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: The political principles of Lord Mansfield were not strongly marked; but the bias of his mind was decidedly towards Toryism. In the expression of his opinions he was cautious and moderate, and was very unwilling to appear the advocate of strong or violent measures. This irresolute and almost timorous disposition was manifested in his conduct during the riots of 1780. He was the frequent object of popular invective, and fell under the lash of Junius, who has not hesitated to accuse him, not only of an early devotion to the house of Stuart, but of adhering to the principles of that family after deserting their fortunes. The unproved, and probably unfounded, charge of having been in his earlier years a partisan of the pretender, is treated by Junius as a fact too well established to be doubted : “ Your zeal in the cause of an unhappy prince was expressed with the sincerity of wine, and some of the solemnities of religion. This, I conceive, is the most amiable point of view in which your character has appeared. Like an honest man, you took that part in politics which might have been expected from your birth, education, country, and connections. There was something generous in your attachment to the banished house of Stuart.. We lament the mistake of a good man, and do not begin to detest him until he affects to renounce his principles. Why did you not adhere to that loyalty you once professed ? Why did you not follow the example of your worthy brother? With him you might have shared in the honour of the pretend. er's confidence; with him you might have preserved the integrity of your character, and England, I think, might have spared you without regret. Your friends will say, perhaps, that although you deserted the fortune of your liege lord, you have adhered firmly to the principles which drove his father from the throne ; that, without openly supporting the person, you have done essential service to the cause, and consoled yourself for the loss of a favourite family, by reviving and re-establishing the maxims of their government.”*
* Letter to Lord Mansfield,
Lord Mansfield had no predilections that could lead him to look with favour upon popular doctrines. Himself a member of the aristocracy, and of a family which had given to the exiled princes one of their most devoted adherents, though probably in his own person free from the taint of jacobitism, there was nothing in his birth or natural connections to ally him with the people, or with their cause. Educated at Oxford, it was not probable that he should imbibe at that seat of learning any popular doctrines; and, upon his entrance into political life, he found little encouragement to alter the principles which he liad always professed. From the earliest period of his parliamentary career, even down to its close, he was the marked object of attack to the popular orators in both houses of parliament. While a member of the commons, he was pursued by Pitt's unsparing invective; and in the lords he was followed, with all the pertinacity of poli. tical hatred, by the argumentative eloquence of Lord Camden. In almost every debate in which the name of Lord Mansfield occurs, it is immediately followed by that of Lord Camden. These circumstances must have contributed to fix in the mind of Lord Mansfield those sentiments of opposition to popular principles with which he began life. Upon various occasions, in the course of his judicial duties, he expressed his contempt for popu. larity and for popular judges, of which some instances have already been given in the course of the present memoirs.
That Lord Mansfield was honest and sincere in the expression of his political opinions there can be no reason to doubt : the circumstances already adverted to, as moulding his principles, are fully sufficient to establish their sincerity. It is to be borne in mind, also, that he frequently refused power, when he might have accepted it without any imputation upon his character; and therefore, if dishonest, his dishonesty must have been without object. If in any case he ever swerved from those principles of action which usually governed him, it is much more probable that such deviation was the
consequence of political timidity than of political dishonesty. He did not possess the bold and vigorous heart of Lord Chatham ; and he was always ready rather to compromise measures than to push them to extremity. Hence his love of coalitions, which in every case of difficulty he was forward to recommend. His character was deficient in the highest of all political virtues a determined resolution to serve the public without any regard to personal considerations, whether of fear or of favour.
In reviewing the political character of Lord Mansfield, it must not be forgotten that he was the first judge who openly discountenanced prosecutions founded on the harsh and cruel laws against the catholics, and that he boldly advocated the cause of the protestant dissenters. In his speech on the riots of 1780, he professed, in the following terms, the principles of toleration :
“ My principle of not wishing to disturb any man merely for conscience-sake is pretty well known; and many of those who are supposed to have formed the late mobs are not ignorant of my general tolerating principles when tolerating sectaries does not portend any mischief to the state. I have held these opinions respecting dissenters from the established church of all denominations; and the sect in particular who are usually called methodists well know, that, when attempts were repeatedly made to disturb them in the enjoyment of their religious worship, I have always discouraged them as unworthy of the protestant religion, the purity of whose doctrines, and not persecution, should be the only incentive to bring proselytes into her bosom. I was of the same opinion respecting the Roman Catholics ; and though, as I observed before, I had no hand, directly or indirectly, in the law, which has furnished a. pretext for the late dangerous insurrections, I shall ever be of opinion that they, in common with the rest of his majesty's subjects, should be allowed every possible indulgence consistent with the safety of the state.” *
* Parl. Hist. vol. xxi. p. 697..
In private life Lord Mansfield appears to have been much and justly beloved. His moral character was blameless. In his friendships he was warm and constant; in his charities judicious and discriminating, not bestowing small sums to relieve himself from present importunities, but assisting in a more substantial manner those who were capable of benefiting by such kindness. In society, and especially at his own table, he was remarkable for the liveliness and intelligence of his conversation, in which, however, he never indulged to the exclusion of others. One of his most distinguishing characteristics was the decorum and propriety that pervaded not only his actions but his manners, his personal appearance, and even his domestic establishment, in every department of which good sense and good taste were seen conjoined. Lord Mansfield's features were regular and expressive, and his presence graceful and dignified. His eye is said to have been remarkable for its intelligence and brilliancy. Cowper, in a letter to Hayley, has playfully but forcibly described the impression made upon him by Lord Mansfield's personal appearance :-" The monument of Lord Mansfield, for which you say Flaxman is engaged, will, I dare say, prove a noble effort of genius. Statuaries, as I have often heard an eminent one say, do not much trouble themselves about likeness, else I would give much to be able to communicate to Flaxman the perfect idea that I have of this subject such as he was forty years ago. He was at that time wonderfully handsome, and would expound the most mysterious intricacies of the law, or recapitulate both matter and evidence of a cause as long as from here to Eartham, with an intelligent smile on his features, that bespoke plainly the perfect ease with which he did it. The most abstruse studies, I believe, never cost him any labour.”
Cumberland (the author), who had opportunities of seeing Lord Mansfield, has detailed the impression which
his manners conveyed. “I was frequently,” says he, .“ in his company; but have no right to think that I was 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 upon 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.