Victorian Books, The Greville Memoirs A Journal of the Reigns of King George IV, The Greville Memoirs Volume 2 Chapter XIII 12 Dec 1830

The Greville Memoirs Volume 2 Chapter XIII 12 Dec 1830 is in The Greville Memoirs Volume 2 Chapter XIII.

For the last few days the accounts from the country have been better; there are disturbances in different parts, and alarms given, but the mischief seems to be subsiding. The burnings go on, and though they say that one or two incendiaries have been taken up, nothing has yet been discovered likely to lead to the detection of the system. I was at Court on Wednesday, when Kemp and Foley were sworn in, the first for the Ordnance, the other Gold Stick (the pensioners). He refused it for a long time, but at last submitted to what he thought infra dig., because it was to be sugared with the Lieutenancy of Worcestershire. There was an Admiralty report3, at which the Chief Justice was not present. The Chancellor and the Judge (Sir C. Robinson) were there for the first time, and not a soul knew what was the form or what ought to be done; they did, however, just as in the Recorder's reports. Brougham leans to mercy, I see. But what a curious sort of supplementary trial this is; how many accidents may determine the life or death of the culprit. In one case in this report which they were discussing (before the Council) Brougham had forgotten that the man was recommended to mercy, but he told me that at the last Recorder's report there was a great difference of opinion on one (a forgery case), when Tenterden was for hanging the man and he for saving him; that he had it put to the vote, and the man was saved. Little did the criminal know when there was a change of Ministry that he owed his life to it, for if Lyndhurst had been Chancellor he would most assuredly have been hanged; not that Lyndhurst was particularly severe or cruel, but he would have concurred with the Chief Justice and have regarded the case solely in a judicial point of view, whereas the mind of the other was probably biassed by some theory about the crime of forgery or by some fancy of his strange brain.

Note 3. The High Court of Admiralty had still a criminal jurisdiction, and the capital cases were submitted to the King in Council for approval.

This was a curious case, as I have since heard. The man owes his life to the curiosity of a woman of fashion, and then to another feeling. Lady Burghersh and Lady Glengall wanted to hear St. John Long's trial (the quack who had man-slaughtered Miss Cashir), and they went to the Old Bailey for that purpose. Castlereagh and somebody else, who of course were not up in time, were to have attended them. They wanted an escort, and the only man in London sure to be out of bed so early was the Master of the Rolls, so they went and carried him off. When they got to the court there was no St. John Long, but they thought they might as well stay and hear whatever was going on. It chanced that a man was tried for an atrocious case of forgery and breach of trust. He was found guilty and sentence passed; but he was twenty-three and good-looking. Lady Burghersh could not bear he should be hanged, and she went to all the late Ministers and the Judges to beg him off. Leach told her it was no use, that nothing could save that man; and accordingly the old Government were obdurate, when out they went. Off she went again and attacked all the new ones, who in better humour, or of softer natures, suffered themselves to be persuaded, and the wretch was saved. She went herself to Newgate to see him, but I never heard if she had a private interview, and if he was afforded an opportunity of expressing his gratitude with all the fervour that the service she had done him demanded.

In the meantime the Government is going on what is called well—that is, there is a great disposition to give them a fair trial. All they have done and promise to do about economy gives satisfaction, and Reform (the awful question) is still at a distance. There has been, however, some sharp skirmishing in the course of the week, and there is no want of bitterness and watchfulness on the part of the old Government. In the Committee which has been named to enquire into the salaries of the Parliamentary offices they mean to leave the question in the hands of the country gentlemen; but they do not think any great reductions will be practicable, and as Baring (age 56) is chairman it is not probable that much will be done. They think Brougham speaks too often in the House of Lords, but he has done very well there; and on Friday he made a reply to Lord Stanhope, which was the most beautiful piece of sarcasm and complete cutting-up (though with very good humour) that ever was heard, and an exhibition to the like of which the Lords have not been accustomed. The Duke of Wellington made another imprudent speech, in which (in answer to Lord Radnor, who attributed the state of the country to the late Government) he said that it was attributable to the events of July and August in other countries, and spoke of them in a way which showed clearly his real opinion and feelings on the subject.

After some delay Lord Lansdowne made up his mind to fill up the vacancy in my office, and to give it to William Bathurst (age 39); but he first spoke to the King, who said it was very true he had told Lord Bathurst (age 68) that his son should have it, but that he now left the matter entirely to his decision, showing no anxiety to have William Bathurst (age 39) appointed. However, he has it, but reduced to £1,200 a year. I was agreeably surprised yesterday by a communication from Lord Lansdowne that he thought no alteration could be made in my emoluments, and that he was quite prepared to defend them if anybody attacked them. Still, though it is a very good thing to be so supported, I don't consider myself safe from Parliamentary assaults. In these times it will not do to be idle, and I told Lord Lansdowne that I was anxious to keep my emoluments, but ready to work for them, and proposed that we Clerks of the Council should be called upon to act really at the Board of Trade, as we are, in fact, bound to do; by which means Lack's place when vacant need not be filled up, and a saving would be made. My predecessors Cottrell and Fawkener always acted, their successors Bailer and Chetwynd were incompetent, and Lack, the Chancellor's Clerk, was made Assistant-Secretary, and did the work. Huskisson and Hume, his director, made the business a science; new Presidents and Vice-Presidents succeeded one another in different Ministerial revolutions; they and Lack were incompetent, and Hume was made Assistant-Secretary, and it is he who advises, directs, legislates. I believe he is one of the ablest practical men who have ever served, more like an American statesman than an English official. I am anxious to begin my Trade education under him.

Parliament is going to adjourn directly for three or four weeks, to give the Ministers time to make their arrangements and get rid of the load of business which besets them; although there is every disposition to give them credit for good intentions, and to let them have a fair trial, there are not wanting causes of discontent in many quarters.

All the Russells are dissatisfied that Lord John has not a seat in the Cabinet, and that Graham should be preferred to him, and the more so because they know or believe that his preference is owing to Lambton, who does what he likes with Lord Grey. My mind has always misgiven me about Lord Grey, and what I have lately heard of him satisfies me that a more overrated man never lived, or one whose speaking was so far above his general abilities, or who owed so much to his oratorical plausibility. His tall, commanding, and dignified appearance, his flow of language, graceful action, well rounded periods, and an exhibition of classical taste united with legal knowledge, render him the most finished orator of his day; but his conduct has shown him to be influenced by pride, still more by vanity, personal antipathies, caprice, indecision, and a thousand weaknesses generated by these passions and defects. Anybody who is constantly with him and who can avail themselves of his vanity can govern him. There was a time when Sir Robert Wilson was his 'magnus Apollo' (and Codrington), till they quarrelled. Now Lambton is all in all with him. Lambton dislikes the Russells, and hence Lord John's exclusion and the preference of Graham. Everybody remembers how Lord Grey refused to lead the Whig party when Canning formed his junction with the Whigs, and declared that he abdicated in favour of Lord Lansdowne; and then how he came and made that violent speech against Canning which half killed him with vexation, and in consequence of which he meant to have moved into the House of Lords for the express purpose of attacking Lord Grey. Then when he had quarrelled with his old Whig friends he began to approach the Tories, the object of his constant aversion and contempt; and we knew what civilities passed between the Bathursts and him, and what political coquetries between him and the Duke of Wellington, and how he believed that it was only George IV. who prevented his being invited by the Duke to join him. Then George IV. dies, King William succeeds; no invitation to Lord Grey, and he plunges into furious opposition to the Duke.

About three years ago the Chancellor, Lyndhurst, was the man in the world he abhorred the most; and it was about this time that I well recollect one night at Madame de Lieven's I introduced Lord Grey to Lady Lyndhurst. We had dined together somewhere, and he had been praising her beauty; so when we all met there I presented him, and very soon all his antipathies ceased and he and Lyndhurst became great friends. This was the cause of Lady Lyndhurst's partiality for the Whigs, which enraged the Tory ladies and some of their lords so much, but which served her turn and enabled her to keep two hot irons in the fire. When the Duke went out Lord Grey was very anxious to keep Lyndhurst as his Chancellor, and would have done so if it had not been for Brougham, who, whirling Reform in terrorem over his head, announced to him that it must not be. Reluctantly enough Grey was obliged to give way, for he saw that with Brougham in the House of Commons, against him he could not stand for five minutes, and that the only alternative was to put Brougham on the Woolsack. Hence his delay in sending for Brougham, the latter's speech and subsequent acceptance of the Great Seal. Grey, however, was still anxious to serve Lyndhurst, and to neutralise his opposition has now proposed to him to be Chief Baron. This is tempting to a necessitous and ambitious man. On the other hand he had a good game before him, if he had played it well, and that was to regain character, exhibit his great and general powers, and be ready to avail himself of the course of events; but he has made his bargain and pocketed his pride. He takes the judicial office upon an understanding that he is to have no political connection with the Government (though of course he will not oppose them), and that he is to be Chief Justice on Tenterden's death or retirement. This is the secret article of the treaty, and altogether he has not done amiss; for there are so few Chancellors in the field that he will probably (if he chooses) return to the Woolsack in the event of a change of Government, and he is now in a position in which he may join either party, and that without any additional loss of character. The public will gain by the transaction, because they will get a good judge.

In Ireland the Government have made a change (the motives of which are not apparent) which will be very unpopular, and infallibly get them into trouble in various ways. They have removed Hart and made Plunket Chancellor. Hart was very popular with the Bar; he was slow, but had introduced order and regularity in the proceedings of the Court. There were no arrears and no appeals. Plunket is unpopular, and was a bad judge in the Common Pleas, and will probably make a worse Chancellor; he is rash, hasty, and imprudent, and it is the more extraordinary as Hart was affronted by Goderich and went with Anglesey, so upon the score of confidence (on which they put it) there is in fact not a pretext for it.

As yet not much can be known of the efficiency of the rest of the Ministers. The only one who has had anything to do is Melbourne, and he has surprised all those about him by a sudden display of activity and vigour, rapid and diligent transaction of business, for which nobody was prepared, and which will prove a great mortification to Peel and his friends, who were in hopes he would do nothing and let the country be burnt and plundered without interruption. The Duke of Richmond has plunged neck-deep in politics, and says he is delighted with it all, and with Lord Grey's candour and unassuming bearing in the Cabinet. He is evidently piqued that none of his party have followed him, and made a speech in the House of Lords the other night expressing his readiness to defend his having taken office, when nobody attacked him. Knowing him as I do, and the exact extent of his capacity, I fancy he must feel rather small by the side of Lord Grey and Brougham. Graham's elevation is the most monstrous of all. He was once my friend, a college intimacy revived in the world, and which lasted six months, when, thinking he could do better, he cut me, as he had done others before. I am not a fair judge of him, because the pique which his conduct to me naturally gave me would induce me to underrate him, but I take vanity and self-sufficiency to be the prominent features of his character, though of the extent of his capacity I will give no opinion. Let time show; I think he will fail. [Time did show it to be very considerable, and the volvenda dies brought back our former friendship, as will hereafter appear; he certainly did not fail.]

He came into Parliament ten years ago, spoke and failed. He had been a provincial hero, the Cicero and the Romeo of Yorkshire and Cumberland, a present Lovelace and a future Pitt. He was disappointed in love (the particulars are of no consequence), married and retired to digest his mortifications of various kinds, to become a country gentleman, patriot, reformer, financier, and what not, always good-looking (he had been very handsome), pleasing, intelligent, cultivated, agreeable as a man can be who is not witty and who is rather pompous and slow, after many years of retirement, in the course of which he gave to the world his lucubrations on corn and currency. Time and the hour made him master of a large but encumbered estate and member for his county. Armed with the importance of representing a great constituency, he started again in the House of Commons; took up Joseph Hume's line, but ornamented it with graces and flourishes which had not usually decorated such dry topics. He succeeded, and in that line is now the best speaker in the House. I have no doubt he has studied his subjects and practised himself in public speaking. Years and years ago I remember his delight on Hume's comparison between Demosthenes and Cicero, and how he knew the passage by heart; but it is one thing to attack strong abuses and fire off well-rounded set phrases, another to administer the naval affairs of the country and be ready to tilt against all comers, as he must do for the future.4 Palmerston is said to have given the greatest satisfaction to the foreign Ministers, and to have begun very well. So much for the Ministers.

Note 4. This opinion of Sir James Graham is the more curious as he afterwards became one of Mr. Greville's confidential friends, and rose to the first rank of oratory and authority in the House of Commons. As Secretary of State for the Home Department in the great Administration of Sir Robert Peel he showed administrative ability of the highest order, and he was, perhaps, the most trusted colleague of that illustrious chief. The principal failing of Sir James Graham was, in truth, that he was not so brave and bold a man as he looked.