AGAR ELLIS, Hon. George James Welbore (1797-1833), of 8 Spring Gardens, Mdx.
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Family and Educationb. 14 Jan. 1797,1 o.s. of Henry Welbore Agar† (afterwards Ellis), 2nd Visct. Clifden [I] and 2nd Bar. Mendip [GB], and Lady Caroline Spencer, da. of George, 4th duke of Marlborough. educ. private sch. at Ealing, Mdx. 1806; Westminster 1811; Christ Church, Oxf. 1814; continental tour 1817-18. m. 7 Mar. 1822, Georgiana, da. of George Howard, Visct. Morpeth†, 4s. 3da. cr. Bar. Dover 20 June 1831. d.v.p. 10 July 1833.
PC 22 Nov. 1830; chief commr. woods, forests and land revenues Dec. 1830-Feb. 1831.
In 1819 Maria Edgeworth described Agar Ellis as ‘very clever and very conceited’: he ‘bites his fingers from vexation when he is not talking’.2 Lady Spencer considered him an ‘excessive ... coxcomb’, noted for his ‘apeish conceit and effeminate grimaces’, whose ‘mind and acquirements are washy and superficial’.3 The heir to two peerage titles and 40,000 acres in county Kilkenny, he had, as Greville later wrote, ‘obtained early the reputation of being a prodigy of youthful talent and information’;4 and, modelling himself on Horace Walpole, he cut a conspicuous figure in fashionable society. On 8 Feb. 1820 he told his friend Ralph Sneyd:
I am in a great state of hurry and business ... about the election, the price of boroughs, etc. I have just rejected propositions from the county of Kilkenny, and the city of Dublin, and two projects against Oxford and Northampton, and am looking out for a seat devoid of constituents.
In the event he bought a seat for Seaford. After his election (during which he was based at Brighton, where he dismissed George IV’s ‘new unfinished Moorish palace’ as ‘the most absurd trumpery thing I ever saw’) he went to Lord Shrewsbury’s place at Heythrop, Oxfordshire to ‘meet la belle Marquise [Lady Worcester], there to conclude, I hope, the material part of our roman of last winter’.5
Although Agar Ellis had joined Brooks’s Club in 1816 and was an habitué of high Whig society, he had generally voted with government in his first Parliament. In January 1820 he was reported to have ‘gone over to the opposition’,6 but there was no evidence of this during the ensuing session, when he was sworn in on 21 Apr. and took his seat next day. He did not vote in the division on Brougham’s motion on the droits of admiralty, 5 May, and on the 8th divided with government against the opposition motion for inquiry into the civil list. ‘Bored’ by the debate on the additional Scottish baron of exchequer, 15 May, he went home ‘early’. He voted with ministers to restrict the remit of the agricultural distress select committee to the corn averages, 31 May. On his way to dinner at Cleveland House, 6 June, he saw Queen Caroline, who had just arrived in London, in her ‘open landau’ with alderman Matthew Wood*. He attended the debate on Wilberforce’s compromise resolution on the queen’s affair, 22 June, but did not stay for the division. In August Lord Holland’s son Henry Edward Fox*, dining with Agar Ellis and several prominent Whigs, including the aged Lord Erskine, was
amused to see how cheap Ellis held all Lord E. said. Such is the odious self-sufficiency of the present generation, who, having neither genius nor sense among them all, though they most likely have more erudition, think they surpass their predecessors. I wish Ellis a longer life than his reputation, which is now in the last stage of a consumption.7
He was in the Lords when the attorney-general opened the case against the queen, 19 Aug. In the Commons, 18 Sept., he witnessed the ‘angry talking among the montagne of the opposition’ and voted with ministers for the adjournment.8 A month later he reflected that they were ‘foolish’ to press on with the prosecution, ‘though her defence has certainly done much for her’. He was ‘ill and suffering’ for part of that month, but his kinswoman Lady Granville admired his ‘most unconquerable sweetness of temper, which gives him the power of rising above digestion’.9 On 10 Nov. he called at Brandenburgh House and ‘wrote my name down for the queen’, because ‘she ... has been ill-treated’, ‘because the charges against her have not been proved’ and ‘because I go to the king’s court, and I therefore consider it but fair to go to his wife’s also’. Later that day he heard Lord Liverpool announce the withdrawal of the bill of pains and penalties. He was in the Commons for the ‘comical but disgraceful’ scene which marked the prorogation, 23 Nov. 1820. At the end of the year he thought the government, on the defensive over the queen’s case, would ‘not go out but proceed languidly with small majorities’.10 He divided against them on the omission of her name from the liturgy, 23, 26 Jan. (after an ‘intolerably stupid’ debate), 13 Feb., but did not vote in the division on the opposition censure motion, 6 Feb. 1821, having been tormented by ‘great violence’ of nocturnal diarrhoea on the 3rd and 4th. He divided to allocate Grampound’s seats to Yorkshire as a proposal more likely to find favour with the Lords than a transfer to Leeds, 12 Feb., but came away without voting from the debate on the Allies’ suppression of the liberal regime in Naples, 21 Feb. Next day he met Sir Walter Scott, ‘who was agreeable, but his Scotch accent is detestable’. He braved more bowel derangement to vote for Catholic relief, 28 Feb., but agreed on 1 Mar. to pair off with Lord Ancram for the committee on the issue and went to the duke of Bedford’s at Woburn Abbey for a few days. He ‘paired on the side of government with A[lexander] Baring’ for the division on the army estimates, 12 Mar., but stayed to vote against reductions, thinking that ‘these are no times for leaving ourselves defenceless’, 14 Mar. He was in the majorities for the Catholic relief bill, 16, 23, 26, 27 Mar., 2 Apr. (the third reading). He ‘voted with government’ against repeal of the additional malt duty, 3 Apr., but paired in favour of Lord John Russell’s parliamentary reform scheme, 9 May. Two days later he was upset by the untimely death of Lady Worcester, but he was relieved to be assured by Greville that his letters to her had, like all her papers, been ‘destroyed by her particular desire’, as he had been ‘sadly afraid of their getting into the hands’ of her husband’s family. He voted for criminal law reform, 23 May, and to omit arrears from the duke of Clarence’s grant, which he considered the epitome of ‘swindling’, 18 June. He was said to be ‘very jealous’ of the success of Lord Titchfield’s speech attacking ministers, 27 June 1821, behind which many thought they perceived the influence of his uncle Canning, with whom Agar Ellis seems to have been linked at this point.11 He was on the continent from 18 July to 26 Oct. 1821, and returned home from Turin on learning that his paternal aunt had died.12
According to Greville’s not quite accurate later account:
After running about the world for a few years he resolved to marry, and as his heart had nothing to do with this determination, he pitched upon a daughter of the duke of Beaufort, who he thought would suit his purpose, and confer upon him a very agreeable family connection. Being on a tour in the north, he intend to finish it at Badminton, and there to propose to Lady Georgiana Somerset, with full assurance that he should not be rejected; but having stopped for a few days [in December 1821] at Lord Carlisle’s at Castle Howard, he there found a girl who spared him the trouble of going any further, and ... he proposed [on the 13th] ... to Lord Morpeth’s second daughter ... There never was a less romantic attachment or more business-like engagement, nor was there ever a more fortunate choice or a happier union.13
Fox was ‘sincerely glad and greatly surprised’, for he ‘never should have thought ... [Agar Ellis’s] fantastical notions would ever have been satisfied with anything so simple and devoid of pretensions’.14 Fox’s friend John Stuart Wortley* was initially ‘sorry’ for Georgiana, doubting that Agar Ellis, who had certainly done well for himself in acquiring ‘a very nice wife and excellent connection’, would ‘make a good husband’. Fox persuaded him to give Agar Ellis the benefit of the doubt:
I agree with you in thinking him provoking and tiresome in society as to the external, and had formed a bad idea of him from what I had seen and ... heard as to the internal, but ... if he has as much good in him as I have earnest desire ... to find it, I shall not hold the opinion long.15
In fact Agar Ellis’s diary suggests that he was genuinely happy at being accepted by his 17-year-old fiancée, who ‘seems to me to possess every perfection and every agreement one could wish for in a wife: handsome, instructed, intelligent, and sufficiently gay, with I believe the very best principles’. Greville went on:
Soon after his marriage, Ellis, who had never been vicious or profligate, but who was free from anything like severity or austerity, began to show symptoms of a devout propensity ... and appeared in considerable danger of falling into the gulf of Methodism; but this turn did not last long, and ... after a little while he threw off his short-lived sanctity, and resumed his worldly habits and irreverent language, for he was always a loose talker.
Yet in February 1832 Greville referred to Agar Ellis as ‘a sort of semi-or pseudo-saint, who won’t dine out of a Sunday, goes regularly to church and can bale out religious talk by pails full, though it is so much mixed up worldliness that his mind is a galimatias of sanctity and profaneness, of profligacy and politics’.16 Joseph Jekyll† noted in December 1830 that Agar Ellis was said to be ‘tinctured with Methodism’, though he thought his piety was ‘frequently misinterpreted’.17
He attended the first day of the 1822 session, 5 Feb., but left before the division on Burdett’s ‘foolish’ amendment to the address. He was present to hear the details of the ministerial proposals for retrenchment and relief for the landed interest, which he considered to be variously ‘insufficient’ and ‘perfectly useless and absurd’, 15 Feb. He had conceived ‘a plan ... for forming a small independent party in the House of Commons, for the purpose of watching over the interests of the country, and guarding alike against ministers and opposition, who are too apt to run counter to them, the former in trying to keep and the latter in trying to get places’. He first spoke of it to Titchfield, ‘who approved’. Titchfield’s uncle Lord William Henry Cavendish Bentinck and Charles Baring Wall showed an interest, and there was a notion of trying to recruit the conservative Whig William Lamb. Nothing concrete seems to have come of the venture. After his marriage in early March, which cemented his social ties with the Whigs (the duke of Devonshire ‘fitted up a very good apartment’ in his London residence for the couple to occupy until they moved into a newly rented home in Spring Gardens), Agar Ellis was presented at the hot and stinking levee by his father-in-law on 19 Apr., when he was ‘jammed in the crowd for near an hour between Earls Grosvenor and Derby, which was not amusing’. He was in the House for the ‘dull’ debate on the state of Ireland, 22 Apr. He voted in the minority of 164 for Russell’s parliamentary reform motion, 25 Apr. Five days later he ‘very shortly’ seconded Canning’s motion to relieve Catholic peers of their disabilities: he ‘got over it better than I expected’. He voted against government for abolition of one of the joint-postmasterships, 2 May, when he ‘got up once to speak for it, but the Speaker not calling me, I thought hardly worth while to try again’. Titchfield urged him to move the motion against Henry Williams Wynn’s† embassy to the Swiss cantons, but he declined. He did, however, vote for it when Warre proposed it, 16 May, having been in the minority to reduce diplomatic expenditure the previous day. He attended the select committee on Irish grand jury presentments, 10 May, but the ‘botherheaded’ Irish members of it impeded progress. Later that day he divided for the second reading of the peers’ relief bill. He presented Irish petitions against illicit distillation, 7 June. He attended for the debate on Western’s motion for inquiry into the currency settlement of 1819, 11, 12 June, but ‘was so unwell and tired’ that he had to go home at midnight; had he stayed he would have ‘gone with the minority’ for the motion. He was supervising the furnishing of his house for much of June, but he attended the Commons occasionally and voted for inquiry into the lord advocate’s dealings with the Scottish press, 25 June. He moved into Spring Gardens the following day. He voted for repeal of the salt duty, 28 June. On 13 July 1822 he and Georgiana had a ‘very rough’ passage to Calais on their way to Belgium and Holland. There he learned of the suicide of the foreign secretary Lord Londonderry*, which ‘proof of the nothingness of human grandeurs’ and of ‘the sad effects which disappointment and chagrin may have on a mind in which religion is not uppermost’ shocked him. (He acknowledged Londonderry’s ‘many redeeming virtues and good qualities’.) Croker named him as one of the Members who would follow Canning into opposition if his negotiations with government ended in failure.18
Canning of course replaced Londonderry, but from 1823 Agar Ellis, who was privately contemptuous of some of Canning’s junior appointments, acted mostly, if somewhat spasmodically, with the Whig opposition. On his 26th birthday he wrote in his diary:
A more unprofitable life than mine has hitherto been I can hardly conceive. I make resolutions of activity and amendment for the morrow, and when that morrow comes they are forgotten. Without the grace of God in all things ... we can in truth do nothing. For that I pray, not as fervently or as frequently as I ought, but at least with humility, and a sense of my own utter unworthiness. Have mercy on me, wretched sinner that I am, O Heavenly Father, I beseech thee for the sake of thy ever blessed Son.
He signed Lord King’s requisition for a Surrey county reform meeting, thinking that without reform ‘little good can be done with the House of Commons’; but on 18 Jan. he ‘begged’ Henry Grey Bennet* to ‘soften as much as he could’ King’s resolutions so that they might gain the approval of the Tory Lord Ellenborough, who was minded to attend. Agar Ellis liked Brougham’s ‘good abusive speech’ against the Holy Alliance on the address, 4 Feb. He voted for Russell’s unsuccessful motion for information on the borough franchises, 20 Feb., reflecting that it was a scandal that the Commons should ‘make it a principle to conceal what ought to be known to all men’. He divided in the ‘great minority’ of 169 for Russell’s reform motion, 24 Apr., and for Hamilton’s motion for reform of the Scottish county representation, for which ‘a stronger case I never heard’, 2 June. He gave his name as a steward to the City dinner for the Spanish ambassador, but ‘only ... upon a clear understanding that I was not therefore pledged to support any project for going to war [with France] in favour of the Spaniards’. He divided in Hume’s minority of 62 for inquiry into the Irish church establishment, 4 Mar. He thought the ministerial plan for the commutation of Irish tithes promised to be ‘a good one’, 6 Mar., and he presented Kilkenny petitions for a commutation, 14 Apr., and for Catholic relief, 16 Apr., when he divided for repeal of the Foreign Enlistment Act. He judged Canning to have ‘made out a fair case of honesty’, but ‘at the expense of his discernment and that of his colleagues’, regarding their mediation between France and Spain, 14 Apr. He witnessed the ‘strange bear garden scene’ in the Commons, 17 Apr., when Brougham and Canning exchanged insults over their conduct on the Catholic question. On 22 Apr. he was in the largely ministerial minority against inquiry by committee of the whole House into the legal proceedings against the Dublin Orange rioters, preferring a straight prosecution of the sheriff; the subsequent protracted investigation disgusted him. He attended the debate on the Irish tithes bill, 16 May, and assisted in ‘fighting it through committee’, 30 May, 6 June; but on the 16th (two days after straining his groin, to which he had four leeches applied) he moved a wrecking amendment to the measure, having been disappointed in his hopes of seeing its objectionable features modified and now considering it ‘a gross delusion upon the people of Ireland’:
In his opinion nothing could be conceived much worse than the conduct of ... ministers this year with regard to Ireland. They began the session with the most flattering promises of amelioration of system ... [but] he would prophesy that at the end of the session, the only boon they would send over to his unhappy countrymen would be the new Insurrection Act.
His amendment was beaten by 51-36. After enduring a ‘stupid and tedious’ debate, he voted for inquiry into the currency, 12 June. On 9 July he helped his father to concoct an amendment for the Lords to insert a compulsory clause, which was rejected by 34-11. He divided for inquiry into the ‘enormous’ coronation expenses, 19 June, and against the Irish insurrection bill, 24 June. The previous day he, Titchfield and Cavendish Bentinck met and ‘concerted measures for uniting next session, voting together, and supporting one another’. He listened to Brougham’s motion on the biased administration of justice in Ireland, 26 June 1823, but ‘did not stay to vote, not approving much of the nature of the motion nor of the time chosen for bringing it on’. Having been persuaded by his father to abandon his plan to visit disturbed Ireland, he and his wife went instead to Scotland in August. They visited Owen’s model community at New Lanark, which impressed them, and made their way at the end of the month to Dunrobin in Sutherland, where they were entertained by Georgiana’s sister Harriet and her husband Earl Gower†. They went on an excursion into Caithness. Agar Ellis seemed to enjoy himself, but Stuart Wortley surmised that he ‘must be bored’.19 In early October Sydney Smith reported that he ‘looks very ill, he has a naturally bad constitution, is enuied and blasé and vexed that he cannot produce any progeny’.20 (In fact Agar Ellis fathered seven children in 11 years.) He was in better health by 11 Dec. 1823, when he chaired a London meeting of the committee set up to organize a subscription for ‘the unhappy Spanish refugees’.
Another attack of diarrhoea kept him from church on 19 Jan. 1824. Next day he had ‘a long conversation’ with Sir John Newport* on the state of Ireland, for whose prospects both despaired. He attended the Commons, 3, 4, 6 Feb., when he persuaded ministers to furnish some papers concerning the Irish tithes bill. On the 16th he had a talk with a despondent William Wilberforce* about the condition of the West Indian colonies. He did not divide on Lord Nugent’s ‘foolish’ motion on Spain, 17 Feb., and he was similarly unimpressed by Russell’s on the evacuation of Spain by the French, 18 Mar. He said ‘a few words’ in support of Grattan’s call for returns of Catholic office-holders in Ireland, 19 Feb. He thought ministers were in ‘error’ in not reducing the assessed taxes, 23 Feb., was impressed by Williams’s exposition of chancery delays, 24 Feb., and voted for reform of Edinburgh’s representation, 26 Feb., and the charge of breach of privilege against lord chancellor Eldon, 1 Mar. He was shaken by Titchfield’s untimely death on 5 Mar. He was baffled by the Irish secretary Goulburn’s ‘explanation’ of his ‘proposed amendments’ to the Tithes Act, 9 Mar. He paired off in favour of the game bill, 11 Mar., and attended Titchfield’s funeral in Marylebone churchyard, 13 Mar., before going to a meeting of ‘slave trade abolitionists at Wilberforce’s lodgings in Downing Street’. He presented anti-slavery petitions, 15 Mar., and next day attended the debate on Canning’s ‘very ingenious plan for amelioration of the condition of the slaves’. He attended a public meeting on amelioration, where ‘we talked a good deal, but arranged nothing’, 1 May. He presented a petition against the proposal to remove the bounties on linen, 22 Mar., when he unsuccessfully urged ministers to defer the scheme for ten years to safeguard the coarse linen trade. He voted three times against the aliens bill, 23 Mar., before seconding a successful motion for inquiry into ‘the possibility of altering or pulling down the hideous building which Soane, under the sanction of the board of works, has just erected in Palace Yard, shouldering the beautiful front of Westminster Hall’. He was much occupied with the committee’s proceedings in the next few weeks; its report was completed on 14 May. He voted for reform of the Scottish judiciary, 30 Mar. 1824. On 1 July 1823 he had defended the trustees of the British Museum against Croker’s ‘ill natured’ attack, drawn attention to the forthcoming sale of the Angerstein picture collection and announced his intention of proposing a grant of public money for its purchase as the basis of a national gallery. Government acted on his suggestion and offered a sum of £60,000, 2 Apr. 1824, for which he expressed his thanks in the House. He became one of the trustees of the gallery and devoted much time to its development. He did not divide to postpone the grant for Windsor Castle repairs, 5 Apr., ‘being for the grant, but against the appointment of the commission who are to superintend the application of it’. On 30 Apr. he agreed with his father to ‘send a civil negative’ to an invitation to stand for county Kilkenny at the next general election ‘on the plea of the time likely to elapse’ before a dissolution. He voted in the minority of 33 for capital investment in Ireland, 4 May, and inquiry into its church, 6 May; paired for repeal of the assessed taxes, 10 May, and inquiry into the state of Ireland, 11 May (having addressed the London Hibernian Society on proselytizing and educating the Irish poor three days earlier), and supported a call for repeal of the Tithes Composition Act, 17 May. At the Spanish refugee committee’s meeting, 27 May, he welcomed the news that government was willing to assist financially. He voted in condemnation of the trial of the Methodist missionary John Smith in Demerara, 11 June. At a meeting of the Anti-Slavery Society, 25 June, he moved a resolution but had to leave early, feeling ‘tired and unwell’; he duly had ‘an attack in my bowels during the night’. On 19 July 1824 he left London with his pregnant wife to go to Ireland via Holyhead, and arrived in Dublin on the 22nd. He had interviews and talks with the viceroy Lord Wellesley, Goulburn and other official men before moving on to his father’s estate in Kilkenny, where he had discussions with agents and neighbours about encouraging manufactures ‘for the employment of the poor ... the only method ... of keeping them quiet’ and the possibility of calling a county meeting to petition for tithes reform. The question of his declaring himself for the county at the next election was again raised, but he stuck to his earlier line of ‘not pledging ourselves as yet to any particular line of conduct’. He was fêted on a visit to Callan, 17 Aug., but had an upset stomach next day as a result. The Agar Ellises reached Holyhead on 9 Sept. He believed that Canning was trying in October to have Wellesley replaced in Ireland by Lord Bristol and installed as prime minister. On 17 Dec. 1824 he went to another public meeting on behalf of the ‘unhappy Spanish and Italian refugees’, who were ‘again entirely destitute’, and was ‘well satisfied’ with the immediate subscription of £1,100 and the promise of government aid. He was a member of the committee on Frederick Trench’s* scheme for the development of the north bank of the Thames between the Strand and Blackfriars, though he privately doubted its practicability.
Agar Ellis was plagued by recurrent headaches in February 1825. He nevertheless attended the House with fair regularity, voting against the Irish unlawful societies bill, 15 Feb., and presenting a Kilkenny petition against it, 21 Feb., when he was introduced to Daniel O’Connell*, ‘a man of pleasing and mild manners’. A new and ‘sensible’ doctor, who had ‘a great reputation for the cure of stomach complaints ... did not promise too much, but thought he could do me good’. However, his health remained indifferent throughout this session. His first child, a son, was born on 25 Feb. He divided for Catholic relief, 1 Mar. Mrs. Arbuthnot found it
quite disgusting to hear men like Lord Fitzwilliam and Mr. Agar Ellis giving £10 to the Catholic rent and holding forth upon the oppressions and miseries of Ireland, while they yearly draw thousands from Ireland and think they do great things by devoting a few pounds of their enormous wealth to charities which ... do no good.21
He attended ‘a meeting of the friends of the Catholic claims at Burdett’s, where we talked a good deal, and very little to the purpose’, 19 Mar., and on the 26th agreed with Newport and Burdett that the relief bill and the associated security measures would ‘all fail in consequence of the foolish dissensions of the Whigs’. A ‘violent’ headache forced him to leave the House and pair for the second reading of the relief bill, 21 Apr., but he divided for the Irish franchise bill, 26 Apr. He paired, unwell, for the proposal to pay the Irish Catholic clergy, 29 Apr. He had ‘very bad’ nights ‘with much vomiting ... and sharp diarrhoea’, 7, 8 May, but went to the Commons for the third reading of the relief bill, 10 May, only to be forced by a headache to pair. He supported Trench’s Thames Quay bill, 15 Mar. He was present to vote against ‘that shameful job’, the duke of Cumberland’s annuity, 9 June, having paired against it on the 6th. On 13 July 1825 he and Georgiana, went to Paris, where his health improved, as he informed Lady Holland, 1 Aug.:
One dines and dawdles, and goes to bed at 11, which I own to be my idea of happiness ...Change of air has done me a world of good ... I am become a perfect salamander, and not only bear the hot weather, but like it, and think myself the better for it.22
Lady Granville had this to say of him at that time:
He has many good and amiable qualities, and does and will improve every day. He is a very great addition to society ... With all this he would be very much astonished if he knew that I think his understanding the weak part of him. He has a wonderful memory, a very cheerful and very busy mind, and his education has been, by himself chiefly, trés soigné; but it is his judgement that fails, and the calibre of his mind is not above being actuated and governed by a hundred little motives. In short, make him a cleverer man, and he would be everything one could wish. At the same time I think him much better and more amiable in fact than in appearance, and an infinitely pleasanter and gayer companion than many cleverer men. He adores her, but his fault en ménage is keeping her back in spirits, conversation, and importance, not by any active measure, but by a habit of never having in society the least consideration, deference, or delicacy of feeling towards anybody. I think that is the great péché in his character, and it exasperates his enemies and depresses his friends.23
Eleanor, the wife of John Fazakerley*, told Fox, 7 Aug.:
I like ... [Georgiana]. Without ever certainly saying anything remarkable, she seems sensible and very amiable ... He is so provokingly affected and full of pretensions of being so much cleverer than he is, that one cannot help being inclined to dispute his merits, yet he is very conversible and I got on well with him on the whole.24
The Agar Ellises returned to London on 7 Sept. A fortnight later he talked to an agent ‘about getting me a seat in Parliament at the next election’. In November he hosted a meeting of the Thames Quay Company at which it was agreed to send a deputation to the prime minister to request a government subsidy to the tune of £35,000 a year. After a talk with Lord Dudley, 7 Dec. 1825, he reflected that ‘the conduct of Canning and his way of carrying on the affairs of the government do appear to me so commendable, that I have serious thoughts of giving him my support’.
He attended the debate on the address, 2 Feb. 1826. He ‘sat six hours without budging’ through the debate of 10 Feb. on the government’s measures to meet the financial crisis, which, as he told Sneyd, ‘must be supported stoutly’, even though he thought they did not go far enough:
This I inculcate vigorously, and the more so, because the continuance of the improved system of trade and commerce do mainly depend upon the present success of the cabinet. I mean the liberal part of the cabinet, for the other wretches, who are now taking advantage of the present distress and clamour to overthrow ‘the good men and true’, and return to the good old times of narrow minded illiberal policy, under the guidance of Eldon, Westmorland and Co., deserve no quarter.25
He duly voted with ministers in the division of 13 Feb. He liked the president of the board of trade Huskisson’s ‘admirable exposé’ of the government’s intention to persevere with ‘improved principles of trade and commerce in spite of clamour’, 23 Feb. Though ‘no Whig myself’, as he told Lady Holland, 10 Mar., he congratulated her on the prospect of her son taking his ‘proper place’ among ‘that respectable body’.26 He paired for Denman’s condemnation of the Jamaican slave trials, 2 Mar. He thought the chancellor Robinson’s budget statement was ‘upon the whole satisfactory’, 13 Mar. He was busy in April on the select committee on the Charing Cross improvement bill and in May on that for enhancing the accommodation of the Commons. He also helped to organize a ball to raise money for the Spanish refugees. He voted for Russell’s parliamentary reform scheme, 27 Apr., but on 8 May ‘divided with Huskisson against the country gentlemen on his proposed measure of letting in a certain quantity of corn at a duty’. He paired off in favour of Brougham’s motion for ameliorating the condition of slaves, 19 May. After contemplating standing for various seats, including Boston, Leominster and Honiton, he settled for buying a seat for Ludgershall from Sir Sandford Graham* at the 1826 general election.
He was sworn in for the new Parliament on 14 Nov. 1826. A few days later James Abercromby* gave him ‘a frightful account of the immense power of the priests in Ireland since the last election’, and he reckoned that the state of things there was now ‘so bad, that the passing of the Catholic question can never remedy it, though of course from motives of justice it ought to be passed the very first thing of all’. In the debate on the answer to the king’s message announcing ‘our being at variance with Spain on account of her interference in the affairs of Portugal’, 12 Dec. 1826, he found Canning ‘tolerably pacific’, but ‘the House ... on all sides dreadfully warlike’. He presented petitions for Catholic relief, 14 Feb. On the 16th he divided in the ministerial majority for enlarging the Clarences’ allowance to £38,500 a year, thinking it ‘but a reasonable grant’ for a man who was in effect heir apparent to the throne. Next day he was ‘very sorry’ to learn of Liverpool’s disabling stroke, which he conceived ‘must be his political death’. He heard Canning explain his corn law proposal, which he considered ‘a good one’, though still too protective, 1 Mar. The following day, anticipating the debate on Burdett’s Catholic relief motion, he appealed to its ‘blind opponents’ in the Lords not to obstruct the only measure which could rescue Ireland from ‘an awful crisis’. He was in the pro-Catholic minority, 6 Mar., and got home at five in the morning. He voted with government against reducing the duty on wheat imports, 9 Mar. He presented Irish petitions against the Vestry Act, 13 Mar., and for subsidized emigration, 18 May. He went to the House to support Newport’s motion against Irish Catholics being obliged to pay for the rebuilding of Protestant churches, 3 Apr., but ministers made concessions and it was dropped. He asked questions in the House about the site of the national gallery, 9 Apr. He had agreed with Sneyd, 6 Mar., that ‘a government entirely under the direction and management of the Right Honourable George Iscariot Canning is by no means to be wished’, and when the House broke up for Easter on 12 Apr. he reflected that there was now ‘a prime minister without a government’ after two months of the reverse.27 On 16 Apr., when Canning was struggling to form a ministry, Agar Ellis asked his father-in-law (now Lord Carlisle) to
let Mr. Canning know from me that as an individual ... I am perfectly ready and prepared to support Mr. Canning’s government upon this ground - that a man who has broken up and crushed the high Tory party deserves to be supported and to be enabled to carry the work he has so happily commenced into execution. I have never been connected with any party, and I therefore speak of course only my own feelings.28
He hoped that many Whigs would back Canning, as it was ‘important for the country that the Tories should be crushed once for all’, though he disclaimed to Lady Jersey any interested motives, as he ‘preferred voting alone to anything else’.29 On 20 Apr. he ‘received from Canning a note of thanks for my promised support’. He was pleased when Canning’s coalition with the Lansdowne Whigs, in which Carlisle took office, was ‘well and rightly settled’ at the end of the month. He was in the House for the ‘amusing and interesting’ debates on the ministerial changes, 1, 3 May, and Gascoyne’s abortive motion for inquiry into the shipping interest, 7 May. He thought Canning’s budget statement was ‘clearly, candidly and well done’, 1 June, and he voted in the ministerial majority on the bonded corn resolutions, 18 June. He toured Hampshire, Dorset, Devon and Cornwall in August, and was at Mount Edgcumbe when news of Canning’s death arrived.30 He travelled into Somerset and Gloucestershire and made his way to Chatsworth, and thence to Middleton and Cassiobury and back to London. He supported the Lansdowne Whigs’ continuance in office under Lord Goderich, and from the ministry solicited (as he had from Canning) the offer of a British earldom to his father, ‘entirely as a favour to myself’. Carlisle thought he might instead be called to the Lords, but this notion did not appeal; and Lansdowne observed to Carlisle that the application would carry more weight once Lord Clifden had acquired a ‘considerable landed property in England’, for he only possessed a villa at Roehampton.31 On 17 Oct. 1827 Agar Ellis called on Goderich ‘to talk to him about Sneyd’s coming into Parliament’ and his own application for the renewal of the lease on Marlborough House, which was threatened with demolition. Like Holland and Brougham, he rejoiced at the destruction of the Turkish fleet at Navarino and was anxious to rally Whig support for the government on the issue.32 He blamed the collapse of the Goderich ministry on the ‘incapacity’ of the premier and the king’s ‘injudiciousness’ in putting ‘such a goose’ at its head.33 He initially feared a return under the duke of Wellington to ‘the ancient bondage of the Tories’, and was disgusted with the ‘base and disgraceful’ conduct of Huskisson and the other leading Canningites in joining his ministry, which he saw an act of ‘treachery’ to Canning. (Agar Ellis was chairman of the committee set up to organize the erection of a memorial to him.) He reflected on 22 Jan. 1828 that ‘it may perhaps turn out a good government after all, but its origin has been a foul one’. His friend Charles Bertie Percy* reported to Sneyd that he was ‘disgruntled’, having ‘taken his line too decidedly under the last government to sit at the easy distance from both parties, which suited his taste’.34
Agar Ellis thought the new ministers in the Lords, especially Dudley and Ellenborough, ‘looked foolish’ and ‘ashamed of themselves’, 29 Jan. 1828. He presented petitions for Catholic relief, 6, 20 Feb., 17 Mar., and voted accordingly after ‘a very tedious debate’, 12 May. On 7 Feb. he was lost in admiration of Brougham’s ‘wonderful speech’ for reform of the courts of justice. He deemed the finance committee appointed by government ‘a mere job’, 15 Feb. He voted in the majority for repeal of the Test Acts (‘a great triumph’), 26 Feb. On 17 Mar. he presented but dissented from a petition for repeal of the Subletting Act, which he thought required only minor adjustments. He voted for the transfer of East Retford’s seats to Birmingham, 21 Mar., and later that day was named to the select committee on public works, in which he was keenly interested: he closely questioned Arbuthnot, commissioner of woods and forests, about Nash’s plans for the parks, which worried him, 24 Mar. He soon became aware that ‘there is no control over the taste of public buildings, and very little over the money expended on them’, and attributed the king’s coolness to him at the levee, 27 Mar., to his impertinence in raising questions about the parks. Yielding to the wishes of Lord Ormonde, and ‘against my better judgement’, he went to the House on 6 May to ‘fight’ for the controversial Callan enclosure bill, only for it to be overturned by the opposition of Ormonde’s brother Butler Clarke. He voted for the provision for Canning’s family, 13 May, and again for the transfer of East Retford’s seats to Birmingham, 19 May. He was ‘very sorry’ for the resignation of the Huskissonites from the government, fearing ‘we shall go farther and fare worse’; but he frankly told the wavering Dudley that he must in honour go out with his associates. He wondered whether ‘such a government, so utterly without talent’ could ‘exist merely by the firmness and strong volition of its head’. He attended the last meeting of the public works committee which ‘finally agreed’ to the report, 12 June: he thought it ‘still contains some good things, though it has been considerably altered for the worse’. He divided for Hume’s second amendment to the archbishop of Canterbury’s registrar bill, ‘a job’, 16 June; but he went away without voting on Taylor’s motion censuring the expenditure on Buckingham House, 23 June, thinking that government had been ‘clearly authorized’ to use surplus money of the French claims. He arrived in the House ‘just in time’ to vote to reduce the salary of the lieutenant-general of the ordnance, 4 July. On 8 and 12 July he presided at public meetings which he and some associates had called for the purpose of forming a society ‘for improving the condition of the lower order of tenantry and of the labouring population of Ireland, by introducing something of the system of the poor colonies of Holland’. He sailed with his wife to Calais on 22 July 1828, and they travelled to Italy, where in Florence they met Henry Fox, who wrote:
She is grown duller and uglier than she was some years ago. Agar, instead of improving, as it always used to be said he would, appears to me to have grown even more affected and insufferable than of yore.35
His eyes were badly affected by the sun. He ‘glazed them in green goggles, after the most approved manner’, but the problem continued to plague him on his return to England in November 1828 and during the following month, when he was kept ‘almost a close prisoner to the house’ at Roehampton.36 He sent to the home secretary Peel a memorial from the Mechanical Chimney Sweeping Society calling for the supercession of climbing boys, a subject on which he continued privately to press for government action during the following year.37
On learning of the recall of the Irish viceroy Lord Anglesey, Agar Ellis, who had a one-sided conversation with the king about the royal parks at Windsor in January 1829,38 commented that Wellington ‘is getting himself into a thousand scrapes, which would not signify, only that he drags us in after him’. He thought the appointment of the ‘bigotted’ duke of Northumberland as Anglesey’s successor a ‘wretched’ one, but he was ‘very much delighted’ to hear confirmation in the House, 5 Feb., of the government’s intention to concede Catholic emancipation, though he considered the proposal to suppress the Catholic Association ‘foolish’, as it would ‘naturally die of itself’: ‘It is indeed a great and glorious day for Ireland’.39 When Peel introduced the suppression bill, 10 Feb., however, Agar Ellis thought he ‘made out a very satisfactory case for his measure, which is a much less violent one than was expected’. He called on O’Connell, 12 Feb., and suspected that he was ‘not very happy at the tranquil passing of the Catholic question, which must necessarily throw him into obscurity’. He was at a meeting which passed resolutions in support of Peel’s re-election for Oxford University, 14 Feb., worked subsequently on the London committee and went to Oxford to cast his vote, 26 Feb. Next day he presented petitions for emancipation and against the Vestry and Subletting Acts. Peel’s statement of the details of emancipation, which was ‘most ample, and only clogged with some little regulations of no moment’, 5 Mar., made him ‘very happy’, and he duly voted for the bill next day. At his local vestry, 10 Mar., he helped to thwart a move to petition the Commons against emancipation. He voted for the second reading of the relief bill, 18 Mar., and the following day declared his support for the disfranchisement of the Irish 40s. freeholders: as ‘a radical reformer’, he viewed it as ‘decidedly a measure of reform’, and argued that if that franchise was allowed to continue after the passage of emancipation, Ireland ‘never would be a peacable, happy, or prosperous country’. He divided in the large majority against Lord Duncannon’s amendment to the disfranchisement bill, 20 Mar., voted several times for details of the relief bill, 23, 24 Mar., and divided for the report, 27 Mar., and the third reading, 30 Mar. He was at the City dinner in honour of Peel, 8 Apr. He secured the second reading of a new ‘tiresome’ Callan enclosure bill, 10 Apr., presented petitions in its favour, 4 May, and endured argumentative committee sittings on it, 7, 8 May. He was obliged to put off bringing up the report, 11 May. A headache forced him to leave the House early, 14 Apr., though he was ‘anxious to support government’ on their silk bill. He voted to allow O’Connell to take his seat for county Clare without first swearing the oath of supremacy, 18 May, when he invited the dukes of Chartres and Orleans to sit in the gallery. He thought Peel made ‘but a sorry apology for the disgraceful conduct of our government in maltreating the Portuguese refugees’, 1 June. Later in the month he worked on the Whig Lord Cavendish’s* London committee for the Cambridge University by-election. He lamented the summer’s disorders in Ireland as ‘a triumph to those who said the Catholic question would never pacify that country’ and blamed them on the incompetence of the Irish authorities.40 On 13 Nov. he sent Wellington ‘a curious letter’ from O’Connell’s solicitor Peirce Mahony† on ‘the proper method to be pursued for the pacification of Ireland’. The duke sent ‘a civil answer’. In December 1829 he saw Peel on the subject of climbing boys, having told the Mechanical Chimney Sweeping Society that he would bring in a bill ‘provided the government will support it’; Peel was noncommittal. Agar Ellis later persuaded the Society’s representatives that rather than bring in a bill, it would be better to ‘get up petitions ... and excite the public feeling in our favour’. He secured the production of information on the subject, 25 Mar. 1830.
He voted with government against the Ultra Knatchbull’s amendment to the address, 4 Feb. 1830. He voted to give East Retford’s seats to Birmingham, 11 Feb., but he considered Lord Blandford’s reform proposals ‘so ridiculously absurd’ that he was ‘obliged, though unwilling, to go away without voting for him’, 18 Feb. Though far from well, he attended to vote twice with government against Hume on the army estimates, 22 Feb. He divided with opposition against British interference in the internal affairs of Portugal, 10 Mar., but with government on the office of treasurer of the navy, 22 Mar., and paired in defence of the Bathurst and Dundas pensions, 26 Mar. He deemed the budget statement of the national finances ‘very satisfactory, if true’, 15 Mar. He walked out of the ‘tedious’ resumed debate on the state of the nation, 18 Mar. He divided against ministers on the ‘really strong case’ of the salary of the lieutenant-general of the ordnance, 29 Mar.41 He protested against the haste with which Lord Ellenborough’s divorce bill was pressed through the House, 2 Apr., but would have spoken for its third reading, 6 Apr., had he caught the Speaker’s eye. He paired in favour of Jewish emancipation, 5 Apr., 17 May, in condemnation of the Terceira incident, 28 Apr., and for amelioration of the libel laws, 9 July. He and Georgina persuaded the duchess of Kent, mother of Princess Victoria, in whose education and the provision of a possible regency if she came soon to the throne he took an active interest, to be godmother to their latest child. He had the first of several ‘very satisfactory’ talks with Brougham on the regency question, 14 May, when he put the case for the duchess. He obtained returns of convictions for forgery of bank notes, 12, 18 May, presented petitions for mitigation of the punishment for that offence, 18, 24 May, paired for abolition of the death penalty, 24 May, 7 June, and voted in person for it, 20 July. He voted for reform of the civil government of Canada, 25 May, and Russell’s parliamentary reform motion, 28 May, though he was in the majority against O’Connell’s universal suffrage proposal. On 4 June he presented a petition from Benjamin Haydon for the encouragement of historical painting, but could not recommend the application of public money to that end. He divided with government for the sale of beer bill, 1 July. He had secured the appointment of a select committee of inquiry into the Commons library, 7 Apr. He chaired its meetings, presented its report, 7 June, and on 7 July moved to enter as a standing order its recommendation that the library should be managed in future by a small committee of Members under the authority of the Speaker. When a discussion revealed differences of opinion he deferred further consideration of the matter to the next session. He was also a member of the select committee on the cost of the works at Windsor Castle. After the king’s death, 26 June 1830, he concerted measures with Brougham, including putting ‘the finishing touches to a little pamphlet, written by us jointly, to be published forthwith and entitled The Country without a Government, in which the weakness of the present ministers is fully exposed’; he noted that it ‘makes great sensation’, 5 July. He also sent a leading article on the regency to The Times, where it was printed on 29 June. He judged the decision of ministers to postpone consideration of the issue until the next Parliament to be ‘foolish and wicked’ and divided with opposition for an adjournment, 30 June. He was at the meeting at Lord Althorp’s*, 4 July, when it was decided to mount ‘a vigorous opposition’ to the incompetent government in the new Parliament, and was in the minority of 93 on the regency question, 6 July. He voted against government on the libel law bill, 9 July. He and Brougham had a ‘satisfactory’ interview on 14 July with the duke of Sussex, who promised to ‘do all he can to impress upon ... [King William IV] and ... Wellington the necessity of a strengthened government’. He pressed this view on the duke’s confidant Arbuthnot, 19 July 1830.
Agar Ellis was due to be ejected from his Spring Gardens house by the end of 1830, and in the spring he persuaded his father to give him £20,000 to enable him to buy for £25,000 the lease of the late Lord Melbourne’s house in Whitehall, of which he took formal possession on 29 Sept. 1830. Clifden evidently attached conditions to the gift, which was more than he could comfortably afford, including, as Agar Ellis saw it, a ‘somewhat harsh one respecting the future seat in Parliament’.42 He was nevertheless able to finance his return for Okehampton on the Savile interest at the 1830 general election, Graham having decided to return himself for Lugershall. He had to go down to Okehampton ‘through an intolerable heat and dust’, 27 July, but bowel trouble in the small hours of 30 July prevented him from attending his election. He regarded the revolution in France as ‘the most glorious event in history since our revolution in 1688’.43 Despite feeling unwell and suffering from back pain, he assisted and encouraged Brougham in the production of his pamphlet on The Result of the Elections which was designed, like the earlier one, to illustrate the weakness of the ministry.44 After Huskisson’s death he played a part, under Brougham’s direction, in the establishment of a rapprochement between his followers and the Whigs: for example he ‘had a long political conversation’ with Lord Melbourne, 1 Oct., and a ‘very satisfactory’ one with Lord Palmerston*, 6 Nov.45 He took his seat in the new Parliament, 28 Oct., and thought proceedings on the address, 2 Nov., were ‘most damaging ... to the government’. He considered their civil list proposals ‘as objectionable as all former ones’, 12 Nov., when he ‘begged Palmerston to endeavour to persuade the Ultra Tories to vote with us’ on Brougham’s reform motion on the 15th. He attended the meeting at Althorp’s at which the terms of the motion were settled and immediately went to inform Palmerston of the outcome. In a ‘most excited spirit of opposition’, he voted in the majority on the civil list which brought the government down, 15 Nov. 1830, and, assuming that ‘the miserable ministers must now ... go out’, was ‘never ... happier at our success’. When he burst into a party at Lansdowne House with the news he was ‘quite tipsy with joy’.46
When Brougham asked him on 17 Nov. 1830 ‘what place I wished for’, Agar Ellis said he was ‘not a candidate for office’ and that the only one he would take was that of first commissioner of woods and forests. Brougham promised to inform the new premier Grey, but Agar Ellis ‘begged him to remember that I did not wish to stand in the way of more efficient persons’. On 20 Nov. Brougham, now lord chancellor, gave him Grey’s formal offer of woods and forests, which he accepted immediately. He called on Grey next day to thank him, and was sworn in to the privy council and kissed hands on the 22nd. Soon afterwards Jekyll found him ‘highly pleased with his new office, which ... suits him exactly. It is in no way laborious to a man of slight health, and he has good taste and judgement for his different duties’.47 He was coached by his predecessor Lord Lowther*, who acted for him until his patent was complete, and made the acquaintance of his private secretary Phillips. On 1 Dec. 1830 Brougham summoned him to the Lords and sent him on an errand to secure the duchess of Kent’s consent to the insertion in the regency bill of a clause to prevent the regent marrying a foreigner. He was re-elected unopposed and in absentia for Okehampton on 29 Nov. and took his seat in the House on 2 Dec. He attended his office for the first time on the 6th and on the 9th was appointed to the ministerial committee of four (himself, Brougham, Lords Durham and Auckland) set up to ‘regulate the public press’. His official career was embarrassingly brief. He was early on rebuked by Grey for taking it upon himself to lobby the king in support of a grant of public money for the establishment of a purpose-built national gallery.48 His health took a turn for the worse on 10 Dec., and on the 18th he complained to Lady Holland that ‘I have been so unwell of late that I have not been fit for anything. The House of Commons, taken as an official man ought to take it, I mean every night and all night, kills me’.49 He hoped to restore himself during the Christmas recess, but on 14 Jan. 1831 he wrote that he had ‘never passed a gloomier birthday, feeling very unwell, and low in spirits’, and three days later, reflecting that it is ‘all liver, and nerves and worry, and till I get out of the latter, I fear I shall not be able to manage the two former’, he told Lady Holland that he could ‘hardly ever remember being more thoroughly deranged’.50 His doctor recommended a course of mercury, ‘warm sea baths at Brighton’ and avoidance of the Commons at all costs; this he realized meant he ‘must resign the woods and forests, which I feel I am much inclined to do’. On 27 Jan. he sent his resignation to Grey through Brougham, whom he empowered to withdraw it only if Grey was willing to make him a peer, though he was aware of ‘difficulties in the way of it, in consequence of the unreasonable claims of the king’s sons’. Two days later he received Grey’s ‘very civil letter, accepting my resignation, and regretting that he could not at present call me up to the ... Lords, which Brougham had requested for me, to enable me to keep my office’. He wrote in his diary that ‘the conclusion of this business is a great relief to me’.51 The duke of Bedford was not alone in thinking that he had all along been ‘wholly unfit for it’, and the young Tory Lord Mahon* commented, ‘how lucky for the government’.52 The gossips claimed that while convalescing at Brighton from 17 Feb. he ‘applied directly to the king’ for a peerage, without success; but if he did so, he did not record it in his diary.53 He was ‘perplexed’ to receive on 1 Mar. a letter from Brougham urging him to go to London for the debate on the introduction of the ministerial reform bill that evening, for he had ‘been so confident of having been paired upon this question by the care of Duncannon that I had not thought about it’. He wrote to Duncannon for clarification and was told that he would not be wanted until the division on the second reading, which afforded him ‘a respite’. He assured Duncannon that he would be present. He thought the reform plan ‘admirable’ and more or less
all I could wish. I should perhaps have liked to have added to it ballot and triennial parliaments, but I daresay it is better for the success of the measure that it should be as it is.54
He was visited in Brighton on 6 Mar. by Lord John Russell*, with whom he ‘talked over the reform bill, its prospects, etc.’ On 21 Mar. he went to face ‘the fiery ordeal of four or five months in London’. He paired for that evening, in case a division took place, but was present on the 22nd to vote for the second reading, after ‘a long and tedious night, which gave me a headache’.55 On 15 Apr. he was urged by interested parties to put to Russell the case for Okehampton being allowed to retain one Member. He did so next day, and on the 18th Russell informed the House that the borough was to be moved from schedule A to B. He divided in the ministerial minority against Gascoyne’s wrecking amendment, 19 Apr. On the day of dissolution, 23 Apr., he told Duncannon that he was ‘not very anxious to come into Parliament again, but the reverse; but that if he heard of any very quiet seat, in which my vote would be useful to government, I would not reject it’. On the 27th Duncannon offered him ‘a quiet and not dear seat’, but he ‘refused it, because it was clogged with the condition of not voting on the question of colonial slavery’. He secured government backing for Robert Throckmorton* in Berkshire and, having written a leader for The Times of 26 Apr. on the Tory election subscription, ‘consented to do anything that was wished’ by Brougham, who suggested that he chair a committee ‘for publishing political articles in the papers during the election’. He wrote a pamphlet, Friendly Advice, addressed to the Lords, ‘a mixture of persuasion and threatening on the subject of the reform bill’. In late May 1831, alerted by Brougham to the likelihood of a few peerage creations, he staked his claim with Grey, and was promised an early elevation to the Lords. In the three weeks before he took his seat as Lord Dover, he analyzed lists of the peers with Auckland and Grey.
In July 1831 there was a notion (which he discouraged) of his going on a special mission to Belgium where King Leopold, an old personal friend, was keen to have him, but the foreign secretary Palmerston, to Agar Ellis’s ‘great relief’, preferred Robert Adair†: ‘with good reason’, so Holland thought, for Agar Ellis, ‘if deficient neither in abilities nor zeal’, had ‘hardly experience, discretion or reserve enough’.56 Later in the year he confided to Brougham that he would ‘very much like’ to be postmaster-general if a vacancy arose, but nothing came of this.57 He moved into Melbourne (now renamed Dover) House in mid-September. He acted as a ministerial whip in the Lords, counting heads and mustering support for the reform bills in the period from August 1831 to May 1832.58 In November he published another pro-reform pamphlet, What will be done with the Lords? He recorded on 31 Dec. 1831 that ‘my health is much better now’, but exactly five months later he suffered an attack of ‘rheumatism’ and fever. He spent part of the summer at Margate, but ‘constant pain in the lower bowels’ continued to plague him and rob him of sleep. He wintered at Brighton, making little progress towards recovery. In January 1833 John Cam Hobhouse*, the war secretary, wrote in his diary:
Lord Dover is corresponding with Lord Hill (commander-in-chief) and me, begging us to silence or muffle the clock at the Horse Guards, which strikes so loud as to alarm him, his nerves being shattered by a fever. He is afraid of coming back to Whitehall. This comes, as Fitzroy Somerset* said to me, of being cradled in luxury; as if the clock could be stopped for him!59
In the spring of 1833 he suffered nightly from excessive ‘perspiration’, while ‘the horrid sedatives’ with which the doctors stuffed him paralysed his bowels. Purgatives then gave him ‘too much action from the bowels in the day’, which made him ‘weak and languid’. Accepting Lady Holland’s invitation to stay at Holland House early in June he wrote pathetically:
May I have tomorrow for my dinner at seven o’clock a little clear soup, a roast chicken, mashed potatoes, a few asparagus, which I will eat with your permission in my little dressing room ... I cannot dine earlier than seven, or my poor weak stomach would not carry me through the evening without another meal ... I had rather not have a sitting room on the ground floor, but will sit in my dressing room, which I remember is very warm, and I am chilly beyond measure.60
Lady Holland wrote to her son:
Without health there is no felicity in life. There is a sad instance of that in this house, poor Agar, who has every earthly blessing, but he is in so precarious a state that it gives too great a feeling of insecurity to render it availing. However, he bears up very manfully from his great natural spirits.61
On 13 June 1833 he became ‘nervous and frightened (I believe without cause) about a swelling in my back’, and after ‘a costive evacuation’ on the 19th he ‘discovered a haemorroidal pile, which had been forced down’. This made him ‘dreadfully nervous and wretched’, but it was the least of his worries. He died three weeks later, aged 36 and v.p., at Dover House.62
Agar Ellis’s was a life of unfulfilled promise. Little of his considerable output as a historian was of any consequence. Only his True History of the State Prisoner (1826), Life of Frederick II (1832) and edition of the Letters of Horace Walpole to Mann (1833) had a modicum of merit, though Lady Spencer condemned the first as a ‘vile, dull, unsatisfactory, muddy statement’, whose ‘English would disgrace a housemaid’.63 He was well connected politically and socially and led a busy life, but he made no significant mark in politics and, undermined by poor health, failed dismally when given the chance to prove himself. He was at least consistent in his support for reform and religious toleration: Edward Smith Stanley* took issue with Anglesey, 18 Sept. 1831, for calling him ‘a trader in politics’, replying that ‘he was always steadily with us when in opposition, and never showed symptoms of wavering’.64 His untimely death saddened many outside his immediate family circle. Lady Holland felt it as ‘a most afflicting event’;65 and Greville wrote:
Few men could be more generally regretted ... by an immense circle of connections and friends for his really amiable and endearing qualities, by the world at large for the serious loss which society sustains, and the disappointment of the expectations of what he one day might have been. He occupied as large a space in society as his talents (which were by no means first-rate) permitted; but he was clever, lively, agreeable, good-tempered, good-natured, hospitable, liberal and rich, a zealous friend, an eager political partisan, full of activity and vivacity, enjoying life, and anxious that the circle of his enjoyment should be widely extended ... however contracted his sphere both in literature and politics, in society his merits were conspicuous and his success unquestionable. Without a strong understanding, destitute of fancy and imagination, and with neither eloquence nor wit, he was a remarkably agreeable man.66
Ref Volumes: 1820-1832
Author: David R. Fisher
Based, unless otherwise stated, on his daily ms diaries (Northants. RO), of which a transcript was kindly loaned by Professor Peter Jupp.
- 1. Gent. Mag. (1797), i. 163, confirmed by the diary. CP gives 17 Jan.
- 2. Edgeworth Letters, 187, 193.
- 3. Add. 75937, Lady to Lord Spencer [16 Jan. 1821]; 75938, same to same, Saturday [May 1826].
- 4. Greville Mems. ii. 388-9.
- 5. Keele Univ. Lib. Sneyd mss SC8/41, 43.
- 6. Lonsdale mss, Lowther to Lonsdale, 22 Jan. 1820.
- 7. Fox Jnl. 40.
- 8. Brougham mss, Grey Bennet to Brougham [19 Sept. 1820].
- 9. Countess Granville Letters, i. 169, 183, 196.
- 10. Smith Letters, i. 372.
- 11. Add. 51654, Mackintosh to Lady Holland, 15 July 1821.
- 12. Howard Sisters, 12.
- 13. Greville Mems. ii. 389-90.
- 14. Fox Jnl. 94.
- 15. Add. 52011, Stuart Wortley to Fox, 27 Dec. 1821, 13 Jan. 1822.
- 16. Greville Mems. ii. 267; iii. 390.
- 17. Jekyll Corresp. ed. A. Bourke, 258.
- 18. Add. 40319, f. 66.
- 19. Add. 52011, Stuart Wortley to Fox [10 Sept. 1823].
- 20. Smith Letters, i. 402.
- 21. Arbuthnot Jnl. i. 377.
- 22. Add. 51590.
- 23. Countess Granville Letters, i. 354.
- 24. Add. 52011.
- 25. Sneyd mss SC8/79.
- 26. Add. 51590.
- 27. Sneyd mss SC8/93.
- 28. Castle Howard mss; Canning’s Ministry, 93-94.
- 29. GLRO, Jersey mss Acc. 510/410, Agar Ellis to Lady Jersey, 19 Apr. 1827.
- 30. Howard Sisters, 82-84.
- 31. Castle Howard mss, Agar Ellis to Carlisle, 11, 19 Sept., Lansdowne to same, 3 Oct. 1827
- 32. Add. 51590, Agar Ellis to Lady Holland, 19 Nov. 1827.
- 33. Hatherton mss, Agar Ellis to Littleton, 11 Jan. 1828.
- 34. Howard Sisters, 104-5; Sneyd mss SC12/84.
- 35. Fox Jnl. 323.
- 36. Add. 51590, Agar Ellis to Lady Holland, 2 Dec.1828.
- 37. Add. 38757, f. 74; 40397, f. 413; 40399, ff. 174, 176; 40400, ff. 22, 23.
- 38. Howard Sisters, 114.
- 39. Ellenborough Diary, i. 338.
- 40. Add. 51590, Agar Ellis to Lady Holland, 27 July 1829.
- 41. Castle Howard mss, Agar Ellis to Clifden, 29 Mar. 1830.
- 42. Howard Sisters, 126; Castle Howard mss, Agar Ellis to Clifden, 9, 29 Mar., 2 Apr., replies, 9 Mar., 3 Apr., Agar Ellis to Lady Carlisle, 8 Aug. 1830.
- 43. Howard Sisters, 133; Add. 51590, Agar Ellis to Lady Holland, 2 Aug. 1830.
- 44. Brougham mss, Agar Ellis to Brougham, 15 Aug. 1830; Howard Sisters, 138-41, 144.
- 45. Add. 51590, Agar Ellis to Lady Holland, 18, 20 Sept.; Brougham mss, same to Brougham, 27 Sept., 4 Oct. 1830.
- 46. Howard Sisters, 162-3, 164-5.
- 47. Ibid. 167-9; Jekyll Corresp. 254-5.
- 48. Grey mss, Grey to Agar Ellis, 30 Nov. 1830.
- 49. Howard Sisters, 175; Add. 51590.
- 50. Add. 51590, Agar Ellis to Lady Holland, 31 Dec. 1830, 17 Jan. 1831.
- 51. Howard Sisters, 180-1, 183-4.
- 52. Add. 51670, Bedford to Lady Holland [3 Feb.]; Berks. RO, Pusey mss D/Ebp C1/13; Three Diaries, 44-45; Creevey Pprs. ii. 217.
- 53. Greville Mems. ii. 111; Add. 51590, Agar Ellis to Lady Holland, 23, 27 Feb.; 51670, Bedford to same , 27 Feb., 1 Mar. 1831.
- 54. Add. 51590, Agar Ellis to Lady Holland, 3, 7, 13 Mar.; 51670, Bedford to same, 7 Mar. 1831; Howard Sisters, 190.
- 55. Add. 51590, Agar Ellis to Lady Holland, 18 Mar. 1831.
- 56. Holland House Diaries, 12, 14.
- 57. Brougham mss, Dover to Brougham, 21 Oct. 1831.
- 58. Three Diaries, 201; Howard Sisters, 209; Brougham mss, Dover to Brougham, 24 Dec. 1831; Add. 51590, same to Holland, 26 Apr. 1832.
- 59. Broughton, Recollections, iv. 277.
- 60. Howard Sisters, 235, 245-9, 257-8, 365; Brougham mss, Dover to Brougham, 23 Aug. 1832; Add. 51590, same to Lady Holland, 17 Aug. 15 Nov., 27 Dec.. 1832, 1, 4, 20 Jan., 4 Feb., [30, 31 May, 6 June 1833].
- 61. Lady Holland to Son, 141.
- 62. Howard Sisters, 273-7.
- 63. Add. 75938, Lady to Lord Spencer, Saturday [May 1826].
- 64. PRO NI, Anglesey mss D619/31D/65.
- 65. Lady Holland to Son, 141.
- 66. Greville Mems. ii. 390-1.