George Hardinge

John Nichols, Memoir in Harding, Miscellaneous Works (1818) 1:x-xliii.

GEORGE HARDINGE, Esq. eldest surviving son of NICHOLAS HARDINGE, Esq. by JANE, fifth daughter of Sir JOHN PRATT, Chief Justice of the King's Bench from 1718 to 1724 (the second daughter by a second wife, and sister to the first Earl CAMDEN), was born June 22, 1744, at Canbury, a manor-house in Kingston-upon-Thames; of which his Father had become possessed on the death of a Cousin of his own name.

Mr. Nicholas Hardinge died April 9, 1758 when George, then not fourteen years of age, succeeded to the paternal estate.

Ennobled by a line of Ancestry who were Gentlemen in the antient acceptation of that title, Mr. George Hardinge reflected back on them the Hereditary Honours of his Birth, with the additional lustre which benevolence and integrity of life are capable of affording.

After some previous education at home, and also under the care of Mr. Woodeson, a respectable Schoolmaster at Kingston, Mr. Hardinge was sent to Eton, where Dr. Barnard then presided; and such was the reputation of this celebrated Master, that he increased the number of his Scholars from three to five hundred; while the rival establishment of Dr. Markham at Westminster was stationary.

From Eton he was, in January 1761, admitted Pensioner at Trinity College, Cambridge, under the Rev. Stephen Whisson; where he particularly distinguished himself in the Gratulations of the University on the public events of three successive years, 1761, 1762, 1763 — the King's Marriage, the Birth of the Prince of Wales, and the Peace of Paris.

In this excellent Seat of Learning, Mr. Hardinge very diligently pursued the regular course of study; though, according to his own account, not unaccompanied by some trivial youthful irregularities.

The following observation on the mind of his Tutor evinces an early penetration into characters; and the deduction made by Mr. Hardinge appears just: "When I was at College, I committed a fault of spirit enough to justify a pathetic Tutor of the College in this affecting address: 'Remember me, Sir, it is easy to preserve a good character; but nothing is more difficult than to retrieve it.' I loved the man; and the 'Chesterfield agrement' of his preface half melted away the defiance of the sinner. But, unfortunately, after I had begun to repent, he called me to him again, 'Your band! Sir, your band! only half appears; pull out the rest!' Alas! there was no residue to come; it had been torn off by some accident or other. He looked at me tenderly, and said, 'Remember, Sir,' &c. &c. the same words over again. From that moment I held him cheap, as wanting light and shade."

Mr. Hardinge was afterwards for a short time under the tuition of Dr. Watson, subsequently Bishop of Landaff; but he seems to have taken no B.A. Degree; which, in the regular way, would have been in 1765; but to have delayed for some years taking any Degree at all, and to have passed on at once to his M.A. Degree, in 1769, by Royal Mandate; a privilege in which it is probable that he was indulged in consequence of his Relationship to the first Lord Camden — a privilege not now allowed.

Like his Uncle, he aspired to be Chancellor; and in the same year, June 9, he was accordingly called to the Bar, by the Society of the Middle Temple; and obtained a silk gown, with a patent of precedence. This enabled him to take Briefs against, as well as for the Crown; and, as he already possessed an uncommon reputation for eloquence, he began to obtain a considerable degree of practice at Nisi Prius.

In the same year he obtained, by the powerful interest of Lord Camden, and the assistance of his Friend Mr. Dyson, an Act of Parliament for new-modeling the Vicarage of Kingston; which had formerly included, not only the Mother Church, but also the Chapels, or Curacies, of Richmond, Kew, Petersham, Thames Ditton, and Moulsey. — This produced a bitter attack from the late Gilbert Wakefield, in the first Edition of his own Life; but it was omitted in the second Edition.

In November 1769 he was elected a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries; and, notwithstanding his pursuits were of rather too gay a nature for the Bar, yet he addicted himself with great intensity of application to his regular professional avocations.

In 1771, he was deeply engaged in a Work of great Constitutional interest, which he continued to improve, and from time to time to submit it to his Friends, till 1772, under the title of "An Enquiry into the Competency and Duty of Juries in the case of a Public Libel, introduced by a more general investigation of their Competency and Duty wherever Law and Fact are comprized in the general Issue."

Of this "Enquiry" only a small part of the "Introduction" has been found. The work itself is probably alluded to in the following lines:

With laurel crown'd for murders in the field,
Or mercenary victims of the sword;
Whose fear of shame the Hero's arms could wield,
And brav'd in mask the peril you deplor'd!
The Author — who could sacrifice his claim,
—A Culprit sentenc'd by his own Review;—
Puts Verse or Prose into the secret flame,
Is more a Hero at the heart than you.

In 1776 he presented the Rev. James Andrews to the Vicarage of Kingston; on whose resignation, in 1778, he had the satisfaction of presenting his own Brother, the Rev. Henry Hardinge.

In the Long Vacation of 1776, Mr. Hardinge made a Tour through France and Switzerland, of which he has left an interesting account in MS.

On his return, he appears to have cultivated the Muses with more assiduity than the "Year Books." He continued, however, to dedicate a considerable portion of his time to professional studies; and, during his residence at the Temple, became acquainted with a great Constitutional Lawyer, who wished to allure him from the flowery and deceitful paths of pleasure, and point his views to great, noble, and useful objects.

Among the few MSS. which Mr. Hardinge carefully preserved was the following very elegant Sonnet, addressed to him by the celebrated Mr. (afterwards Sir WILLIAM) JONES:

HARDINGE! whom Camden's voice, and Camden's fame,
To noble thoughts, and high attempts excite;
Whom thy learn'd Sire's well-polish'd lays invite;
To kindle in thy breast Phoebean flame:
Oh, rise! oh, emulate their lives, and claim
The glorious meed of many a studious night,
And many a day spent in asserting right,
Repressing wrong, and bringing fraud to shame!
Nor let the glare of Wealth, or Pleasure's bowers,
Allure thy fancy — think how Tully shone;
Think how Demosthenes with heavenly fire
Shook Philip's throne, and lighten'd o'er his towers.
What gave them strength? — not eloquence alone,
But minds elate above each low desire.

In 1777, October 20, Mr. Hardinge married Lucy, daughter and heiress of Richard Long, esq, of Hinxton in Cambridgeshire; and soon after became a resident in Ragman's Castle a pleasant cottage, situate in the meadows of Twickenham, exactly in front of the River.

This must be allowed to have been classic ground; for it was within a few hundred yards of Pope's villa; and here he confirmed the acquaintance which he had previously formed with two literary men, which tended to render this period of his life in no small degree pleasant.

One of his neighbours, Mr. Owen Cambridge, was, like himself, a Poet; and, like himself too, paid his court to the Muses to an extreme old age.

Mr. Walpole was the other, with whom he frequently dined, and spent the evening.

In April 1782 he had the honour of being appointed Solicitor General to the Queen, at a period when other Counsel of the same standing were forced to be content with far inferior distinctions.

In 1783, when Sir Thomas Rumbold was attacked on account of his supposed malversations in India, he found an able defender in Mr. Hardinge; and, when Mr. Hastings was brought to the Bar of the House of Lords, he warmly also advocated the cause of that highly respectable gentleman.

Mr. Hardinge, in his professional character, added his testimony to the general voice of the publick, in reprobating the tyrannical complexion and tendency of Mr. Fox's East India Bill; and one of his best Speeches is that pronounced when he appeared at the Bar of the House of Lords, as Counsel for the Directors of the East India Company, Dec. 16, 1783; the publication of which was supposed to be intended as a personal avowal of the political sentiments it contained.

A seat in Parliament now became an object of his ambition; and in 1784, being at that time designated "of Pyrton, in the county of Wilts," he was returned (by the favour of his intimate Friend Mr. Thomas Pitt, afterwards Lord Camelford) for the Borough of Old Sarum, with the Hon. J. C. Villiers, second son to the Earl of Clarendon.

In this situation, he was deemed a promising Orator; and many of his Speeches, both as a Member of the House of Commons, and as Counsel at the Bar of both Houses of Parliament, were absolutely patterns of eloquence and ingenuity. So far, however, was he from evincing any marked dislike to the measures of the Court, as had been expected by some of his early friends, that he generally sided with his Majesty's Ministers.

In August 1787, he obtained the respectable situation of Senior Justice of the Counties of Brecon, Glamorgan, and Radnor.

Such indeed were his talents, and so powerful his interest, that the highest Dignity in his profession seemed at one period to await his grasp: but his independence in Parliament, which was a main feature of his character, impeded his professional career.

In April 1788, Mr. Hardinge was elected F.R.S. He was also an early and zealous promoter of the Philanthropic Society, and accepted the office of one of the Vice-Presidents of that useful Institution.

In the memorable Debate on the subject of the Regency, Dec. 16, 1788, on the Second Resolution, moved by Mr. Pitt; declaratory of the right of the Two Houses of Parliament to appoint a Regent, Mr. Hardinge very strenuously supported that right.

He particularly laid great stress upon the precedents of Henry the Sixth, and upon the Regency Bills passed in the reign of George the Second, and of the present King. In the former, in case of a minority, the Princess of Wales was made Regent; and the Duke of Cumberland, the next Presumptive Heir, passed by. In the latter, the King was enabled to nominate a Regent by his Will, though the Duke of York was the next major in succession. — These indeed were acts of complete Legislature; but, in the Debates which they occasioned, no complaint was made, no idea started that they were doing an injury to the right of the Presumptive Heir, or that of any other. — He likewise contended, that the Convention at the Revolution did, in their Declaration respecting the appointment of William and Mary to be King and Queen, and the definition of the separate powers of each, decide upon an abstract question of right, and did legislate, to all intents and purposes, as far as was now proposed to be done.

In the month of March following, he had the heartfelt satisfaction, in common with every loyal and dutiful subject, to witness the Restoration of our justly-beloved Sovereign to his Reason This Throne; and, very shortly after, was gratified by a long and familiar conversation with the convalescent Monarch and his Royal Consort, in the presence of their amiable Daughters.

In 1791 Mr. Hardinge published "A Series of Letters to Mr. Burke, in which are contained Inquiries into the Constitutional Existence of an Impeachment against Mr. Hastings." In these Letters Mr. Hardinge enlivened a very dry subject, by. his accustomed vivacity of diction, and by a profusion of Historical and Classical illustration; and he discussed at great length most, if not all, of the topicks, that were agitated on the important question of the abatement of Mr. Hastings's Impeachment.

His reputation for professional eloquence before a Jury had o long been fully established, that he was employed at Warwick, on the 5th of April, 1792, as Counsel for the Hundred, to plead in mitigation of the damages claimed by Dr. Priestley, in consequence of the house of the latter having been burnt by a turbulent and lawless mob.

In the Long Vacation of 1792, be made a Tour through many of the principal parts of Ireland; of which his description still remains in MS.; and in March 1794 (on the death of Mr. Ambler) was appointed Attorney General to the Queen.

After this, Mr. Hardinge seems to have been but little employed as a Counsel; and to have, sought but very little for practice. He was, however, always busy. The Circuit in Wales occupied some considerable portion of his time; for he had formed a large acquaintance in the Principality, and was accustomed to visit his friends there. In addition to this, he continued to write Verses till within a short time of his demise.

Participating in the seventies which he thought had been used by the Commentators on Shakespeare against his deceased Friend Mr. Capell, he published, in 1800, "The Essence of Malone; or, the Beauties of that fascinating Writer, extracted from his immortal Work; in 539 pages and a quarter, just published; and (with his accustomed felicity) intituled, Some Account of the Life and Writings of John Dryden!" 8vo. — A second Edition, enlarged, of this sportive but cruel Tract appeared in the same year; and was very soon followed by "Another Essence of Malone; or, the Beauties of Shakespeare's Editor, 1801;" in which, commenting on a passage in I Henry IV. Act II. Scene 1, he adroitly introduces a compliment paid to his Father by two Shakesperian Editors:

"Theobald.] The reading which I have substituted, Moneyers, I owe to the friendship of Nicholas Hardinge, esq. Moneyer is an officer of the Mint, who makes Coin, and who delivers out the King's Money. Moneyers are also taken for Bankers. This emendation was adopted by Warburton; but rejected, though with high compliments, by Mr. Heath, who adds, 'that he had the honour to know Mr. Hardinge, and that he entertained a very high opinion of his judgment.' Dr. Johnson calls it 'a very acute and judicious attempt at emendation, which has not undeservedly been adopted by Warburton.'"

In 1800 he had also made considerable progress in a Series of Letters to Mr. Walpole on the subject of Chatterton and Rowley. Of these Letters I have only the concluding leaf; and the material parts of them are probably no longer in existence.

He had some years before written an Essay on the Character of King Richard the Third, in a series of Remarks on Mr. Walpole's "Historic Doubts;" of which also I have only a single leaf.

In 1802 (accompanied by his Nephew Mr. George Nicholas Hardinge) he visited some of the romantic parts of Wales, the Lakes of Westmoreland, and several of the principal towns in Yorkshire.

On this Journey he has left some striking and very agreeable remarks.

Mr. Hardinge's liberal, manly, and enlightened Sentiments on Catholic Emancipation are fully developed, in a Letter which he addressed, in 1805, to a Roman Catholic Peeress of great distinction.

In 1807, on the loss of his venerable Mother, he in some degree consoled his grief, by courting the Muses, in several elegant little Poems; which were printed, in a neat little Volume, to present as keepsakes to his Friends. With a copy sent to me, says, "I solicit your acceptance of my 'Filial Tribute' in honour of my late Mother, who was the first Lord Camden's genuine Sister."

Having no children, he had determined to adopt his Nephew and Godson George Nicholas Hardinge, of the Royal Navy, as his Heir; and accordingly took the proper steps for that purpose: but this gallant young Officer was unfortunately killed, in 1808, during an action with the French, in the East Indies. On this occasion, Mr. Hardinge compiled an affectionate Memoir of that Heroic Youth: but the sad event overwhelmed him with misery; and he endeavoured, by perpetual change of scene, to banish from his bosom the melancholy with which he was haunted.

Having noticed, in a former page, Mr. Hardinge's animated Narrative of a highly gratifying Visit at Windsor in 1789; I have much pleasure in being enabled to preserve no less pleasant description of a Visit at Castle Hill, more than twenty years later, and of the truly gracious reception he there experienced. Mr. Hardinge was much honoured by the Duke of Kent's partiality; and his Royal Highness is no common Correspondent, having a fund of knowledge, and a talent of information superior to most men. His Letters have a peculiar elegance; and his conversation (as I have myself more than once delightfully experienced) is condescending, manly, and intelligent.

Mr. Hardinge's Visit was described at the time in an animated Letter to his Brother.

In 1813, Mr. Hardinge printed a small number of Three single "Sermons, written by a Layman;" and "An Essay on the Character of Jonathan;" not intended for sale. Of each of these I have a copy; "a keepsake, offered as a memorial of grateful and affectionate esteem;" and they are now, with several others, preserved in the present Collection.

In the same year he published "The Russian Chiefs, an Ode," 4to; and he revised and enlarged an excellent Critique, written, many years before by his Father.

In 1813 and the following year Mr. Hardinge was a copious and valuable Contributor to the "Literary Anecdotes of the Eighteenth Century." "Think," he says, "what a fine old Grecian I must be, who intimately knew, for years and for ages, the first Lord Camden, Dr. Akenside, Mr. Hall (Markland's friend), Baron Adams, Wray, Lort, Barrington, Lord Dacre, Mr. Dyson, Horace Walpole of Strawberry-hill, Mr. Cambridge, Athenian Stuart, &c. &c. But, lest you should think me older than I am, you will permit me to say, that all these Friends were older than myself by several years; but I always cultivated in youth men older than myself, though in my old age I cultivate young men the most. Excuse this egotism, and this garrulity of age." He afterwards added the names of "James Hayes of Holliport, Woodeson (his Schoolmaster), Dr. Barnard, Dr. Battie, Stephen Poyntz, Dr. Glynne, Stephen Whisson, Bp. Watson, Dr. Goode, Thomas Papillon, and Jacob Bryant."

In the latter end of March 1816, Mr. Justice Hardinge set out on the business of the Circuit. In some Letters previous to his quitting home, he told his Friends, that he was suffering from a heavy cold; which, to use his own words, "had not separated his nose from the fire:" but he was first taken seriously ill at Ross.

The immediate cause of his decease was an inflammation of the Pleura; and it is probable that his personal exposure to the Easterly winds then prevalent was the inducing cause of the unfortunate attack. He had also suffered much by a fall from his horse (being partial to that exercise, he often took long journeys on horseback, attended only by his valet), which was supposed to have hastened his death.

On his journey to Cardiff, he increased his cold in that degree that he could not act in his judicial capacity. Yet he went on his Circuit, through Brecon, to Presteigne; where, on his arrival, he was attended by a Physician: but the disorder had become a confirmed Pleurisy, and was at such a height that relief from bleeding was ineffectual. It was tried; but the fever was at this time very great, and he complained of it.

He died at Presteigne, April 26, 1816, in the 72d year of his age; leaving behind him the character of possessing, rather than profiting by, great talents.

From his Father, he enjoyed a very good hereditary estate; and with his wife, who still survives him, he obtained a very handsome dower. Either, or both, of these circumstances, united with a strong love for independence, might have rendered him less anxious for advancement.

Mr. Hardinge seems to have had some forebodings of the melancholy event which took him from his Friends and the World.

In one of his latest Letters to Lady Knowles, he says, "I despair of taking leave of Davies, until the Undertaker is waiting for me." He had proposed to visit at Kingsland the shrine of Dr. Davies. His remains passed through Kingsland, to be interred with those of his Family at Kingston-upon-Thames.

A melancholy association with the recollection of the intended visit to the tomb of his last favoured Hero of Taste and Virtue is formed in the mind; and painful moral feelings of regret arise, which teach us more forcibly to remember that — man proposes, but God disposes.

Mr. Hardinge was rather short of stature, but very handsome, with a countenance expressive of the good qualities he possessed. His temper was admirable, and his perseverance in the cause of those he protected most extraordinary and exemplary.

There is a good Portrait of him, when he was 30, by Mr. N. Dance; which, at the time it was painted, was very like him; and a faithful copy of it, from a drawing made by John Jackson, Esq. R.A. accompanies this Memoir.

When we consider that few live to the advanced age Mr. Hardinge attained without sustaining a loss in some material faculty, we shall more highly prize the rare gifts he enjoyed, both mentally and bodily; for, excepting the wrinkles and grey hairs which hoary Time by its iron grasp will leave on the strongest, his life may be said to have been mental youth, and his death a short interruption and passage to that blessed state of perfection which his goodness and philanthropy sought after while on earth.

As a Christian, Mr. Hardinge, in all circumstances, and in every part of his life, appears to have been a steady believer; and, at times, pious and devout in the extreme.

In the character of a Judge he was irreproachable and his various Charges for many years, at the different Assizes in Wales, are admirable.

In that respectable function, one of the latest acts of his life was the sifting to the bottom the grounds upon which all Judges before his time had charged Juries in cases of Child-murder. Some excellent Notes for a Charge were prepared by the benevolent Judge in April 1816, not many days before his decease; but he did not live to deliver it:

Mr. Hardinge's ideas on this subject were fully confirmed by the unquestionable concurrent opinions of several Professional Gentlemen of first-rate eminence; and that this important subject had long before excited his attention, will appear from a Letter addressed in 1805 to Dr. Horsley, then Bishop of St. Asaph.

Mr. Hardinge had brilliant talents, and a power of shewing them so as to afford to his companions and correspondents the greatest gratification.

The talent of society he possessed in an eminent degrees and the rank which he held among the Wits of this day, and the illustrious Personages by whom he was admitted into familiarity, sufficiently evince how much, in conversation at least, he must have displayed the Gentleman and the Scholar.

In conversation indeed he had few equals; as he had an astonishing flow and choice of words, and an animated delivery of them, such as few persons possess. He delighted in pleasantries, and always afforded to his auditors an abundance of mirth and entertainment, as well as information.

His passion for the Muses commenced in infancy; and continued till the close of life.

The Correspondence of Mr. Hardinge was most extensive. His Letters were extraordinary, from their wit, fancy, and gaiety. They seemed to be the productions of a youth of twenty, rather than of a man upwards of sixty years of age. Of his various compositions his Letters were preeminent.

Among the Friends whose Correspondence he justly esteemed were, Archbishop Moore; Lord Chancellors Thurlow, Loughborough, Eldon, and Erskine; the first Marquis of Bute; the Dukes of Grafton, Queensberry, and Richmond; Earls Camden, Effingham, Egremont, Hardwicke, Oxford, Stanhope, and Warwick Lord Braybrooke, Lord Dacre; Mr. Thomas Pitt (afterwards Lord Camelford; Countess De Grey; Bishops Bagot, Beadon, Cornwallis, Fisher, Horsley, Hard, Madan, Mansell, Newcome, North, Porteus, Shipley, and Watson; Sir Joseph Banks, Sir John Nicholl, Sir William Scott, Sir William Jones, and Sir William Ouseley; Lady Knowles; Deans Ekins, Graves, Powis, Shipley, and Vincent; Dr. Glynne-Clobery, Dr. Martin Madan, Dr. William Winne; Mr. Bryant, Mr. Cumberland, Mr. Matthias, Mr. Perceval, Mr. Walpole, and Mr. Wilberforce.

Notwithstanding his talents and acquirements, he had a rare humility for an Author, being ready at all times to adopt the suggestions of his friends, in preference to his own expressions. Of this he gave a striking proof, in permitting me to expunge some unpleasant reflections on a deceased Commentator on Shakespeare, for whom I had a great respect, and whom he had treated somewhat too cavalierly.

On the suggestion of a gentleman on whose judgment he had great reliance, he destroyed one of his early productions, on which he had bestowed much labour.

The zealous ardour with which Mr. Hardinge persevered in his researches, when any favourite object was to be attained, cannot be better exemplified than by a few extracts from the numberless Letters I received from him in the progress of the Memoirs of Mr. Wray and Dr. Davies; which, from the commencement to the conclusion, employed attention nearly two years. By far the greatest part of the Letters were hasty directions for the moment, and were either printed or destroyed. Those here given were preserved as memoranda for occasional references, whilst the article's which he so cheerfully contributed were passing through the press.

In compiling the Memoirs of Mr. Wray, to his own very great regard, arising from a long personal knowledge, he superadded the copious and valuable communications of Lady Lucas (now Countess De Grey), and the Earl of Hardwicke; to whom Mr. Hardinge's obligations are repeatedly acknowledged in that Memoir. To the late Rev. Francis Wollaston of Chiselhurst, and the Rev. Samuel Salter of Shenfield, he also considered himself materially indebted.

The Memoirs of Dr. Davies grew rapidly under his hand; and his acknowledgments for assistance are frequently repeated — to Lady Knowles more especially, from whom the Portrait and much important information were received. Most gratefully also did he acknowledge the kind communications of Lord Braybrooke; the Hon. and Rev. Dr. Cornwallis, the present venerable Bishop of Lichfield; and those of Lady Cornewall; the Reverend Archdeacons Coxe and Corbett; the Rev. Richard Evans, Rector of Kingsland in Herefordshire; and Edward Evans, esq. of Eyton Hall, Leominster.

Mr. Hardinge, like the generality of mankind, was not without his failings. Men of genius are often negligent in concerns they deem trivial.

Anxious as he was that his own literary productions should be preserved, his inattention to their preservation is much to be lamented.

Those who were in habits of intimacy with him must have experienced the frequency with which he requested the loan of books — and sometimes the difficulty of recovering them from what he called "the Chaos of his Library."

When in Parliament, he was often reminded that he had overloaded his Franks.

His hand-writing also, in the latter part of his life, was with much difficulty to be decyphered.

But, whatever were his merits or his defects, they were greatly overbalanced by his active benevolence. By ardent zeal and perseverance in the service of those persons whom he thought worthy of protection, be was able to obtain immense sums by subscription. Many are now alive to bless his memory. The sums he collected for such persons amounted to near 10,000; and he was not apparently in a situation to command success. No rebuffs checked him no obstacles prevented his constant pursuit of his meritorious object. This activity of friendship, almost always successful, was the principal feature in his character. It was wholly disinterested; it was noble; and ought to be held forth to general example.