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balanced the parties were, and how opportune for his friends was the Chancellor's interposition. There voted for his resolutions, Contents, present 68, Proxies 27–95. Not Content 67, Proxies 26–93. A bare majority of a single peer and a single proxy
So great was the change produced by place and circumstances, that Lord Eldon often singled out in debate and overthrew his former antagonists at the bar, Ellenborough and Erskine. He had recommended Mr. Law to the office of Attorney-General, but their tempers and ways of thinking were too different to allow much personal friendship. The Chief Justice, unaccustomed to controul his feelings, and impatient of contradiction, would sometimes express himself in terms of turbulent freedom, especially when he saw, or fancied that he saw, an attempt at injustice. The capture of the Danish fleet was one of the themes on which he declaimed with the violence of a demagogue rather than the tone and temper of a senator. To the ponderous acrimony and high-toned declamation of the learned judge, Lord Eldon applied, on quitting the woolsack, a rebuke equally grave and dignified. “He would take the liberty of expressing his sentiments in the same decisive tone as the learned lord, and say, that so far from feeling himself dishonoured as an Englishman by the expedition against Copenhagen, he should have felt himself dishonoured, if under all the circumstances he had hesitated to concur with his colleagues in advising the expedition.” Lord Ellenborough having said that it was very convenient for the country to appropriate to itself the property, which another who had the right to it was possessed of-that it was a sort of doctrine he was so much in the habit of hearing at the Old Bailey that he could not avoid expressing himself with some warmth; the Chancellor pointedly retorted,—“ The country would feel this great national question ought not to be decided altogether by the ordinary rules which governed decisions at the Old Bailey; but at all events he should hope if his noble and learned friend were reprobating the principle before a jury at the Old Bailey, he would not forget when he stated his opinion to detail the evidence on which that opinion was founded.”
With the volatile ex-Chancellor, his good humoured successor would often play at tricks of fence, using friendly foils and not “unbated swords,” but in the trial of skill to prove which was best master of his weapon he sometimes drew blood. Lord Erskine used to dwell with self-complacency on those scenes of his early triumphs, the state trials, and loved to inform the lords how the grateful multitude drew him home every night in his chariot. One evening Lord Eldon broke the charm of this favourite narrative, by mischievously suggesting that his friend forgot to mention that, on the last occasion when the mob took the horses out of his carriage, they forgot to bring them back. The manner in which he foiled a more ambitious effort of his clever rival was still more amusing. This consummate actor on his proper stage, where he had gained and deserved universal approbation, when driven in a state of splendid exile to the House of Lords, seemed to dwindle beneath his former stature, to shrink within himself, and, in the absence of a favourable audience, to lose with self-confidence and the consciousness of sympathy all the magic of his oratorical power. On the occasion of the Seditious Meetings Bill, caused by the tumults of 1817, he delivered with visible effort a rhetorical effusion, of which the labour was more conspicuous than the success. " If the author of this bill had the government of the seasons, the elements of fire, water, and air would no longer have their immemorial liberties. To fire they would say, you are an excellent servant, most beneficial when under due discipline, but most dangerous when left unrestrained; you may therefore continue to blaze in our kitchens and our chambers, but you shall no longer descend from heaven with electric flashes. To air they would say, if you should presume to blight our fruit trees, or destroy our harvests, you shall be driven back to your caverns by a single justice of the peace!" We need not pursue farther these figurative spirits of the rhetorician, which, out of keeping with the time, place, and subject, were effectually laid amid the laughter of the house by the Chancellor's good humoured reply. “A noble lord on the preceding night had moved an amendment with respect to lectures on physical science. He supposed it was to this they were indebted for the learned dissertation they had heard upon fire, water, and air. His learned friend had spoken of controlling these elements as if they had been living within the jurisdiction of this country, as British subjects, and liable to be regulated by acts of parliament; as a member of their lordships' house he wished they were subject to their jurisdiction, for there was a fire in the house, which, whether it operated on the constitution of the country or not, certainly often operated on his constitution and that of others in no very favourable way; and if they could restrain the mischievous effects of that fire by any clause in an act of parliament their lordships would do a great deal of good to themselves. So with respect to air, it was a great misfortune that it was not a British subject within their lordships' jurisdiction, for then out of regard to a most respectable friend of his then present, the clerk at the table, who found himself so ill at ease when the windows were open, he was sure their lordships would be very glad to put the air under some regulation and to leave no parliamentary means untried of shutting out the intruder. As to water he believed neither their lordships in general, nor his noble and learned friend in particular, had much to do with it; but he really could not believe that his learned friend was very serious in his opposition to the bill, when he considered that so great a portion of his speech was made up of long quotations from the philosophical theories of Mr. Burke, and those whimsical observations about fire, air, and water."
The most elaborate specimen of Lord Eldon's oratory in the lords was his printed speech on the Queen's trial, in 1821, in which he discussed the details of evidence tending to criminate and convict that unhappy personage with singular shrewdness. The peroration is entitled to high praise for its spirit of calm fortitude and appropriate dignity.
« One word more, my lords, and I have done; as to what has passed or is passing out of doors I will take no notice of it, for I am not supposed to hear or to know any thing about it; only this I will say, that, whatever has happened, or whatever may happen, I will perform my duty here. But in the course of this solemn inquiry your lordships have heard from the bar of this house what I was very sorry to hear, and what I believe was never before addressed to a court of justice. Something like a threat was held out to your lordships, that if you passed judgment against the Queen you never would have the power
of passing another judgment. I do not profess to use the words of the speaker, but the impression is distinct upon my mind. My lords, however that may be, I will take upon myself to declare that an address of such a nature, such an address of intimidation, to any court of justice has never until this hour been deemed consistent with the duty of an advocate, and that such an address, whether an advocate has a right to make it or not, ought to have no effect whatever on your lordships. You stand here as the great and acknowledged protectors of the liberties, the character, the honour, and the lives of your fellow subjects, and you cannot discharge that high trust a moment longer than while you can say to one another, and for myself, if I had not a moment longer to live I would say to you, 'Be just and fear not!' My lords, I know the people of this country, I am sure that if your lordships do your duty to them by preserving their liberties and the constitution which has been handed down to you from your ancestors, the time is not far distant when they will do their duty to you; when they will acknowledge that those who are invested with the great judicial functions of the state ought firmly to meet all the reproaches to which the faithful performances of those functions may expose them—to court no popularity, to do their duty, and to leave the consequence to the wisdom and justice of God.” He declared that he had entered on this grave, judicial, and legislative proceeding, a source of deep anxiety to the Chancellor both for public and private reasons, in the spirit so well described by an eminent English judge, who had made a covenant with God and himself, that neither affection nor any other undue principle should ever make him swerve from the strict line of duty. It was sought to embarrass him on her Majesty's landing, by confiding to his care a petition which she wished to be presented to the House of Lords, but he at once declined the task, saying, that it appeared to him better that it should be presented by any other noble lord than himself. He added, using a characteristic figure of speech, that no feeling of disrespect to the illustrious person had influenced his conduct : he was ready to declare in the face of the whole world that he would rather suffer death than admit any abatement of the principle that a person accused is not therefore to be con
sidered guilty. In the discussions that suddenly arose on novel points of evidence Lord Eldon displayed singular acumen, and conducted the trial (for into such the Bill of Pains and Penalties resolved itself) with dignified firmness, but perfect equanimity. Having, through mistake of his meaning, interposed when a counsel was speaking, he at once apologized, observing, that no man who acted as a judge could expect to be treated with respect unless he showed respect to others. “ He, therefore, thought it right to state, that having found that he had misunderstood the object of Mr. Williams, he was sorry that he had interrupted him.” But though courteous he would check the least attempt at imposition, and keep even Mr. Brougham in order,-a feat almost as difficult as holding quicksilver fast in the hand. That advocate having requested permission to comment on the evidence for the crown, and then adjourn the defendant's case, was informed by the Chancellor that such a course could not be permitted. He complained of what he was pleased to call his unprecedented situation, and asked the delay of a day to come to a resolution. The Chancellor replied, “ Your lordships have placed the counsel in that very situation which is the situation of counsel in all proceedings in all courts. I apprehend, however, that you will undoubtedly feel it perfectly reasonable to accede to his request.” The weight of testimony to the Queen's guilt appeared so overwhelming as to compel the declaration from Lord Eldon, that no man had ever been guilty of more cruelty and injustice than he had been in acting upon the evidence in divorce causes, if the evidence on the table was not sufficient; and, however party violence might affect to disbelieve it, the declaration could not but give him pain. He had formerly united with Canning and Perceval in offering confidential advice to that unhappy personage, then Princess of Wales, and had been a favourite guest when she resided at Blackheath. The right-hand seat at the dinner table was always reserved for the ex-Chancellor, whose conversation had sufficient festive gaiety to delight the vivacious foreigner. And though many long years of absence, travel, and defilement had intervened to throw a deep and dark shadow over the object of his faithful councils, the past could not wholly be forgotten. He betrayed no confidence,