HL Deb 14 March 1856 vol 141 cc127-34

then rose to call the attention of the House to a letter he had received from Lady Truro. The noble Marquess said: My Lords, I am desirous, before the House shall separate for the holidays, to make a communication to your Lordships, which you will no doubt hear with much satisfaction. I allude to a letter which I have received from Lady Truro, the widow of our late noble and learned Friend, who for several years sat in this House, both as Speaker and Lord Chancellor. The terms of that letter I shall, with your Lordships' permission, read to the House— Eaton Square, 6th March, 1856. My dear Lord,—Lord Truro left a Library of Law Books, a Collection made during many Years with great Care. It is my Wish, in honour of his Memory and in remembrance of his legal Attainments, this Library should be preserved, and at the same Time be rendered useful to those who were familiar with his last Labours. Allow me therefore to request your Lordship to offer this Library to the House of Lords, trusting that their Lordships will, if they do me the Honour to accept it, direct it to be placed as most effectually to secure the Objects I have in view. I am, my dear Lord, With high Esteem, Yours very sincerely, AUGUSTA E. TRURO. The Marquess of Lansdowne. My Lords, if I am asked, as it is probable I shall be, how it comes that this distinguished Lady has made me the channel through which this offer should be conveyed to your Lordships, I am desirous of making a few observations. I can only say, I must presume that it is owing to the circumstance of my having been for several years the colleague of that distinguished, learned, and noble Lord. During the time the late noble and learned Lord presided on the woolsack I was the leader in this House, though not certainly in another sense, of those with whom he was then politically connected. In that capacity I can do no other than bear the strongest testimony to the great impartiality, the great wisdom, and the great justice which characterised him while he presided in this House. My Lords, I am also anxious to bear my testimony to that part of his character with which I became more particularly cognisant—I allude to that great spirit of justice and fair play with which he administered the patronage which was incidental to his high office, and so the careful discrimination with which he selected the persons to whom it devolved upon him to extend the favour of the Crown. To that portion of his character I am as competent to speak as any man; but there is another portion of his career of which I can only speak upon the authority of others. I allude to that portion of his character which undoubtedly gives the greatest value to the splendid donation which his widow is now prepared to make to this House. I believe I shall be supported by the authority of all those most competent to judge upon the matter when I say, that from universal report I have always learned that Lord Truro was, both as a lawyer and a Judge, one of the most painstaking, one of the most conscientious, one of the most industrious of men, whether we view him as regards the interests of his client while practicing as an advocate at the bar, or as regards the still larger interests of public justice while sitting as a Judge upon the bench. He never spared himself any trouble, and he felt that it was his duty to examine thoroughly into all the facts of the case with the view of arriving at a just appreciation of its character. I allude to these circumstances because I know I shall be borne out in the statement I have made by the testimony of those whose authority and experience are much greater than mine. Indeed, it is only within these few days that I received the authority of a most celebrated and eminent lawyer, who was examined before a Committee of this House, and who had practised before the late noble and learned Lord, and who stated that a more painstaking, industrious, and impartial Judge had never sat upon the bench. Now, I say that that fact bears particularly upon the value of the donation which Lady Truro has offered to make to us, because, in addition to, no doubt, the very valuable and extensive law library which Lady Truro is desirous of placing at our disposal. I am informed that many of those books have been largely commented upon, and contain extensive manuscript notes in the late noble and learned Lord's handwriting. Your Lordships will no doubt agree with me in thinking, that this circumstance adds great value to the law library which is to be placed under your Lordships' roof. I will add no more to the statements I have made, because I know that I can refer to the unanimous testimony of others as to the merits of Lord Truro. If your Lordships will, therefore, permit this letter to be laid upon your Lordships' table with the view of referring that same letter, and the subject to which it refers, to the Library Committee, for the purpose of carrying into effect Lady Truro's wish and intention, I shall now conclude with a Motion to that effect.


My Lords, I cannot resist this opportunity of adding my thanks with those of the noble Marquess to Lady Truro, for the valuable donation she proposes to make to this House. I know myself very well, that the late Lord Truro never spared any trouble or expense in his endeavour to complete his law library. The donation will be the more valuable, inasmuch as the library of this House, though extensive, is far from being perfect in this branch of learning. Nor can I let this opportunity pass, notwithstanding the eulogium expressed by the noble Marquess upon the merits of the late Lord Truro, without saying a few words. The late noble and learned Lord was profoundly learned in the law. He was a ripe and full scholar. But notwithstanding his extensive learning, in every case of any importance that came before him, either as an advocate at the bar or as a judge upon the bench, he was always influenced by a conscientious desire of performing his strict duty in the relative position in which he stood—he always paid the greatest care, attention, and indeed I might almost say unexampled industry, in the investigation of every fact. My Lords, Lord Truro was not originally educated for the bar. He began life as a solicitor; but conscious of his powers, and with a proper and laudable ambition, he felt desirous of leaving the profession in which he then moved, to attach himself to the superior branch of that profession. He was accordingly called to the bar. He soon acquired distinction, not only on the western circuit, but also in London. There was one curious fact connected with Lord Truro, which I am desirous of mentioning. The late noble and learned Lord had always experienced a great difficulty in pronouncing certain words. Now, I have this fact from his Lordship's own lips. He had a great impediment which rendered it almost impossible for him to utter certain words. He, however, overcame this difficulty with that characteristic perseverance and ingenuity which corresponded with his general disposition. He framed, in the first instance, a list of words which he found it difficult to utter; and in the next, as many synonymes as he could collect; and when one of those words arose in his speech, and which he found it difficult to give utterance to, he on the moment dismissed it, and substituted a synonyme; and it is most remarkable that so great was the address and readiness with which he effected this change, that no interruption whatever took place in his discourse, nor could any person discover the infirmity under which he was labouring, unless he had been previously informed of the fact. After the usual time, the noble and learned Lord was created a serjeant-at-law, whereby he was placed at the head of his circuit, and also became a leader of the Court of Common Pleas. From that time, beyond all dispute, he had the supreme command of his circuit as well as of the Common Pleas, and in every case before either of these tribunals there was always a fierce competition amongst the suitors, who should obtain the advantage of his assistance as their counsel. I think it was in 1839 that he became Solicitor General, and in a year or two afterwards was appointed Attorney General. My Lords, I am told—for I was not a Member of the House at that time—that in every argument or discussion in respect to any question of law relating to constitutional privilege in the House of Commons, the late Lord Truro was remarkable for the clearness, great force, and extent of learning which he displayed. I remember the late Sir Robert Peel, who was perhaps as good a judge of merit as any man of his day, stating to me on more than one occasion the very high opinion which he entertained, in respect to questions to which I referred, of the talents and attainments of Lord Truro, and more particularly in respect to the manner in which he treated that most important question which had agitated the other House of Parliament for some time—I mean the question of privilege. When the Lord Chief Justice Tindal died, the late Lord Truro was raised to the bench in the Court of Common Pleas, and in about four or five years afterwards he was placed upon the woolsack as Lord Chancellor of England. I think I may venture to say, in confirmation of what the noble Marquess has stated, that whether we view the late noble Lord as presiding in a court of common law, or in a court of equity—with which he was not so familiar as with questions of common law—he displayed the greatest patience, the greatest acuteness of intellect, and the greatest impartiality that it was possible to display in the administration of justice. Such was his care and circumspection in the preparation of the judgments delivered by him, both in the courts of common law or in equity, that they have been always considered master-pieces of learning and argumentative disquisition. My Lords, I can also state that the late Lord Truro was most disinterested in respect to pecuniary matters. It was very usual for him, when any case of special importance was entrusted to his care, to direct his clerk not to accept any other brief with reference to pecuniary emoluments, until he had made himself completely the master of the complicated questions involved in the particular case which he was considering. A remarkable instance of his disinterestedness occurred in reference to one particular case in which an intimate friend of his was concerned. He travelled to the uttermost part of England, in order to conduct the case for his friend, and refused to receive any remuneration for his time and trouble. His conduct in public life is before the House. He was anxious and zealous in the cause of justice, and he was also equally anxious to reform, as much as possible, what was amiss in the laws of the country. I am authorised, from the intimate acquaintance I have had with him, to say that he was a fast friend to the principles of the constitution. He was very candid and impartial in discussion. He was kind-hearted, benevolent, and generous, and kind to all around him. He bore a long and painful illness with great patience and fortitude, and, conscious that he had not lived in vain, he met his end with calmness and resignation. I trust, my Lords, I have not deviated from the question before the House, in addressing these few words to your Lordships upon the career and character of an able and an eminent man—one who not long since occupied so distinguished a position in your Lordship's House.


I feel that nothing which I can say will add to the universal feeling of respect and sympathy which the noble Marquess has excited, and which the noble and learned Lord who just addressed us has confirmed. I merely rise to exclude an inference from my silence, that I do not acquiesce in what has been said by those noble Lords. Lord Truro, whom I was proud to number among my friends, was, I verily believe, one of the most conscientious men that ever lived. I never knew a man so entirely devoted to the interests of justice as Lord Truro; and I must add one observation to what I has fallen from my noble and learned Friend (Lord Lyndhurst), that, although Lord Truro was comparatively new to the doctrines of equity when he became Lord Chancellor, he devoted himself with characteristic assiduity to make himself master of the principles which guide the proceedings of courts of equity. He never allowed a veil to be cast, as it were, over his words, in order to conceal any imperfection, but always exposed his ignorance upon any particular subject, so that he might sift the matter to the bottom and make himself master of it before coming to a decision. There is one other point to which I must allude. Although my late noble and learned Friend was not so familiar with the doctrines of equity as with those of common law, yet it must be remembered that it is to him, or to his chancellorship, that we owe the great reforms which were carried out immediately after he quitted the woolsack. He issued the great Chancery Commission which led to those reforms; and, although I do not wish in the least degree to detract from the merits of my noble and learned Friend (Lord St. Leonards) under whose chancellorship the reforms to which I refer were I carried into effect, yet it was during Lord Truro's tenure of office that they were introduced. He devoted himself eagerly to the reform of the Court of Chancery; with the assiduity, patience, and perseverance which characterised him, he laboured to accomplish those reforms which have happily since been carried out.


I rise to mention a circumstance in confirmation of what has fallen from the noble and learned Lord (Lord Lyndhurst) as to the remarkable disinterestedness which distinguished the late Lord Truro. The noble and learned Lord has referred to the great pains and ability displayed in the other House by Lord Truro, upon the celebrated occasion of the question of privilege respecting the printing of papers. I had the honour, as a Member of that House, to he placed in the chair of the Committee to which it was referred, to consider the course which the House should follow; and I can say that, although I was in the chair of the Committee, the labour of conducting the investigation fell entirely upon Lord Truro, who devoted himself to the subject with an ability which it is impossible for me to describe; and I was told at the time, not by Lord Truro—but I have no reason to doubt the accuracy of my information—that in order to enable him to devote his whole energies to that task of public utility for which he received no pecuniary remuneration, he returned a very large number of briefs which had been before handed to him and which would have produced him considerable remuneration. I cannot but think that is a devotion to a sense of public duty which very few men indeed would have displayed. I thought it was a circumstance so honourable to Lord Truro, that when the noble and learned Lord opposite mentioned the subject, I thought it was my duty to state it to the House.


It would be a simple impertinence on my part if I were to add anything to what has been said, or to give any opinion upon the merits of the noble and learned Lord whose loss we so much deplore, after the statements we have heard from those who were better acquainted with those merits than the humble individual who now addresses your Lordships; and I only rise for the purpose of adverting for a moment to the Motion with which the noble Marquess concluded his observations. Of course, there is not, there cannot be, any difference of opinion as to the great value of and interest attaching to the gift which Lady Truro has so gracefully and liberally offered to be stow upon the country; but the Motion of the noble Marquess was simply to refer the letter to the Library Committee for them to consider what measures should be adopted to carry out the wishes of the noble lady, and it occurred to me that it might appear somewhat ungracious if, in making a motion of this description on such an occasion, there was no acknowledgment on the part of the House of the feelings entertained by it. I can only suppose the omission has arisen from some form of the House with which I am unacquainted; but, if that be not the case, I think it is an omission which should be supplied, and that the acknowledgments of the House should be conveyed to that distinguished lady. If any forms exist which cannot be waved, then I think it should be known to be public that it is those forms which constitute the obstacle to the expression of those acknowledgments which might naturally be expected for a donation so valuable and so liberal. I would only suggest, if my supposition be wrong, that the Motion should be amended so as to convey those feelings of gratitude which the House must entertain for so graceful a donation.


The reason why I did not propose to include in the Motion any acknowledgment to Lady Truro was not that I am aware of any positive rule on the subject, but because there is no precedent for such a course. It had occurred to me that the object would be attained by expressing those acknowledgments in the Report of the Committee, which, upon presentation, could be adopted by the House. At the same time, certainly see no reason why a precedent should not be created in the present instance. No doubt such an acknowledgment on the part of the House would be gratifying to the feelings of Lady Truro, and perhaps the Motion might be worded so as to express that acknowledgment.


I understand that the Library Committee exchange with the library at Paris and receive books from the United States, and if they can exchange books in this way they can accept them as a gift.


Perhaps, after all, it will be as well to leave the subject to the Committee. They can hardly make any suggestion in their Report without expressing to Lady Truro an acknowledgment of the gift, and that acknowledgment will, I dare say, be readily adopted by this House.

Ordered that the said Letter and the Subject thereof be referred to the Select Committee on the Library of the House, for the Purpose of carrying into effect Lady Truro's Wishes and Intentions.