Page images
PDF
EPUB

whom I cultivated in the profession of the law, I must put Romilly the foremost."

His description of Romilly is very interesting:

“ He was a man of reserved habits and cold demeanor ; but under that exterior were covered the warmest heart and most generous emotions. When excited by controversy, his temper was too easily provoked, and his opponent felt that he was very intolerant and sometimes too severe upon bad reasoning. As a speaker, though he was often led by the force of his feeling into something like declamation, yet he was not successful in affecting the passions. He did not persuade by his rhetoric, but convinced by his logic. His reasoning was acute and perspicuous. His sagacity in detecting, and felicity in exposing, the sophistry of his antagonist, were among the first of his oratorical merits. These always made him happy and terrible in reply. His application to study, and his quickness in understanding what he studied, were never surpassed. His reading of all sorts was immense. I never met with a man who was so universally acquainted with ancient and modern literature, and history. In the midst of his immense business he found time to read every book that had any real value. Even upon the subject of the last romance he was the best man to consult. There was something extraordinary in his facility of reading which enabled him to wade through a book in an hour, which would have occupied most men a day. He did not stop at words or sentences, but took in almost a page at a glance.”

"Romilly was a great walker. It was our constant habit to walk together for some hours every day, when the weather would permit, immediately after the court rose, which, in those times, was generally about two o'clock.

Would that those times might return!

His father died in 1798, the first year when his professional income was sufficient to defray the whole of his expenses. His practice both on the Circuit and in London now steadily increased. Speaking of his sessions practice he says: —

"I may ascribe to the practice I was obliged to adopt at Manchester, the great facility with which I was able to conduct the mass of business that afterwards passed through my hands, on the Circuit and at Westminster, and at Guildhall. The counsel were accustomed to arrive late in the evening before the sessions, the attorneys on the next day. The magistrates commenced their business at half-past eleven. It was only during the few hours that elapsed from eight to that time, that I had to prepare the day's work. It sometimes occurred that I had fifteen or twenty briefs in settlement cases which were always taken the first day. To make my

VOL. XII.

self master of the points in each by reading them was impossible. As to the law and decided authorities, I came well prepared, and required no study. The mode then which I adopted to obtain the facts, was to interrogate the attorney, when he came with his brief, what was the fact in his own case on which he mainly relied. Next, what he supposed his adversary's case to depend upon. Having made a short note of his statement on the back of the brief, I proceeded to discuss the appeal without further instruction or meditation, and I believe I may safely say that I did not read one brief in ten in the most important cases in which I was concerned at quarter sessions."

He, in like manner, after he became a leader, used to squeeze the brains of his junior counsel, in his practice in the higher courts; and in defence of his system he says that, if he had attempted to read the masses of paper delivered in each case, he should not have been able to read one in five, even by applying all his time to it.

“ Undoubtedly the case would be very different at present. The nunber of causes tried in a day seldom amount to half a dozen of all sorts on an average. But Lord Kenyon and Mr. Justice Buller disposed with ease of twenty-six in a day, and Lord Ellenborough's average was twenty. I do not pretend to assign the causes of this difference.”

In 1799, Mr. Chambrè,1 « a gentleman of the highest eminence and popularity on the Northern Circuit,” being promoted to the bench, a silk gown was given to James Allan Park, of the same Circuit, who was afterwards a judge of the Court of Common Pleas. Mr. Law urged Scarlett to apply for one too, as being more entitled to it than Park was. He did not get it till 1816 ; “ for many years before which,” he says, “ I was leading almost every cause on the Northern Circuit, and dividing the lead of Guildhall and Westminster with Garrow and Park.”

“ It may be asked what was the reason of this delay? I can assigo no other reason for Lord Eldon not giving it to me than the supposition that I was attached to the Whigs.”

He says, he knows not why the Whigs did not give it him in 1806, when they knew he desired it; but he does not think this was Lord Erskine's fault. The conduct of Lord Eldon was habitual. Gurney, Brougham, Denman - in short, every Whig barrister — were punished for their politics during that Chancellor's time, by having to wait for this promotion, on an average, about ten years longer than a Tory barrister did ; and this, too, when, for a wonder, the bulk of the very able men at the Bar were Whigs.

1 This name is always spelt Chambers in the memoirs, and the name of Park, the nisi prius leader and author of the work on Insurance, is spelt Parke ; a most mis. leading error, as it confounds him with Baron Parke (afterwards Lord Wensley. dale), who was never a leader, as he accepted a judgeship very early.

Scarlett quitted the Sessions in 1807, and found himself in command of every variety of business; and from 1810 he was one of the unquestioned leaders of the Bar both in London and on Circuit. At first he went the round of the various courts ; but finally, finding it impossible to get through the business that came to him, he confined himself to the King's Bench and the Northern Circuit, declining, as a rule, all other retainers. In 1807, he specially applied to Lord Eldon for a patent of King's Counsel, but for nine years received no answer, although his application was supported by Lord Ellenborough. At length in March, 1816, he received it so suddenly and unexpectedly that it was somewhat inconvenient. He was then in his forty-seventh year, and had been twenty-five years at the Bar.

“ In the course of that year, Garrow, who was then Attorney-General, became a Baron of the Exchequer. Park had before become a Judge of the Common Pleas; Gibbs, a Chief Baron ; Topping soon after quitted the profession. I was therefore placed by business, if not by rank, at the head of the King's Bench Bar and the Northern Circuit, and I remained so without interruption from that time to the year 1827, when I became Attorney-General, witnessing in the mean time some of my juniors, but who had never been my competitors, promoted to professional honors and offices. Indeed, I may say, from the year 1816 to the close of 1834, when I was appointed Chief Baron, I had a longer series of success than has ever fallen to the lot of any other man in the law; and if my economy and prudence had equalled my good fortune, I think none of my predecessors, in that line, would have laid such a foundation for his posterity. But though I have never spent the whole of my professional income since the year 1798, I am sorry to say that I have saved but little of it; and so much of that comparatively little has been invested in land, and that so injudiciously, that what I leave behind me will scarcely be worth having.”

We imagine this. last statement must be taken with some allowance ; for he left sufficient to feel justified in entailing on his heirs the burden of a peerage. We have seen it stated that for the last twenty years of his practice, his professional income averaged £17,000 a year. But a writer in the Quarterly Review speaks of having heard him say, that the largest income he ever made in one year was but little more than this (£18,500); so, perhaps, the other statement is somewhat exaggerated. His income, however, though it has in our day been surpassed, must have been very large, and we cannot but regret that Mr. Campbell Scarlett has given us no information in respect of it.1

Here the autobiography ends. There are besides some very interesting sketches by him of his contemporaries; and two chapters, — one on Public Speaking, and the other on the Causes of his Success at the Bar; but the account of his later life is made up from his correspondence and his son's narrative; and this, the most important and interesting part of his professional career, is treated with provoking meagreness and indifference.

Up to 1827, Mr. Scarlett adhered firmly to the Whig Opposition, although he was too much absorbed by his profession to take a prominent part in politics. In 1818, through the influence of Lord Fitzwilliam, he was returned to Parliament for the borough of Peterborough. Lord Brougham bears testimony to his consistent opposition, notwithstanding his West Indian connections, to slavery and the slave-trade, and he with equal consistency opposed all religious disabilities, and Romilly early taught him his own principles in regard to the reform of the law, and especially the barbarous criminal code ; but as a Parliamentary reformer he was more languid in his feelings than the Whig leaders generally, and it was his difference with his old friends on this subject that eventually landed him in the Conservative party.

His success at the Bar he does not overstate ; and it will be asked, what were the qualities that gave him such success ? Before speaking of these, however, we ought to say that Sir James Scarlett, like Mr. Choate, has suffered greatly from the ana and gossip of magazine writers, who have dwelt upon his intellectual peculiarities and mannerisms, — nay, even blemishes, - and enforced them with apocryphal stories of his feats at the

1 Hcw greatly the English Bar has increased since Scarlett's time, is shown by a comparison of the Law List for 1817 and for 1877. In the first named year there were twenty-nine King's Counsel; in the last named, one hundred and ninety-seven. In 1817, the number of barristers was about seven hundred ; in 1877, nearly, if not quite, six thousand! Meanwhile the population has not more than doubled.

Bar, as if these were his strong characteristics; the inference being that, by copying these, young lawyers may achieve equal success.

He had great knowledge of law, and readiness in using it, great quickness of apprehension, great powers of analysis and of argumentation, a most sure-footed judgment and most consummate tact. His power, too, of concentrating his mind upon the matter before him must have been remarkable. Besides these, his greatest gifts, and which reveal the secret of his success, he had other personal advantages which helped to make that success almost unique. He was a man of much general culture; his person was handsome, and his bearing that of a gentleman; his manners were winning ; his voice sweet and musical ; and his speaking, although hardly eloquent, singularly persuasive. With such qualities and with constantly increasing experience, it is no wonder that he became in time a consummate advocate before both common and special juries and also with the courts ; for his success in arguing questions of law, both at Nisi Prius and in Bank, before a bench that included during his time men like Lords Ellenborough and Tenterden, and Bayley, Holroyd, Littledale, Parke, and Patteson, was not less eminent than his success with juries, and he is said to have gained an ascendency over Lord Tenterden equal to that which Erskine had previously gained aver Lord Kenyon, or which Sir Richard Bethell subsequently obtained over Vice-Chancellor Shadwell.

This description of him, we think, is borne out by the testimony and criticisms of his contemporaries. His own remarks upon public speaking, and the account he gives of his personal success, though tinctured with egotism, are interesting and instructive. He avoided rhetoric or oratory, and defends his action in this respect with considerable ingenuity. He likewise never composed any part of either his opening or his reply. It was on the last, when leading for the plaintiff, that he principally relied, - unlike Copley, who always sought to carry his

1 His great argument for the defendant in the case of The King v. Burdett, shows how admirably he could argue questions of law.

Touching his influence over Lord Tenterden, an amusing anecdote is told of the retort of Mr. Adolphus, the eminent criminal lawyer, when Scarlett rather arrogantly told him to remember he was not at the Old Bailey. “I feel I am not at the Old Bailey," he replied ; “for there the judge controls the counsel, but here the counsel controls the judge."

« PreviousContinue »