TWISS, Horace (1787-1849), of 15 Serle Street, Lincoln's Inn Fields, Mdx.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1820-1832, ed. D.R. Fisher, 2009
Available from Cambridge University Press



1820 - 1830
1830 - 1831
1835 - 1837

Family and Education

b. 28 Feb. 1787,1 1st s. of Francis Twiss of Bath and Frances, da. of Roger Kemble, actor and theatrical manager. educ. I. Temple 1806, called 1811. m. (1) 2 Aug. 1817, Anne Lawrence Serle (d. 24 Mar. 1828), 1da.;2 (2) 3 Apr. 1830, Ann Louisa Andrewanna, da. of Rev. Alexander Sterky, Swiss minister and reader to Princess Charlotte, wid. of Charles Greenwood, Russia merchant, of 6 Rood Lane, London, 1s. suc. fa. 1827. d. 4 May 1849.

Offices Held

Commr. of bankrupts 1819-27; counsel to admiralty and judge adv. of fleet Feb. 1824-June 1828; KC 12 June 1827; bencher, I. Temple 1827, reader 1837, treas. 1838; under-sec. of state for war and colonies May 1828-Nov. 1830; vice-chan. of duchy of Lancaster Nov. 1844-d.


Twiss’s father was born in 1759, the younger son of an English merchant then residing in Holland, who subsequently settled in Norfolk. He was descended from a junior branch of the Twiss family of Killintierna, county Kerry. His elder brother Richard (1747-1821) made a faintly ludicrous name for himself as a traveller and miscellaneous writer and ended his days in penury after squandering a handsome inheritance in futile attempts to perfect the manufacture of paper from straw.3 Francis Twiss, who was educated at Cambridge, reputedly nourished a hopeless passion for Sarah Kemble (later the celebrated Mrs. Siddons) before settling for marriage in 1786 to her less talented but equally beautiful sister Fanny, who promptly abandoned her undistinguished stage career. She later opened a fashionable girls’ school at 24 Camden Place, Bath, in the running of which she was assisted by her husband and their three daughters. Her niece Frances Anne Kemble recalled her ‘great sweetness of voice and countenance’ and ‘graceful, refined, feminine manner’. She remembered Francis Twiss as a ‘grim-visaged, gaunt-figured, kind-hearted gentleman and profound scholar’.4 The author and Welsh judge George Hardinge described Mrs. Twiss in her mature years as being ‘big as a house, in very good looks. Her manner is affected; her voice and expressions measured; but she is very good-natured, and by no means deficient in materials for society or chat’. Of her husband he wrote:

[He is] very thin, and stoops. His face is ghastly in the paleness of it. He takes absolute clouds of snuff; and his eyes have an ill-natured acuteness in them. He is a kind of thin Dr. Johnson without his hard words (though he is often quaint in his phrase); very dogmatical, and spoilt as an original.

His scholastic bent led him to compile a Complete Verbal Index to the Plays of Shakespeare, a work of great labour but little practical use; mercifully, 542 of its 750 copies were consumed by fire in 1807.5

Horace Twiss, whose younger brother John joined the Royal Engineers in 1816, was markedly influenced by this bohemian background. He was bred to the bar, went the Oxford circuit and subsequently practised successfully in the equity courts; but he inherited his mother’s family’s love of the theatre and had literary aspirations and pretensions as a wit and raconteur. It was reckoned that he was retarded in his profession by his vulgar, raffish image and apparent lack of gravitas. He shone as a member of various debating societies, and one of his dinner party pieces was a series of imitations of great parliamentary orators, past and present. He composed the farewell address which his aunt delivered on her retirement from the stage in 1812, and in 1814 published some clever Posthumous Parodies of famous poets and the words to A Selection of Scotch Melodies.6 On 13 May 1819 his tragedy The Carib Chief was performed at Drury Lane, with Kean in the title role. It was ‘received with great applause’, but later sank into well-merited obscurity.7 It was at about this time that Tom Moore attended ‘an odd dinner’ given by Twiss in Chancery Lane, ‘in a borrowed room, with champagne, pewter spoons, and old Lady Cork’.8 On a weightier note, he contributed to the Edinburgh Review in 1810 (xvi. 1-30) a piece on the anonymous Letter on the French Government; and in 1812 he published Influence or Prerogative, in which he argued that the admitted increase in the influence of the crown since 1688 was merely a necessary and largely benign compensation for the corresponding diminution of the royal prerogative.9

Twiss had parliamentary ambitions. In 1816 and 1818 he contested Wootton Bassett on the interest of the 2nd earl of Clarendon, but on both occasions he was narrowly beaten and failed with a petition.10 He was successful at the general election of 1820 and in turn survived a petition. He aligned himself with the Liverpool ministry, voting against economies in revenue collection, 4 July 1820. In his maiden speech, against the motion of censure on ministers for their treatment of Queen Caroline, 5 Feb. 1821, he carried the attack to the Whig opposition, who frequently barracked him. Thomas Creevey* sneered that ‘the daring, dramatic Horace Twiss made his first, and probably his last appearance on the stage’; but he was not to be so easily silenced.11 He voted for Catholic claims, 28 Feb., and scored a considerable success with his speech in support of the relief bill, 23 Mar. The ‘Mountaineer’ Henry Grey Bennet thought it ‘remarkably good’, the Whig George Agar Ellis* noted that he spoke ‘well’ and the independent Tory Henry Bankes* recorded that the speech was ‘much and deservedly commended’.12 However, Twiss failed to scale these heights again, so that Cyrus Redding could observe that he ‘should have been called single-speech’. Redding claimed to have spied on him with a friend through the keyhole of the door to his Inner Temple chambers as he rehearsed a speech intended for the Commons:

We ... saw him address the tongs, placed upright against the bars [of the fireplace] as ‘Mr. Speaker’ ... [He] preserved wondrous gravity, and the tongs falling, said to himself, ‘Aye, now the Speaker has left the chair’.13

Nothing came of his promised initiative to improve bankruptcy administration, 16 Feb., 1 Mar.14 He spoke against the disfranchisement of ordnance officials, 12 Apr. On 17 Apr. he opposed Lambton’s parliamentary reform scheme, arguing that ‘it was better, in most cases, for the House to be a little behind public opinion, than a little before it’ and that ‘the inconvenience of our present system - for some there were - we willingly bore as the price of our freedom’. He voted against Lord John Russell’s reform motion, 9 May, and dismissed Burdett’s demand for inquiry into the Peterloo massacre, 16 May, in a speech which Grey Bennet reckoned was ‘rather ingenious’, but ‘only showed the base nature of thieving lawyers and the length they will go to secure the favour of the crown’.15 He divided with ministers for the duke of Clarence’s grant, 18 June, and against economies, 27 June 1821.

Twiss voted against more extensive tax cuts, 11, 21 Feb., and abolition of one of the joint-postmasterships, 13 Mar 1822. He opposed Wilson’s attempt to bring the circumstances of his dismissal from the army before the House, 13 Feb. On 25 Apr. he spoke at length against Russell’s reform scheme, which he said would lead to the ‘total subversion of the monarchy’, but the Speaker, according to Mrs. Arbuthnot, allowed him to be ‘coughed down’.16 He defended the aliens bill, 5 June, and voted with government against the attack on the lord advocate, 25 June, and for the Irish estimates, 22 July. He supported the Scottish juries bill, 20 June, because a prisoner in Scotland currently had the odds stacked against him, but he objected to the proposal to ballot for jurors. When opposing abolition of the vice-chancellor’s court, 26 June, he deplored ‘this restless activity of change, so much the rage of the day’ and forecast that lord chancellor Eldon’s judgments would come to be ‘looked up to as monuments of legal excellence’. He denied that judges ever imposed harsh sentences out of personal spite, 1 July.17 He introduced a bill to regulate the appointment of assessors at parliamentary elections, 8 July 1822, but it made no significant progress then, or when he reintroduced it in 1823 and 1825.18 He voted against reform, 20 Feb., the remission of £2,000,000 in taxes, 3 Mar., repeal of the Foreign Enlistment Act, 16 Apr., and inquiry into the legal proceedings against the Dublin Orange rioters, 22 Apr. 1823. He defended British neutrality in the Franco-Spanish conflict, 30 Apr., but the ‘growing impatience’ of the House cut him short. He was a teller for the majority in favour of introducing a bill to regulate the issue of writs of capias utlagatum in Ireland, 28 May. He spoke and voted against Scottish electoral reform, 2 June, praising the existing constitution for its ‘faculty of self-adaptation to the circumstances of all times’. He was a teller for the majority against inquiry into Middlesex county court, 19 June, and now divided with government against the Scottish juries bill, 20 June. In reply to Hume’s assault on the blasphemy laws, 1 July 1823, he vindicated the role of the state as ‘a sort of moral police, as well as a civil one’.

In his quest for professional advancement, which began as soon as he entered the House, Twiss, as a pro-Catholic, attached himself to the foreign secretary Lord Londonderry, through whom he applied to Eldon for a mastership in chancery. Eldon refused him this, but held out the prospect of a Welsh judgeship whenever a vacancy occurred. After Londonderry’s suicide in August 1822 Twiss lost no time in sending Canning, his successor as leader of the Commons, an ‘exposition of his pretensions and expectations’. Canning, aware that the Welsh judicature and the propriety of its members being allowed to sit in the Commons were under critical parliamentary scrutiny, suggested to Lord Liverpool that a mastership ‘of the first, second, or third vacancy’ would be the best way to cater for Twiss, whose elevation to the Welsh bench ‘would infallibly bring that question forward under most unpropitious circumstances’. When a vacancy occurred in March 1823 Liverpool, who had a low estimate of Twiss’s abilities, had no compunction in preferring the more senior and respectable Jonathan Raine*. Yet the promise made by Londonderry and Eldon remained, and when the puisne judgeship of Chester fell vacant in September 1823 Twiss duly applied for it through Canning, who told Liverpool:

I really do not see how this application is to be refused, unless we determine never to make a Welsh judge again in the House of Commons (and that determination would come awkwardly after Raine) or never to make a friend (and that would be hardly stateable to friends) ... [Twiss] has unquestionably the best claim of any man on our side. I feel all the inconvenience of the run that may be made against him. But I think it would be injustice in the government to pass him over, and it would certainly be very hard upon me, after Lord Londonderry’s promises. If it is thought expedient to make his going out of the House ... a condition, I have no objection. It would be one thing to say that we will not risk the question of his seat in Parliament, but it is quite another to say that parliamentary services shall be the reverse of a qualification for preferment.

On the other hand, the Welshman Charles Williams Wynn*, president of the board of control, urged the need for ‘care in the selection’, especially as the chief justice of Chester, Charles Warren*, had come to be unusually reliant on his associate judge, because of his own defective knowledge:

Under these circumstances the puisne judgeship requires a person of more knowledge and ability than might be necessary with a different chief justice ... You will probably be applied to by Mr. Twiss, but though he is a good speaker and might be appointed a puisne judge on one of the other Welsh circuits where there is an able chief, I fear that his professional reputation is not such as would render his nomination to this office, which is superior in emolument to any of the other appointments but the chief justiceship of Chester, creditable to the government or useful to the public.

An attempt to fob Twiss off with the chief justiceship of Bombay foundered on the objections of the East India Company directors. In the end Liverpool, feeling obliged to provide for him, but convinced that his elevation to the bench would entail ‘the annihilation of the Welsh judicature’, gave the puisne judgeship to Thomas Jervis, whose post of counsel to the admiralty was conferred on Twiss.19

He was not much in evidence in the House in 1824, when he objected to Hume’s attempt to name committing magistrates, 27 May, opposed the game bill, which would ‘considerably increase crime among the lower orders’, 31 May, and appealed to the Catholic Association to dissolve itself before government intervened, 10 June. He voted with ministers on the case of the Methodist missionary John Smith, 11 June, and for the Irish insurrection bill, 14 June 1824. He divided for the Irish unlawful societies bill, 25 Feb., was a defaulter, 28 Feb., but appeared and was excused, 1 Mar., when he voted for Catholic claims. He divided for the relief bill, 21 Apr., and spoke at length for its third reading, 10 May, when he sat down to ‘loud and repeated cheering from all sides of the House’. He defended the level of Eldon’s income from fees, 27 May, and voted for the duke of Cumberland’s annuity, 2, 10 June, and for the spring guns bill, 21 June 1825. He opposed parliamentary reform proposals, 13 Apr., 26 May 1826. On the criminal justice bill, 17 Apr., he made a suggestion concerning depositions which ministers would not accept; and he again diverged from the home secretary Peel and the attorney-general by supporting George Lamb’s bill to allow persons on trial for felony offences to conduct their defence through counsel, 25 Apr. He paired (with Agar Ellis) against the immediate abolition of colonial slavery, 19 May 1826.20 That year he published An Enquiry into the Means of Consolidating and Digesting the Laws of England, in which he put the case for a classification of municipal law by experts in its various branches, under the direction of ‘a small superintending body’. At the general election he stood again for Wootton Bassett under the aegis of the 3rd earl of Clarendon, in harness with the Whig George Philips, whose sponsor Lord Bolingbroke had hoped that Clarendon would ‘find a better man’ than Twiss, ‘a great talker’ who ‘cannot pay’. They were returned after a contest and survived a petition, but it was not the ideal seat for a man with an eye to any political promotion which required re-election.21 Twiss’s father died on 28 Apr. 1827, having neglected to alter his will of 1814, in which he had left everything to his wife, who had died in 1822. Horace, who received a gold watch by it, was granted probate of the estate, which was sworn under a paltry £2,000.22

In the House, he suggested improvements to Shadwell’s writ of rights bill, 30 Mar., and Lord Althorp’s elections regulation bill, 8 May 1827; in the later case, by establishing a means of determining the validity of dubious votes on the spot. He claimed 17 years later that had Nicholas Tindal* been made attorney-general in Canning’s administration, as was at first expected, he would have replaced him as solicitor-general. When this fell through, Canning gave him the option of taking silk or becoming under-secretary at the home office, and he opted for the former.23 At the swearing-in there was, according to John Campbell II*

a general laugh when, on reading poor Twiss’s patent, it turned out that he was expressly told by the king that he was to have no wages, whereas our royal master allows the rest of us £40 a year. This exception in Twiss’s patent is to preserve his acceptance of the office from vacating his seat in Parliament.24

To add to his difficulties he was obliged, ‘at no small sacrifice of revenue for higher considerations’, as he later complained, to give up not only his assize and sessions business, but his commissionership of bankrupts.25 Supporting Canning in power, he voted against the disfranchisement of Penryn, 28 May, and answered a question from Hume on the ministry’s attitude towards Portugal, 8 June. After Canning’s death he attached himself to Huskisson and Lord Palmerston* as members of Lord Goderich’s administration. When the chief justiceship of the Brecon circuit fell vacant in December 1827 he applied for it, informing Huskisson that although he still coveted a mastership in chancery, this place would in the interim, when combined with ‘the now reduced receipt of the admiralty’, provide him with an official income of £1,500. His injunction to secrecy, lest news of his application encouraged a ‘heavily expensive’ and ‘anxiously vexatious’ opposition to his re-election for Wootton Bassett, proved unnecessary, for he was passed over for Nathaniel Clarke.26 He voted against repeal of the Test Acts, 26 Feb. 1828. He made comments during the investigation of electoral corruption at East Retford, 4, 7 Mar., when he voted in the minority to exonerate a witness from the charge of perjury. On 24 Apr. he spoke and voted for inquiry into chancery delays: his own solution to the problem was to transfer the equity business of exchequer to chancery, to appoint a additional chief baron and to have the master of the rolls sit daily. He voted for Catholic relief, 12 May. He seconded Sugden’s motion for a bill to amend the Act of 1826 concerning the real estate of infants and lunatics, 20 May, and on 23 May 1828 successfully proposed the addition to Eden’s bankruptcy bill of a clause allowing the chancellor discretion to dispense, in certain cases, with the service of a personal notice of a composition on creditors.

In the reorganization necessitated by the resignation of the Huskissonites from his government in May 1828 the duke of Wellington, at Peel’s prompting, offered Twiss the under-secretaryship at the colonial office ‘with an assurance’, as Twiss told Huskisson, ‘that I am to be perfectly free upon the Catholic question’:

The only members of the late government to whom I am at all bound are yourself and Lord Palmerston. And I sincerely say to you, as I have said to him, that if Mr. Canning’s friends ... are of opinion that my services can in any way be useful to him as a party disconnected from the government, or that my connections with them, on account of my obligations to Mr. Canning, are such as would make my acceptance of office at present a breach of faith to them, or in any respect a disparagement to my own honour, I shall be most truly obliged by your telling me so, in the frankest manner; I shall then at once decline the offer. If, on the other hand, you concur with Lord Palmerston in the feeling (by which I mean of course a cordial and unqualified feeling) that there is no reason why I should not accept the offer, I shall do myself the pleasure to accept it accordingly.

No objection was raised and Twiss took the office, which did not require re-election.27 His elevation earned the disapproval of Wellington’s confidante Mrs. Arbuthnot, who thought he had ‘no merit but being a good parliamentary speaker. He has a very indifferent character among the lawyers and is not a gentleman, either in habits or principles’.28 According to Peel, Wellington ‘said to Twiss, "You will have to give up your profession". Twiss replied, "That does not signify so much when a government is sure to be permanent"’.29 Yet within six months he got cold feet over his enforced abandonment of the admiralty counsellorship ‘without retaining any resource in the event of a political change’, for he had not held it long enough to qualify for a pension. He asked Peel to appoint him to the vacant post of gazette writer in the state paper office, worth about £450 a year, as ‘some little refuge against a total reverse’. He appears not to have got this, for one William Gregson was appointed, though in 1841 Twiss was in receipt of compensation ‘in respect of an abolished office’.30 Henry Taylor, senior clerk in the colonial office, described Twiss as ‘the fleshliest incubus’ of ‘all the under-secretaries who had ever laid the weight of their authority’ on its business and recalled that he was

obstructive through timidity and indecisiveness ... for ever occupied with detail and incapable of coming to a conclusion - routing and grunting and tearing up the soil to get at a grain of the subject.31

Many of his interventions in debate after his appointment were on routine colonial matters, but he opposed investigation of Baron de Bode’s compensation claim, 1 July 1828. He handled some legal business, too, such as the fraudulent devises bill, 5 June, the bankruptcy bill, 9 June, and the lunatics’ estates bill, 12 July 1828. He spoke in favour of Catholic emancipation as ‘the boldest and the safest [measure] that was ever propounded for the settlement of an empire’, 18 Mar. 1829. He was a teller for the government majorities on the ecclesiastical courts bill, 21 May, 5 June 1829. Early in 1830 Wellington considered him for the secretaryship to the board of control. Lord Ellenborough, the president, judged him to be ‘a clever man, but rather vulgar’, who, as ‘a lawyer and a very good speaker’, would ‘do very well’; but nothing came of this.32 Twiss reiterated his hostility to reform when opposing Lord Blandford’s scheme, 18 Feb., and Russell’s proposal to enfranchise Birmingham, Leeds and Manchester, 23 Feb. The Whig Lord Howick* did not think much of these efforts, but two months later he was ‘not a little astonished’ to hear lord chancellor Lyndhurst talk openly of ‘Twiss’s failure’ in the House.33 On 28 Apr. Twiss outlined the facts on which the government rested its case on the Terceira incident. Accused by Russell of reading a prepared speech, he claimed merely to be using copious notes, and received an apology. He voted against Jewish emancipation, 17 May, and was a ministerial teller in the division against reform, 28 May. He defended the appointment of an additional equity judge, 17 June, and was a teller for the government majorities for the suits in equity bill, 24 June, and the increase in judicial salaries, 7 July. He acted likewise for the division against the immediate abolition of slavery, 13 July. On 16 July 1830 he pressed Otway Cave to retract his assertion that if emancipation did not occur soon, the slaves would be morally justified in resorting to violence: he disapproved of slavery, but it was a form of property enshrined in law.

At the general election of 1830 Twiss transferred to Newport, Isle of Wight, on the Holmes interest. According to Palmerston, who was being vainly courted by Wellington, Twiss called on him on 7 Oct. 1830 ‘to say that Peel wished to promote him in course of changes now in contemplation, and he hoped that if I came in, I would help him on instead of opposing any obstacle to his promotion’.34 Within seven weeks of this bid to smooth his future path Twiss, who was surprisingly absent from the division on the civil list which brought down the ministry, 15 Nov. 1830, found himself out of office, with no regular source of income. His friend Frederick Pollock* did not at first think he would go out with his colleagues on account of his friendship with Palmerston, who was expected to come into office; but the evening after the vote he

walked home with Twiss ... [who] considers he is out and has lost £2,000 a year. He is about to let his house furnished, put down his carriage, go into lodgings and in the manly way I was sure he would do meet the emergency, live within his income and wait for better times.35

Twiss supported the Grey ministry’s proposal for an inquiry into the possibility of reducing official salaries, 9 Dec. 1830, but only because it was ‘exceedingly desirable to disabuse the public mind, and to expose the monstrous exaggerations and enormous errors which prevail’. He wished them joy of their clamorous radical allies, 13 Dec. On 21 Dec. he endorsed Inglis’s assertion that the desire in the country for reform was ‘not so great as some suppose it to be’ and doubted whether the government could produce a scheme which would satisfy all reformers. He defended Darling, the governor of New South Wales, against Hume’s attack, 23 Dec. 1830. In January 1831 he stayed with Peel at Drayton, from where his fellow guest Sir John Beckett* reported that he was

very Swiss, and would fight under any banners ... I wish heartily that he could get any decent permanency from the present people that would take him out of Parliament (for he could not with any decency stay in the House if he joined them). He will be of no use to us, for his heart is not Tory, and his interests will soon be Whig. Liking him personally and wishing him well, I wish he was out of Parliament and poverty.36

In the House, 8, 10 Feb. 1831, he was inclined to excuse alleged improprieties in the management of Fisherton gaol. He opposed calls for the abandonment of the colonies, 10 Feb., and criticized the Canada bill, 18 Feb. After Russell had expounded the government’s reform proposals, 1 Mar., Twiss, who, according to Thomas Gladstone*, ‘gained an apparent hold on the attention and even feeling of the House that I was not prepared for’,37 outlined his instinctive ‘strong objections’ and declared that

until a few short months ago, the most radical reformer was not sanguine enough to dream of beholding a day when the ministers of the British crown - of a mixed monarchy - would bring down to Parliament a bill, sweeping away at once all the proportions of the representation, all the fixed landmarks between the ancient estates of the kingdom.

The disfranchisement of boroughs, he argued, was ‘a violation’ of the constitutional settlement of 1688; and, far from the Commons being unrepresentative, ‘the will of the people already but too often overpowers the calmer and better judgement’ of its Members. The real security required by the House was ‘against the passions and follies of the people themselves, against the efforts of a blind, but a gigantic strength, to pull down the pillars of a constitution, whose fall must be our common ruin’. He claimed to have voted for the transfer of the representation of Grampound (1821) and East Retford (1828) to large towns and still to favour this piecemeal approach as delinquent boroughs were identified. He spoke of the £10 householders whom ministers planned to enfranchise as ‘persons of whom a large proportion must be men of narrow habits, scanty information and strong prejudices, little shopkeepers and small attornies’, who were ‘not men fitted to exercise a discretion in political affairs’. This outburst, from which Peel quickly dissociated himself, provoked accusations, both inside and outside the House, that Twiss had ridiculed and belittled ‘the middle classes’.38 He denied this, 17 Mar., claiming that he had in mind ‘a totally different order of persons’, well below the middle class in ‘property and intelligence’, and that he had been seeking to expose the ‘absurdity’ of placing the entire machinery of government at the mercy of ‘the uninformed, however respectable, householders of the manufacturing towns’. His fury and dismay at the scope of the bill made him fair game for the cartoonists; and Tom Macaulay*, describing the scene in the House when the second reading was carried by one vote, 22 Mar., wrote that when the result was called ‘the face of Twiss was as the face of a damned soul’.39 On 30 Mar. he sarcastically suggested that reform should be handed over to ‘the mob, from whom it would be very easy to raise any number of petitions’. He opposed the immediate abolition of slavery, 15 Apr., and voted for Gascoyne’s wrecking amendment to the reform bill, 19 Apr. 1831.

Twiss’s connection with Newport was known to be of ‘a very precarious nature’, and at the 1831 general election Lord Yarborough, the most influential of the Holmes trustees, returned ministerialists. Twiss stood unsuccessfully for Hindon and Wootton Bassett. At this time Sir John Benn Walsh* wrote of him:

He was not particularly well received by the House ... He has the advantage of a very elegant distingue appearance, and particularly gentlemanlike manners ... [and] a certain easy assurance which seems to stand his friend in all societies ... He has a delicate, consumptive constitution and a great want of natural flow of animal spirits; though his conversation is occasionally enlivened with anecdote, yet the serious is his style. He is thoroughly ambitious, aspiring and actively pushing, and ... extravagantly vain.40

Soon afterwards Sydney Smith, mocking the fallen Tory ex-ministers, called him ‘Beelzebub Twiss’.41 Tory talk of his being accommodated at Dundalk or St. Ives came to nothing.42 Later in the year Edward Littleton* was

much amused to hear Twiss’s opinion of the late government ... He had been taken from his practice at the bar, and made under-secretary ... No man had in public or private fought more stoutly for his party. But he is now thrown back into the ranks of his profession, and without a shilling has to commence anew. He had failed in getting a pension for his wife, while [William] Holmes*, their whipper-in, had one, and Sir W[illiam] Rae* also one for his wife. His abuse was worth hearing.43

In April 1832 Twiss published Conservative Reform, outlining a counterplan to the reform bill which might be brought forward by the opposition in the Lords. He conceded an unspecified degree of disfranchisement of rotten boroughs, to be replaced by large towns, but suggested that all the adult male inhabitants should choose an electoral college of 100-200, to form ‘an intermediate, permanent and highly-qualified body of electors, to guard against the danger of sudden caprices, fluctuations and tumults, on the part of the multitude’. If, in the event of the Grey ministry’s fall, Wellington and Peel still refused to carry a moderate reform scheme, he envisaged ‘a temporary administration of other less distinguished statesmen’ to settle the question ‘on a conservative, rather than on a radical principle’.

He did not stand at the 1832 general election, but in 1835 he secured an expensive return for Bridport after unsuccessfully asking Peel for a place in his new ministry (as judge advocate or admiralty secretary) to tide him over until the chancery mastership which he had been encouraged to expect fell vacant.44 He was beaten at Nottingham in 1837 and at Bury St. Edmunds in 1841, when he made his will, which largely catered for the settlement of debts in excess of £14,000, ‘in case any accident should deprive me of my life in the excitement of the now pending election, much pains having been taken to excite the populace by false representations’.45 Desperately short of cash and yearning for a mastership or some equivalent office, he supplemented his professional income though journalism, which included sitting behind the Commons clock as a condensing reporter for The Times.46 He also secured a contract to write a Life of Lord Eldon. When this appeared in 1844 its quality surprised many observers, and its success helped Twiss to obtain the post of vice-chancellor of the duchy of Lancaster, worth £600 plus fees. The chancellor, Lord Granville Somerset*, had observed to Peel:

The person ... who struck me as having a claim on us as a party, and on the whole not unfit for the situation, is Twiss ... [whose] publication ... which has been so generally lauded, has placed him in a better position before the public than he had before, and would, I think, compensate for any of his previous absurdities.

Peel, who had a soft spot for Twiss, replied:

I think very favourably of Horace Twiss. In all my intercourse with him he has acted like a man of honour and independent spirit, and I really believe him to be in point of knowledge and ability much higher than his reputation. He has had the misfortune to make himself a sort of bye-word by little foolish peculiarities which ought not, however, to detract from his real merits.47

Twiss had time to experience one more electoral defeat, at Bury St. Edmunds in 1847, before he dropped dead while addressing a meeting of the Rock Assurance Society at Radley’s Hotel, Blackfriars in May 1849. His personal estate went to his widow for her life and thereafter to his son Quintin William Francis Twiss (1835-1900), and he left a piece of land in Carlton Gardens, on which he had built a house at a loss, to his daughter Fanny, who successively married two editors of The Times, Bacon and Delane.48 John Stuart Mill dismissed Twiss as one of ‘the hack official jobbing adventurer Tories’, and Macaulay too considered him to be ‘a mere political adventurer’.49 Campbell reckoned him to have been

the impersonation of a debating society rhetorician. I have often heard his case cited against debating societies. When he got into the House of Commons, though inexhaustibly fluent, his manner certainly was very flippant, factitious, and unbusinesslike; but, without being in a debating society, I doubt whether he would have gained any eminence whatever.50

His sworn enemy John Cam Hobhouse*, noting his death, commented, ‘Just the sort of man whom the newspapers lament, but I who knew him ...’.51 Redding recalled his ‘grave countenance’ and ‘solemnity sometimes passing for extra wisdom’, but gave him credit as ‘an honest, upright man’.52 Although he was in many ways preposterous and vulgar (his gluttony was legendary), Twiss, as Peel perceived, was not without ability and redeeming features.53 Many found him a delightful and entertaining companion; and to his cousin Fanny Kemble he was ‘one of the readiest and most amusing talkers in the world’, always ‘clever, amiable, and good-tempered’.54

Ref Volumes: 1820-1832

Author: David R. Fisher


  • 1. IGI.
  • 2. Reg. Temple Church Burials, 83. She was described in Gent. Mag. (1849), i. 652 as o. da. of Col. Serle of Montague Place, but it has not proved possible to verify this. Oxford DNB erroneously gives her death date as 20 Feb. 1827.
  • 3. Oxford DNB; Farington Diary, vi. 2221; P. Fitzgerald, The Kembles, i. 227-32.
  • 4. Glenbervie Diaries, ii. 59; F.A. Kemble, Rec. of a Girlhood, i. 20-24.
  • 5. J. Nichols, Illustrations of Literary Hist. iii. 37-38.
  • 6. Life of Campbell, i. 143; Crabb Robinson Diary, i. 152, 173; Farington Diary, xi. 4151; Berry Jnls. ii. 501.
  • 7. J. Genest, English Stage, viii. 690-1; Gent. Mag. (1819), i. 478; Add. 38523, f. 46.
  • 8. Moore Mems. ii. 320.
  • 9. Oxford DNB.
  • 10. The Times, 11 July 1816, 26 June 1818.
  • 11. Creevey Pprs. ii. 12.
  • 12. HLRO, Hist. Coll 379, Grey Bennet diary, 43; Northants. RO, Agar Ellis diary, 23 Mar.; Dorset RO D/BKL, Bankes jnl. 126 (23 Mar. 1821).
  • 13. Redding, Fifty Years’ Recollections, iii. 223.
  • 14. The Times, 17 Feb., 2 Mar. 1821.
  • 15. Grey Bennet diary, 82.
  • 16. Arbuthnot Jnl. i. 160.
  • 17. The Times, 2 July 1822.
  • 18. Ibid. 14, 15 Mar. 1823, 17 Mar. 1825.
  • 19. Add. 38193, ff. 166, 190, 192; 38195, f. 153; 38296, f. 356; 40311, f. 15; 40359, ff. 274, 307.
  • 20. Agar Ellis diary.
  • 21. The Times, 21 June; Brougham mss, Bolingbroke to Holland, 11 Sept. 1826; Add. 40391, f. 301.
  • 22. Gent. Mag. (1827), i. 476; PROB 8/220; 11/1726/333.
  • 23. Lansdowne mss, Twiss to Lansdowne, 3 Aug. 1844.
  • 24. Life of Campbell, i. 446.
  • 25. Huskisson Pprs. 275.
  • 26. Ibid. 274-5.
  • 27. Add. 38756, f. 206.
  • 28. Arbuthnot Jnl. ii. 192.
  • 29. HMC Bathurst, 654.
  • 30. Add. 40397, ff. 333, 334, 336; 40486, f. 353.
  • 31. Taylor Autobiog. i. 117-18.
  • 32. Ellenborough Diary, ii. 158.
  • 33. Grey mss, Howick jnl. 18, 23 Feb., 6 May [1830].
  • 34. Southampton Univ. Lib. Broadlands mss, memo. 30 Oct. [1830].
  • 35. CUL, Pollock mss Add. 7564 A/4, Pollock to Alexander , 17 Nov.; Hatherton diary, 24 Nov. [1831].
  • 36. Dyott’s Diary, ii. 102; Lonsdale mss, Beckett to Lowther, 13 Jan.; Pollock mss 7564 C/1, Pollock to Alexander, 22 Jan. 1831.
  • 37. St. Deiniol’s Lib. Glynne-Gladstone mss 197, T. to J. Gladstone, 2 Mar. 1831.
  • 38. Le Marchant, Althorp, 300.
  • 39. M.D. George, Cat. of Pol. and Personal Satires, xi. 16602, 16626, 16636-8, 16673, 16691, 17136; Macaulay Letters, ii. 10.
  • 40. Kentish Gazette, 15 Mar.; The Times, 30 Apr., 3 May 1831; NLW, Ormathwaite mss FG 1/6, p. 179.
  • 41. Macaulay Letters, ii. 33.
  • 42. NLI, Farnham mss 18606 (1), Arbuthnot to Farnham, 4 May 1831; Wellington mss WP1/1186/9.
  • 43. Hatherton diary, 24 Nov. 1831.
  • 44. Add. 40309, f. 362; 40408, f. 207; Wellington Pol. Corresp. ii. 781.
  • 45. The Times, 23, 30 July 1841; PROB 11/2029/637.
  • 46. Add. 40423, f. 87; 40486, ff. 353-6; 40497, ff. 292, 365; 40543, ff. 249, 251.
  • 47. Add. 40552, ff. 24, 26, 40, 47, 49, 51; Macaulay Letters, iv. 202, 205; Smith Letters, ii. 844; Gent. Mag. (1849), i. 649-55.
  • 48. PROB 8/242 (19 Aug. 1849); IR26/1851/685.
  • 49. Mill Works, xii. 345; Macaulay Letters, iii. 267.
  • 50. Life of Campbell, i. 143.
  • 51. Broughton, Recollections, vi. 237.
  • 52. Redding, iii. 223-4.
  • 53. Greville Mems. iii. 203-4; Gronow Reminiscences, ii. 84; Disraeli Letters, iv. 1226.
  • 54. Kemble, i. 142.