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his elder brother.
His business not being yet very lucrative, and her father CHAP.
surviving for some years, the newly married couple started i \
with but slender means. Their first residence was a small His narrow house in Great James Street, Bedford Row, where they lived for three years very quietly, but very contentedly—in a style congenial to the simplicity of their tastes. After he became Lord Chancellor and Lord Lieutenant for Hampshire, both he and is wife would often look back with pleasing recollection from the Grange and Grosvenor Square to the freedom and frugality of their early establishment near Bedford Bow, "where a leg of mutton lasted them three days, — the first clay hot, — the second day cold, — and the third day hashed."
His farther rise was now in great peril by the death of his Death of elder brother Anthony without issue, whereby the family estates in Hampshire and Dorsetshire descended upon him, with the fine house on the south side of Lincoln's Inn Fields, now occupied by the College of Surgeons. Fortunately the property was found much incumbered with debt, or the future Chancellor and Earl would have sunk into a country Squire, perhaps distinguished by filling the chair at sessions —Petty and Quarter. The good management of a few years cleared off, or greatly lightened, the incumbrances, but by this time objects of high ambition had presented themselves to him, and the notion of rural retirement had lost all its attractions.
After his marriage, Henley continued to go frequently to Bath, carrying his wife along with him. He now led com- He is paratively a sober life, but occasionally he would indulge in ^eecct„r')ler his old convivial habits, and by his toasts and his stories, and of Bath, his very agreeable manners, he ingratiated himself so much with the Mayor and Common Council, forming a very small city, corporation, — with the right of returning members to parliament exclusively vested in them, — that they made him their Recorder, and agreed to elect him at the next vacancy one of their representatives, being swayed, perhaps, not merely by his personal good qualities, but the prospect of his being now able to show his gratitude for their kindness to him. Accordingly, on the dissolution of parliament, which took place in the summer of the year 1747, he was elected a representa
and M.P. for that
He attaches himself to Leicester House.
No trace of his speeches in the House of Commons.
tive for Bath along with Field Marshal Wade, who had gained such notoriety during the recent rebellion. *
He became a warm supporter of the party of Frederick Prince of Wales, designated by the appellation of "Leicester House," to which several eminent lawyers were already attached,—particularly Sir Thomas Booth, Chancellor of the Duchy, Dr. (afterwards Sir George) Lee, the eminent civilian, and the Honourable Hume Campbell, afterwards Earl of Marchmont, celebrated as the friend of Pope, — a set who, struggling for a share of the favours of the Crown during the present reign, confidently expected to monopolize the whole in the next.
It is with deep disappointment that, turning to the parliamentary records to ascertain when the new member for Bath made his maiden speech, and by what steps he acquired such a position in the House of Commons as to be appointed Attorney General to the Crown, and afterwards to be intrusted with the Great Seal, — I cannot discover, during the ten years he sat in that assembly, his name once mentioned or referred to. f It appears, however, from Horace Walpole and contemporary memoir-writers, that he was a frequent and active debater. He seems to have been anxious to come forward, as often as he thought he could be of any service to his party, without aiming at oratorical distinction. He was noted as a very steady and consistent politician, so that he did not derive the same benefit from the oblivion of his harangues which might have been enjoyed by some of his successors, who, in the discussion of important questions, have spoken with equal ability on both sides.
In 1751 a heavy blow fell upon Leicester House in the sudden death of Frederick. Hume Campbell, and others, took the opportunity of going over to St. James's, but Henley adhered to the Princess Dowager, and, although he thereby rendered himself obnoxious to George II., he secured his ultimate elevation. Frederick's eldest son (afterwards George III.) being created Prince of Wales, and his establishment being formed, Henley became Solicitor General
to his Royal Highness, and at the same time he was ap- CHAP.
• mr - 1 * • CXXXVIII
pointed a King's counsel. In respect to this last promotion,
there being a salary of forty pounds a year annexed to the Henley
office, he vacated his seat in the House of Commons: but he s?licitor
was re-elected without opposition.* George
Henley's silk gown had great success. He not only got \v„"TM of into the decided lead on the Western Circuit, but was now afterwards in the first business in the Court of King's Bench, both in banc and at nisi prius. He occasionally went into the Court with a silk of Chancery in important causes, but, according to the sow"general usage of the eighteenth century, he did not regularly practise there till he became a law officer of the Crown.
So things went on till the year 1756, when Murray insist- He is made ing on leaving the House of Commons, and being appointed GeueraU Chief Justice of the King's Bench, the Duke of Newcastle the King, resigned, and a new administration was formed. Leicester House was a party to this arrangement, and Henley succeeded Murray in the office of Attorney General, without Nov. 1756. having previously filled the office of Solicitor General to his Majesty, f Now he left the circuit, and transferred himself He practo the Court of Chancery, where, from the good foundation c^J" f he had laid in conducting common-law proceedings, from his Chancery, natural shrewdness and handiness, and from the influence his station was supposed to give him over the Lords Commissioners who held the Great Seal, in the room of Lord Hardwicke, he immediately came into full employment, and was able to cope with the old Chancery counsel, notwithstanding the advantage they enjoyed in being able to make broad assertions as to the settled practice of the Court, and to cite unpublished decisions of the late Lord Chancellor, expressly in point.
He was soon much disturbed by the dismissal of Mr. Pitt A-P^'' and Mr. Legge, and the prospect of himself being turned
* 14 Pari. Hist. 77. The inconvenience of vacating a seat in parliament by a silk gown was afterwards obviated by " patents of precedence," or by declaring that the office was to be held " without fee or reward."
t Sir Richard Lloyd, the Solicitor under the Duke of Newcastle, was dismissed, but was afterwards made a Baron of the Exchequer. Henley had for his colleague as Solicitor the famous Charles Yorke, whose story we shall by and by have to tell.
adrift by the total dissolution of the ministry. By and bye he was a little comforted by finding that, with the concurrence of Leicester House, negotiations were opened for a coalition between different parties, — but soon alarmed by the report that Lord Hardwicke, who he thought had a particular spite against him, was to resume the office of Chancellor,—and again re-assured by the intelligence that Mr. Pitt peremptorily objected to this arrangement. Next followed a confident statement, which was not very disagreeable to him, that Sir Eardley Wilmot, the junior Lord Commissioner, was to be Chancellor; but this was contradicted by that worthy person, who, in a letter to his brother, which was handed about, said, "the acting junior of the commission was a spectre I started at, but the sustaining the office alone I must and will refuse at all events; I will not give up my peace of mind to any earthly consideration whatever: bread and water are nectar and ambrosia compared with the supremacy of a court of justice." * One day Henley was much excited by hearing that the Great Seal had been offered to Lord Mansfield, and by anticipating that he might accept it, so as to leave the Chief Justiceship of the King's Bench to the Attorney General. Then came certain intelligence that Lord Mansfield, having refused the Great Seal, it had been tendered to Sir John Willes, the Chief Justice of the Common Pleas, who was willing enough to accept it, but was standing out for a peerage, which the King objected to, although the last six Chancellors had been Peers, and there had been a general belief that a gagged Keeper or Chancellor would not again be placed on the woolsack.
Henley had not, down to this time, entertained the most distant notion of the Great Seal being offered to himself, as he had only very recently been made Attorney General from practising in a common law Court, and he felt that he had not sufficient political consequence to aspire to such a dignity. But (as sometimes happens) his mediocrity was the real cause of his elevation. Mr. Pitt knew enough of him from his appearances in the House of Commons to be
• In fact, the offer was not made to Wilmot on this occasion, although it was, and refused (as we shall see), twice over, in the year 1770.
sure that he could not be formidable in the cabinet, — though CHAP.
considered a fair lawyer, qualified decently to get through
the duties of a judicial office ; — and under colour of paying a compliment to Leicester House, and effectually to bar the return of that old Volpone, Lord Hardwicke, he proposed, with seeming disinterestedness, that the Attorney General, though not politically connected with him, should be the man. Leicester House was rejoiced, and the Duke of Newcastle did not object, being somewhat indifferent about the appointment since he could not procure it for Lord Hardwicke.
The King was obliged to yield any point on which the Henley rethree parties were agreed; but as Henley, from his connection Great with Frederick and with the present Prince of Wales was per- as Lord sonally disagreeable to him, he stipulated that the Great Seal Kceptrmust now be taken without a peerage. The offer being made to Henley with this condition, he instantly and joyously accepted it, not even stipulating for a pension, or the reversion of a Tellership to his son, which had been usual on such occasions.*
He then thought it would be decent to inform the Chief His interJustice of the Common Pleas of what had happened. — Cnk-fW'th Their interview on this occasion is the subject of one of the Justice stock-stories of Westminster Hall. Thus it used to be related with characteristic humour by the late Lord Ellenborough: — " Immediately after Willes had refused the Seals, Henley called upon him at his villa, and found him walking in the garden, highly indignant at the affront which he considered that he had received in an offer so inadequate to his pretensions. After entering into some detail of his grievances, he concluded by asking, 'whether any man of spirit could, under such circumstances, have taken the Seals;' adding, 'Would you, Mr. Attorney, have done so?' Henley, thus appealed to, gravely said, ' Why, my Lord, I am afraid it is rather too late
* Horace Walpole says, contrary to truth, that he demanded and obtained both: "Willes proposed to be bribed by a peerage, to be at the head of his profession ; but could not obtain it. Henley, however, who saw it was the mode of the times to be paid by one favour for receiving another, demanded a Tellership of the Exchequer for his son; which was granted, with a pension of ISOOL a year till it should drop."—Walp. Mem., Geo. II. vol. ii. 226. These jobs were afterwards done for him.