Page images

removal in 1833. But he had some time before made a sacrifice of his ease by coming into parliament for Leith, one of the burghs enfranchised by the act of the preceding year; and he consented thus to enter parliament, for the first time, the moment it appeared that the interests of the public and the party required it.

The most absurd tales have been circulated of his inefficiency, as a supporter of the Edinburgh Review, as well as a member of parliament, and as minister for Scotland. These silly effusions of ignorance or spleen, or both combined, are the less worthy of notice, as regards Lord Murray, that they extend to the whole circle of his celebrated contemporaries; and though it has not been deemed safe to deny Lord Jeffrey's literary eminence, he is put down among the rest as having completely failed in the political world, from the moment that access to power had been opened to the party. That he carried through the great Reform Act for Scotland, and laid the groundwork for reforming her corporations, as well as established the system of burgh police, should suffice to disperse at once such idle fictions. But the course of his successor in the administration of Scotland was marked by the carrying of measures of which it would be difficult to over-estimate the value, nor could one well exaggerate the difficulties thrown in his way by the state of parties in both Houses of Parliament, as well as in Scotland. To specify all of them would be superfluous; but in this place there are some which may appropriately be mentioned, because they affected 'the amendment of the law in its most important branches. In 1836 he carried an Act to lessen the stringency of entails, by enabling heirs of entail to deal with the property, and creditors to be paid under certain proper restrictions. In 1837 he carried a most useful Act, touching the jurisdiction of the local courts in small debts, and the year after he succeeded in putting these courts upon a more regular and satisfactory footing. It should be added that the universal opinion in the House of Commons was, that from his great fairness, his perfect candour, his full acquaintance with the subject discussed, and his power of distinct, lucid,

and impressive statement, no person in his position had ever given more entire satisfaction, and hardly any one could be named as his equal. That he distinguished himself in all the cases which brought him before the House of Lords in its judicial capacity may easily be supposed from his success at the Scotch bar, when practising in times marked by the greatest lawyers and most eminent advocates of any age. He was found without the parade of learning displayed by those whose whole lives had been devoted to the black letter of the profession, yet perfectly equal to cope with them upon their own ground. He had, indeed, that which is the foundation of all great success-a perfectly clear understanding, an ample practical acquaintance with the subject of debate, and a mind not to be misled by passion, or seduced by the vanity of self-display. It was a peculiar characteristic of his nature that modesty both strengthened and adorned it. We say strengthened as well as adorned, because the intellectual powers are hardly more impaired by moral defects than they are by the inroads of self-sufficiency and self-esteemas hurtful as they are ridiculous. We have said nothing of Lord Murray's public speaking, because we have been dealing with more important, more substantial matter; but in this country a most extravagant value is assigned to it, and therefore we may record what has been said of him in this respect, we believe, by one of his most accomplished successors, who heard his speech in 1831 upon the rejection of the Reform Bill, and who, after stating that he had heard all the greatest speakers of the day, declares that it "was one of those bursts of oratory which electrify and bewilder, and that he never heard a spontaneous rush of more genuine and absorbing eloquence, and that none who heard it ever will forget it,"

The office which he held for years of great difficulty, in regard to personal and party conflicts, as well as in other respects, was calculated to show very remarkably his perfectly honourable, equally with his kindly nature. It was said by Lord Grey, under whom he acted for part of the time, that whatever application came from him might at once be acted upon as a matter of

course; for he alone of all connected with Scotland never urged any claim on which the least doubt could exist. Lord Grey, it must be added, in fairness to others, had not always made allowance for the position of those representing a party which had for so many long years been excluded from all access to the dispensers of patronage.

In private life Lord Murray was singularly amiable, and in all its relations without a fault, unless a fault it be to exercise a generosity so unexampled that it might have been regarded as romantic, but for the perfectly judicious selection of its objects. His connection by marriage with a lady of a distinguished family in the north of England formed the happiness of his life; but the early loss of an only son, whose promise had been very great, shed a gloom over the days of both these excellent persons, and his brother's death, at a much later period, greatly added to their grief.



1. Speech of the Solicitor-General, M.P., on the introduction of Bills to simplify the Title to Landed Estates, and to establish a Registry of Titles to Landed Estates. February 11, 1859. London: Amer, 1859.

2. Drafts of Bills (No. 1) to simplify the Title to Landed Estates, and (No. 2) to establish a Registry of Landed Estates. Prepared and brought in by Mr. Solicitor-General, Mr. Secretary Walpole, and Mr. Attorney-General. Ordered, by the House of Commons, to be printed, February 11, 1859.

3. Drafts of the same Bills as amended in Committee. Ordered, by the House of Commons, to be printed, March 1, 1859.

4. A Letter to the Solicitor-General on the Landed Estates Bills. London Maxwell, 1859.

5. The Title to Landed Estates Bills, and the Solicitor-General's Speech considered. By F. W. HAWKINS, Esq., of Lincoln's Inn, Barrister-at-Law. London: Maxwell, 1859.

6. Remarks for the Consideration of Landowners, Merchants, Bankers, and Others, issued by the Manchester Law Association; and Report of the Sub-committee appointed by the Committee of the Association.

7. Speeches of Robert R. Torrens, Esq., explanatory of his measure for Reform of the Law of Real Property; to which is appended a copy of the Act, as passed by the Parliament of South Australia. 1858.


IR HUGH M'CALMONT CAIRNS, the solicitor-general, delivered himself in the House of Commons, on the 11th February 1859, of a speech of great ability, on moving to bring in bills for the simplification of titles to real estate, and the improvement of conveyancing. Many a county member was carried away by his admiration into the belief that there had now arrived, in the form of the new solicitor-general, that long-expected reformer who was to save, henceforth, the land-owner, the land-buyer, and the land-seller, from vexatious harassment and expense. for such abused confidence! Sir Hugh was only demonstrating afresh the truth of a trite remark-that clever things may be said about very foolish measures.


If speech was given to man to conceal his thoughts, speeches are permitted to members of parliament to cover the absence of thought. In the instance we are now referring to, the bills upon which Sir Hugh founded his brilliant address, are miserable examples of audacious incapacity.

It is a legislative crime of the first magnitude to bring forward draft bills, involving such interests as did these Landed Estates Bills, in the form which was stamped upon them when introduced to the House. It is no answer to say they were open to amendment at all hands; it is worse than no answer to say-" Why, we ourselves amended them largely and materially within three weeks after their introduction." If there is one means more

effectual than another for causing confusion, contradictions, omissions, imperfections, and "messes" in our Statute Book, it is by a government officer pitching into the House an ill-conceived, ill-drawn, or partial draft of a bill, trusting to chance for its amendment in its various stages in passing through the House. In the process of tinkering one always risks making more holes than one mends; but when a score of tinkers of different strengths and notions all work at some weak tinman's frail manufacture, the moment it is returned into his possession and he puts his own head into it, even he, however short-sighted and dull he may be, must, upon examination, find it will not hold


The original bills either pretended to be, or professed not to be, prepared by competent persons properly instructed as to the principles and objects of the measures, and as to the important parts of the machinery to be employed under their provisions. This is a necessary alternative. If the bills did not profess to be more than sketches of the measures thought desirable, and were mere suggestions to be remodelled and modified, should they be accepted at all; or if they were intended to be discussed and then put by for the session; or if they were brought forward just as a little attempt of new hands pour passer le temps, or because it was felt something must be done to show diligence and redeem promises,1 then all we need remark is, that trifling with such a subject in such a way is an intolerable impertinence.

As such conduct, if proved, would incapacitate the men guilty of it from being henceforth trusted with any legislative measure of importance, we will assume the other alternative to be the true one; namely, that the bills professed to be prepared by competent persons-to be the result of mature consideration-to carry out a necessary reform in a complete, safe, intelligible, and practical manner to meet all the well-ascertained wants in approved modes, and with machinery suited to the material to

1It has been avowed that the Government Bankruptcy Bill of the session 1858 was brought forward because the public expected something, but with the intention of not passing it.

« PreviousContinue »