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Lord Chief Baron of the Exchequer. He had most ably and with his accustomed courage supported Mr. Canning's foreign policy in the House of Commons, but he now declined this reward.
On the formation of the ministry of Earl Grey, in November, 1830, he became Lord Chancellor, in the place of Lord Lyndhurst, who retired from office with the Duke of Wellington's ministry, and was raised to the peerage under the title of Lord Brougham and Vaux. He had refused the offer of the inferior post of Attorney General, and is said by his enemies to have demanded the Lord Chancellorship. It is stated, however, on good authority that he did not expect and did not crave the office, but was absolutely very unwilling to leave the House of Commons," where he held the highest position, had great power, was thoroughly appreciated, and was in his proper and congenial element. In the House of Lords he had nothing like the influence which he had so successfully exerted in the more popular assembly; he was distrusted by his political friends as rash, headstrong, and ungovernable, while to the conservative peers he appeared only as a loquacious demagogue. His reputation as a lawyer was that of an eloquent advocate at nisi prius ; and, added to this power of effectively addressing juries, was that of carrying all before him as a debater in the House of Commons. Transplanted suddenly from the courts of common law to the woolsack, without going through the succession of offices which had prepared many of his predecessors in that high post for an easy performance of its duties, one would hardly be surprised at his losing his way in so unfamiliar a field as equity. Unused to sitting as a judge, he was restless under the prolix and involved arguments of counsel on the abstruse and intricate questions which necessarily came before him, and was inclined to be short with them, to interrupt them, and to address them in a sharp and undignified manner. As he was an impatient listener, so “the law's delay" was especially irksome and distasteful to him. He endeavored to apply the rules which might safely govern the petty proceedings of a county court to the transactions of the highest equity tribunal. He thus provoked the ill-will of counsel, and exposed himself to the violent assaults of his political opponents at the bar.
“On the woolsack, leaping through cases, as Harlequin does through a hoop, without touching them, wonderful in agility and most dexterous in
1 Knight, viii. 265.
despatch, exciting the astonishment of the audience, and winning the tribute of a clap from the upper gallery of the press.
. The bar are rather hostile to his pretensions in the former character [of Lord Chancellor]. His despatch, at all events, is undoubted. We may imitate the epigram on More, and say that such a brooming out of suits in chancery is not to be expected 'till a Brougham comes there again,' - whether it is a clean sweeping is a different question.”
The expedition which he used was all the more noticeable owing to the proverbial hesitation and delay of Lord Eldon, who had held the office so long that his method and manners appeared to be the indispensable characteristics of a Lord Chancellor. He was in striking contrast with his immediate predecessor, the calm, politic, and wary Lyndhurst, who had a perfect control over his passions, could yield, or, at least, appear to yield, to an opponent, and was astute enough to lose no opportunity of gaining the good-will of the bar. Lord Brougham, says Mr. Sala, in a very piquant article on him in “ Temple Bar," " horrified Lord Eldon by appearing in boots and a top-coat on the woolsack; he squabbled with Sir Charles Wetherell, and was sneered at by the compeer who, perhaps, of all men living he best hated, - that Edward Sugden who was afterwards to be Chancellor and Lord St. Leonards." 2
It would be impossible, in this brief space, fairly to criticise the opinions which he gave, or to compare his decisions with those of other Lord ChanceHors. He was obliged to master an entirely new science, and with his industry, application, and marvellous faculty of assimilating foreign and unaccustomed knowledge, would, undoubtedly, have acquired the same skill in applying the principles of equity, as he evinced in any of his favorite pursuits. There is a deep rooted impression that his judgments are not looked upon as commanding the same authority as those of Chancellors of less reputation than he.3
With his exact share in the passage of the Reform Bill of 1832, which has made Earl Grey's ministry so famous, we have nothing to do. It is clear that, however much it may have been due to his exertions, his popularity was on the wane, and that he had reached the summit of his earthly greatness. In the summer of 1834, Earl Grey retired from the ministry, - Lord Melbourne succeeding him as Prime Minister on the 11th of July. Three months later,
1 Fraser's Magazine, iv. 609. 3 See American Law Review, i. 221.
? Temple Bar, June, 1868.
Nov. 21, 1834, he lost the Lord Chancellorship on the dismissal of the Whig Ministry, and the temporary accession to power of the Duke of Wellington. The “ Saturday Review's” account of the reason of his abandonment by his party is as follows:
" Lord Melbourne was unwilling or afraid to dismiss the vigorous and versatile Chancellor ; but within three months Lord Brougham's vanity and reckless imprudence exploded the Whig Ministry, producing at the same time an irreparable breach between himself and the party by which he had never been heartily adopted. The wild and boastful speeches of the Chancellor during a political tour in Scotland brought to a climax the antipathy with which William IV. had long regarded him; and it was chiefly to get rid of Lord Brougham that the king suddenly dismissed the ministry, on the frivolous pretext of Lord Althorp's elevation to the House of Lords.” 1
More credit is due to this version of the facts, because of the bitter slight which he experienced by being totally excluded, on the reconstitution of the Whig Government by Lord Melbourne in the spring of 1835. Lord Brougham craved some active employment; and had before this, in December, 1834, asked Sir Robert Peel for the appointment of unpaid Chief Baron of the Exchequer; but he was doomed to the repulsive station of “Dowager Chancellor" for the remainder of his life, and as such he is known to the present generation. Hearing appeals as a law lord, or sitting as a member of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, and advocating social and law reform, which latter, " especially of the criminal code,” he writes to Lady Blessington, in 1843, “is most near my heart,” 2 were the employments of the next thirty years of his life; not to omit speech making on nearly every question which came up when he was present in the House of Lords.
Some have assigned to Lord Brougham the position of Erskine's successor at the bar; Erskine, whom Lord Brougham himself designates as “the greatest advocate, as well as the first forensic orator, who ever appeared in any age.” 3 Lord Brougham, with all his vanity, certainly did not lay claims to such praise for himself. As an advocate, he was fiery, vehement, impetuous; pouring out a torrent of words without the slightest hesitation ; fearlessly attack
1 Saturday Review, May 16, 1868.
ing any one to whom he was opposed; withering in his satire ; unsparing of abuse ; daring every thing, and blind to every risk where his client's interests were concerned. In his speech for the queen is this bold utterance, in which he lays down the rule, which he undoubtedly himself followed in defending a client:“I once before took leave to remind your lordships,” he
"which was unnecessary, but there are many whom it may be needful to remind, that an advocate, by the sacred duty which he owes his client, knows, in the discharge of that office, but one person in the world, THAT CLIENT AND NONE OTHER. To save that client by all expedient means, to protect that client at all hazards and costs to all others, and among others to himself, is the highest and most unquestioned of his duties; and he must not regard the alarm, the suffering, the torment, the destruction, which he may bring upon any other. Nay, separating even the duties of a patriot from those of an advocate, and casting them, if need be, to the wind, he must go on reckless of the consequences, if his fate it should unhappily be, to involve his country in confusion for his client's protection !” 1
As a speaker, he rather commanded than persuaded his audience; he seemed rather to be giving orders, than to be striving to convince; and when he descended to an appeal at all, it was the intellect, not the feelings, which he addressed. The enthusiasm which he felt, and which he plainly showed that he felt in any subject which he advocated, inspired his hearers. His manner was fierce, and his declamation overwhelming. He was a master of irony and invective. Although he was a capital mimic, and could modulate his rough voice to a soft and pleasant strain, yet his roar will long be remembered. He certainly did not, in his younger years, have the mortification of talking, like Burke, to sleeping or drowsy benches; for, had he failed to command the attention of his audience from the dulness of his subject, or the plainness of his manners, he would have started them from the deepest slumbers by his stentorian tones.
The poet Thomas Campbell, who was present at the great Guildhall dinner, June 11, 1832, given to celebrate the passage of the Reform Bill, has left this sprightly sketch of his speaking:
1 Speeches, i. 105. Lord Brougham, more than forty-four years afterwards, at the dinner to M. Berryer, in the Middle Temple Hall, reiterated these views most forcibly; calling it “the first great quality of an advocate, to reckon every thing subordinate to the interests of his client.”
“ Next in turn, after Lord Grey, came my Lord Brougham. “Well,' I said to myself, ' Hal! I have known thee, young devil — old devil — these thirty years! .... Thou wilt make thyself heard, articulately and distinctly, to the utmost ends and corners of the room.' He did so. He spoke with no straining; but the hall was hushed, and his voice went over and round it in low, deep, but clear tones, like the voice of a lion in the desert."
In another letter he writes,
“ Brougham spoke and fulfilled what I had presaged in my own mind. I know that he will be heard when others are unheard. He spoke like a lion roaring - not angrily, but distinctly — in an African desert.” I
Mr. Sala testifies that he retained this characteristic of his speech even in his old
" The shock head of hair was blanched. The “black’ Brougham became an old white lion. He could roar, however, on occasion. At that same Huddersfield festival I told you of anon, there arose in the course of the speech making a tremendous disturbance. A baronet, member for the borough, was present, and, for some reason I know nothing of, had become very unpopular. His appearance on the platform was the signal for a storm of hisses, hootings, catcalls, and Kentish fire. Brougham was in the chair, nodding, as I thought. Suddenly he rose. His eye flashed; the famous nose seemed to quiver, and the snowy mane to be stirred. •Silence !'' he thundered; silence, or you shall hear My voice !' The people of Huddersfield had heard it with a vengeance. In an instant there was silence, as dead as that you might imagine to reign after the explosion of a powder mill. The proceedings came to a most harmonious termination. Lord Brougham was then in the eighty-third year of his age.”2
“ But,” as Lord Brougham says, “oratory is only the half, and the lesser half, of the nisi prius advocate;" and however superior to other lawyers he may have been as an orator, he certainly failed in the other equally important but less showy half of an ideal advocate. An examination of his critical estimate of other celebrated lawyers manifests the high standard which he had set before him, and the numerous grand qualities which he considered to be the requisites of a good lawyer. He must have felt that he did not possess a combination of these qualities; indeed, that no human being could attain such a degree of excellence. While he considered “ that
1 Life and Letters, iii. 127.
? Temple Bar, June, 1868.