Page images

discipline closer than he otherwise would ; and even to fear any innovations in the practice of the law, when he thought that its very power was threatened. Objections have been made and criticisms applied to him by those who were fortunate enough to live under happier auspices and more liberal institutions than he did ; when the gloomy and tempestuous clouds which hung over the fairest prospects of the country had seemed to pass away; when the liberal hand of peace had opened every long-closed port, and established throughout the world new channels of friendly connexion and commercial intercourse; when more extensive negotiations and closer intimacies knit together the nations of the globe; when progressive knowledge and accumulated experience gave rise to new thoughts and feelings; and when a larger communication of mutual ideas swept away at once many lingering prejudices, abolished many hurtful restrictions, and opened new regions of enterprize, and it is to be hoped of happiness, unknown before. We now proceed to give a short abridgment of the contents of these volumes, and a summary of the events of Lord Eldon's life. Lord Eldon was descended from the ancient family of the Scotts of Balweary, in Fifeshire, and the name is mentioned as far back as the year 1124. Among them appears the celebrated name of Sir Michael Scott the Wizard. He was one of the ambassadors sent to bring the Maid of Norway to Scotland on the death of Alexander III. He wrote a Commentary on Aristotle, printed at Venice in 1496. He is mentioned in the Inferno of Dante, and has appeared with great effect in later days in the romantic Lay of his descendant. This old Scottish family, somehow or other, got South, according to custom, and settled at Newcastle. The father of J.ord Eldon was William Scott, a merchant and tradesman, and belonged to the fraternity of the hoastmen of the town. His principal business was that of a coal-fitter, or factor, who conducts the sales between the owner and shipper. This gentleman had two wives, the first of whom we pass over; his second was Jane Atkinson, whom he married Aug. 18, 1740. He lived to be seventy-nine, she to be ninety-one, years of age. By her he had thirteen children, of whom John Scott was the eighth, and William Lord Stowell the eldest. Lord Eldon believes that he was born 4 June, 1751, in Love Lane. He was sent to the Royal Grammar School at Newcastle, of which that fine scholar Richard Dawes had been the master from 1738 to 1749. He was succeeded by the Rev. Hugh Moises, Fellow of Peterhouse, under whose learning and good management the school flourished, which had declined under his predecessor, who was laying down recondite rules of Greek metre for scholars, when he should have been flogging the elements of that language into the boys. John Scott was a diligent boy, attached to his studies, and had the benefit of his brother William's example and instruction. His father meant him for his own business, but William thought he could do better for him. So John was sent to Oxford in May 1776, matriculated as Member of the University, and entered as a Commoner of University College, under the tuition of Sir Robert Chambers, and his brother Lord Stowell. He came up in the Newcastle coach, which had for its motto, Sat cito, si sat bene 1 which motto made a deep impression on him. “In short (he says) in all that I have had to do in future life, professional and judicial, I have always felt the effect of this early admonition on the panels of the vehicle which conveyed me from school, ‘Sat cito, si sat bene.' It was the impression of this which made me that deliberative judge, Has some have said too deliberative,—and reflection on all that is past will not authorise me to deny, that whilst I have been thinking Sat cito, si sat bene, I may not have sufficiently recollected whether 'Sat bene si sat cito' has had its due influence.” He was elected a Fellow in July 1767, when he had but just completed his sixteenth year. He says, both to his brother and himself these Fellowships were of great use in life, and in their future success in it. He took his Bachelor's degree in Feb. 1770, after the following rigid examination :-" I was exmined in Hebrew and History. “What is the Hebrew for the place of a skull! I replied, ‘Golgotha.' ' Who founded University College o' I stated that King Alfred founded it, though that is doubtful. ‘Very well, sir, said the examiner, “ you are competent for a degree.’” He gained the prize in 1771 for the prose, essay “On the Advantages and Disadvantages of Foreign Travel.” This was better than being a Newtastle grocer, from which he had a narrow escape. In 1772 he eloped with Miss Elizabeth Surtees from her father's house at Newcastle, who was a banker of that city. This lady is described as having had at all times such naturally retired habits, that this seems the only instance in which she ever cast them off. She however got out of a one pair of stairs window, descended a ladder, threw herself and her honour into her lover's arms, and was married at Gretna Green. When they got back to Morpeth they had no money left, and no bed on which they could pass the bridal night. In repentance, therefore, the lady wrote to her father, was forgiven, and they returned to Love Lane. This marriage obliged Mr. Scott to vacate his Fellowship, precluded him from any prospect of preferment in the church, and determined him to the study of the law. In January 1773 he entered as a student of the Middle Temple, and in February of the same year he took his degree of Master of Arts. For the greater part of the next three years he continued to reside in or near Oxford. He says of himself, in a letter to a friend, “I have married rashly, and have neither house nor home to offer my wife; but it is my determination to work hard to provide for the woman I love, as soon as I can find the means of doing so.” His wife is described as very young, very beautiful, with flowing ringlets, and wearing a white frock and sash. Who would not work hard for such a creature ? and John Scott nearly killed himself by his labour. In March 1773 the eldest son was born. About 1774 he gave lectures on the law, as deputy for the Vinerian Professor, and for this had 60l. a year. The first lecture he read was on the statute of young men running away with maidens (4 and 5 Phil. and Mar. 8 ch.) In 1773–4–5 he kept his terms at the Temple. At this time, as he had but little funds of his own, it is supposed that his brother assisted him. He was indeed in earnest in the business he undertook. When remonstrated with by a medical friend, he said, “I must either do as I am doing, or starve.” Pursuing the advice of Lord Coke, he read “non mulla sed multum.” He rose at four o'clock in the morning, was abstinent at meals, and studied at night with a wet towel round his head. He was wont to recur in his later life to these days as not unhappy, though laborious; nor indeed from any labour of the intellect, however severe, can unhappiness arise; the happiness that endures, is generally a happiness that has been slowly and severely won. He was soon to be called to the bar, and settled in London, in a house in Cursitor Street. “Many a time," he said, “have I run down from Cursitor Street to Fleet Market, to get sixpenny worth of sprats for supper." Such was the early life of the future Lord Chancellor. In February 1776 he was called to the bar. In the first year he made a bargain with his wife, that whatever he got in the first eleven months should be his, and all in the twelfth month hers. “In the twelfth month I received half a guinea, eighteen-pence went for fees, and Betsy received nine shillings; in the other eleven months I got not one shilling.” His father died in November of this year, and therefore did not live to see his son receiving even the earliest business or honours of his profession. He left him, however, 1000l. in addition to the 2000l. settled at his marriage. He now removed to Carey Street, still adhering with intense application to his studies; but his brother William in a letter describes him as rather disheartened. “Business is very dull with poor Jack; if it does not brighten a little he will be heartily sick of his profession. I do all I can to keep up his spirits, but he is very gloomy.” After a trial of three or four years he thought of relinquishing London, and settling as a provincial counsel in his native town. But the fulfilment of this desire was prevented by two opportunities, related at length by his biographer, and which Lord Eldon detailed in after life to Mr. Farrer, over a glass of Newcastle Port.* An attorney told him “his bread was buttered for life;” for he had received the commendations both of Lord Thurlow and of Dunning. He now accepted the office of Recordership of Newcastle, the salary of which added a little to his income ; and the causes of Ackroyd and Smithson, and the Clitheroe petition, had left his professional success no longer doubtful. His biographer here makes a remark on the subject, of great importance to those that belong to the profession he alludes to, and we think of interest to all who feel the importance and high rank that the profession bears in our social system, and are therefore curious in tracing the machinery by which it is conducted, and the system that leads to success.

“At the present day, from the great competition of very learned and very able practitioners, a few occasional opportunities do little, however they be improved. Among the more influential class of attorneys and solicitors, it has become usual to bring up a son or other near relation to the Bar, who, if his industry and ability be such as can at all justify his friends in employing him, absorbs all the business which they and their connexion can bestow ; and the number of barristers thus powerfully supported is now so great, that few men lacking such an advantage can secure a hold upon business. But at the time when Mr. Scott began his profes

sional life, the usage had not grown up of coming into the field with a following' already secured. Education being less general, fewer competitors attempted the Bar; and, even among the educated classes, a large proportion of adventurous men devoted themselves to naval and military pursuits, which have now been deprived of their attraction by a peace of more than a quarter of a century. In those days, therefore, it might well happen, as with Mr. Scott it actually did, that a couple of good opportunities, ably used, would make the fortune of an assiduous barrister in London.”

Scott's talent in leading the great cause before mentioned had fixed Lord Thurlow's attention on him, and his kindness was shown in the following singular manner. Sir Grey Cooper asked him to give Scott a Com

* We remember an old Suffolk squire telling us, that at some public dinner he sat next to Lord Stowell. A bottle of port wine was put to each guest. Just before the cloth was removed, he said to his neighbour, “Stowell, I think you've done pretty well,” for his bottle was two-thirds emptied. Lord Stowell said, “Look at my brother's,” pointing to Lord Eldon's; there was not a drop left.—REv.


missionership of Bankrupts. He said he would, but never did. When asterwards Lord Eldon inquired of him the reason, he said, “It would have been your ruin. Young men are very apt to be content when they get something to live upon: When I saw what you was made of, I deter. mined to break my promise, and make you work.” “And I dare say," says Lord Eldon, “he was right; for there is nothing does a young lawyer so much good as to be half starved ; it has a fine effect : but it was rather a curious instance of Lord Thurlow's kindness.” In 1783, when the Coalition Ministry came in, he received the offer of a silk gown, together with Mr. Erskine and Mr. Pigott. He had now completed his thirty-second year. He accepted about the same year a seat for the borough of Weobly, on the patronage of Lord Weymouth. When he got to the place, he says, he asked what was the usual mode of proceeding there, and he was told, he was to go first to the house which contained the prettiest girl in the place, and give her a kiss. “This,” says he, “I thought a very pleasant beginning, and I did so." From Carey Street he had moved to the more agreeable situation of Powis Place, joining Great Ormond Street. His maiden speech he made on the second reading of Mr. Fox's India Bill. Mr. Fox complimented him on his “abilities and his goodness;” but his second attempt at eloquence was more ambitious than successful, overrun with quotations and far-fetched allusions, in which he quoted Shakspere and Horace, likened the East India Company to the Great Babylon, and found a type of their affairs in the mysterious prophecies of the Apocalypse. The House listened with amazement, and Sheridan retaliated in a shower of sarcasm and wit. This put an end for ever to Mr. Scott's attempts at eloquence. In 1786 we find him going the circuit as usual, and joining in the parliamentary debates. He took little part in any of the charges against Mr. Hastings. In 1787 he received the office of Chancellor of the Bishopric of Durham, vacant by the death of Mr. Justice Willes. In June 1788 he was appointed Solicitor-General by Mr. Pitt, and received the honour of knighthood. It is said that he hinted to the King his wish to decline it, who answered in the regal style, “Pooh, pooh! nonsense,” and put the sword on his shoulder. In 1788 and 1789 he was engaged in the important discussions on the Regency, in consequence of the King's malady." In 1791, in consequence of urgent increase of business, he took a set of chambers in the New Square, Lincoln's Inn. His fortune now must have rapidly accumulated, for in July 1792 he bought the Eldon estate, from which subsequently he took the title. This cost him 22,000l. In 1793 he became Attorney-General, on Sir Archibald Macdonald's promotion, Sir John Mitford succeeding him as Solicitor-General. In March 1793 he introduced the measure known as the “Traitorous Correspondence Bill,” and, in his high and responsible office, he conducted the well-known prosecution in 1795 against Horne Tooke, Hardy, &c. for treason. So high was public feeling at this time, and so exasperated was the mob—the plebs Londinensis—at the prosecution of their favourite leaders, that Mr. Scott's life was, when he left the court, in no little danger. “Mr. Erskine,” he says, “ behaved generously and gallantly throughout the excitement. When the people were

* In this part of the narrative Lord Eldon has defended his old friend Lord Thurlow from the imputation, so industriously propagated and so firmly believed, of double dealing, while in the ministry, with the Prince's party. He said he never could find out what occasioned the rupture between Lord Thurlow and his colleagues. Wide vol. I. p. 212.-Rev.


about to stop Sir John Scott. Mr. Erskine called out to them, ‘I will not go on without the Attorney-General. Erskine,” says Scott, “caused his carriage to go slowly, till he saw me out of danger.” This, he says, was the most important proceeding he was ever professionally engaged in. The Treasonable Attempts Bill was now brought in and carried, which arose from the daring attempts made on the King's person, and the Seditious Meetings Bill was renewed. In May Parliament had been dissolved, and the Attorney-General was returned to Parliament for Boroughbridge in Yorkshire, with Sir F. Burdett as his colleague. In 1798 he served the office of Treasurer, that is, Principal, of the Society of the Middle Temple. . In the spring of 1796 a prosecution for high treason was instituted against Mr. Arthur O'Connor, Rev. J. O'Coighley, &c. and, though five prior prosecutions of the same kind by Sir John Scott had all failed, in this case one of the prisoners was convicted. The year 1799 was fruitful in political prosecution. Gilbert Wakefield was tried for sedition, convicted, and imprisoned; and the effect of this imprisonment, through his own imprudence when he was liberated, cost him his life. He was an indefatigable and most zealous scholar, widely read in the ancient authors, and possessing a vast and retentive memory; but he had no selection in his literature, and little taste in his criticisms. He seemed always to read and write in haste; hence his Latinity was often faulty, and his emendations improbable. In his two years' imprisonment he solaced himself with his favourite authors, and as soon as he was free, in his desire to select a residence, overheated himself by exertion, and caught a fever which was soon fatal. In May 1799 Sir John Scott made his last speech in the House of Commons respecting the claims of Mr. Palmer on the Post Office, thus completing his sixteenth year of parliamentary service. In his office of Attorney-General he had been making about ten thousand a year; but on the Chief Justiceship of the Common Pleas becoming vacant he succeeded to it, and took the title of Lord Eldon. In July he was sworn of the Privy Council. His patent of peerage is dated on the 18th. He took his seat in the House of Lords on 24th September. Lady Eldon, who, with the natural partiality of a wife, thought highly of her husband's personal appearance, could not bear the idea of his handsome features being enveloped in the hairy circumference of a judge's wig. In consequence, Lord Eldon asked the King's permission to lay aside that part of his dress. On the King's objecting, he observed that in King Charles's time the judges did not wear wigs; “True,” said the King, “and I am willing, if you like it, that you should do as they did, for, though they certainly had no wigs, they wore their beards.” When he became Chancellor, the wig of private life was discontinued. At the close of 1799 he lost his brother Harry Scott, to whom he was much attached; and the next year his aged mother paid the debt of nature. In March 1801 Mr. Pitt announced that his ministry was at an end; the cause being his difference with the King on the Roman Catholic question. Lord Loughborough resigned the Great Seal, to which Lord Eldon was elevated. He was in April 1801 appointed by George the Third one of the trustees of his private property, and in July the High Stewardship of the University of Oxford was conferred upon him, with a salary of 5l. per annum. In May 1802 he was appointed Governor of the Charter House. The high honours, however, of his exalted station were not to be maintained without corresponding labour; a labour that seemed sometimes even beyond the powers of nature to

endure. Let us hear the Chancellor's own statement to a female friend, Mrs. Forster.

« PreviousContinue »