Page images

• The reputation which, even at this early age, Mr. Jones had gained by his literary efforts, was adverse, in his own opinion at least, to his success at the bar. Speaking of the publication of his poems, in a letter addressed to his friend Mr. Hawkins, he says — “ As to the years in which the poems were written, I would wish to specify them, for it would hurt me as a student at the bar to have it thought that I continue to apply myself to poetry; and I mean to insinuate, that I have given it up for several years, which I must explain more fully in the preface : for a man who wishes to rise in the law must be supposed to have no other object." In the year 1772, the poems of which he speaks, consisting principally of translations from the Asiatic languages, were published ; and, in 1774, he gave to the world his cele brated Commentaries on Asiatic Poetry.

In January, 1774, he was called to the bar, and devoted himself to his profession with much earnestness. Entirely abandoning his politer studies, he left the whole of his library, not relating to law and oratory, at Oxford. In a letter, written in the autumn of 1774, he says, “ I have deserted, or rather suspended, all literary pure suits whatever, and am wholly engaged in the study of a profession for which I was always intended. As the law is a jealous science, and will not have any partner ship with the eastern Muses, I must absolutely renounce their acquaintance for ten or twelve years to come." Notwithstanding this abandonment of literature as an occupation, Mr. Jones continued his correspondence with various learned men both at home and abroad, whose letters evince the high sense which the writers entertained of his great acquirements and extensive learning.

For a short time after he was called to the bar, Mr. Jones appears to have declined practice, probably from an idea that he had not yet sufficiently perfected himself in his professional studies. Regarding the law as a science, he commenced the study of it on a wide and liberal scale. He compared the systems of ancient times with those of modern adoption, and with infinite labour

he examined and collated the various codes of modern Europe. In the year 1775, for the first time, he attended the circuit and sessions at Oxford, and in the course of the same year he became a regular attendant at Westminster-hall. In the following year, he received, without solicitation, the appointment of one of the commissioners of bankrupt, by the gift of Lord Chancellor Bathurst, to whom, in the dedication of his translation of Isæus, he acknowledges his obligation in the following terms:-“I check myself, therefore, my lord, with reluctance, and abstain from those topics, to which the overflowing of my zeal would naturally impel me; but I cannot let slip this opportunity of informing the public, who have hitherto indulgently approved and encouraged my labours, that although I have received many signal marks of friendship from a number of illustrious persons, to whose favours I can never proportion my thanks, yet your lordship has been my greatest, my only benefactor; that, without any solicitation, or even request, on my part, you gave me a substantial and permanent token of regard, which you rendered still more valuable by your obliging manner of giving it, and which has been literally the sole fruit that I have gathered from an incessant course of very painful toil; that your kind intentions extended to a larger field, and that you had even determined to reward me in a manner the most agreeable both to my inclinations and to the nature of my studies, if an event, which has procured an accession to your happiness, and could not but conduce to mine, had not prevented the full effects of your kindness.”

It appears from his correspondence, that, soon after he was called to the bar, Mr. Jones acquired considerable practice. In a letter to Schultens, dated July, 1777, he says, “ I should have great pleasure in complying with your kind and friendly request, by furnishing my contribution to the new work which is soon to appear amongst you, and would exert myself to this purpose; but the absolute want of leisure makes it impossible. My law employments, attendance in the courts, incessant studies, the arrangement of pleadings, trials of causes, and opinions to clients, scarcely allow me a few moments for eating and sleeping." So close was his application, that, at the conclusion of the year, he was compelled to visit Bath, in order to refresh his exhausted spirits, where, as he informs his friend Lord Althorpe, “He abstained with reluctance from dancing, an amusement too heating for a water-drinker.”

Amongst the mixed legal and classical studies in which Mr. Jones so much delighted, he had made a version of the orations of Isæus, which had hitherto been seldom read and imperfectly understood. This translation, which appeared in 1778, was accompanied by a preface, in which we find the following excellent observations on the benefits to be derived by a student of the law from an examination of the judicial polity of other nations:-" There is no branch of learning from which a student of the law may receive a more rational pleasure, or which seems more likely to prevent his being disgusted with the dry elements of a very complicated science, than the history of the rules and ordinances by which nations eminent for wisdom and illustrious in arts have regulated their civil polity : nor is this the only fruit he may expect to reap from a general knowledge of foreign laws, both ancient and modern; for while he indulges the liberal curiosity of a scholar in examining the customs and institutions of men, whose works have yielded him the highest delight, and whose actions have raised his admiration, he will feel the satisfaction of a patriot in observing the preference due in most instances to the laws of his own country above those of all other states ; or, if his just prospects in life give him hopes of becoming a legislator, he may collect many useful hints for the improvement even of that fabric which his ancestors have erected with infinite exertions of virtue and genius, but which, like all human systems, will ever advance nearer to perfection, and ever fall short of it.”

The acquirements of Mr. Jones in oriental literature, and his want of fortune, induced him at an early period

to look to a judicial seat in the East, to which he appears · to refer in a letter addressed to Lord Althorpe, in October, 1778: “The disappointment to which you allude, and concerning which you say so many friendly things, to me is not yet certain. My competitor is not yet nominated : many doubt whether he will be ; I think he will not, unless the chancellor should press it strongly. It is still the opinion and wish of the bar that I should be the man. I believe the minister hardly knows his own mind. I cannot legally be appointed till January, or next month at soonest, because I am not a barrister of five years' standing till that time; now, many believe that they keep the place open for me till I am qualified. I certainly wish to have it, because I wish to have twenty thousand pounds in my pocket before I am eight-andthirty years old, and then I might contribute in some degree towards the service of my country in parliament, as well as at the bar, without selling my liberty to a patron, as too many of my profession are not ashamed of doing ; and I might be a speaker in the house of commons in the full vigour and maturity of my age; whereas, in the slow career of Westminster-hall, I should not, perhaps, even with the best success, acquire the same independent station till the age at which Cicero was killed. But be assured, my dear lord, that if the minister be offended at the style in which I have spoken, do speak, and will speak, of public affairs, and on that account should refuse to give me the judgeship, I shall not be at all mortified, having already a very decent competence, without a debt or care of any kind.”

The enlightened sentiments of Mr. Jones on political subjects had induced him, in common with all liberalminded men, to regard with disapprobation the conduct of the government towards the American colonists. His feelings on the great contest in which they had been engaged with the mother country were expressed in a Latin ode, which he published in the month of March, 1780. Soon afterwards, on the resignation of Sir Roger Newdigate, he was induced, by the advice of several highly

respectable friends, to suffer his name to be proposed as a candidate for the representation of the university of Oxford. Various circumstances, however, combined to prevent his return, and more especially the liberality of his political principles. “ Have you no apprehensions,” says his friend Schultens, “ that your enthusiasm for liberty, which is so generally known, may, in these unpropitious times, injure the success of your cause?” His adversaries did not scruple to represent him as a person whose opinions tended to the subversion of the constitution ; and, the prejudices of the university being once excited, he felt that it would be in vain to contend against them. He therefore declined a poll, and again gave the whole of his attention to his professional employments.

While on the summer circuit this year, he defended a man who was indicted, in Pembrokeshire, for the singular offence of alarming the neighbourhood, by a report that a hostile ship of war was approaching. “ The prosecutors,” says Mr. Jones, “ were two magistrates (one of whom was an Indian ), who were angry at having been made fools of, a point, however, which they could not easily have proved, inasmuch as they were fools already made. I defended the prosecuted man with success, and mingled in my speech many bitter reflections on the state of this country at the time of the alarm, and on the attempt, because the English laws were not relished in India, to import the Indian laws into England, by imprisoning and indicting an honest man who had done no more than his duty, and whose only fault was fear, of which both his prosecutors were equally guilty.”

The extensive and dangerous riots which occurred in London in the year 1780, and in which, as we have seen, the valuable collections of Lord Mansfield perished, induced Mr. Jones to enquire into the methods provided by law for the suppression of such tumultuous assemblies; and the result of his researches was communicated to the world in a small pamphlet, entitled, An Enquiry into the legal Mode of suppressing Riots, with a constitutional

« PreviousContinue »