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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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There is another monument in the Temple church, comprehending
on one tablet, two separate scrolls, to the memory of Lord Eldon and
Lord Stowell respectively. The inscriptions set forth the dates of
their births and deaths, and the names of the offices they filled ; and
beneath are these words :






The features of both brothers had long been familiar among the
leading professors of painting and sculpture. The principal portraits
for which they appear to have expressly sat, exclusively of mere pen-
cil drawings, are as follows :

1798-1799. A portrait, in plain clothes, of Lord Eldon, then Sir
John Scott, attorney-general, by Mr., afterwards Sir Thomas, Law-
rence.* It belonged to Lord Eldon himself, and is now in the pos-
session of the present earl, in Hamilton Place.

17981810. A portrait of Lord Stowell, then Sir William Scott,
robed as Judge of the Admiralty, by Hoppner. This is in the hall of
University College, Oxford.

1811 1816. Three pairs of full-length portraits, by Owen. Of
these, the three w T hich represent Lord Eldon are identical, and ex-
hibit him seated in his robes as lord chancellor.! In the other three,
also identical, Sir William Scott is seen seated and robed as Judge of
the Admiralty. One of these pairs was painted for the corporation
of Newcastle-on-Tyne, in whose Guildhall that pair was placed in
1816. A second pair, which belonged to Sir William, and which
was, after his death, presented by his daughter, the late Viscountess
Sidmouth, to the University of Oxford, is in the Bodleian Library
there. The third pair is in the possession of the present Lord Eldon,
in Hamilton Place. There is also a fourth portrait of Lord Eldon,
by Owen, which is identical with the first-named three, and now in
the possession of the present earl. A portrait of Lord Eldon, as
chancellor, by Owen, is also in University College Hall, Oxford ; the
head is identical with those above mentioned, but the figure is not at

See Chap. XV. Vol. I. p. 181.

f See letter of Lord Eldon to Dr. Swire of Sept. 22d, 1812.


full length, the size of the canvas being smaller : in that respect it
corresponds with the portrait of Sir William Scott, by Hoppner, to
which it is a companion.

1824 1825. Portraits of Lords Eldon and Stowell, a pair, both
in plain clothes. These were painted by Sir Thomas Lawrence, for
Sir Robert Peel, who now has them at his house in Whitehall Gar-

1825 1828. Portrait of Lord Eldon, painted by Sir Thomas Law-
rence for King George IV., who placed it, where it still is, in the
corridor of the private apartments at Windsor Castle. Lord Eldon
told the present earl that the king, who had been much pleased with
Lawrence's earlier portrait of him, as attorney-general, desired that
this picture for Windsor Castle might be executed in the same plain
style of dress and general arrangement, which has been done accord-

1827. A portrait of Lord Stowell, as Judge of the Admiralty, by
Phillips, which is in the Parliament Chamber of the Middle Temple.

1831. A portrait of Lord Stowell, by Phillips, at Corpus Christi
College, Oxford, where Lord Stowell obtained the Durham Scholarship.

1833. Portrait of Lord Eldon, painted by Pickersgill for Merchant
Tailors' Hall, where it now is.

18341836. Portrait of Lord Eldon at his library table, painted
in triplicate, by Briggs, for Mr. Thurlow, Lady Elizabeth Repton,
and Lady Frances Bankes.*

1837. Picture representing Lord Eldon and Lord Encombe at the
Oxford installation, by Briggs ; in the possession of the present earl
in Hamilton Place, f

Lord Eldon sat also to Tatham for the stone statue which occu-
pies the niche in the front of the Eldon School at Vauxhall, founded
in 1829.

Both Lord Eldon and Lord Stowell sat to Behnes, the latter in
1824, the former in 1831, for their busts, executed for the Middle
Temple, whence both of them had been called to the bar ; these are
now in the Society's Hall. The present earl has duplicates of them
in Hamilton Place by the artist himself.

From these numerous likenesses, executed at so many different
times, an accurate idea may be collected of Lord Eldon's personal
appearance throughout the middle and latter periods of his life. In
his early years he had been considered handsome. The marking
feature of his countenance was his bushy overhanging brow, which
gave a character of profound thought to his features, without at all
overcasting their cheerful, placid, benevolent expression. His figure
was of the middle size, light and active ; and his attire and appoint-
ments neat and unostentatious.

He left to his family a noble fortune. An account of his emolu-
ments, from his appointment to the great seal in 1801 , until his resigna-
tion of it in 1806, and from his return to it in 1807 until his final

See Chapter LX. f See Chapter LXL


retirement in 1827, was made by the late Mr. Pensam, one of his
secretaries, and shows that the total of what he received both from his
court and from the speakership of the House of Lords, was an ave-
ra"e of 17,566/. per annum in the first period, and of 16,118Z. in the
second. This latter receipt must be reduced (with reference to the
fourteen years 1813 to 1827) by 2500/. a year, the sum which, by
the act constituting the Court of the Vice-Chancellor of England, was
made payable to that office from the fees of the great seal. If, after
this deduction, which amounts to 35,OOOZ., the aggregate receipt be
divided by 25, for which number of years, wanting only about five
weeks, Lord Eldon was chancellor, the result will be an average of
14,718/. per annum for the whole period. His investments were in
land, in the funds, and on mortgage. " He used to say," relates Mr.
Bell, " that his purchases into the stocks and his sales out of the
stocks w r ere never made (as his bankers could testify) except in the
simple and usual course of business never by way of speculation, or
with reference to any particular public event or circumstance."

The will, by which he disposed of his great possessions, occupied
seventy-four sheets (inclusive of a schedule), and is dated the 24th
of June, 1836. By this instrument, he gives his Dorsetshire estates
to Lord Encombe for life, remainder to Lord Encombe's first and
every other son successively in tail male ; and for default of such
issue, they are settled in moieties upon the testator's two daughters,
Lady Elizabeth and Lady Frances, with remainders in tail to sons in
succession, and then to daughters as tenants in common in tail, and
cross-remainders in tail, between the families of Lady Frances and
Lady Elizabeth. The Durham estates, subject to the settlements of
them before made on the marriage of Lord Encombe and on other
occasions under which settlements the Durham estates were settled
upon Lord Encombe for life, with remainders to his first and every
other son successively in tail male are given to the same uses in
i'avour of Lady Elizabeth Repton and Lady Frances Bankes and their
families, as the Dorsetshire property. The leasehold house in Ha-
milton Place is given to Lord Encombe for life, with remainder to
his first and other sons successively ; and, in default of such issue,
becomes part of the testator's personal residue. Several large sums
of stock are settled upon the testator's two daughters and their issue.
To Lady Elizabeth and Lady Frances are left also some specific arti-
cles ; and life-annuities are given to each. Pincher, described as
" my favourite dog," is bequeathed to Lady Frances, with an annuity
of 81. during his life, "to provide food for the said dog." "And I
direct," continues the testator, " that I may be buried in the same
tomb at Kingston in which my most beloved wife is buried, and as
near to her remains as possible ; and I desire that the ring which I
wear on my finger* may be put with my body into my coffin, and be
buried with me." He then directs that his daughters may be buried
in the same tomb, at the expense of his estate. He bequeaths 500/.

* The mourning ring for his wife.


to his niece, Mrs. Forster (which he afterwards, by a codicil, converts
into a life-annuity to her of 100Z.,) and 500J. to her daughter, Miss
Ellen Forster: and adds various legacies to servants and others. The
general residue of his personal estate he directs to be invested in the
purchase of lands, to be settled to the same uses as the Dorsetshire
estates. A schedule is annexed, enumerating various articles which
the will directs to descend with the estate, in the nature of heirlooms,
and to which the first codicil directs some additions. These heir-
looms are chiefly busts, portraits painted and engraven, letters of the
royal family, the watch, chain and seal given to him by King George
III., various snuff-boxes, the salvers having the great seal set therein,
the tankard given to him by George IV., addresses and other testi-
monials and tributes to his public character, his law books, the robes
and lace worn by him as a judge and as a peer respectively ; and,
adds he, " the service of plate which I had on my appointment as
lord chancellor." There are several codicils, by which various other
legacies are given, and which make further provisions for his daugh-
ters and their families, with other dispositions and modifications not
necessary to be here particularized. The third codicil, which con-
tains but a few lines, is wholly in his own hand- writing : it regards
his butler, Smith, and ends with the words, " To his services to me,
and his character, I cannot but bear the highest testimony." The
executors were, the present earl, Mr. Francis Cross, the master in
chancery now deceased, and Mr. Alfred Bell, of Lincoln's Inn
Fields, the testator's solicitor. The two latter were constituted the
trustees throughout the will and codicils.



I. Character of Lord Eldon as a judge in equity and administrator of the great seal.

1. His natural qualifications for the law; his learning; his tendency to doubt.

2. Postponement of particular judgments after hearing. First motion of Mr.
Williams in the House of Commons, 1823: analysis of the cases complained
of. Second motion of Mr. Williams, 1824: Analysis of cases : commission
promised. Third motion of Mr. Williams, 1825: Analysis of cases. Other
cases, not mentioned in the debates. General observations on the evidence
touching the postponed judgments. Official return of the number really in
arrear for four years including the period of the debates. Lord Eldon's apolo-
gies for his own delays.

3. General arrear, not imputable to Lord Eldon. Lord Eldon's actual efficiency.
Apparent delay from practice of virtually deciding causes upon motions.
Increase of business since the time of Lord Hardwicke : Comparison, from
official returns, of the business done in 10 years by Lord Hardwicke and by
Lord Eldon respectively; and in 3 years by Lord Hardwicke, Lord Eldon, and
Vice-chancellor Leach respectively: Superiority of Lord Eldon. Circumstances
of disadvantage to Lord Eldon, as compared with Lord Hardwicke, from longer
and more frequent attendances in the House of Lords, greater length and
complexity of causes, etc., etc. Increase of arrear not checked by Vice-chan-
cellor's court. Impossibility of keeping down arrears, reported by the Lords'
committee, and admitted by Lord Eldon's political opponents. Real causes of
accumulation. State of the court in the time of the chancellors preceding and
succeeding Lord Eldon.

4. Vindication of Lord Eldon against general imputations : His judicial style:
Alleged want of boldness and vigour in his judgments: Testimony of Mr.
Butler, and letter of Lord Eldon to him. Lord Eldon's suggestions of difficul-
ties: His alleged avoidance of general principles: His contributions to the
science of the law: His imputed backwardness in the reform of his court.
Impracticability of the desired speed in chancery suits. Lord Eldon's im-
provements in the administration of the Scotch law and the law of bankruptcy :
Letter from him lo Sir E. Sugden on improvements in the law of real property.
Unfounded charge of arbitrary discretion exercised in the administration of
equity. Summary of the preceding heads, 2, 3, and 4.

5. General principles and habits of Lord Eldon as a judge. Christianity, as part
of the law. Cognizance of common law questions. Assignment of reasons
of judgments. Abstinence from spurious ^methods of dispatch. Protection
of married women. Vigilance for the liberty of the subject Examination of
authorities out of court. Candour to correct his own errors. Anxiety to de-
cide satisfactorily as well as legally, and to compromise litigation. Candid
allowance of the merits of other judges : Control and censure of their errors.
His modesty: Disregard of personal ease: Distribution of patronage: the
church : the law: Appointments of judges, law officers, and king's counsel.
His opinion of the modern bar. Courtesy : Dignity : Cheerfulness under the
pressure of business. Conclusion of legal character.


II. Private character of Lord Eldon. His domestic affections : Economy and Jibe,
rality : Charities: Remission of official emoluments: Private bounties. His con-
versation : Simplicity of taste and habits: Equanimity: Demeanour: Religion.

III. Political character of Lord Eldon. His attachment to establishments: Disin-
clination to changes: Popularity: Firmness. His rise in the state independent of
the usual qualifications for parliamentary success: nature of his political endow-
ments: absence of imaginative power: consummate judgment: defective oratory :
adaptation for business of House of Lords: Vigour in cabinet, and successful issues
of his counsels.

I. 1.

WHEN Mr. John Scott came to the bar, the attainment of distinction
there, by any extraordinary exhibition of industry and ability, was so
much more open than it afterwards became under the influences of
favouritism and connection, that, qualified as he was, both by nature
and by acquirements, he could hardly fail to attain eminence and
fortune. He possessed, beyond all his immediate competitors, and
in a degree never surpassed, the principal faculties which make a
great and successful lawyer: a clear and ready apprehension a
memory quick and retentive a judgment which neither perplexity
nor sophistry could confound an industry never enervated by luxury,
and never distracted by passion. These qualities, unaccompanied
(and perhaps in his case fortunately) with any thing like eloquence, in
the florid or showy sense of the word, ensured his rapid rise at the
bar, and eminently fitted him for the high seats which he filled on
the bench.

It would be idle to attempt any gauge of a great lawyer's learning.
The subject is not of a nature to be defined by any precise outline,
and particular quotations w r ould give no notion of it. In truth, the
matter is one of those upon which the only good evidence is reputa-
tion: and, touching Lord Eldon, this reputation is uniform. Sir
Samuel Romilly, adverse as he was to Lord Eldon in politics, and
pushed by the opposition into a sort of rivalry with him in the law,
yet acknowledged, in a speech already quoted, (7th March, 1811,)
not only that he was a judge of a conciliating demeanour, and a strict
love of justice amounting even to an over-anxiety, but that no man
could be found who was more " eminently qualified, in point of
talents and learning, for all parts of his profession." That was the
testimony of 1811. Ten years afterwards, that profound no less
than acute lawyer, the present Lord Chancellor of Ireland, Sir
Edward Sugden, in dedicating his great work on Powers to Lord
Eldon, used these strong expressions:

I naturally paused before I ventured to solicit the high sanction which your lord-
ship's permission to affix your name must give to any treatise on English law. I
felt the presumption of addressing such a request to a judge who has sooften excited
the admiration of the bar by a display, without effort, of an extent of knowledge in
every branch of jurisprudence, which the life of man appears to be insufficient to

See also the passages hereafter quoted from Mr. Butler's " Reminiscences," from


The general judgment of the legal profession, eighteen years later,
when the death of Lord Eldon had removed all influences, whether
of interest or of party feeling, is correctly summed up by Lord
Brouo-ham in a vigorous passage, which, after a recapitulation of
Lord Eldon's great natural aptitudes for legal attainment, proceeds
thus :

"It is needless to add, that he became one of the most thoroughly learned lawyers
who ever appeared in Westminster Hall, if not the most learned: for, when it is recol-
lected that the science has been more than doubled in bulk, and in variety of subjects
has been increased fourfold, since the time of Lord Coke, it is hardly possible to
question his superiority to that great light of English jurisprudence, the only man
in our legal history with whom this comparison can be instituted. A singular in-
stance of his universality, and of the masterly readiness with which his extensive
learning could be brought to bear upon any point, was once presented in the argument
upon a writ of error in the House of Lords. The case had run the gauntlet of the
courts, and the most skilful pleaders, as well as the most experienced judges, had all
dealt with it in succession: when he, who had not for many years had the possibility
of considering any such matters, and had never at any time been a special pleader,
at once hit upon a point in pleading which appeared to have escaped the Holroyds,
the Richardsons, the Bayleys, the Abbots, the Littledales; and on that point the cause
was decided."*

It is certainly true, that with all this learning, and with all the
extraordinary faculties which he could bring to the direction of it,
Lord Eldon had about him a disposition to hesitate, which, in his
judicial character, amounted to a defect: much exaggerated indeed by
his political adversaries, but still a defect. Not that he was slow in
making up his mind : for, as was said by Mr. Brougham in the
debate of May, 1826, on the measures of Chancery Reform intro-
duced by Lord Lyndhurst, (then attorney-general,)

"With Lord Eldon's excellent judgment and most eminently endowed understand-
ing with such high capabilities of forming his decision it was impossible that he
could be long in making up his mind; he was only long, and slow, and hesitating, in
giving his opinion"

The chancellor, continued Mr. Brougham, (certainly no partial

"Has a mind large and capacious, filled with ample stores of learning drawn from
every source, but more especially with the learning of his profession, and can bring
his faculties, which are great, in the smallest time, to bear on the largest and most
difficult questions. It would therefore be strange, if that noble and learned person
could not see through the greatest difficulties; as, indeed, it is well known he often
does at a glance."

His reluctance to pronounce quickly what he had quickly con-
ceived and resolved, had no effect upon his reputation in the first two
years of his judicial life, which were passed at the head of the Com-
mon Pleas : for, as has already been observed, f a common law judge,
when presiding in a jury court, has no interval allowed him between
the close of the case at the bar and his own address to the jury : and
in bank, he is associated with three other judges, to whose average
rate of dispatch he must needs adapt himself. Lord Eldon, therefore,

Mr. Jarman's dedication to his edition of "Powell on Devises," from Mr. Swanston's
Preface to his Reports, &c. &c.

* Statesmen of Geo. III., Second Series, p. 65.

t Chap. XV. p. 181.


being precluded, while he remained chief justice, from indulging his
foible, was then held by the profession to be a judge without a fault.
When he attained the great seal, he was enabled, indeed, from the
more difficult and complicated nature of suits in equity as compared
with those at law, to evince powers of mind still more extraordinary
than those which he had exhibited in the Common Pleas ; but the
additional admiration excited by these great faculties was then, for
the first time, a little shaded by his occasional tendency (for after all
it was seen but in comparatively few cases) to hesitate about his final
decision. Such a tendency was thought the less reasonable, because,
except himself, there was nobody who doubted the correctness of his
conclusions. Still, however, in the earlier years of his chancellor-
ship, before the length of his official tenure, and the influence pos-
sessed by him with two successive sovereigns, had made him the
broad and continual mark for political attacks, this single failing was
the subject of no serious complaint. One of the earliest, and cer-
tainly one of the most quick-sighted of the commentators on his judi-
cial course, was Sir Samuel Romilly, who, in his Diary, 8th March,
1811, has the following memorandum:

" What has passed to-day in the Court of Chancery affords a strong exemplification
of my assertion of yesterday, that the lord chancellor was wer-anxious to decide pro-
perly. He has, for a Ions; time, had a great number of cases which have been argued
before him, waiting for his judgment to be pronounced some original causes, and
many more motions and petitions. The distress, which is occasioned to many parties
by this, is hardly to be conceived. On this day three cases were, by his order, put
into his paper, for him to deliver his judgment. Of two of them he merely directed
that they should stand over till the following Monday, without giving any reason.
The third was a case of Foster v. Bellamy. It was a bill filed by a pauper to redeem
a very old mortgage, the plaintiff alleging that he was heir-at-law to the mortgagor.
The defendant disputed the fact of his being heir, and the plaintiff had gone into evi-
dence to prove his title; but the evidence was so unsatisfactory, that all that I, who
was counsel for the plaintiff, could do, was to ask that an issue might be directed to
try the fact of his being heir. Of this case, which had been argued before the long
vacation, the lord chancellor said to-day, that he had read all the evidence over, three
several times, and that he did not think that there was sufficient proved to warrant
his directing an issue: but that, as it was the case of a pauper, he would go over all
the evidence once more; and for that purpose he directed the cause to stand over
generally, without appointing any time for his final determination. He thus condemns
all the other impatient suitors to continue waiting in anxious expectation of having
their causes decided, till he shall have made himself quite sure, by another perusal
of the depositions, that he has not been already three times mistaken."*

Sir Samuel Romilly, however, had before confessed himself tho-
roughly alive, in his own person, to the responsibility of deciding
upon the rights of others. The truth is, says he in his Diary, August,
1807, that, for the last two or three years, I have " declined, as much
as I well could, the giving of opinions;" and he assigns, among
his grounds for that unwillingness, the importance " that one's
opinion should be right ; for in many cases it has the effect of a deci-
sion to the parties, and in others it involves them in expensive liti-
gations.''! If this be a reason why a barrister should decline to give
an opinion, some indulgence may be claimed for the hesitation of a

Memoirs of Romilly's Life, vol. ii. 371, 372. t Vo1 - " 225<


judge in pronouncing a decree, which may transfer a fortune or waste
it in an appeal.

A livelier notice of the chancellor's over-dubitative turn was the
extempore of Mr., now Sir George, Rose, who being asked by the
regular legal reporter to take a note of a case for him during his ab-

Online LibraryHorace TwissThe public and private life of Lord Chancellor Eldon, with selections from his correspondence (Volume 2) → online text (page 50 of 65)