Text: Edgar Allan Poe, Critical Notices, Southern Literary Messenger, Vol. II, no. 7, July 1836, 2:???-???


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Random Recollections of the House of Lords, from the year 1830 to 1836. By the author of “Random Recollections of the House of Commons.” Philadelphia: Republished by E. L. Carey & A. Hart.

This is an exceedingly interesting volume, written by Mr. Grant, a young Scotch reporter — a man of sound sense, acute observation, and great knowledge of mankind. Its manner is correct, fluent, and forcible — occasionally rising into a high species of eloquence. It has too, that rare merit in compositions of this nature — the merit of strict impartiality — an impartiality so rigidly observed, that it is nearly impossible to form, from any thing comprehended in the book itself, an estimate of the political principles of the writer.

The work commences, in pursuance of the author's plan adopted in his book on the other House of Parliament, with an account of the interior of the building in which the Lords assembled prior to its partial destruction by fire in October 1834. This account is full of interest. “The present house,” says the author, “is a small, narrow apartment. Last year it was but very imperfectly lighted. It is more cheerful now, owing to the new windows added to it during the recess. It is incapable of containing more than two hundred and fifty of their lordships with any degree of comfort. It is right to mention, however, that it is but seldom a greater number are present, and it is not often there ore so many.”

Chapter II is occupied with the forms, rules, regulations, &c. of the House, and is also very entertaining. Among other things, we have here a denial of the common assertion that the Lord Chancellor carries the Great Seal before him when advancing to the Bar of the House to receive a bill sent up by the Commons. His Lordship, we are told, very gravely, merely carries before him the bag in which it is deposited when he receives it from the King, or when, on his retirement from office, he delivers it up into his Majesty's hands. This bag, we ore farther informed, is about twelve inches square, is embroidered with tassels of gold, silver, and silk, and has his Majesty's arms on both sides. The Great Seal itself is made of silver, and is seven inches in diameter. We do not understand the manner in which the Seal is said to be divided into two parts, and attached to the letters patent. The impression is six inches in diameter, and three quarters of an inch thick. On every new accession we learn that a new Seal is struck, and the old one cut into four pieces and deposited in the Tower. In this chapter we have the following characteristic anecdote of King William. The empressement with which the narrator dwells upon the wonderful circumstance of the monarch's actually reading a letter “without embarrassment, or the mistake of a single word,” is an amusing instance of the mystifying influence of “the divine right” and its accompaniments, upon the noddles of its devotees. The idea, too, of the King's asking what are the words in his own speech, is sufficiently burlesque.

Of his extreme good nature and simplicity of manners, he gave several striking proofs at the opening of the present session. The day was unusually gloomy, which, added to an imperfection in his visual organs, consequent on advanced years, and to the darkness of the present House of Lords, especially in the place where the throne is situated, rendered it impossible for him to read the Royal Speech with facility. Most patiently and good-naturedly did he struggle with the task, often hesitating, sometimes mistaking, and at others correcting himself. On one occasion he stuck altogether, when, after two or three ineffectual efforts to make out the word, he was obliged to give it up, when turning to Lord Melbourne, who stood on his right hand, and looking him most significantly in the fare, he said, in a tone sufficiently loud to be audible in all parts of the house, “Eh, what is it?” The infinite good nature and bluntness with which the question was put, would have reconciled the most inveterate republican to monarchy in England, so long as it is embodied in the person of William the Fourth. Lord Melbourne having whispered the obstructing word, the King proceeded to toil through the speech, but by the time he got to about the middle, the Librarian brought him two wax tapers, on which he suddenly paused, and raising his head, and looking at the Lords and Commons, he addressed them on the spur of the moment in a perfectly distinct voice, and without the least embarrassment or the mistake of a single word, in these terms:

My Lords and Gentlemen,

I have hitherto not been able, from want of light, to read this speech in the way its importance deserves; but as lights are now brought me, I will read it again from the commencement, and in a way which I trust will command your attention.

He then again, though evidently fatigued by the difficulty of reading in the first instance, began at the beginning, and read through the speech in a manner which would have done credit to any professor of elocution.

What a running satire on form is the following!

No noble Lord must, on any occasion, or under any circumstances, mention the name or title of any oiler noble Lord. If he wishes to refer to any particular Peer, he must do so in some such phraseology as the following: “The noble Duke, or the noble Marquis who has just sat down” — “the noble Earl at the head of his Majesty's Government” — “the noble and learned Lord” — “the noble Lord that spoke last” — “the noble Viscount that spoke last but one” — “the noble Baron that spoke last but two,” &c &c

What a world we live in, when such and similar things are related in a volume such as this, by a man of excellent sense, with a gravity becoming an owl!

Chapter III consists of “Miscellaneous Observations,” contrasts the general deportment of the House of Lords with that of the House of Commons, and rejoices that the art of cock-crowing is yet to be learned by the Peers, and that their Lordships have as yet afforded no evidence of possessing the enviable acquirement of braying like a certain long-eared animal, yelping like a dog, or mewing like the feline creation. It includes also some scandalous accounts of the unconquerable somnolency of a certain Ministerial Duke, and a member of the Right Reverend Ben ch of Bishops.

Chapter IV is entitled “Scenes in the House,” and gives a detailed report of two of the most extraordinary of these scenes — one occurring in April 1831, on occasion of the King's dissolving Parliament — the other in July 1834, when the Duke of Buckingham thought proper to make some allusions to the “potations pottle deep” of Lord Brougham, which were not exactly to the mind of his Lordship. The rest of the book is occupied with admirable personal sketches of most of the leading members, and is subdivided into Late Members, embracing Lord King and Lord Enfield — Dukes of the Tory Party, viz: Dukes of Cumberland, Wellington, Gordon, Newcastle, Buckingham, Northumberland and Buccleugh — Marquises of the Tory Party, including the Marquises of Londonderry, Wellesley, and Salisbury — Earls of the Tory Party, the Earls of Eldon, Wicklow, Limerick, Winchelsca, Roden, Aberdeen, Haddington, Harrowby, Rosslyn, and Mannsfield — Barons of the Tory Party, Lords Wynford, Lyndhuist, Ellenborough, Fitzgerald and Vessey, Ashburton, Abinger, Wharncliffe and Kenyon — Peers who have Seats in the Cabinet, viz: Lord Melbourne, Marquis of Lansdowne, Lord Holland, and Lord Duncannon — Dukes of the Liberal Party, the Dukes of Sussex, Leinster, and Sutherland — Marquises of the Liberal Party, the Marquises of Westminster, Cleveland, Anglesea, Clanricarde, and Conyngham — Earls of the Liberal Party, Earls Gray, Durham, Radnor, Carnarvon, Mulgrave, Burlington, Fife, and Fitzwilliam — Barons of the Liberal Party, Lords Plunkett, Brougham, Denman, Couenham, Langsdale, Hatherton, and Teynham — Neutral Peers, the Duke of Richmond and the Earl of Ripon — and lastly, the Lords Spiritual, under which head we have sketches of the Archbishops of Canterbury and Dublin, and the Bishops of Exeter, London, Durham, and Hereford. The whole of these sketches of personal character are well executed and exceedingly diverting — some, of a still higher order of excellence. The portrait of Lord Brougham, in especial, although somewhat exaggerated in the matter of panegyric, is vividly and very forcibly depicted, and will be universally read and admired. The book concludes in these words.

It is a fact worthy of observation, that with the single exception of Lord Brougham, no man that has, of late years, been raised from the Lower to the Upper House, has made any figure in the latter place. On the contrary, they all seem to be rapidly descending, as public speakers, into obscurity. In addition to Earl Spencer and Lord Glenelg, I may mention the names of Lord Denman, Lord Abinger, Lord Ashburn, Lord Hatherton, &c In fact, there is something in the very constitution of their Lordships, as a body, which has a strong tendency to discourage all attempts at oratorical distinction.





[S:0 - SLM, 1836] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Works - Criticism - Criticial Notices (July 1836)