BRYDGES, Samuel Egerton (1762-1837), of Lee Priory, nr. Canterbury, Kent.
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Family and Education
b. 30 Nov. 1762, 2nd surv. s. of Edward Brydges of Wootton Court, nr. Dover by Jemima, da. of Rev. William Egerton, LLD, rector of Penshurst. educ. Maidstone g.s. 1771-5; King’s sch., Canterbury 1775-80; Queens’, Camb. 1780; M. Temple 1782, called 1787. m. (1) 24 Jan. 1786, Elizabeth (d. 31 July 1796), o. surv. da. and h. of Rev. William Dejovas Byrche of Canterbury, 2s. 3da.; (2) 15 Sept. 1796, Mary, da. of Rev. William Robinson, rector of Burfield, Berks., 5s. 5da. suc. bro. Rev. Edward Tymewell Brydges 1807; knt. of St. Joachim (Sweden) Nov. 1807; cr. Bt. 27 Dec. 1814.
Cornet Kent yeomanry 1794; capt. New Romney drag. 1795-7, Denton yeoman cav. 1798.
In his Rousseauesque Autobiography, a chronicle of failure, Brydges characterized himself as ‘lonely, grave, shy, melancholy, indignant’.1 But he wished to ‘break into notice’. He recalled: ‘I used to hear from my earliest youth of the rise and grandeur of my ancestor, Lord Chancellor Egerton, and of my royal blood’. But he never practised at the bar, preferring literary pretensions and, while his Egerton descent on his mother’s side made him a fervent genealogist and antiquarian, he wasted his talents on the fabrication of a claim to the Chandos peerage, based on the supposition that his father, grandson of a Canterbury grocer, represented a cadet of the ducal family. This claim, which he made on behalf of his elder brother, was rejected in the Lords in 1803, but he continued it for himself on his brother’s death. ‘I regret’ wrote Brydges ‘that I ever had any ambition, literary or political; but, unfortunately, one of my early desires was to obtain a seat in Parliament, and I never succeeded till I was on the verge of fifty—viz. October 1812.’ In his autobiographical novel Arthur Fitz-Albini (1798) he pictured himself:
Too proud to solicit a seat as the dependant of ministers or great men; too poor to carry on expensive and uncertain contests against Indian extortion, or the usurious plenty of loan-contracting bankers, he sees the most stupid, the most ignorant, and the most profligate of mankind, who can bribe thousands of drunken voters, and pay, without ruin, the prodigality and fraudulent charges of tavern-keepers and interested agents, step over his head with brutal insolence, while he is left in the shades of a silent retreat to soothe his indignation by the flashes of imagery and sentiment that now and then break in its darkness.
Although he was not precise, Brydges recalled ‘several vain attempts to get into Parliament’: for Canterbury in 1795 where he canvassed briefly with John Baker*, possibly for Maidstone in 1802, and for Dover in 1806; when his name was evoked at Canterbury in 1807, it was evidently as a last resort.2 He had virtually ruined himself in improving his Denton estate, which he abandoned in 1810 for his son-in-law’s home, until such time as he could purchase Sudeley Castle, the Chandos seat.
In 1812 Brydges, whose younger brother John was making unsuccessful attempts to come in for Hythe, found an opening at Maidstone, where he was returned after a contest. He appeared on the Treasury list after the election, having defeated a Whig. He recalled:
My natural shyness and timidity were overcome with so much difficulty that I seldom spoke, but hundreds of times sat with a palpitating heart till I lost my turn and let others in succession rise before me till it was too late.
In his maiden speech, 11 Dec. 1812, he supported the bank-note bill as an ‘absolutely necessary’ expedient. He subsequently confined himself chiefly to country matters, beginning with an attack on the extravagance of the new county gaol at Maidstone, 6 Apr., 2 June 1813, authorized by a bill whose preamble was an insult to the magistracy. Then, on 27 Apr. 1814:
I introduced a bill for the amendment of the Poor Laws, especially the settlement law; but the manufacturing towns were too strong for me, because they did not choose to be burdened with their own poor labourers when they could no longer work; but were resolved still to throw them back on the agricultural parishes which gave them birth. I fought a long while, but the table was covered with petitions against my bill. I had the support of Romilly, Whitbread, Sir Francis Burdett, and other Whig and patriotic Members.
Brydges’s bill, of which the report was carried on 12 July 1814, was deferred until 9 May 1815, when he toned it down. He carried the second reading, 2 June, but could not get it through. He did not reintroduce it until 27 Feb. 1817, further toned down, and it received the royal assent on 9 June. He had been named to the Poor Law committee on 21 Feb. ‘No one can carry business through by his own sole power’, he maintained, ‘because he cannot get attendance.’ He was, however, again placed on the Poor Law committee, 4 Feb. 1818, and defended the St. Pancras poor bill, 15 Apr.
Brydges’s next object was ‘to amend the cruel burdens of the Copyright Act’ of 1814, as he explained in speeches of 18 July 1814 and 21 June 1815. Since 1813 he had established his own press at Lee Priory and for nine years published his own with other literary and antiquarian works. On 19 June 1817 he made a bid to amend the Act and obtained satisfaction on 3 Mar. 1818, when a committee was conceded. It recommended the removal of the obligation on publishers to supply free copies of books to nine institutions except in respect of the British Museum, 5 June; but the dissolution thwarted Brydges’s efforts.
His individual endeavours apart, Brydges was seldom at loggerheads with the government. He opposed Catholic relief throughout the Parliament. He was, admittedly, in the minorities against the Admiralty registrars bill, 21 May 1813, and against the expulsion of Lord Cochrane, 5 July 1814. But he supported agricultural protection, 23 Feb. 1815, and voted with ministers on virtually all crucial questions in the sessions of 1815 and 1816. He admitted that he differed from his constituents in supporting the property tax continuation, 1, 5 Mar. 1816, and did so by vote on 18 Mar. The Liverpool administration had humoured him in one vital wish, by awarding him a baronetcy in 1814. He had solicited this throughout the previous session, explaining that he was mortified to discover that a Swedish knighthood he had purchased in 1807 had turned out to be a fraud, and that in applying for a baronetcy he was waiving his claim to the Chandos peerage, which had prompted him to the labour of a new and improved edition of Collins’s Peerage in 1812. He estimated his income at £12,000 a year, surely an exaggeration, and wished to be rescued from a ‘doubtful and unacknowledged situation’.3 So he was, but he could not resist meddling in matters genealogical. On 18 May 1815 and again on 30 Apr. 1816, he obtained leave for a bill to revive the registration of certificates of deaths, burials, marriages and issue of armigerous persons. When it was opposed by the attorney-general at the second reading, 13 May 1816, and rejected by 82 votes to 3, Brydges was outraged and threatened to abandon his poor bill as well; but he was mollified.
Brydges opposed reform of the Game Laws without a substitute for them, 12 Feb. 1817, and the reception of printed petitions for reform, 12 Mar. He was in favour of the issue of Exchequer bills for local and temporary relief, 28 Apr. He supported the suspension of habeas corpus and its operation, 23 June 1817, 5 Mar. 1818, and the prosecution of radical booksellers, 21 May 1818. He was on the ministerial dinner lists4 and rallied to them on the ducal marriage grant, 15 Apr. 1818. Maidstone rejected him at the ensuing election. Driven abroad by financial embarrassment, before he went he published a pamphlet against the resumption of cash payments by the Bank and subsequently his pen was never idle. He died near Geneva, 8 Sept. 1837.