Page images

Lord Mansfield and His Relation to

Our Laws.



Boswell tells us that an unlucky Scotchman praising his native country to Dr. Johnson one day, having nothing else to advance, broke out with, “Scotland at least has a great many noble wild prospects.” To which Johnson retorted, “I believe Sir, you have a great many. Norway, too, has noble wild prospects; and Lapland is remarkable for prodigious noble wild prospects. But, Sir, let me tell you, the noblest prospect which a Scotchman ever sees is the high road that leads him to England.”

In the early part of the eighteenth century a number of young men took this high road to see what they could do for themselves in England. Amongst them there was one named Wedderburn, who, as Lord Loughborough, became Lord High Chancellor of England and of whom Junius said, “As for Wedderburn there is something about him that not even treachery can trust.” Another was William Murray, who, as Lord Mansfield became Lord Chief Justice of England, and his name is today revered and beloved in every nook and corner of the civilized world where the blessed institutions that mankind has inherited from England, prevail.

Boswell ventured on one occasion to cite him as proof that Scotchmen did have elements of greatness in them, when the old Doctor retorted, “Much may be made of a Scotchman if he be caught young.

Murray was the son of a broken down Scotch Peer who had four sons.

The Father and Mother were strongly tinctured with Jacobitism and William's oldest brother, James, actually

( 191 )

quitted England to dwell with the Pretender as his trusted and confidential adviser. William, himself, was strongly suspected during his youth of a leaning toward the exiled Stuart, but if he ever had any penchant in that direction he abandoned it and became one of the most loyal supporters of the Hanoverian House in England. He was put at Westminster School when very young and from the beginning he impressed all with whom he came in contact as a youth of remarkable powers.. When in later life he fell under discussion between Dr. Johnson and his intimates, Boswell said, “Lord Mansfield is not a mere Lawyer," and Johnson replied, “No, sir, I never was in Lord Mansfield's company; but Lord Mansfield was distinguished at the University. Lord Mansfield when he first came to town 'drank champagne with the wits,' as Prior says. He was the friend of Pope.”

He was the intimate friend of Pope, who lamented, in some elegant verses, that he had not dedicated himself to the Muses, whereby the world had lost another Ovid.

I must pass by other features of his public life. But before dealing with his relation to our jurisprudence something should be said of his part of Statesman in English affairs.

Lord Mansfield, prior to the time of his going on the Bench, and afterwards also, played a very important part in the public affairs of England as a politician and a statesman. William Pitt, afterwards Earl of Chatham, was one of the greatest orators the world has ever known, and he is in that galaxy of world's characters, not numerous, really entitled to be called great. Up to the time that Lord Mansfield went upon the Bench he had been invariably matched against Pitt in the great debates of the day in the House of Commons, and great and commanding as Pitt was, Mr. Murray, as he then was, was his peer and never suffered by comparison with him.

Horace Walpole, an unfriendly cynic, says, after hearing one of his great speeches, of his oratory, “He spoke for two hours and a half. His voice and manner, composed of harmonious solemnity, were the least graces of his speech. I am not aware that I ever heard so much argument, so much sense, so much oratory united. His deviation into the abstruse minutiae of the law served as a foil to the luminous parts of the oration. Perhaps it was the only speech which in my time had real effect—that is, convinced many persons.”

Welsby, in his “Eminent Judges," says of it:

“In closeness of argument, in happiness of illustration, in copiousness and grace of diction, the oratory of Murray was unsurpassed; and, indeed, in all the qualities which conspire to form an able debater, he is allowed to have been Pitt's superior. When measures were attacked no one was better capable of defending them; when reasoning was the weapon employed, none handled it with such effect.”

Lord Campbell says of him in his "Life":

“When Murray was in the House of Commons the existence of administrations depended upon his giving or withholding from them the aid of his eloquence, and in the House of Lords he was listened to with increased deference and respect. The combination of this excellence with his other performances is certainly much to be wondered at; for while his competitors were preparing for the approaching conflict by conning over the works of orators and poets, he was obliged to devote himself to the Year Books and to fill his mind with the subtleties of contingent remainders and executory devises. Who is there that could have argued against Mr. Justice Blackstone in the morning concerning the application of the rule in Shelly's case and in the evening shown himself equal to Lord Chatham on the question of the right of the British Parliament to tax America or the policy of declaring war against Spain." Think of that, lawyers and statesmen. Which one of you could have done that.

. I make bold to say that if the best one of you had tackled Sir William Blackstone on the rule in Shelley's case, he would have had all he wanted to do for that day. He would have gladly begged off from an encounter that night with Lord Chatham upon the right of Parliament to legislate for the recalcitrant American colonies.

It was Lord Mansfield's fortune to live through a period when momentous events transpired in the world and I have never thought that the importance and influence of those events upon the fate of mankind have been sufficiently set out in the history of the period. I shall therefore make a slight deviation here to take a glance at it because Lord Mansfield was a great part of it.

There is something singularly attractive to the thoughtful man in the quaint old City of Quebec and the Heights of Abraham, where Wolfe and Montcalm had it out one hundred and forty-odd years ago—peace to the ashes of both these brave men.

General Wolfe performed the part of a gallant and heroic soldier in the battle of Quebec, but it may be doubted whether he realized that he was an important factor in a world-wide drama then being enacted, that became one of the turning points in the history of man and his civilization. Frederick the Second, called “the Great,” came to the throne of Prussia in 1740. This title of honor has never been bestowed upon any man more justly than upon Frederick. His work in the world, as related to Napoleon's, may be likened to the stand of order and conservatism in its last ditch, compared with the blare and fury, the lightning and thunder of revolution and chaos.

Just about the time Frederick became King of Prussia, Maria Theresa became Empress of Austria. Frederick had no more right to the Province of Silesia than he had to the City of Vienna, but he had an army of 60,000 of the best drilled troops the world ever saw, and so he became "land-grabber” and seized the province. It was the beginning of all his troubles, but without it the world would probably have never known the giant that he proved himself to be.

It should be said that Frederick really believed he had a good title to Silesia, and even though he did not, Silesia was Protestant, and therefore in sympathy with Prussia, and totally out of sympathy with Catholic Austria. Had Austria succeeded in her wars with Frederick it would probably have meant the extermination of Protestantism by Roman Catholicism in Germany.

Maria Theresa could never become reconciled to the robbery. Defeated and humbled in two wars she waged with Frederick, she persevered, nevertheless, and, in 1756, had succeeded in banding together Austria, France, Russia, Saxony, Sweden and the German Reich in an alliance to conquer Prussia and portion her out to the conquerors. Here was a King ruling less than five millions of people being set upon by six powers, containing more than one hundred millions of people. No such disproportionate contest was ever waged. But Providence, at the pitch of his misfortunes, gave him an ally, and that an ally that served him well.

Whilst North America was being settled France nibbled at the business, too. Towards the middle of the eighteenth century she had 50,000 settlers here, while England at the same time had a million. But France said she occupied the military posts of advantage along the St. Lawrence and west of the Alleghanies to the Mississippi and the mouth of the Mississippi, and that military occupation gave her all the territory west of the Alleghanies and the Mississippi, whilst England was confined to the territory east of the mountains and the river, forgetting that a country belongs to the settlers who can plow as well as shoot, and not to those who shoot only, as a great writer has said.

This claim of France, along with other matters, brought England into war with her—a war waged to England's discredit, until English public opinion forced King George the Second to make William Pitt, afterwards Lord Chatham, prime minister, when instantly the difference between a really great man and small men was made to appear. Pitt had been prime minister but a short time when Frederick said: "England has been a long time in producing a great man, but she has got one now.” With the true inspiration of genius, Pitt saw that the place to win Canada was upon the plains of Germany, and so he made a close alliance with Frederick, furnishing him men, and, what was of more importance, an abundance of money, and so, after seven years of such a struggle as the world has never seen, Frederick triumphed over his enemies, and the French were driven out of America. This was truly an epoch-making period. Had the case been reversed, Roman Catholicism would probably have exterminated Protestantism in Germany, and the whole continent of Europe would have been Roman Catholic, and under Roman Catholic and absolute kings, to the great peril of

« PreviousContinue »