Parsons, Lawrence (1758-1841) (DNB00)

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PARSONS, Sir LAWRENCE, second Earl of Rosse (1758–1841), eldest son of Sir William Parsons of Birr, and Mary, only daughter and heiress of John Clere of Kilburry, was born on 21 May 1758. He graduated B.A. of Trinity College, Dublin, in 1780, and in the same year published a pamphlet denouncing the Irish Mutiny Bill. 'Very poor and juvenile,' wrote Cooke to Eden (Auckland Corresp. i. 335), 'yet I remember this stroke, "The English Bill of Rights prohibits a perpetual Mutiny Bill; the Irish Bill of Rights is a perpetual Mutiny Bill."' In July 1782 he was elected one of the representatives of the university in parliament, in the place of Walter Hussey Burgh [q. v], created chief baron of the exchequer, He disclaimed party politics, but his intimacy with Henry Flood [q. v.], for whom he had a profound admiration, seems unquestionably to have coloured his political views. He followed him in the matter of the renunciation as opposed to simple repeal, advocated retrenchment by reducing the army, and cordially supported the volunteer bill for the reform of parliament. His friendship for Flood rendered him naturally hostile to Grattan, who, he insisted, had more than once sacrificed the public welfare to private pique, and on a notable occasion taunted him with having bungled every great public measure that he had ever undertaken (Parl. Register, ix. 255) Nevertheless he was a man of sturdy independence and sound judgment, and his political career fully justified Wolfe Tone's description of him 'as one of the very, very few honest men in the Irish House of Commons' (Autobiography, ed. O'Brien, i. 26). He opposed Pitt's commercial propositions (1785) from the beginning; but on the question of the regency (1789) he went with the minority, arguing strongly in favour of following the example of England. To do otherwise, he declared, would be 'only an assumption of a power which we never could put in practice, an idle gasconade which may alarm England and cannot by any possibility serve ourselves' (Parl Register, ix. 121). He was strongly opposed to any alteration in the method of collecting tithes, but supported the demand for a place and pension bill as the only adequate check on the system of parliamentary corruption practised by the crown (ib, x. 240-6, 344-8; cf. Lecky, Hist. of Engl. vi. 459-61).

During the debate on the Catholic Relief Bill of 1793 he took a broad and statesmanlike view of the whole subject. The question of the extension of privileges to the catholics and the question of parliamentary reform were, in his opinion, intimately connected. To admit the catholics to some participation of the franchise he regarded as no longer a matter of choice, but of the most urgent and irresistible policy. The only doubt was on what terms it ought to be given. For himself he was convinced that the elective franchise should be given to no catholic who had not a freehold of twenty pounds a year, and that it should be accompanied by the admission of catholics into parliament (Parl. Register, xiii. 203-19; Lecky, Hist. of Engl. vi. 575-84). Having represented Dublin University from 1782 to 1790, he was returned, on the death of his father in 1791, for King's County, which he continued to represent in the Irish parliament till 1800, and afterwards in the imperial parliament till his elevation to the peerage in 1807. In 1794 he offered an ineffectual protest against Ireland being dragged by England into the war with France (Grattan, Life of H. Grattan, iv. 145). He professed to question the sincerity of Fitzwilliam's administration, but, having elicited from Grattan a promise that the measures advocated by him in opposition would find a place in the ministerial programme (Beresford Corresp. ii. 70), he offered government his cordial support. He was the first to notice the disquieting rumours in regard to Fitzwilliam's recall, and on 2 March 1795 moved for a short money bill (ib. iv. 188; Parl. Register. XV. 77, 137-41). He attributed the existence and strength of the united Irish conspiracy to the misgovernment that followed Fitzwiliiam'a recall, and on 5 March 1798 moved for a committee to inquire into the state of the country, and to suggest such measures as were likely to conciliate the popular mind and to restore tranquillily; but his motion was rejected by 156 to 19 (Grattan, Life of H. Grattan, iv. 341; Seward, Collect. Politic. iii. 215-20). He deprecated the severity of the government, and was dismissed from his command of the King's County regiment of militia for what was called his 'mistaken lenity' (Grattan, Life of H. Grattan, iv. 343-4).

According to Lord Cornwallis, Parsons originally declared in favour of a union upon 'fair and equitable principles' (Corresp. iii. 197). The charge, Parsons declared was unfounded, and he was certainly a most uncompromising opponent of that measure in parliament. On 24 Jan. 1799 he moved an amendment to the address to the crown to expunge a paragraph in favour of a union, which was earned by 109 to 104; but a similar amendment to the address on 15 Jan. 1800 was defeated by 138 to 96; and he weakened his position by failing to substantiate a charge he preferred against the government of having dispersed a meeting of freeholders in the King's County by military force (ib. iii. 187). His interest in politics visibly declined after the union. In March 1805 he was made one of the lards of the treasury in Ireland, and was sworn a privy councillor of that kingdom. He succeeded to the earldom on the death of his father's half-brother Lawrence-Harman, first earl of Rosse (of the second creation), on 20 April 1807. He was appointed joint postmaster-general for Ireland in 1809, and in the same year was elected a representative peer of Ireland. He spoke very seldom from his seat in the House of Lords. He was, he declared, 'far from being disposed to think hardly of the catholic body,' but he strongly disapproved of the method of agitation adopted by the catholic committee under O'Connell's guidance (Parl. Debate, xviii, 1233), and he signed the 'Leinster Declaration' in 1830 against O'Connell's repeal agitation (O'Connell Corrrsp. ed. Fitzpatrick, ii. 229). But he confined his attention chiefly to matters of finance, taking a strongly hostile view of the report of the bullion committee (1811). He died at Brighton on 24 Feb. 1841, in his eighty-third year. Describing him as he appeared in the Irish House of Commons, the author of 'Sketches of Irish Political Characters of the Present Day' (1799) writes: 'His voice is strong, distinct, and deep: and his language simple, flowing, and correct; his action is ungraceful, but frequently forcible; his reasoning is close, compact, and argumentative; though his manner is stiff and awkward, his matter is always good, solid, and weighty.'

Parsons married, on 6 April 1797, Alice, daughter of John Lloyd, esq., of Gloster, King's County; she died on 4 May 1867. By her Parsons had William, third earl of Rosse [q. v.], John Clere, Lawrence, Jane, and Alicia.

In addition to the pamphlet on the Irish Mutiny Bill, already mentioned. Parsons published: 1. 'Observations on the Bequest of Henry Flood, Esq., to Trinity College, Dublin : with a Defence of the Ancient History of Ireland,' Dublin, 1795. 3, 'Observations on the Present State of the Currency of England,' London, 1811. 3. 'An Argument to prove the Truth of the Christian Revelation,' London, 1834.

[Burke's Peerage; Gent, Mag., 1841 pt. i, 536: Irish Parliamentary Register: Cornwallis Corresp.; Warden Flood's Memoirs of the Life of H. Flood, p. 189; Official Return of Members of Parliament; Parliamentary Debates, chiefly 1804 and 1811; Grattan's Life and Times of Henry Grattan; Lecky's Hist. of England: and authoriries quoted.)

R. D.