HORNER, Francis (1778-1817), of 108 Great Russell Street, Mdx.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1790-1820, ed. R. Thorne, 1986
Available from Boydell and Brewer



1806 - 1807
20 July 1807 - 1812
17 Apr. 1813 - 8 Feb. 1817

Family and Education

b. 12 Aug. 1778, 1st s. of John Horner, linen merchant, of St. David Street, Edinburgh by Joanna, da. of John Baillie, WS, of Gladsmuir, Haddington. educ. Edinburgh h.s. 1786-92; Edinburgh Univ. 1792-5; by Rev. John Hewlett at Shacklewell, Mdx. 1795-7; adv. 1800; L. Inn 1802, called 1807. unm.

Offices Held

Commr. for the nawab of Arcot’s debts Mar. 1806-June 1809.


Sydney Smith, who admitted to having to compose his face half a street away when the solemn Horner was in the offing, remarked of him: ‘The Commandments were written in his face: no judge or jury who saw him would give the smallest degree of credit to any evidence against him’. He was the son of an Edinburgh merchant of partly English ancestry, who supplied Scotch linen to wholesale linen drapers in London, where he moved in 1803. Horner senior was a great reader and an ardent Whig, his wife a woman of unaffected piety who intended their eldest son, a delicate boy, for the kirk. Horner, who grew up a gentle sceptic, preferred the law: ‘all who ever superintended his education gave him the highest praise’, from Dr Adam at the high school to Professor Dugald Stewart at the university, and the clerical tutor to whom he was sent near London reported, when Horner returned to Edinburgh, that he could only be ‘now and then detected in a Scotch inflexion’. While in London he had listened to parliamentary debates, but felt that ‘he who has previously formed ideas of eloquence from what he has read of that of Greece and Rome must find the speeches even of Fox and Pitt miserably inferior’.1

Horner found his studies for the Scottish bar tedious and preferred omniverous reading; his interest in chemistry and metaphysics led him to join the Speculative Society, November 1797, with his childhood friend Henry Brougham*. Ambitious ‘plans of my future studies’ also included political economy, and having previously felt a certain sympathy for Pitt’s administration he espoused ‘the ancient Whig politics of England, which are at present so much out of fashion, being hated by both parties’ (1 May 1799). He wrote an essay (not preserved) on the role of the opposition and noted: ‘The history of Britain during the eighteenth century, haunts me like a dream, and I am alternately intoxicated with visions of historic laurels and of forensic eminence’. Only ‘a little business’ came his way as an advocate (January 1801) and after another year of ‘professional servitude and philosophical relaxation’, the latter with Lord Webb Seymour, Lord Henry Petty* and Sydney Smith, his lifelong friends, he formed a notion of transferring to the English bar and returned to London in March 1802, to see the law at work and enter Lincoln’s Inn. He was introduced to the Whig lawyers and men of letters, including Romilly, Abercromby, Mackintosh and Sharp, was hailed as a ‘Northern Light’ and returned to Edinburgh satisfied that he had found the world to which he wished to belong. While there he became one of the founders of the Edinburgh Review (1802); during the next four years, he wrote eight articles on economic subjects for it and six on others: they established his reputation as a political economist, in which sphere he acted as a bridge between his mentor Adam Smith and David Ricardo*.2 He drifted apart from Brougham whose reviewing style he disliked, and although they resumed relations, a pattern of neglect, fanned by heedless or prejudiced third parties into mutual jealousy and recrimination, was set up which marred their earlier friendship.3

In 1803 Horner moved to London and with Sydney Smith stepped into the Whig political coulisses. Apart from some Chancery business, he was not established in his profession until his call to the bar in 1807, after which he went the western circuit. According to Romilly, ‘he never relaxed in the most laborious application to his profession (though without any success in it at all proportioned to his merit), because he thought it essential to maintaining his independence that he should look to his profession alone for the honours and emoluments to which his talents gave him so just a claim’. Despite his desire for professional security before launching into politics, he found his opportunities far greater in the latter field. On 30 June 1804 he received his first invitation to dine with a Whig grandee, Earl Fitzwilliam, probably at the instigation of Lord Lauderdale, who knew of him. His reflections on this occasion were that, while he wished to avoid political adventure, he desired ‘some share in public business’ and ‘without belonging to a party, there can be no efficient participation in public affairs’. He was led to the Foxites ‘by the results of my own reflexion and by the tenor of my philosophic education ... all my feelings carry me towards that party: and all my principles confirm the predilection’. He was invited to join a scheme for writing squibs against the government and joined a Whig club, the ‘King of Clubs’, but felt that it was impossible to be active in politics out of Parliament and did not wish to be ‘at the tail of a party’: far better to be useful and eminent as a constitutional lawyer. In a private note of 9 Jan. 1804 he had written ‘Form a connection with the Whig aristocracy of England. Upon what footing do I join? Upon what footing am I at present received or invited?’ He expected to find a suitable answer by studying the early lives of Burke, Romilly and Lord Somers, but his promise was perhaps more visible than he imagined: Sydney Smith remarked, 16 Feb. 1805, that Horner was

a very happy man—his worth and his talents are acknowledged by the world at a more early period than those of any independent and upright man I can remember. He verifies an observation I have often made that the world do not dislike originality, liberality and independence so much as the insulting arrogance with which they are almost always accompanied. Now Horner pleases the best judges and does not offend the worst.

He was not aware of this and Lord Webb Seymour reproached him, 30 Sept. 1805, for his ‘continual fluctuation of motives and of plans arising out of them’: the fact was that he found it difficult to reconcile his own ambition of independence as a basis for political action and the enthusiasm of the ‘sturdy Foxites’ whose company he kept and who in the last resort prevailed over him to put politics first. They admired him too: Lady Harriet Cavendish wrote, January 1806, ‘Mr Horner ... has enough sense in his eyes only, for half a generation and I hear he is the most delightful and eloquent person that ever lived’.4

Horner, who had reservations about the Grenvillites, watched the formation of the Whig ministry of 1806 with a critical eye: it was reported that he ‘would not take any appointment; he has a sure game in the law, and is living comfortably and independently’. Yet when in February Lord Minto proposed him as a commissioner to deal with the nawab of Arcot’s debts, he accepted, after consulting his friends, who by now included Lord and Lady Holland, hoping he would not be regarded as ‘a sort of placeman’. He also admitted to his Edinburgh friend Murray that he wished to have ‘an early seat in Parliament’, though not a Treasury seat: ‘A good close Whig borough, the property of a very staunch old Whig family might tempt me ... I had much rather go in as an opposition Member at all events.’ As he had ceased, despite the editor’s pleas, to contribute to the Edinburgh Review and soon found the nawab’s debts a bore, he observed with keen interest the efforts of Brougham to find a seat in Parliament. Their failure he blamed on Brougham’s ‘most indiscreet connection’ with Wilberforce. (Horner never approved of the ‘Saints’, though Wilberforce on meeting him thought him ‘a man of extraordinary talents’.)5 As it turned out, he got into Parliament before Brougham, for Lord Henry Petty found an opening for him, 26 June 1806, and persuaded Lord Kinnaird, another Edinburgh acquaintance, to purchase his return for St. Ives on the interest of Sir Christopher Hawkins. Against the advice of his Edinburgh friends he accepted this ‘unexpected generosity’ (23 Oct.) and survived with ease a last minute contest at St. Ives.

He came into Parliament sharing his friends’ dismay at the death of Fox and looked to Lords Howick, Lauderdale, Holland and Henry Petty to lead the ‘popular party’ in coalition with Lord Grenville. His maiden speech was in support of the Scottish clergy bill, 27 Jan. 1807. Whitbread, whose Poor Law reform plan he admired and who predicted that Horner would become ‘an ornament of this assembly’, named him one of his committee on the subject, February 1807, when he was also appointed to the finance committee. Yet he was disappointed by his own lack of eloquence: ‘perhaps these Catholic discussions will lay hold on me, but I shrink from it when it comes to the moment’, he wrote (20 Feb.). On 24 Mar. he was ordered to assist Henry Bankes in bringing in an offices in reversion bill and on 24 Apr. defended it. Now a member of the Whig Club, he voted against his friends’ successors in office, 9 Apr. 1807. At the dissolution he wrote a threepenny pamphlet A short account of a late short administration, which he called ‘a revision of one by Harry Bennet*’ and based on Burke’s account of the Rockingham ministry. It listed and praised the measures of the ‘Talents’, ‘founded upon large principles’, but ‘frustrated in the completion’.6

Horner had no seat at the election of 1807, but soon afterwards through the friendship of Lord Carrington, a Grenvillite whom he had known for only a year, was brought in for Wendover. Having embarked on a ‘regular forensic life’, he became accustomed to missing speeches and divisions ‘at which I wish I had been present’. On 25 Jan. 1808 he defended Burke’s memory against William Dundas in the debate on the offices in reversion bill. Four days later he introduced a motion for the statistics of commercial licences, which he thought represented an iniquitous example of arbitrary government control over foreign trade. He went on to vote against the orders in council, 3 Mar. 1808. He was a keen critic of the Copenhagen expedition, 9 Feb., and on 29 Feb. voted for Whitbread’s bid for peace. In May he voted steadily in favour of Catholic claims and on 15 June (as also on 26 May 1809) he defended Romilly’s proposals for criminal law reform. Sydney Smith informed Jeffrey, editor of the Edinburgh Review, February 1808, ‘Of our friend Horner I do not see much. He has four distinct occupations, each of which may very fairly occupy the life of a man not deficient in activity: the Carnatic commission, the Chancery bar, Parliament, and a very numerous and select acquaintance.’ He was admitted to Brooks’s, 15 May 1808, and was an habitué of the Holland House circle, where he imbibed his chief enthusiasm at this time, not expressed in the House, which was for the Spanish rising against Buonaparte. Lord Holland remembered that ‘Mr Whitbread and some other Whigs, but especially that genuine though sober lover of freedom wherever pleaded Mr Horner, caught the flame which such a contest was likely to kindle in every generous breast’. After a visit, inspired by Fox’s James II, to Algernon Sydney’s ‘shrine’ at Penshurst, Horner wrote, 27 Oct. 1808: ‘I have been more Whiggish than ever [but] too sanguine and somewhat quixotic—my castles were in Spain’. He wrote of little else that year; Brougham’s disparaging article on the subject in the Edinburgh Review did nothing to improve their relations; and Horner was disappointed at Lord Grenville’s lack of support for the Whig notion of sending troops to aid the Spanish rebels. By January 1809 he had become ill, through excitement and exertion. Sydney Smith reported him to be ‘in the tenth week of his confinement—a liver case. He was desired to read amusing books; upon searching his library it appeared he had no amusing books—the nearest to any work of that description being The India Trader’s Complete Guide’. Smith, who found Horner ‘so extremely serious about the human race’, would not have been surprised at the language in which he harangued Jeffrey, 24 Jan. 1809. ‘I believe in the immortality and resurrection of the civilized world. In the very cloud that blackens all our horizon, I see the bow which is set for a token of that everlasting covenant.’ The news of Sir John Moore’s retreat to Corunna, gave him ‘the heartache’, 25 Jan.: ‘when I think of the flippant sneers we shall have from Canning, and the cold malignity of Castlereagh, both of whom hated Moore, and intrigued against him. These are the things which often make attendance at the House of Commons painful to me, and have repeatedly sent me home disgusted and saddened.’ Writing to Murray next day, he admitted that he was criticized for ‘not making an attempt to speak in the House of Commons ... I have better resolutions for the present session ... [it was] an idle history of indolence, fastidiousness, dread of failure, etc.’. He added that he hated the petty war of political personalities, despised his antagonists and his audience: ‘I am made, or educated, for the sunshine of an improving community’. He thought that ‘the real cause’ of his ‘silence’ was the ‘dread of finding it an effort above me, to discuss a large subject in public after many speakers, and with numerous details and arguments to manage’: yet he disliked making a set speech.7

Such outbursts as these appear to confirm the reputation for ‘moroseness’ which Horner acquired: one of his obituarists attributed it to his ‘most retired and studious habits’ and added that it was ‘greatly at variance with the sentiments of his heart’. Brougham was of the opinion that ‘the painstaking and solemn Horner’ had no sense of humour in any case, but there was more to it than that: he had by all accounts damaged his health by excessive study in youth and had developed a liver complaint, which he was wont to call his ‘old complaint’, and this made him tetchy. From 1809 his public life was interrupted by recurrent illness and the symptoms, coughing and shortness of breath, were those of the ‘consumption’ which mystified his doctors and caused his premature death. Throughout those years, not a good patient, he had to accustom himself to a ‘regime’ in order to remain active at all.8

The affair of the Duke of York’s alleged abuse of army patronage made Horner ‘gloomy and desponding’: he believed the duke guilty, but thought that an impeachment would prove ‘the death knell of the constitution’, as the ferment would last for months, the Lords would acquit him and ‘democratical violence’ would ensue: ‘the House of Commons alone protects the throne from the multitude’. An address to the King for the duke’s removal was the only solution. He took no part in the debates of March 1809 except for his votes, but was satisfied with the outcome. (On 6 June 1811 he voted against the duke’s restoration.) He found his fellow oppositionists ‘tolerably well united’, but privately lamented the want of ‘any single man as a popular party leader’.9 From Edinburgh Jeffrey scolded him, 2 Apr. 1809: ‘Why do you not make speeches if you will not write reviews ... trample this fastidiousness under your feet’. On 17 Apr. he voted for Folkestone’s motion for inquiry into abuses and on 26 Apr. got to his feet again, to criticize the abuse of the sale of trading licences; next day he defended the sale of offices prevention bill. He was in the minorities on the Dutch commissioners, 1 May, and in favour of Madocks’s motion alleging ministerial corruption, 11 May. He resigned his place on the Carnatic commission in June: by then he thought that taking it on had been ‘a blunder in my plans’. He was now free to concentrate on promoting the Scottish judicature bill, a subject that had interested him since 1806, when his friends in office had proposed the measure. At the report stage, 13 June 1809, he advocated proceedings on the English model, and the adoption of the jury system, but was not heeded.

When the Portland ministry gave way to that of Spencer Perceval, Horner, who remarked that ‘the reign of the Saints never was so near’, was not in favour of the Whigs negotiating with Perceval for a return to office: their hour was not yet come, as ‘the Whigs must have the public, or they will be nothing’. He thought Perceval more honest ‘than any of the late administration’, but did not expect him to last long, any more than did ‘the stupid Tory squires of this country’; he regarded Catholic relief as the sine qua non of a Whig return to power. He was much less interested in parliamentary reform: he described himself as ‘a good deal of a reformer’, but ‘not to excess’, 12 June 1809, when he voted with the minority critical of the curtailment of Curwen’s reform bill. He did not vote for Burdett’s motion of 15 June, but did so in favour of Brand’s motion on 21 May 1810. He was always, in private, a sharp critic of intriguing aspirants to office and therefore hoped that the Whigs would not ally with Canning, nor Perceval with Lord Wellesley: he doubted whether the Wellesleys had ‘much capacity either for war or administration on this side of the Cape’. Creevey, who called him ‘Jack Horner’, reported, 8 Nov. 1809, ‘all except Horner inclined to talk very contemptuously of our political leaders. Horner is for doing nothing in the House of Commons this session—damns the people as rank Tories’.10

On 1 Feb. 1810 Horner embarked on his most significant parliamentary undertaking, the bullion question. He moved for figures on which to base an inquiry by select committee into the high price of bullion and its effect on the value of paper currency, which had depreciated. After some speculation by himself and others as to the reason for the depreciation, the committee was appointed, 19 Feb., with himself in the chair. In advance, he guessed that the high price of bullion was due to a larger circulation of bank-notes than was necessary (the market price of gold had been higher than the mint price ever since the restriction of cash payments by the Bank) and to the new circumstances of foreign trade, bullion being much in demand to buy naval stores and grain from enemy-occupied countries, which created an unfavourable balance of trade and an adverse rate of exchange. If excessive issue of bank-notes was to blame, then it should be restricted; if shortage of bullion, then its availability from South America should be facilitated. His reputation as an economist was much enhanced by the report of the committee, presented on 8 June and printed in August, though he himself thought it ‘very clumsily and prolixly drawn’ and found that it ‘had more the air of a dissertation than was desirable’. The legislative measure he proposed was the repeal of the restriction on Bank payments in cash, 20 Feb. 1811, but instead he brought in 16 resolutions on the subject, which he defended in a three-hour speech, 6 May. They were thwarted by government: Vansittart, a former admirer of Horner’s, carried his counter-resolutions, 26 June. The divisions were better than Horner expected, but he objected strongly to some of the counter-resolutions and was no doubt disappointed that some of his fellow committee members, such as Thornton and Huskisson, approved the committee’s findings but did not press the remedy. Some light is thrown on his impatience by a letter of his friend Abercromby to Lord Grenville, 11 May 1811:

You cannot fail to have observed that Horner has proposed and divided the House upon the resolution requiring the Bank to resume its payments in specie at the end of two years, and you may probably have heard that in doing so he acted contrary to the opinion of Mr Ponsonby and Tierney.

As it is always a matter of regret when any member of a party perseveres in a measure in which he is not supported by his leaders, Horner has been desirous that you should understand the grounds upon which he acted ... having taken great pains to enforce the practicability and necessity of adopting this particular remedy, he could not abandon it without a division.

Horner displayed very great talents in the discussion of this question, and has made a great place for himself in Parliament.

Lord Holland wrote later:

The merit of Mr Horner in the investigation of this intricate subject, and still more in his honest, zealous and firm maintenance of those principles which he was satisfied were sound, can hardly be appreciated, now that the prejudices he had to contend with have expired.11

Apart from the bullion committee, Horner was also exercised, in the session of 1810, by the Walcheren expedition: in a memorandum on the government’s victory on this question, 3 Apr., he attributed it not to approval of the conduct of the expedition, but to the conviction of many Members that the government would fall if not supported on this issue and that they preferred ‘the present set of ministers’ to any others. This prevented any measure from being considered on its merits, as the public wished it to be discussed, and brought the House into disrepute with the people. The two-party system, he reflected, had led to this state of affairs, but there were at least ‘a certain number of Members’ professing to act independently of party. The reputation of the House with the public was, in his view, further endangered by (Sir) Francis Burdett*, on the question of his breach of privilege, May 1810. While he had voted for the discharge of the radical Gale Jones on 16 Apr. and defended the city of London address on the subject, 7 May, he thought it could have been more decorous and rebuked the committee of privileges for defending a privilege by reference to the common law and judges, instead of by reference to the law of Parliament. His effort to secure a recommittal failed, 23 May. Of Burdett he wrote, ‘I shall generally be for Burdett when he is not too popular’, 25 June. He regarded himself as the champion of parliamentary privilege as a necessary cog in the machine of a mixed constitution against the advocates of ‘republican simplicity’, and differed on this issue from Romilly and from Brougham. John William Ward* reported gleefully, ‘my friends the philosophers [are] falling foul of each other in the House of Commons. Brougham made a most able reply to Horner on Wednesday evening. I think Brougham was right.’ Ward conceded, however, that Horner, with ‘an excellent heart and an excellent understanding’, was ‘better liked’ than Brougham in the House.12

In the summer of 1810 Horner visited Ireland and though impressed by the ‘light headed cheerful people, for ever talking and in a high tide of spirits’, he found their volubility ‘somewhat distressing’, their language ‘full of submission ... taught ... by oppression’ and deplored the absence of industry. He returned more convinced than ever of the need for Catholic relief and thought a revolution would be necessary in Ireland. Ward noted that Horner, who ‘about a year ago ... seemed unwell’, was now ‘quite stout again, and with his health appears to have recovered his good humour. Not but what he is still sufficiently positive and impatient of contradiction: so much so that I find the people with whom he lives must—Abercromby for instance—find it necessary utterly to banish from conversation any subject on which they differ from him materially’.13

When the King’s illness recurred, Horner, ‘all for the monarchy’, voted with the minority against the adjournment of the House, 15 Nov. 1810, an issue on which his party was divided. On 20 Dec. he delivered a two-hour ‘argumentative speech which remained unanswered in debate’ on the Regency proposals, preferring the precedent of 1688 (an address to the Prince) to that of 1788 (a Regency bill). He voted against Perceval’s proposals. Cobbett informed him that his speech had been ill-reported and asked for a copy of it, which he could not supply, but he recollected it for Cobbett’s benefit. Lady Holland reported Tierney as saying (24 Dec. 1810) that the speech was ‘full of sound argument upon constitutional doctrines, and illustrated with most accurate learning’ and that Dr John Allen had furnished him with matter and argument.14

Lord Grenville, prompted by Lord Grey, offered Horner the office of secretary to the Treasury, if he returned to power, 22 Jan. 1811. There had been speculation that he might be Irish secretary if Lansdowne became the Whig viceroy. He decided ‘not to take any political office until I was rich enough to live at ease out of office’, which with the ‘very slow progress’ he had made in his profession was not yet the case: apart from want of business, he blamed his being ‘never systematic in execution’ (while a self-admonishing young student he had reproached himself likewise for ‘want of attention suivie’). In any case, he had no confidence in the Whig negotiations for a return to power: the Prince Regent’s overtures to them did him credit, as they had ‘in truth no right to consider him as owing any obligation to them’, but the Whigs were compromising themselves by scouting an ‘imprudent coalition’ with Canning, which would surely split the party. He would ‘soon find himself one of Whitbread’s followers in that case’, as ‘there is no politician whom I find so often in the right, at least in the present House of Commons’ (16 Jan. 1811). The one issue on which he disagreed with Whitbread was peace: he had voted for his last peace bid (of 29 Feb. 1808), he informed Jeffrey, but ‘besides having reflected more upon the whole subject, the main parts of it have undergone essential alteration, both by the immense acquisitions of empire which Bonaparte has made since, and by the great example which the poor Spaniards have set to the rest of the world’.15

Horner soon became weary of the ‘stupid superannuated profligacy’ of the Prince Regent, and the ‘whimsical ... posture of what are still called parties’ irritated him into dyspeptic outbursts to his friends, after a recurrence of his old complaint. By January 1812, however, he was well enough to resume his parliamentary activities, presenting a petition on behalf of debtors jailed in the Isle of Man, 9 Jan., and condemning the civil list revenue committee as being hamstrung by government, 11 Feb. He was very sanguine about the prospects for Catholic relief after the division of 2 Feb., noting the absence of ‘Protestant rancour’. On 20 Apr. he opposed the gold coin and bank-note amendment bill ‘at considerable length’, regarding it as a frustration of his intentions on the bullion committee: government, by encouraging an excess of banknotes would provoke a further rise in the price of bullion, which kept pace with the augmented issue of paper money. He objected to the legislation against the Luddites and other combinations, 5 May, as being too severe and making unnecessary additions to existing legislation. In the absence among the Whigs of ‘a great leader’, he saw no prospect of success even in ‘the the middle course where in my judgment both wisdom and honesty point to that we should all go’ (16 Mar.) and by June, when Canning introduced his motion for Catholic relief, he was so keenly in favour of it and so conciliated by Canning’s oratory, which had been exercised also on behalf of his own views in the bullion debates, that he now welcomed ‘a coalition with Canning and Wellesley whether in office or opposition’ and was disappointed when the negotiations for a new administration failed. Yet Canning’s role in them convinced him once more that Canning was an unreliable, over-ambitious politician. A reconciliation with Brougham, instigated by the latter at this time and welcomed by Horner as a relief from a long estrangement which had been ‘one of the disappointments of my life’, also collapsed: Brougham was too radical in his politics for Horner’s palate.16

A recurrence of his complaint had kept Horner out of Parliament in March and April 1812. On 7 May he pleased his patron by objecting to Creevey’s attack on his sinecure tellership. On 21 May he supported Stuart Wortley’s motion for a stronger administration. His notice of a motion to charge the Regent’s secretary’s salary to the privy purse was obviated on 15 June by the Regent’s adopting the proposal. After a vacation in Scotland he felt better ‘than I knew all last year’ by October, though still ‘under the slavery of medicine and regimen’. He had known for some time that he would have no seat in Parliament, not necessarily because Lord Carrington could not stomach his bullion committee role, but because he had to provide for a nephew. He lacked the means and popularity to obtain a seat ‘in the more regular and desirable way’. Lord Grey wished an opening to be found for him. Lord Holland was active on his behalf, and knowing that he would ‘not have the resource of a popular place to look to as the bullion question is unpopular in exact proportion to its merit’, alerted Lord Lansdowne, who informed him that Lord Grenville would secure a seat for him: a prospect Horner welcomed, provided that ‘his democratical tendencies and opinions’ (i.e. his support for parliamentary reform) were accepted. Holland was prepared to vouch for his moderate views. John William Ward alleged that it would have been ‘a species of political suicide in opposition to leave such a man out’. Horner admitted to his friend Murray, 21 Oct.:

Nothing but the alliance of politics, in the manner in which I take a share in them, would be sufficient to attach me to the pursuits of the legal profession, in which I have little prospect of eminence and very moderate desires of wealth; but in which, by possessing the opportunities of legislative experiment, I do not despair one day of doing some good.

On 16 Mar. 1813, while on circuit at Exeter, he was offered a vacant seat at Lord Grenville’s instigation on his brother the Marquess of Buckingham’s interest at St. Mawes, which had been thought of for him for several months. It was his ‘without stipulation or pledge’ other than to resign whenever his politics differed from the patron’s, and involved the cost of an election dinner only. He accepted with alacrity. Although Catholic relief was the subject that most exercised his mind during this session, he made no speech on it: his interventions in debate were against the East India Company’s pretensions to hold sway in India, 14 June, and in favour of a presbyterian chaplaincy there, since the ‘Scotch outnumbered the English by two to one’; in opposition to the Corn Laws, 15 June, and in support of Whitbread’s address for peace, 30 June. On the latter subject, for the second time, he proceeded to change his mind: by November he thought that ‘the opposition ought to have adopted the war of the allies and to have marked ... the sentiments which belong to the new conjuncture in which affairs are placed’. This soon after he had been elected to the Fox Club.17

In the session of November 1813 he assisted Romilly in attacking the anti-Luddite legislation for its severity, but he was opposed to an insolvent debtors’ bill which tended to remove ‘all blame from the insolvent’, 7 Dec. The Corn Laws seemed to him to be ‘an exclusive and unwise preference of our agricultural interests’, 13, 16 May 1814, and the corn importation bill was based on insufficient evidence, 24 May. He brushed with Castlereagh on 28 June when, concurrently with Lord Grenville in the Upper House, he moved for information on negotiations for the abolition of the slave trade at the peace conference. He doubted whether Castlereagh had been firm enough and advocated universal abolition. On 13 July he opposed the Irish preservation of the peace bill, because it abolished juries in favour of the magistracy, but was won over to it, 25 Nov., by Sir John Newport. The cause of the Princess of Wales did not attract him; several efforts by the Princess to inveigle him into her circle of adherents had failed and he showed no sympathy for Whitbread’s efforts on her behalf and reproved Brougham for ‘childish vanity’ in espousing her affairs.18

During the summer of 1814 Horner made his first continental tour and on his return took a keen interest in foreign affairs. He opposed the expenditure on the Russian alliance, 21 Nov., expressed misgivings about the treaty with Naples and the cession of Saxony to Prussia, 22 Nov., and accused ministers of being evasive on these issues, 25 Nov. Privately he was indignant at ‘the plunder of Europe’ by ‘the robbers of Vienna’ (27 Nov., 6 Dec.). On 1 Dec. he moved for information on the conduct of the naval war against the USA, in which he regarded the Americans as the aggressors, accusing the government of neglect of the means for effectively waging it. He carried his first resolution, but on the second, exacerbated no doubt by his displeasure at the adjournment forced by ministers, he delivered a tirade against them as shufflers, which evoked ‘loud cheers’ from the opposition. Ponsonby, the Whig leader in the Commons, had intended that Horner should resume the American war business in February 1815, but by then peace had been made and he tamely moved for a copy of the peace treaty, 14 Mar. He consoled himself with an attack on the Bank restriction bill, 10 Feb., and, supporting Hamilton’s motion for a committee on the Bank, 2 Mar., reminded the House of the dangers of artificial currency. He also made an ‘animated speech’ deploring Genoa’s loss of her self-determination, 21 Feb.: it was a collective robbery committed in the name of the tranquillity of Europe. He defended the good name of the African Institution, of which he was a member, on 23 Feb., and on the same day made a speech against the Corn Laws, advocating free trade and defending the reputation of the ‘political economists’, which was ‘listened to with the most profound attention by his most zealous adversaries’. He admitted that the cessation of the war that had stimulated agricultural enterprise must inevitably depress it, but Parliament could not provide a remedy. For this speech he received a vote of thanks from the City of London. On 1 Mar. he attacked King Ferdinand of Spain as ‘this execrable wretch’, deploring alliance with him and surrender of Spanish Liberal refugees in Gibraltar to him: Ferdinand protested against this and actually sought, through his ambassador, to have action taken against Horner. A correspondent of his father informed him, 8 Mar., of ‘the excellent appearances which your son has lately made in the House of Commons’, adding that Sir James Mackintosh said of his speeches on Genoa and the Corn Laws that ‘two such speeches had never been made in the House of Commons by the same person in one week: or at least, not for a great many years’. This view was echoed by Lord Morpeth, Whitbread and Tierney, who wrote to Lord Holland, 27 Mar., ‘if he has health, which I am afraid is not quite the case, he bids fair at any rate more fairly than any of his contemporaries, to acquire great distinction’.19

In renewing his opposition to the Bank restriction bill, 7 Mar. 1815, Horner restated the ‘doctrines’ of the bullion committee and added that unless the government forced the resumption of cash payments on the Bank, the directors would merely look to their profits from excess issue of paper money. His amendment of 9 Mar., in favour of resumption when the market and mint prices of gold were equal, was agreed to. He defended the London petition against the resumption of war with France and against the property tax, 1 and 5 May. In the interests of economy, he opposed the increase in salary for the Irish master of the rolls in June. On foreign affairs he continued to clash with Castlereagh, making as he thought ‘heavy work’ of his motion on Naples, 2 May, and raising the matter again on 19 May: in common with Lord Holland he preferred Joachim Murat to a Bourbon as ruler of Naples and accused government of breaking faith with the former to favour the latter as a sop to legitimism.

During what was for him his most active session in Parliament, Horner viewed with misgiving the difference between Lord Grenville and Grey over the resumption of war with France: Grenville, to whom he owed his seat, was in favour, but Grey was against it and Horner agreed with him, disliking a Bourbon restoration. He was ready to relinquish his seat on this issue and had an interview with Grenville on 8 Apr., but seeing that opposition were shy of an open split on the question decided to bide his time. Then he voted against the resumption of war for the second time on Whitbread’s motion, 28 Apr., and wrote to Lord Buckingham explaining that he had given a silent vote, but wished to resolve their differences on war and peace; he was prepared to resign once he had disposed of two motions of which he had given notice. His patron replied next day hoping that he would not consider such a step necessary. Horner professed to be ‘perfectly satisfied’ with this, but noted that ‘Lord Grenville’s family voted in the majority for war’ in the Lords on 23 May, while his sympathies went to the ‘formidable number’ of over 70 Whigs who met at Devonshire House in opposition to the war, ‘doubly formidable by the property and influence which it includes’. The summer was a depressing one for him: he did not share in the jubilation over the victory at Waterloo, and the death of Whitbread dismayed him; in July he was ‘incommoded by an attack of my old complaint’ and referred to himself in a letter to his mother as ‘the old solitary lawyer’. Of an act of private charity he observed, 28 July, that it brought him more ‘inward satisfaction’ than ‘being raised to the highest office in the state’. After a tour in Scotland his spirits revived, but public affairs still made him despondent, particularly the peace congress: Tom Grenville, remarking on Horner’s sympathy for Marshal Ney, predicted that it would lead to a breach with Lord Buckingham, ‘who is strongly against this attitude’: but ‘it would look bad’ if Horner, ‘a man of weight and consideration’, were turned out of Parliament ‘because he would not give up his opinions implicitly to those of Lord B. I know that a continued difference of opinion must ultimately produce such a separation, but my advice to Lord Buckingham would be to make that entirely the act of H[orner] and not his own.’ Buckingham himself disliked the idea of his ‘political protégé’ joining ‘the extreme section of opposition, which he must have done, had he given up his seat’.20

Horner thought that ‘a breach in the opposition’ could not be averted much longer, 29 Jan. 1816, and on 1 Feb. joined the attack on the Regent’s speech at the opening of the session, having previously written to warn Lord Grenville that he would do so.21 He attacked the peace treaty and referred to economic problems at home which could only be met by strict retrenchment: he did not approve of the renewal of the property tax in March. He clashed with Castlereagh on foreign affairs on 9 Feb. and deplored the high cost of the military establishment, 13 Feb., though he had spoken in favour of a national monument to commemorate Trafalgar, 5 Feb. On 14 Feb. he was given leave to bring in his Irish grand juries bill which, after being on the committee of inquiry, he had prepared the previous autumn. It was inspired by a pamphlet of Thomas Spring Rice and by his interest in the Scottish trial by jury bill. The measure succeeded ‘with ease’ despite the opposition of the Irish judges and gave Horner the modest satisfaction of doing something for Ireland: it was his last parliamentary achievement.

On 20 Feb. 1816, after an attack on Castlereagh’s nonchalance, he moved an address on treaties with foreign powers, to which he objected as the props of reactionary despotism in Europe. His friends told him that he ‘did well’: Romilly thought it ‘admirable’ and John Whishaw, the ‘Pope’ of Holland House, informed him that it established his character and station ‘not only in Parliament, but with the public’. Lord Webb Seymour was less sanguine and warned him that he was being carried away by ‘the constant society of your party friends in London’. This on 27 Mar. Horner’s reply (15 June!) was respectful, but distant. Charles Callis Western*, while he found Horner ‘as sonorous and eloquent [as ever]’ added ‘but I cannot see anything in him, say what they will, though he certainly speaks powerfully’.22

In April and May 1816 Horner sought to forestall the renewal of the Bank Restriction Act, which was, he thought, unnecessary in peacetime and only brought profit to the Bank (‘did not Bank stock rise 18 per cent when restriction was renewed?’). Despite his ‘luminous reply’ to Castlereagh’s objections, he was defeated by 146 votes to 73 and his attempt to insert a clause in the restriction bill (3 May) enjoining the resumption of cash payments after two years, failed, as did his subsequent motion requiring the Bank directors to prepare for resumption: those directors who were present (Baring and Manning) said not a word in justification. On 8 May he repeated this motion, with even less success in the division lobby. His other speeches that session were in criticism of the aliens bill, which was ‘to be used merely to expel persons who had become obnoxious to ministers’, 25 Apr.; on behalf of the Spanish Liberals now in disgrace, 27 May, and finally for ‘a speedy settlement’ of the ‘grand question’ of Catholic relief, 25 June 1816.

Lord Glenbervie reported his son Frederick as saying, 11 July 1816, that

Horner is rising above Brougham in parliamentary speaking and reputation and ... Brougham is jealous of him, in so much that when Horner has any motion announced beforehand to make, it is remarked that Brougham and his small knot of adherents do not attend ... I understand Horner has attached himself to Lord Lansdowne.

Lord Holland who believed that Horner, had he lived, would have been ‘ere long at the head of the rational friends of liberty’, thought Brougham’s conduct

unpardonable. They were of the same age, education, habits and pursuits: in capacity and application nearly equal, but in temper and disposition very unlike. Mr Horner ... promoted and rejoiced at every advancement of his friend towards distinction and celebrity. He was zealous in forwarding his interests and ready to cooperate with cordiality in maintenance of the public principles which they professed in common. [Though Horner took no part in the debates on the orders in council.] Not so Mr Brougham. He visibly estranged himself from his early friend and companion. Where a shade of difference existed, he loved to bring it out rather than soften it down, and in all dealings with or about Mr Horner showed such want of affection, that the high though gentle spirit of the other perceived it, and without stooping to any grovelling act of resentment, disdained to court a friendship which he saw he could not preserve. To others Mr Horner endeared himself more and more every day, and with the House ingratiated himself very perceptibly. Had his health, fortune and life permitted, he would soon have commanded the affections of his party, and acquired a great ascendancy in Parliament, by the variety of his attainments, the simple earnestness of his manner, the benevolence and sweetness of his disposition, and the inflexible integrity, which was as firmly rooted in his mind as it was indicated in his stern and manly, but not repulsive, countenance.23

When in 1816 Brougham reappeared at Holland House as suddenly as he had shunned it six years before, Lord Holland was provoked into the jaundiced reflexion that

his jealousy of Mr Horner had somewhat abated. I should be loath to suspect that he had even then detected the seeds of a disease which were to bring that excellent man shortly to the grave, and that foreseeing the untimely removal of his rival, he was willing to conciliate those whom he had avoided from jealousy of an early friend.

Horner had always hoped that he and Brougham would ‘approximate’ in time and Tom Grenville thought that they would meet in Rome in the winter of 1816, but this was not to be.24

Horner was never well enough to return to Parliament after being ‘plagued with a cough’ in June 1816: his doctor imagined that it was his liver complaint. He retired to Scotland to recuperate but symptoms of a ‘pulmonary affection’ appeared and he was advised to spend the winter in a warmer climate. Reluctantly, he proceeded to Pisa with his brother Leonard in October. In the few months that remained to him, complicated by problems of accommodation and conflicting medical advice, he remained mentally alert, corresponding with his friends at Holland House, expressing fears for liberty in general and hopes and misgivings about the Whig campaign in the coming session in particular. In a kind of political testament (a letter to Lord Holland of 21 Dec. 1816) he warned of ‘the dangers of concentrating on sinecures and reversions to the exclusion of more general and generous notions of constitutional liberty and foreign politics’. There were flashes of humour: he observed to his most devoted correspondent, Lady Holland, that ‘he might have fared better at Brentford than at Pisa’; and to his friend Murray he wrote that it was no good looking to Scottish lawyers for Scottish legal reform, adding, ‘This would be saucy, if I were not a bit of a lawyer myself, and if I had not in more instances than one caught myself sliding down into Westminster Hall superstitions’. (Yet he was one of the few lawyers respected in the House and there was no keener advocate of the law of Parliament against the common law.) A flurry of letters from London about the opening of the session in January 1817 stimulated him to make plans for his recovery in the spring and he died looking ahead, 8 Feb. 1817. Letters from Holland House continued to arrive at Pisa for nearly three weeks before the news reached his friends and ‘spread a gloom’.25 When Lord Morpeth, to whom Horner had asked to be remembered on 10 Jan., ‘with all the kindness and respect you know I feel for him’ moved the new writ for St. Mawes on 3 Mar., tribute was paid to him on all sides as ‘one of the greatest ornaments of his country’.

Romilly, who spoke, noted in his journal that he alone of those who paid tribute ‘had had a long and intimate friendship with him’. After recalling his ‘independence of mind’ and industry, he referred to Horner’s eloquence: it was ‘ennobled and sanctified by the great and virtuous ends to which it was uniformly directed, the protection of the oppressed, the enfranchisement of the enslaved, the advancing the best interests of the country and enlarging the sphere of human happiness’. Sir James Mackintosh wrote that ‘the short life of this excellent person is worthy of a serious contemplation: by those more especially who, in circumstances like his, enter on the slippery path of public affairs ... without the aids of birth or fortune ... he raised himself to a moral authority’.26

Sydney Smith was more particular:

Though put into Parliament by some of the great borough lords, everyone saw that he represented his own real opinions ... [He was] a general favourite with the House. They suspended for him their habitual dislike of lawyers, of political adventurers and of young men of conseederable taalents [sic] from the North ... he was an English Whig, and no more.

Smith thought it curious that Horner, who was ‘not remarkably good-tempered, nor particularly lively and agreeable: and an inflexible politician on the unpopular side’, should have gained the affection of ‘such a number of persons of both sexes, all ages, parties and ranks in society’, but put it down to

his high character for probity, honour and talents; his fine countenance, his character contrasted with that of his rival Brougham; the benevolent interest he took in the concerns of all his friends; his simple and gentleman-like manners; his untimely death.27

The ‘great borough lords’ themselves felt that Horner did them credit: Lord Buckingham remembered him as one of the ‘most talented legislators’: ‘few Members on the opposition benches were regarded with such genuine admiration and esteem as he excited in the Marquess of Buckingham and Lord Grenville, who subscribed liberally to the monument subsequently raised [in Westminster Abbey] in honour of their friend and coadjutor’. Their link with the Whigs was virtually broken by his death, as he had acted as a mediator between them. Horner carried with him, observed Sir Robert Heron*, ‘the sincere regrets of a more than ordinary proportion of his countrymen, and the professed lamentations of the rest’.28

Ref Volumes: 1790-1820

Author: R. G. Thorne


John Whishaw, ‘the Pope of Holland House’, was to have written Horner’s biography, but ‘was surprised by ill health and death’ (Sydney Smith Letters ed. N. C. Smith, ii. 759). The Horner mss at the British Lib. of Pol. and Econ. Science, L.S.E. have been cited below, but references to the published material edited by Leonard Horner in Mems. and Corresp. of Francis Horner, MP (1st ed. 1843, 2nd (Boston) ed. 1853) have usually been omitted. There is also some material in Mem. Leonard Horner ed. Lyell (1890).

  • 1. Sydney Smith Letters, i. 145; Smith’s memoir of Horner, Horner Mems. (1853), ii. 463; Mem. L. Horner, i. 1-2; Horner mss 2, f. 114.
  • 2. J. Clive. Scotch Reviewers (1957), passim; F. Whitson Fetter, Econ. Writings of F. Horner in the Edinburgh Review, 1802-6. When Horner went to Italy in 1816, Jas. Mill urged Ricardo to come into Parliament. (Works of Ricardo ed. Sraffa and Dobb, vii. 85).
  • 3. Chester New, Life of H. Brougham to 1830, pp. 10, 36; J. Clive, Scotch Reviewers, 82. Brougham later denied that he ever had ‘one minute’s estrangement’ from Horner, Brougham mss 95.
  • 4. Romilly, Mems. iii. 280; Glenbervie Diaries, ii. 37; Sydney Smith Letters, i. 102; Letters of Lady Harriet Cavendish, 148.
  • 5. Brougham mss J. 1319; Horner mss 3, ff. 23, 58, 62, 66, 165; Life of Wilberforce (1838), iii. 102.
  • 6. Horner mss 3, ff. 92, 148 (Horner was invited to edit Fox’s speeches in conjunction with Dr John Allen, but nothing came of it); 8, f. 27; Horner Mems. i. 550.
  • 7. Brougham mss, J. 1328; Sydney Smith Letters, i. 133, 145, 152; Holland, Further Mems. Whig Party, 13; Horner mss 3 (virtually all letters between May 1808 and Jan. 1809 contain references to Spain); 4, ff. 7, 12, 14.
  • 8. Gent Mag. (1817), i. 275; Brougham, Life and Times, i. 247; Chester New, 10; Holland, 256; Early Corresp. Ld. John Russell, i. 176.
  • 9. Horner mss 4, ff. 27, 44.
  • 10. Ibid. ff. 100, 130, 134, 136, 157, 174; Creevey Pprs. ed. Maxwell, i. 111.
  • 11. HMC Fortescue, x. 131; Fortescue mss; Holland, 103.
  • 12. Horner mss 4, f. 267; 8, f. 68; Ward, Letters to ‘Ivy’, 50, 108, 111.
  • 13. Ward, 118.
  • 14. Jnl. of Lady Holland, ii. 280.
  • 15. NLI, Richmond mss 65/738; Add. 42058, f. 204; Horner mss 5, ff. 5, 13.
  • 16. Horner mss 3, f.132; 5, ff. 155, 162, 170, 176, 183, 212, 246; Landsdowne mss, Horner to Lansdowne, 3 Aug. 1812.
  • 17. Lansdowne mss, Abercromby to Lansdowne, 20 Sept.; Add. 51544, Holland to Grey, 11 Oct.; Grey mss, Grey to Holland, 25 Oct. 1811, Tierney to Grey, 26 Sept., 8 Oct. 1812, n.d. [Jan. 1813]; Fortescue mss, Holland to Grenville, 1, 16 Oct., Lansdowne to Grenville, 6 Oct., Carrington to Grenville, 8 Oct. 1812; Add. 51917, Holland’s memo, 1813; Ward, 174; Brougham mss, Brougham to Grey, 25 Nov. 1812; Horner mss 5, ff. 278, 362.
  • 18. Romilly, iii. 142; Glenbervie Diaries, ii. 56; Horner mss 6, f. 75.
  • 19. Horner mss 6, f. 138; Mem. L. Horner, i. 69; Add. 51584.
  • 20. Horner mss 6, ff. 192-6, 204, 235, 247, 261, 263, 297; Buckingham, Regency, ii. 114, 117; HMC Fortescue, x. 409.
  • 21. Fortescue mss.
  • 22. Pope of Holland House ed. Lady Seymour, 144; Romilly, iii. 220; Creevey Pprs. i. 251. Sir Walter Scott likewise compared Horner to the parish bull in Tristram Shandy —in no way equal to his work, but admirable because he went through it with a grave face, Lockhart, Scott (1837), ii. 158.
  • 23. Glenbervie Diaries, ii. 165; Holland, 45, 256.
  • 24. Holland, 234; HMC Fortescue, x. 417.
  • 25. Mem. L. Horner, i. 96; Horner mss 7, ff. 225, 248, 251, 256; Creevey Pprs. i. 278.
  • 26. Romilly, iii. 280; Horner Mems. ii. 458; Mackintosh Mems. ii. 344.
  • 27. Horner Mems. ii. 463; Sydney Smith Letters, i. 278.
  • 28. Buckingham, ii. 186; Pope of Holland House, 167; Heron, Notes (1851), 81.