TOPICS OF THE DAY.
LORD WESTBURY'S CONFESSIONS.
THE Lord Chancellor's candour approaches nearer to that white and sparkling lustre which we attribute to the saints than any other result of the bleaching power of the world's fuller's earth. When he has to narrate the history of transactions not altogether clean and edifying, there is a soft benignity and a stainlessness in his treatment which affect us like the compassion of nature burying the foul places of the earth in a spotless garment of driven snow. Lord Westbury's explanation in the House of Lords on Tuesday of the unplea- sant transactions in connection with the Patent Office, of which we gave a brief notice last week, was full of this tranquillizing beauty. True, the feathered words, the flakes of compas- sionate candour, did not fall till a heavy cloud had rested for a whole day on the firmament of his own official purity. But this perhaps only enhances the lustre of the effect. Till Duty's stern voice was heard the Chancellor listened to the pleadings of pity. He could not bear to cut off a possible culprit from the way of repentance and tears. Yet when the voice of con- science became at last imperative, the sentiment of Words- worth's great " Ode to Duty " at once prevailed with that pure and single mind :-
"Stern Lawgiver ! yet thou dost wear The Godhead's most benignant grace; Nor know we anything so fair As is the smile upon thy face,"
—nothing quite so fair, but the next thing to it is the bright reflection of that serene smile on the upturned face of the earthly lawgiver who keeps the conscience of England.
Lord Westbury's story ran thus :—Mr. Leonard Edmunds received the office of Clerk of the Patents (of dignities and estates, as well as new inventions) in 1833, with a fixed salary of 4001. a year, and he was bound to pay all the fees he received into the Exchequer, but there was no provision for auditing his accounts. In 1852 the patents so far as they refer to new inventions were regulated by a new statute,— commissioners were appointed (of whom the Lord Chancellor is the head), and Mr. Edmunds was made Clerk to the Commis- sioners with a salary of 6001. a year, still retaining also his old office,—and this time an audit was provided for his accounts, Mr. Edmunds being required under the new statute as well as under the old to pay all fees into the Exchequer, and his salary being the full remuneration for all his services. In the meantime, about the year 1847-8 Mr. Edmunds had also become Reading Clerk to the House of Lords, and also Clerk to the Committee of the Lords, with an additional in- come of 1,5001. a year for these duties. A year ago irregula- rities in the Patent accounts were complained of, and Mr. Ed- munds courted inquiry in language very much like that of the beautiful and radiant candour now echoed by Lord Westbury on his own account in the House of Lords. On the 10th March last year Mr. Edmunds wrote, "I court and require the fullest inquiry into every single point in the affairs and business of the Patent Office, from its first organization in 1852 to the present day." It is, however, only necessary as regards Lord Westbury's share in these transactions to say that the inquiry courted by Mr. Edmunds did not end well for that gentleman, that the Commissioners appointed to investigate his accounts re- ported him a defaulter, that he was given notice of trial before the regular tribunal, and averted it onlyby pressing to be relieved of his offices in connection with the Patents, and undertaking to account for all public money owing by him to the Treasury. It was thought that he was not liable to a criminal prosecu- tion chiefly because the information by which he had been oriminated had been given by himself. Mr. Edmunds's resig- nation of these offices was tendered and accepted on the 30th July in last year, and Lord Palmerston at the Lord Chancellor's request appointed his son-in-law, Mr. Carter, to the smaller office thus vacated, leaving the greater, which was in his own gift, for the time vacant. At the time of Mr. Edmunds's resignation, however, the Lord Chancellor threatened him with the loss also of his more lucrative offices in the House of Lords. He would take, he said, the opinion of
Lord Cranworth and Lord Kingsdown as to the course he
ought to pursue with reference to the Clerkship of the House of Lords,—a proceeding which Mr. Edmunds begged might be delayed till his own case of extenuation had been sent in
in answer to the Commissioners who bad shown him to be a defaulter. The Lord Chancellor, however, had already written to Lord Cranworth and Lord Kingedown, and it turned out that any proceedings with reference to the Clerkship of the House of Lards could only be taken by that House itself. In. September the answer of Mr. Edmunds was received, who,._ apparently not forgetful of the danger of losing his offices in the House of Lords, at the same time paid into the Treasury a muck larger sum than the Commissioners had in their preliminary report debited him with, namely, 7,872/. (about equal to the whole twelve years' income of his better paid clerkship at the Patent Office) instead of 2,6811., the sum mentioned in that report. The Commissioners, however, in a further report made last January, claimed yet 9,1001. more from Mr. Edmunds, even exclusive of this last payment, which, if really due from him, would make his whole default greater than the sum-total of his salary in both the Patent Offices from 1833 to 1864. Mr. Edmunds denies entirely hill- liability for this last sum, but has not yet sent in his. answer to the Commissioners' report on the subject. This- was just before the meeting of Parliament, and Lord. Westbury had now to consider what conduct he ought him- self to pursue in the matter. In the anxiety of his mind he consulted the Cabinet, who seemed to feel no doubt that the House of Lords ought to know that one of their confidential officers had proved untrustworthy in other departments of public duty. Lord Westbury accordingly gave Mr. Edmunds. notice that on the second or third day of the Session he should lay the reports of the Commissioners, with the reply received from Mr. Edmunds, on the table of the House of Lords, and move for a committee to inquire into the subject, and advise the House what course to take.
It is at this point that the Lord Chancellor's heart seems to have got the better for a time of his stern sense of duty. He received an earnest request from Mr. Edmunds's solicitor to postpone that communication till Mr. Edmunds could hear from abroad. Why it would have been a consolation to Mr. Edmunds to hear from abroad before the Lord Chancellor' could be permitted to set his conscience at rest does not very clearly appear, but it is said that the Lord Chan- cellor had again intimated to Mr. Edmunds that for the second time he might avoid a trial more or less. public, by resignation,—and perhaps he wished, to give Mr. Edmunds time to take the advice of friends abroad whether such resignation would be desirable. This Lord Westbury does not deny, but he repudiates with great fervour the imputation of having 'tempted Mr. Edmunds with the hope of getting a pension as well as avoiding the publicity of an inquiry by the House of Lords in ease he should: resign. No doubt Mr. Edmunds had a difficult calculation to make. On the one hand, it is pretty clear that his friends in the House of Lords were numerous. Lord Derby, for instance, does not scruple to palliate the rather alarming practice (hypothetically attributed to Mr. Edmunds) of paying State money to a private deposit account and drawing the interest of that deposit account as your own. With powerful friends willing to draw (if necessary) strong moral dis- tinctions in one's favour between the practice of holding a capital not one's own in one's own hands while actually drawing the income and spending it, and the prac- tice of annexing capital and interest at once, what might not there be to hope from an inquiry in the House of Lords ? On the other hand, a pension of 8001. a year without inquiry might be in every way preferable,—preferable to all parties,—to Mr_ Edmunds himself, and to the patron in whose gift was the successorship to Mr. Edmunds. And considering especially that this patron was the powerful and compassionate Lord Chancellor himself, what might there not be to hope from the policy of resignation which seemed to be expressly indicated by the merciful Judge as the only condition of his silence ? Might not the Lord Chancellor have conceived the benevolent idea of conferring the post on some deserving relative of his owe And might it not be very gratifying to his feelings both as .a Christian and as a father to be spared on the one hand the pain of a public censure of Mr. Edmunds, and on the other the uncertainties arising from the long delay of an investiga- tion, and the possibility that the House of Lords might after all take the same high moral ground as to the broad difference between spending the capital and spending the interest of public moneys as Lord Derby takes, and decline to dismiss their Clerk for his little peccadillo in another department? These considerations—or some others equally weighty—determined Mr. Edmunds (after he had heard from abroad) to place his resignation in the hands of the Clerk of the Parchments, accompanying it with a petition for a pension in consideration of faithful service. Lord Westbury's pity now triumphed. It was not in his nature, hehinted, to " pursue " Mr. Edmunds to the committee. So,—apparently without again consulting the Government,—he held back his revelation s,—presented Mr. Edmunds's petition himself, and made no communication to the committee appointed to consider the pension concerning his alleged misdeeds. Doubtless he had not promised Mr. Edmunds to favour his pension in case he resigned,—but Mr. Edmunds had calculated rightly on the compassionate temper of that gentle heart. The resentment of the judge was satis- fled by the resignation of the culprit ; the tenderness of the father was gratified by the now opening for the son.
The committee appointed to consider the pension had heard :generally of the unfavourable rumours, but these rumours were not officially before them, and Mr. Edmunds's friends in the House of Lords are many and earnest. What the Lord Chancellor did not feel it his duty to explain, the committee did not feel it their duty to ask. A pension of 8001. a year was granted without asking questions. What if it should 'turn out that Mr. Edmunds had appropriated money in the Patent Office,—did that diminish his merits as Clerk to the House of Lords ? Would not every reasonable man feel it his -duty to pension handsomely for faithful service the confidential :servant who had punctually discharged all his duties as a house -servant, but had been compelled to leave his place only for occa- sionally abstracting money from the counting-house, and putting it in his own name to a separate account at the savings' bank, of course drawing the interest (pro tempore) for himself ? At all events the committee were not affected with notice of the truth of the various rumours, and did not wish to test it, so the pension was given. And in the meantime the Hon. Slingsby Bethell succeeded to Mr. Edmunds as Reading Clerk -to the House of Lords.
Thus it was arranged in a manner very soothing for all parties,—when the story oozed out into the press, and that • coarse stimulus furnished by public opinion was applied to the motives of all concerned. However, we cannot regret a -circumstance which has resulted in these second " confessions of a beautiful spirit." The delicate sense of responsibility, the atmosphere of " soft compassion's feeling soul," the lowli- mess—almost Augustinian — of that last sentence of the Lord Chancellor's, in which he urged upon their Lordships an investigation into his own conduct,—" I humbly beg to move your Lordships that a Committee of this House be appointed," &c., almost force us to cry out " A saint, a saint is here !" Then the self-sacrifice I He only just touches upon his self-denial in not filling up that second Patent -appointment of 6001. a year. What a lesson in lowly self- :abnegation it reads us ! The spirit of Wordsworth's prayer, -" Give unto me, made lowly wise, the spirit of self- sacrifice," seems realized in the great English lawgiver. In short, we can but be thankful for events, however untoward, which dmve resulted in opening this gracious glimpse of "The image of a Chancellor's soul,— How bright, how solemn, how serene !"