HC Deb 14 August 1857 vol 147 cc1691-3

MR. GLADSTONE rose and said: Sir, as I have never troubled the House with a question of this kind before, perhaps it will grant me its indulgence while, with great pain, I make a personal statement with reference to an imputation which has been cast upon me out of this House, but bearing upon my conduct in this House. I read in The Times of the 12th of August—not in the articles of The Times, but in the judicial department—the following passage in the report of one of those unhappy trials which are frequently found in the columns of our newspapers. It was spoken by the counsel who had under his charge the interests of the plaintiff in an action of crim. con., and who was referring in his reply to the case of a witness whom he had produced in support of the plaintiff's claim, and who was apparently a person of infamous character:— The learned serjeant would, no doubt, he said, make a good many severe observations upon the witness Taylor; but the jury should bear in mind that guilt of the character attributed to the defendant could only be established by the aid of such persons, and that the journals of the House of Lords bore testimony to the fact that a right hon. Gentleman who was once a Minister of the Crown had tracked the wife of a noble Duke, who afterwards obtained a divorce, all through Italy, and appeared as a witness to prove her adultery; and that the fact of a man in the position of life of the plaintiff employing a man to bring the charge home to the defendant ought not to operate? against him. In the Morning Post of to-day is a leading article in which this report is alluded to, and is connected with my conduct in this House in the following terms:— In a recent case of criminal conversation some discredit was cast upon the evidence of an individval who had been brought forward to prove the act of adultery. The counsel for the husband in defending this witness said:"— Here follows the quotation which I have read. The writer goes on to say:— The right hon. Gentleman alluded to by Mr. Serjeant Parry" (this was a misquotation for the name of another learned counsel), "was the Member for the University of Oxford—the man who now would deny to the poor that relief which he himself was the principal means of obtaining for a noble and wealthy colleague. Sir, I do not mean to take any steps which in former times would have been taken, but I mean simply to avail myself of those weapons which are open to every man when falsehoods are stated with respect to him, and I will simply state the truth in reply. Nor should I have troubled the House on a matter which it is on every account so painful to revive but for two circumstances,— that the attempt has been made to prejudice the discharge of my public duty by means of these untruths; and secondly, because a most foul imputation has been fixed not only upon myself by the combined effect of these passages, but also upon a noble Duke who cannot take up arms in his own defence. These two statements are in substance that I was employed by a noble Duke for the purpose of tracking his wife, to collect evidence against her of adultery, and this supposed conduct of mine is introduced into a court of justice in order to efface from the minds of the jury the painful impression evidently made upon them by most infamous conduct on the part of the witness to whom I am here compared. That is one statement, to which I have to say that it is entirely false. If I had been capable of accepting such an employment, the noble Duke who was concerned would assuredly have been incapable of conferring such an employment upon me. The other statement is, that I was the principal means, as it is said, of obtaining a divorce for a noble and wealthy colleague. Sir, those who care to make themselves acquainted with the truth of this matter will find it detailed in the journals of the House of Lords, or in the evidence taken before and printed for the House of Lords. They will see it is not true that I went for the purpose, or that I had anything to do with the collection of evidence of adultery, but that on my oath I stated that I went for a purpose, as I conscientiously believe, alike friendly and in the interest of both parties. They will also see it is totally untrue that my evidence was the evidence, or a part of the evidence, on which the divorce was founded. I was told that I was called, and I believed that I was called, for the purpose of showing that the person who was claiming the Bill at the hands of the House of Lords had omitted no means that duty or affection could suggest for the purpose of averting the calamity under which his domestic happiness had suffered. And perhaps I may be permitted to say, having occasion to refer to that noble Duke, and feeling that the revival of a matter which is only brought up perhaps to injure myself, is a revival cruel to him—that I am certain that all persons who are conversant with his conduct at that very trying crisis will never look back to any part of that conduct except with feelings of the warmest admiration. As regards the statement that I either went to collect evidence, or that I did collect evidence, it is entirely false. It is also false that I was concerned in that particular Bill for the divorce, my duty being simply to attend as a witness in a case in which the Court which was examining into the question thought it was for the interests of justice that I should so attend.