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THE IMPERIAL MAGAZINE.
MEMOIR OF THE RIGHT HON. LORD VISCOUNT MELBOURNE, SECRETARY OF
STATE FOR THE HOME DEPARTMENT.
(With a Portrait.)
It cannot be denied that times and seasons frequently occur in the history of individuals, for the exercise of talents, which, under less favourable circumstances, would either have slumbered like latent fire, or “wasted their sweetness in the desert air.” That many such characters may be found in every community, common observation on the faculties of man, will scarcely permit us to entertain a moment's doubt. Hence, in all such cases, candour and civility induce us to give them credit for mental energies which they had no opportunity of displaying, and to view them on the list of reserve, ready at the call of their country, to fill up, in the ranks of life, those vacancies which death and the vicissitudes of time occasion.
In our estimates, thus founded upon analogical calculation, it is very obvious that sanguine expectation may sometimes be deceived ; but when talents are brought to the test of exercise on the bench, in the senate, or at the bar, theory gives place to fact, and the powers of intellect appear before us in all their native and acquired greatness. It is precisely in this light that Lord Melbourne now appears before us.
The present nobleman, William Lamb, Viscount Melbourne, Baron of Kilmore in the county of Cavan, in the peerage of Ireland ; and Baron Melbourne of Melbourne in the county of Derby, in the peerage of the United Kingdom, and a baronet, was born on the 15th of March, 1779, and succeeded his father, Sir Peniston Lamb, first Viscount Melbourne, on the 22nd of July, 1828.
The family of Lamb was first exalted to the peerage in 1770, when Sir Peniston, who had represented the borough of Malmsbury in parliament, having been appointed Gentleman of the Bed-chamber to his late Majesty, George IV., when Prince of Wales, was advanced to the dignity of Lord Melbourne, Baron of Kilmore, on the 8th of June. In 1801, he became an Irish Viscount, and in 1815, a Baron of the United Kingdom, as Baron Melbourne, of Melbourne, in the county of Derby; an estate inherited from his mother Charlotte Coke, daughter, and eventually heiress, of the Right Hon. Thomas Coke, Teller of the Exchequer, and Vice-chamberlain to Queen Ann. The wife of his lordship was Elizabeth, the only daughter of Sir Ralph Milbanke, baronet of Halnaby in the county of York. This lady was the mother of William, the present peer; of Sir James Frederick, Minister Plenipotentiary at the Court of Madrid ; of the Hon. George Lamb, member of Parliament for Dungarvon, and Under-secretary of State for the Home Department; and of the Countess Cowper. 2D. SERIES, NO. 20.-VOL. II.
164.- VOL. XIV.
William, the present Viscount, who, as already stated, was born March 15th, 1779, received his early education at Eton, whence, after some years, he removed to Oxford, and at both of these seminaries, his attainments were such as to evince early presages of that greatness which future years have not disappointed. In 1805, his lordship, then Mr. Lamb, married Lady Caroline Ponsonby, only daughter of Frederick, third Earl of Besborough. By this lady he has a son, George Augustus Frederick, born August 11th, 1807, to whom his late Majesty George IV. stood sponsor.
Having obtained a seat in Parliament, Mr. Lamb speedily displayed considerable mental powers, as a constitutional advocate; and in the early stages of his public career, having attached himself to the Whig party, he took a prominent part in the discussion of several important questions which involved the principles he had deliberately espoused. On these occasions his speeches were distinguished by fluency and gracefulness, which always commanded attention, and by their peculiar adaptation to make a deep impression on the minds of those who heard them delivered.
Prior to his elevation to the peerage, Mr. Lamb filled the office of Chief Secretary for Ireland, during a period of two years. In this school he acquired an extensive acquaintance with the nature of public business, and prepared himself for that still more exalted station in the service of his country, which he now has the honour to sustain.
Uniformly maintaining with firmness and integrity his character for superior ability, and his attachment to political freedom, when his friends came into office, Lord Melbourne was chosen to fill the high and responsible office of Secretary of State for the Home Department. This is at all times an important post, but in few instances has it ever been more so than since it has been held by him. Aware of this circumstance, his sentiments on passing events and public measures are in general delivered with much caution ; and being in tone and emphasis less ardent and sanguine than many of his colleagues, some fiery zealots in the cause of reform have not hesitated to brand him with indifference in the great national conflict. His speeches, however, which have been preserved, most triumphantly repel these high-temperature insinuations, and exhibit his lordship as a genuine friend to the cause he espoused, and every way entitled to that public confidence which has been placed in his integrity.
When the first reform bill came under discussion in the upper house, October 3d, 1831, Lord Melbourne rose to defend the measure, in answer to the Earl of Harrowby, who, in a long and able speech, had inveighed against the democratic tendencies of the bill, which he contended would strengthen, though it would not satisfy, the radical party. The arguments of the noble earl, he said, were founded on these two grounds—first, that the clamour out of doors had been produced within the walls of parliament; and, secondly, that it was temporary, and, though momentarily strong, would, if resisted, fall back, and be heard no more. Suppose he admitted the first, it was incidental to a popular assembly. Blots upon our constitution were seized hold of by eloquent men, and made the most of in their speeches ; but this was the case at all times, and belonged to the very nature of a representative assembly. As to what the noble earl said about the excitement being temporary, and the advantage of delay, it were well if the excitement had been produced at this moment; but when it was seen that year after year, and on every occasion of public distress, the people raised the cry for an alteration in the representation, what conclusion could be formed, but that there resided in the heart of the country a deeply-rooted sense of injustice on this subject--a feeling that there was
something usurped of the rights of the people, and that those usurped rights ought to be restored? And he conjured their lordships not to be insensible to the danger they were in, if they suffered themselves to be considered as parties to the continuance of that injustice.
Lord Melbourne put it to the house, whether they were prepared to reject a measure which had been so amply and deliberately considered by the Commons; and if so, whether they had contemplated the consequences of their rejection ? Would they get rid, by a negative vote, of a measure of this importance, upon a promise of, he knew not what, that some other measure might probably be brought forward hereafter? Their lordships would well and fairly consider the step proposed to them, and he implored them to pause before they disappointed the wishes of so great a body of people.
In reply to an argument often urged---namely, the difficulty which might in certain cases occur under the new system, of finding seats for official persons; he said, this might, if necessary, be the subject of another enactment. There was nothing either in the present or contemplated system, if such a difficulty occurred, to forbid the application of an adequate remedy. He concluded by warning their lordships, above all things, not to imagine that by delaying they could gain any thing but an increase of force in the popular demands. When the Roman consul pressed the march of the army against the great Cathaginian general before he could join his other forces, and thereby, perhaps, change the destiny of the world, he addressed advice to the senate, which he would presume to repeat to their lordships : “Above all things, do not procrastinate; do not make that measure, which is safe if adopted immediately, dangerous by delay.”
The second reading of the second reform bill came forward on Monday, April 9th, 1832, on which occasion Lord Ellenborough made a grand flourish, and afterwards moved that the bill be read that day six months.
Lord Melbourne rose, and said, that he felt extreme unwillingness to address their lordships at that period of the night, being perfectly aware of his incapability to offer any new arguments on the question.
He differed from the statement of the noble baron who had just concluded, that the present question was not a question of general reform ; for he considered that their lordships would, by their vote on the present bill, decide whether they would agree to entertain the general subject of reform, or whether they were determined to negative the principle of all reform. The speech of the noble baron who had just sat down was completely and entirely a speech against any reform whatever. All the facts which the noble baron had stated with respect to nomination boroughs, and all the arguments which the noble lord drew from those facts, if admitted, went to this extent, that the whole of those boroughs ought to be preserved, and that no change or alteration whatever should take place. The arguments employed by the noble lord, went against the whole question of reform; and those who were prepared to maintain things as they were, would do well to stand upon those arguments, and vote with the noble lord. But those noble lords who thought that some reform was necessary, and who, upon looking at the signs of the times, believed it to be impossible to maintain the present system of representation, would require no reply to be made to the noble lord's arguments; because they were all answered by the great and overwhelming consideration that reform there must be, and that the present constitution of the Ilouse of Commons could not be maintained.
He felt that he could, on the present occasion, do very little more than repeat those observations which he had the honour of addressing to their lordships when the former bill was under consideration. He begged leave