WILLIAM LAMB MELBOURNE, 2ND Viscount (1779-1848), English statesman, second son of the 1st Viscount Melbourne, by his marriage with the daughter of Sir Ralph Milbanke, bart., was born on the 15th of March 1779. His father, Peniston Lamb (1748-1829), was the son of Sir Matthew Lamb, bart. (d. 1768), who made a large fortune out of the law, and married Miss Coke of Melbourne Hall; in 1770 he was made baron and in 1781 Viscount Melbourne in the Irish peerage, and in 1815 was created an English peer. After completing his course at Trinity College, Cambridge, William Lamb studied law at the university of Glasgow, and was called to the bar in 1804. In 1805 he married Lady Caroline Ponsonby (1785-1828), daughter of the 3rd earl of Bessborough. She was, however, separated from him in 1825. Lady Caroline Lamb acquired some fame as a novelist by her romance of Glenarvon, which was published anonymously in 1816 and was afterwards (1865) re-issued under the title of The Fatal Passion. On entering parliament in 1806 the Hon. William Lamb (as Lord Melbourne then was) joined the opposition under Fox, of whom he was an ardent admirer; but his Liberal tendencies were never decided, and he not infrequently supported Lord Liverpool during that statesman's long tenure of office. During the short ministry of Canning in 1827 he was chief secretary for Ireland, but he afterwards for a time adhered to the small remnant of the party who supported the duke of Wellington. The influence of Melbourne as a politician dates from his succeeding to the peerage in 1829. Disagreeing with the duke of Wellington on the question of parliamentary reform, he entered the ministry of Grey as home secretary in 1830. For the duties of this office at such a critical time he was deficient in insight and energy, but his political success was independent of his official capacity; and when the ministry of Grey was wrecked on the Irish question in July 1834 Melbourne was chosen to succeed him as prime minister. In November following he had to give place to a Conservative ministry under Peel; but he resumed office in April 1835, and remained prime minister till 1841. He died at Melbourne House, Derbyshire, on the 24th of November 1848.
Lord Melbourne was without the qualification of attention to details, and he never displayed those brilliant talents which often form a substitute for more solid acquirements. Though he possessed a fine and flexible voice, his manner as a speaker was ineffective, and his speeches were generally ill-arranged and destitute of oratorical point. His political advancement was due to his personal popularity. He had a thorough knowledge of the private and indirect motives which influence politicians, and his genial attractive manner, easy temper and vivacious, if occasionally coarse, wit helped to confer on him a social distinction which led many to take for granted his eminence as a statesman. His favourite dictum in politics was, "Why not leave it alone ?" His relations with women gave opportunity for criticism though not open scandal; but the action brought against him in 1836 by Mr George Chapple Norton in regard to the famous Mrs Caroline Norton was deservedly unsuccessful. The most notable and estimable feature of his political conduct was his relation to Queen Victoria, whom he initiated into the duties of sovereign with the most delicate tact and the most paternal and conscientious care.
Melbourne was succeeded as 3rd viscount by his brother, Frederick James Lamb (1782-1853), who was British ambassador to Vienna from 1831 to 1841. On the 3rd viscount's death the titles became extinct, but the estates passed to his sister Emily Mary (1787-1869), the wife of Lord Palmerston.
See W. McC. Torrens, Memoirs of Lord` Melbourne (1878); Lloyd Sanders, Lord Melbourne's Papers (1889); A. Hayward's essay (from the Quarterly Review, 1878) in "Eminent Statesmen" (1880).
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