Dundas, Henry

, Lord Viscount Melville, brother to the preceding, by a different mother, was born about 1741, and was educated at the high school and university of Edinburgh. Having studied the law, he was, in 1763, admitted a member of the faculty of advocates, and soon rose to a considerable degree of eminence, and very extensive practice. In 1773 he was appointed solicitorgeneral, and in 1775, lord advocate of Scotland, which office he retained till 1783. In March 1777, he was appointed joint keeper of the signet for Scotland. His office as lord advocate necessarily requiring a seat in parliament, he was elected for the county of Mid- Lothian, and soon distinguished himself as a supporter of administration in all the measures which were pursued in the conduct of the war with America, and from this time appears to have abandoned all thoughts of rising in his profession as a lawyer. In his new pursuit as a statesman, he was highly favoured by natural sense and talents, which were indeed so powerful as to form a balance to his defects in elocution, which were striking. He had taken no

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pains to conquer his native pronunciation, which, as it frequently provoked a smile from his hearers, would have proved of the greatest disadvantage in the heat and acrimony of debate, had he not evinced by the fluency and | acuteness of his arguments that he was deserving of serious attention, and was an opponent not to be despised. For declamatory speaking, and addresses to the passions, he had neither taste nor talent; his mind was intent on the practical part of every measure, and in every debate that concerned what maybe termed business, he had few equals, and his speeches were perhaps the more attended to, as he made it a point to reserve them for such occasions. During lord North’s administration he was introduced to no ostensible station; but when that nobleman and his colleagues were obliged to retire in 1782, and a few months after, by the death of the marquis of Rockingham, their successors were obliged to resign, Mr. Dundas joined the young minister, Mr. Pitt, and was sworn into the privy council, and appointed treasurer of the navy. During Mr. Pitt’s first administration the general peace was concluded, which, however necessary, did not add much popularity to the ministry, and lord North and Mr. Fox, with their respective friends, or the greater part of them, having formed what was termed the coalition, Mr. Pitt’s administration was obliged to give way to a host of opponents, which was considered as invincible. On this occasion, in 1783, Mr. Dundas was deprived of his offices as treasurer of the navy, and lord advocate for Scotland.

The coalition-administration lasted a very few months. The formation of it had deprived them of all popularity, and their first great measure precipitated their downfall. This was the memorable East India Bill, in opposition to which Mr. Dundas made a most conspicuous figure, and discovered a knowledge of the affairs of the East-India Company and government, which had evidently been the result of much study and investigation, and in which at that time he appeared to have no superior. But although Mr. Fox’s bill, by the strong influence which he and his colleague still possessed, was passed in the house of commons, it was lost in that of the lords; and the commons still adhering to the ministers, the business of government for some time stood still, until his majesty, by a dissolution of parliament, took the sense of the people, which was decidedly against the coalition-administration. Mr. Pitt


and his friends were then seated in power, supported by a majority in both houses, and Mr. Dundas resumed his office as treasurer of the navy; but, by his recommendation, the office of lord advocate of Scotland was given to | ]VIr. Hay Campbell, afterwards lord president of the court of session. The first measure of the new administration was a bill for the better regulation of the affairs of the East India Qompany, which, although in the opinion of many, not very different from that of Mr. Fox, as far as regarded the controul to be established over the affairs of the company, was less unpopular in other respects. Among its other provisions was the creation of a board of controul, of which Mr. Dundas was appointed president.

In 1791, Mr. Dundas became a member of the cabinet, as secretary of state for the home department, an office which he filled with peculiar energy and vigour, when it became necessary to adopt measures for the internal defence of the country against a portion of revolutionary spirit derived from the temporary successes of the French in what they called reforming the vices of their government. To Mr. Dundas has also been ascribed the origin of the volunteer system, which has unquestionably served to display the loyalty and energies of the nation in a manner which its greatest enemy has felt severely. In 1794, when the duke of Portland, with a large proportion of the whig party, joined the administration, Mr. Dundas resigned his office of secretary for the home department to his grace, and was made secretary of the war department. The whole of his transactions in this, as well, indeed, as in his former office, belong so strictly to history, that we know not how to separate them, and even if our limits permitted, the leading events of that most eventful period are too recent to admit of any detail superior in authority to the annals of the day. A man so long in possession of uncommon power must necessarily have excited much envy and malice; and few had more of it than Mr. Dundas. They who disapprove of the political system pursued by Mr. Pitt, will of course be equally unfriendly to his coadjutor, and, in many measures, certainly his adviser; but, on the other hand, a large number of comprehensive minds will consider him a powerful and efficient statesman, who, if he was sometimes excessive in his profusion, and too careless in his means and instruments, lost nothing by a cold, narrow, and unwise œconomy, which, for the sake of small savings, sacrifices mighty and productive ends; which is entangled by the minute formalities of office; and wrapping itself up in forbidding ceremonies, and hanging fearfully over the precedents of the file, is unable to look abroad, | when the storm is out, and the banks and mounds are thrown down. The candid biographer from whom we have borrowed these remarks adds, with great justice, that until it shall he proved, that the evils, which even this country has suffered from the French revolution, would not have been a thousand times worse by Battering and yielding to it, surely nothing is proved against the wisdom of Mr. Pitt’s administration.

Mr. Dundas continued in his several offices (with the addition of keeper of the privy seal in Scotland, conferred upon him in 1800,) until 1801, when he resigned along with Mr. Pitt, and in 1802 was elevated to the peerage by the title of Viscount Melville, of Melville in the county of Edinburgh, and Baron Dunira in the county of Perth. On Mr. Pitt’s return to office in May 1804, lord Melville succeeded lord St. Vincent as first lord of the admiralty, and continued so until the memorable occurrence of his impeachment. He had, while treasurer of the navy, rendered jnuch essential advantage to the service, and had been instrumental in promoting the comfort of the seamen by the bills he introduced for enabling them, during their absence, to allot certain portions of their pay to their wives and near relatives; and he also brought forward a bill for regulating the office of treasurer of the navy, and preventing an improper use being made of the money passing through his hands, and directing the same from time to time to be paid into the Bank; but by the tenth report of the commissioners for naval inquiry, instituted under the auspices of the earl ofSt. Vincent, it appeared that large sums of the public money in the hands of the treasurer had been employed directly contrary to the act. The matter was taken up very warmly by the house of commons, and after keen debates, certain resolutions moved by Mr. Whi thread for an impeachment against the noble lord, were carried on the 8th of April, 1805. On casting up the votes on the division, the numbers were found equal, 216 for, and 216 against; but the motion was carried by the casting vote of the right hon. Charles Abbot, the speaker. On the 10th, lord Melville resigned his office of first lord of the admiralty, and on the 6th of May he was struck from the list of privy counsellors by his majesty. On the 26th of June, Mr. Whitbread appeared at the bar of the house of lords, accompanied by several other members, and solemnly impeached lord Melville of high crimes and misdemeanours; | and on the 9th of July presented at the bar of the house of lords the articles of impeachment. The trial afterwards proceeded in Westminster-hall, and in the end lord Melville was acquitted of all the articles hy his peers. That lord Melville acted contrary to his own law, in its letter, there can be no doubt; but on the other hand it does not appear that he was actuated by motives of personal corruption, or, in fact, that he enjoyed any peculiar advantage from the misapplication of the monies. Those under him, and whom his prosecutors, the better to get at him, secured by a bill of indemnity, employed the public money to their own use and emolument; nor does it appear that lord Melville ever had the use of any part of it, except one or two comparatively small sums for a short period. The impropriety of his conduct, therefore, was not personally offending against the act, but suffering it to be done by the paymaster and others under him; and, after all, no money was lost to the public by the malversations.

Lord Melville was afterwards restored to his seat in the privy council, but did not return to office. Sometimes he spoke in the house of lords, but passed the greatest part of his time in Scotland, where he died suddenly, at the house of his nephew, the right honourable Robert Dundas, lord chief baron of the exchequer in Scotland, May 27, 1811. His lordship married first, Elizabeth, daughter of David Rennie, esq. of Melville Castle by whom he had a son (the present lord Melville) and three daughters; and secondly, in 1793, he married lady Jane Hope, sister to James earl of Hopetown, by whom he had no issue.

Lord Melville possessed all the natural talents of his relatives and ancestors, but like them was deficient in literary taste or acquirements. He was completely a man of business; in office regular and systematic, and to applicants affable and attentive; he made no parade of professions, and those who sought admittance on business, or courted his patronage, were never deluded by false hopes. With many brilliant examples before him of men who had become great by popularity, or were admired for the refinements of courtesy, he had no ambition to emulate them. His acquisitions from keeping the best company were so few, that he knew little of the language, and nothing of the eloquence of the country in which he was destined to flourish; and although he acquired an | unprecedented share of power and patronage, it would be difficult to say whom he courted or pleased. The arts of what is termed popularity, he neither practised, nor understood. He never was at any period of his life, a popular minister, yet few men had more friends, for he could rank among that number many of his public opponents, who, amidst all the bitterness of party spirit, paid homage to the friendly, liberal, and we may add, convivial tenor of his private life; and to his open and undisguised avowal of sentiments and principles to which he adhered without a single breach of consistency. The extent of his patronage was perhaps his misfortune, for while it brought upon him the envy of those who would have had no scruple to share it, it also rendered him liable to more serious censure. A minister who is pestered by solicitations from those whom, he wishes not to refuse, soon loses the power of discrimination; and lord Melville was peculiarly unfortunate in some of the objects of his bounty, whose faults were placed to his account, and whom his friendship led him to screen after they had forfeited their character with the public. Upon the whole, whatever may be thought of his character during the present generation of parties, it cannot, even now, be denied that his great talents for business, both in parliament and in council, his indefatigable industry, and his benevolent and social temper, justly rank him among the most eminent of our political leaders, and will secure for him a large portion of the approbation of future historians. 1


Brydges’s edition of Collins’s Peerage.—Biographical Peerage, vol. II &c. &c.