« PreviousContinue »
ever so far in his confidence as to render me a competent delineator of his character. Some few features, as they caught my observation, I may venture to trace out, and can say of him what every body who knew him in his social hours must say, without the risk of a mistake. I cannot recollect the time when, sitting at the table with Lord Mansfield, I ever failed to remark that happy and engaging art which he possessed of putting the company present in good humour with themselves; I am convinced they naturally liked him the more for his seeming to like them so well : this has not been the general property of all the witty, great, and learned men whom I have looked up to in my course of life.
“ He would lend his ear most condescendingly to his company, and cheer the least attempt at humour with the prompt payment of a species of laugh, which cost his muscles no exertion, but was merely a subscription that he readily threw in towards the general hilarity of the table. He would take his share in the small talk of the ladies with all imaginable affability; he was, in fact, like most men, not in the least degree displeased at being incensed by their flattery. He was no great starter of new topics, but easily led into anecdotes of past times : these he detailed with pleasure ; but he told them correctly rather than amusingly. I am inclined to think that he did not covet that kind of conversation that gave him any pains to carry on : his professional labours were great, and it was natural that he should resort to society more for relaxation and rest of mind than for any thing that could put him
fresh exertions. Even dulness, so long as it was accompanied with placidity, was no absolute disrecommendation of the companion of his private hours; it was a kind of cushion to his understanding.
“ I agree with the general remark, that he had the art of modelling his voice to the room or space in which he was; but I am not one of those who admired its tone: it was of a pitch too sharp to please my ear, and seemed more tuned to argumentation than urbanity.
His attentions, whenever he was pleased to bestow them, were not set off with any noble air, and I should rather call them civil than polite ; for the stamp of his profes-sion was upon him, and his deportment wanted gracefulness and ease. Pope, above all the sons of song, was his Apollo; but I suspect he had no real attachment to the Muses, and was merely civil to them in return for the compliments they had paid to him.” *
The same writer has described an interview which took place between Lord Mansfield and Lord Sackville, shortly before the death of the latter nobleman, which may be regarded as characteristic of Lord Mansfield's temperament. “ He wished to take his last leave of the Earl of Mansfield, then at Tunbridge Wells : I signi. fied this to the earl, and accompanied him in his chaise to Stoneland. I was present at their interview. Lord Sackville, just dismounted from his horse, came into the room where we had waited a very few minutes, and staggered as he advanced to reach his hand to his respectable visitor. He drew his breath with palpitating quickness, and, if I remember rightly, never rode again. There was a death-like character in his countenance that visibly affected and disturbed Lord Mansfield, in a manner that I did not quite expect; for it had more of horror in it than a firm man ought to have shown, and less perhaps of other feelings than a friend, invited to a meeting of that nature, must have discovered, had he not been frightened from his propriety." +
Some of the opinions of Lord Mansfield, on subjects connected with the law and with legal literature, have been preserved by Mr. Charles Butler. I
“ His lordship was sometimes charged with not entertaining the high notions which Englishmen feel, and, it is hoped, will ever feel, of the excellence of the trial by jury. Upon what this charge is founded does not appear: between him and his jury there never was the
* Memoirs, vol. ii. p. 344.
slightest difference of opinion. He treated them with unvaried attention and respect; they always showed him the utmost deference. It is remembered, that no part of his office was so agreeable to him as attending the trials at Guildhall. It was objected to him, that, in matters of libel, he thought the judges were to decide on its criminality. If his opinions on this subject were erroneous, the error was common to him with some of the most eminent among the ancient and modern lawyers. It was also objected to him, that he preferred the civil law to the law of England. His citations from the civilians were brought as a proof of his supposed partiality to that law; but they were rather occasional than frequent, and he seldom introduced them where the case was not of a new impression, so that the scantiness of home materials necessarily led him to avail himself of foreign ware. Sometimes, however, he intimated an opinion that the modification of real property in England, in wills and settlements, was of too intricate and complex a nature, and, for that reason, inferior to the more simple system of the Roman usufruct. The frequent necessity there is in our law to call in trustees, whenever property is to be transmitted or charged, so as to be taken out of immediate commerce, appeared to him an imperfection ; and he wished the nature of our jurisprudence permitted the adoption of the rule of the civil law, that, when a debt is extinguished, the estate or interest of the creditor, in the lands or other property mortgaged for its security, is extinguished with it. It will be difficult to show any other instance in which he preferred the civil law to the law of England.
“In a conversation he permitted a student at the, English bar to have with him, he expressed himself in terms of great esteem for Littleton, but spoke of Lord Coke, particularly of his attempting to give reasons for every thing, (that was his phrase,) with great disrespect. He mentioned Lord Hardwicke in terms of admiration, and of the warmest friendship : 'When his lordship
pronounced his decrees, wisdom herself,' he said, might be supposed to speak.'
“ He observed with great satisfaction, that, during the long period of his chief justiceship, there had been but one case in which he had ultimately differed with his brother judges of the same court: that was the case of Perryn against Blake. He lamented the difference, but declared his conviction that the opinion he delivered upon it was right.
“ He recommended Saunders' Reports. He observed, that the quantity of professional reading absolutely necessary, or even really useful, to a lawyer, was not so great as was usually imagined; but, he observed, that it was essential he should read much, as he termed it,
in his own defence ; lest, by appearing ignorant on subjects which did not relate to his particular branch of the profession, his ignorance of that particular branch might be inferred.'
Speaking of the great increase of the number of law books, he remarked that it did not increase the quantity of necessary reading, as the new publications frequently made the reading of the former publications unnecessary. Thus, he said, since Mr. Justice Blackstone had published his Commentaries no one thought of reading Wood's Institutes, or Finch's Law, which, till then, were the first books usually put into the hands of students. He said, that, when he was young, few persons would confess they had not read a considerable part at least of the year books : but that, at the time he was then speaking, few persons would pretend to more than an occasional recourse to them in very particular
He warmly recommended the part of Giannone's History of Naples which gives the history of jurisprudence, and of the disputes between the church and the state. He mentioned Chillingworth as a perfect model of argumentation.”
SIR J. EARDLEY WILMOT.
The life of a distinguished and yet unambitious lawyer deserves to be recorded on account of its singularity. Some have sacrificed their principles to their ambition ; Sir John Eardley Wilmot was unwilling even to abandon his ease.
He was born on the 16th August, 1709, at Derby, and was the second son of Robert Wilmot of Osmaston, in the county of Derby, Esq., and of Ursula, one of the daughters and co-heiresses of Sir Samuel Marow, of Berkswell, in the county of Warwick, Baronet. [Note 45.] He acquired the first rudiments of his education at the free school of Derby, and was afterwards the pupil of the Rev. Mr. Hunter, at Lichfield, where he was contemporary with Garrick and Johnson. In the year 1724, he was removed to Westminster School, and subsequently to Trinity Hall, Cambridge, where he contracted a passion for study and retirement, which formed one of the most prominent features of his character. This disposition led him to prefer the church as his profession; but, at the wish and by the advice of his father, he adopted the law, and, after prosecuting his legal studies with much diligence, he was called to the bar by the Society of the Inner Temple, in June, 1732.
Of the life of Mr. Wilmot, for many years after the commencement of his practice at the bar, few particulars have been recorded. In 1743 he married Sarah, the daughter of Thomas Rivett, Esq. of Derby, afterwards the representative of that borough in parliament. His practice during this period was chiefly confined to his native county ; but his reputation in his profession gradually became considerable, and he attracted the esteem and friendship of Sir Dudley Ryder, the attor