Perceval, John (1711-1770) (DNB00)

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search


PERCEVAL, JOHN, second Earl of Egmont (1711–1770), born in Westminster on 24 Feb. 1711, was the eldest son of John Perceval, first earl of Egmont [q. v.], by his wife Catherine, elder daughter of Sir Philip Parker à Morley, bart., of Erwarton, Suffolk. He was privately educated, and in 1731, while under age, was returned to the Irish House of Commons for Dingle Icouch in Kerry, which he continued to represent until his accession to the peerage in 1748. When quite young Perceval ‘dabbled in writing Craftsmen and party papers’ (Walpole, Letters, 1857, ii. 144). After more than one attempt to obtain a seat in the British House of Commons, he was elected for the city of Westminster in December 1741. He spoke for the first time in the house on 21 Jan. 1742, when he supported Pulteney's motion for a select committee of inquiry into the conduct of the war (Parl. Hist. xii. 370–3). In the following March he again insisted upon a strict and searching inquiry into the conduct of Walpole's administration (ib. xii. 470–2, 511–13), and in December he both spoke and voted in favour of the payment of the Hanoverian troops (ib. xii. 1043–51, 1053). In 1743 he published a masterly pamphlet in defence of Bath's political apostasy, entitled ‘Faction detected by the Evidence of Facts’ (Dublin, 1743, 8vo, anon.), which passed through a number of editions, and has been pronounced by Coxe as ‘one of the best political pamphlets ever written’ (Life of Sir Robert Walpole, 1798, i. 703 n.) In January 1744 he supported the rigorous prosecution of the war (Parl. Hist. xiii. 427–62). His unpopularity was so great at Westminster, owing to his desertion of the ‘independents,’ to whom he had owed his election, that Perceval had to seek another seat at the general election in the summer of 1747. Though defeated at the poll at Weobley, he gained the seat on petition in December 1747 through the influence of Henry Pelham. No sooner had he secured his seat in the house than he openly attached himself to the Prince of Wales, who appointed him a lord of the bed-chamber in March 1748. On 1 May following he succeeded his father as second Earl of Egmont in the peerage of Ireland. In the session of 1748–9 Egmont became the most prominent leader of the opposition in the House of Commons, where he ‘made as great a figure as was ever made in so short a time’ (Walpole, Letters, ii. 145). His opposition to the mutiny bill gave rise to Sir Charles Hanbury Williams's epigram:

Why has Lord Egmont 'gainst this bill
So much declaratory skill
So tediously exerted?
The reason's plain: but t'other day
He mutinied himself for pay,
And he has twice deserted.

In May 1749 he effected a coalition between the Jacobites and the prince's party (ib. ii. 153–4). He made a violent attack upon the ministry during the debate on the address on 16 Nov. 1749 (Parl. Hist. xiv. 578–85), and took a very active part in the opposition to Lord Trentham's re-election for Westminster in the following year. He opposed the address at the opening of the session on 17 Jan. 1751 on account of the approbation given to the subsidy treaties, but his amendment was defeated by 203 votes to 74 (ib. xiv. 792–8, 827); and on 22 Feb. following he strongly protested against the grant of a subsidy to the elector of Bavaria (ib. xiv. 954–63). On the morning after the death of Frederick, prince of Wales, the principal members of the opposition met at Egmont's house, but the meeting broke up without forming any plans for the future (Walpole, Memoirs of the Reign of George II, 1847, i. 80–1). Egmont made ‘a very artful speech’ in favour of Sir John Cotton's amendment for the reduction of the army in November 1752 (ib. i. 213–15; Parl. Hist. xiv. 1111–1118). In January 1753 he proposed an amendment to the address, and again urged the necessity of reducing the army (ib. xiv. 1276, 1281–5). On 7 Feb. 1754 he opposed the bill for extending the mutiny act to the East Indies ‘in a very long and fine speech’ (ib. xv. 250–60; Walpole, Letters, ii. 368). At the general election in April 1754 he was returned for Bridgwater, where he defeated George Bubb Dodington [q. v.]; and at the opening of the new parliament in November 1754 he took part in the debate on the address, but did not ‘think it absolutely necessary to offer any amendment’ (ib. xv. 365–70). He is said to have been offered the treasurership of the household, but was so overpowered by the violence of Charles Townshend's attack during the debate on the mutiny bill in December 1754 that he ‘excused himself from accepting the promised employment’ (Walpole, Memoirs of the Reign of George II, i. 420–2). He was sworn a member of the privy council on 9 Jan. 1755. In October 1756 he refused the Duke of Newcastle's offer of the leadership of the House of Commons with the seals of secretary of state, as the object of his ambition was an English peerage. Towards the close of 1760 Egmont had an interview with Bute and ‘begg'd earnestly to go into the House of Lords’ (Dodington, Diary, 1784, p. 421). At the general election in March 1761 he was returned both for Ilchester and Bridgwater, and elected to sit for Bridgwater. On 7 May 1762 he was created Baron Lovel and Holland of Enmore in the county of Somerset, and took his seat in the House of Lords for the first time on the 10th of the same month (Journals of the House of Lords, xxx. 262). He moved the address in the lords at the opening of the session on 25 Nov. 1762 (Parl. Hist. xv. 1236–8), and two days afterwards was appointed joint paymaster-general with the Hon. Robert Hampden. He resigned this post on his appointment as first lord of the admiralty on 10 Sept. 1763. In December following he presented a memorial to the king for the grant of the island of St. John, where he proposed to revive the system of feudal tenures. Though Egmont seems to have persuaded the council to suffer him to make the experiment, the folly of the undertaking was subsequently exposed by Conway, and Egmont was obliged to relinquish his cherished scheme. Egmont is said to have been one of the agents in the secret negotiations for the destruction of the Rockingham ministry, which were set on foot almost immediately after the close of the session in June 1766. But he disapproved of Chatham's foreign policy, and, finding that ‘one man was to have more weight than six,’ resigned his post at the admiralty in August 1766, shortly after Rockingham's downfall (Walpole, Memoirs of the Reign of George III, 1845, ii. 360). In the following summer he refused office on the ground that he could not take any part in an administration of which Chatham was a member. In November 1768 Egmont ‘made a warm and able speech against riots, and on the licentiousness of the people,’ and declared that ‘the Lords alone could save the country; their dictatorial power could and had authority to do it’ (ib. iii. 278–9). He died at Pall Mall on 4 Dec. 1770, aged 59, and was buried at Charlton, Kent, on the 11th of the same month. Egmont was a talented and ambitious man with great powers of application and a large stock of learning. He was a successful pamphleteer, a fluent and plausible debater, and ‘a very able though not an agreeable orator’ (Walpole, Royal and Noble Authors, 1806, v. 323). According to Walpole, he was never known to laugh, though ‘he was indeed seen to smile, and that was at chess’ (Memoirs of the Reign of George II, i. 36). Like his father, whom he assisted in collecting the materials for the ‘Genealogical History of the House of Yvery’ (London, 1742, 8vo), he was an enthusiastic genealogist, and on points of precedence his authority was unimpeachable (Hardy, Memoirs of the Earl of Charlemont, 1810, p. 63). When scarce a man it is said that he had a scheme for assembling the Jews and making himself their king (Walpole, Memoirs of the Reign of George II, i. 35 n.) He was a strenuous advocate for the revival of feudal tenures, and so great was his affection for bygone times that, when building a residence at Enmore, near Bridgwater, he ‘mounted it round and prepared it to defend itself with crossbows and arrows, against the time in which the fabric and use of gunpowder shall be forgotten’ (Walpole, Memoirs of the Reign of George III, i. 388). While at the head of the admiralty he is said to have ‘wasted between four and five hundred thousand pounds on pompous additions to the dockyards’ (ib. iv. 204). He was, however, a great favourite with the shipwrights, whose claims he appears to have advocated, and his birthday was usually celebrated at Deptford and Woolwich with great rejoicings. The settlement formed on the West Falkland by Commodore Byron's expedition in 1765 received the name of Port Egmont in his honour.

He married first, on 15 Feb. 1737, Lady Catherine Cecil, second daughter of James, fifth earl of Salisbury, by whom he had five sons—viz.: John James, who succeeded as the third earl; Cecil Parker, born on 19 Oct. 1739, who died at Eton on 4 March 1753; Philip Tufton, born on 10 March 1742, a captain in the royal navy; Edward, born on 19 April 1744, a captain in the royal dragoon guards, who married, on 27 July 1775, Sarah, daughter of John Howarth, and died in 1824; and Frederick Augustus, born on 11 Feb. 1749, who died on 21 Jan. 1757—and two daughters, viz.: Catherine, who was married, on 13 Sept. 1766, to Thomas Wynn (afterwards first Baron Newborough), and died in June 1782; and Margaret, who died an infant on 23 Jan. 1750. His first wife died on 16 Aug. 1752, aged 33; and Egmont married, secondly, on 26 Jan. 1756, Catherine, third daughter of the Hon. Charles Compton who was created Baroness Arden of Lohort Castle in the county of Cork on 23 May 1770, with remainder to her heirs male. By his second wife Egmont had three sons—viz.: Charles George, born on 1 Oct. 1756, who succeeded his mother as Baron Arden in the peerage of Ireland, and was created a peer of the United Kingdom, with the title of Baron Arden of Arden in the county of Warwick; Spencer [q. v.], who became prime minister; and Henry, who died on 27 July 1772, aged 7—and six daughters, viz.: Mary, who was married, on 2 April 1781, to Andrew Berkeley Drummond of Cadlands, Hampshire, grandson of William, fourth viscount Strathallan, and died on 18 Sept. 1839; Anne, who died on 1 Aug. 1772, aged 12; Charlotte, who died an infant on 19 Feb. 1761; Elizabeth, who died, unmarried, on 4 April 1846, aged 82; Frances, who was married, on 6 June 1803, to John, first baron Redesdale, and died on 22 Aug. 1817; and Margaret, who was married, on 1 Dec. 1803, to Thomas Walpole, sometime ambassador at Munich, a nephew of Horatio, first earl of Orford (created 1806), and died on 12 Dec. 1854. Lady Egmont survived her husband, and died at Langley, Buckinghamshire, on 11 June 1784, aged 53.

Engravings of Egmont and his first wife by Faber after Zinck will be found in the second volume of the ‘General History of the House of Yvery’ (opp. pp. 455, 457). There are also engravings of Egmont by McArdell after Hudson, and by Faber after Hayman. A portrait of Egmont with his second wife, by Sir Joshua Reynolds, was lent by the seventh earl to the winter exhibition at the Royal Academy in 1875 (Catalogue, No. 90).

The authorship of ‘Considerations on the Present Dangerous Crisis’ (London, 1763, 8vo), written by Owen Ruffhead, has been erroneously attributed to Egmont (Nichols, Lit. Anecd. viii. 235), to whom ‘Things as they are’ (pt. i. London, 1758, 8vo, pt. ii. London, 1761, 8vo) has also been ascribed. According to Walpole, it was generally supposed that Egmont was the author of the ‘Constitutional Queries earnestly recommended to the Serious Consideration of every true Briton’ which were ordered to be burnt by the common hangman in January 1751 (Memoirs of the Reign of George II, i. 9, 427–9). Besides ‘Faction Detected,’ Egmont also wrote: 1. ‘The Question of the Precedency of the Peers of Ireland in England fairly stated. In a Letter to an English Lord by a Nobleman of the other Kingdom,’ Dublin, 1739, 8vo (anon.); another edit. 1761, London, 8vo. According to the preface, this pamphlet was published ‘without the knowledge or concurrence’ of the author. Though generally ascribed to his father, it appears to have been written by the second earl (Hist. MSS. Comm. 12th Rep. App. x. 16). 2. ‘An Examination of the Principles and an Enquiry into the Conduct of the two B——rs [the Duke of Newcastle and Henry Pelham] in regard to the Establishment of their Power and their Prosecution of the War 'till the Signing of the Preliminaries,’ &c., London, 1749, 8vo (anon.) 3. ‘A Second Series of Facts and Arguments; tending to Prove that the Abilities of the two B——rs are not more extraordinary than their Virtues,’ &c., London, 1749, 8vo (anon.) 4. ‘An Occasional Letter from a Gentleman in the Country to his Friends in Town concerning the Treaty negotiated at Hanau in the Year 1743,’ &c., London, 1749, 8vo. 5. ‘A Proposal for selling part of the Forest Land and Chases, and disposing of the Produce towards the discharge of that part of the National Debt due to the Bank of England, and for the Establishment of a National Bank,’ London, 1763, 4to. 6. ‘The Memorial of John, Earl of Egmont, to the King’ [desiring ‘from his Majesty a grant of the whole island of St. John's in the Gulph of St. Lawrence,’ &c.], [London, 1763], 8vo; privately printed. He collected materials for the third volume of the ‘Genealogical History of the House of Yvery’ [see Perceval, John, first Earl of Egmont], the manuscript of which is among the muniments of the Earl of Egmont (Hist. MSS. Comm. 7th Rep. App. p. 233).

[Besides the authorities quoted in the text, the following books among others have been consulted: Grenville Papers, 1852–3, vols. ii. iii. and iv.; Mahon's Hist. of England, 1858, vols. iv. and v.; Drummond's Hist. of Noble British Families, 1846, vol. ii. art. ‘Perceval;’ Collinson's Somerset, 1791, i. 94; Hasted's Kent, Blackheath Hundred, 1886, pp. 17 n., 121 n., 140, 166–7 n.; Lodge's Peerage of Ireland, 1789, ii. 266–7, vii. 86–7; G. E. C.'s Complete Peerage, 1890, iii. 245; Official Return of Lists of Members of Parliament, pt. ii. pp. 89, 101, 115, 129, 658; Notes and Queries, 8th ser. v. 147, 167, 187, 254, 432, 433; Haydn's Book of Dignities, 1890; Watt's Bibl. Brit. 1824; Halkett and Laing's Dict. of Anon. and Pseud. Lit. 1882–8; Brit. Mus. Cat.]

G. F. R. B.