HILL, Richard (1733-1808), of Hawkestone, Salop.
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Family and Education
b. 6 June 1733,1 1st s. of Sir Rowland Hill, 1st Bt., of Hawkestone by his 1st w. Jane, da. of Sir Brian Broughton, 3rd Bt. educ. Shrewsbury; Westminster 1744-8; Magdalen, Oxf. 8 Dec. 1750, aged 17; Grand Tour 1755-7.2 unm. suc. fa. as 2nd Bt. 7 Aug. 1783.
Hill’s father, a strong Tory, was a nephew of Sir Richard Hill, Kt., diplomatist and statesman, from whom he inherited Hawkestone, and thus a first cousin of Thomas Hill of Tern who, failing male issue, was named in the remainder to Sir Rowland’s baronetcy.
Richard Hill, prominent among the religious revivalists of his time, was a man of deep piety, whose writings and meditations show sincerity and zeal, though not much originality of thought. He engaged in theological controversy; wrote in 1768 a pamphlet, Pietas Oxoniensis, in defence of six students expelled from St. Edmund Hall, Oxford, as Calvinist Methodists; and championed Whitfield against Wesley. There is nothing to suggest an interest in politics before he entered the House, though relevant references may have been omitted by his biographer, a mid-19th century Evangelical, as ‘neither interesting nor beneficial to the general reader’. Hill’s election, to which ‘there was not even the least shadow of an opposition’,3 was the more remarkable as the other seat was already held by Noel Hill, and choosing two members of the same family for a county was unusual. His subsequent elections were similarly unopposed: he was highly respected, a country gentleman of Tory antecedents, and at the same time a patron of Methodists and tolerant of Dissenters. Wraxall writes:4
... Sir Richard Hill was one of the most upright, disinterested, and honest men who ever sat in Parliament ... but his religious cast of character laid him open to ... ridicule. His manners were quaint and puritanical, his address shy and embarrassed. He possessed, however, a most benevolent disposition, together with a great estate, which enabled him to gratify his generous and philanthropic feelings.
A Member, unnamed, quoted by Sidney (p. 303), says that he could find nothing to disapprove in Hill’s conduct, except ‘his introducing religion, or quoting Scripture in some of his speeches’.
In every other respect, I think Mr. Hill’s conduct is, and has been, that of an upright, conscientious Member of Parliament, who is biased by no party, and who wishes always to act as he judges right. Nor do I know any one Member of the House who thinks otherwise of him.
Yet, ‘his enthusiastic turn in matters of religion’ was hardly the main reason for the ridicule he often incurred. Even his admiring biographer admits that Hill ‘at times unnecessarily exposed himself to it’ when, to prove that religion does not generate ‘moroseness and gloom’, he gave ‘vent to a flow of natural humour, which it would often have been more prudent to have restrained, especially at those times when he allowed it to mingle with discussions of the most serious importance’. Besides, his speeches were long, laboured and whimsical, adorned with similes and parables, mixing classical and literary quotations with biblical precepts and exhortations. In the debate of 15 Mar. 1782, which overthrew North, Hill quoted Gibbon on the withdrawal of the Roman troops from Britain, drew an analogy with the present situation, and recommended to the nation, ‘if it wished to be saved, to turn to Jehovah, and appease his wrath’. The motion condemning the recall of Rodney (30 May) he opposed ‘in a vein of pleasantry’. As last speaker in the debate on Shelburne’s peace preliminaries, 21 Feb. 1783, he ‘kept the House in a continual roar of laughter’; compared the union of Fox and North to a mixture of an acid and an alkali, of Herod and Pontius Pilate. His speech on Fox’s East India bill was a typical performance; possibly there was in it a streak of self-irony, more probably a great fund of self-deception: ‘He was never long-winded, as the House knew. Multum in parvo was a maxim he wished to follow; and if unhappily he failed in that, he would be careful to avoid a nihil in multo.’ The bill was a stab to the English constitution; ‘he was ready to cry out, Et tu Brute! or, to change classical for scriptural ground, he could not help calling to mind the conduct of Joab to Amasa.’ On 8 Mar., when Fox moved a representation to the King on the constitutional position, ‘Sir Richard Hill made a humorous speech, and read some verses that he had made, being the answer from the King that he supposed Mr. Fox would have dictated’.5 This according to Sidney, who reproduces the doggerel (pp. 342-3), caused ‘extreme amusement’. Yet comic turns ill accorded with moral exhortations and the regard which his character and actions amply deserved.
While personally respectful to North, Hill considered that peace with America was the predominant concern, and that ‘the safety of the state required new men’. He consequently voted against the Government in the six divisions, 12 Dec. 1781-15 Mar. 1782, for which lists are extant. On 18 Feb. 1783 he voted for Shelburne’s peace preliminaries; on 7 May with Pitt for parliamentary reform; but on the 16th against Sawbridge’s motion for shorter Parliaments.6 He spoke and voted against Fox’s East India bill, was a steady supporter of Pitt, and was re-elected as such at the general election. On 26 Oct. 1784, a few months after his cousin Noel Hill had been made a peer, Richard Hill wrote to Sir Lloyd Kenyon7 that the elevation of one ‘who could not have had the smallest pretensions to such an honour but what were derived from that family whose name his father had taken, and whose arms he bore, whilst the elder branch and only male lineal heir seemed to be passed over and forgotten’, was causing astonishment and dissatisfaction. He (Richard Hill), ‘so far from being envious’, rejoiced in the advancement of an upright man who will support the dignity with credit; nor had he himself ever asked for a peerage though he does not undervalue such distinctions; but ‘as I am now circumstanced really do not wish it’; yet sometime he might; and so on, in a rigmarole of about 2,500 words—parvum in multo. There is, however, one clear statement, borne out by Richard Hill’s further conduct: that this would in no way be affected by such matters. He continued to support Pitt; and again voted for parliamentary reform, 18 Apr. 1785. Humane and austere, an enemy of corruption and luxury, he repeatedly pleaded for taxing the amusements of the rich and especially ‘places of public diversions’, and for freeing from taxation the necessaries of the poor and the business of the industrious.8 On 15 May 1789 he spoke in favour of the new bill to prevent vexatious removals of the poor,9 and generally supported measures calculated to improve their lot.
He died 28 Nov. 1808.
Ref Volumes: 1754-1790
Author: Sir Lewis Namier
- 1. Gent. Mag. 1733, p. 325.
- 2. E. Sidney, Life of Sir Richard Hill, 18.
- 3. Jonathan Scott to Richard Hill, 7 Oct. 1780, Sidney, 278.
- 4. Mems. iii. 268.
- 5. Debrett, vi. 462; vii. 204; ix. 368; x. 382-6; xiii. 277.
- 6. Ibid. vii. 182.
- 7. Chatham mss.
- 8. Sidney, 299, 353-63, 493-5.
- 9. Stockdale, xvii. 234.