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Prorogation of Parliament

Prorogation of Parliament - King's Speech - Business of the Session- Banquet to Earl Grey - Fire in the Dublin Custom House - Burning of the House of Parliament - Death of Earl Spencer - Dismissal of the Melbourne Ministry - The Lord Chancellor's Tour in Scotland - The Duke of Wellington sent for - His Account of the Ministerial Crisis- Sir Robert Peel Prime Minister - The Duke of Cumberland - Lord Stanley and the Conservative Whigs - Policy of the Peel Administration - Civic Banquet to the new Ministers - Meeting at the London Tavern - Liberal Reaction - Effect of the change of Ministry in Ireland - O'Connell - Lord Chancellor Sugden - The Rev. Dr. Boyton - The General Election - Outrages in Scotland - Agitation in Ireland - Meeting of -Parliament - Election of a Speaker - The Lichfield House Compact.
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On the 15th of August parliament was prorogued by the king in person. The speech referred to the postponement of a final settlement between Holland and Belgium, which his majesty regretted. He expressed lively satisfaction at the termination of the civil war in Portugal, and disappointment at the recurrence of disorders i»n Spain. He alluded with satisfaction to the numerous and important questions that had engaged the attention of parliament, more especially the amendment of the poor laws, and the establishment of a central court for the trial of offenders in the metropolis and its vicinity. The important subjects of jurisprudence and the reform of municipal corporations remained to be considered in the next session.

It was a stirring time, and if a great amount of legislative work was not accomplished, the cause was not the inactivity of the members of the house of commons. Sessions generally begin with great promise, and an appearance of much work to be speedily done, but a large proportion of this business comes to nothing. At the close of the preceding session, there were standing in the order book 134 notices of motions. To this number 61 were added on the first of the session, and 200 more before its close. Thus there were nearly 400 projects of reform and improvement set down for discussion during the session. But though so many of them were abortive, they are worth referring to as signs of those times, as showing the thoughts that stirred the minds of men, and the desires that impelled them to action in the early period of the reformed parliament. There was a wholesome motion that the commons should not sit after dinner. There were motions that parliament should meet occasionally in Dublin; that there should be a tax on Irish absentees; that the Royal Marriage Act should be repealed; that the hereditary peerage should be abolished; that the voting at elections should be by ballot; that the laws against drunkenness should be amended, &c. Amidst the discussions on political questions, reforms of a practical nature were not altogether neglected. The house tax, yielding £1,200,000, was remitted; the duty on almanacs was abolished; a second grant of £20,000 was made for building schools in England, and a grant of £10,000, the first of the kind, for building schools in Scotland. The penalties on marriages celebrated by priests in that country were abolished, facilities were granted for the admission and circulation through the post office of foreign newspapers, and sinecure offices in the house of commons were abolished. The royal assent was given to 143 private bills, of which 18 were on agriculture, 7 for establishing companies, 54 for improving towns and districts, 43 for improving internal communication and navigation. Select committees had sat, made laborious inquiries, and published valuable reports on sinecure offices, the law of libel, the grievances of Lower Canada, various matters affecting private individuals, steam navigation to India, medical education, the tea duties, and the education of the poor in England and Wales.

Earl Grey was not permitted to retire into private life without some popular recognition of his great public services. On the 15th of September a grand banquet was given in Edinburgh in honour of this illustrious statesman. " Probably," says the contemporary chronicle, " no minister in the zenith of his power ever before received so gratifying a tribute of national respect as was paid on this occasion to one who had not only retired from office, but retired from it for ever. The popular enthusiasm, both in the capital and other parts of Scotland, was extreme, which the noble earl sensibly felt, and gratefully acknowledged as among the proudest circumstances of his life. The dinner took place in a large pavilion, erected for the occasion in the area of the high school, and was provided for upwards of 1,500 persons, more than 600 having been admitted after the removal of the cloth. The principal speakers were earl Grey, the lord chancellor, and the earl of Durham. Earl Grey and the lord chancellor, in their speeches, said they considered that the reform in parliament afforded the means by which all useful improvements may be obtained without violence. Both advocated a deliberate and careful, but steady course of amelioration and reform, and both derided the idea of a reaction in favour of tory principles of government. The earl of Durham avowed his opinions in favour of the ballot and household suffrage, and declared that he should regret every hour which left ancient and recognised abuses unreformed."

On the 9th of August, 1833, a fire broke out in part of the Dublin Custom House, one of the finest buildings in the United Kingdom. Owing to the immense quantity of combustible materials, the fierceness of the conflagration was something terrific. Hogsheads of sugar, puncheons of whisky, quantities of tallow, blazed up in rapid succession, and combined to produce a mass of flame which flashed its light over the whole city, and threatened to consume the shipping that crowded the river, the burning floods of whisky rushing over the quay and floating in a sheet of blue flame around the vessels. The destruction of property was enormous, and would have been much greater, but, fortunately, a large portion of the goods in bond were stored in fire-proof vaults. By great exertion the building was saved. This fire naturally produced a great sensation throughout the United Kingdom, but it was nothing in comparison to the interest excited by the burning of the two houses of parliament, which occurred on the 16th of October, 1834. The greatest deliberative assembly in the world, the British house of commons, then sat in an old, dingy, narrow apartment, whose original dimensions had been contracted by a second ceiling, a second floor, and by wainscoting to hide the pictorial representations of the mediaeval ages, which savoured too much of superstition. According to the report of the lords of the privy council, who inquired into the cause of the fire, the tally-room of the exchequer had been required for the temporary accommodation of the court of bankruptcy, and it was necessary to get rid of a quantity of the old exchequer tallies, which had accumulated till they would have made about two cartloads. These tallies had been used for kindling the fires. On one occasion a quantity of them was burned in Tothill Fields. There had been a question as to the best mode of getting rid of them, and it was ultimately resolved that they should be carefully and gradually consumed in the stoves of the house of lords. But the work had been committed to workmen who were the reverse of careful. They heaped on the fuel, nearly filling the furnaces, and causing a blaze which over-heated the flues. The housekeeper of the lords' chamber sent to them several times during the day, complaining of the smoke and heat, but they assured her there was no danger. About four o'clock in the afternoon two strangers were admitted to see the house of lords, and found the heat and smoke so stifling, that they were led to examine the floor, when they perceived that the floor-cloth was "sweating." At six o'clock the pent-up flames broke forth through the windows, and immediately the alarm was spread in all directions. The ministers, the king's sons, Mr. Hume, and others, were presently on the spot, and did all they could in the consternation and confusion. The law courts were saved by having their roofs stripped off, and causing the engines to play on the interior. The greatest efforts were made to save Westminster Hall, which was happily preserved; but the two houses of parliament were completely destroyed, together with the commons' library, the lords' painted chamber, many of the committee rooms, part of the speaker's house, the rooms of the lord chancellor and other law officers, as well as the kitchen and eating rooms. Mr. Hume had been noted for his efforts to get rid of the old houses, and to have a building worthy of the British legislature; and as the crowd saw him busy in trying to save the library, they began to joke at his expense, crying out, " Mr. Hume's motion carried without a division! " Others jestingly said that he must have been the incendiary. Few, indeed, were sorry for the old building itself, notwithstanding the venerable associations connected with it, if the inestimable historical treasures it contained could have been preserved. The public feeling was forcibly, though not elegantly, expressed by lord Althorp, when he exclaimed, "----- the house of commons - save, oh! save the Hall!" He referred to Westminster Hall, but the French journals thought he meant the house of lords, which caused much amusement to those who were acquainted with the reforming tendencies of his lordship's mind. There were some fears entertained for the Abbey, also, but neither of those buildings sustained any material damage. The king promptly offered parliament the use of Buckingham Palace; but it was thought best to fit up temporary rooms on the old site, and to have them ready for next session. The committee of the privy council sat for several days, and during the whole of that time the fire continued to smoulder among the débris, and in the coal vaults, while the engines were heard to play from day to day within the boarded avenues. As soon as possible, the temporary halls were prepared. The house of lords was fitted up for the commons, and the painted chamber for the lords, at an expense of £30,000. On the day after the fire, the king and queen, attended by lord and lady Errol, the earl of Munster, with lords Adolphus and Frederick Fitzclarence, and several other noblemen, arrived in two private carriages. They surveyed the melancholy ruins of the ancient painted chamber of St. Stephen's chapel in the house of lords, where the fine tapestry commemorating the defeat of the Spanish Armada had been destroyed, of the committee rooms of both houses, of the galleries and lobbies, and of the journal office, the speaker's house, and the library, it should be recollected that incendiary fires were at this time not uncommon in England, and that the London builders were then on strike. Many persons, therefore, were inclined to believe that the burning was not accidental; but nothing could be proved beyond culpable negligence on the part of the workmen.

The ministry had, as a matter of course, been much weakened by the retirement of lord Grey; but, having got through the session, it might have survived to the next meeting of parliament but for the death of earl Spencer, which occurred on the 10th of November - an event which removed lord Althorp to the house of peers. It was supposed that this would lead only to a fresh modification of the cabinet, by a re-distribution of places. For example, lord John Russell was to succeed lord Althorp as the leader of the house of commons. Lord Melbourne's administration seemed to be quietly acquiesced in, as sufficient for a time; the nation evidently assuming that, in any case, a liberal government was the necessary consequence of a reformed parliament. The public were therefore startled when it was announced on the 15th that the king had dismissed his ministers. It appeared that lord Melbourne had waited upon his majesty at Brighton, on the 14th, to take his commands as to the new arrangements he was about to make. But the king said he considered that government dissolved by the removal of lord Althorp; that he did not approve of the intended construction of the cabinet; that lord Brougham could not continue to be chancellor; that he did not approve of their intended measure with regard to the Irish church; and concluded by informing lord Melbourne that he would not impose upon him the task of completing the ministerial arrangements, but would send for the duke of Wellington, Lord Brougham had given offence to his majesty by what he conceived to be a too familiar use of his name in a speech at a public dinner during an excursion in Scotland. According to Mr. Raikes, Lord Brougham told an Aberdeen audience that he should write the king by the following post an account of the flattering reception he had met with in that city. This escapade was made the subject of a poetical jeu d'esprit in the Examiner.

Lord Melbourne returned to town that evening, the bearer of a letter to the duke, who went to Brighton on Sunday, and advised the king to send for Sir Robert Peel, who was then in Italy. A messenger was immediately sent for him, who in ten days arrived at Rome, and surprised Sir Robert Peel with dispatches announcing the king's wish that he should return to England immediately. Next morning, the right honourable baronet started for home, and arrived in London on the 9th of December. The duke of Wellington details the circumstances of this ministerial crisis in a letter to the duke of Buckingham. According to his account, the death of the late earl Spencer, which removed lord Althorp from the house of commons, from the management of the government business in that assembly, and from the office of chancellor of the exchequer, occasioned the greatest difficulty and embarrassment. His personal influence and weight in the house of commons were the main foundation of the strength of the late government; and upon his removal it was necessary for the king and his ministers to consider whether fresh arrangements should be made to enable his majesty's late servants to conduct the affairs of the country, or whether it was advisable for his majesty to adopt any other course. The arrangements in contemplation must have reference, not only to men, but to measures, to some of which the king felt the strongest objection. He had also strong objections to some of the members of the cabinet. The duke was therefore requested to form an administration, but he earnestly recommended Sir Robert Peel as the fittest man for the office of prime minister. In the meantime he offered to hold the offices of first lord of the treasury and home secretary until Sir Robert Peel's return, lord Lyndhurst holding the great seals temporarily, subject, with all the other arrangements, to Sir Robert Peel's approbation. On the 21st lord Lyndhurst was gazetted as lord chancellor, holding in the interim his office of chief baron of the exchequer, which lord Brougham, dreading the prospect of idleness, offered to fill without salary, thus saving the country £12,000 a-year, an offer which exposed him to censure from his own party, and which he afterwards withdrew. The duke of Cumberland was in raptures with the change. Writing from Berlin, on the 5th of December, he said everybody was taken by surprise at the breaking up of the Melbourne government at that moment. According to him, the king inquired into the state of parties in the cabinet, and as to what proposals they meant to lay before parliament with respect to the Irish church and the corporate bodies. "The reply was of a nature that alarmed him, and he instantly resolved to get rid of such dangerous ministers. The appearance of the duke of Wellington at the Pavilion was, he said, a complete surprise to all the inmates, as not a living soul there had had the slightest idea of his having been sent for. I think that the conduct of the duke upon the present occasion is one of the most noble, disinterested, and magnanimous in the annals of politics, and ought to give confidence to the country in the purity of his intentions. And I equally think we are one and all bound to put our shoulders to the wheel, and aid him with all our might; and if we act thus, and do not permit ourselves to be led astray by selfish views and opinions, or allow petty jealousies to take root among us, we must succeed, though I dissemble not to myself that we must have a frightful battle to fight; therefore, I do implore all my friends not to fail me, but to be in their posts when parliament meets. Lyndhurst having accepted the seals, I think a prodigious point, and he will impress courage on any party. If I am wanted," continues the king's brother, "I can come at a moment's warning; but, for certain, shall be in town at the meeting of parliament."

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