Page images

brity even in our day, and indeed been attempted to be raised to the rank of a hero. Some good and generous qualities doubtless appear to have animated him, and occasionally to have displayed themselves under the most trying circumstances. His fidelity to his allies, the generosity with which he always behaved towards his friends, and his undaunted courage and self-possession, only lead us the moreto regret that these excellent endowments which nature had given him should have been rendered nugatory and even pernicious by an education and long practice in vice, and instead of serving to adorn, only exhibited strange inconsistencies in his general character. While we also admire his great ingepuity and wonderful resources, we can only deeply deplore that these should have been entirely perverted for the worst of purposes, and as a whole he can only excite applause by separating altogether the consideration of his extraordinary powers from that of the entire misuse of them. As it was, he who was capable of attaining high and honourable distinction by the proper application of these endowments, died, as he undoubtedly deserved to do, and as every requirement of law and justice demanded that he should, the death of a felon. Hence, although by his “ bad eminence," he has made himself almost as great a moral pest after his death as he was a social one during his life, he was at last compelled to make some atonement for his misdeeds by serving to evince that the brightest talents, if misapplied, will only procure for their possessor a proportionate degree of ignominy and misfortune.

These remarks are in every respect true and judicious, but the man of law omits the literary part of the question ; which is, whether viewed as a simple work of art—as one of Fuseli's paintings might be looked upon —the artist, by pen or by pencil, may not select as a subject for his graphic power, “bad eminence” as well as “great excellence,” so long as a bad moral is not also conveyed by such portraitures. Mr. Harris subscribes to the cant of the day and echoes the cry of a certain set of critics, when he excuses in Fielding, what he condemns in a contemporary novelist. The life and adventures of Jonathan Wild he calls one of the very happiest productions of that “accomplished and distinguished author," while Jack Sheppard is designated as a “ moral pest,” at the same time that the biographer and lawyer inconsistently admits that Jonathan Wild “had but few of what were, or rather what might have been, the redeeming qualities of Sheppard, intellectual or moral ;" of whom he further states, that he was in some way or other related to Mr. Cornwall, at that time Speaker of the House of Commons. Fielding's “Jonathan Wild” is an odious book, and quite unworthy of the author of " Tom Jones;" a satire, if you please, but full of disgusting and obscene details, though luckily almost unreadable; with Mr. Ainsworth's “ Jack Sheppard” we believe Mr. Harris to be unacquainted, except by report, and therefore unable to deliver a fair opinion.

The conviction of Sheppard and Wild was followed by the far more serious impeachment of the Earl of Macclesfield, Lord Iligh Chancellor of Great Britain. The attorney-general excused himself on this occasion from taking a part in the proceedings against his friend and patron. At the time of the lord chancellor's disgrace, when the popular clamour against him was of course very loud, and the more so from the judicial part which he had taken in the trial of Dr. Sacheverell, the saying was current among the mob, that Staffordshire had produced the three greatest rogues of the day-Jack Sheppard, Jonathan Wild, and Lord Macclesfield.

The same year (1725) Sir Philip Yorke purchased the manor and estate of Hardwicke, in Gloucestershire, for £24,000. In 1732, there was an important debate in the House of Commons on the subject of a standing army, in which it is curious in the present day, when we are likely to have the same discussion renewed, to find Sir Philip arguing

that “it was certainly the interest of this nation to render itself as considerable as possible amongst its neighbours ; for the greater opinion they have of our strength and power, the less apt they will be to undertake any expeditions or invasions against us; and the more easy it will be for us to obtain from them any advantages or immunities which we may think necessary for improving the trade and increasing the riches of the kingdom.” The last speech made in the House of Commons by Sir Philip, was on the occasion of the grand debate on Sir Robert Walpole's excise scheme.

On the 31st of Oc:ober, 1733, Sir Philip Yorke was appointed chief justice of England, the salary of which had been raised from two to four thousand a year, to induce the attorney-general to resign his pretensions to the woolsack, a circumstance which has led other biographers to stamp his character with the brand of avariciousness, a stigma which Mr. Harris makes no satisfactory effort to remove. A peerage was also promised him, and shortly afterwards conferred. This occurred on the 23rd of November of the same year, when he was raised to the peerage by the title of Baron Ilardwicke, of Hardwicke, in the county of Gloucester. One of his first acts in the disposal of the patronage which fell to him as lord chief justice, was to bestow on Mr. Salkeld the office of clerk of errors in the Court King's Bench, an appointment both of honour and emolument.

One of the first cases in which the new chief justice was engaged was that of Savage the poet, for a libel, and the information against whom was dismissed, with encomiums upon the purity and excellence of his writings. “It was urged,” says Johnson, " in defence of Savage, that obscenity was criminal when it was intended to promote the practice of vice ; but that Mr. Savage had only introduced obscene ideas, with the view of exposing them to detestation, and of amending the age by show, ing the deformity of wickedness.” The notes which were made by Lord Chief Justice Hardwicke of the different cases tried before him, have all been preserved and all contained in five small volumes of note books. Many of these cases are not only of high interest to the law student, but also to the general reader, as illustrating in a very striking manner the state of the country at this period, in the lawless outrages which were everywhere perpetrated, and the general manners of the times. In the case of a Fleet marriage, Lord Hardwicke decided that it was not a legal one, and his experience of the evils arising of these ill-considered alliances, led him afterwards to introduce a measure which put an end to such pernicious and disgraceful proceedings. When presiding on the Nisi Prius side of the court at Buckingham, in 1734, a singular case was brought before the lord chief justice, arising out of a superstition still common at that period, being an action of defamation brought by an old woman against a man for calling her a witch.

Norfolk Circuit, Summer, 1734.—Buckingham, July 23, 1734. Mary Butcher, widow, plt.; Joseph Hadland, deft. “ Case for words:“She is a witch, and bewitched my wife, and I will prove it.

She is a witch. She came over ye pond, and over a hedge, her foot light. “She is a witch. I hung up a bladder full of water in ye chimney. Whilst yt remained there she had no power over my wife. She came down ye chimney in ye shape of a bird, and fetched ye bladder away.

* There goes ye old witch. Damn lier, I will have ye blood of her.
“Plea-Not Guilty.
Mr. Clurke, pro quer.


[ocr errors]

Robert Verney. Knows ye parties. Abt. my house, heard deft, tell a man yt Mary Butcher is a witch, and bewitcht my wife.

“Said she was a witch. She came over ye hedge, her foot light, and over ye pond.

“ Knows ye words were mentioned by Mary Butcher. She was named in ye conversation.

Cross-exam. Deft, a cooper.

Tho. Butcher. There goes ye old witch yt bewitched my wife. Damn her, I will have ye blood of her.

Serjt. Urbyn, pro def.
Geo. Fellows. Heard Robt. Verney swear at Hadland.
“Verdict proquer. da 1."*

In 1786, the statutes of England and Scotland against conjuration, witchcraft, and dealing with evil spirits, were repealed; but it does not appear that Lord Hardwicke took any active part in aiding or procuring these measures.

However great had been Lord Hardwicke's skill as an advocate, and however large the reputation which he earned as the first common law judge of the land, yet, it is in his capacity of Lord High Chancellor of Great Britain—his advancement to which office took place on the decease of Lord Talbot, the great seal having been delivered on the 21st of February, 1737—that Lord Hardwicke is principally known to the world; and it is to the mode in which he discharged the functions of that exalted station that he owes, in the main, the celebrity which he has obtained.

The advancement of Lord Hardwicke to the chancellorship led him to occupy a more prominent and elevated position in the political world, and the first occurrence in which he was engaged were the unhappy differences which at that time existed in the royal family. It was also very soon after Lord Hardwicke's advancement to his new office that the misunderstanding took place in regard to a non-application on the part of the poet Thomson, which led to the bard of the "Seasons” losing a lucrative sinecure. Upon this subject Mr. Harris makes the following observations, unfortunately too civilised for the age we live in :

Probably no class of men in this country are less liberally requited, according to their labours, than literary men of real merit ; and of these, perhaps, poets fare the worst of all. Their minds and time, vay, liealth, and even life itself, they devote to their fellow creatures, and to their true interests, the promotion of their intellectual, and moral, and social good. For this they despise the allurements of wealth and luxury, which ordinary professions, and even business avocations of a lower grade, would be pretty certain to bring them. They taste in reality the poverty and privation they so forcibly describe, and which they so feelingly contribute to guard others against. Owing to a barbarous conventional rule in this civilised age, they are in a great measure excluded from society, or at any rate are allowed no recognised place or station in it, who are at once its highest benefactors, and its greatest ornaments. By their limited means, they are but too often precluded from participating in those pleasures they so contribute to enhance in others ; and by the constant effort of mind and unremitting exertion which they undergo, they become debilitated and frail, both in person and intellect.

These men surely then are those who both stand most in need of, and are best entitled to, the bounty of the state. They are at once its most deserving members, and those to whom it owes the most. There are few with whose services it could so hardly dispense : and there are none whose efforts are so entirely devoted to the public weal, and to whom therefore a grant by the state, of the nature of that for a time given to Thomson, is in fact not a mere idle pension, but well-earned pay.

So late as the year 1759, a case occurred at Wingrove, in Hertfordshire.

As the nation advances yet further in its career of civilisation, it may be hoped that the truth of what I liave propounded will not only be acknowledged, but acted upon; and it cannot be doubted that the encouragement to men of mind thus afforded, will be fully responded to by them.

On the 22nd of May, 1740, Mr. Philip Yorke, the eldest son of Lord Chancellor Hardwicke, married Miss Jemima Campbell, only daughter of John, Earl of Breadalbane, and grand-daughter of the Duke of Kent. The extract which follows, from a letter by Horace Walpole to Mr. Conway, shows the feelings entertained of the prosperous career of the chancellor and his family at this period :

“ Harry, what luck the Chancellor has ! first, indeed, to be in himself so great a man ; but then in accidents ; he is made Chief Justice and peer when Talbot is made Chancellor and peer: Talbot dies in a twelvemonth, and leaves him the seals at an age when others are scarce made solicitors ; then marries his son into one of the first families of Britain, obtains a patent for a marquisate, and eight thousand pounds a year after the Duke of Kent's death ; the Duke dies in a fortnight, and leaves them all! People talk of fortune's wheel, that is always rolling, troth, my Lord Hardwicke has overtaken her wheel, and rolled along with it."*

Upon the fall of the Walpole administration and the reconciliation of the king with the Prince of Wales, Lord Hardwicke was retained as chancellor by the new ministry. His difficulties in freeing himself from the trammels of party were very great, but they afford a truly noble and grand moral spectacle. The high and eminent position of the lord chancellor involved him more or less in all the great events of his time. Upon the landing of Prince Charles Edward, in 1745, the assiduity of the chancellor was unbounded. As the most active, able, and leading member of the coronal of regency, he was incessantly occupied in concerting measures to check the rebellion, and after the defeat of the Pretender the very important, painful, and onerous task devolved upon him, of presiding in the first judicial assembly of this mighty nation, on the trials in cases of life and death, of persons of the first rank and quality,

The suppression of the rebellion was, however, only followed by new dissensions in the royal family, by a dissolution of parliament, and by the temporary departure of the king for Hanover; till the hopes of the opposition, the distractions in the royal family, and the apprehensions of the chancellor and his colleagues, were alike put an end to by the death of Frederick Prince of Wales on the 26th of March, 1751. The Regency Bill, the abrogation of the Julian style, the Forfeited Estates' Bill, the Clandestine Marriage Bill, and the Naturalisation of the Jews, were among the chief public acts of the ensuing three years, and when in 1754 the Duke of Newcastle took office as prime minister, the Lord Chancellor was created Earl of Hardwicke, a fair and due reward for his long and great services rendered to his country in so many ways.

On the calamitous death of Mr. Pelham, the arduous task of reconstructing the government devolved on the Earl of Hardwicke, and for a short interval the chancellor was the only responsible and acting minister of the crown.

The new ministry was not destined, however, to hold out long against the inflexible and uncompromising hostility of Mr. Pitt to the Duke of Newcastle, and when, on the 11th of November, 1756, his grace resigned his place in the administration, Lord Chancellor Hardwicke also came to the resolution of giving up the great seal and retiring altogether from official life. The retirement of such a man as Lord

. Correspondence of Horace Walpole.

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

Chancellor Hardwicke from the high judicial and political dignity which for nearly twenty years he had filled with such distinguished eminence, was an event which formed an era, not only in his own life, but also in the history of his country. His loss appears, indeed, to have been almost universally regretted.

Never," says Lord Mahon, “has the office of chancellor been more uprightly, more learnedly, and more ably filled.”

It was so difficult to find a successor to Lord Hardwicke, that the great seal was placed in commission, and was left so during the whole of George II.'s reign. A flattering testimony to the merits of both father and son was also paid by the new ministry, in promoting Mr. Charles Yorke to the office of solicitor-general.

The favour with which Lord Hardwicke was regarded by George III., when Prince of Wales, was openly manifested on the young king's accession to the throne, by his requesting the veteran judge again to occupy the high official station in which he had so long and so ably presided. But Lord Hardwicke was at this period not only in the decline of life, but he had also experienced a long and severe illness, combined with several family afflictions,—the last of which was the death of Lady Hardwicke, which took place on the 19th of September, 1761, at Wimpole, and he finally retired from the duties and cares of public life, on the breaking up of the administration the following year. He had held office under the crown for an uninterrupted period of above forty-two years, from his first appointment as solicitor-general in the month of March, 1720, which he filled for about four years. More than eight years he had been attorney-general ; for three years and a half he was Chief Justice of England; for nearly twenty years, Lord High Chancellor; and during the last six years he had assisted at council deliberations, though without any particular place in the cabinet. He served three successive sovereigns ; and his influence, both in the ministry and in the House of Lords, those who at once regretted and endeavoured to underrate it, acknowledge to have been almost paramount. He relinquished office at last, not only voluntarily, but against the wishes both of his king and his colleagues ; and in the face of renewed offers for his return to power.

Notwithstanding, however, this expressed intention to prefer an honourable and peaceful retirement as most suitable to his

Lord Hardwicke in reality continued to act more or less as a public man to the last. He took an active part in the debate on peace, and in the affair of Wilkes, and his last energies were given to the ministerial troubles of 1763. The same year he was attacked with illness, and he lingered till the 6th of March, 1764, when this great and good man breathed his last, at his house in Grosvenor Square; “at a time,” says the writer of the memoir of him in the Annual Register, “when the situation of public affairs rendered his death a loss, as unseasonable, as it would at any time have been important. And his name will be remembered by posterity with the same reverence which attends the most celebrated civil characters in the annals of this country.” Lord Mansfield said,—“ If you wish to employ your abilities in writing the life of a truly great and wonderful man in our profession, take the life of Lord Hardwicke for your object; he was, indeed, a wonderful character, he became ChiefJustice of England and Chancellor, from his own abilities and virtues.” And for such a man, Mr. Harris's able biography is a more fitting and more appropriate monument than marble or brass.


« PreviousContinue »