« PreviousContinue »
different assemblies, he would dance amongst the youngest to the last, after riding over on horseback, and frequently in the rain, to the place of meeting.”
“A gentleman, who was one night standing by, observed on the extraordinary agility of so old a man.-0! that is nothing,' replied another, "for Mr. Elwes, to do this, rode twenty miles in the rain, with his shoes stuck into his boots, and his bag-wig in his pocket.”
In the year 1774, the old gentleman took his seat in the house of commons.-And he was returned,—as he liked best, at no expense. At the same time Fox, who had met him at Newmarket, and had sat at the same table with him “ late o'nights,” thought that he should secure a vote. Mr. Elwes, however, joined the party of Lord North, from a belief that his measures were right-but he never voted or sat rigidly on one side of the house. He was, what was called, a parliamentary coquette.
His dress did not brighten for the house. Indeed his pauper clothes often drew pity from passengers in the street. For Speaker's dinners, however, he had dipped successfully into the old chest of Sir Jervaise-and the suit, so fished up, became well known at many tables during the session. His wig getting bald, he took to his own scant silver locks, and carried about thirty-nine thin, white, naked hairs on his head to the grave.
Lord North retained our miser member late into the American War,—but at length being convinced of his error, Mr. Elwes joined Mr. Fox in the opposition-and carried on the parliamentary war against the minister, until he was driven from power in 1782. Then came the usual rush for place and profit-at which Mr. Elwes looked with a calm eye and an indifferent heart.
“ The debates at this period were very long and interesting, and generally continued till a late hour in the morning. Mr. Elwes, who never left any company, public or private, the first, always stayed out the whole debate. After the division, Mr. Elwes, without a great coat, would immediately go out of the House of Commons into the cold air, and, merely to save the expence of a backney coach, walk to the Mount Coffee-house. Sir Joseph Mawbey, and Mr. Wood of Lyttleton, who went the same way as Mr. Elwes did, often proposed a hackney-coach to him, but the reply always was," he liked nothing so much as walking.” Ilowever, when their hackney-coach used to overtake him, he had no objection to coming in to them; knowing that they must pay the fare. This circumstance, happened so often, that they used to smile at this act of small cunning, and indulge him in it.
“But as the satisfaction of being conveyed home for nothing did not always happen, on those nights when it did not, Mr. Elwes inva
riably continued his plan of walking. A circumstance happened to him on one of these evenings, which gave him a whimsical opportunity of displaying that disregard of his own person which I have before noticed. The night was very dark, and hurrying along, he went with such violence against the pole of a sedan chair, which he did not see, that he cut both his legs very deeply. As usual, he thought not of any assistance : but Colonel Timms, at whose house he then was, in Orchard-street, insisted upon some one being sent for. Old Elwes at length submitted, and an apothecary was called in, who immediately began to expatiate on the bad consequences of breaking the skinthe good fortune of his being sent for --and the peculiar bad appearance of Mr. Elwes's wound.'' Very probably,' said old Elwes, but Mr. I have one thing to say to youin my opinion my legs are not much hurt; now. you think they are so I will make this agreement: I will take one leg, and you shall take the other; you shall do what you please with your's, and I will do nothing to mine; and I will wager your bill that my leg gets well the first.'
“I have frequently heard him mention, with great triumph, that he beat the apothecary by a fortnight.”
This race between the two sick legs is sufficiently amusing, but he was jockey enough to know how to cross and jostle his antagonist's limb, and we have no doubt he would not let the doctor's leg win.
The members of the house bled him pretty freely and well, and thus some of his wealth got loose. Every needy brother had his scheme-“ iron works in America,” gold mines," • foreign investments.”—He has, indeed, acknowledged that three contested elections could not have drained him so much, as his fellow-representatives.
On the dismission of Lord North, Mr. Elwes remained for a time with Fox; afterwards he joined the Marquis of Lansdowne, and subsequently opposed him. He was no party man; and Sir Edward Astley, Sir George Saville, Mr. Powis, and Mr. Marsham, all pestered him about his versatility. In voting for the coalition, he disturbed the peace of poor Major Topham. It was a mighty sin!
With the coalition ended Mr. Elwes's parliamentary life: He would not stand a contested election. The following character of Sheridan is interesting, and has an air of truth about it. Sheridan had the power to suit himself to all persons, and he of course appeared the man of business to a man of busi
“ Mr. Elwes, even in his support of the coalition, chiefly attached himself to the men of private good character in the party. Hence, the Duke of Portland, Lord John Cavendish, were always favourites with him—and I have often heard him say, what to some may appear singular, that there was not a better man of business in the whole house than Mr. Sheridan.”
At the time that Mr. Elwes retired from parliament, his famous servant retired from life. He rode well in his master's steps, and had crystalized into a miser, from having an example ever before him, without himself having the activity, the time, or the means to save. He starved himself to death, out of respect to his master !
“ He died, as he was following his master, upon a hard trotting horse, into Berkshire, and he died empty and poor; for his yearly wages were not above four pounds; and he had fasted the whole day on which he expired. The life of this extraordinary domestic certainly verified a saying which Mr. Elwes often used, and the saying was this• If you keep one servant, your work is done; if you keep two, it is half done; but if you keep three, you may do it yourself. That there were very few kinds of work which this servant could not do, may be estimated by what he did: but that his knowledge of how some things were done, was not very extensive, may be taken from the following circumstance.
“ When the Lower House carried up their address to the King, on the subject of the American war, old Thomas (for that was the name of the fellow) who had never seen his master do any thing but ride on his most important occasions, imagined he was to ride up to his Majesty at St. James's, and speak to him on horseback. Accordingly he cleaned up the old saddles, gave the horses a feed of corn at his own expense, and at his own expense too had a piece of new riband in front, put upon one of the bridles; and all this that his master might do things handsomely, and like a 'parliament man! But when he found how his master was to go; saw the carriage of Colonel Timms at the door, who, by borrowing for Mr. Elwes a bag-wig, lending him a shirt with laced ruffles, and new furbishing his everlasting coat, had made him look very differently from what he usually did, and in truth, much like a gentleman, old Thomas, returning all his own zeal and finery into the stables, observed, with regret, that mayhap, his master might look a bit of a gentleman-but he was so altered, nobody would know him.'»
Soon after his retirement from the House, Mr. Elwes assisted a gentleman in the Guards with money to purchase a majority; and he lent the assistance like a gentleman. But such liberality in our curious friend can always be contrasted with some singular instance of outrageous saving.
“ It seems Mr. Elwes had requested Mr. Spurling to accompany him to Newmarket. It was a day in one of the spring meetings which was remarkably filled with races; and they were out from six in the morning till eight o'clock in the evening before they again set out for home. Mr. Elwes, in the usual way, would eat nothing; but Mr. Spurling was wiser, and went down to Newmarket. When they began their journey home, the evening was grown very dark and cold, and
Mr. Spurling rode on somewhat quicker; but on going through the turnpike by the Devil's Ditch, he heard Mr. Elwes calling to him with great earnestness. On returning before he had paid, Mr. Elwes said —
Here! here! follow me! this is the best road!' In an instant he saw Mr. Elwes, as well as the night would permit, climbing his horse up the precipice of the ditch. Šir,' said Mr. Spurling, 'I can never get up there.'
• No danger at all!' replied old Elwes; but if your horse be not safe, lead him! At length with great difficulty, and with one of the horses falling, they mounted the ditch, and then, with not less toil, got down on the other side. When they were safe landed on the plain, Mr. Spurling thanked Heaven for their escape. “Aye,' said old Elwes, you mean from the turnpike. Very right; never pay a turnpike if you can avoid it!' In proceeding on their journey, they came to a very narrow road; at which Mr. Elwes, notwithstanding the cold, went as slowly as possible. On Mr. Spurling wishing to quicken their
pace, old Elwes observed that he was letting his horse feed on some hay that was hanging on the sides of the hedge— Besides,' added he, it is nice hay, and you have it for nothing.'
Here the Major, struck aghast with his own history, breaks out into the following exclamation.
“Strange man! whose penury and prodigality, whose profusion and meanness, all so mixed together, puzzle me still more and more, as I detail them to the public!”
Mr. Elwes was seventy-five years of age when he retired from parliament, and the return to indolence made old age begin to think of its rights, and to assert them. He occasionally attended a card club at the Mount Coffee-house, where the play was usually moderate, and the fire, paid for by the general purse, good. On one night a keen hand pinned him down to picquet, at which he prided himself as a player, and after a contest of two days and a night, Mr. Elwes rose up three thousand pounds the lighter. He paid the loss by a draft on Hoare's, and never played picquet or the fool to such an excess again.
In 1785, as he was desirous of once more revisiting Stoke, a friend offered to take him there free of expense, and he jumped at the offer.
“ The rooms at his seat at Stoke, that were now much out of repair, and would have all fallen in, but for his son, John Elwes, esq. who had resided there, he thought too expensively furnished, as worse things might have done. If a window was broken, there was to be no repair but that of a little brown paper, or that of piecing in a bit of broken glass, which had at length been done so frequently, and in so many shapes, that it would have puzzled a mathematician to say, • what figure they described. To save fire, he would walk about the remains of an old green-house, or sit, with a servant, in the kitchen,
During the harvest he would amuse himself with going into the fields to glean the corn, on the grounds of his own tenants; and they used to leave a little more than common, to please the old gentleman, who was as eager after it as any pauper in the parish.”
Gleaning, of course, was dearer than reaping could have been !--it was the miser's harvtes !-He used to pick up bones, chips, and sticks, and has been heard to abuse the crows for their prodigality in building their nests. He rode an old blood mare bare-footed about the green lanes; not that it saved shoes, of course!-no_" the turf was so pleasant to a horse's foot!" If a boy put hay in the rack for a visitor's horse, the old gentleman would displace it.
While in the country at this period he was introduced to Mrs. Wells, the Major's favourite, and he acknowledged to that lady he had never been at the theatre. Why did not Sheridan give him an order? This want of theatrical curiosity is utterly distracting to the Major, who always thought a play and a greyhound two of the chief blessings of life.
The mind of Mr. Elwes was now beginning to die. He offered to lend money to his biographer, who declined it. The spring of 1786 he passed alone at Stoke, and money now began to haunt him like a spectre. From Stoke he went to Thaydonhall, the most ruinous of all his ruins; and from thence he came to London. He made his will in favour of his sons, even in the then misery of his intellect.
Major Topham, who seems indeed to have little relish of the will, and who holds it with an angry hand, like Marc Antony, here mentions that the sons of Mr. Elwes were natural children, and then begs a long prevaricating pardon for the exposure.
“ In mentioning these gentlemen as his natural children,' my respect for them, I am sure, will not be diminished : and a ring of no small value, lately sent to me by George Elwes, esq. in memory of their father, tells me I hold some place in their esteem. On the subject of natural children, what the facetious Dick Beckford once said so well, no man need be ashamed to repeat—when so many unnatural children are abroad, I never shall blush to be called the natural child of my father.'
“ A sentiment like this will not misbecome the sons of Mr. Elwes: and as, from the large property which has fallen to their share, some rank in society must be theirs also, that property will only be a benefit, or otherwise, as it is or is not well employed. In the person of their father, they have seen how small may be the advantage of enormous wealth; how little the happiness it confers, when confined; and that, given to us for good or pleasurable purposes, for private or public ends, riches are a blessing only as they are used.
“ If these hints be of service, their father will not have lived in