WILLIAM LAMB, SECOND VISCOUNT MELBOURNE, (1779-1848), second son of the first Viscount Melbourne, was born 15th March 1779. After completing his course at Trinity College, Cambridge, he studied law at the university of Glasgow, entered Lincoln's Inn in 1797, and was called to the bar in 1804. In 1805 he married Lady Caroline Ponsonby, daughter of the earl of Bessborough, who after her separation from him acquired some fame as a novelist, and was also a friend of Lord Byron. On entering parliament the same year Lamb joined the opposition under Fox, of whom he was an ardent admirer; but his Liberal tendencies were never of a very decided character, and he not unfrequently gave his support to 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 elevation to the peerage in 1828. Disagreeing with the duke of Wellington on the question of parliamentary reform, he in 1830 entered the ministry of Grey as home secretary. For the discharge of the difficult and multifarious duties of this office at such a critical time he was decidedly deficient both in insight and in energy, but his political success was totally independent of his official capacity; and, when the ministry of Grey was wrecked on the Irish question, Melbourne was chosen to succeed him. Almost immediately he had to give place to a Conservative ministry under Peel, but, the verdict of the country being in his favour, he resumed office in 1835. The period of his ministry was wholly uneventful, and for a considerable time before he resigned in 1841 he had lost the confidence of the country. From the time of his retirement from office he took little interest in politics. He died at Melbourne House, Derbyshire, 24th November 1848.
Lord Melbourne was without even the elementary qualification of diligent attention to details, which in the absence of higher endowments sometimes confers on a statesman the greater part of his success. Nor can it be said that in public he ever displayed any of those specious and brilliant talents which are often found an acceptable 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, notwithstanding his occasional indulgence in inelegant flights of rhetoric. Indeed his political advancement was wholly 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 for a time led many to take for granted his eminence as a statesman. The most notable and estimable feature of his political conduct is his relation to Queen Victoria, whom he initiated into the duties of sovereign with the most delicate tact and the most friendly and conscientious care.