Perceval, Spencer

, second son to the preceding, by his second lady, was born in Audley Square, Nov. 1, 1762. His infancy was spent at Charlton, the seat of his family, in Kent, where he went through the first rudidiments of learning, and also contracted an early attachment for the youngest daughter of the late Sir Thorn; Spencer Wilson, hart, who afterwards became his wife From Charlton he removed to Harrow, where he successfully prepared himself for the university. At the pro] age he entered of Trinity College, Cambridge, where th< present bishop of Bristol, Dr. William-Lort Mansell, | his tutor. There unwearied application and splendid abilities led him to the highest academical honours. In 1782 he obtained the degree of master of arts, and on the 16th of December of the following year was admitted of Lincoln’s Inn; where, after performing the necessary studies, he was called to the bar in Hilary Term 1786. He commenced his professional career in the Court of King’s Bench, and accompanied the Judges through the Midland circuit. His chief opponents were then Mr. (now Sir S.) Romilly, Mr. Clarke, and Mr. serjeant Vaughan; and, notwithstanding a degree of modesty, which at that period almost amounted to timidity, he displayed encouraging promises of forensic excellence, on some of the first trials on which he was retained, particularly that of George Thomas, of Brackiey, Northamptonshire, for forgery. In this case he was retained for the prosecution; and had the honour of contending with Mr. Law, since Lord Chief Justice Ellenborough. This trial excited much public attention; and the ability evinced by Mr. Perceval increased the number of his clients. His advancement was now both regular and rapid. In Hilary term 1796, he obtained a silk gown, and became the leading counsel on the Midland circuit, not only in point of rank, but also, in quantity of business. He was soon after appointed counsel to the Admiralty; and the university of Cambridge acknowledged its sense of his merits by nominating him one of its two counsel. About this time, he had attracted the notice of an attentive observer and acute judge of men and talents, the late Mr. Pitt, by a pamphlet which he had written, to prove “that an impeachment of the House of Commons did not abate by a dissolution of parliament.” This work became the foundation of his intimacy with the premier, and his subsequent connexion with the government, and caused a sudden alteration in his prospects. His object now was to obtain a seat in parliament, where he might support those measures for which the situation of the country seemed to call, and a most favourable opportunity presented itself. His first cousin, lord Compton, succeeded to the earldom of Northampton in April 1796, on the demise of his maternal uncle, and consequently vacated his seat for the borough of that name. Mr. Perceval immediately offered himself to represent the vacant borough, and was too well known, and too universally esteemed, to meet with any opposition. He had been previously appointed deputy recorder; and so | highly did his constituents approve of his political conduct and private worth, that they returned him to serve in three parliaments.

Mr. Perceval now endeavoured to become thoroughly master of every branch of policy; and particularly dedicated much of his attention to the subject of finance; and some of his plans, in that important department, are deserving of high commendation. In Hilary vacation, in 1801, at the formation of the Addington administration, Mr. Perceval, then in his 39th year, was appointed solicitor-general, on the resignation of sir William Grant, who succeeded sir Pepper Arden, afterwards lord Alvanley, as master of the rolls. In Hilary vacation, 1802, he was promoted to the situation of attorney-general, become vacant by the elevation of sir Edward Law (now lord Ellenborough) to the seat of chief justice of the Court of King’s Bench.

Mr. Perceval, on receiving the appointment of solicitorgeneral, relinquished the Court of King’s Bench, and practised only in that of Chancery. In taking this step, he was influenced chiefly by the wish of having more time to dedicate to his political duties. But it is doubtful whether he succeeded in this view. In the King’s Bench, though he was occasionally engaged in conducting causes of great importance, his business had never been so great as wholly to occupy his time. Nor is this to be wondered at, when it is considered, that at that time he had to contend with, as competitors in that court, Mr. Erskine, Mr. Mingay, Mr. Law, Mr. Garrow, and Mr. Gihbs, all of them king’s counsel, much older than himself, and established in great practice before even Mr. Perceval was called to the bar. It is no disgrace to him, that he did not, before the age of forty, dispossess these gentlemen of their clients. But when he came into Chancery, he found competitors less powerful; and though his disadvantages, in entering a court in the practice of which he had never been regularly initiated, were great, he advanced rapidly in practice; and long before his abandonment of the bar, he had begun to be considered as the most powerful antagonist of sir Samuel Romilly, the Coryphirus of Equity Draftsmen.

Mr. Perceval retained his situation as attorney-general, when Mr. Pitt resumed the reins of government, and continued to distinguish himself as a ready and staunch supporter of the measures of that great man. He had the | honour sometimes to call down upon himself all the eloquence of the opposition, and proved a most useful partisan of the administration. On Mr. Pitt’s death, a coalition took place between the Fox and Grenville parties, in which Mr. Perceval declined to share; and having resigned his’ office, appeared for the first time on the benches of the opposition, on which he continued until Lord Howick, in 1807, brought forward the Catholic petition, and a bill was proposed to remove the political disabilities of which the members of that sect complain. Mr. Perceval, then, alarmed for the safety of the Protestant Church, rose in its defence; and Catholic emancipation being a measure generally obnoxious, the dissolution of the administration followed. As Mr. Perceval, at this time, was considered the ablest man of his party, it might have been expected that he would have claimed one of the first places in the new ministry as his right. On the contrary, the chancellorship of the exchequer was several times rejected by him, whose only wish was to resume the situation of attorneygeneral. This, however, not being satisfactory to his majesty, Mr. Perceval was offered the chancellorship of the duchy of Lancaster for life, as a compensation for his professional loss, and a provision for his family, provided he should agree to fill the office to which the esteem and confidence of the monarch called him. Notwithstanding that the value of the chancellorship proposed did not much exceed 2000l. a year, nearly one thousand less than Mr. Perceval’s profession produced per annum, his sense of public duty induced him to comply: and when, after his nomination, parliament expressed their dissatisfaction at the nature of the grant, he allowed it to be cancelled, and repeated in the house the assurance of his readiness to serve his majesty even without the chancellorship of the duchy of JLan caster, for life.

The new administration was no sooner formed, in March 1807, than it became necessary to consolidate it by an appeal to the sense of the people. Parliament was in consequence dissolved; and in the new one, Mr. Perceval found an increase of strength, which enabled him to carry on that system of public measures begun by Mr. Pitt. To recapitulate these, and notice every occasion in which he stood prominent in debate, belongs to future history. It may suffice here to mention, that he had the voice of the country with him and that when a regency became agaiu | necessary, and when the general expectation was that the regent would call to his councils those men who had formerly been honoured with his confidence, his royal highness preferred retaining Mr. Perceval and his colleagues in his service.

As a public speaker, Mr. Perceval rose much in reputation and excellence, after he became minister. As the leading man in the house of commons, it was necessary that he should be able to explain and defend all his measures; and this duty, arduous under all circumstances, was particularly so in his case, as there was scarcely any other member of administration, in that house, competent to the task of relieving or supporting him. He, in a short time, proved that he stood in need of no assistance: he made himself so completely acquainted with every topic that was likely to be regularly discussed, that he was never taken unawares or at a loss. In the statement of his measures he was remarkably methodical and perspicuous. By many persons he was deemed particularly to excel in his replies; in rebutting any severe remark that came unexpectedly upon him, and in turning the fact adduced, or the argument used, against his opponent. Had his life been spared, it is probable he would have risen to the highest degree of reputation for historical and constitutional knowledge, and political skill.

The death of this valuable servant of the public was occasioned by the hand of an assassin, one of those men who brood over theirown injuries, orsupposed injuries, until they become the willing agents of malignity and revenge. This catastrophe happened on Monday, May 11, 1812. About five o’clock in the evening of that day, Mr. Perceval was entering the lobby of the house of commons, when he was shot by a person named John Bellingham, and almost instantly expired. The murderer, when apprehended, acknowledged his guilt, but pleaded that he had claims on administration which had been neglected; and it appeared, on his trial, that he had deliberately prepared to murder some person in administration, without any particular choice; and that when he was possessed by this hellish spirit, Mr. Perceval presented himself. No marks of insanity appeared either previous to or on his trial, nor could he be brought to any proper sense of his crime. He was executed on the Monday following.

houses of parliament expressed their sense of Mr. | Perceval’s public services and private worth by every testimony of respect, and by a liberal grant for the provision of his family, while the public at large were no less impressed with the horror which his cruel death created, and with the loss of such a minister, at a time when the reconciliation of contending political parties appeared hopeless. 1


Gent. Mag. 1812, Collins’s Peerage by Sir E. Brydges,