Walpole, Spencer Horatio (DNB00)
|←Walpole, Robert (1808-1876)||Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 59
Walpole, Spencer Horatio
WALPOLE, SPENCER HORATIO (1806–1898), home secretary, born on 11 Sept. 1806, was second son of Thomas Walpole of Stagbury, Surrey, by his wife Margaret (d. 1854), the youngest daughter of John Perceval, second earl of Egmont [q. v.] His great-grandfather was Horatio Walpole, first lord Walpole of Wolterton [q. v.], the diplomatist; his grandfather, Thomas Walpole, was the friend of Chatham. Sir Robert Walpole (1808–1876) was his younger brother. He owed his first name to his maternal uncle, Spencer Perceval [q. v.], the prime minister, whose daughter he subsequently married; his second name he owed indirectly to the Walpoles, directly to Lord Nelson, the cousin and friend of his father. He was educated at Eton during the head-mastership of John Keate [q. v.], and he had for his tutor Edward Craven Hawtrey [q. v.] At Eton Walpole rose rapidly to be head of the school, and both in the Eton debating society and in ‘speeches’ gave evidence of oratorical power. At election 1823 he was entrusted by Keate with the speech which Lord Strafford delivered on the scaffold, and which Canning had recited, on a similar occasion, some thirty-six years before. Canning happened to be present, and paid the young orator the unusual compliment of rising from his seat, shaking hands with him, and congratulating him on the fervour and feeling with which he had spoken.
From Eton Walpole proceeded to Trinity College, Cambridge. He graduated B.A. as a senior optime in 1828, having won the first declamation prize and the prize for the best ‘Essay on the Character of William III.’ On leaving Cambridge he chose the law as a profession. He was called to the bar at Lincoln's Inn in 1831, and became queen's counsel in 1846. In the interval he had attained prominence in his profession. His increasing practice induced him to confine himself almost exclusively to the rolls court, where he enjoyed, to a remarkable degree, the confidence of the presiding judge, Sir John Romilly, and during the years which preceded his final retirement from the bar in 1852 he was engaged in all the most important cases which came before that court.
Other interests, however, were rapidly absorbing a considerable portion of his time. On 30 Jan. 1846 he entered the House of Commons as conservative member for Midhurst, where his cousin, Lord Egmont, exercised a predominating influence. He represented Midhurst till 1856, when he left it for the university of Cambridge. He sat for the university till his final retirement from parliament in 1882.
In the House of Commons Walpole rapidly acquired the respect which is always conceded to ability and character, and his speeches on the repeal of the navigation laws, on the Jewish disabilities bill (1848), and on the ecclesiastical titles bill (1851) brought him into notice; the last two were published by request. On the formation of Lord Derby's ministry in February 1852 he was offered and accepted a seat in the cabinet as secretary of state for the home department. During the following session he introduced and carried a measure for the reorganisation of the militia. He resigned with the rest of the ministry in December. When Lord Derby again formed a government in February 1858, Walpole resumed the position of home secretary. But he differed from his colleagues on the provisions of the Reform Bill which Lord Derby's cabinet resolved in January 1859 to submit in the ensuing session to the House of Commons, and he retired from office. Walpole, when writing to announce his resignation to the prime minister on 27 Jan., complained especially of the proposed reduction of the county franchise. He stated his reasons for withdrawing from the government to the House of Commons on 1 March, the day after Disraeli introduced the Reform Bill. His own views on reform were elaborately explained in two articles which he contributed to the ‘Quarterly Review’ in October 1859 and in January 1860.
In June 1866 Walpole became home secretary for the third time, on the formation of Lord Derby's third ministry, and his third tenure of the office was rendered memorable by his action in relation to the popular agitation for parliamentary reform. Walpole's attitude was much misunderstood and misrepresented. He and his party took office after the defeat of Lord Russell's ministry on a division in committee during the discussion of the liberal government's Reform Bill. As soon as Lord Derby became prime minister in June, the reform league organised, among other demonstrations in favour of an advanced measure of parliamentary reform, a great procession through the streets of London and a meeting in Hyde Park, which were advertised to take place on 23 July. Walpole came to the conclusion, after consulting the best authorities, that the government had no power to prevent the meeting, and early in July he carried to the cabinet a note, still preserved among his papers, in the following terms: ‘The government do not think they are justified in suppressing the meeting with force. The meeting will be permitted to assemble, but in the event of it becoming disorderly a stop will be immediately put to it.’ The cabinet, at the instigation of Lord Derby, overruled this advice, and on 19 July Walpole announced in the House of Commons that no meeting of the league would be permitted in Hyde Park. Orders were issued by the home office to Sir Richard Mayne, the chief commissioner of police, to shut the gates of the park in the face of the mob on the day appointed for the demonstration. This course was carried out, with the result that on Monday, 23 July 1866, the mob that had gathered to take part in the meeting, finding the gates closed against them, made a forced entry into the park. Next day disturbances about the park were renewed. On the third day, Wednesday the 25th, Walpole received at the home office a deputation from the organisers of the meeting. Walpole informed them that, ‘as the only question which had given rise to the disturbances was the alleged right of admission to the park for the purpose of holding a public meeting, her majesty's government would give every facility in their power for obtaining a legal decision on that question.’ After the deputation had withdrawn, two or three members of it returned and asked Walpole ‘whether the government would allow a meeting on the subject of reform to take place on the following Monday.’ In reply, Walpole said that the question must be put in writing, in order that it might be submitted to the cabinet. The same evening Edmond Beales [q. v.], the president of the reform league, addressed the necessary application in writing, and on the following day was told, also in writing, that the government could not allow such a meeting to be held in Hyde Park, but would not object to the use of Primrose Hill for that purpose. Before, however, the reply reached Beales, the reform league issued a placard, which they had the assurance to post on the entrances of the park, expressing an earnest hope that, pending the decision on the main question, ‘no further attempt would be made to hold a meeting in Hyde Park, except only by arrangement with the government on Monday afternoon, 30 July, at six o'clock.’ Owing to the government's intimation the meeting was not held.
It was naturally assumed at the time that Walpole must have said something at the interview which justified the inference that the league would be allowed to hold the meeting in the park on the 30th; and it was further reported that he had been so moved that, while receiving the deputation, he lost his head and wept. Mr. G. J. Holyoake, however, who was present, generously came forward to deny the first of these stories; and he afterwards published his own version of what occurred in his ‘Fifty Years of an Agitator's Life.’ He stated that the story that Walpole lost his head and wept was entirely untrue.
In the following May, during the discussions on the government's Reform Bill, the same difficulty recurred. The reform league announced its intention to hold a meeting in Hyde Park on 6 May, and the government issued on the 1st a notice that the use of the park for such a purpose was not permitted, and warning well-disposed persons against attending it. The government served copies of this notice on leading members of the reform league. Ministers, when they issued this notice, had learnt from their law officers that it would not be permissible to disperse the meeting by force, and that their only remedy against those defying the warning was an action for trespass. But they did not disclose the difficulty in which they were placed by this opinion, and relied on the warning which they had issued to stop the meeting. The reformers were not deterred by the implied menace. The meeting was duly held on 6 May, and the public was astonished to find that no penalty attached to its holding. Earlier on the same day Lord Derby had addressed his supporters at the home office, and, while informing them that no steps would be taken to interfere with the meeting, defended Walpole from charges of mismanagement in regard to it. Popular indignation, however, was on all sides great, and Walpole was the chief object of attack. He bowed before the storm and retired from office; but Lord Derby, when announcing his determination to the House of Lords on 9 May, declared that it was not Walpole, but the cabinet, that was responsible for the government's apparent vacillation. Walpole continued to serve in the cabinet, without office, till its reconstruction under Disraeli in February 1868, when he finally withdrew.
Walpole was an ecclesiastical commissioner from 1856 to 1858, and from 1862 to 1866. He received an honorary degree as D.C.L. at Oxford on 7 June 1853, and LL.D. at Cambridge in 1860. He was also a trustee of the British Museum, a bencher of Lincoln's Inn, and high steward of Cambridge University from 1887 to his death. In addition to these offices he was for some years chairman of the Great Western Railway; he retired from that board in 1866. Aubrey, a character in Warren's ‘Ten Thousand a Year,’ was suggested by Walpole. Walpole died at his residence at Ealing on 22 May 1898.
Walpole married, on 6 Oct. 1835, his first cousin, Isabella, fourth daughter of Spencer Perceval. She died on 16 July 1886, aged 84. By her Walpole was father of two sons and two daughters. The elder son, Sir Spencer Walpole, K.C.B. (1839–1907), was at one time secretary of the post office. The younger son, Sir Horatio George Walpole, K.C.B., was assistant under-secretary of state for India from 1883 to 1907.
A crayon drawing of Walpole by George Richmond, R.A., was executed and engraved for Grillion's Club, and an oil painting was completed by the same artist in later life. A bust by Adams was executed in 1888.[Private information.]