HARDINGE, George (1743-1816), of Pyrton, Wilts.
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Family and Education
b. 22 June 1743, 1st surv. s. of Nicholas Hardinge†, clerk of House of Commons, of Canbury, Surr. by Jane, da. of Sir John Pratt†, l.c.j. KB, of Wildernesse, Kent, sis. of Charles Pratt†, 1st Earl Camden. educ. Eton 1753-60; Trinity Coll. Camb. 1761; M. Temple 1764, called 1769. m. 20 Oct. 1777, Lucy, da. and h. of Richard Long of Hinxton, Cambs., s.p. suc. fa. 1758.
KC 17 Apr. 1782; bencher, M. Temple 1782, reader 1789, treasurer 1791.
Sec. of commissions to Ld. Chancellor Camden 1766-70; commr. of bankrupts 1771-82; solicitor-gen. to the Queen Apr. 1782-94, attorney-gen. to her 1794-1816; c.j. Brecon circuit 1787-d.
When Hardinge was returned to Parliament on the interest of his close friend Lord Camelford, his uncle Earl Camden prophesied that, having ‘no superior at the bar’, he would make a ‘considerable figure’. But he disappointed these hopes: Pitt was not impressed by his occasional speeches on professional matters or in support of administration, and did nothing to satisfy his ambition to be solicitor-general in 1789 or to replace Henry Beaufoy at the Board of Control, May 1795, a position which would, however, have been incompatible with his professional duties. Nothing came, either, of Camden’s applications for a judge’s seat for Hardinge in 1793 and 1794, though Camden informed Pitt that ‘when he is once seated upon a bench he will be safe there for the rest of his life’ and that, despite ‘a blunder now and then’, Hardinge remained devoted to Pitt. Hardinge admitted that he had served Pitt with more ‘goodwill than with abilities’; but he had at least never voted against administration and, at worst, abstained.1
He had to be satisfied with becoming attorney-general to the Queen in 1794: ‘it would not be right to pass by her solicitor general, he being also nephew to Lord Camden and has already put in his pretensions’ wrote George III to Pitt, 11 Mar. 1794. He was also a Welsh judge, but found the salary quite inadequate. In 1791 he had begged Lord Auckland to resign his auditorship at Greenwich Hospital in his favour and in 1795, in his anxiety to retain his seat in Parliament, he tried to induce Lady Camelford to believe that her late husband had assured him ‘the seat was mine as long as I wished for it’. Lady Camelford entered a caveat on behalf of her son, then a minor and absent from home, but secured Hardinge’s return; and had she not done so, Camden intended to come to the rescue by finding a seat for him.2
Hardinge’s main speeches in this period were a three-hour harangue against the continuance of the impeachment of Warren Hastings, 17 Dec. 1790; a defence of the aliens bill, 4 Jan. 1793, of the bill for preventing traitorous correspondence, 22 Mar. 1793, and of the suspension of habeas corpus, 23 Jan. 1795. In the penultimate speech he uttered the maxim ‘Perish commerce, live the constitution’, which was often wrongly attributed to William Windham*, until, according to Lord Glenbervie,
I myself heard Hardinge, from one of the back rows next the gallery on the right hand of Treasury side from the Speaker’s chair (the left from the door) vindicate those words to himself, and under his own interpretation of them again acknowledge and boast of the sentiment they express.
Hardinge, who voted for Pitt’s assessed taxes on 4 Jan. 1798, made only one brief speech in that Parliament, on 11 Nov. 1800, in opposition to Burdett’s call for peace. He retired in 1802.3
Old Sarum was then no longer available to him; in March 1801, Lord Camelford, whose politics were now those of opposition, had requested him to give up his seat. Hardinge panicked: ‘It will be ruin to me at one blow to lose the seat at this moment’, he informed Lady Camelford, 16 Mar. He at first proposed arbitration, but finding that his contention that he held the seat without any stipulation as to politics was, in Lady Camelford’s and the would-be arbitrator’s view, ‘too strongly pressed’, he waived it and held on to the seat on the assurance that he would vacate it as soon as he was ‘secure against personal arrest’ from his creditors. In 1802 Old Sarum was sold and Hardinge thereafter led a secluded life for several years.4
Hardinge was more impressive outside the House; he had been listed an opponent of the repeal of the Test Act in Scotland in 1791, and his defence of the hundred against Dr Priestley’s claims for damages after the Birmingham riots, made at Warwick on 5 Apr. 1792, was highly commended; his various charges over many years, at the different assizes in Wales, breathed the ‘truest sentiments of humanity and legal discrimination’, according to his obituary in the Gentleman’s Magazine. They were afterwards published, together with his Letters to Edmund Burke (1791), Sermons by a Layman and his contributions to Nichols’s Literary Anecdotes (1813); not to speak of his poetry, for which his ‘intense regard’, coupled with his natural indolence, was said to have blighted his great expectations. Recording an ‘eloquent speech’ Hardinge made to a ‘poor unhappy girl of 16 for destroying her bastard child’ in 1805, Lady Jerningham commented, ‘But a sad circumstance is that the speech ... does not become the mouth of the speaker—he has himself been very irregular: so much so that his wife parted from him’.5 He died 26 Apr. 1816.
Ref Volumes: 1790-1820
Author: R. G. Thorne
- 1. Camdem mss, Camden to Fanny Stewart, 25 Jan. 1784; PRO 30/8/119, ff. 171, 174; 142, ff. 51-59; 326, f. 22; Kent AO, Stanhope mss 728/13, Camden to Pitt, 15 Feb. 1794.
- 2. Geo. III Corresp. ii. 1031; Fortescue mss, Hardinge to Grenville, 23 May, 18 June, 3 July 1806; Add. 34438, f. 21; Camelford mss, bdle. ‘Old Sarum’.
- 3. Add. 35392, f. 194; Debrett (ser. 2), xl. 126; Glenbervie Diaries, ii. 168; Parl. Portraits (1795), i. 148.
- 4. Camelford mss, ‘Old Sarum’, Hardinge to Lady Camelford, 16, 18, 22 Mar., reply 17 Mar. 1801.
- 5. Misc. Works ed. Nichols (1818); Literary Anecs. viii. 513; Annual Biog. (1817), i. 299; Jerningham Letters, i. 264.