Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Twiss, Horace
TWISS, HORACE (1787–1849), wit and politician, was the eldest son of Francis Twiss [q. v.] He was born, probably at Bath, in 1787, was admitted as a student at the Inner Temple in 1806, and was called to the bar on 28 June 1811. He inherited the love of his mother's family for the stage. His aunt, Mrs. Siddons, recited at her practical farewell of the stage on 29 June 1812 an address which he had written for her; he assisted when she gave her ‘readings from Shakespeare’ (Boaden, Mrs. Siddons, ii. 383), and he was one of the executors of her will. Several family letters from her to Twiss are now in the possession of Mr. Quintin Twiss. A satirical poem, called ‘St. Stephen's Chapel, by Horatius,’ which was published in 1807, is sometimes attributed to him, and he was known when a young man as a contributor of squibs and jeux d'esprit to the papers, especially to the ‘Morning Chronicle.’ It was said at a later date that his rise at the bar had been retarded by his social, literary, and political celebrity.
Twiss went the Oxford circuit, and rose to be one of its leaders. He afterwards attached himself to the courts of equity, and in 1827 he became king's counsel. In 1837 he was reader of his inn, and in 1838 he was its treasurer. Political life possessed great attractions for him, and in 1820 he was returned to parliament, through the interest of Lord Clarendon, for the borough of Wootton-Basset in Wiltshire. He sat for it through two parliaments lasting from 1820 to 1830, and from 1830 to the dissolution in April 1831 he represented the borough of Newport in the Isle of Wight. Lord Campbell had made his acquaintance in 1804 at a famous debating society which met at the Crown and Rolls in Chancery Lane. He was ‘the impersonation of a debating society rhetorician. … When he got into the House of Commons, though inexhaustibly fluent, his manner certainly was very flippant, factitious, and unbusinesslike’ (Hardcastle, Lord Campbell, i. 143). His speech on the proposed removal of the disabilities of Roman catholics (23 March 1821) was, however, greatly applauded, and he subsequently addressed the house on several legal topics, particularly on those affecting the court of chancery. In 1825 he was appointed by the administration of Lord Liverpool to the posts of counsel to the admiralty and judge-advocate of the fleet; and in the government of the Duke of Wellington from 1828 to 1830 he held the position of under-secretary of war and the colonies. On the introduction of the Reform Bill (1 March 1831) he made a vehement speech against it. It meant the loss of his seat, and Macaulay records that when the measure passed its second reading ‘the face of Twiss was as the face of a damned soul’ (Trevelyan, Macaulay, i. 208).
From 1831 to 1835 Twiss was out of parliament, but at the general election in the latter year he was returned as the second member for the borough of Bridport in Dorset, polling 207 votes against 199 recorded for John, first lord Romilly [q. v.] He sat for Bridport until the dissolution of parliament, and he is said to have during that period piloted through the House of Commons Lyndhurst's bill for making void marriages with a deceased wife's sister. At the general election of 1837 he was badly beaten in the contest for the representation of Nottingham, and in 1841 he was defeated at Bury St. Edmunds.
During those years, while Twiss was out of parliament and out of office, he utilised his influence with the ‘Times;’ he originated the summary of the debates in parliament, and occasionally wrote leaders. In October 1844 Lord Granville Charles Henry Somerset, the chancellor of the duchy of Lancaster, made him vice-chancellor of the duchy, and he enjoyed that lucrative post until his death. His house was at all times open for hospitality to persons of widely different positions and talents, and his jests ran through the social life of London. He possessed a rich fund of humour, and sang ‘with great spirit and expression.’ A dinner given by him ‘in a borrowed room’ in Chancery Lane in June 1819 is described by Tom Moore (Memoirs, ii. 320). At one time he lived in Serle Street, Lincoln's Inn Fields; about 1830 he dwelt at 5 Park Place, St. James's. At the time of his death he lived in Grafton Street.
Twiss died from heart disease very suddenly while speaking at a meeting of the Rock Assurance Society at Radley's Hotel, Bridge Street, Blackfriars, on 4 May 1849, aged 62, and was buried in the Temple church. He was twice married. First, he married, at Bath, on 2 Aug. 1817, Anne Lawrence, only daughter of Colonel Serle of Montagu Place, London. She had been a pupil at his mother's school at Bath, and was the smallest woman that Mrs. Frances Anne Kemble ever saw. She was probably the Mrs. Twiss who died at Cadogan Place on 20 Feb. 1827. Twiss married, secondly, in 1832, Annie, daughter of the Rev. Alexander Sterky (a Swiss minister and reader to the Princess Charlotte), and widow of Charles Greenwood, a Russia merchant. Twiss's only child by his first marriage, Fanny Horatia Serle Twiss (b. 1818, d. 22 Jan. 1874), married, first, Francis Bacon (d. 1840), and, secondly, John Thaddeus Delane [q. v.], editor of the ‘Times.’ Twiss's only son by his second wife, Mr. Quintin William Francis Twiss, is a clerk in the treasury.
The best known work of Twiss is his ‘Public and Private Life of Lord Eldon,’ [June] 1844, 3 vols. two thousand copies. A second edition of two thousand copies came out in August of that year, and a third edition in two volumes was published in 1846. In that year Mr. W. E. Surtees published ‘A Sketch of the Lives of Lords Stowell and Eldon,’ in which he embodied some corrections of Twiss. His other works were:
- ‘Influence of Prerogative,’ 1812.
- ‘A Selection of Scotch Melodies, by H. R. Bishop, Words by Twiss,’ 1814.
- ‘Posthumous Parodies of the Poets’ [anon.], 1812; very sprightly, the best perhaps being that of Milton.
- ‘The Carib Chief: a Tragedy in five acts,’ 1819 (3rd ed. 1819), dedicated to the Earl of Clarendon; the energetic action of Kean secured ‘an unprecedented success’ for it.
- ‘An Inquiry into the Means of consolidating and digesting the Laws of England,’ 1825; Crofton Uniacke and John James Park published tracts referring to this inquiry.
- ‘Conservative Reform,’ 1832.
[Gent. Mag. 1827 i. 283, 1849 i. 649–52; F. A. Kemble's Records of Girlhood, i. 141–3, ii. 263; Masters of Bench of Inner Temple, p. 98; Genest's English Stage, viii. 690–1.]