LORD  BYRON  and  his  TIMES
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The Life of William Roscoe
Chapter XII. 1811-1812

Vol I. Contents
Chapter I. 1753-1781
Chapter II. 1781-1787
Chapter III. 1787-1792
Chapter IV. 1788-1796
Chapter V. 1795
Chapter VI. 1796-1799
Chapter VII. 1799-1805
Chapter IX. 1806-1807
Chapter X. 1808
Chapter XI. 1809-1810
Vol II. Contents
‣ Chapter XII. 1811-1812
Chapter XIII. 1812-1815
Chapter XIV. 1816
Chapter XV. 1817-1818
Chapter XVI. 1819
Chapter XVII. 1820-1823
Chapter XVIII. 1824
Chapter XIX. 1825-1827
Chapter XX. 1827-1831
Chapter XXI.
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1811, 1812.
Mr. Roscoe’s opinions on Reform in Parliament—letter to the Duke of Gloucester.—Mr. Brougham’s letter on this subject—Mr. Roscoe’s reply published at Mr. Brougham’s request.—Plans of the reformers of that day.—Mr. Brougham’s views.—Mr. Roscoe dissents—his reasons—his own views stated—ultimately realised in many particulars.—Answer by Mr. Merritt to Mr. Roscoe’s letter—Mr. Roscoe’s reply—his sentiments on the use of influence in the House of Commons—his desire for union amongst the reformers—letter to an illustrious correspondent.—Trade with India.—Letter to Mr. Whitbread—he writes fully on the subject to Mr. Creevey.—Public meeting at Liverpool to oppose the renewal of the charter.—Resolutions drawn up by Mr. Roscoe, and adopted.—Letter to the Duke of Gloucester thereon.—General election of 1812.—Proposals made to Mr. Roscoe by electors of Westminster, which he declines—is put in nomination at Leicester—address to the electors of that borough.—Election at Liverpool.—Mr. Brougham and Mr. Creevey jointly supported by the reformers.—Mr. Canning opposes them, and succeeds.—Mr. Roscoe’s sentiments as to compromise participated by Mr. Brougham.—Mr. Canning’s speeches.—“Review” of them published by Mr. Roscoe.—Character of Mr. Brougham.—Prospects at this time of reform.

The subject of a Reform in Parliament was one upon which Mr. Roscoe had early formed, and repeatedly expressed, a decided opinion. At the period of his election in 1800, he stated explicitly his sentiments on this question; and in his political correspondence he frequently refers to it as one of the most important considerations that could engage the attention of the legislature and of the public. In a letter to the Duke of Gloucester, written soon after the forming of Mr. Perceval’s administration, after expressing his deep regret at that event, he thus proceeds:—

“When misfortunes occur, and I cannot but consider this as a very great one, we are frequently led to examine into the causes which have produced them; and if I were called upon to assign, to the best of my judgment, the true root and origin of all the evils which this country experiences, I should, after the fullest deliberation, attribute them to the corruption of the representation of the people, and the consequent subserviency of the House of Commons. For
this reason, I cannot express my astonishment and regret, that those great and distinguished characters to whom I have before alluded, and many others who, I truly believe, have the welfare, honour, and happiness of their country at heart, should, of late more particularly, have rebuked and discountenanced that strong and virtuous popular feeling which once looked up to them for its guidance and direction, and which, if it had been duly encouraged and segregated from its grosser particles (which would easily have been shaken off as soon as it was sanctioned by its proper patrons), would soon have given to worth and rank, to integrity and talents, that weight and direction in the country, which are now possessed by ministerial sycophants, professional statesmen, and time-serving intriguers. I will venture on your Royal Highness’s indulgence still further, and will dare to say to a prince of the House of Brunswick, that if any thing can yet save us from destruction, and avert the fate that threatens us, it is the solemn and deliberate adoption by men of the highest character and connections in the country, of some plan, which shall relieve the House of Commons from its direct and immediate subserviency to the dictates of the Crown, and shall restore that tone and energy to the popular sentiment which it has now lost. If this could be effected, it would be an honour and a happiness
for a good man to be the chief minister of such a country,—of a country that could acknowledge his virtues, appreciate his talents, and confer on him that best reward, which the public voice alone can give; whilst, on the contrary, to hold even the highest station under the present system, which exhibits a subservient House of Commons, acting under a subservient minister, would, in the calm and deliberate judgment of truth, be a degradation and a disgrace. Your Royal Highness will not, I trust, think this language exaggerated, though strong; but, if any one could think so, let him look at the conduct of our ancestors through a long series of years; let him examine the records of the country, and let him then say, whether the independence of the House of Commons has not been the invariable object of their most anxious solicitude; the very talisman, upon the preservation of which the safety of the country, as a free country, entirely rested. That which they dreaded we have seen nearly, if not entirely, completed; yet, most unhappily, those who are most deeply interested in such an event have stood aloof till the very hope of any effectual remedy is relinquished, and a measure of the most vital importance to the country has taken place, without a single voice being raised against it;—for in what place is it now possible, that a voice could be raised that would produce the least effect?


“When I look back on what I have written, I cannot but feel that I may possibly have presumed too far on your Royal Highness’s goodness, well knowing that, to many persons, the dissemination of sentiments like these might be considered as very dangerous to the peace of the country. One reflection, however, relieves the anxiety I should otherwise feel, and induces me not to withhold from your Royal Highness the warm dictates of my heart,—the hope, that your Royal Highness will still continue to attribute what I say to no improper motive, but will do me the justice to believe, that however erroneous my political opinions may be, I am at least sincere in my wishes for the prosperity of my country.”

In the course of the present year, an opportunity offered itself to Mr. Roscoe, of bringing before the public the subject of Parliamentary Reform in a shape which he hoped might attract some attention. Mr. Brougham, who had lately taken his seat in the House of Commons, being anxious to obtain the opinions of some of his friends with regard to the most judicious method of introducing the subject of Parliamentary Reform, addressed to Mr. Roscoe (amongst others) a long and interesting letter, in which he both explained the view taken by himself, and requested the opinion of his correspondent. With this request it was impossible not to comply,
and Mr. Roscoe accordingly addressed to Mr. Brougham a
letter, in which he stated, at considerable length, the reasons which induced him to differ from his correspondent with regard to the best means of effecting their common object. The answer was favourably received by Mr. Brougham, who communicated it to a few of his friends, and amongst others to Mr. Bentham, who, after expressing the satisfaction he had felt in the perusal of it, strongly recommended its publication. To a note from Mr. Brougham communicating this information, Mr. Roscoe replied in these terms:—

“I assure you that I feel I owe you much for your indulgence to my letter on Parliamentary Reform. Not that I am doubtful of the opinions there avowed, and which have long been the settled convictions of my mind, but because I have perhaps introduced topics which your letter did not call for. I should be much gratified to think that it had been favourably considered by one whom I so highly respect as Mr. Bentham. With regard to its publication, I feel no reluctance of a personal nature, and am only apprehensive that the manner of the argument is not equal, either to the goodness of the cause, or to the great importance of the subject. There are, also, several passages not strictly relating to the point, and which, though intrusted
to a friendly letter, I should certainly wish to omit in a publication.”

He then urges his correspondent to make his own letter public, and suggests the propriety of printing both their letters in one pamphlet.

“This would at least have the effect of placing this great subject in its various points of view, and of inducing the public to take it into their deliberate consideration, without which nothing effectual will ever be done. But, besides this, it would, I hope, set an example not frequently seen, of two persons contending with each other, not for victory but for truth; not as in a battle, which shall defeat the other, but as in a race, which shall first arrive at the mark. If, however, you should feel the least reluctance either to the one or the other of these modes, I will, should you still think my sentiments can be of any use, endeavour to alter the form of my letter into a sort of dissertation, though I am aware that it must by this method lose much of any effect it might otherwise produce.”

The resolution taken by Mr. Roscoe to publish his letter met with the full approbation of Mr. Brougham.

“I am truly delighted,” he says, in answer to the foregoing letter, “to find you still so earnest in the great cause of Reform, and that you have listened to the anxious wish of some of its most respectable, though less clamorous supporters,
viz. to give your letter to the public. I have again perused it with much care and increased pleasure. There are certainly some points on which I continue to differ materially. But, it contains so powerful a defence of reform, in a narrow compass, and leads so directly to the grand point of extended discussion upon the whole subject; moreover, it rescues by so impressive and eloquent a statement the reformers from the vulgar charge of aiming at confusion, that I consider the publication as likely to prove essentially useful, even to the specific plans or detached measures which may be brought forward next session, and certainly as eminently subservient to the cause in general.”

By the encouragement thus unreservedly extended to him, Mr. Roscoe was induced to give his letter to the public, which he did in the summer of the year 1811. Some few alterations were made in it, for the purpose of rendering it fit for the public eye, but in substance it remained the same as originally written.

Now that the great measure of Parliamentary Reform has received the sanction of the legislature, after an opposition unexampled in character and duration, it cannot be uninteresting to recal the plans, which at different periods its friends have proposed, for the purpose of effecting the object of their wishes. A considerable class of reformers, of whom, at this time, Mr.
Brougham may be regarded as the leader, were anxious to attempt some measure, however inconsiderable in itself, which might yet be regarded as the commencement of a better order of things. Though conscious that more important changes were called for, they thought that the impossibility of then effecting such changes, justified them in aiming at an inferior but more attainable object. They imagined that a measure so moderate, so just, and so rational, might be brought forwards, that the enemies of reform would be unable, or perhaps unwilling to oppose it; and they regarded the largeness of the demand, in former instances, as the cause of the want of success. The measures which at this period Mr. Brougham had in contemplation, are thus described in Mr. Roscoe’s letter:—

“I shall now beg leave more particularly to notice the steps towards such a reform, which are pointed out in your letter, and which you inform me it is shortly your intention to take, by proposing such measures in parliament. The first of these is, limiting the number of inferior placemen in the House of Commons, and the leaving there only the ministers and principal members of the boards. The second is, the correction of the corrupt or defective representation of the Scottish counties; a subject which you have most clearly stated, and of the necessity of remedying the defects of which there cannot in any impar-
tial mind exist a doubt In the third place, you would give the elective franchise to the English copyholder. You have also a fourth object in view, the laying the foundation of a Scotch and English borough reform; avoiding as much as possible the principle of disfranchisement, but obtaining the voluntary sale of some English boroughs, giving to other towns a right of representation, and adding in some instances to the county members. These measures you conceive to be ‘sufficient to begin with,’ and ‘sufficient to satisfy the most sanguine reformer.’”

To this plan of proceeding Mr. Roscoe then states his objections; the first of which is its impracticability, from its failing to meet the wishes of any considerable class of reformers:—

“In one word, it appears to me, to go much too far to obtain the support of one party, and not far enough to command that of the other. The time for intermediate measures is past. Those who are in the possession of the emoluments of office, and rely upon borough influence, have taken their stand; they will either retain all or lose all; and would consider the smallest concession towards reform as a Hollander would the cutting through an embankment, which would soon let in the ocean that must sweep him away. There cannot, therefore, be in my apprehension, the slightest expectation entertained, that any one of these measures will be acceded
to by any of those who have hitherto objected to reform; and who, if the proposed alteration be small, will treat it as insidious, if extensive, will consider it as bold and ruinous; and, as in cases of difference of opinion, the precise degree of difference has little effect on the bitterness of opposition,—except that experience has shown, that such bitterness is generally greater where the points in difference are less,—so the same artillery would be brought to bear against your propositions, as would be brought against one for a more general reform in the mode of electing members to serve in parliament. On the other hand, the friends to such a reform, founding their ideas upon the principle, that every person under equal circumstances has an equal right to vote, would regard your propositions with coldness, as not answering the great object towards which they earnestly look, and with jealousy, as substituting an imperfect regulation in the place of the ultimate result of their efforts. Under these circumstances, I doubt, whether either of the great parties into which the nation is divided, would even wish to see your measures carried into effect.”

He again adverts to the tenacity with which the enemies of reform cling to the abuses by which they profit, in the following passage:—

“He who attempts to restore a mouldering brick, or to replace a rotten timber, is as ob-
noxious to them as he who would pull down the building. It is in the holes, and chinks, and corners, which time and decay have produced, that they live, and feed, and fatten; and the first symptom of improvement is to them the signal of alarm.”

The real sources from which reform was to be looked for are thus pointed out.

“To you, my dear Sir, the result of these observations will not be difficult to collect. Were it necessary for me to explain them further, I should say, that it is not by agitating any partial reforms, but by producing a serious conviction in the public mind, of the necessity of an incorrupt and independent House of Commons, that the friends of reform must eventually hope for success. This conviction the people are rapidly obtaining, in a manner which they cannot but feel and acknowledge.

“The friends of reform may, perhaps, by calm and temperate discussion contribute in some degree to promote it; but the most powerful advocates of reform are the adherents of the present corrupt system, and the most unanswerable arguments are the present state of the country, the increasing weight of taxation, the profuse waste of the blood and treasure of the nation, the enormous sinecures enjoyed by ministerial dependants, and the appointment of inefficient and inexperienced ministers to offices
of the highest trust. It is to such arguments, and to the prevailing opinion that such transactions have not met with due animadversion and restraint from the Commons’ House of Parliament, that we are to attribute the deep impression which has been made on the public mind. As long as such practices continue, the public dissatisfaction must increase; and the time either now is, or will soon arrive, when every person must ask himself the important question, what opinions he means decisively to adopt, and what course of conduct to pursue.”

The nature and extent of the change in the elective franchise advocated by Mr. Roscoe appear in the following passage:—

“In order to accomplish these objects in their full extent, it would be necessary that the right of voting should not depend on the various, and in some instances capricious qualifications, which at present exist, but should be extended to all; by which I mean, to all who as householders are heads of families, and contribute to the exigencies of the state, as well as to some other descriptions of the community; and that all persons holding places and pensions should be incapable of being elected, or if they afterwards accept of places, should absolutely be deprived of seats in the House. This I should consider as a full and substantial reform.”


He afterwards adverts to the consequences of such a reform:—

“To whom would the granting of an equal right of suffrage be an offence, but to those who are interested in the corrupt system of trafficking in boroughs? In fact, such a reform would not only occasion no tumult, but would be the means of preventing it, and would put an end for ever to those disgraceful scenes of bribery and intoxication, which, on the occurrence of an election, disgust every thinking man in the kingdom. By a proper division of each county into districts, every member ought to be elected on the same day. No person would be under the necessity of going above a very few miles from his own house. All pretext for bribery under the idea of paying the travelling charges of electors, &c., would be done away, and the House of Commons would, in a great degree, if not entirely, be spared the laborious and irksome service of election committees, which occupy the chief part of the first session of every Parliament, and are beneficial only to the lawyers who attend them.”

On the danger of change, an argument which may be urged against every improvement, Mr. Roscoe makes the following observations:—

“I have before hinted an opinion, that alterations or reforms in government are often more
to be dreaded from the opposition they meet with, than from the effects they would be likely to produce. Ever since the French Revolution an universal panic seems to have pervaded this country; and because the people there became frantic on rushing out from their prison, we cannot walk out of our houses to take the air, without fearing a similar result. This disposition is fostered and promoted, with the utmost diligence, by all those whose interest it is to keep us from looking into our own concerns. As soon any public abuse is pointed out, and a desire expressed to prevent it, we are told to look at the French Revolution, and observe the dreadful effects of attempting the work of reformation. The false and slavish maxim that it is
‘better to bear the ills we have,
Than fly to others that we know not of,’
is held to us in terrorem, as if it were better to bear actual, certain, and present evils, than to take the chance of incurring evils of which we confessedly know nothing, and which may therefore have no existence but in a distempered and timid imagination.”

The letter, when printed, was again honoured with the full approbation of the distinguished statesman to whom it was addressed:—“I have just received your two covers, and greatly rejoice at your publishing the letter. I have read it again,
and (which does not always happen) like it even better in print than in MS, It must do good, and people will read it who wont look at a book on the subject.”

At the close of his life Mr. Roscoe had the happiness of seeing a scheme of reform introduced, founded upon the principles which he had himself thus earnestly supported. He witnessed an attempt made to abolish “the various and capricious qualifications” of voters, and to substitute, in place of them, a franchise at once just, simple, and rational, in those “who as householders are heads of families, and contribute to the exigencies of the state.” He saw a system proposed which realised, in almost every particular, the plan recommended by himself. He did not, indeed, live to see the completion of this great measure, or to witness the confirmation which it afforded of the many important truths contained in his Letter to Mr. Brougham: to mark the accuracy of his assertion that “the feelings of the people, when once warmed and excited, will not stop short of an ultimate and substantial reform,” and that “alterations or reforms in government are more to be dreaded from the opposition they meet with, than from the effects they are likely to produce.” It was the happy fortune of his distinguished correspondent not only to see these important changes
effected, but also to be one of the principal instruments of their accomplishment.

Soon after the publication of the Letter to Mr. Brougham, an answer to it appeared from the pen of Mr. John Merritt, a gentleman of Liverpool. The object of this publication was to demonstrate, that the scheme of reform suggested by Mr. Roscoe was at once uncalled for and dangerous, and that the system of influence under which the country had for so long a course of years been governed was perfectly in accordance with the principles of the constitution. Referring to Burke’s “seeming paradox,” that though a theory may be beautiful and correct, yet it may be impossible or dangerous to reduce it to practice, Mr. Merritt contended that the notion of an independent House of Commons, though plausible in theory, was utterly impracticable.

For some time Mr. Roscoe was undecided whether he should extend the controversy by replying to this publication, which ultimately, however, he resolved to do; and in “An Answer to a Letter from Mr. John Merritt, on the Subject of Parliamentary Reform,”* he discussed at considerable length the topics in dispute between them. He exposed the unphilosophical and absurd idea that what is theoretically true can be

* Liverpool; printed by M. Galway and Co. 1812.

practically false, though he admits, that in the application of the theory of politics there may be found much difficulty. With regard to the principal point of
Mr. Merritt’s argument, the constitutional propriety of the system of influence, or as it may be more truly termed, of corruption, Mr. Roscoe readily demonstrated its fallacy, and showed, even from the admissions of his opponent, how dangerous to the liberties of the people such a system must be.

“If this were the system of the government, it is of all engines of oppression undoubtedly the worst. The conflicts which arose between the contending powers of King, Lords, and Commons, in former times, are beyond all comparison preferable to the dead, spiritless, unelastic pressure of such a government. In comparison with this, a direct and open despotism is liberal and magnanimous. By whatever name the ruler may be distinguished, he there appears in his own character, and is himself responsible to public opinion for the manner in which he exercises his authority; but if such a ruler can by any contrivance establish an intermediate body between himself and the people, who shall be supposed to guard their rights and defend their interests, whilst, in fact, they are only the creatures of the crown, corrupted and paid to sanction every act, and interpose as a screen between the resentment of the people and the
misconduct of their rulers,—this, of all the situations in which a country can be placed, is the most fatal, the most humiliating, and the most hopeless. It is calculated not only to oppress but to insult a nation. It is to tyrannise over them by their own consent, and to close their lips against even complaint and remonstrance. It bears with it, in short, the worst features of the gloomy reign of
Tiberius, and threatens this once favoured country with a long series of abject despondency, servility, and disgrace.”*

On the imputation so frequently cast upon the friends of reform, that they attributed to the people at large much more virtue and public spirit than in fact they possessed; and that their schemes, though they might be well meant, were yet short sighted, Mr. Roscoe observes;—

“Amongst other means to which these practical men have resorted to injure the cause of reform, towards whatever object it may be directed, it is not unusual for them to represent the advocates for improvement as men of warm hearts but weak understandings, who are apt to attribute to mankind in general better qualities than they in reality possess, and who are therefore always mistaken in their reasonings respecting them.

* “Quinetiam speciem libertatis quandam induxit, congervatis senatui ac magistratibus, et majestate pristina et potestate. Neque tam parvum quidquam, neque tam magnum publici privatique negotii fuit, de quo non ad P. C. referretur.” Suet, in vit. Tiber.


“Nor can it be denied, that if we are to judge from the result of their efforts, there often appears to be too much reason for the imputation. This, however, is not a necessary, much less an inevitable consequence; and he who forms his political creed on a presumption of the general depravity of mankind, is perhaps liable to fall into as great, and certainly a much more dangerous error, than he whose experience leads him to attribute to the rest of mankind some portion of those better principles, for which he expects that the rest of the world should give him credit. Dark as the political horizon may appear, yet, if we look into the circles of private life, we shall find, that integrity, truth, and justice are not yet exploded amongst mankind;—that magnanimity excites admiration, generosity gratitude,—and that all the best feelings and affections of the heart yet exist in their full force. Where, then, is the absurdity of presuming, that he who would not commit a dishonest action in private life, would not lend his aid to an act of public injustice? That he who would not be guilty of a highway robbery, would not willingly associate himself with a band of pirates? That he who would shudder at the thought of murdering his neighbour, would not, for the sake of his private emolument, instigate or encourage a war in which thousands of his neighbours must inevitably perish?


“It is only by extending his sphere of action, and supposing that an individual will most likely perform upon a large scale the same part that he does on a small one, and the absurdity vanishes. What would be the condition of private society, if envy, jealousy, fear, distrust, and hatred, were the only feelings by which mankind were actuated? but still more unfortunate is it, when these dreadful and unsocial passions are intermingled in the character of nations, and influence the conduct of states towards each other.

“The former is only an accidental and local disease, the latter is a sweeping pestilence, by which whole nations are destroyed. These, I may be told, are truisms; but when truisms are forgotten or disregarded, their truth is surely no objection against their being revived and enforced. What, then, has the politician to do, but to apply to the affairs of nations and the intercourse of states those principles of morality which he finds in the relations of private life? to banish the absurd and dangerous maxim, that ‘there is one line of moral conduct for nations, and another for individuals;’ to exemplify in public those maxims of justice, sincerity, moderation, and good-will, towards which every government pays a nominal homage, and which are the very cement of private society; and to render a government the example and pattern, and not the corruption and opprobrium of a people.”


While the reflections of Mr. Roscoe had led him to the conviction, that it was only from the introduction of a large and substantial measure of reform that success could be expected, he was fully aware that the combination of persons of rank, property, and influence with the mass of the people, would be necessary to give this great object any chance of accomplishment. He, therefore, anxiously exerted himself in every quarter to impress this fact upon the minds of his political friends, and to induce them to wave all minor differences of opinion in favour of some plan which should unite the great body of reformers. He earnestly desired to see those whom he considered as the natural leaders of the people step forwards to direct popular opinion on this subject, and by the weight of their influence to. give at once power and steadiness to the efforts of the reformers. In a letter to one of the most illustrious of his correspondents, written in September, 1812, he says, “Mr. Brougham has just left Allerton, where he passed a few days with: me, and told me, in private conversation, of the efforts made by you to induce the great leaders; of (what I am sorry we must still call) opposition to unite in some general expression, before the rising of parliament, of the necessity of measures of reform. Such a step, if it could have been accomplished, would have had the happiest effect, in uniting the great body of the people with
he enters at considerable length into the state of our Indian possessions.

In the year 1807 he had taken a part at a public meeting held in Liverpool, on the subject of the opening of the trade; and again, in the course of the present year (1812), he came forwards on a similar occasion. The charter of the Company being about to expire, meetings were held in different parts of the country, for the purpose of petitioning parliament for a free trade, and the inhabitants of Liverpool, amongst other places, met together to oppose a renewal of the monopoly. The resolutions proposed and carried on this occasion were prepared by Mr. Roscoe, who supported them in an address of considerable length.* He treated the subject entirely as a commercial question, and rested the claims of the petitioners upon the principles of free trade. The following are the resolutions directed to this part of the question:—

“That we, in common with the rest of our fellow-subjects, have a right to a free trade with all parts of the British empire, and other countries in amity with these united kingdoms, subject only to such general regulations of trade as the policy of this country may require, or as may be necessary for maintaining the relations of these realms with foreign states, and

* Printed in the Liverpool Mercury of 20th March, 1812.

securing to government those revenues which may be necessary for its support.

“That we humbly conceive the great object of all legislative regulation, in the commercial concerns of the country, is the protection of this equal right in the subject, and the further extension of an honourable, just, and legitimate commerce; and that therefore all monopolies which exclude the general body of the people from trading with other countries, are in derogation of the birth-right of the subject, and counteract the chief purpose which they ought to have in view.

“That the monopoly of the East India Company is an additional instance, with others which might be adduced, of the injurious consequences that must always attend such attempts at an exclusive traffic; and that we conceive it to have been fully demonstrated, not only by the most conclusive reasoning, but by incontrovertible facts, that such monopoly is prejudicial to the general interests of the country at large, and discourages that commercial spirit which, from the nature and local situation of these islands, is indispensable to their prosperity, and upon which their security, at this moment, essentially depends.”

On the subject of this meeting Mr. Roscoe thus addressed the Duke of Gloucester, in a letter, dated the 21st March:—


“I have desired the printer of the ‘Liverpool Mercury’ to forward you a copy of that paper, in which you will see the result of a public meeting for petitioning parliament for an open trade to the East Indies, and will, I hope, think that the resolutions there adopted have placed the subject on its proper ground, that of a claim of right. I also venture to flatter myself that your Royal Highness will think that in what I have said I have acted the part of a friend to my country, in endeavouring, as far as in my power, to prevent the people being deluded to their destruction, by the prospect of advantages which it is impossible should be realised in time to provide for present emergencies.

“That the East India trade will, when opened, be highly beneficial to this country I have no doubt; but if the expectation of it should call off our attention from the real causes of our distress, and induce us to suppose that we can dispense with the advantages we derive from the preservation of an intercourse with America, it may lead us into a most serious error.”

The occurrence of a general election in the autumn of 1812 again drew Mr. Roscoe into the toils and anxieties of public life. With regard to himself, his increasing age and his engagements in business precluded him from entertaining the idea of resuming his seat in parliament, though, had his inclinations been so directed,
opportunities were not wanting of indulging them. In the month of September, he received a confidential communication from one of his friends in London (
Mr. John M’Creery), stating, that a meeting having been held of certain electors of Westminster, preparatory to a larger assembly, he had been requested on behalf of the gentlemen who composed that meeting to inquire from Mr. Roscoe whether, if elected free of expense on the pure principles of the last election, he would be willing to perform the duties of their representative. “I need not tell you,” says his correspondent, “what answer I should wish you to enable me to give. Your love of liberty, your love of the principle, will, I am persuaded, dictate the answer, and over, rule all considerations arising from personal inconvenience.” The answer of Mr. Roscoe to this flattering communication was conveyed in the following letter:—

“Your letter of the 24th, desiring to be informed, whether, if I were chosen for Westminster, upon the pure principles of the last election, I would undertake the duties of the office, has greatly surprised me.

“That my name should be in any manner suggested as connected with the representation of the first city in the empire, is in itself an honour of which I cannot but be most deeply sensible. At the same time, I am compelled to
say, that if the result were as certain as the object is elevated, I must most seriously decline it, and to your question so distinctly put must answer, No. The truth is, that if a Parliamentary life were in my view, I should think myself bound, in the first instance, to renew the offer of my services to my native place, where, if I have not the certainty, I might now have the fairest prospect of success. The same reasons that have induced me to decline the solicitations of my friends here, must operate equally at least as to any other place, however more distinguished, with the additional consideration, that after the decided step I have already taken here, I could not accede to any other prospect without subjecting myself to a charge of inconsistency, which it has ever been my endeavour to avoid.

“This inquiry, however it may have originated, or to whatever number of electors it may be confined, will always be recollected by me with the highest gratification. Not, I trust, from any weak motives of personal vanity, but because it affords me the happiness of thinking that the principles I have avowed in favour of liberty, peace, and reform, are in strict unison with those of the enlightened electors of Westminster. Nor can I entertain a doubt that they will persevere in the cause they have already so nobly begun, and by maintaining the independence and purity of election, become the saviours of their country.


“I have now only to thank you, my dear friend, for the solicitude you so kindly express as to my decision, and to assure you of my invariable attachment.”

When the elections came on, Mr. Roscoe learned with much surprise that he had been proposed as one of the candidates for the representation of the borough of Leicester. No previous intimation had been conveyed to him of the intention of the electors to make use of his name, and he had not therefore the opportunity of expressing his dissent to the measure. His name had, in fact, been selected as that of a person whose character was generally known and regarded, for the purpose of affording some strength to an opposition, which, at that time, was little more than hopeless. At the conclusion of the election, it appeared that while the successful candidates numbered 1116 and 967 voters, those who had supported Mr. Roscoe amounted to 412. It was only through the public papers that Mr. Roscoe obtained a knowledge of this transaction, and immediately on the conclusion of the election he transmitted to Leicester the following address:—

To the Independent Electors of the Borough of Leicester.

“Although I have received no information, except from the public papers, of the circum-
stances which have taken place in your very populous and respectable town, during the late election for its representatives in parliament; yet, I cannot affect to be ignorant that I had, on that occasion, the honour of being proposed as one of your candidates; an honour conferred upon me, not only without my solicitation, but without my knowledge; and which can admit of no other construction than that of being an explicit approbation of those public principles which I have had occasion so repeatedly to avow.

“That under such circumstances I should have had the support of no less than four hundred and twelve independent voters, whilst one of the successful candidates numbered only 967, and the other only 1116 votes, is to me a subject of gratification. Nor is this diminished, when I reflect that it is highly probable, from the union of interests that appears to have subsisted between those candidates, that a great part of the votes so given were divided votes. Even this majority has not, as it appears, been obtained without a powerful struggle; nor, as we are expressly informed by those gentlemen in their printed letter of thanks, ‘without calling forth great and burdensome exertions from a numerous body of their friends.’

“In such a situation, for me to remain silent would evince a want of feeling, of which I hope I am utterly incapable. No, Gentlemen, although
I am personally an entire stranger to you, yet be assured, that in spirit and in principle I am with you; and that you have not formed a wrong estimate of me, when you consider me as ‘The friend of peace, of reform, and of religious liberty.’ Nor am I less gratified by the independent and truly constitutional manner in which you have endeavoured to obtain your object, divested of ‘the influence of party, and without any personal feelings of opposition.’ These are the sentiments that ought to animate the breast of every elector; but with you they are not vain and empty professions. Even your opponents have publicly acknowledged in their final address, that ‘you were entitled to their thanks,’ and ‘that you have manifested your wish to promote the peace of Leicester, and the personal safety of those engaged in the election.

“I hope that the pleasure I feel upon this occasion, and which I am now endeavouring to express, will be attributed to its proper motives. That I am insensible to the honourable esteem of good men, will not, I trust, be supposed; but a still more legitimate cause of my satisfaction is in the decided proof that has been given, as well in your distinguished town as in other parts of the kingdom, of the more general diffusion of principles favourable to freedom, to peace, to well regulated government, and to high and enlightened morality; in the conviction that
the great work, which must eventually produce the reformation and happiness of the people, is already begun; and in the ardent hope, that as we have lived to see this country perform one great act of disinterested justice, so we may yet expect to see the defects and abuses of our political system corrected and improved, by wise, temperate, peaceable, and effective measures, and this country raised to that eminence, to which, from the good sense, the courage, the industry, and the talents of its inhabitants, it is so justly entitled to aspire,

“I have the honour to be,
“With sentiments of the highest respect,
“Your most faithful servant,
William Roscoe.
“Allerton Hall, Oct. 12, 1812.”

With regard to the representation of Liverpool, Mr. Roscoe was pressed, individually, by many of his friends, to present himself again as a candidate; and the strong assurances of support which he received might have justified him in looking for success. With these solicitations, however, influenced by those sufficient reasons which have already been mentioned, he uniformly declined to comply. Though himself debarred from becoming the representative of his
townsmen, he felt no little share of anxiety with regard to the choice which they might make. He thought that, if at this juncture, a triumph could be obtained for liberal principles in Liverpool, an impression would be made upon the country at large, which might be essentially serviceable to the two great objects of his political life,—peace and reform. To make this triumph complete, it was necessary that two members attached to these principles should be returned;—a step which the state of parties in Liverpool seemed to render feasible. The next consideration was the selection of two persons, who, from character, talents, and public services, might be supposed to have a claim upon the suffrages of the electors. That Mr. Roscoe, in common with all the other friends of freedom in Liverpool, should in the first instance look to
Mr. Brougham, as the fittest person to forward these great objects, was not surprising. His exertions in the case of the Orders in Council; his declared attachment to reform; his brilliant though brief career in the House of Commons; and his reputation for extraordinary talent, then rising rapidly towards that height which it has since attained, all pointed him out as the individual best qualified to give splendour, dignity, and success, to a popular contest. A long and confidential correspondence on political subjects between Mr. Brougham and Mr. Roscoe, had confirmed, in the mind of the
latter, the high opinion which Mr. Brougham’s public conduct had created, and had added feelings of personal attachment to those of admiration and respect for his political character.

A number of the merchants of Liverpool, desirous of testifying their sense of the public services of Mr. Brougham, especially in the matter of the Orders in Council, resolved to give a public dinner in honour of him, and to solicit his attendance on the occasion. This circumstance afforded Mr. Roscoe the opportunity of enjoying the society of his distinguished correspondent for a few days at Allerton,—a pleasure of which he had been long desirous. The enthusiasm which, at the public dinner, attended the coupling the name of Mr. Brougham with the representation of Liverpool, left no doubt with regard to the strong and general feeling existing in his favour.

The other individual selected to stand by the side of Mr. Brougham in this great contest, was Mr. Creevey, himself a native of Liverpool, and well known to its chief inhabitants. Consistency of political conduct, and an intimate acquaintance with the commercial and financial interests of the country, frequently displayed in the debates of the House of Commons, seemed to render this gentleman a fit coadjutor to Mr. Brougham, while the exertions he had lately made to give to the country at large the benefit
of a free commerce with the East Indies, might well be supposed to have rendered him popular in the great mercantile community of Liverpool.

The attempt to return two members of liberal principles excited, as it was expected it would do, a spirit of strong opposition. The friends of the late members, General Gascoyne and General Tarleton, clearly foresaw, that unless some new and extraordinary effort was made, their adversaries would have every chance of success. From the ranks of both of them, therefore, a number of the most wealthy and powerful of their supporters stepped forwards, and in order to secure a candidate equal to the task of contending with Mr. Brougham, invited Mr. Canning to Liverpool. The consequence of this step was, that the party of General Tarleton, whose influence had been gradually diminishing, became almost extinct; and a junction was formed between the supporters of General Gascoyne and of Mr. Canning. With this combination of forces, to which the corporation influence added great strength, the friends of the liberal candidates were unable to contend; and after an arduous and well maintained struggle of several days, the election terminated in favour of Mr. Canning and General Gascoyne.

Having refused to come forward in his own person, Mr. Roscoe did not think it proper to take an active and conspicuous part in the con-
test, though the friends of
Mr. Brougham and Mr. Creevey were, as it may be supposed, very principally guided by his advice. In the course of the election, and while the event of it was yet uncertain, it was supposed that a compromise might be effected with the opposite party, and the return of Mr. Brougham secured. To this course of proceeding Mr. Roscoe was strenuously opposed; and his conduct on this occasion incurred the censure of some of his friends. To these censures it may be a sufficient answer to state, that the person whose interests were most nearly affected expressed his full approbation of the course recommended by Mr. Roscoe—“I only wish to say,” he observes, in a letter, written immediately after the election, “that wherever I go, I find the most respectful ideas of our strength in the late contest; and that my constant theme is the propriety of having tried two, and refused all idea of compromise. I found it the more necessary to speak this language, because notions seemed to have got abroad, as if it was not consonant to my own views. You know the contrary, and I flatter myself the idea is at an end.” The motives which influenced Mr. Roscoe on this occasion were worthy of his character. At the time when an accommodation was possible, the event of the election was of course in doubt; and Mr. Roscoe could not reconcile himself to the idea that he
might be made instrumental in the return of a person to whose principles he was so decidedly opposed. Nor did he esteem it honourable, for any object of public convenience, to desert that friend, who had been induced, principally at his solicitation, to engage in the contest, and who might thus be deprived of an opportunity of obtaining a seat in parliament.

Under the disappointment which Mr. Roscoe naturally felt at the failure of the efforts made by the friends of freedom in Liverpool to return representatives enjoying their confidence and respect, he found a satisfaction in reflecting, that the contest had been the means of calling forth the eloquence, and exhibiting the high genius of one who has since acted so distinguished a part in the political history of his age.

The speeches delivered by Mr. Canning in the course of the election (which were collected and published soon after its termination) contain an elaborate defence of the war, and unsparing attacks upon the friends of parliamentary reform. Unwilling to suffer a publication like this to pass without notice, Mr. Roscoe, a few weeks subsequent to its appearance, felt it incumbent on him to examine the arguments it contained, which he did in a short pamphlet, entitled, “A Review of the Speeches of the Right Honourable George Canning on the late Election for Liverpool, so far as they relate to the Questions of
Peace and Reform.”* “The frequency and earnestness,” he says, “with which these questions were discussed by Mr. Canning, could not fail of engaging my attention. I found those principles and opinions which I was well known to entertain, in common with a very great proportion of the community, not only controverted as ignorant theories, the result of an enthusiastic and presumptuous philosophy, but represented as criminal and dangerous—as directly hostile to the honour and interests of the country—as leading to mad and desperate attempts to involve the nation at large in the most deplorable calamities.”

Mr. Roscoe then proceeds to comment upon the arguments made use of by Mr. Canning in defence of the war, and especially that most extraordinary and delusive position, that the warfare in which we were engaged was a visitation from heaven, and that it was in vain to struggle against the divine wrath:—“What, gentlemen,” he observes, “should you think of the sense or the fairness of men, who, in the midst of the distress and desolation occasioned in one of your West India Islands by a hurricane or tornado, while the air was involved in a pitchy darkness and the city rocking with volcanic explosions, were to run about the streets, proclaiming them-

* Liverpool, Dec. 1812.

selves the friends of peace and of perpendicular position.” And again, in speaking of the sufferings occasioned by the war, he says, “but that these sufferings are inflicted by any other hand than that which bringeth down punishment upon nations, I must utterly deny.”—“It is not easy,” observes Mr. Roscoe, “to conceive how Mr. Canning could venture to advance, and repeatedly to insist upon, this very singular sentiment. Could he for a moment conceive that it was in his power to induce his hearers to relinquish their understandings, to extinguish their feelings, to abandon every effort for their own security and their own happiness, and to resign themselves in despair to whatever fate might be impending over them? Is it not an insult upon common sense to tell us that we can no more prevent the continuance of war, than we can prevent the effects of an earthquake or a tornado? Has not Mr. Canning himself entered into discussions on the question of peace? and did he ever hear of persons seriously deliberating on the best mode of preventing a hurricane or an earthquake, or of altering the course of nature in the system of the physical world?”

It is a matter of some curiosity at the present time to observe the manner in which the great question of parliamentary reform was treated, twenty years since, by the most brilliant politician of the day.


The tone of triumph assumed by Mr. Canning, in referring to the subject of reform, and the derision and contempt with which its advocates were uniformly treated by him, show how imperfectly he understood the progress of public opinion on this subject; but it is not improbable, that had the days of this celebrated statesman been prolonged, he might, upon this question, as he did upon others, have recurred to the principles of his early life. The fact that he had supported Mr. Pitt in his projects of reform, is very justly brought forward by Mr. Roscoe in answer to the imputations so freely cast by Mr. Canning on the motives of the reformers:—“Mr. Canning has been in the ranks of the reformers, and cannot but know that the grounds and reasons upon which they claim their constitutional rights, have too broad a foundation in the history and laws of the country and the practice of their ancestors, to be overthrown or invalidated by the mere assertion of any man; and ought to be aware that, as a person who has derived, or is likely to derive, peculiar advantages from the change of his political opinions, he should be particularly cautious in imputing to those who have adhered to their principles, those base and unworthy motives, which might with so much propriety be retorted on himself.”

It is seldom that, in the political writings of Mr. Roscoe, any attempt at pleasantry is to be
found: almost the only instance of it occurs at the conclusion of the present pamphlet, where he ridicules the consolations administered by
Mr. Canning for the sufferings of the war, and the admiration expressed by his audience at these portions of his speeches.

“Now, it is not easy to determine whether we ought most to admire the kind and consolatory language in which the orator thus consigns his hearers to irremediable distress, or the readiness and pleasure with which they surrender themselves to their fate. It is as novel as it is delightful to see with what ardour and cordiality they congratulate each other that no changes, either in the internal or external policy of the country, can remedy their sufferings, and how truly they participate in the cheering sentiment of the excellent old song—
‘Let us all be unhappy together!’

“In this prosperous state of affairs, with which they are so highly gratified, it would be quite impertinent to interfere. About tastes it is in vain to dispute; and they who meddle on such occasions undertake a thankless and often a dangerous office. It is only a few weeks since, as my readers must all remember, that a circumstance occurred in the metropolis which strongly exemplifies this remark. An honest John Bull had been unluckily tempted to engage in a game of chance, as
improvidently as nations sometimes engage in a war. Having lost all his money, he wagered his clothes, and lost them also. Having then nothing left but his life, he placed that, too, on the chance of the die. Being still unfortunate, he fairly resigned himself up to his antagonist, who, with as little ceremony as
Mr. Canning displays in pronouncing the decrees of heaven, hung him up on a lamp-post. A police officer passing by, and seeing so unusual a spectacle, hastened and cut him down. On such an occasion, it might be supposed, that the gratitude of the man to his benefactor would be unbounded; but what was the surprise of the interloper on finding, that the first use which the other made of his returning strength was to commence a violent attack upon him, from which he with difficulty extricated himself, and was obliged to resort for redress to a court of law. Ex uno disce omnes. This is a true prototype of the supporters of the war, and ought to be a caution to those officious persons who are so ready to assist their neighbours. People have, it is true, in general, no relish for hunger and thirst, poverty and nakedness, any more than for being hung up at a lamp post; but it must not be presumed from this that every one is of the same opinion. It is said there is a pleasure in madness which none but madmen know; and as Mr. Canning has told us that war has its consolations, arising from the com-
parison of our own sufferings with those of our enemies, so it is possible that the pleasure of knowing that others are miserable, may, in some persons, exceed the pain occasioned by the distress of them and their families; but this is a matter of feeling, not of reasoning, resulting from the organisation of the heart, not of the head. In this state of affairs, all that can be done is, to leave them to their own enjoyments, the circle of which has, in the course of the present year, been so considerably enlarged. Unfortunately, however, these Epicureans in misery cannot think their gratification complete unless the rest of their countrymen partake of the treat. Nor is this sufficient. They must not only be compelled to take their share, but they must take it with every demonstration of satisfaction and of gratitude to those who have so liberally provided it for them: otherwise the branding iron is in the fire; and Mr. Canning, the crier of the court, is ready to affix the indelible mark which is to render them the objects of aversion or of distrust to their countrymen for the remainder of their days.

“But I should do great injustice to the important towns before mentioned, and to that of Liverpool in particular, were I to allow it for one moment to be understood that the persons who could thus hear with patience and mark with their approbation the sentiments of Mr.
Canning, are to be considered as expressing the sense of the inhabitants, or even of a majority of the inhabitants of those places. It is not, indeed, easy to conceive how statements so fallacious, assertions so unfounded, accusations so injurious, and views of national policy so disheartening and unjust, could have met with the applause with which they were received. But that Mr. Canning’s speeches have contributed to add to his popularity, or to attract a single individual to his cause, will not readily be believed. On the contrary, it must appear to every intelligent and impartial reader that these harangues exhibit nothing of those strong feelings for the happiness of the people, those comprehensive views of the public interest, or that deliberative wisdom which ought to characterise even the extemporaneous effusions of a truly enlightened statesman; but that they are the common and vulgar topics of those political partisans, who, however they may disagree amongst themselves, always make common cause against the people, and would gladly induce them to believe, that all opposition to their measures is not only useless, but criminal; not only irrational, but insane; not only imprudent, but contradictory to the immutable decrees of Providence.”

Adverting to a passage in one of Mr. Canning’s speeches, in which he alludes to the dis-
appointment of the rival candidate,
Mr. Roscoe gives the following brief but eloquent character of that celebrated person:—

“And who was he that was thus marked out as retiring, disappointed in his expectations? A man of whom it is difficult to say, whether the courageous energy with which he has uniformly pursued every great and noble object, or the splendour of his talents and extent of his acquirements are the most conspicuous,—who would have reflected back, with additional lustre, the honour conferred on him by his constituents,—who has compressed within a small portion of his life, and a short parliamentary career, the most important services to his country; and who, in the midst of venality and corruption, the defalcation of the young and the prejudices of the old, has always stood up, the fearless and successful advocate of justice, of humanity, of freedom, and of peace. If such a man is not entitled to the affection and gratitude of his countrymen, and may not hope for the favour of Heaven upon his exertions,—then, indeed, a revolution has taken place in the moral constitution of the world, such as it has not before experienced.
‘But evil on itself shall back recoil,
And mix no more with goodness.’
‘—if this fail,
The pillar’d firmament is rottenness,
And earth’s base built on stubble.’


In a letter, conveying to one of his principal political friends an account of the Liverpool election, Mr. Roscoe states his sentiments with regard to the prospects of Reform.

“What has happened here has happened also at other places, and I cannot but particularly regret that Sir Samuel Romilly was not returned for Bristol. But, although I admit that the present opposition are not likely to be any gainers by the dissolution of parliament, yet I cannot but think that a more correct and enlightened spirit of improvement is gradually diffusing itself amongst the people at large.

“The efforts that have been made have all been respectable, founded on principle, and free from all just charge of outrage or violence; nor is it an unfavourable symptom that all attempts to carry the people to extremes have been put down and repressed, and a more distinct barrier drawn between the real and steadfast friends of the country, and those who would infuse their own intemperate and dangerous spirit into the community. What you have stated, respecting your own efforts to produce a declaration of sentiment favourable to reform, has given me the greatest pleasure. I hope and trust such a measure may yet be possible; and that the friends of real and practicable improvement may begin to understand each other. Certainly there has been, hitherto, some fatal mistake on
this subject; and the great mass of the people who wish to see a change of political measures, upon principles within the strict limits of the constitution, have been confounded with men who have taken upon themselves to be the organ of the people; but who, it now sufficiently appears, speak only their own violent, and often discordant, opinions.

“That this mistake has weakened the efforts of Opposition, even in Parliament itself, I am well convinced, and still more in the country at large; nor can it be remedied till our great statesmen will perceive the distinction that really subsists between the great body of the people who are favourable to reform, and those who undertake, without their consent, to express their sentiments, in a tone and manner which no liberal nor candid mind can approve.”