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THE RIGHT HON.
WILLIAM WYNDHAM GRENVILLE,
BARON GRENVILLE, OF WOTTON-UNDER-BERNEWOOD, COUNTY
BUCKS; A PRIVY COUNCILLOR IN GREAT BRITAIN AND IRELAND; AUDITOR OF THE EXCHEQUER; CHANCELLOR OF THE UNIVERSITY OF OXFORD; HIGH STEWARD OF BRISTOL ; AN ELDER BROTHER OF THE TRINITY HOUSE;
OF THE BRITISH MUSEUM; A GOVERNOR OF
THE CHARTER HOUSE, D.C.L. AND F. S. A.; UNCLE TO THE
DUKE OF BUCKINGHAM.
This distinguished statesman was born on the 25th of October, 1759, the third son of the Right Hon. George Grenville, Prime Minister of England in 1763–1765, and of Elizabeth, daughter of Sir William Wyndham, Bart. by Lady Catherine Seymour, and sister to Charles first Earl of Egremont.
He received his early education at Eton, where he was concerned in the grand rebellion under Foster, when all the boys left the school, threw their books into the Thames, and marched to Salt Hill. He was, however, persuaded by his father to return for a few weeks; and then removed to Christ Church, Oxford, where in 1779 he gained the Chancellor's prize for a composition in Latin verse, the subject being Vis Electrica. He took the degree of B.A.; and then entered one of the inns of court, with the view of qualifying for the bar. His attention, however, was quickly diverted to the business of politics. In Feb. 1782 he was returned to Parliament on a vacancy for Buckingham; and in Sept. following, when his brother Earl Temple (the late Marquis of Buckingham) was
for the first time sent to Ireland as Lord Lieutenant, Mr. W. Grenville accompanied him as Private Secretary, and he was sworn a Privy Councillor of that kingdom. The period of Earl Temple's vice-reign terminated in the June of the following year; in December following Mr. Grenville accepted office at home, being appointed to succeed Mr. Burke as Paymaster of the Army. His active senatorial career now commenced, and his industry and acquirements, added to strong natural talents, soon made him of consequence in the House of Commons. He was the able coadjutor of the youthful minister, his cousin-german, who was only a few months his senior; firm to his post, and in full possession of all his faculties. If he wanted the brilliant eloquence of his relation, he possessed more minuteness of knowledge and accuracy of detail. The routine of office was almost hereditary in him. He seemed to have imbibed all the ideas and habits of his father, even though he was a child at the death of that persevering statesman.
At the general election of 1784 he was chosen one of the county members for Buckinghamshire, after one of the most vigorous contests ever known. He was re-elected in 1790, but before the close of that year had been removed to the House of Lords.
He had not completed his thirtieth year when he was chosen to preside over the House of Commons, being elected speaker Jan. 5. 1789, on the death of the Rt. Hon. Charles Wolfran Cornwall.
Before four months, however, had elapsed, he was summoned from that station to the still more responsible if not more arduous one, of Secretary of State of the Home Department. He was moved to the House of Lords by a patent of peerage dated Nov. 25. 1790, and thenceforward became the representative and echo of Mr. Pitt in the Upper House. In the following May he exchanged the seals of Home Secretary for those of the Foreign Department: the latter he retained until the resignation of Mr. Pitt, in Feb. 1801. In 1791 he was appointed ranger of St. James's and Hyde
Parks; which post he exchanged in 1795 for the lucrative office of Auditor of the Exchequer. He filled the important situation of Foreign Secretary, during one of the most arduous and gloomy periods of our history, with industry, talent, and skill. It was a function for which his natural and acquired powers were in many respects well suited. He was skilled in the detail of the politics of Europe : he had studied deeply the law of nations; he was acquainted with modern languages; he could endure fatigue; and had not an avocation or a pleasure to interrupt his attention. He loved business as his father did; it was not merely the result of his ambition, but his amusement; the flowers of imagination, or the gaieties of society, never seduced him astray. There was nothing to dissipate his ideas, and he brought his mind to bear on the subjects before him with its full force.
One of the most important duties required of him was to maintain a stern and undaunted bearing towards the French Directory. In his correspondence with M. Chauvelin, who had been Ambassador in London previously to the death of Louis, and claimed to be still recognised in that capacity, the letters of Lord Grenville were couched in a severity of retort rarely equalled in diplomatic discussion. Of their tone the following, dated the 24th of January, and ordering M. Chauvelin's immediate departure from the realm, will afford a specimen :
“ I am charged to notify to you, Sir, that the character with which you had been invested at this court, and the functions of which have been so long suspended, being now entirely terminated by the fatal death of his Most Christian Majesty, you have no longer any public character here.
“ The King can no longer, after such an event, permit your residence here. His Majesty has thought fit to order, that you should retire from this kingdom within the term of eight days; and I herewith transmit to you a copy of the order, which his Majesty, in his privy council, has given to this effect.
“ I send you a passport for yourself and your suite; and I shall not fail to take all the other necessary steps, in order that you may return to France with all the attentions which are due to the character of Minister Plenipotentiary from his Most Christian Majesty, which you have exercised at this court.
(Signed) 66 GRENVILLE.”
The French government despatched M. Maret to negotiate the neutrality of this country; but so determined was Lord Grenville not to allow the least opening to their influence, that he persisted in refusing that emissary even to visit him, contrary, as was thought, to the opinion of Mr. Pitt.
Lord Grenville's talents as an orator were more than usually distinguished in 1795, on occasion of the attack which had been made upon the King during his passage to open Parliament. He brought in a bill to provide for the safety and protection of the royal person, which gave rise to a long and stormy debate, and afforded ample opportunity to Lord Grenville for the most loyal exertion of his rhetorical abilities. He had the satisfaction of seeing his motion carried by a large majority; and he followed up his success by another bill to 'suppress the formation or continuance of seditious societies.
Lord Grenville took an active part with Mr. Pitt in promoting the Union with Ireland, and shared with him in giving the intimations, on which the Roman Catholics of that country founded their claims to emancipation. When it was found that government was unwilling to forward those views, the ministry felt themselves obliged to resign their offices. When application was shortly after made to Mr. Pitt, to join the parties then in power, he refused to accede, unless Lord Grenville was included in the arrangement; which proposal being rejected, the negotiation ended. But no long time elapsed, before Mr. Pitt found himself obliged to yield to the urgent necessities of the state, and he again
took his seat as First Lord of the Treasury, in May, 1804, without having stipulated for Catholic emancipation. Lord Grenville, with Mr. Windham, refused to join him; and from that time, until the death of Mr. Pitt in January, 1806, Lord Grenville took a prominent part in the ranks of Opposition.
On Mr. Pitt's death the administration was formed which, though intended to combine “ all the talents," and therefore all the means of good government, has since been generally derided by political writers as anomalous, visionary, and impracticable, and sometimes as even monstrous and disgraceful. It was, indeed, extraordinary that when Lord Grenville was the Prime Minister, Mr. Fox should have become his Secretary of State. The perverseness of human nature, and the interests of trading politicians, were directly opposed to so unprecedented a sacrifice of political animosities. It is probable that a mischievous world would not have permitted such a union to exist for long, even if the parties themselves had been determined to the uttermost to abide by it; but the failure is, of course, ascribed to the discordant elements comprised in the attempted union. It was an important obstacle to its duration, that the religious principles of the monarch were directly opposed to the measure to which Lord Grenville considered himself pledged : a party equally zealous as the sovereign in their resistance to the claims of the Roman Catholics proved too powerful for the continuance of the ministry beyond the brief period of thirteen months. During that time Lord Grenville suffered not a little in his popularity, by obtaining an Act of Parliament enabling him to hold, together with the Premiership, the profitable, but nearly sinecure, office of Auditor of the Exchequer, which had been conferred upon him in 1795, and which he retained until his death.
His Lordship did not subsequently accept any more prominent office. In 1802, when the resignation of Lord Castlereagh and Mr. Canning left Lord Liverpool the only Secres tary of State, performing the business of the three departments, official letters were addressed to Earl Grey and Lord Gren