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he became drowsy, and complained of feeling very sleepy: he seemed to suffer no pain, but desired to be put to bed, saying, “ Let me sleep; let me sleep:" after which he never spoke. He lay in this state for several days, and died without awaking from it, on the 20th of March, 1793, in the 89th year of his age. ACcording to the directions of his will, he was buried in Westminster Abbey, in the same vault with Lady Mansfield.
Lord Mansfield died without issue ; but the earldom, which was granted to him in 1776, descended to his nephew, Viscount Stormont.
Characters drawn by contemporary pens in general present more lively pictures of the individual than those which are only traced from the relation of others. Bishop Hurd has thus sketched Lord Mansfield's: “Mr. Murray, afterwards Earl of Mansfield, and lord chief justice of England, was so extraordinary a person, and made so great a figure in the world, that his name must go down to posterity with distinguished honour in the public records of the nation ; for his shining talents displayed themselves in every department of the state, as well as in the supreme court of justice, his peculiar province, which he filled with lustre of reputation not equalled, perhaps, certainly not exceeded, by any of his predeces
Of his conduct in the house of lords I can speak with the more confidence, because I speak from my own observation. Too good to be the leader, and too able to be the dupe, of any party, he was believed to speak his own sense of public measures; and the authority of his judgment was so high, that, in regular times, the house was usually decided by it. He was no forward or frequent speaker, but reserved himself, as was fit, for occasions worthy of him. In debate he was eloquent as well as wise; or rather, he became eloquent by his wisdom. His countenance and tone of voice imprinted the ideas of penetration, probity, and candour; but what secured your attention and assent to all he said, was his constant good sense, flowing in apt terms and in
the clearest method. He affected no sallies of the imagination, or bursts of passion ; much less would he condescend to personal abuse, or to petulant altercation. All was clear, candid reason, letting itself so candidly into the minds of his hearers as to carry information and conviction with it. In a word, his public senatorial character very much resembled that of Messala, of whom Cicero says, addressing himself to Brutus,
Do not imagine, Brutus, that for worth, honour, and a warm love of his country, any one is comparable to Messala.' So that his eloquence, in which he wonderfully excels, is almost eclipsed by those virtues, and even in his display of that faculty his superior good sense shows itself most ; with so much care and skill has he formed himself to the truest manner of speaking ! His powers of genius and invention are confessedly of the first size; yet he almost owes less to them than to the diligent and studious cultivation of judgment. In the commerce of private life Lord Mansfield was easy, friendly, and very entertaining, extremely sensible of worth in other men, and ready on all occasions to countenance and patronise it.”
The judicial character of Lord Mansfield has been the subject of repeated panegyrics. The very long period during which he presided over the court of king's bench, his commanding talents, his high personal character, and his eloquence, all contributed to the great reputation which he enjoyed. No judge ever impressed so forcibly upon the jurisprudence of this country the peculiar qualities of his own mind. In scarcely any other instance can the influence of any judge of the courts of common law be traced by any marked improvement in the principles of law, or in the practice of the courts. With Lord Mansfield it was widely different; and many of the most important branches of modern law derive their character, and almost their existence, from his genius. The law of insurance has been frequently mentioned as an instance of the admirable manner in which his powerful mind created a system of law adapted to all the exigencies of society. When his lordship was raised
to the bench, the contract of insurance was little known, and a few unimportant nisi prius decisions were all that were to be found on the subject. Yet this branch of law, so little understood, grew up under his administration into a system, remarkable for the excellence of its principles, and the good sense and simplicity of its practice. In many other branches of law the same mind is visible, governing their principles, and reconciling their incongruities.* It has, indeed, been said, that Lord Mansfield leaned too much in his decisions to equitable principles; and certainly, in some instances, his opinions have been reviewed and overruled on this ground; yet, considering the anomalous scheme of the English law, and the expense and injustice which frequently arise from compelling a party who is clearly entitled to redress to seek it in another form, at the expense of infinite delay and vexation, it is difficult to say whether the preservation of the exact boundaries between the tribunals of the common law and of equity are wisely preserved at such a cost. The learning of Lord Mansfield has also been questioned, and, perhaps, his mind was not deeply imbued with the more recondite knowledge of his profession. So great, however, was the grasp of his intellect, and so lively and quick his powers of apprehension, that, on subjects where abstruse and recondite learning was required, he was always enabled to make, with small preparation, a brilliant display. He excelled particularly in the statement of a case, arranging the facts in an order so lucid, and with so nice a reference to the conclusions to be founded on them, that the hearer felt inclined to be convinced before he. was in possession of the arguments.
His eloquence was peculiar ; rather subtle and insinuating, than forcible and overpowering. His articulation was slow and distinct, and his voice remarkably sweet in all its tones. In his style of speaking he was often careless, sometimes using low and mean expressions, and he is said not always to have observed the
* See Evans's View of Lord Mansfield's Decisions.
rules of grammar. There was occasionally great confusion in his periods, which were involved in endless parentheses *; but such was the general effect of his eloquence, that these blemishes passed unnoticed.
In his demeanour on the bench he was distinguished at once by the dignity and by the courtesy of his man
To the junior counsel he was kind and encouraging, and introduced in their favour the practice of going through the bar, allowing the senior counsel to make only one motion at a time, while they had previously been in the habit of making all their motions before the juniors could be heard. Occasionally Lord Mansfield indulged in sallies of humour, which were sometimes aimed at the gravity and abstraction of Mr. Serjeant Hill. “ I have seen the serjeant,” says Mr. Hawkinst, “ standing up in the court, immovable as a statue, looking at no object, and arguing in support of his client's cause, so wrapt in the workings of his own mind, as, seemingly at least, to be insensible to any objects around him.
In the midst of his argument, which was frequently so perplexed by parenthesis within parenthesis, as to excite the laughter of the whole court, Lord Mansfield would interrupt him with Mr. Serjeant! Mr. Serjeant!' He was rather deaf: the words were repeated without effect; at length, the counsel sitting near him would tell him that his lordship spoke to him: this roused him. Lord Mansfield would then address him with, · The court hopes your cold is better.' All this was done with a tone, and in a manner,
which showed that he wished to make the object of his apparent civility in fact an object of ridicule, and so far must be considered as having succeeded. How far it was perfectly decorous in a judge sitting in court to indulge this little mischief, for we do not wish to call it by a harsher name, others may decide; but, certainly, he was very agreeable to the bar in other respects. Indeed, whenever this foible did not show itself, his patient attention, his assisting questions, if
· + Miss Hawkins's Memcirs.
* Butler's Reminiscences.
I may be allowed the term, and his intuitive comprehension of what was submitted to his understanding, made him an exceedingly pleasant judge to those who were called to argue deep questions before him."
The judicial character of Lord Mansfield did not escape severe censure. One of the most serious charges against him, so often and so acrimoniously urged in parliament, and repeated by Junius, was his conduct in cases of libel, in which he invariably directed the jury, that it was no part of their province to consider whether the writing in question was or was not libellous, that being a matter of law reserved for the consideration of the court. That this opinion was erroneous cannot now be doubted; and the legislature has, by a declaratory act, pronounced upon its illegality. But, in estimating the culpability of Lord Mansfield in supporting a doctrine which is so decidedly opposed to the interests of freedom, it is necessary to look with accuracy to the circumstances under which that opinion was advanced. There have not been wanting, at any period of our judicial annals, authorities upon which the opinion of Lord Mansfield may be defended. Judges of learning and character have held those opinions to be law; and though, in selecting between opposing authorities, it may well be regretted that Lord Mansfield did not choose those which would have placed the liberty of the subject upon a surer foundation, it is not just to accuse him of a wilful and corrupt misinterpretation of the law. His political opinions did not lean to the extension of popular privileges, and those opinions necessarily governed him in the decision to which he came on this subject. That he himself was satisfied that he had given a correct exposition of the law cannot be doubted. “ For twenty-eight years past,” says Mr. Justice Buller, speaking of his lordship's directions in cases of libel,“ during which time we have had a vast number of prosecutions, in different shapes, for libels,—the uniform and invariable conduct of that noble judge has been to state the questions as I have just stated them to you ;