Horace Twiss.

The public and private life of Lord Chancellor Eldon, with selections from his correspondence (Volume 2) online

. (page 6 of 65)
Online LibraryHorace TwissThe public and private life of Lord Chancellor Eldon, with selections from his correspondence (Volume 2) → online text (page 6 of 65)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

"Kichmond Park, Sept. 26ih, 1819.
" My dear Lord,

" You must be extremely charitable, if you have not thought me remiss and
ungrateful: but lam not ungrateful, nor have I been remiss. Even your letters,
though they justify and sanction, could not strengthen my conviction, that the law,
with respect to the points to which you have particularly referred, cannot be suffered
to remain as it is: I mean with respect to traversing, drilling, and public meetings
for political purposes, called together, as they now are, by any miscreant, at any
place, on any day, and at any hour, which he may think proper to name.

" Can it be supposed, if, under such circumstances, numerous meetings, of such a
description, should be simultaneously held in different parts of the kingdom, that the
civil authorities, aided by all the military force which could be forthcoming, would be
sufficient to repress and surmount the danger, which it is in the power of such meet-
ings, in the present state and temper of the country, to produce ? The struggle
would, at least, be very serious, and the result, in some quarters, very doubtful.
These considerations have convinced me, though they have not convinced others, _
that the laws ought to be strengthened, and the military force of the country aug-
mented without delay; and that, for these purposes, Parliament should be assembled
in the month of November at latest. It is, however, determined 'to wait and see;' a
determination, believe me, wholly unsuited to the exigency of the present moment.

"Your report of my friend Bond has distressed me very much, though it has not
surprised me. I wish I could go to him, but that is quite impossible. I may die at
my post, or be driven from it; but I will never leave it for a single day, whilst the
storm continues."

The occurrences at Manchester were a subject of too much irrita-
tion among certain classes of the people to be neglected by the leaders
of the opposition. Great meetings were got up in various places to
discuss the affair, sometimes directly censuring the authorities by
which the mischief had been suppressed, and sometimes conveying
the same impeachment more covertly, under the guise of a demand
for inquiry. Of the latter class was the large and dangerous assembly,
convened at York, on a requisition to the sheriff signed by many lead-
ing Whigs, and, among others, by Lord Fitzwilliam himself, the Lord
Lieutenant of the West Riding of Yorkshire.

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

(Postmark, 1819 ; apparently Sppl. 29th )


" Lord Fitzwilliam's intended measure, which you mention, is the offspring of sheer


weakness of mind. The radicals will make no terms with him or any others who

will not go all lengths with them. But it is clear to me from his letter published

?ome L! ago, thai he is frightened out of his senses. The Whigs have been acting

upon principles which, fairly pushed in argument, justify the radicals ; and have been

fLish enough to suppose that they could govern, moderate and limit the application of

those principles. The York meeting decides what will be the fate of Lord FitzwU-

iam's meeting; Uundas's speech there is the language of all opposition. They are

now fools enough to think that they can overturn the administration with the help of the

radicals, and that they can then manage the radicals,- and thts is the game which theywM

attempt in Parliament. The insane, however, can only play such a game and th ink

f wfnning. They may turn out the admmistration-that's likely enough; but it

will work their own destruction, if they do it in connection with the radicals.

"The great question is, what is to be done? I can say no more upon that than I
have said. In thinking what laws may be necessary to , be enacted it occurs i to me
to recollect that, at the time of the union with Ireland I told Mr Pitt that I thought
he great objection to it was, that it would perhaps introduce into this country sedition
and treason, in their Irish modes and forms; that, if such should be the case, we
should have to attempt passing, at Westminster, such laws as Ireland had enacted;
hat my belief was th'at no Parliaments at Westminster ever would pass such laws;
hat, if they would not, Great Britain, as a land of anarchy would be a land m whict
it would be impossible to exist; and, if they would pass such laws it would be a la
of necessary tyranny, in which existence would not be to be wished. Treason and
sdil on do now appear in such modes and forms. We shall see whether I was right
as to what the consequences must be. As sure as I am living, nothing but Parlia-
ment Ian attempt a remedy for present evils. Whether that attempt will succeed
know not; but, if ministers will not try it, they ought to make way for other mimst
who either will try it, or some other measure which may occur to them and does ,
occur to me. God bless you, and may his providence avert the evils which seem
impending over us. Yours affectionately-out of

(Lord Sidmouth to Lord Eldon.) (Extract.)

" Richmond Park, Oct. 17th, 1819.

eawek has been checkered by occurrences of very opposite descriptions.
The conviction of Carlile, the marked and predominant feeling against him in
couVand even in the streets, are unquestionably subjects of satisfaction and grounds
of hope; as are the loyal declarations from different parts of the kingdom parucu-
Srly Those from the bankers, merchants, &c. of London, from the court of aldermen
and from Manchester. On the other hand, the meeting at Newcastle, the subsequen
acts of violence on the Tyne, the meeting at Halifax, &c., are indications, amongst
very many others, that the spirit of disaffection is gaining ground : and would that I
Suid persuade myself of the sufficiency of our means, either m law or m force, to
curb that spirit, or to control and crush its impending and too probable effects

Iwrote P on Thursday to Lord Liverpool, to call his attention to the conduct of
Lord Fitzwilliam, who has taken the leading part in assembling a mee ^g of the
county in which he is the representative of the king, not merely for the purpose ot
arrai/n n the conduct of his majesty's ministers, but for that also of flying in the
See of the admonition from the throne, given by the regent upon receiving the ad-
dress of the city of London. Lord F. ought to be instantly removed ; and so have
-aid t > Lord 1 Vernool. He inclines to that opinion, but desired me to consn t Lord
WS^^SSfl sent a messenger last evening, and I am now expecting his

The ministers acted with firmness; and notwithstanding the vast
property, influence and merited personal popularity which fcaii J
william possessed in his county, came to the resolve which is com-
municated to Lord Eldon in the following letter.

(Lord Sidmmith to Lord Eldon.}

"Richmond Park, Oct. 21st, 1819.

" *M hId'noTa'single moment, before I left town to-day, to tell you that a messenger
has been dispatched to Wentworth, with a letter informing Lord Fitzwilham that the


prince regent has no further occasion for his services as Lord Lieutenant of the W.
Riding of Yorkshire. This was a necessary act of insulted authority ; we shall now
be abused by our enemies ; if we had shrunk from it, we should have been despised
by our friends, and, perhaps, by our enemies too. The clouds in the north are very
black, and I think they must burst. Ever truly yours,


This disturbed state of public feeling, and the necessity of legislative
measures for the prevention of much threatened mischief, made it
necessary to assemble Parliament before Christmas. The session was
opened on the 23d of November, by a speech from the prince regent
in person, acquainting the two Houses that information would be laid
before them on the subject of the seditious practices which had so
long prevailed in the manufacturing districts, and urging an immediate
consideration of the measures requisite for the suppression of the evil.

Lord Grey, in the debate upon the address, proposed an amend-
ment, pledging the House to an inquiry into the circumstances of
the Manchester meeting. This amendment was supported by Lord
Erskine and other Whig peers.

The lord chancellor said that no such inquiry could be granted consistently with
the spirit of English law. Considering that proceedings were in progress before the
legal tribunals, he was reluctant to deliver an opinion ; but when he read in his law-
books that numbers constituted force, force terror, and terror illegality, he felt that no
man could deny the Manchester meeting to have been an illegal one. He objected
to parliamentary inquiry during the pendency of prosecutions, except where some
continuing danger created a state necessity for such interference. He defended the
conduct of the government, and maintained that, if the magistracy in general had
erred at all during the late excitement, their error had been rather on the side of re-
missness than of undue vigour.

The amendment was negatived by 159 against 134. The delibera-
tions of the government on the public dangers and their remedies
resulted in the set of measures commonly known by the name of the
Six Acts. They were opened to Parliament, in both Houses, on the
29th of November. The first was introduced on that day by the
lord chancellor. It had for its principal object to prevent delays in
trials for misdemeanour, by taking away from defendants the power of
postponing their pleas to the term or session subsequent to that in
which the information had been filed, or the indictment found, against
them. This bill, however, though it was classed with the other acts,
and auxiliary to them, was not strictly, like them, the offspring of the
present political conjuncture, the chancellor having intimated, at a
former period, his intention of proposing such a measure on general
grounds. He gave an analysis of it in moving its second reading on
the 3d of December, when some opposition was made to it. It was
reported on the 9th ; and Lord Holland then suggested a clause
enabling a defendant, against whom an information should have been
filed ex officio, to compel the trial of his case where the attorney-gene-
ral should not have brought it on within a certain period. The
chancellor, after taking time to consider that suggestion, introduced
a clause on the 13th, enabling the defendant to compel a trial where
the attorney-general should have allowed a year to elapse after plea
of Not Guilty : and in that shape the bill became satisfactory to all
parties, and was enacted as the 60 Geo. 3. c. 4.


On the bill to authorize the seizure of arras in the disturbed districts,
-which is now the second chapter of the same session, the chancellor
took no immediate part ; but he made some important remarks upon
it incidentally to the bill for the prevention of unauthorized military
training.* This latter measure being opposed on the 2d of December
by Lord Erskine, who, in his speech upon it, denounced the Seizure
of Arms Bill as an infringement upon the people's constitutional right
to have arms for their defence, and foreboded that England would be
little like England when these bills should be passed,

The lord chancellor asked the House, what they thought England would be like, if
these bills should not pass ? His noble and learned friend had overlooked a portion
of the enactment respecting the seizure of arms. It did not authorize the searching
of a house on the mere information that the owner had arms in his possession : such
possession must be for a "purpose dangerous to the public peace." He happened to
know that the dagger which Mr. Burke threw down upon the floor of the House of
Commons was still preserved :f but its possessor certainly did not hold it "for any
purpose dangerous to the public peace;" but as a memorial of that great man, who
had been instrumental toward the adoption of that policy which had saved the couij-
try and rendered England what England now was. The principle of the right of the
king's subjects to possess arms for their defence was not quite so broad as it had
been frequently represented: it was accompanied with the qualification that the arms
to be so possessed by them should be suitable to their conditions. But if their lord-
ships had any doubt of the propriety of passing- these bills, that doubt would be
removed on a fair consideration of the evidence contained in the papers on the table.
If the object of the persons, to whom that evidence referred, was to give to meetings,
by the collection of great numbers, the quality of physical force, for the purpose of
procuring, by the display of that physical force, any alteration in the government in
church or state, if this were done by any individuals either in this city or any
other part of the country, he must declare that such a proceeding was an overt act
of treason.

Another of these bills, now the 8th chapter of the same session,
was for the prevention and punishment of blasphemous and seditious
libels. Its most important clauses were, a provision authorizing the
seizure of all copies which should be in the possession of any per-
son previously found guilty of composing, printing, or publishing the
libel; and a provision rendering the offender liable, on a second
offence, to banishment for any term of years which the court should
order. The opponents of the bill were loud in their denunciations
of the discretionary power committed by it to the judges; and insisted
that it would defeat its own object, by disinclining juries to convict.
On the 6th of December,

The lord chancellor justified the principle of entrusting the judges with a discre-
tion as to the amount of punishment. It was necessary for the suppression of these
libels, that the courts should have the power which this bill proposed to vest in them.
As the law now stood, if a man, between the times of his prosecution and of his
judgment, thought proper, day by day and hour by hour, to repeat his offence, by
means of his servant, his wife or some other authorized person, there was nothing to
prevent him. Until a great lawyer in another place and a great reformer of laws
(Mr. M. A. Taylor) had thought proper to take away the punishment of the pillory,
there was some check to this species of pertinacity ; but now, the court could only
imprison and fine, and often the fine was imposed where it could not be paid. It was
true that each of these publications might form a subject for a distinct prosecution;
but if they extended to the number of 500, or 1000, or 1500, was it possible for the
duration of human life to afford a sufficient space for a punishment equal to the in-

* 60 Geo. 3. c. 1. | See Chap. X.


calculable mischief which their circulation would effect? Notwithstanding all he
had heard of the general disinclination of juries to administer the law, he was not
one of those who believed that such a disinclination prevailed.

The chancellor was not a prominent speaker in the discussions upon

the Seditious Meetings Bill ;* but he defended it, together with the

other government measures, when the last of them, the Newspaper

.Stamp Duties BilJ,f was brought on for its second reading, on the

27th of December.

He said that he had voted for these measures, because he considered them as tend-
ing to secure the peace and promote the happiness of the people. That was the end
and aim of all just government; but to those who were endeavouring to disturb
society, he must deny the appellation of "the people." Before the meeting of Parlia-
ment his apprehensions had been great; but the majorities which had supported
these measures and the quiet which had already been produced, and which showed
the confidence reposed in Parliament, had put an end to his alarm. He then recapi-
tulated the various legislative measures which the government had brought in, and
vindicated their necessity.

Toward the end of December, both Houses of Parliament adjourned
for the Christmas vacation. During this recess, on the 23d of Janu-
ary, 1820, the Duke of Kent breathed his last; a prince whose ex-
tensive charities had much endeared him to the nation, and whose
memory is still honoured by them in the person of his only offspring,
the beloved sovereign of these kingdoms. His royal father, from
continuing infirmity of mind, was spared the pain of this bereave-
ment: and only six days afterwards, on the 29th of January, the aged
monarch himself expired.

Those members of the cabinet who were then in town, resigned
their credentials of office on the 30th into the hands of Lord Sid-
mouth, the secretary of state for the home department, who, at a court
held a few hours afterwards, delivered them to King George IV.
At the same court the lord chancellor gave up the great seal to his
majesty in person, who immediately returned it to him, and reinstated
the other ministers in their offices.:}: Thus the only perceptible change
effected by the death of George III. was in the title of his son, who
now, from prince regent, became king ; the government continuing
substantially the same.

(Lord Eldm to Mrs. H. Ridley.)

" London, Jan. SIgt, 1820.

" Dear Fanny,

" I have lost the master whom I have long served, and whom I have most affec-
tionately loved.

"The acts of Parliament now in being would have continued roe in office till the
royal pleasure should remove me; but I determined that, as I was acting under the
appointment of him who was no mure, I owfit it as a matter of respect lo him. and
as matter of respect to his successor, to consider my office as determined by the death
of him who gave it me, and that I ought not, with respect to the latter, to leave him
to the pain of removing me if he thought that fit and especially as I know, and to
his credit I say it, that he kept us, and me among the rest, originally, only because
we were his father's servants.

" I therefore yesterday resigned into his hands the seals ; and, as I told him, I hoped

60 Geo. 3. c. 6. t 60 Geo. 3. c. 9.

* Annual Register, 1820, p. 16.
VOL. II. 4


unsullied by any act of mine. Out of office, he thought proper to call me back into
it; and now I am in the very singular situation that of a third chancellorship.*

"Remain in it long I cannot to be restored to it I did not wish but I could not
for the present withdraw from the offer gracious!/ made to me by the son of my
greatest benefactor, and who certainly has behaved with great kindness to me,
though he had been taught heretofore to hate me.

" With our love to you all to you all

" Believe me affectionately yours,


Among the stories in the Anecdote Book, there are several which
Lord Eldon used to repeat as having been related to him personally
by King George III., and for which this may, perhaps, be the most
appropriate place :

"An eminent Scotch apothecary got from Scotland the degree of
M. D. The late king was a great friend to a learned and academical
education, and had heard that Mr. Dundas, afterwards Lord Melville,
meant to ask some favour of him respecting this apothecary. The
king told me, that when Mr. Dundas came to him for that purpose in
the closet at St. James's, he appeared extremely embarrassed, and,
probably knowing that the king did not like the application, did not
get the request out of his mouth till the king, having noticed his
embarrassment, said, ' Mr. Dundas, you mean, I think, to ask some-
thing pray, what is it?' Mr. D., in broken phrases, at last said

enough to satisfy the king, that he was asking him to make Mr.

a baronet. 'What, what, is that all?' said the king. 'It shall be
done. I was afraid you meant to ask me to make the Scotch apothe-
cary a physician : that's more difficult.' And in passing to the levee
room, he said to his own physician, and to me, then his solicitor-
general, ' You were both well-educated, academical men. They may
make as many Scotch apothecaries baronets as, they please, but I shall
die by the college. I knew,' added the king, ' what he was going
to ask, and I thought I would be even with him.' "

" Bishop Porteus, whom in all conversations about him George III.
called the queen's bishop, was asked by her majesty, at a period
when all ladies were employed (when they had nothing better to do)
in knotting, whether she might knot on a Sunday. He answered,
f You may not;' leaving her majesty to decide whether, as knot and
not were in sound alike, she was, or was not, at liberty so to employ
herself on that day."

" Lord Kenyon, who was as considerable a lawyer and as worthy
a man as ever lived, was, nevertheless, a person of extremely warm
temper. After he left the rolls and become Chief Justice of the
King's Bench, for several months he watched the emotions of his
mind, and guarded himself so effectually, that the king, George III.,
who had a vast regard for the chief justice, said to him one day at
the levee, ' My lord chief justice, I hear that, since you have been in
the King's Bench, you have lost your temper. You know my great

Lord Chancellor Lyndhurst has been thrice chancellor: not in this constructive
way, but actually as successor to three other chancellors, Lord Eldon, Lord Brougham
and Lord Cottenham.


regard for you, and I may therefore venture to tell you that I was glad
to hear it.'"

" Wilkes dined once in company with George IV., then Prince of
Wales ; it was about that time when the laudable custom of drinking
toasts, the health of ladies, was giving way to sentiments, as they
were called. Now Wilkes overheard the prince talking of him pretty
freely ; so in due time, when Wilkes's sentiment was called for, he
gave ' The king, and long may he live !' ' Why, when did you become
so loyal?' exclaimed the prince. 'Ever since I had the honour of
knowing your royal highness,' answered W T ilkes. After this, Wilkes
attended very constantly the levees. On one occasion George III.
addressed him (this George III. told me himself) inquiring after his
friend Serjeant Glynne. The serjeant had been very intimate for many
years with Wilkes had been engaged with him in many of his sedi-
tious transactions, and employed for him as his counsel in all his im-
portant Westminster Hall trials and transactions. 'My friend, sir!'
says Wilkes to the king; ' he is no friend of mine.' ' Why,' said the
king, ' he was your friend and your counsel in all your trials.' ' Sir,'
rejoined Wilkes, ' he was my counsel one must have a counsel; but
he was no friend; he loves sedition and licentiousness, which I never
delighted in. In fact, sir, he was a Wilkite, lohich I never was.'
The king said the confidence and humour of the man made him forget
the moment his impudence."

" I met a prelate, who was at that time bishop of a see not very richly
endowed, coming out of his majesty George III.'s closet at Bucking-
ham House, as I was going into it. The king asked me, if I did not
very much like sincerity? I answered, 'Yes, sir.' 'So does that pre-
late,' said the king, ' for he has just assured me, that he is perfectly
content with his present preferment; he should wish, indeed, he said,
to have Salisbury instead of it, but he added, that he so wished for
no other reason whatever but merely that he might have the honour
of giving me a breakfast in my way to W T eymouth. Can you,' he
added, ' believe that when a bishop says it? / can't.' '

The present earl writes, " Whilst King George III. used to pass
his autumns at Weymouth, he would occasionally desire his ministers
(who came to see him on business) to accompany him on the sea in
his yacht, and would tell them jocosely, that he had no objection
occasionally to let them suffer a little sea-sickness, that they might not
be too fond of troubling him on business during the vacations. On
one occasion he took Lord Eldon with him in the yacht, and, wishing
to hold some confidential conversation with him, locked the door that
they might not be interrupted. The cabin being (as Lord Eldon used
to describe it) full of mirrors, and the sea not quite calm, Lord Eldon
soon had occasion to request his majesty to unlock the door, lest
something unbecoming the royal presence should occur. On this the
king complied, and called, with a good-humoured smile, to his sur-
geon, who came from the north of England, to take care of his

The following are among the reminiscences of George III. which fell
from Lord Eldorf in his conversations with Mrs. and Miss Forster :


" George III. was a man of firm mind, with whom one had pleasure

Online LibraryHorace TwissThe public and private life of Lord Chancellor Eldon, with selections from his correspondence (Volume 2) → online text (page 6 of 65)