HC Deb 03 March 1817 vol 35 cc841-50
Lord Morpeth

rose, and spoke as * Extract from the Morning Chronicle of Friday, the 28th of February 1817.—" It is with deep concern we have to announce the death of Francis Horner, esq. Member of Parliament for St. Mawes. This melancholy event took place at Pisa on the 8th instant. We have had seldom to lament a greater loss, or to bewail a more irreparable calamity. With an inflexible integrity and ardent attachment to liberty, Mr. Horner conjoined a temperance and discretion not always found to accompany these virtues. The respect in which he was held, and the deference with which he was listened to in the House of Commons, is a striking proof of the effect of moral qualities in a popular assembly. Without the adventitious aids of station or fortune, he had acquired a follows:—I rise to move, Sir, that the Speaker do issue his warrant to the clerk of the Crown to make out a new writ for the electing of a burgess to serve in this present parliament for the borough of St. Mawes, in the room of Francis Horner, esq. deceased. In making this motion, I trust it will not appear presumptuous or officious, if I address a few words to the House upon this melancholy occasion. I am aware that it is rather an unusual course; but, without endeavouring to institute a parallel with other instances, I am authorized in saying that the course is not wholly unprecedented.

My lamented friend, of whom I never can speak without feelings of the deepest regret, had been rendered incapable for some time past, in consequence of the bad state of his health, of applying himself to the labours of his profession, or to the discharge of his parliamentary duties. He was prevailed upon to try the effects of a milder and more genial climate—the hope was vain, and the attempt fruitless: he sunk beneath the slow but destructive effect of a lingering disease, which baffled the power of medicine and the influence of climate; but under the pressure of increasing infirmity, under the infliction of a debilitating and exhausting malady, he preserved undiminished the serenity of his amiable temper; and the composure, the vigour, and firmness of his excellent and enlightened understanding. I may, perhaps, be permitted, without penetrating too far into the more sequestered paths of private life, to allude to those mild virtues—those domestic charities, which embellished while they dignified his private weight and influence in parliament, which few men, whose lives were passed in opposition, have been able to obtain; and for this consideration he was infinitely less indebted to his eloquence and talents, eminent as they were, than to the opinion universally entertained of his public and private rectitude. His understanding was I strong and comprehensive, his knowledge extensive and accurate, his judgment sound and clear, his conduct plain and direct. His eloquence, like his character, was grave and forcible, without a particle of vanity or presumption, free from rancour and personality, but full of deep and generous indignation against fraud, hypocrisy, or injustice.—He was a warm, zealous, and affectionate friend—high-minded and disinterested in his conduct—firm and character. I may be permitted to observe, that, as a son and as a brother, he was eminently dutiful and affectionate: but I am aware that these qualities, however amiable, can hardly, with strict propriety, be addressed to the consideration of parliament. When, however, they are blended, interwoven, and incorporated in the character of a public man, they become a species of public property, and by their influence and example, essentially augment the general stock of public virtue.

For his qualifications as a public man I can confidently appeal to a wider circle—to that learned profession of which he was a distinguished ornament—to this House, where his exertions will be long remembered with mingled feelings of regret and admiration. It is not necessary for me to enter into the detail of his graver studies and occupations. I may be allowed to say generally, that he raised the edifice of his fair fame upon a good and solid foundation—upon the firm basis of conscientious principle. He was ardent in the pursuit of truth; he was inflexible in his adherence to the great principles of justice and of right. Whenever he delivered in this House the ideas of his clear and intelligent mind, he employed that chaste, simple, but at the same time nervous and impressive style of oratory which seemed admirably adapted to the elucidation and discussion of important business; it seemed to combine the force and precision of legal argument with the acquirements and knowledge of a statesman. decided in his opinions—modest and unassuming in his manners. To his private friends his death is a calamity they can never cease to deplore. To the public it is a loss not easily to be repaired, and, in times like these, most severely to be felt.—Mr. Horner was born in 1779, admitted member of the faculty of advocates in 1800, and called to the English bar in 1S07 He came first into the House of Commons in 1806, and has been member of three successive parliaments. The only official situation he ever held was the laborious office of commissioner for the liquidation of the Carnatic claims, which he kept only for a short time, having resigned it many years ago, because he found the duties which it imposed on him were incompatible with the application due to his professional pursuits. Of his political opinions it is not necessary for me to enter into any detailed statement: they are sufficiently known, and do not require from me any comment or illustration. I am confident that his political opponents will admit that he never courted popularity by any unbecoming or unworthy means: they will have the candour to allow, that the expression of his political opinions, however, firm, manly, and decided, was un-tinctured with moroseness, and unembittered with any personal animosity or rancorous reflection. From these feelings he was effectually exempted by the operation of those qualities which formed the grace and the charm of his private life.

But successful as his exertions were, both in this House and in the courts of law, considering the contracted span of his life, they can only be looked upon as the harbingers of his maturer fame, as the presages and the anticipations of a more exalted reputation. But his career was prematurely closed. That his loss to his family and his friends is irreparable, can be readily conceived; but I may add, that to this House and the country it is a loss of no ordinary magnitude: in these times it will be severely felt. In these times, however, when the structure of the constitution is undergoing close and rigorous investigation, on the part of some with the view of exposing its defects, on the part of others with that of displaying its beauties and perfections; we may derive some consolation from the reflection, that a man not possessed of the advantages of hereditary rank or of very ample fortune, was enabled, by the exertion of his own honourable industry—by the successful cultivation of his native talents, to vindicate to himself a station and eminence in society, which the proudest and wealthiest might envy and admire. I ought to apologize to the House, not, I trust, for having introduced the subject to their notice, for of that I hope I shall stand acquitted, but for having paid so imperfect and inadequate a tribute to the memory of my departed friend.

Mr. Canning.

—Of all the instances wherein the same course has been adopted, as that which my noble friend has pursued with so much feeling and good taste on this occasion, I do not remember one more likely than the present to conciliate the general approbation and sympathy of the House. I, Sir, had not the happiness (a happiness now counterbalanced by a proportionate excess of sorrow and regret) to be acquainted personally, in private life, with the distinguished and amiable individual whose loss we have to deplore. I knew him only within the walls of the House of Commons. And even here, from the circumstances of my absence during the last two sessions, I had not the good fortune to witness the later and more matured exhibition of his talents; which (as I am informed, and can well believe) at once kept the promise of his earlier years, and opened still wider expectations of future excellence. But I had seen enough of him to share in those expectations; and to be sensible of what this House and the country have lost by his being so prematurely taken from us. He had, indeed, qualifications eminently calculated to obtain and to deserve success. His sound principles—his enlarged views—his various and accurate knowledge—the even tenour of his manly and temperate eloquence—the genuineness of his warmth, when into warmth he was betrayed—and, above all, the singular modesty with which he bore his faculties, and which shed a grace and lustre over them all; these qualifications, added to the known blamelessness and purity of his private character, did not more endear him to his friends, than they commanded the respect of those to whom he was opposed in adverse politics; they ensured to every effort of his abilities an attentive and favouring audience; and secured for him, as the result of all, a solid and unenvied reputation.—I cannot conclude, Sir, without adverting to a topic in the latter part of the speech of my noble friend, upon which I most entirely concur with him. It would not be seemly to mix with the mournful subject of our present contemplation any thing of a controversial nature. But when, for the second time within a short course of years, the name of an obscure borough is brought before us as vacated by the loss of conspicuous talents and character,* it may be permitted to me, with my avowed and notorious opinions on the subject of our parliamentary constitution, to state, without offence, that it is at least some consolation for the imputed theoretical defects of that constitution, that in practice it works so well. A system of * Mr. Windham, who represented St. Mawes in 1806, died member for Higham Ferrers in 1810. representation cannot be wholly vicious, and altogether inadequate to its purposes which sends to this House a succession of such men as those whom we have now in our remembrance, here to develope the talents with which God has endowed them, and to attain that eminence in the view of their country, from which they may be one day called to aid her counsels, and to sustain her greatness and her glory.

Mr. Manners Sutton.

—I know not whether I ought, even for a moment, to intrude myself on the House: I am utterly incapable of adding any thing to what has been so well, so feelingly, and so truly stated on this melancholy occasion; and yet I hope, without the appearance of presumption, I may be permitted to say, from the bottom of my heart, I share in every sentiment that has been expressed. It was my good fortune, some few years back, to live in habits of great intimacy and friendship with Mr. Horner: change of circumstances, my quit-ting the profession to which we both belonged, broke in upon those habits of intercourse; but I hope and believe I may matter myself the feeling was mutual. For myself, at least, I can most honestly say, that no change of circumstances—no difference of politics—no interruption to our habits of intercourse, even in the slightest degree diminished the respect, the regard, and the affection I most sincerely entertained for him. This House can well appreciate the heavy loss we have sustained in him, as a public man. In these times, indeed in all times, so perfect a combination of commanding talents, indefatigable industry, and stern integrity, must be a severe public loss: but no man, who has not had the happiness—the blessing, I might say—to have known him as a friend; who has not witnessed the many virtues and endearing qualities that characterized him in the circle of his acquaintance, can adequately conceive the irreparable chasm in private life this lamentable event has made. In my conscience I believe there never lived the man, of whom it could more truly be said, that, whenever he was found in public life, he was respected and admired—whenever he was known in private life, he was most affectionately beloved. I will no longer try the patience of the House: I was anxious, indeed, that they should bear with me for a few moments, whilst I endeavoured, not to add my tribute to the regard and veneration in which his memory ought, and assuredly will be held; but whilst I endeavoured, however, feebly, to discharge a debt of gratitude, and do a justice to my own feelings.

Mr. Wynn

said, that his noble friend (lord Morpeth), and his right hon. friend who had last spoken, had expressed themselves concerning their departed friend with that feeling of affection and esteem which did them so much honour, and which was heightened by their habits of intimacy, and their opportunities of observing his character; but the virtues by which he was distinguished were not confined within the circle of his acquaintance, or concealed from the view of the world. Every one who saw Mr. Horner had the means of judging of his temper, his mildness, and his personal virtues; for they were seen by all. He carried with him to public life, and into the duties and the business of his public station, all that gentleness of disposition, all that amenity of feeling, which adorned his private life, and endeared him to his private friends. A-midst the heats and contests of the House, amidst the vehemence of political discussion, amidst the greatest conflicts of opinion and opposition of judgment, he maintained the same mildness and serenity of disposition and temper. No eagerness of debate, no warmth of feeling, no enthusiasm for his own opinions or conviction of the errors of others, ever betrayed him into any uncandid construction of motives, or any asperity towards, the conduct of his opponents. His loss was great, and would long be regretted.

Sir S. Romilly

said, that the long and most intimate friendship which he had enjoyed with the hon. member, whose loss the House had to deplore, might, he hoped, entitle him to the melancholy satisfaction of saying a few words on this distressing occasion. Though no person better knew, or more highly estimated, the private virtues of Mr. Horner than himself, yet, as he was not sure that he should be able to utter what he felt on that subject, he would speak of him only as a public man. Of all the estimable qualities which distinguished his character, he considered as the most valuable, that independence of mind which in him was so remarkable. It was from a consciousness of that independence, and from a just sense of its importance, that, at the same time that he was storing his mind with the most various knowledge on all subjects connected with our internal economy and foreign politics, and that he was taking a conspicuous and most successful part in all the great questions which have lately been discussed in parliament, he laboriously devoted himself to all the painful duties of his profession. Though his success at the bar was not at all adequate to his merits, he yet steadfastly persevered in his labours, and seemed to consider it as essential to his independence that he should look forward to his profession alone for the honours and emoluments to which his extraordinary talents gave him so just a claim. In the course of the last twelve years the House had most some of the most considerable men that ever had enlightened and adorned it: there was this, however, peculiar in their present loss. When those great and eminent men to whom he alluded were taken from them, the House knew the whole extent of the loss it had sustained, for they had arrived at the full maturity of their great powers and endowments. But no person could recollect—how in every year since his lamented friend had first taken part in their debates, his talents had been improving, his faculties had been developed, and his commanding eloquence had been rising with the important subjects on which it had been employed—how every session he had spoken with still increasing weight and authority and effect, and had called forth new resources of his enlightened and comprehensive mind—and not be led to conjecture, that, notwithstanding the great excellence which in the last session, he had attained, yet if he had been longer spared, he would have discovered powers not yet discovered to the House, and of which perhaps he was unconscious himself. He should very ill express what he felt upon this occasion, if he were to consider the extraordinary qualities which Mr. Horner possessed apart from the ends and objects to which they were directed. The greatest eloquence was in itself only an object of vain and transient admiration; it was only when ennobled by the uses to which it was applied, when directed to great and virtuous ends, to the protection of the oppressed, to the enfranchisement of the enslaved, to the extension of knowledge, to dispelling the clouds of ignorance and superstition, to the advancement of the best interests of the country, and to enlarging the sphere of human happiness, that it became a national benefit and a public blessing; that it was because the powerful talents, of which they were now deprived, had been uniformly exerted in the pursuit and promoting of such objects, that he considered the loss which they had to lament as one of the greatest which in the present state of this country, it could possibly have sustained.

Mr. W. Elliot.

—Amongst his other friends, sir, I cannot refuse to myself the melancholy consolation of paying my humble tribute of esteem and affection to the memory of a person, of whose rich, cultivated, and enlightened mind I have so often profited, and whose exquisite talents—whose ardent zeal for truth—whose just, sedate, and discriminating judgment—whose forcible, but chastened eloquence—and, above all, whose inflexible virtue and integrity rendered him one of the most distinguished members of this House, one of the brightest ornaments of the profession to which he belonged, and held him forth as a finished model for the imitation of the rising generation. The full amount of such a loss, at such a conjuncture, and under all the various circumstances and considerations of the case, I dare not attempt to estimate. My learned friend (sir S. Romilly) has well observed, that, if the present loss be great, the future loss is greater: for, by dispensations far above the reach of human scrutiny, he has been taken from us at a period when he was only in his progress towards those high stations in the state, in which, so far as human foresight could discern, his merits must have placed him, and which would have given to his country the full and ripened benefits of his rare and admirable qualities.

Mr. C. Grant, junr.

had known his lamented friend before he had distinguished himself so much as he had subsequently done: and could not be silent when such an opportunity occurred of paying a tribute to his memory. Whatever difference of opinion they might have on public questions, he could suspend that difference to admire his talents, his worth, and his virtues. It was not his talents alone that were developed in his eloquence. His eloquence displayed his heart: through it were seen his high-minded probity, his philanthropy, his benevolence, and all those qualities which not only exacted applause, but excited love. It was the mind that appeared in speeches that gave them character. He would not enter into the account of his private life, although his private virtues were at least on a level with his public merits. Amid all the cares and interests of public life he never lost his relish for domestic society or his at- tachment to his family. The last time that he (Mr. G.) conversed with him, he was anticipating with pleasure the arrival of a season of leisure, when he could spend a short time in the bosom of his family, and amid the endearments of his friends. When he looked at his public or private conduct, his virtues, or his talents, he would be allowed to have earned applause to which few other men ever entitled themselves.

Lord Lascelles

hoped to be excused for adding a few words to what had been said, though he had not the honour of a private acquaintance with Mr. Horner, whom he knew only in this House, where they had almost uniformly voted on opposite sides on every great question. Notwithstanding these differences, he had often said in private, that Mr. Horner was one of the greatest ornaments of his country; and he would now say in public, that the country could not have suffered a greater loss. The forms of parliament allowed no means of expressing the collective opinion of the House on the honour due to his memory; but it must be consolatory to his friends td see that if it had been possible to have come to such a vote, it would certainly have been unanimous.

The motion was then agreed to.