MACKWORTH PRAED, Winthrop (1802-1839), of 2 Brick Court, Temple, Mdx.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1820-1832, ed. D.R. Fisher, 2009
Available from Cambridge University Press



17 Dec. 1830 - 1832
1835 - 1837
1837 - 17 July 1839

Family and Education

b. 26 July 1802, 3rd surv. s. of William Mackworth Praed (d. 1835) of John Street, Bedford Row, Mdx. and Bitton Court, Teignmouth, Devon and Elizabeth, da. of Benjamin Winthrop, gov. Bank of England. educ. Langley Broom sch., Colnbrook, Bucks. (Mr. Atkins) 1810; Eton 1814-21; Trinity Coll. Camb. 1821, BA 1825, fellow 1827, MA 1828; M. Temple 1825, called 1829. m. 7 July 1835, Helen, da. of George Bogle of Effingham House, Surr., 2da. d. 15 July 1839.

Offices Held

Jt.-sec. to bd. of control Dec. 1834-Apr. 1835.


          In Parliament I fill my seat,
          With many other noodles;
          And lay my head in Jermyn Street,
          And sip my hock at Boodles.
          But often, when the cares of life
          Have set my temples aching,
          When visions haunt me of a wife,
          When duns await my waking ...
          I wish that I could run away
          From House, and Court, and Levee,
          Where bearded men appear today
          Just Eton boys, grown heavy;
          That I could bask in childhood’s sun,
          And dance o’er childhood’s roses,
          And find huge wealth in one pound one,
          Vast wit in broken noses;
          And play Sir Giles at Datchet Lane,
          And call the milk-maids Houris;
          That I could be a boy again,
          A happy boy, at Drury’s.1

So wrote Praed in his best known poem, School and Schoolfellows, a homage to Eton, which in spirit he never left. There was some substance to Thomas Macaulay’s* comment that Praed, his friend at Cambridge, but his opponent in Parliament, had ‘gone forth into the world a schoolboy and [was] doomed to be a schoolboy to the last’.2

His father (1756-1835) was the son of a partner in the family banks at Falmouth and Truro and first cousin of William Praed† (1747-1833), founder of the London bank of Praed’s and Company. He pursued a legal career, enjoyed a lucrative chancery practice, became a serjeant-at-law in 1801 and from 1806 until his retirement on a pension of £1,000 in 1821 was chairman of the audit board. Winthrop, his fourth child, was precocious but delicate and showed an early talent for poetry. At Eton he gained a brilliant reputation as a scholar, writer and debater. In 1820 he produced a manuscript magazine, Apis Matina, which ran to six issues. It was printed by the Windsor publisher Charles Knight, who later wrote:

I was more and more astonished by the unbounded fertility of his mind and the readiness of his resources ... the kindness that lurks under sarcasm; the wisdom that wears the mask of fun; the half-melancholy that is veiled by levity; - these qualities very soon struck me as far out of the ordinary indications of precocious talent ... The Etonian of 1820 was natural and unaffected in his ordinary talk; neither shy nor presuming; proud, without a tinge of vanity; somewhat reserved, but ever courteous ... a pale and slight youth, who had looked upon the aspects of society with the keen perception of a clever manhood; one who had, moreover, seen in human life something more than follies to be ridiculed by the gay jest or scouted by the sarcastic sneer.3

Praed enhanced his reputation at Cambridge, where the highest academic honours eluded him but his verses won him an unprecedented haul of medals. With Macaulay, two years his senior, and Charles Austin he dominated debates in the revived union. His contemporary, Edward Lytton Bulwer*, recalled:

There was a fascination in the very name of this young man which eclipsed the repute of all his contemporaries ... The outlines of his genius were not definitely marked. They vanished away when you sought to seize them ... A political career seemed to be his natural destiny. With all these high animal spirits and strong tendencies, Praed’s moral habits were singularly pure ... And yet ... there were touches in his character, tones in his mind, which ... chilled the sympathy, checked the affection, and sometimes even lowered the estimation, with which I regarded him.

He was noted for mild ‘republican’ tendencies, though his political opinions were probably lightly worn. Of his oratory Bulwer wrote:

First in readiness and wit, in extempore reply, in aptness of argument and illustration, in all that belongs to the ‘stage play’ of delivery was unquestionably Praed; but he wanted all the higher gifts of eloquence: he had no passion, he had little power; he confided too much in his facility, and prepared so lightly the matter of his speeches, that they were singularly deficient in knowledge and substance.4

Praed had a quick temper, and he almost fought a duel with a fellow undergraduate after an argument over the date of the battle of Bunker Hill. His literary output continued unabated: he was the chief contributor to Knight’s Quarterly Magazine in 1822, published Lillian, a Fairy Tale the following year, worked with Knight on the short-lived Brazen Head weekly paper in 1826 and contributed numerous verses, some on political themes, to the Morning Chronicle.5

In 1825 Praed returned to Eton as private tutor to Lord Ailesbury’s second son and began studying for the bar. He won a fellowship at Trinity in 1827, became a pupil in chambers in January 1829 and was called five months later. He went the Norfolk circuit, with scant initial success, but was bent on a parliamentary career. Although he worked for the Whigs in the Cambridge University by-election of June 1829 he was increasingly out of sympathy with the more extreme aspects of their politics. The passage of Catholic emancipation, which he had always strongly supported, removed the only major obstacle to his alignment with the liberal Tories, which was probably also encouraged by his friendship with Edward Fitzgerald, private secretary to the home secretary Peel’s close friend William Vesey Fitzgerald*, president of the board of trade in the duke of Wellington’s ministry.6 In February 1830, just after Macaulay’s return to Parliament on the opposition side, Praed told his sister that the two ministers had sounded Fitzgerald as to his willingness to be ‘pitted against’ Macaulay in the House:

Fitzgerald answered as I should have done, that my friendship with Macaulay was the closest possible; and that I should certainly refuse to occupy any post in which I should be expected to place myself in personal collision with any man. Then, as to my general principles and opinions, he said he had not observed anything in them which should prevent me from giving generally my support to the present administration.

A seat for Wenlock was said to be intended for him, but by 2 Mar. 1830 the negotiations were at an end, and his planned introduction to the party leaders got no further than Vesey Fitzgerald’s successor John Herries*. Praed did not find an opening at the general election, but in December 1830 he was offered through Herries a vacant seat for Lord St. Germans’s pocket borough, guaranteed for two years at a cost of £1,000. He had misgivings over the financial risk, the wisdom of joining a party now in opposition and his elder brothers’ lack of enthusiasm, but decided to take the plunge, as he told his sister:

All my friends have been dinning in my ears for the last five years, ‘Go into Parliament; that is your sphere of action’. If they are wrong the sooner I know the better. I shall get rid of the vexatious feeling ‘I might, I might, I might’, which is the stumbling-block in the way of all progress.

To his father he explained:

I am to hold myself at liberty to take in all questions such a line as appears good to my own discretion, it having been previously recognized that my sentiments in most of the matters likely to be discussed are in unison with those of the men who bring me into notice.7

After his election he was detained for a few days by ‘a trifling but very troublesome disorder’ at his father’s Devon residence, whence he wrote to Herries, 25 Dec. 1830:

Until you first honoured me by your notice I never dreamed of being where I am ... I am very grateful for all you have done for me, and ... my old longings after distinction become doubly eager from the desire I feel to show myself not quite unworthy of your good word. I have always told my friends, and I have said as much to you, that I have been an overrated man, and that my services are likely to be scarcely worthy the asking. If it should prove so, I hope people will forget that you ever took up a blockhead ... If I have better fortune than my fears prophecy, I shall hold myself your debtor for the larger half [sic] of whatever success may be my lot in the career you have opened to me.8

On his arrival in London Praed gave Herries his ideas for the improvement of the Tory opposition’s connections with the press and offered personally to ‘grapple with the Morning Chronicle as the organ of the government’. He had already made contributions in verse to the Albion evening paper, started in the week of Wellington’s resignation.9 He was soon dismayed by the parliamentary scene, as he told his friend Derwent Coleridge:

The House appears to me day by day more awful ... I begin to find that, after all, I must have recourse to the trite old motive, the hope of doing good ... Personal distinction or profit, even if either were of probable acquirement in the road I travel, would scarcely support me through the horrors of a debut.

Haunted by the fear of failure, he was uncomfortable under the common assumption that he had been returned to take on Macaulay, with its concomitant insinuation that he was a political turncoat, and sought in private to establish his credentials as a free agent. To one correspondent he denied that he had been returned ‘for the purpose of serving the views of any particular party’ or ‘of opposing any particular man’:

I pay quite enough for my honour and glory, to be quite independent of any chief or patron; and what sins I may commit must be taxed on my own free will, and on the dictation of no peer or patronage.

He assured another correspondent that, contrary to the story that he was ‘pledged to vote against the Whigs’

there is no man in the House more at liberty to follow his own inclinations. My old college opinions have, however, been considerably modified by subsequent acquaintance with the world ... I am not going to stem a torrent, but I confess I should like to confine its fury within some bounds. I am in no small degree an alarmist ... So my part in political matters will probably expose me to all sorts of abuse for ratting ... I abandon the party, if ever I belonged to it, in which my friends and my interests are both to be found, and I adopt one where I can hope to obtain nothing but a barren reputation, and the consciousness of meaning well. If all I hear be correct ... the Whigs find the machine going a little too fast, and are not sorry that some should be found to put on the drag.10

Praed made his carefully prepared maiden speech, for which Macaulay was ‘impatient’, on the Grey ministry’s budget, 14 Feb. 1831, when he criticized the proposal to substitute a duty on raw cotton for that on printed calicoes.11 Greville reckoned it ‘very good’, Herries said that Praed ‘understood his subject perfectly’ and Mrs. Arbuthnot was told that ‘everybody considered the speech excellent’ and ‘the most promising debut ... for years’.12 Some had reservations: the Whig Denis Le Marchant† wrote that ‘it was thought promising, though his manner is priggish and his voice monotonous’; and on Praed’s side of the House, Lord Henry Cholmondeley considered it was ‘not perhaps well suited to a new Member’, as he ‘set the House right too much about taxes’.13 Thomas Gladstone* observed that the speech was ‘good’, but

evidently got up, for he handled his words and names of places as if they were far from being familiar to him. He was brought into the House to speak, and that on the side opposed to his own declared opinions; so that it will be rather uphill work with him.14

Praed told his sister that he had been ‘engrossed by gratulatory notes, visits and meetings’, but he was afraid of ‘the expectations I seem to have excited’.15 His next effort, on the ministerial reform bill, 8 Mar., was less happy. He declared his willingness to accept a degree of reform, particularly the enfranchisement of large manufacturing towns, but argued that the measure would ‘pull down about our ears the fabric of our time-honoured constitution’. He was handicapped by a cold, a tired House would not hear him out, and he was reckoned to have failed.16 The Tory ex-minister Henry Goulburn* reported that he had ‘evinced great facility in debate, but ... made one or two mistakes incident to want of knowledge of the House and did not know when to conclude’.17 Macaulay commented:

A more terrible audience there is not in the world. I wish that Praed had known to whom he was speaking. But with all his talent, he has no tact, no perception of the character of his audience, and he has fared accordingly.18

Praed voted against the second reading of the reform bill, 22 Mar., endorsed the hostile Cambridge University petition, 30 Mar., and voted for Gascoyne’s wrecking amendment, 19 Apr. 1831.

He divided against the second reading of the reintroduced reform bill, 6 July, and spoke in support of the Appleby petition against disfranchisement, 12 July. In the first three of the obstructive divisions on the question of adjournment which followed he voted with government, but thereafter divided with the diminishing minorities until dawn because of ministers’ ‘marked indisposition to listen to any suggestion from this side of the House’. His own motion, the sixth in the series of seven, was defeated by 187-25. His opponents condemned him for his part in this episode, and Macaulay wrote that ‘Praed and I become colder every day. His silly, conceited, factious conduct has disgraced him even more than his bad speaking’.19 He took a prominent role in the summer’s committee proceedings on the bill, risking serious damage to his health; but, as he told Mrs. Coleridge, he now had a taste for parliamentary combat:

Losing a dinner now and then, and listening to Mr. Hume till five in the morning, are things which do as much good to me as air and exercise and natural materia medica to wiser and soberer men.20

He supported Mackinnon’s proposal to use the 1831 rather than the 1821 census as a basis for disfranchisement, 19 July, and asserted that the bill’s opponents had ‘a right to go to the end of their tether in endeavouring to defeat it’. He opposed the total disfranchisement of St. Germans, 26 July, defended his friends against charges of factiousness, 29 July, and on 3 Aug., speaking after Macaulay, argued that the enfranchisement of Greenwich and other metropolitan districts would create ‘a self-government of the people’. On 11 Aug., however, he was one of the anti-reformers who voted with government in favour of the proposed division of counties. On 13 Aug. he moved an amendment to restrict electors in the three-Member counties to two votes each, seeking thereby to ensure representation for significant minorities. He had been unable to interest any of the opposition leaders in this ‘novel’ idea, which he thought ‘very important’: ‘people will consider nothing’, he told his sister, ‘which does not seem calculated to serve one or other of our conflicting parties’. A thin Saturday attendance showed little enthusiasm for his somewhat abstruse argument and he did not divide the House; but he was satisfied with his performance and encouraged by the subsequent interest shown in his theory to consider presenting it again.21 He was in the minority in favour of the Irish union of parishes bill, 19 Aug., and voted in censure of the Irish government for interference in the Dublin election, 23 Aug. He opposed, as a further dilution of the landed interest, government’s proposals to admit certain borough freeholders to county electorates, 20, 24 Aug. He successfully moved to exclude from the borough franchise persons in receipt of parochial relief within the last year, 26 Aug. He voted against the issue of a new writ for Liverpool, 5 Sept., and to protect the West Indian sugar interest, 12 Sept. He divided against the passage of the reform bill, 21 Sept., and the second reading of the Scottish measure, 23 Sept. He criticized the bankruptcy court bill, 14 Oct., but disclaimed any personal animosity towards its author lord chancellor Brougham. Soon afterwards Henry Crabb Robinson met him on the circuit, where his income had trebled, and noted that he ‘spoke fluently, and not ill against the bill’.22 His first attempt to speak from the hustings at the Cambridgeshire by-election, 29 Oct. 1831, was shouted down; but two days later he declared that had he been given a hearing, he would have explained why he, ‘who was always an advocate for reform in Parliament, had so strenuously opposed the late bill’. He now declined to do so.23

Praed secured returns of the number of voters polled at the last contested election for each borough and of the number of freemen in every corporate town, 12 Dec. 1831. His speech in opposition to the second reading of the revised reform bill, 17 Dec., was essentially a reply to Macaulay’s effort of the previous evening, when he had failed to catch the Speaker’s eye. He voted against going into committee on the bill, 20 Jan. 1832, when he persuaded Croker to modify his amendment to the proposal to disfranchise 56 boroughs. He voted against Hobhouse’s vestry reform bill, 23 Jan., and against government on the Russian-Dutch loan, 26 Jan. He again supported the division of counties, 27 Jan., on the same principle which had informed his scheme for the three Member counties. On 1 Feb. he moved an amendment to exclude all borough freeholders from the county franchise, which was defeated by 181-91. The success of this speech, which was subsequently published as a pamphlet, bemused him for, having expected to leave the leading role to Goulburn, who in the event could not attend, he had ‘bestowed even less study than usual upon the arrangement of my arguments or the structure of my sentences’. ‘Nothing that I have before done’, he told his sister, ‘has earned me half the praise of this’:

I was pleased to be told yesterday, by one of our friends, that Sir R. Peel speaks of liking me better (without reference to his estimate of my abilities) than any other of his young recruits ... I fancied there was more of friendliness in his manner to me than he is said to use towards all men. I do not forget his advice to me to ‘go home and get to bed’ when others whom the world would call kinder were complimenting me on what did not deserve compliments.24

He castigated the voters’ residential requirements as a sop to the political unions, 7 Feb., mocked the inflexibility of the criteria for disfranchisement, 23 Feb., voted silently against the third reading of the bill, 22 Mar., spoke for preservation of the existing rights of burgesses and freemen and was in the minority of 27 on the freeholders of Lincoln, 23 Mar. A founder member of the Carlton Club, he endorsed a Devon petition against the plan of national education in Ireland, 11 May. On 14 May he denied that anyone on his side of the House had given currency to the notion that the anti-reformers in the Lords would capitulate if Lord Grey was recalled to power. The following day he told Lord Ellenborough that ‘the case was not as desperate as was supposed’; but by the 17th he was predicting that 60 peers would be created to pass the bill. He was a member of the committee formed by opposition to manage their campaign in the forthcoming general election in England.25 In the House, 5 June, he denounced the forcing of the reform bill through the Lords as a ‘crime’ and became involved in a bad-tempered exchange with Hume. He spoke against the Scottish reform bill, 15 June, and on the Irish, 18 June, produced statistics to ridicule O’Connell’s contention that Ireland was entitled to more Members. He supported Baring’s bill to exclude insolvent debtors from the House, 27 June. He again voted against government on the Russian-Dutch loan, 12 July, but the following day, like Peel, he welcomed their proposals for reform of Irish tithes and condemned the abolitionists. His last reported speech in this period was against the Russian-Dutch loan, 16 July 1832, when he declared:

If it supports ministers, this reforming House of Commons will give a vote that will go further to show the necessity of reform in Parliament than any argument I have yet heard.

In the summer of 1832 the Morning Post printed the first of Praed’s many contributions to that newspaper, of which he subsequently became the leader writer. His efforts greatly improved its reputation and increased its circulation.26 At the general election of 1832 he was beaten at St. Ives, having complained bitterly (and unreasonably, so Charles Arbuthnot* thought) during his canvass of the refusal of the Maitland family to intervene on his behalf against his Whig opponent, the manager of their mining concerns in the area.27 He re-entered the House in 1835, when Peel gave him junior office in his first ministry, but his later parliamentary career was not conspicuously distinguished. His talents were too superficial to be first-rate and his reputation always outweighed his achievements. His cousin Emily Shore described him in 1837 as

a very clever and agreeable man ... as thin as a lath and almost ghastly in countenance; his pallid forehead, haggard features, and the quick glances of his light blue eyes are all indications, I fear, of fatal disease. He seems ... sinking into a consumption which his parliamentary exertions are too likely to hurry forward, if indeed he be not in one already. The profile of Winthrop’s face is very like that of Lord Byron, and at times there is a sort of wildness in his look, but the usual expression of his countenance is remarkably sweet.28

Macaulay, soured by Praed’s public attack on him during his period in India, wrote that ‘he was a wonderful boy at seventeen; and a wonderful boy he continued to be till he died’ of rapid consumption, aged 36, in July 1839.29

Ref Volumes: 1820-1832

Author: David R. Fisher


See D. Hudson, A Poet in Parliament (1939); Oxford DNB.

  • 1. Poems of Winthrop Mackworth Praed ed. D. Coleridge (1864), ii. 234-5.
  • 2. Macaulay Letters, iv. 169.
  • 3. C. Knight, Passages of a Working Life (1873), i. 282-3.
  • 4. Earl Lytton, Life, Letters and Literary Remains of Lord Lytton (1883), i. 234.
  • 5. Hudson, 3-100.
  • 6. Ibid. 101-69.
  • 7. Pol. and Occasional Poems of Winthrop Mackworth Praed ed. G. Young, pp. xiv-xvi.
  • 8. Add. 57420.
  • 9. Aberdeen Univ. Lib. Arbuthnot mss, Herries to Mrs. Arbuthnot, 31 Dec. 1830; A. Aspinall, Politics and the Press, 333; Oxford DNB.
  • 10. Hudson, 170-2; Poems, i. pp. xlv-xlvi.
  • 11. Macaulay Letters, i. 317.
  • 12. Greville Mems. ii. 117; Arbuthnot Corresp. 143; Arbuthnot mss 1029/2/1/27.
  • 13. Three Diaries, 9; Arbuthnot Corresp. 142-3.
  • 14. St. Deiniol’s Lib. Glynne-Gladstone mss 197, T. to J. Gladstone, 15 Feb. [1831].
  • 15. Hudson, 173.
  • 16. Three Diaries, 65-66; Bunbury Mem. 160.
  • 17. Surr. Hist. Cent. Goulburn mss Acc 304/67B, Goulburn to wife, 9 Mar. 1831.
  • 18. Macaulay Letters, ii. 12.
  • 19. Hatherton diary, 13 July; Add. 51569, C. Wood to Lady Holland, 30 July [1831]; Macaulay Letters, ii. 70.
  • 20. Hudson, 176-81.
  • 21. Pol. Poems, p. xvii. See J. Hart, Proportional Representation, 9-11.
  • 22. Crabb Robinson Diary, i. 118.
  • 23. The Times, 31 Oct., 1 Nov. 1831.
  • 24. Hudson, 182-7; Pol. Poems, p. xviii.
  • 25. Three Diaries, 256-7, 263, 266.
  • 26. Oxford DNB; Hudson, 189-239; Pol. Poems, 180; W. Hindle, Morning Post, 148-9.
  • 27. Add. 57370, ff. 91, 94, 96, 98; 57420, ff. 111, 113, 121.
  • 28. Jnl. of Emily Shore, 210.
  • 29. Macaulay Letters, v. 81-82.