HARDINGE, George (1743-1816), of Pyrton, Wilts.
Available from Boydell and Brewer
Family and Education
b. 22 June 1743, 1st surv. s. of Nicholas Hardinge. educ. Eton 1753-60; Trinity, Camb. 1761; M. Temple 1764, called 1769. m. 20 Oct. 1777, Lucy, da. and h. of Richard Long of Hinxton, Cambs., s.p.
K.C. 1782; bencher, M. Temple 1782, reader 1789, treasurer 1791.
Sec. of commissions to Lord Chancellor Camden 1766-70; commr. of bankruptcy 1771-82; solicitor-gen. to the Queen Apr. 1782-94, attorney-gen. 1794-1816; c.j. Brec. 1787- d.
Lord Camden, having on 16 Dec. 1783 heard Hardinge speak at the bar of the House of Lords as counsel for the directors of the East India Company, wrote to his daughter, Fanny Stewart:1
I ... am able to pronounce upon my judgement that in language wit and voice he has no superior at the bar ... His fortune is made, let him take care he does not spoil it by levity and indiscretion.
And on 19 Mar. 1784, to her husband:
That young man is mounting rapidly—he is brought into Parliament by Lord Camelford, and if he can learn a little discretion cannot fail of making a considerable figure.
To others Hardinge, over forty, was no longer a ‘young man’; and his ‘levity’ in the end prevented him from reaching the front rank of politics or of the law, or, for that matter, even in literature.
In the House he was a frequent speaker, of uneven quality. Daniel Pulteney, a good parliamentary observer, wrote on 1 June 1786 that Hardinge spoke ‘very ably ... better indeed than I could have ever imagined, as I have heard him very indifferent two or three times before’.2 In politics he followed Camden and Pitt, but preserved a measure of independence towards them, and still more so toward his borough patron, Camelford. Having on 16 June 1784 voted for Sawbridge’s motion in favour of parliamentary reform, the Member for Old Sarum offered his one and only ‘constituent’ to resign his seat.3 When on 25 Jan. 1785 Pitt adumbrated his reform proposals, Hardinge again declared to Camelford his own ‘democratical principles’.
If, from your general wish to support that minister [replied Camelford] or from your attachment to Lord Camden, or from a conscientious opinion upon the subject, you cannot think as I do, at least absent yourself upon this occasion, and do not distress me so far as to make me appear to hold two languages, at the same time that you oppose one of the most decided political tenets I can ever form, and oppose it with the weapon I have put into your hands.
In the end Camelford left him free to act upon his own feeling, and in the crucial division of 18 Apr. 1785 Hardinge voted for reform.
When Mansfield’s impending resignation opened a prospect of legal promotions, Camden wrote, on 1 June 1786, to Robert Stewart:4
If poor George should get a Welsh judgeship in the scramble, he has not the spirit to push at any thing greater. Is it not strange he has fine parts and is the best speaker at the bar, yet will always be kept down below his merit, because he does not know how to feel his own importance or to improve his capacity by discretion. I am sorry for it—he has a great many good qualities and the best disposition in the world.
There was even more to him as shown by the letter he wrote to Sir Lloyd Kenyon on 29 June 1787:5
I have a serious disagreement with my dear Lord Camden, whom I love and revere with more than filial affection ... in offending him I have made a painful sacrifice to public honour ... He has pressed me to supersede an able and useful officer ... for the sake of a new appointment in favour of a person recommended by him. Usage in modern times ... is uniform against any such removals ... To say the truth, if usage could justify it upon my circuit, I would not act upon it, but would endeavour to begin a usage the other way.
When in 1789 the lord chancellorship of Ireland was about to fall vacant, Camden pressed Hardinge’s candidature for it. But Buckingham, the lord lieutenant, refused to have him—‘this arrangement is openly talked of here and with the contempt it merits.’6
In December 1788 Hardinge strongly supported Pitt over the Regency bill. None the less Camelford wrote to him that should Pitt be dismissed and a dissolution follow, and Pitt then call on him to return for Old Sarum ‘two public men, who are necessary to him in Parliament, and for whom he can find room nowhere else’, he would have to drop Hardinge who could give but one answer, and in fact had to be persuaded to continue at Old Sarum at the next general election.
He died 26 Apr. 1816.7 Perhaps the best appraisal of the man is that of the Annual Biography and Obituary(1817, i. 299):
So various were his powers that he was a judge, a Member of Parliament, a poet, a prose writer, and a writer of sermons. He occasionally exhibited great eloquence; no one had a finer choice of words and few a more graceful delivery. His voice was also sonorous, his imagery rich and classical, his narrative clear and perspicuous. He was possessed of abilities of the highest order, and great expectations were formed as to his career in the legal profession, but his natural indolence, blended with his intense regard for poetry, doomed these to failure.
Ref Volumes: 1754-1790
Author: Sir Lewis Namier
- 1. 25 Jan. 1784, Camden mss at Bayham Abbey.
- 2. HMC Rutland, iii. 306.
- 3. 58 letters from Camelford to Hardinge are printed in Nichols, Lit. Illustrations, vi.
- 4. Camden mss.
- 5. HMC Kenyon, 523-4.
- 6. HMC Fortescue, i. 465.
- 7. A great many letters from Hardinge on literary and biographical subjects are printed by Nichols in his Lit. Anecs. and Lit. Illustrations. A collection of his Miscellaneous Works in 3 vols. was printed in 1818 with intro. by John Nichols. The ms of Hardinge’s unfinished biography of Lord Camden is among the Bayham Abbey mss.