THE LORD CHANCELLOR
My Lords, I have deemed it my duty, out of the deep respect I owe to your Lordships, to attend here to-day that I may in person announce to you that I tendered the resignation of my office yesterday to Her Majesty, and that it has been by Her Majesty most graciously accepted. My Lords, the step which I took yesterday only, I should have taken several months ago if I had followed the dictates of my own judgment, and acted on my own views alone. But I felt that I was not at liberty to do so. As a Member of the Government I could not take such a step without the permission and sanction of the Government. As far as I was myself personally concerned, possessing, as I had the happiness to do, the friendship of the noble Lord at the head of the Government, and of the Members of the Cabinet, I laid aside my own feelings, being satisfied that my honour and my sense of duty would be safe if I followed their opinion rather than my own. My Lords, I believe that the holder of the Great Seal ought never to be in the position of an accused person, and such, unfortunately, being the case, for my own part, I felt it due to the great office that I hold that I should retire from it and meet any accusation in the character of a private person. But my noble Friend at the head of the Government combated that view, and I think with great justice. He said it would not do to admit this as a principle of political conduct, for the consequence would be that whoever brought up an accusation would at once succeed in driving the Lord Chancellor from office. But when the charges were first raised that were investigated by a Committee of your Lordships, I did deem it my duty to press my resignation, and the answer which I then received, and to which I was obliged to assent, was that answer of my noble Friend which I have just described to you. When the Committee was appointed 1175 in the House of Commons, I deemed it to be my duty, acting upon the same principle, once more to tender my resignation; but on this occasion, also, I deferred to the objections raised by the noble Friend whom I have already mentioned. Again, when notice was given of the late Motion in the House of Commons, I begged that that Motion might be rendered unnecessary by my resignation being announced. But my noble Friend thought it was my duty still to persevere; and, accordingly, my Lords, my resignation, earnestly as I wished it to be accepted, was postponed in the manner I described to you until yesterday. Let it not be for one moment supposed that I say this in order to set up my own opinion in opposition to the kind feeling which I experienced, and the judicious advice which I received, coming, as they did, from one whom I was bound to respect, and to whose authority I felt called upon to defer. I have made this statement, my Lords, simply in the hope that you will believe, and that the public will believe that I have not clung to office, much less that I have been influenced by any baser or more unworthy motive. With regard to the opinion which the House of Commons has pronounced I do not presume to say a word. I am bound to accept the decision. I may, however, express the hope that after an interval of time calmer thoughts will prevail, and feelings more favourable to myself be entertained. I am thankful for the opportunity which my tenure of office has afforded me to propose and pass measures which have received the approbation of Parliament and which I believe, nay, I will venture to predict, will be productive of great benefit to the country. With these measures I hope my name will be associated. I regret deeply that a great measure which I had at heart—I refer to the formation of a digest of the whole law—I have been unable to inaugurate; for it was not until this Session that the means were afforded by Parliament for that purpose. That great scheme, my Lords, I bequeath to be prepared by my successor. As to the future I can only venture to promise that it will be my anxious endeavour, in the character of a private Member of your Lordships' House, to promote and assist in the accomplishment of all those reforms and improvements in the administration of justice which I feel yet remain to be carried out. I may add, in reference to the appellate jurisdiction of your Lordships' House, that I am happy to say it is 1176 left in a state which will, I think, be found to be satisfactory. There will not be at the close of the Session a single judgment in arrear, save one in which the arguments, after occupying several days, were brought to a conclusion only the day before yesterday. In the Court of Chancery I am glad to be able to inform your Lordships that I trust that by the end of this sitting there will not remain any appeal unheard or any judgment undelivered. I mention these things simply to show that it has been my earnest desire, from the moment I assumed the seals of office, to devote all the energies I possessed and all the industry of which I was capable to the public service. My Lords, it only remains for me to thank you, which I do most sincerely, for the kindness which I have uniformly received at your hands. It is very possible that by some word inadvertently used—some abruptness of manner—I may have given pain or exposed myself to your unfavourable opinion. If that be so I beg of you to accept the sincere expression of my regret, while I indulge the hope that the circumstance may be erased from your memories. I have no more to say, my Lords, except to thank you for the kindness with which you have listened to these observations.
§ House adjourned at half past Five o'clock, till To-morrow, a quarter past Eleven o'clock.