John Perceval (1685–1748), 1st Viscount Perceval and (from 1733) 1st Earl of Egmont, was an assiduous recorder of his own life and times. His diaries, published by the Historical Manuscripts Commission from manuscripts in the British Library, are the best source for parliamentary debates at Westminster in the 1730s. For the years 1730-1733, when Perceval sat in the Commons (as an Irish peer) they are remarkably full. His practice seems to have been to prepare two versions (presumably on the basis of notes taken in the House), the first attributing speeches to individuals, and the second, entered up in the diary, which listed speakers and summarized all arguments on each side. His letterbooks for 1731 contain accounts of five debates that embody his first editing process, with speeches attributed to individuals. They were sent to an Irish correspondent, Marmaduke Coghill, and largely omitted from the diary because Perceval had already transcribed them elsewhere. They are new to historians and cast light on two main issues: the unsuccessful attempts by Perceval and the ‘Irish lobby’ to persuade the British parliament to settle the Irish woollen trade, a question bedevilling Anglo-Irish relations in this period; and an attempt by the opposition to stir up anger against perceived Spanish aggression against Gibraltar. One of the most interesting features is the insight afforded into the Commons performances of Sir Robert Walpole: his management of debates, his own style of speaking, and his sharp exchanges with opponents like William Pulteney.
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