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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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drawn between Lord Hardwicke's and Lord Eldon's dispatch of ap-
pellate business in the House of Lords during the respective decennial
periods before mentioned ; but with respect to the business there dis-
patched, in three of the years of each of those great chancellors, a
parallel is furnished a few pages hence, after the tables.

In the Appendix, p. 46, to a Report of a Committee of the House
of Commons, ordered to be printed 13th June, 1812, is the following
piece of evidence, given by Mr. Henry Cowper, then one of the
officers of the House of Lords :

"To show how great a portion of time has of late been occupied on some of the
claims of peerage, I have made out an account of the number of days, on which the
committee of privileges sat on the Berkeley claim of peerage. On that claim alone
they sat no less than thirty-four days in the last session of Parliament, on several of
which they met as early as ten o'clock in the morning, and continued sitting till four
or five in the afternoon. The Roxburghe claim of peerage, in the year 1808, took up
seven days; in the year 1809, four days ; in the year 1810, fifteen days; in the whole,
twenty-six days. On the Roxburghe' causes connected with this claim of peerage,
there were, in the year 1808, no less than thirty-one days taken up, and, upon a great
many of them, the House met at ten o'clock in the morning, and continued sitting
till near four o'clock in the afternoon. One of the counsel alone in these causes occu-
pied, I understand, no less than eighteen days. The Roxburghe causes, in the present
session, 1812, have already occupied eleven days."

The advantage on Lord Eldon's side could be farther exhibited in re-
spect of the business of bankruptcy and lunacy, by returns of the num-
bers of cases dispatched by him and by Lord Hardwicke about the
periods above mentioned ; but it is hardly needful to enter into the
details of such an inquiry here, because all that is material to the main
question will be made sufficiently evident presently, by certain tables,
constructed from the documents already enumerated, and relating to a
subsequent period of Lord Eldon's chancellorship. As the returns
before abstracted show his dispatch of judicial business in the earlier
years of his service, so these subsequent tables establish that, in a
later time, even at the period when his adversaries were preparing
their materials for attack, and while he was withdrawn from the 'Court
of Chancery to the House of Lords, two and often three days in each

* The account of business done at the rolls, in the same two compared periods,
presents a still larger increase; the number of matters disposed of in that branch of
the court having been, in the before-mentioned ten years of Lord Hardwicke, 7615,
and in the first ten years of the present century, 13,308. The business done at the
rolls is of a very much lighter kind than what is heard by the chancellor, but still
serves, in some degree, to illustrate the general proportions between the two periods.


week during the whole of each session of Parliament,* the amount of
judicial business executed by him in equity, bankruptcy, and lunacy,
surpassed the performances Ijoth of Lord Hardwicke and of his own
cotemporary judge, Sir John Leach, who most peculiarly affected the
reputation of dispatch.

The two periods assumed for this comparison are, that of the three
years ending Michaelmas, 1755, being the concluding three years of
those ten in Lord Hardwicke's time which have already been com-
pared with ten of the present century ;f and that of the three years
ending December 31st, 1821, being the eighteenth, nineteenth, and
twentieth years from Lord Eldon's first accession to the great seal.
The reason why the period first mentioned has been selected as the
specimen of Lord Hardwicke's time, is, that the years 1752, 1753,

1754, are the three already noticed as giving the largest average of
bills filed, and are also the final three of the only five entire years of his
chancellorship, for which there is any complete record, including the
business done by him in bankruptcy. And the reason why the years
1819, 1820 and 1821, have been selected as the specimen of Lord
Eldon's time, is, that with these years ends the important return No.
II., which contains the only account of the motions and petitions
heard by him. Of the petitions in lunacy there is no account for the
very years 1752-3, 1753-4, and 1754-5 ; but there is an account, No.
I. letter F, for the ten years ending 1746, which gives an average
number of 48? : and this number has been assumed for each of the
three years 1752-3, 1753-4, and 1754-54

The succeeding tables do not include the business done in either
of the two periods at the rolls, but only the business done in the lord
chancellor's court. In the first of these tables, the items of motions
dispatched by Lord Hardwicke will require some explanation. The
parallel before drawn, between the business dispatched from 1745 to

1755, and the business dispatched from 1800 to 1810, was so far
simple, that as the return from which it was prepared appears framed
on the uniform principle of including in both these periods all decrees
and orders, (not only where contested, but also where made of course
or by consent, except merely such as were taken on the signature of
counsel without vivd voce application to the court,) it was assumed in

* On an average, about forty-eight days in each year: see below aAer the tables.

| The three years of Lord Hardwicke's time are given in the returns, as from Mi-
chaelmas to Michaelmas: Lord Eldon's years are given in the returns, as from January
to December; but three full twelvemonths are included equally in both cases, and
there is no reason to suppose that the returns were made up with any difference of
principle, or with any bias which should affect the accuracy of a parallel between them.

\ The account No. III., the most comprehensive of the documents above referred
to, will occasionally be found in some small particulars, touching the years 1820,
1821, 1822, to vary from the account No. II. Where this has appeared to be the case.
No. III. has been preferred, as bearing marks of greater care in the preparation.
There are also some variances between No. III. and No. I. touching the years 1752
to 1755 : but where this has happened, No. I. has been preferred, because many office
books, which were in existence in 1811, when No. I. was prepared, were afterwards
mislaid and could not be found in 1825, when No. III. was made up. In neithercase,
however, are these variances considerable enough to have any material effect upon
the argument.

VOL. ii. 24


that parallel that, of the business so returned, the contested portion
bore much the same ratio to the uncontested in the one period as in
the other. But for the purpose of preparing the tables that next fol-
low, there were several different returns to be consulted, which had
not been framed on a uniform principle, and which therefore required
some allowances and calculations in order to bring their results to a
common measure. It is with respect to the motions (in these two
latter periods) that this becomes requisite. The account of each
year's motions in Lord Hardwicke's time gives those which were
contested, and those which were of course or of consent, in one item
without distinction. But the account of the motions in Lord Eldon's
time, which is set forth in No. II., is confined to those which were
contested, omitting the motions of course and of consent, which, oc-
cupying no part of the court's time, formed no part of the business for
which the judge ought to have credit. Now the best attainable ap-
proximation to the contested proportion of these motions will probably
be gained from a comparison of the number of the causes heard in the
two periods 'of Lord Hardwicke and Lord Eldon, in which number
the causes taken by the master of the rolls during the time of Lord
Hardwicke must be included ; because, during his time and long after-
wards, the contested motions arising out of causes heard by the master
of the rolls were not in general taken at the rolls, as they are now,
but in the lord chancellor's court. The total number of causes in the
years 1752, 1753, 1754, heard by Lord Hardwicke and the master of
the rolls for the time being, according to the return No. I. B. and C.,
was 901 ; and according to the return III. 1. the number heard by
Lord Eldon and by the vice-chancellor and master of the rolls in
1819, 1820, 1821, was 2305. The three years, which thus produced
2305 causes, produced also 7397 contested motions. Of these it may
be computed that at least one-eighth, or about 920, were motions of
appeal from the vice-chancellor, while perhaps 180 or 200 more were
motions occasioned by* the new practice already explained, of framing
motions for the purpose of getting the chancellor's opinion in an
interlocutory way; neither of which classes of business existed in Lord
Hardwicke's time, when no vice-chancellor was in being, when the
master of the rolls heard no motions, and when the practice just men-
tioned had not been devised. These deductions being made, it may
be probably assumed that the number of contested 'motions pro-
duced by the 2305, say 2300, causes in Lord Eldon's three years,
instead of being 7397, would hardly have reached to 6300 ; and, ap-
plying this proportion of 6300 contested motions for 2300 causes to
the 901 causes, say 900, heard in Lord Hardwicke's three years, we
get a probable result, for Lord Hardwicke's three years, of 2465 con-
tested motions, out of the 11,543 given as the general total of those
three years in the return No. I. B. The remainder, being 9078, will
be motions of course or of consent, which occupying, as already ob-
served, no part at all of the judge's time, must be deducted from the
amount of business set down to the credit of Lord Hardwicke, just as
they have been excluded from the return of actual business done by


Lord Eldon and the vice-chancellor. The number of motions, for
which Lord Hardwicke is entitled to be credited in the estimate for
his three years, will then stand at the above calculated number of

But now arises another and most material consideration in reference
to the succeeding tables, namely, the alteration in the nature and weight
of the lord chancellor's business, occasioned by the introduction of
a vice-chancellor. In the business done by Lord Hardwicke, were
included all matters of all kinds, light as well as heavy J 1 except what
were disposed of at the rolls. But with Lord Eldon, from the time
of the vice-chancellor's appointment, the course of affairs became
wholly different; for, as the vice-chancellor's court, which was em-
powered to hear bankruptcy as well as equity, had practically the
effect, in both these departments, of clearing away the lighter cases,
and leaving the heavy ones upon the lord chancellor, Lord Eldon had
scarce any intermixture whatever of light cases, except, indeed, in
lunacy, in which he heard all petitions indiscriminately, the vice-
chancellor having there no jurisdiction.

A paper, found in Lord Eldon's hand-writing, contains, among
other observations upon the nature of court business, this passage,
respecting the unfairness of computation by tale alone, without regard
to weight:

"Nothing so likely to mislead with respect to deciding whether A.,
B., or C., has done most judicial business in five or six years, than
stating the number of decrees they have respectively made.

" Suppose A., in the given period, has made 18

B. - 24

C. - .... 30;

it is a gross fallacy to infer from this that C. has done more business
than B. or A. What is the quantity of business, by each, must de-
pend, not upon the number, but upon the nature, of the suits in which
the judgments or decrees have been made.

"Five, six, ten, more decrees or judgments may be made in two
days by C. than B. has made in six, seven, or eight or more days:
because the nature of the causes may not have required, or the diffi-
culties in the causes in which C. has made decrees may not have
required the devotion of the time absolutely necessary to be given
only to one, two, three, or four causes, in which B. has made decrees,
and which may be of ten times more importance, as to each, than the
bulk of the causes decided by C.

"Two or three causes decided by A., out of his 18, may require
both more time and more knowledge, to enable a proper decision to
be made in them, than 12 or 15 or more of the causes decided by C.

* * * * *

" In one cause, from its nature, counsel may plead for four or more
days, before the judge can apply himself to deciding in other causes ;


another judge may have opportunity of deciding several in one morn-
ing, after counsel have stated what they had to urge in such causes."

Lord Eldon's business, then, with the one exception of the lunacy
petitions, being exclusively of the heaviest class, it was not to be
expected that a list of the matters dispatched by him should be so
numerous, as the list of the matters dispatched by chancellors, or other
equity judges, who had a large infusion of the lighter cases. Thus,
in order to arrive at the just conclusion from these tables, it becomes
necessary to make some attempt at ascertaining what the proportions,
in number and in weight, between the lighter and the heavier cases,
may probably have been in the periods compared.

Of the 1680 bankrupt petitions, heard in the three years of Lord
Eldon which are now under consideration, the heavier ones, which
were heard by himself, amounted to 396, and the lighter ones, which
were heard by the vice-chancellor, to 1284. The lunatic petitions,
799, were all heard by the chancellor himself; but, at the same rate
of classification, there would be 611 of the lighter description, and
only 188 of the heavier. If it be conceded, on Lord Eldori's side of
the parallel, that the heavy cases bore an equally large proportion to
the light ones in Lord Hardwicke's time, which, however, may rea-
sonably be doubted, then out of the 428 petitions in bankruptcy which
Lord Hardwicke, having no vice chancellor, heard all himself, there
would be about 100 heavy and 328 light, and out of his 146 petitions
in lunacy, about 35 heavy and 111 light. Of the 7397 contested mo-
tions not of course or of consent in the three years of Lord Eldon now
under consideration, the heavier ones, heard by himself, were 1560, and
the lighter ones, by the vice-chancellor, 5837 ; and if the same propor-
tion of heavy and light ones be again conceded for Lord Hardwicke's
time, then out of the 2465 contested motions computed to have been
heard by Lord Hardwicke, there would be about 520 heavy ones and
1945 light.

The cause-petitions disposed of in Lord Hardwicke's time are less
easily distinguished into light and heavy ones, because they were not
heard, as in those days the petitions in lunacy and bankruptcy and
the contested motions were, wholly in the chancellor's court, but
partly in the chancellor's court and partly at the rolls. The aggre-
gate number heard in both courts during the three selected years of
Lord Hardwicke's time is 1017, of which 419 were heard in the lord
chancellor's court. The aggregate number heard in Lord Eldon's
and the vice-chancellor's courts in 1819, 1820, 1821 (exclusively of
what may have been heard at the rolls, of which no return appears)
was 1138; and of all these only 140 were of sufficient importance to
be selected for Lord Eldon's decision. Suppose the rolls court to
have disposed of but three or four hundred more, making about 1500
in all, still the light ones heard there and in the vice-chancellor's
court would be almost ten times as many as the heavy ones heard
before Lord Eldon himself; and if thus the heavy petitions heard by
Lord Eldon himself were but 140 in a probable aggregate of at least
1500, then the heavy portion of the 1017 petitions disposed of in


Lord Hardwicke's time, of which 419 were in his own court, will
probably not have exceeded 100.

It is requisite, in the next place, to find some common measure for
these two classes of cases, the heavier and the lighter, so as to get
some notion what number of the lighter cases will be equivalent to a
given amount of the heavier. This, of course, is not to be done with
absolute precision; but we are not without a rule which will bring
the two sets of items, in the succeeding tables, into a tolerably fail-
position for comparison.

In the debate upon the creation of a vice-chancellor, 15th February,
1813, it was observed by Mr. Leach, who certainly was not disposed,
either politically or professionally, to give too much credit to Lord
Eldon, (particularly in comparison with Sir William Grant, the then
master of the rolls,) that each cause heard by the chancellor might be
considered, in respect of its weight and of the time it occupied, as
being equivalent to three of the causes heard by the master of the
rolls. The registrar, Mr. Colville, has expressed an opinion, that a
very much larger number than three should have been assumed ; but
for the purpose of this argument it will be sufficient to adopt the three,
Mr. Leach's own proportion. And if one of the causes heard by the
chancellor, before the vice-chancellor's appointment, was equal in its
weight and occupation of time to three of the causes then heard by
the master of the rolls, a motion or petition of the heavier class may
well be deemed to bear at least the same proportion to a motion or
petition of the lighter class. In the succeeding tables, therefore, each
of the heavier cases, set down in one column, is estimated as equal,
on the average, to three of the lighter cases, set down in the other
column. This rule will of course be applicable to the table of busi-
ness disposed of by Vice-Chancellor Leach himself.

Lord Chancellor Hardwicke, 1752-3, 1753-4, 1754.

Cases of the lighter class, Cases of the
whereof three are com- heavier class

puted (on the principle now heard

of Sir J. Leach's rule, by the lord

above,) as equal to one chancellor,

of the heavier class now
heard by the lord chan-


Appeals and? w Account No. I. (B.) 16

Reheanngs 5

Causes 446. Ibid. 446

Exceptions ~)

and further C 192. Ibid. 192

Directions j

Pleas and De-? go> Ibi(L _ 80

murrers 3

See pp. 372 and 373.

^ rComputed of the light-
Cause Peti- I . IQ T .., J er class 319

tions ild - 1 Computed of the hea-

\_ vier class 100

Contested' ? 0/1R(; Ibi{L $ lighter 1945

Motions r*- D1Q ' t heavier - 520




Petitions in


Petitions in


Computed of the light-

er class 328

heayier _

lighter 111



Total light 2703 equal to 901

Comparative amount dispatched by Lord Hardwicke 2390

NOTE. This Table does not include the business done in the House of Lords, as to which see
page 376.

Lord Chancellor Eldon, 1819, 1820, 1821.

Cases of the lighter class
whereof three are com-
puted (imtheprinciple
of Sir J. Leach's rule,
above, p. 373), as equal
to one of the heavier
class now heard by
the lord chancellor.



Exceptions ~)
and further^
Directions j

Pleas and De-?
murrers 3

Cause Peti-

Contested ?
Motions 3

Petitions in 7
Bankruptcy 3

10. Ibid.
6. Ibid.

2. Ibid.
140. No. II. 3.
1560. Ibid.
396. No. III. 6.

Cases of the
heavier clasa
now heard
by the lord






"^ f Computed of the light-

Petitions in 1 QQ ,. T n \ er class, see p. 372. 611 -

Lunacy f ' ' ^ Computed of the heavi-

J l_ er class, see p. 372. - 188

Total light 611 equal to 204

Comparative amount dispatched by Lord Eldon 2598

NOTE. This Table does not include the business done in the House of Lords, as to which see
page 376.


Exceptions ~)
and furthers
Directions j

Pleas and De-?
murrers 3

Cause Peti-

Vice-Chancellor Sir John Leach, 1819, 1820, 1821.
Cases of the lighter class,
whereof three are com-
puled (on the principle
of Sir J. Leach's rule,
above, p. 5*3), as equal
to one of the heavier
class now heard by the
lord chancellor.

Account No. III. 1.

No. II. 3.

Cases of the
now heard
by the lord





equal to 512










No. II. 3. 5837 1946

No. III. 6. 1284 428


Total light 10,406 equal to 3469
Comparative amount dispatched by Sir John Leach 3469

NOTE. Appeals and rehearings, and petitions in lunacy, are not in the jurisdiction of the vice-

The foregoing tables give to Sir John Leach, in these three years,
an apparent advantage of 871 matters beyond Lord Eldon, or 290 in
each year. But this advantage is only an apparent one, the returns
of the vice-chancellor's business being made upon a much larger
number of sitting-days in each year than the returns of the business
done by the lord chancellor: for the whole of the vice-chancellor's
official time is available for his own court ; while the lord chancellor's
judicial business occupies him not only in the Court of Chancery, but
also in the House of Lords. In the three years which the tables
include, being 1819, 1820 and 1821, Lord Eldon sat in the House
of Lords upon appeals and writs of error 116 days, and upon com-
mittees of privileges 29 days, in all 145 days. But, moreover,
observes the Report of the Chancery Commission of 1824 (printed

"The lord chancellor is greatly occupied, as Speaker of the House of Lords, by
the duty which he has to discharge in the advice he is required to offer to his majesty,
with respect to condemned criminals, when their cases are reported by the Recorder
of London, by the various claims upon his time in matters of state, and matters
referred to him by the secretary of stale by occasional attendance when required, at
meetings of the council, by the duty of carefully examining treaties, conventions,
charters, commissions, letters patent,grants, and all the numerous instruments which
pass the great seal, for the legality of the provisions of which, and the accuracy of
their contents, according to the warrants upon which they are founded, he is respon-
sible, by calls upon his attention to much that relates to the administration of justice
by others, and by such judicial business and other business of his office, as is trans-
acted by him, but not in court"

Now, in order to get at a mode of estimating the time which was
left to the lord chancellor for his own court, after all these claims had
been answered, recourse may be had again to Sir John Leach. That
acute lawyer, when he opposed the vice-chancellor's Court Bill in the
House of Commons, computed the number of "juridical days" in the
year at 200, making between 33 and 34 weeks, of six days in each
week, which, for the three years in question, would give 600 days.*

It has been already seen, that on 145 days in the three years, Lord

* Sir John Leach there computed six hours to each day. Experience, however,
has shown that five hours are as much as, if not more than, can be usefully devoted
to the court business, where the sitting is a daily one, regard being had to the time
of preparation that must be employed in the evening, both by the judge and by the
counsel. Accordingly, Sir John Leach himself, when he became vice-chancellor,
was accustomed to sit five hours and no more : and this, with occasional exceptions,
has been the allotment of time in court by the other vice-chancellors and by the mas-
ter of the rolls. Five hours, then, may be fitly assumed as the length of the "juridical
day." The remainder of the year (after the deduction of the 33 or 34 juridical weeks
and a further allowance for reasonable vacations,) an equity judge will properly
employ in keeping up his legal reading, and in preparing his judgments on those
voluminous or difficult cases, which stand over for a fuller consideration than can be
spared to them while the courts are in daily pitting.


Eldon was taken away from the Court of Chancery to judicial busi-
ness in the House of Lords: and the remaining question is, what
further deduction, from the complement of 600 "juridical days" in
the three years, must be made for the vast mass of business out of

Online LibraryHorace TwissThe public and private life of Lord Chancellor Eldon, with selections from his correspondence (Volume 2) → online text (page 54 of 65)