Page:Dictionary of National Biography volume 50.djvu/55

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.


months the presidency of the board of control, and then, resigning that office, remained till Perceval's death a member of the cabinet without office. Meantime, on 20 July 1809, he had been created Earl of Harrowby and Viscount Sandon. He had particularly interested himself in church questions, publishing one or two pamphlets on the augmentation of benefices, and introducing the bill which ultimately passed as the ‘Curates Act’ in 1813 (53 Geo. III, c. 149). In 1812 he again became a minister—president of the council—in Lord Liverpool's administration, and retained that office till August 1827, when he retired from office on the formation of the Goderich administration, and was succeeded by the Duke of Portland. When the British army had occupied Belgium in 1815, the cabinet despatched Lord Harrowby and Wellesley-Pole on a special mission to Brussels to confer with Wellington. They started on 5 April, and after meeting both Wellington and Louis XVIII, reported to Lord Castlereagh, and returned about the middle of the month (Wellington, Supplemental Despatches, x. 17–31; Castlereagh, Memoirs, x. 303; Young, Life of Lord Liverpool, ii. 173). Lord Harrowby had devoted considerable thought and study to currency questions, and accordingly he became chairman of the lords' committee on the currency in 1819, prepared its valuable report, and moved the ministerial resolutions on 21 May which were founded on it. It was at his house in Grosvenor Square that the Cato Street conspiracy for the assassination of ministers was to have been accomplished by Thistlewood and his accomplices in February 1820, and it was to him that the plot was first betrayed.

Except on questions which were strictly questions of party politics, Lord Harrowby's disposition was towards a liberal and reforming legislation. He had given proof of this in April 1791, when he avowed himself converted by the arguments of Wilberforce and Fox in the slave-trade debate of that month (Stanhope, Life of Pitt, ii. 88). As early as 1812 he was known (Colchester, Diaries, ii. 403) as a supporter of the catholic claims, and in 1823 and 1824 he spoke and voted in their favour. He also approved the repeal of the Test and Corporation Acts. On the death of Canning, to whom he had adhered when Peel and Wellington resigned, Harrowby finally retired from office, and even refused the prime ministership when Goderich resigned in November 1827. Nevertheless, when reform became a practical and pressing question, he returned to the debates of the House of Lords and to a considerable political activity. As early as 4 Oct. 1831 he declared his opinion in the House of Lords that the time for some measure of parliamentary reform was come, and even indicated the changes which he would support, namely, a generous extension of the franchise to wealthy and populous places, and a reduction in the number of small boroughs so as to make room for an increased representation of the large counties. His speech was subsequently corrected and published by Roake and Varty (Hansard, 3rd ser. vii. 1145, viii. 686). During the winter of 1831 and the spring of 1832 he was active, along with Lord Wharncliffe, in endeavouring to arrange some compromise between Earl Grey and the tory lords, by which a creation of fresh peers might be averted. He issued a circular letter to various members of the House of Lords, and repeatedly met Lord Grey (see Correspondence of Earl Grey and Princess Lieven, ii. 330), but he failed to obtain any definite terms from either side, and met with little but reproaches from both. He and those who acted with him were known as ‘the waverers’ (Greville Memoirs, 1st ser. ii. 275; Croker Papers, ii. 156). After this time he took little part in politics, though for the party funds at the election of 1834 he subscribed, in spite of his being a poor man, a sum of 1,000l.

Of Lord Harrowby Greville says that his manner was pert, rigid, and provoking; that he was crotchety, full of indecision, and an alarmist, but exceedingly well-informed, not illiberal in his views, and one of the most conscientious, disinterested, and unambitious statesmen that ever lived; but the very openness of view and honesty of temper which had led him to try to moderate between the two parties in 1831 had earned him the enmity of both. Pitt is said shortly before he died to have selected Harrowby as the fittest person to be his successor; but defects of temper diminished his influence with his own party, nor were his gifts as a speaker sufficiently signal to counterbalance them (see Stanhope, Conversations with the Duke of Wellington, p. 157; but see also Stanhope's Life of Pitt, iv. 189). Lord Liverpool indeed boldly accused him of having ‘a wretched mind, or a distempered body which operates on his mind’ to an extent which disqualified him for business, of being interested, and of winning Pitt's good opinion by mere subserviency (Auckland, Correspondence, iv. 226); and Lord Grey told the Princess Lieven that although he found Lord Harrowby an able and agreeable man ‘as long as he keeps to English, when he talks French he bores me, for he is pre-