Scott, John (1751-1838) (DNB00)

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SCOTT, JOHN, first Earl of Eldon (1751–1838), lord chancellor, third son of William Scott of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, by his second wife, was born in Love Lane, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, on 4 June 1751. Heraldic conjecture has sought to connect his family with the noble house of Scott of Balwearie, Fifeshire [see Scott, Sir William, (d. 1532)]; but, beyond the name, there is nothing but vague tradition to indicate a Scottish origin. The pedigree cannot be authentically traced further back than William Scott's father, also William Scott, who is described as yeoman of Sandgate, Newcastle-upon-Tyne.

The future chancellor's father, William Scott, born about 1696, was apprenticed on 1 Sept. 1716 to Thomas Brummel, ‘hoastman’—i.e. coal-factor, or, in the local dialect, ‘coal-fitter’—of Newcastle-upon-Tyne; received the freedom of the town on 25 Aug. 1724, and was admitted to the full privilege of the ancient guild of hoastmen on 7 Sept. following. He prospered in business, became the owner of several ‘keels’—i.e. barges—and a public-house, and died on 6 Nov. 1776, having been twice married. His first wife, Isabella Noble (m. 11 May 1730), died in January 1734, leaving issue. By his second wife, Jane, daughter of Henry Atkinson of Newcastle-upon-Tyne (m. 18 Aug. 1740, d 16 July 1800), he had issue thirteen children, of whom six reached mature age. Of these three were sons, viz. (1) William (afterwards Lord Stowell) [q. v.]; (2) Henry (baptised 2 Nov. 1748, d. 8 Dec. 1799); and (3) John, the subject of the present article.

A dominie named Warden taught the boys their letters by the Scottish method of ‘muffling’ the consonants, i.e. placing the vowel before instead of after them; and they were then grounded in the church catechism and the classics by Hugh Moises [q. v.] at the Newcastle free grammar school, where they sat on the same form with Cuthbert (afterwards Lord) Collingwood [q. v.] For Moises, John Scott retained so much regard that, as lord chancellor, he made him one of his chaplains. Though a fair scholar, John was at first intended for business; but at the suggestion of his elder brother, William, he was allowed to join the latter at Oxford in 1766. During the journey the Latin adage ‘Sat cito si sat bene,’ which the coach bore painted on its panel, made so deep an impression on his mind that in after life he was never weary of quoting it as an apology for his inordinate procrastination. He matriculated on 15 May 1766 from University College, where on 11 July in the following year he obtained a fellowship, for which his Northumbrian birth made him eligible. He graduated B.A. on 20 Feb. 1770, proceeded M.A. on 13 Feb. 1773, was appointed high steward of the university on 18 Sept. 1801, and received the degree of D.C.L. by diploma on 15 Oct. following.

In 1771 Scott gained the English-essay prize by a stilted Johnsonian dissertation on ‘The Advantages and Disadvantages of Travelling into Foreign Countries’ (see Oxford English Prize Essays, Oxford, 1836, vol. i.). At this time he had thoughts of taking holy orders, but abandoned the idea on gaining the hand of Elizabeth, the beautiful daughter of Aubone Surtees, a wealthy banker of Newcastle-upon-Tyne. The lady's heart had been his for some time, and, her parents refusing their consent to the match, she eloped with him by an upper story window and a ladder on the night of 18 Nov. 1772. Next day, at Blackshiels, near Edin- burgh, the pair were married, according to the rite of the church of England, by John Buchanan, a clergyman of the episcopal church of Scotland, who had a cure of souls at Haddington. They at once recrossed the border, and were soon forgiven by their parents, who joined in settling 3,000l. upon them. The marriage was re-solemnised in St. Nicholas's Church, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, on 19 Jan. 1773. On the 28th of the same month Scott was admitted a member of the Middle Temple, where he was called to the bar on 9 Feb. 1776, elected a bencher on 20 June 1783, and treasurer in 1797. While eating his dinners he lived at New Inn Hall, Oxford, where as deputy to the Vinerian professor, Sir Robert Chambers, he made 60l. a year by lecturing on law, while ignorant of the rudiments of the science. He removed to London in 1775, and, after a brief residence in Cursitor Street, Chancery Lane, took a little house in Carey Street, which he soon exchanged for a residence in Powis Place. Later on he removed to Bedford Square, and finally to Hamilton Place.

Scott's maxim was that a lawyer should live like a hermit and work like a horse. He therefore withdrew from general society, and devoted his days and nights to professional study with such assiduity as for a time seriously to impair his health. The eminent conveyancer Matthew Duane [q. v.] received him as a pupil without fee, and to the perfect mastery of the technicalities of real-property law which he thus acquired he added a profound study of common law and equity. His means were improved on his father's death by a legacy of 1,000l., and in 1781 by another 1,000l. added to the settlement moneys by his father-in-law, through whose interest he obtained the general retainer of the corporation of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, of which on 13 Oct. 1774 he had received the freedom as a hoastman's son. He supported the candidature of his friend Andrew Robinson Bowes [see Bowes, Matthew Eleanor, Countess of Strathmore] for the representation of the borough in February 1777, and represented him before the House of Commons on the petitions read on 25 April following and 18 Feb. 1782. The interest of another friend, Lloyd (afterwards Lord) Kenyon [q. v.], procured him a brief on the Clitheroe election petition, read on 13 March 1781. At Westminster he at first attended the court of king's bench, but, thinking Lord Mansfield had a preference for Christ Church men, he soon crossed over to the other side of the hall. Before Thurlow he argued, on 6 Feb. 1779, a point of some difficulty on the construction of a will (Brown, p. 31), and on 4 March 1780 established the reputation of a sound equity lawyer by his successful argument in Ackroyd v. Smithson (ib. p. 503) on appeal from the rolls court. On 31 May 1781 he appeared, with Kenyon, before the House of Lords in support of the Duke of Northumberland's claim to the office of lord great chamberlain.

On 9 May 1782 he appeared before the House of Commons for Peter Perring, of the Madras council, on the commitment of the bill to restrain him and Sir Thomas Rumbold [q. v.] from leaving the country. On 4 June 1783 he took silk, having first, with characteristic independence, vindicated his right to precedence before Erskine and Arthur Pigot, whose patents had been made out before his. Thurlow now procured his return to parliament (16 June), as an independent king's friend, for Lord Weymouth's borough of Weobley, Herefordshire, which he represented until the general election of May 1796, when he was returned for Boroughbridge, Yorkshire. His maiden speech, on the first reading of Fox's India Bill on 20 Nov. 1783, was laboured and ineffective, and a later effort on the third reading (8 Dec.), in which he attempted brilliance and achieved pomposity, excited the amazement of the house and the cruel mockery of Sheridan. A beginning could hardly have been less promising, but his able, independent speech in condemnation of the Westminster scrutiny was heard with respect on 9 March 1785; and, having thus shown Pitt the value of his support, he atoned for his temporary revolt by his defence of the commercial treaty with France on 21 Feb. 1787. He had long been high in favour with Thurlow, from whose brother Thomas, the bishop [q. v.], he obtained in this year (1 March) the post of chancellor of the county palatine of Durham.

During the discussion of the charges against Sir Elijah Impey [q. v.], 7–11 Feb. 1788, Scott exerted himself to secure Impey a fair trial according to form of law. On 5 March following he made an ingenious defence of the government measure charging the East India Company with the cost of the transport of troops to the East. On 27 June 1788 he was made solicitor-general, and, somewhat it would seem against his will, knighted. In the following winter he ably defended the government scheme for providing for the regency by means of a bill passed by fictitious commission under the great seal—a solution of an unprecedented constitutional problem ridiculed by Burke and the wits of the ‘Rolliad’ as legal metaphysics, but which was probably the best that could be devised. He also drafted the bill introduced in the fol- lowing spring, but abandoned on the recovery of the king [see George].

On the meeting of the new parliament Scott incurred some unmerited suspicion of corruption by maintaining (23 Dec. 1790) the then not unconstitutional doctrine that the impeachment of Warren Hastings had abated by the recent dissolution. Holding Lord Mansfield's view of the respective functions of judge and jury in cases of libel, he so amended the measure introduced by Fox in 1791 as materially to modify its effect (31 May). In the debates on the government measures for the partial relief of Irish and Scottish catholics, passed in 1791 and 1793, he took no part. On Thurlow's dismissal, on 15 June 1792, he tendered Pitt his resignation, but eventually withdrew it at Thurlow's instance, and on 13 Feb. 1793 succeeded Sir Archibald Macdonald as attorney-general. Being thus identified with the vigorous and rigorous policy pursued by the government during the next few years, he became for the time the best hated man in England. The Traitorous Correspondence Act of 1793 (which virtually suspended mercantile relations with France), the Habeas Corpus Suspension Act of the following year, the Treasonable Practices and Seditious Meetings Acts of 1795, and the Newspaper Proprietors' Registration Act of 1798 were his handiwork. At the same time he made liberal use of the procedure by ex-officio information for libel, and strained the law of constructive treason to the breaking-point. In the actual conduct of the prosecutions, even so severe a critic as Lord Campbell finds nothing to censure [see Frost, John, (1750–1842); Hardy, Thomas, (1752–1832); Tooke, John Horne; Erskine, Thomas, Lord].

On 19 July 1799 Scott succeeded Sir James Eyre (1734–1799) [q. v.] as lord chief justice of the common pleas, having during the three preceding days been sworn serjeant-at-law and of the privy council and board of trade, and created Baron Eldon of Eldon, in the county of Durham, where in 1792 he had bought a fine estate. On 24 Sept. following he took his seat, and on 27 Feb. 1800 he made his first reported speech in the House of Lords, in support of a bill to continue the suspension of the Habeas Corpus Act. He also supported (4 April) Lord Auckland's bill prohibiting the marriage of a divorced adulteress with her paramour, which passed the House of Lords, but was thrown out in the commons. In the debates on the union with Ireland he was conspicuous by his silence. The measure itself he probably disapproved, and to the emancipation of the catholic population he was as adverse as the king, though he was too sound a lawyer to countenance the king's strange delusion as to the effect of the coronation oath (Kenyon, Life of Lord Kenyon, p. 320). On Pitt's retirement he consented, not without demur, to succeed Lord Loughborough on the woolsack, and, if his notebook may be trusted, only in pursuance of a prior pledge to the king, and on the understanding that he was to be the king's chancellor, not the minister's. He believed that Addington had purposely kept him in ignorance of the true state of the king's health, and, though he received the great seal from the king in council on 14 April 1801, he regarded his tenure of it as conditional upon his recovery, and retained the chief-justiceship until 21 May, when he was succeeded by Lord Alvanley [Arden, Richard Pepper]. On three occasions during this interval, viz. on 18 April, 30 April, and 21 May, he procured the king's signature to a commission for passing bills. On the first and last of these occasions the king was unquestionably lucid; whether he was strictly competent to transact business on 30 April admits of some doubt (Colchester, Diary, i. 264–8; Rose, Diaries, i. 344–52).

In the common pleas Eldon gave proof, not only of a thorough mastery of law, but of a capacity for prompt decision which contrasts curiously with the habitual dilatoriness which he afterwards displayed in chancery. On the other hand he was too apt to confound the jury by the extreme subtlety with which he summed up. His judgments are reported by Bosanquet and Puller. As chancellor he made his first appearance in debate in support of a bill, also favoured by Thurlow, for granting divorce to a wife whose husband had committed adultery with her sister (20 May 1801). He also supported the measure introduced to exclude Horne Tooke, by which clergymen were disqualified for sitting in the House of Commons (15 June 1801); the convention with Russia which dissolved the armed neutrality (13 Nov. 1801); and, though by no means warmly, the peace of Amiens (3 Nov. 1801 and 13 May 1802). In the spring of 1804 the administration was hampered, while its existence, then almost at the mercy of Pitt, was prolonged by the lunacy of the king, which lasted, with hardly a day's intermission, from 12 Feb. to 23 April. On 1 March, in answer to a question in the House of Lords, Eldon stated that there was ‘no suspension of the royal functions.’ On 4 March and the next day he saw the king, and obtained his verbal consent to the Duke of York's estate bill. On 9 March, and again on 23 March, he affixed the great seal to a commission which purported to give the royal assent to certain bills. On 24 March, of his own motion, without consulting Addington, he had a tête-à-tête with Pitt. On 18 or 19 April the king, by Addington's advice, authorised him to open the negotiations which terminated in Addington's retirement and Pitt's return to power. As what passed between him and Pitt on 24 March has not transpired, the imputation of disloyalty to Addington cast upon him by Brougham, Pellew, and Lord Campbell rests on no substantial basis [see Addington, Henry, first Viscount Sidmouth] (Stanhope, Life of Pitt, ed. 1879, iii. 196, 211 et seq.).

To the king his loyalty was above suspicion, and it was requited with confidence and affection. To his diplomacy was entrusted, in the summer of 1804, the delicate task of composing the feuds which distracted the royal family. By urbanity, tact, and dignity, he prevailed with the prince to see his father and converse with him for a short while on indifferent topics (12 Nov. 1804), and eventually (January 1805) to concede to him the exclusive charge of the Princess Charlotte. In the House of Lords his energies were absorbed in defeating such proposals as the abolition of the slave trade and the emancipation of the debtor and the catholic (3, 24 July 1804, 25 March, 10, 13 May 1805). On the collapse of the administration which followed Pitt's death, he somewhat tardily (7 Feb. 1806) surrendered the seals. The king parted with him with profound regret. ‘Lay them down on the sofa,’ he said, pointing to the seals, ‘for I cannot and will not take them from you. Yet I admit you cannot stay when all the rest have run away.’ His retiring pension, by previous arrangement, was fixed at 4,000l.

Except to question the propriety of the acceptance by Lord Ellenborough of a seat in the cabinet while retaining the chief-justiceship—for which the only precedent was furnished by Lord Mansfield—to fight again the battle for the creditors' and sugar-planters' supposed vested interests in human flesh, and to record his vote for Lord Melville's acquittal (3 March, 14, 16 May, 12 June 1806), Eldon took little part in public affairs during the shortlived administration of All the Talents. Much of his leisure was occupied with the affairs of the Princess of Wales (Caroline Amelia Elizabeth), as whose adviser he acted during the scrutiny into her conduct; and solicitude to prevent the publication of ‘the book’ brought him to Windsor during the contest between the king and his advisers on the catholic question in March 1807. The coincidence raised a suspicion that he was privy to, if not the prompter of, the king's unconstitutional attempt to foreclose that question; nor did he in unequivocal terms deny the imputation, which is likely enough to be well founded. Lord Campbell's statement that he was concerned in the composition of ‘the book,’ the publication of which he afterwards (1808) restrained by injunction, is improbable in itself and unsupported by authority.

On the formation of the Portland administration in 1807 Eldon resumed the great seal, which he retained for rather more than twenty years. During great part of this period the strength of his convictions, the dexterity and decision with which he encountered emergencies, and a veritable genius for managing men, gave him paramount influence in the cabinet. Few English statesmen have been less trammelled by the maxims of the comity of nations or constitutional precedents and forms. Though naturally pacific, the subjugation of Napoleon was to him an end which sanctified all means. The seizure of the Danish fleet in 1807 he justified by the plea of necessity, while acknowledging that it was without colour of right; the orders in council by which the entire seaboard under the dominion or control of France was declared under blockade, to the infinite damage of neutral commerce, and also the practice of searching neutral ships for British seamen, he defended on grounds which have since been generally repudiated by publicists; and his plea for the detention of Bonaparte in 1815, that he had neither king nor country, but had constituted himself an independent belligerent, and was thus at the mercy of his captors, was perhaps more subtle than sound. Napoleon disposed of, his foreign policy was simply non-intervention. An orator he never became, but the dignity of his person and the melody of his voice triumphed over the clumsy and circumlocutory character of his style. His power of personal fascination was extraordinary. Secure in his ascendency over the king, he regarded without anxiety but not without resentment the intrigues of Canning to oust him from office during the protracted crisis of September–October 1809; and in the end it was Canning that retired, while the Duke of Portland was replaced by Eldon's old associate and intimate friend, Spencer Perceval. In 1811, when the lunacy of the king became chronic, Eldon was still on the worst of terms with the prince, whom he further embittered by adhering to the view of the procedure to constitute the regency which he had advocated in 1788. The prince's friends accordingly sought to exclude him from the council which was to be associated with the prince during the first year of the regency; and to this end the expedients by which a semblance of the royal assent had been given to bills while the king was presumably unfit to transact business in 1801 and 1804 were magnified into acts of usurpation, the responsibility for which it was sought to fix upon Eldon individually. Instead of relying on his true defence—the extreme gravity of the emergencies in which he had acted—Eldon took refuge in evasive circumlocutions and appeals to his conscience. He triumphed, however: the motion was negatived by a large majority; nor had the year of restricted regency expired before the prince had flouted his ‘early friends,’ and the administration had received a new lease of life. Eldon meanwhile had renounced the princess, and devoted himself to his ‘young master,’ who invited him to his supper parties, gave him the endearing nickname of Old Bags, and trusted him implicitly in all matters public and private. His influence was paramount during the crisis which followed the assassination of Perceval, when with the skill of an old parliamentary hand he secured the failure of the overtures, which for the sake of appearances were made first to Lord Wellesley and Canning, and then to Lords Grey and Grenville; and eventually formed Lord Liverpool's durable administration (8 June 1812). He advised the prince and supported his parental authority during the first treaty for the marriage of the Princess Charlotte, and arranged her eventual marriage with Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg.

Eldon concurred in conferring on Scotland in 1815 the somewhat questionable boon of trial by jury in civil causes (55 Geo. III, c. 42); and in 1819 in the abolition of trial by battle, and appeals of treason and felony (59 Geo. III, c. 46). A few other modifications of legal procedure are traceable to his suggestion. But his normal attitude towards innovations of all kinds continued to be one of determined hostility. He resisted the reforms of Sir Samuel Romilly [q. v.] as stubbornly as catholic emancipation; and, though he took no part in carrying the corn laws, he could conceive for the consequent disaffection no remedy but repression, and gave in 1817 his unqualified approval to Lord Sidmouth's circular instructing magistrates to hold to bail before indictment for libel, to the suspension of the Habeas Corpus Act, to the revival without limit of duration of the expired Treason Act of 1796, and to the new and stringent Seditious Meetings Act (57 Geo. III, cc. 3, 6, 18). After the Peterloo affair (1819), the Six Acts, which placed public meetings at the mercy of magistrates, authorised domiciliary visits for the seizure of arms, provided a more summary procedure in cases of seditious libel, and subjected pamphlets to the same duty as newspapers, seemed to him the only means of preserving the constitution (60 Geo. III and 1 Geo. IV, cc. 1, 2, 4, 6, 8, 9).

On the accession of George IV the unpopularity of the administration evinced by the Cato Street conspiracy was aggravated by their treatment of the queen, the odium of which attached in an especial degree to Eldon. But though he supported the reference of the report of the Milan commission to a secret committee (7 June 1820), he had had no hand in its initiation [see Leach, Sir John]; and in refusing the queen permission (27 June) to attend the subsequent debates on her case, he merely enforced the rule excluding ladies from the house; nor is he fairly censurable for declining to present her petition, or deviate from the long-established parliamentary procedure by granting her discovery of the evidence against her. On moving (2 Nov.) the second reading of the bill of pains and penalties, he summed up the case for and against her with the strictest impartiality; and it was as much in her interest as in that of the king and the administration that he deprecated the abandonment of the bill after the third reading. He was now in as ill odour with the populace as in 1794; but as the coryphæus of the gallant ‘thirty-nine who saved the thirty-nine’—i.e. who defeated (17 April 1821) Plunket's statesmanlike measure of catholic emancipation—he was enthusiastically toasted by loyal church and state men.

In anticipation of his coronation George IV, by patent dated 7 July 1821, conferred on Eldon the titles of Viscount Encombe and Earl of Eldon. The patent was sealed on 9 July, and on the same day the new earl took his seat as such in the House of Lords. But while he thus reached the summit of his honour, his ascendency was already passing from him. The king was now swayed by Lady Conyngham, who had espoused the catholic cause. The death of the queen opened the way for Canning's return to place. The administration was in need of new blood; and on his return from Ireland, where he had treated Plunket with marked distinction, the king consented (January 1822) to a coalition with the Grenville party, whereby catholic emancipation entered the sphere of practical politics. Eldon's chagrin at this arrangement—he had a hatred of coalitions—was mitigated by the exclusion of Canning from office. He was further consoled by the defeat of Canning's adroit attempt to initiate the process of emancipation with the catholic peer (21 June 1822). His failure to defeat the retrospective clauses of the Clandestine Marriage Act of this year (3 Geo. IV, c. 75), by which marriages contracted by minors without consent of their parents or guardians were validated, further evinced the decline of his influence; and when Canning succeeded Lord Londonderry at the foreign office, his consternation was extreme. He adhered, however, tenaciously to the woolsack, and for the additional mortification caused by Huskisson's accession to the cabinet found some compensation in the defeat of the Unitarian Marriage Bill of 1824 and of the Catholic Relief Bills of that and the following year. When Canning succeeded Lord Liverpool, Eldon deserted with the rest of the tories (12 April 1827), and was succeeded in the following month by Lord Lyndhurst.

Mortification at his exclusion from the Duke of Wellington's administration intensified the obstinacy with which in the debates on the repeal of the Test and Corporation Acts (1828), and in the final struggle on catholic emancipation (1829), Eldon maintained what he knew to be a hopeless struggle. His resistance to the latter measure he carried to the point of seriously urging the king to withhold his assent in two prolonged private audiences, one on 28 March, and the other in the following month. On the accession of William IV he supported Lord Grey's amendment to the answer to the royal message (30 June 1830) with the view of postponing the dissolution. Unmanned for a time by the death of Lady Eldon (28 June 1831), he mastered himself sufficiently to lead the irreconcilable section of the opposition in the struggle on the parliamentary Reform Bill. After fiercely contesting the measure at every stage, he denounced (21 May 1832) the proposed creation of new peers as unconstitutional, and only withdrew his opposition when its futility was made apparent. Tithe commutation, the several reforms founded on the reports of the real property and common law commissioners and the Irish Church Temporalities Bill, also found in him a sturdy opponent (1831–1834). His great age and staunchness made him the idol of his party. Churchmen showed their gratitude by founding in 1829 the Eldon law scholarship, for which only churchmen and Oxford graduates were to be eligible; and Oxford honoured her high steward hardly less than her chancellor, though the latter was the hero of Waterloo, at the commemoration of 1834.

He survived to take the oaths to Queen Victoria (21 June 1837), and died of old age at Hamilton Place on 13 Jan. 1838, leaving personalty sworn under 700,000l. His remains were interred by those of his wife in the graveyard of Kingston Chapel, near Encombe in the Isle of Purbeck, where in 1807 he had purchased a seat. The chapel, which he had rebuilt, contains his monument with an effigy by Chantrey.

Eldon had issue two sons—viz. (1) John (b. 8 March 1774), who died thirty-two years before his father, on 24 Dec. 1805, leaving issue by his wife (m. 22 Aug. 1804), Henrietta Elizabeth, only daughter of Sir Matthew White Ridley, bart., an only son, John (b. 10 Dec. 1805; d. 13 Sept. 1854), who from 1821 bore the title Viscount Encombe, and on his grandfather's death succeeded to the earldom and estates; (2) William Henry (b. 25 Feb. 1795, d. 6 July 1832)—and two daughters, viz. (1) Elizabeth (m. 27 Nov. 1817, George Manley Repton, youngest son of Humphry Repton [q. v.], d. 16 April 1862), and (2) Frances Jane (m. 6 April 1820 Rev. Edward Bankes, rector of Corfe Castle).

Of middle height, well knit and active, with regular features, keen, sparkling eyes, and luxuriant hair, Eldon in the prime of life was almost the ideal of manly beauty. To please Lady Eldon he wore his hair rather long; and at her instance, on his appointment to the lord chief-justiceship, asked leave of George III to dispense with his wig out of court, but was met with the curt response, ‘No, no! I will have no innovations in my time.’ The liberty denied to the chief justice was, however, conceded to or usurped by the chancellor. As he advanced in years thought and care added refinement and dignity to his physiognomy without impairing the geniality of his smile or the urbanity of his manners. His constitution was as robust as his political principles; yet he wept with facility, even in public, sometimes, as on Romilly's death, from genuine feeling, sometimes, apparently, for effect. His political courage was undoubted; but he had little physical prowess. A single fall induced him to forswear riding in early manhood; and though he was never happier than when among the birds at Encombe, he was so bad a shot that Lord Stowell rallied him with killing nothing but time. Singularly careless of outward show, no chancellor more easily maintained the dignity of his office, none more readily threw off the cares of state, not even Sir Christopher Hatton led the brawls more gaily than he. Intellectual society he shunned, and not unwisely; for he was ill-read, untravelled, and without either knowledge of or taste for the fine arts. Though in his own house he tolerated no politics but his own, he never allowed party spirit to mar the ease and intimacy of his social relations; and an inexhaustible fund of entertaining anecdote made him a most engaging companion. In later life his capacity for port wine was prodigious, and his seasoned brain was rarely in any appreciable degree affected by his potations. He was a most devoted husband, restricting his hospitality, and even discontinuing the levées which his predecessors had held, out of regard to Lady Eldon's wishes; and was an affectionate father and grandfather if somewhat exacting—he hardly forgave his daughter, Lady Elizabeth, for marrying without his consent, and was not satisfied until Lord Encombe had given him a life interest in the Stowell estates. He was also a good landlord, and unostentatiously charitable. ‘Not to make the church political, but to make the state religious,’ he defined as the object of church establishments; he was himself so neglectful of public worship that, with almost equal humour and truth, he was described as a buttress of the church; and though a trick of sermonising, in season and out of season, clave to him throughout life, he turned a deaf ear on the verge of the grave to the spiritual admonitions of Bishop Henry Phillpotts [q. v.]

Except in the disposal of the higher offices, his distribution of patronage was on the whole injudicious, being chiefly determined by the caprice of the royal family or any other influence which might be powerful enough to overcome his habitual indolence; and he was singularly chary of giving the coveted silk gown to members of the bar. Yet he won the affection of all who pleaded before him, from the grave and reverend seniors on the front bench to the young stuff-gownsman opening his first case, by the urbanity with which he treated them. Except by occasional sallies of wit, which, though rarely of a high order, served to vary the monotony of the proceedings, he seldom intervened during argument, but appeared to be wholly absorbed in attention, his inscrutable features giving no indication of the effect produced upon him. At the close of the case he usually reserved judgment, though no one was by nature or training better qualified to arrive at a speedy decision. The material facts of the case he grasped with a celerity almost intuitive, while a memory well stored with precedents, and an understanding of metaphysical acumen and subtlety, readily furnished him with the principles applicable to it. His indecision was due to an extreme scrupulosity, which caused him to review the case in all conceivable aspects long after he had in fact exhausted it, a propensity perhaps aggravated by a sense of his own instinctive precipitancy. Hence his decrees, like his opinions, were overlaid by a multiplicity of fine distinctions, among which the ratio decidendi was not always easy to grasp. They were, however, seldom appealed from, hardly ever reversed; nor, save so far as they have been rendered obsolete by legislative changes, has lapse of time materially impaired their authority. His gravest error, perhaps, was the extent to which he pushed the principle that the court will not protect by injunction works of an immoral, seditious, or irreligious tendency [see {{sc|Byron, George Gordon}, sixth Lord; Lawrence, Sir William; Southey, Robert; and Wolcot, John]. But, on the whole, the jurisdiction by injunction was most judiciously amplified by him; and if he overstrained the law against forestalling and regrating, and took a pedantically narrow view of the curriculum proper for grammar schools, he construed charitable bequests with exemplary liberality, and gave refinement and precision to the rules which govern the administration of estates in chancery and bankruptcy, the equities of mortgagors and mortgagees, and the remedy by specific performance.

The arrears with which he was incessantly reproached, and which occasioned the creation in 1813 of the office of vice-chancellor, the appointment in 1824 of a deputy-speaker of the House of Lords [Gifford, Robert, first Baron Gifford], and the ridiculous chancery commission of the same year, over which Eldon himself presided, were by no means wholly imputable to his dilatoriness. Chancery procedure had never been distinguished by despatch; and in Eldon's time a rapid and sustained increase of litigation combined with the unusually onerous nature of his political duties to render his position one of exceptional difficulty. Never were the judicial duties of the House of Lords more efficiently discharged than while he occupied the woolsack, though sometimes, as in the case of the Queenberry leases (1819), they involved the decision of the most intricate questions of Scottish real-property law. Nor does it fall to every chancellor to sway cabinet councils, to investigate a Berkeley or Roxburghe peerage claim, or preside at the trial of a queen. Moreover, the relief afforded by the creation of the vice-chancellor's court fell far short of what was anticipated. Not a few of the hasty decisions of Sir John Leach were overruled by Eldon on appeal or rehearing, and some on fresh evidence. This practice of admitting fresh evidence on appeal or rehearing, however conducive to the interests of justice, was certainly calculated to impair the authority of the court below, and was severely criticised by James Abercromby (afterwards Lord Dunfermline) [q. v.] in the House of Commons on 24 Feb. 1824. Misled by an inaccurate report of his speech, Eldon publicly denounced the charge as an ‘utter falsehood,’ for which breach of privilege he narrowly escaped the censure of parliament, and tendered an apology. With all his hesitancy, no judge knew better how to make up for lost time; and, when so minded, he would fairly weary out his counsel by his energy and assiduity. That, after all, the quantity of business of which he disposed during his tenure of the great seal was not disproportionate to its duration is attested by the space occupied by his decisions, even when allowance is made for their prolixity, in the ‘Reports’ of Vesey, jun., and his contemporaries and successors, Rose, Beames, Cooper, Merivale, Buck, Swanston, Jacob and Walker, Jacob, Wilson, Turner and Russell, Glyn and Jameson, Dow and Bligh.

Eldon was F.R.S., F.S.A., a governor of the Charterhouse, and a trustee of the British Museum. He was painted by Thomas (afterwards Sir Thomas) Lawrence while he was attorney-general. His portrait by William Owen, painted in 1812, is in the Guildhall, Newcastle-upon-Tyne. The National Portrait Gallery has a replica of another portrait by Sir Thomas Lawrence—the original, done in 1824, is at Windsor Castle—and his bust by Tatham, done in 1831. Another portrait, by Pickersgill, is at Merchant Taylors' Hall, London. His visit to Oxford in 1834 is commemorated by one of Briggs's compositions, representing him seated, while Lord Encombe, in academical costume, bows to kiss his hand. The new library at University College, Oxford, contains a colossal statue of him in Carrara marble, on the same base with that of Lord Stowell, both by George Nelson from models by Musgrave Lewthwaite. Engravings of his bust by Sievier, done in 1824, are at the British Museum.

[Twiss's Life of Lord-chancellor Eldon (1844); Townsend's Lives of Twelve Eminent Judges (1846); Surtees's Sketch of the Lives of Lords Stowell and Eldon (1846); Lord Campbell's Lives of the Chancellors (1847); Law Review, i. 249, ii. 276, iii. 44; Legal Observer, i. 193, 209, xv. 208, 311; Law Mag. xxxiii. 347; Brougham's Memoirs, ii. 413, and Historical Sketches of Statesmen (1839), ii. 54; Bennet's Biogr. Sketches (1867), p. 57; Gent. Mag. 1817 ii. 554, 1831 i. 648, 1832 ii. 186, 1838 i. 313; Observations on the Judges of the Court of Chancery, and the Practice and Delays complained of in that Court (1823); Edinburgh Rev. xxxix. 246, lxxxi. 131; Quarterly Rev. lxxiv. 71; Westminster Rev. xlii. 456; North British Rev. ii. 212; Blackwood's Edinb. Mag. xiv. 627, xviii. 212, lxi. 245; Brown's Cases in Parliament, ii. 146; Cases in the House of Lords (1781); Parl. Hist. xxiv–xxxvi, and Hansard's Parl. Deb.; Howell's State Trials, xxiv.–xxv.; Commons' Journals, xxxvi. 437, xxxviii. 285; Lords' Journals, xxxvi. 279; Wraxall's Mem. ed. Wheatley; Romilly's Mem.; Buckingham's Memoirs of the Courts and Cabinets of George III, the Regency, and George IV; Phipps's Memoirs of Robert Plumer Ward, i. 371, ii. 69; Diaries of James Harris, first Earl of Malmesbury (1844), iv. 31, 223; Pellew's Life of Sidmouth, ii. 277–9; Russell's Life of Fox, iii. 325; Stapleton's Life of Canning, p. 207; Yonge's Life of Lord Liverpool; Lord Auckland's Correspondence; Plunket's Life of Lord Plunket; Scarlett's Life of Lord Abinger, p. 89; Peel's Memoirs, ed. Stanhope and Cardwell, i. 275; Greville's Memoirs of George IV and William IV; R. I. and S. Wilberforce's Life of William Wilberforce; Arnould's Life of Lord Denman, i. 233; Martin's Life of Lord Lyndhurst, pp. 262–9; Butler's Reminiscences, 4th edit. p. 135; Brand's Newcastle-upon-Tyne; Mackenzie's Newcastle-upon-Tyne, i. 217.]

J. M. R.