking, as if there was no danger
of political death, yea, even to-morrow: the other, your Cokes, your Bedfords, &c.,
hallooing on an infuriate multitude to those acts of desperation and fury which will
first destroy those who encourage the perpetration of them. We are in a state in
which the country must make new laws to meet this new state of things, or we must
make a shocking choice between military government and anarchy. Lord Claren-
don, I think, speaks of Lord Keeper Coventry as fortunate in not living to see the
civil broils of his country : I am excessively fearful that no man can now hold the
great seal for any material portion of time, and live without seeing what Coventry did
not see."

Before he went into Dorsetshire for the vacation, he quitted his old
abode, No. 6 in Bedford Square, for the house No. 1 in Hamilton
Place, which he occupied till his death. It was not until September
that he disengaged himself from his duties in London, and went
down to Encombe ; where fresh air and comparative quiet soon re-
stored him to better health and spirits. From this retreat he addressed
two letters, in the course of the same month, to his grandson, the pre-
sent earl, then in the fifteenth year of his age.

(Lord Eldon to his Grandson, the present Earl.')

"Encombe, Sept. 12th, 1819.
"My very dear John,

" We have not yet been a week here, but I have now had time to see all that is to
be seen here.

"And, first, grandmamma and Fan send, with me, the warmest love to yon. I
hope you got mamma's letter safe : and we shall be most happy to hear that you are

" There are a great many partridges, a great many hares, and I think a fair quantity
of pheasants. The ponies, Diamond and Dancer, are quite stout, and fat as butter.
Aunt Fan's little poney. Dapper, in endeavouring to open for itself a stable door, got
its head between the door and the side of the door, where the lock is, and has very
nearly hanged himself. He is much hurt, but seems in a fair way of recovery.

"The grayhounds, Messrs. Smoker, Spot, Smut and Fly, (the two latter I shall. call
Mesdames,) are all as they should be; so are also Messrs. Don, Carlo, Bill and Bob,
the pointers. Bill and Bob have been very good and diligent in their winter educa-
tion, and I think will be towards the top of my dog college. Don is a Freshman,
sent down here a few days before we came, but he is a capital performer in the field.
Poor old Mat, whom you may remember, a pointer, seems quite superannuated, and
I think will see no more service.

" Your friends at the farm, Mr. and Mrs. Parmiter and their family, are all well,
and they and Mr. Willis inquire much after you. Mr. Parmiter's dog Tiger is in
excellent condition, and, when taken out, finds hares and rabbits in abundance.

"And now for great Caesar. He is amazing fat, looks very handsome, is more
affectionate than ever, and is particularly careful in his attendance at the breakfast-


room window, when the good things for the teeth and palate are there: as to the
loves between him and Aunt Fanny, they are endless such endearings, such saluta-
tions, such pettings, as no Dorsetshire or other Christian has the good fortune to be
honoured with.

"In the course of the winter I have had a beautiful vessel built a sailing vessel
of good size in which we went by sea yesterday, to Lulworth and back, with all
sails bent, and colours flying at the mast-head and other parts of her, a very excel-
lent and beautiful vessel.

" We have had a great piece of good luck in fishing, having caught in one fishing
about twenty-four mullet, whitings, &c. &c., of large size.

"And now, my dearest John, do you ask me why I enjoy all these things so muchl
It is because, as your friend Horace has it, they lull one into the ' Solicits jucunda
oblivia vitse.' It is because one enjoys them by contrast with meritorious labour at
other times; and depend upon it, neither Encombe nor any other place will have any
lasting charms, unless, in the period of life spent in education, a great stock of
information is laid in in the mind, and a great stock of virtuous and religious feeling
is implanted in the heart. That you may be diligent in acquiring both in youth, in
order that you may be truly happy when you grow up to manhood, is the heartfelt
wish, and will be the prayer, offered up daily to Heaven on your account, of your
truly affectionate


(Lord Eldon to his Grandson, the present Earl.} (Extract.)

" Encombe, Sept. 26th. 1819.

"The weather has been so dry as to make it difficult either to shoot or course with
any success; but we have had heavy rains yesterday and last night, and now there-
fore we may be able to do better. Your friends Bill and Bob are not equally well
educated. I think Bill is a very good young gentleman, abating that he may (though
seldom) require flogging. Bob has considerable natural merit, but he has contracted
such a stubborn self-will, that we are obliged to administer discipline very frequently ;
as soon as it is over he is just as much as ever untractable; whereas Bill, after flog-
ging, feels that sense of degradation and regret that he deserved it, which is a great
security, with men as well as dogs, for virtuous, honourable and good future con-

The following recollections of those days are from the present earl :
" The interest that Lord Eldon took in the conduct of the younger
branches of his family, during the time of their education, never
tended to severity and seldom to reproof, so long as no case occurred
of habitual idleness or moral delinquency. Being at school at Win-
chester, I had always permission to dine and sleep at the George Inn,
whenever Lord Eldon and his family passed the night there in going
to Dorsetshire or returning to town. On one occasion, I think in
1819 or 1820, upon my entering their room at the inn, (which is at a
distance of about five minutes' run from the college,) Lord Eldon
instantly thus addressed me, with his kindest expression of counte-
nance, ' Well, John, how are you?' adding, without a pause, 'When
were you flogged last?' I could not help laughing, and was soon
joined by the whole party, when I gave the reply, 'About ten minutes
ago, grandpapa!' The fact was literally so ; for, being dressed before
school-time for my expected visit, the instant school was over I was
allowed to go, and the administration of bodily chastisement being
the last process in school hours, ten minutes could scarcely have then
elapsed. He well knew that the floggings were neither severe in
their usual mode of infliction, nor necessary tokens of any great mis-
conduct. Lord Eldon inquiring the particulars of my offence, I in-
formed him that a dead bird, which had been thrown about, came
into my hands just as the tutor was coming into the school ; which I


placed in his chair, and came forward to state so, when he asked who
did it. He therefore ordered me to put my name on the master's
flogging list, which, in the disregard of floggings which I enter-
tained, I subsequently declined to commute for the almost nominal
punishment of writing out, in Latin and English, any ten lines of
Virgil, which he pressed me to do, the offence appearing to him, on
reconsideration, so trifling. Dr. Williams sent for me to know why
this tutor, to whom my lessons were not said, had ordered my name.
I told him with a smile ; he smiled in return, and at the close of the
school-time flogged me accordingly ; though with less exertion of the
strength of his arm than I have felt on occasions when the demerit
was greater."

The chancellor was now in correspondence with the home depart-
ment, upon the state of the law in relation to the recent disturbances.
Lord Sidmouth was the home secretary.

(Lord Sidmouth to Lord Eldon.~)

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